Terrorism is a mind game. Read, hear or talk of terrorism, and the talk invariably gravitates to terrorist “mindset”. And after five or so minutes of intense discussion the talk veers away to lesser hostile issues.

Alas presently no issue is non-hostile and all what affects the common man in itself leads to angers flaring up against the ‘leaders’ of the country; issues like stoppage of compressed natural gas in Punjab whereas it is available in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa; the endless foreign visits of the Prime Minister; shortage of fuel for vehicles; the low pressure to no gas for cooking; and the perpetual electricity outages!

And this begs the question, do we have ‘leaders’ or are we ruled by ‘rulers’ at the helm of affairs in Pakistan?

A friend said the other day that this utter disregard to principles of governance by the governors of people’s fate should be considered terrorism and these past masters at mismanagement should be the ones to be tried by the military courts set up under the 21st amendment to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan!

He said, “Remember Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle?”

I laughed and said, “I do, but do you not remember our own Jinnah, Liaqat Ali Khan, Ghulam Muhammad, Ayub Khan, Tamiz ud din, Bhutto, Mujeeb ur Rehman, Zia ul Haq, followed by interludes of the same faces and styles of governance?”

And many others who were put on the pedestal luminaries glorified in power and derided out of it!

So what has all this got to do with terrorism? Have I digressed from the topic and opening sentence of this piece?

Let me then take you to terrorism and three of the many theoretical goals of terrorists; 1) Produce widespread fear; 2) Harass, weaken, or embarrass government and security forces so government overreacts and appears repressive and create doubt about its ability to protect citizens; and 3) Influence government decisions, legislation, or other critical choices.

We know that terrorist masterminds are intelligent, rational, target oriented, skillful strategists and often one step ahead of the game. Our mistake is to ascribe our social patterns and biases on terrorists in the hope to understand their motivation, which is wrong as terrorists often look for social not political gain. And similarly negotiations with terrorists will not be the answer since terrorists would not reach an agreement that would be counterproductive to their existence.

Let us now ‘set’ this to happenings since December 16, 2014 attack on the APS Peshawar. I’ll not talk of this act as it has been beaten threadbare (and for once overshadowed an incident on the same date 43 years ago); I’ll refer to the knee jerk and lackadaisical reactions in the past one month.

An all parties conference; a committee to oversee the outcomes of the conference; meeting upon meeting to discuss what is to be done with the outcomes? Calling to strengthen this or the other state organ; photo-ops and press conferences; a dithering over wording and final adoption of the 21st amendment being the only outcome so far. Reminded me of the fun explanation of a meeting of – people who individually can do nothing, together decide that nothing can be said!

For me on 12/16 the goal of the terrorists was met – harassment, fear, and influence on decision making were seen clearly. The worst being closure of education institutions, with attempts to force costly security measures, where the solution should have been trying to undertake preventive and not counter-measures. And experience shows such measures are not sustainable as terrorists just change their tactics and find new targets and modes of attack.

We need proactive measures of countering the radicalization narrative and stop people, especially the youth, from going to an extremist mindset by eliminating factors leading to low self-esteem and a feeling of alienation from society, keeping tabs on influencers that create sympathy for the extremists.

So in this “mindset” have we reached a point of “mind (up) set?” Are we waiting for the next act of terrorism to repeat the last reactive actions in the hope that things will change?