Barely a week later, old patterns of behaviour have started to reassert themselves. On television screens across the country, news channels continue to engage in their relentless competition for ratings with crass reconstructions of events and empty displays of sentimentality that have little to do with honouring the dead. The usual talking heads are out in full force, performing the impressive feat of denouncing the Peshawar tragedy while simultaneously constructing narratives that deflect blame and responsibility from where it is due. Brief flickers of grief and anger, symbolized by candle-lit vigils and protests around the country, have given way to full-throated calls for blood and retribution entertained by a state all too willing to take the easy, visible way out.

Condemnation for the unspeakable crime perpetrated in Peshawar has been swift and universal. In a rare display of unity, the country’s political leadership has pledged to do all in its power to rid Pakistan of terrorism, with the Prime Minister finally declaring that there will be no differentiation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. The military, already engaged in a war of attrition in the North, has vowed to wreak terrible vengeance upon the TTP, launching fresh strikes against suspected militants, and directly approaching Kabul for assistance in targeting the organization’s leadership. Even Imran Khan, long loath to directly name the perpetrators of terror in Pakistan, has finally come out with a tweet directly condemning the TTP. Cue the slow clapping.

Yet, for all the apparent resolve to fight militancy and extremism, it is possible to detect more than a whiff of cynicism and opportunism in the air. In an ironic twist, Islamist militants from across Pakistan and Afghanistan have also been quick to denounce the massacre in Peshawar, with organizations like the Afghan Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi conveniently disregarding their own bloody history of targeting the innocent. At the same time, people like Hafiz Saeed, the head of the JuD, have been quick to pin the blame for the incident on India, alleging that support for the attack came from our Eastern neighbour. Unsurprisingly, this is a view that has been parroted by no less a personage than Pervez Musharraf, and has been repeated ad nauseum by ‘senior analysts’ invited to pontificate on talk shows.

Consider also the curious case of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, besieged by protestors after its chief cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz, refused to condemn the TTP’s actions in Peshawar. Even as protestors rightly asked why this purveyor of hate had been allowed to operate in the heart of Islamabad for the better part of twenty years, some found themselves being arrested by the police for, amongst other things, using hate speech against the mosque administration! Funnily enough, the police did not respond with the same alacrity, or indeed respond at all, when it came to the counter-protest launched by the ASWJ in which threats were hurled at the protestors outside the mosque.

In the past week, leaders of ‘banned’ militant outfits have appeared on national television to denounce India and organizations known to be engaged in the perpetration of sectarian violence are engaged in the open intimidation of peaceful protestors. It is increasingly clear that, for all the ‘black warrants’ signed and missiles fired in FATA, the government and military establishment are refusing to engage with the root causes of militancy and terrorism in Pakistan. The point has been made before but needs to be repeated until it is finally understood and accepted by the self-appointed custodians of Pakistan’s national narrative and security; relying on a parochial and exclusionary interpretation of Islam to define the nation and legitimize the state will only breed violence and intolerance, just as indulging and supporting militant extremists in the hope they can be deployed as proxies in Kashmir and Afghanistan, will inevitably backfire and produce more of the same tragedies this country has endured over the past two decades.

When the state itself promotes hatred and bigotry, when it institutionalizes discrimination against women and minorities in the name of Islam and fails to protect them when they are the targets of violence, does it not help to create the ideological and political space within which the merchants of virulent religious dogma and sectarian conflict can act with impunity? When visions of ‘strategic depth’ and paranoia vis-à-vis India lead to the nurturing and protection of holy warriors inspired by a desire to kill infidels, is it really so surprising to find them turning their guns on the ‘infidels’ closer to home?

Tackling the TTP and fighting terrorism in Pakistan is not just a matter of launching airstrikes and initiating military campaigns, nor is it something that can be accomplished by formulating yet another anti-terrorism policy. As many commentators have pointed out in recent days, the selective approach taken by the state and military establishment towards extremism needs to end, and a concerted effort needs to be made to reign in violent militant outfits in Punjab and elsewhere. The notion that these organizations can be deployed as useful tools in the pursuit of broader strategic objectives, with their penchant for sectarian violence tolerated in exchange for their quiescence, is one that needs to be recognized for the self-destructive lie that it is. There is also an urgent and pressing need for greater scrutiny of the financial networks that fund these groups, as well as the seminaries that act as centres of indoctrination churning out the next generation of extremists.

None of this can be possible, however, without an honest reappraisal of what it means to be Pakistani, and of the values that define and guide this nation. We can no longer afford to tolerate a national narrative that brings this country ever closer to becoming a theocracy defined by intolerance and bigotry, just as we can no longer afford to use religion as a means through which to suppress, rather than celebrate, difference and diversity. We cannot stand silent as the reactionary, obscurantist forces around us gain more ground, and must instead promote a new vision of society, one in which we are a nation bound together by acceptance and tolerance, whose values represent a complete and total rejection of the millenarian creed promoted by the likes of the TTP.

This is also why it is necessary to engage in serious reflection on the implications of the government’s decision to lift the moratorium on the death penalty. In terms of fighting terrorism, it is little more than pointless symbolism that accomplishes nothing. Killing people convicted under nebulous anti-terror laws does not address the root causes of extremism, nor is it likely to act as a deterrent against violence in the future. More importantly, however, the death penalty should be opposed because it fundamentally undermines the right to life and human dignity. Unlike those who pose a threat to society and must sometimes be stopped through force of arms, individuals subjected to the death penalty are already incarcerated and do not pose such a threat. Killing them serves no purpose other than to sate an emotional desire for vengeance.

In 2011, when Anders Brevik engaged in a politically motivated rampage that left 77 people, mostly children, dead, the government and people of Norway simply sentenced him to life in prison, refusing to countenance the possibility that he could or should be executed. Our principles are only truly tested in times of crisis and if we genuinely believe in them and hold them dear, we must stand by them no matter how difficult it may be to do so. Terrorists and extremists have no respect for life; for them, death is a means to an end. Repudiating this worldview and protecting life wherever and whenever we can, whether it is the lives of prisoners in jail or civilians in FATA, is one of the ways in which we must differentiate ourselves from those we ostensibly oppose. The fight against terrorism is also a battle of ideas; we cannot be victorious if we fail to rise above, and reject, the pernicious logic of our antagonists.

The writer is an assistant professor of political science at LUMS.