The Gospel of Matthews narrates the horrific Biblical account of the killing of infants by the then Roman appointed Jewish king of Israel, Herod, at the time of the birth of Jesus. As it turns out, a prophecy in the Old Testament, made by Jeremiah the prophet, spoke of the birth of a new king of Jews (Hazrat Isa A.S.), ‘who would be born on the night that a star comes out of Jacob’. When Jewish astrologers of the time, the Magi, informed Herod of the coming of this event, he ordered that every child under the age of two be killed in and around the town of Bethlehem. Herod had hoped that this Massacre of the Innocents would achieve two goals: 1) it would preserve the future reign of Herod’s progeny, and 2) it would wipe out the existence, message, and purpose of the promised Messiah. Herod failed in achieving both these objectives. Per the Divine Will, just before the Massacre of Innocents started, Joseph and Mary (Hazrat Maryam A.S.) took the child, and escaped to Egypt. And thus the prophet and his mission were preserved, only to return to Israel ten years later and proclaim the truth of God.
Two thousand years later, five thousand kilometers away from the towns of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, in the Army Public School, Peshawar, another Massacre of the Innocents took place on Tuesday.
The perpetrators of this unprecedented tragedy, much like Herod, had two aims: 1) to rupture the fragile heart of a bereaved nation, and 2) to bring Pakistan to her knees, in the fight against religious extremism, in order to forever extinguish the flickering light of hope and Divine Purpose in this land.
The question that now remains is whether, like in the Promised Land two thousand years ago, the Divine Message and its believers have survived this Massacre of Innocents. Will we, as a people, confront the barbarity of the Herod of our time, and together rise to reclaim this country as our Promised Land? Or will we instead vanquish into the darkness of a new sinister age, made more venomous through the barrel of a perverted religious philosophy? Will we cower in fear and allow this innocent blood to tarnish our corrupted national soul forever? Will we be brittle in our resolve, feeble in our intent, and tentative in our actions to take on the perpetrators of violence and, just as importantly, all those who passively support them? Or will this innocent blood, which stains all of our hands, finally serve as the catalyst that crystallizes our nation’s fluid passions into the Zulfiqar that is unchallengeable?
Let us start by recognizing that Pakistan Army is perhaps the only national institution that has responded to this tragedy with unequivocal spirit and intent. Airstrikes in the Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency, a reinvigorated ground offensive, and the arresting of suspected militants all across Pakistan, are only the visible tip of this iceberg. The most significant and palpable intent of Pakistan Army’s resolve was seen in Army Chief’s visit to Afghanistan, specifically demanding the handover of Maulana Fazlullah (or else!). To demonstrate that this was not just a media ploy, the Army followed up, two days later, with the hanging of Dr. Usman (convicted for an attack on GHQ in 2009) and Arshad Mehmood (convicted for assassination attempt on General Musharaf in 2003). It is heartening, to say the least, seeing this resolve in our armed forces, which have been haunted by allegations of (partially) sympathizing with extremist elements. And it is hoped that behind the veil of secrecy, away from the media and public eye, even more potent measures are being adopted by our armed forces and the intelligentsia.
The problem of duplicit intent and feeble resolve, however, persists through our socio-political strata. And without fixing this, we as a people, will never succeed in truly eradicating this cancer of extremism from our national soul.
On the political side, it is perhaps pertinent to start with an unforgiving critique of the two ‘largest’ political parties in Pakistan today – PML (N) and PTI.
There has never been any doubt, even amidst the supporters of PML (N), that the party and its leadership, having been born out of the despicable Zia years is not only sympathetic, but also supportive, of numerous militant religious outfits, including certain anti-Shia elements within LeJ and JuD. A major arsenal in their political base is the militant outfit of IJT. And regardless of the hollow rhetoric of the Sharif brothers, against extremism, there is no amount of excuses (or infrastructure development projects) that can exonerate PML (N), or its leaders, of being complicit in supporting and propagating the seeds of religious intolerance in our society.
Perhaps even more nefariously, despite the promise of a Naya Pakistan, PTI and its leader has done the most damage in the political fight against militancy. The gesture of ending the dharna, or even the hugging of injured school children in the hospital, does not exonerate Imran Khan of his imbecile stance of holding “talks” with the “good” Taliban, and inviting them to inaugurate “diplomatic” political offices in our towns and cities. It is time that Khan Sahib accepts that even he is not beyond infallibility, by getting off his high horse, kneeling on the ground, and begging for forgiveness from the mothers who have buried their sons in this tragedy. Of course we need a transparent electoral system, accountability of the judges, and return of taxpayers looted money; but it would all be devoid of virtue in a Naya Pakistan that is built by extending a friendly hand to the perpetrators and supporters of the Massacre of the Innocents.
Away from the political strata, it is time that all of us recognize the enemy within, and subject it to the fullest might of our cavalry and the law. This process must begin here and now, by shedding our silent fears and calling the devil by its name. It is time that Maulana Abdul Aziz and Hafiz Saeed are prosecuted by the State and her people. It is time that LeJ, JuD, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, or any iteration of such organizations or their members, is identified, ostracized, and eventually extinguished.
Who is blind to the fact that local offices of such organizations are frequently located in the heart of all our town and cities? Who is oblivious to knowing who their members are and where they reside? Who can deny that these organizations continue to distribute flyers and collect donations outside of our mosques after the Jumma prayers? Who can say that he or she has done enough in confronting these organisms of menace? And who can then honestly claim that they did all they could to avoid the Massacre of Innocents in the days, weeks, months, and years leading up to this tragedy?
Poets of religion and history would bear testament to the fact that the visage of hope, justice, and truth is lit through the gleam of martyrdom – from the Massacre of Innocents to the fields of Karbala. We must remember and act upon this lesson, if not for ourselves or our children, then at least for those hundred and forty-one angelic souls who continue to look down upon us from the gates of heaven.

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be contacted at saad@post.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter