The chronicles of innocent blood being spilt in Pakistan is turning into a tale of endless travesties. And this week, another crimson chapter in this tragic odyssey was brutally scripted at Bacha Khan University. Invoking haunting memories of Army Public School (APS), Peshawar, the attackers stormed the back entrance of Bacha Khan University, under the cloak of a misty Charsadda winter morning. There is no real way of telling (at least for now) what precisely might have been the plan of these hell-bound murderers, but they started with attacking the University hostel to paint its walls with innocent blood.

What transpired thereafter is now painful history that claimed almost two dozen innocent lives. And in the aftermath, the entire nation is once again gripped by that fear that followed APS Peshawar: when and who will be targeted next? Will we ever win this cataclysmic war against an invisible enemy? And even if/when we do, will our generations to come ever be able to wash these bloodstains from our national soul?

At the very outset, it is imperative to recognize that the horrific magnitude of the tragedy that took place on Wednesday morning could have been much graver, were it not for the quick and gallant response by the local security, police and military personnel.

Perhaps for the first time in Pakistan’s war against terror, the private security, the police, and the military forces responded in as quick and best a manner as could be reasonable expected in a situation that involves trained terrorists and suicide attackers. Of course there were intelligence or operational lapses, which allowed the entire travesty to be planned and executed in the first place. However, while investigating these lapses, in order to improve our intelligence apparatus for the future, no nation (none) can be expected to have a full-proof intelligence that precisely detects and averts every possible attack against the person and property of such nation.

But that said, there is infinite that is wanting in our political and national strategy for curbing acts of terrorism. In fact, if we were truly honest with ourselves, we would recognize that despite a half-hearted effort of fighting terrorism, spanning over almost fifteen years, we are yet to address the core issues that might succeed in eradicating this evil once for all.

Our legal as well as operational response to terrorism in this land, so far, has primarily focused on military and combative strategies. This is at least the third time, since war against terrorism started in early 2000s, that we have resorted to a military operation on our Western border. This one, given the unblemished resolve of present military leadership, has been far more successful compared to the ones conducted under the duplicitous policies of General Musharraf and Kiyani.

On the legislative front, all of our efforts – including amendments to the Anti-terrorism Act, 1997, enactment of the Protection of Pakistan Act, 2014, as well as passing of the 21st Constitutional Amendment (along with corresponding amendments to the Army Act, 1952) – have been focused on enhancing the policing and combative ability of our State agencies. All of these instruments are aimed at targeting and eradicating the existing (and known) militants in our land. None of these, however, focus on eliminating the impulse for extremism that creates militancy. Majority of our mosques continue to be led by hate-spewing mullahs, whose rhetoric of Sharia is only half a shade different from that of the militants. Our madrassas continue to teach the same ideology of extremism that has led to the creation of an intolerant society. Sympathizers of banned outfits continue to appear regularly on our media channels, in a bid to convert the moderates through the invoking of religious sentimentality. And none of this, which is being done in plain sight of the State, has seen a decline during the ongoing operations of Zarb-e-Azab, or the expanding of paramilitary powers, or even by the military court hangings.

As a result, we are focusing our muscle on attacking the militants, while ignoring to focus our intellect on attacking militancy. We are desirous of killing the extremists, while continuing to nurture the breeding grounds of extremism.

During the entire course of war against terror, we have passed no meaningful legislation for the protection of minorities in Pakistan. Despite frequent and horrific episodes of persecution (e.g. Joseph Colony, and the lynching of Shehzad Masih and Shama Bibi, etc.), successive governments have turned a blind legislative eye to the plight of dwindling religious minorities. Blasphemy law is still as nefariously drafted; bigoted ideology still dominates a large fraction of our national discourse; Muharram processions are still a target for terrorist activities; members of banned outfits continue to mobilize under the banner of religious sectarianism; and Mumtaz Qadri continues to be a hero to millions, who freely profess their bloodstained affection across the rural and urban centers of Pakistan – all, with an eerie measure of insolence and impunity.

In the aftermath of the horrific tragedy of Bacha Khan University, different segments in our society are clamoring for stricter military action, for wider police presence, and even for visible armed security deployment at our schools, universities, and other national institutions. While these may be necessary measures in the short term, none of these will succeed in keeping our children, and their children after that, safe from the scrooge of terrorism.

For argument’s sake, even if we place an Armored Corp outside of every primary school in this country, and execute every living militant in our land, we will, at most, experience a temporary respite from the pangs of terrorism; only till such time that the twelve year old madrassa student today, grows to be eighteen, and thus wield an AK-47 or adorns a suicide jacket. What will we do then? Descend into being a perpetual military State, where everyday activities such as going to school, or a shopping arcade, or a movie theater, or even to a government building, requires khaki protection? Is our long-term strategy simply that of producing more bullets than militants? Or will we finally wake up to the reality that the only meaningful counter-terrorism strategy is to eradicate the terrorist ideology and its breeding grounds.

The tragedy of Bacha Khan University, Charsadda, must serve to refocus our national efforts for countering terrorism. It must remind us that fighting terrorism is not the same as fighting the terrorists.