There is little to say that has not already been said. Just over a year after the APS tragedy, the attack on Bacha Khan University in Charsadda demonstrates how much remains to be done in the fight against Islamist militancy in Pakistan. Once again, it is young people who have been targeted by the millinerian zealots plaguing this country, with those claiming responsibility for the attack brazenly admitting that their choice of victims is intended to strike a blow against the future that these students represented. Indeed, the faction of the TTP that attacked Bacha Khan University has promised to continue striking educational institutions, vowing to destroy the centers of learning that challenge their twisted ideology.

Confronting and ending terrorism is not an easy task, and the difficulty is compounded by the apparent lack of political will needed to take hard but necessary decisions. As has been argued before in this space, and by others who have commented on this issue, military operations in FATA are not sufficient for dealing with this problem; a more comprehensive solution would require socio-economic form aimed at addressing the root causes of militancy, the meaningful implementation of the National Action Plan, and a recognition of the need to substantively develop and empower the civilian institutions that should be at the forefront of efforts to counter extremism.

This does not simply mean reforming the courts and police to do their jobs more effectively, or even taking action against the so-called ‘banned’ outfits that continue to operate with impunity across the country. While these things are obviously required, it is also important to remember that Pakistan is embroiled in a battle of ideas. If the TTP and their ilk target schools, colleges, and universities in an attempt to snuff out visions of society that clash with theirs, it is our collective responsibility to respond by doubling down on our efforts to show future generations that another world is possible. If radicalization is to be addressed in Pakistan, it is more important than ever to regulate madrassahs, revise and reform public and private sector curriculums to inculcate values such as tolerance and respect for diversity, and finally bring an end to state-sponsored attempts to use religion as a tool to justify different political agendas. The best way to honour the students who died in Peshawar and Charsadda is to ensure that the hateful ideology espoused by the TTP and similar organizations is consigned to the dustbin of history.

On that note, it is important to remember that violence and extremism are hardly the only problem that Pakistan faces, and that death assumes a multiplicity of guises when it stalks children in this country. Take, for instance, events that have been unfolding in Thar this past month. In 2014, drought was blamed for a famine that ended up killing hundreds of people in the district, the vast majority of whom were children. A similar humanitarian disaster is underway now, with drought once again being blamed for dozens of deaths. In response to criticisms of the PPP government’s handling of the crisis, the Chief Minister and other party leaders have engaged in a competition to see who can deliver the most insensitive response to the crisis; while Qaim Ali Shah has declared that the government can not know about, or be held responsible for, every dead child in the province, PPP MNA Imran Leghari said it was not a big deal if people died in hospitals since it apparently happens all the time. Maula Bax Chandio adopted a different strategy, claiming that child mortality had actually declined in the district thanks to the government’s efforts.

Since the PPP seemingly wants to talk numbers, it makes sense to consider a few. In 2015, according to the World Bank, Pakistan had one of the highest infant and child mortality rates in the world, with 66 out of 1000 babies dying before reaching the age of one, and 89 out of 1000 children dying before reaching the age of five. These statistics are disturbing to say the least. After all, what they show is that almost 9% of children born in this country will not live to see their fifth birthdays. Nonetheless, one could argue that Pakistan has made significant progress on this front, since infant mortality in 1991 was 104 out of 1000 live births. Again, any celebration of this ‘achievement’ would be misguided. After all, in the same period, infant mortality in India dropped from 86 out of 1000 to 38 out of 1000. In Bangladesh, it fell from 96 out of 1000 to 31 out of 1000, in Iran it went from 43 out of 1000 to 13 out of 1000, and in Sri Lanka it declined from 18 out of 1000 to 8 out of 1000. Even more tellingly, infant mortality in Ethiopia went from 119 out of 1000 to 41 out of 1000, in Tanzania it went from 100 out of 1000 to 35 out of 1000, and in Uganda it dropped from 109 out of 1000 to 38 out of 1000!

Not only does Pakistan perform much worse than its neighbours when it comes to infant mortality, it has also failed to match the progress made by them and, indeed, by some countries that were arguably worse off than Pakistan in the early 1990s. Unbelievably, the situation is even worse in Sindh. According to the Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey conduced in 2014, infant mortality in Sindh was 82 out of 1000, and child mortality stood at 104 out of 1000. To make matters worse, data from 1991 suggests that Sindh has made no real progress in addressing this issue; back then, infant mortality in Sindh stood at 81 out of 1000, and child mortality was 106 out of 1000. In Thar, experts have estimated the current infant mortality rate to be as high as 100 out of 1000 live births.

Arguing that drought and famine lead to unavoidable deaths is very problematic. Droughts can be managed with adequate planning (as they are around the world) and famines have more to do with issues around the distribution of food than any actual shortage of it. When the Sindh government claims that it could do nothing to predict or prevent the deaths in Thar, they are simply wrong.

The problem, however, goes deeper than that. As the infant and child mortality statistics show, there are serious underlying issues that need to save the lives countless babies and children in the province. Across the globe, infant and child mortality has been drastically reduced through the provision of proper nutrition to mothers and children, immunization, more hospitals providing improved antenatal, neonatal, and paediatric care, reproductive health programmes, and so on. Providing all of these services should be the responsibility of the government, and in this case, the buck most certainly stops with the PPP. Yet, instead of addressing the dire developmental needs of the people they ostensibly represent, the PPP’s leaders seem to be far more concerned with ensuring the provision of VIP security and protocol.

Children are the future. When they are targeted in Peshawar and Charsadda, we rightly call for action to be taken to ensure such attacks never happen again. We should respond with the same fury when confronted with avoidable tragedies like the situation in Thar, precipitated not by extremist violence but by the insouciance and utter incompetence of those in power.