Amjad Sabri, the famous vocalist and son of perhaps the greatest sub-continental qawwal, was shot dead in Karachi’s Liaqatabad area, earlier this week. TTP’s Hakeemullah Mehsud group claimed responsibility for the murder, and stated that Sabri (who recites soul-stirring renditions of mystical poetry, particularly concerning the Ahl-e-Bayt) had been gunned down on account of “blasphemy”. Almost simultaneously, Farhan Ali Waris, a famous Noha-Khawan was targeted by unknown gunmen near Karachi’ Teen Hatti area, who fled the scene upon retaliatory firing by his (private) gunmen. Mr. Waris’ crime? He recites the pain and praise of Ahl-e-Bayt on our national television, and at various Shia gatherings, throughout the year.

With this events, just like that, the precariously built narrative of sectarian peace returning to Pakistan, seems to have been shattered by the piercing sound of gunfire in Karachi. And in its wake, the people of Pakistan – especially those belonging to minority religious factions – are left wondering who might become a target next, and when?

It seems that, over the past some months, while running after the Panama Leaks (and other such political scandals), our national focus has relented from countering terrorism. In our pursuit of political accountability (which is a noble goal in itself), we seem to have paused our efforts on eliminating religious terrorism from our land. While the military is still focused on winning back the territory controlled by TTP, the populi and its government is no longer focused on winning back the hearts and minds that have ben lost to a philosophy of intolerance.

Terrorism, at least in the case of Pakistan, is a multi-headed dragon; one that cannot be killed with a single swing of the sword. Over the course of the last three decades, we have deluded ourselves as to how deep and entrenched the scrooge of terrorism festers in our society. Hiding behind the nomenclature of ‘sectarianism’, ‘provincialism’, ‘wahabism’, and a pristine image of noble ‘mujahideen’ fighters, we have avoided calling terrorists by their name. And for this reason, above all – this inertia towards regarding all forms of militancy as terrorism –we have struggled to devise and implement a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that acknowledges the various heads of terrorism, and attempts to eradicate each on its own turf.

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 extremism 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 our 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, and prosecuting the same through summary trials. 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.

To this end, 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 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, and countless target killings, 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 individuals like Amjad Sabri and Farhan Ali Waris continue to be easy targets across our land.

The soul of a people, of each nation, is frequently tied – interminably – to a singular issue that destiny calls upon to answer. An issue that defines its character, and for which it will forever be judged in the annals of history. For now, in Pakistan, the quintessential issue – one that will matter more than all others, in the final analysis of history – is how we counter extremism and militancy in our society.

Unless we ‘fix’ the issue of terrorism, all advances made in any other segment of our democracy will, for the most part, remain ineffective. Regardless of a liberal investment regime, how can Pakistan attract foreign capital, till such time that our streets remain an incubator for violence? How can the Constitutional right to education – under Article 25A of the Constitution – be fulfilled, till such time that schools are being blown up in our cities? How can the project of ‘access to justice’ succeed when judges, prosecutors and witnesses fear for their life during, and after, trial? How can the project of universal healthcare succeed, when polio workers are being shot in our villages?

When will we wake up from this criminal slumber of apathy? When will our lacerated conscience bleed a solution? How much blood will have to spill, how many lives lost, how many families bereft, how much hope extinguished, before confused narratives give birth to a national consensus against extremism? What answer will we have in our defence – on the day that we meet our Creator – for having watched, impotently, as our nation bleeds?