The massacre in Quetta in which about 14 female students were targeted demonstrates one thing; humanity or whatever is left of it has fallen in the deepest abyss. Men have been fighting for ages for various reasons, but they never deliberately targeted women, even in barbaric ages; the women suffered, to use a modern cliché, as collateral damage. Even animals do not attack the females of their species. This carnage proves that the humans are worse than animals.Nobody knows for definite who the killers are and what they stand for; we have theories but no facts. The agencies that are responsible for law and order and collating information are as lost as the general public. Pakistan has been facing this dilemma for quite some time. Our religious places, schools, military and police installations, commercial paces and selected individuals have been subjected to such attacks. Every time an incident takes place, we hear identical rhetoric that pledges strong actions against the miscreants. However, the state security apparatus can only react against a threat, if it can identify that threat. The regularity with which these miscreants surface and inflict damage depicts that they are always a step ahead of our security forces.In all previous incidents, there were reports that some of the attackers were killed in encounters, as has been reported in the Quetta carnage. There were reports that some were also arrested; however, no one knows what punishments were awarded to them. There are reports that some were set free by the courts for lack of evidence. Whatever way one looks at the proceedings, one feels that our law of evidence and our court procedures need careful scrutiny to deal with culprits involved in such massacres. The punishments awarded to such miscreants should be deterrent in nature. A photo flashed in the newspapers about terrorists executed in Saudi Arabia comes to mind; their headless bodies were hanged publicly for days. Some may call it cruel, but those who commit cruelty need to be dealt with cruelty. The girl students travelling in the bus had committed no crime; they were not politically motivated; they were pursuing their dreams for a better and prosperous future for themselves and their parents. Those who cut short their dreams and aspirations of their parents mercilessly do not deserve any mercy either.Pakistan is facing an undeclared internal insurgency. Those who opposed the creation of Pakistan, and those who have their national and international agendas in the region, have also jumped into this insurgency. The insurgents, miscreants or terrorists - name them what you will - are getting ample financial, material and technical aid and assistance from the forces that have an interest in the region. Our successive governments and our security agencies have either failed to identify these forces, or are too timid to name them for reasons best known to them.Uprising and agitations in a country take place when the government become unjust in fulfilling people's needs and aspirations. We should admit that the governments and leaders in the past ignored regional and group aspirations and when there was an opposition to a central policy, they resorted to force to suppress the opposition. In this dispensation, the civilian and military governments behaved in identical manner. This strong-arm handling creates a political void that is filled by forces that oppose the authority in the name of people, and draw sympathies and resources from those foreign forces that have their own agendas. Balochistan is a classic example of this situation.The mess in Pakistan cannot be cleared by Rehman Malik style statements and utterances. It needs serious thought and collective action by civil, military and intelligence forces. Difficult situations demand difficult decisions and bold executions. Pakistan will have to shun political expediencies’ and diplomatic decencies if it wants to emerge victorious from this quagmire. Politically, Pakistan under the PML-N government is in an ideal situation to overcome the difficulties. They have the ‘heavy mandate’ to carry everybody with them on national issues and, hopefully, will have five-long years to implement the decisions adopted to establish peace.First, the leadership with the assistance of security and intelligence agencies must determine the foreign forces that are aiding and abetting terrorists and providing them financial, material and technical support. There are vague hints in this direction; we need to be unambiguous in our assertions. Our neighbours do not mince their words while accusing Pakistan. We need to confront them with evidence and should raise our voices in world forums boldly. The new government’s “heavy mandate” should provide it domestic strength to adopt this approach.Secondly, political leadership must directly approach the masses in areas that are in the grip of insurgent forces. The majority of citizens want to live in peace and pursue their dreams of prosperity. Efforts should be launched to isolate the peaceful citizenry from the influence of miscreants. The miscreants survive on fear; eliminate the fear factor, the miscreant will die his own death. This will need political sagacity, a visible impartial and just treatment and equal distribution of resources to rebuild the lives of people that will give them the strength to stand against fear. In executing this policy, the government should approach the masses directly, avoiding middlemen and leaders, who hold their personal benefits and desires supreme.Thirdly, the miscreants, who are arrested in encounters, must be tried in special courts with special powers and given exemplary punishments. The example of Saudi Arabia is worth considering. The message in the punishment should be clear: no mercy for the merciless. Those who want to come to the negotiating table should be encouraged without any preconditions; experience has demonstrated that the militants use negotiations as time-gainers. The Pakistani miscreants where possible should be assisted by rehabilitating them in peaceful economic pursuits; those involved in heinous crimes must be held accountable. The foreign element in the ranks of terrorists must be identified and given wide publicity; their countries and government should be held responsible for their acts in the same way Pakistan is accused for any act committed anywhere in the world.Lastly, political disparity that exists among the parties and leadership on the subject needs to be eliminated with utmost haste. Reports appearing in the media and TV talk shows some religious leaders, who are politically active, depict a soft corner for those who are involved in terrorist activities; the TTP has visible sympathisers. These leaders and parties should be told that those who act against the solidarity of Pakistan and those who sympathise with them are not friends of Pakistan. They should be asked to exert their influence to bring these elements to peaceful negotiations and then abide by the agreements. The fact is that the rank and file of the militant networks are filled with criminals from Pakistan and other countries; there are few ideologically motivated operatives in their ranks.Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should use the strength, which the people have provided him and his party, to opt for strong and well thought out initiatives to take Pakistan out of the security quagmire that it finds itself in.

The writer is a retired brigadier.