The terror attacks in Lahore that killed 80 Pakistanis as they prayed bring to the fore yet again the inadequacy of the piecemeal response of mainstream political leadership to the unrelenting madness of a violent fringe of extremists. Clichd statements condemning the attacks and rhetorical resolves to fight the terrorists are not enough. There is an urgent need to go beyond such ineffective window-dressing and challenge the cancerous context that sustains and propagates such acts. There is a growing understanding that it will have to involve not only reclaiming the religious space at home but also reorienting our foreign policy. The recent attacks targeted the Ahmadi community at not one but two locations in the city, obviously with the purpose of making the anti-Ahmadi message louder and clearer. Yet it is important not to fall into the trap laid out by the brains behind these terrorists, and to see the Friday episodes of terrorism in perspective. It will serve us well not to get bogged down in trying to analyse them as targeting any particular community. Earlier on, the so-called champions of Islam have attacked Christians and Sikhs, Shia leaders and mosques as well as those belonging to other sects, terrorised people paying homage at the shrine of Rehman Baba, killed people for not having the right length of beard or sending their daughters to school, and what not. Surely, it is not a clash of differing religious ideologies but an attempt to terrorise the people into submission and to divide them. Their target is Pakistan and all Pakistanis. The religious political parties and groups, including those who have been at the forefront of the campaign against the Ahmadi community, have condemned the attacks and termed them as militating against the teachings of Islam. Although these parties and groups have been instrumental in fostering and fanning intolerance towards Ahmadis, even they find it impossible to condone attacks on a place of worship and the killing of unarmed praying citizens, acts that are clearly un-Islamic. So where is the motivation for such crimes coming from? Do the young terrorists really think they are serving Islam through such acts? Who is misleading them and from where do they get the funds and arms? A lot of confusion has been created around these questions but it becomes easier to find the answers once we focus on the larger picture. When I listen to my well-meaning liberal and conservative friends engaged in heated arguments, it is hard not to notice strands of truth that they both hold out. Unfortunately, it is impossible to knit them together within the context of an argument. Steeped in the polarity of their narratives, they find it difficult to listen and to share. Only an open-minded conversation that rises above the usual x-did-this and y-did-that accusations, can help us discover the common ground and a direly needed balanced narrative. This is essential to create a policy orientation with the strength to take on the challenge at hand. The narratives of the terrorists, pseudo-Islamic or corporate, stand on feet of clay and derive power from each others evil. They are successful in assuming centrality in the discourse because of the divisions they sow, pre-empting the emergence of any credible alternative narrative that could expose their true face. While the government, civil society, media and academia will all have to undertake the task of piecing together an independent perspective on our national dilemma, it is not difficult to discern two prevalent trends that need to be questioned and changed. Firstly, the coercive culture being pushed by vested interests as Islam and the acceptance of its legitimacy by mainstream political leadership. And secondly, the propensity of our state institutions to become willing tools for the promotion of dirty corporate agendas at the expense of the well-being, even life and liberty, of our people. The two are closely inter-twined and will have to be dealt with simultaneously. Despite all the propaganda, it is obvious that the US-led occupation of Afghanistan and its attacks on our border regions, rather than quelling the pseudo-Islamic terrorists, have actually served as a catalyst for their growth. The reign of terror let lose on unarmed civilians, and shady relationships with warlords and militants, has created a lawless space for breeding violence. There are credible reports about weapons being provided to militants and a host of intelligence outfits grinding their axes in the Afghan cauldron behind the smokescreen of NATOs war on terror. Go back in history a little and you find the same freedom-loving West sponsoring an insurgency against the evil Soviet Empire. Madrassas were funded through their royal friends in the Middle East to create a brainwashed breed of intolerant mujahedeen. Heroin was produced and smuggled with the help of their intelligence outfits to generate funds to arm them. And those who controlled Pakistans destiny at the time became willing tools in this game-plan. Now the freedom-loving West has a new game-plan, and we do not seem to have learnt our lesson from the first war we fought at their behest. It is true there is a war to be fought at home against the intolerant and violent culture that has been wrongly super-imposed on our peaceful religion of Islam. Much of this intolerance and violence can be traced back to the days of the Afghan jihad, Zias indoctrination through the media and educational institutions and promotion of a professional clergy. Isnt it strange that those professing to follow a religion whose Prophet allowed Christians and Jews to pray in the mosque, are divided into hostile sects, each sect having its own mosque? Isnt it sad that the leadership of a religion that has no place for a professional clergy is in the hands of professional clerics? They might condemn killing in the name of Islam, but they create the context within which these killings take place. It is for the political and civil society leadership to disown such basic distortions in our religion and restore its enlightened and humane spirit. Pakistan today craves for a leadership with the will and courage to redefine the response of the state and society to the two evil monsters feeding on each other; monsters that threaten to destroy us if we let them be. The writer is a freelance columnist.