If there were any doubts in anyone’s mind about the sheer ugliness of the maulvis and maulanas in our midst, these peddlers of faith are rapidly laying them to rest themselves. They are also burying the myth about some of them being more tolerant than others with their own mischievous hands. It should be obvious by now that the entire spectrum of professional clerics supports terrorism and fasaad in the name of Islam. The question is: How do we put them in their place?

Now that the clean-up operation has started in Punjab, at last, we can count on the military to rein in the armed militants and the most rabid among them. The current military leadership has shown the resolve and capacity to do that in other parts of the country, and it is but a matter of time before the last bastions of violent extremism in our country are blown apart. On that count, we have ample reason to be optimistic. However, that is just the starting point.

Those stuck in the past and bent upon painting the institution of military in dark colors would like to convince us otherwise. They use every weapon in their devious arsenal to taint the present counter-terrorism initiative under General Raheel, reminding us of the now-buried military-mullah alliance at every opportunity and mouthing unsubstantiated assertions that the ongoing counter-terrorism operation still distinguishes between good and bad terrorists. They provide support to the terrorists by eroding the most formidable bulwark against them.

These aspersions on the ongoing military operation, and objections about how it is being conducted, are counter-productive in another way.

They distract us from focusing on the weakest links in our fight against terrorism and the task of reclaiming our faith from professional peddlers of Islam. Our military is doing a good job of countering terrorists with guns and it would do us civilians a lot of good if we pay attention to our part of the job.

It is not hard to decipher what needs to be done. The problem is that nobody seems to be interested in doing it. Our federal and provincial governments and political parties, the so-called civil society and intelligentsia, and the bulk of our media have failed to measure up to the task. Their timid and weak-kneed response to the menacing mullahs and the ignorant and intolerant brands of Islam that they peddle is what we should be most concerned about.

The leading lights of our oh-so-sacrosanct democracy, whether in the government or opposition, still pander to the maulvis and maulanas disguised as scholars and leaders of religious parties, giving them the respectability that they don’t deserve for political gains. They legitimise their self-proclaimed authority on matters of faith although Quran clearly warns us about those who use the name of God for worldly gains, who quote the word of God in fragments and make difficult what God has made easy for us.

The media celebrities still invite these shopkeepers of Islam to their talk shows, giving airtime to their sectarian interpretations and rabid views. There are bold voices challenging the monopoly of professional clerics over matters of faith but they are largely confined to the print and social media. Television channels are more popular and have a bigger impact on society, but they are still to muster the courage of categorically denouncing the tyranny of professional clergy and its credentials to speak for God.

The best that the intelligentsia and civil society could come up with is a critique of religious intolerance from a secular liberal standpoint that has limited popular appeal if any. A narrative rooted in the long tradition of enlightened Islam and building upon the poetry of our saints that powerfully rejects the menace of the mullahs and strikes a chord with the public is yet to evolve. Even the progressive ideas and inspiring verses of Iqbal who we call our national poet have been forgotten.

When the government talks about evolving a counter-narrative on Islam, it looks towards Saudi Arabia, of all places, for cooperation. Other points on the National Action Plan which were a good place to start are gathering dust. The federal and provincial governments think it is enough to mouth rhetoric about them and take token steps to show some performance. No administrative steps have been taken to effectively curb the abuse of loudspeakers, hate speech and sectarian literature.

The government that has billions of rupees to throw on extravagant over-priced projects can’t find the money to make the crucial National Counter-Terrorism Authority operational. Instead of pushing the madrassahs to revise their medieval curricula reeking of superstition and sectarian hatred, it is mollycoddling them to accept some form of registration. The numbers our governments throw at us to show their performance is little more than dust in our eyes.

The terrorist attack in Lahore and the mayhem in Islamabad’s Red Zone are essentially the failure of our governments to rise up to the challenge that we face as a nation. Our leaders of democracy sat on their hands as the supporters of Qadri mobilised their dark storm. The Punjab government claimed that it had what it takes to take on the terrorists, refusing to allow a military operation in the province. Can we blame the military leadership for starting the operation on its own now?

Those going round and round the stunted democracy bush would like to raise objections about the military operation on that count. In the vacuum of their politically correct theories and fragmented notions about democracy, only the elected government has the right to order it.

Their collapsible constitutional yardsticks are taken out only when it comes to measuring the actions of the military. As far as the political leaders are concerned, they can break as many rules of democracy as they like and get away with murdering the constitution in broad daylight. When it comes to measuring their actions, the yardsticks are conveniently folded up and packed away.

Now this might be considered blasphemy for the champions of democracy but our elected governments have clearly forfeited their right to call the shots on counter-terrorism.