If maintaining ties with militants has brought us to this point, what would severing them do? How much worse could it get?
That's what I found myself asking, as body after body of the deceased arrived at various hospitals across Lahore last Sunday night; a mounting by the hour, a seemingly unending aftermath of the devastating attack near the Wagah border.
Like most Pakistanis across the country, conscious through paralysis, unwilling to see yet unable to move, with equal parts disbelief and anger, I sat in front of the TV, watching the utter chaos and carnage.
… 24 dead, they shouted! Then, 37.
… 42 … 55 … when would it stop?
Family members, otherwise hurriedly walking around, could be seen cautiously slowing their pace on approaching a dead body; allowing the dread to fill up their hearts completely before lifting the white sheet; as if postponing the lifelong impact of their grief, for just one more moment.
The Wagah border, among the dwindling recreational venues for Pakistanis, is a place where many flock to tend to a case of tapering patriotism.
Armed with flags and cheers for their country, all strata of our society unite here to pay homage to their own separate versions of an unyielding patriotism.
Sixty people enraptured by the intense Beating Retreat ceremony are now dead in the biggest attack yet by militants since the military operation, Zarb-i-Azb, was launched in North Waziristan five months ago.
Also read: An attack that was waiting to happen
Sixty people with an all new surge of pride and commitment for their country, walked out of the parade avenue and right into the mouth of the blast.
It is especially painful to realise how swiftly the shouts of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’, the sounds of foot stamps, high kicks and marching soldiers morphed into the wailing of ambulance sirens, the sobs of a husband and the cries of a mother – a time of elation marred by terror; a sight all too familiar.
Despite this, Pakistan’s descent into darkness furthered as it typically does: when TV channels aired self-congratulatory messages for reporting the tragedy first; when multiple militant outfits clamoured to take responsibility; when our leaders made empty condemnations, just like all the other attacks.
In this state of complete ferment, do we dare ask:
Which attack on our people is going to be the one that determines the cost of our outlook on militancy?
The Wagah attack has highlighted the state's incapacity to rid Pakistan of this seemingly incurable disease.
The sheer scale and the apparent ease with which the attack was carried out leaves many of us pondering about the breach at the site of the attack.
News reports point to a denser police presence elsewhere in the city due to Muharram processions that could have made Wagah a relatively ‘easier’ target.
But since the GHQ attack in 2009 (and subsequent military base attacks), should we really wonder if there are any ‘difficult’ targets left in Pakistan anymore?
Editorial: Militancy: is the state prepared?
It appears then that we have also been wrongfully addressing the question of whether or not we were ready for a fallout of Zarb-i-Azb.
Instead, we should have been addressing the critical question of whether or not Zarb-i-Azb would work without a coherent anti-militancy narrative.
Until there is an unambiguous state narrative on militancy – right up until that day, you, me, all of us...
We’re fair game.