THE state’s action against militants in the aftermath of the Peshawar tragedy was bound to produce a bloody reaction. Friday night’s bombing of an Imambargah in the garrison city of Rawalpindi seems to be the first major salvo fired by the extremists as part of this blowback.

A number of people were killed and injured in the explosion at the entrance of the place of worship as a milad ceremony was under way inside the premises. It is a small miracle the bombing did not occur within the crowded Imambargah, or else the body count would have been much higher. On Saturday, a foreign news agency quoted the spokesman of the banned TTP’s Jamaatul Ahrar faction claiming responsibility for the atrocity. While this claim needs to be verified by the security establishment, it must be noted that Rawalpindi has in recent times seen ugly sectarian violence; the caretaker of the targeted Imambargah was also murdered a few years ago. Local police are reportedly looking into these angles, too.

Whether it is places of worship, schools, markets or other public spaces considered ‘soft targets’ by the militants, in the days to come both state and society will need to redouble efforts to thwart terrorist attacks. While Peshawar may have shaken the leadership out of its slumber, dismantling the militant infrastructure across Pakistan will not be an easy task, considering how deeply entrenched militancy is within this society. Thinking that battling the militant hydra will be a surgical, bloodless operation is a fallacy. What the nation needs is preparation and resolve to confront the challenge. But while the security forces have been carrying out raids and there are efforts to shore up the defences of schools, much more needs to be done on the ground to reassure citizens that the state is ready to tackle the problem. And preparing the nation for the blowback is firmly the responsibility of the government.

However, while the elected leadership has activated itself on the security and legislative fronts, where public interaction is concerned it still needs to improve its efforts. Just saying we are in a state of war is not enough; the prime minister and the top leadership need to reassure the nation that steps are being taken to ramp up security and uproot militant infrastructure. Things like regular public contact through the media, visiting survivors of terrorist attacks or condoling with heirs can go a long way in reassuring people that their government stands with them. What is certain is that more attacks like the Rawalpindi bombing will only further demoralise the nation, even as Peshawar’s pall of gloom still hangs heavy. It is time for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to lead from the front and for the elected leadership to be seen at the front and centre of the fight against militancy.

Published in Dawn January 11th , 2014

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