First the good news: according to a report released by the Centre for Research and Security studies released on Friday, terrorism and crime related deaths in 2015 plummeted to 4, 654 from a high of 7,611 in 2014, a nearly 40% decrease   (in 2013 the number of such deaths stood at 5,694). The report also finds that terror attacks were down by 56% and injuries by 57% in 2015 compared to 2014. Though clearly a ‘victory’ of operation Zarb-e-Azb and the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism, it is partial as even one terror attack or one death is one too many. Hopefully, the year 2016 will see more advances of military and law enforcement agencies’ successes.

The worry, however, is that 2015 remained a year where the state seemed to have achieved a semblance of a coherent militaristic response only towards Islamist militancy. And whilst ready made terrorists are being dispatched (variously through operation Zarb-e-Azb, police and Rangers’ encounters and military court trials), no significant measures or progress were in evidence that might tackle the ideology, mindsets or infrastructure that churns out militants.

One of the key focuses of the NAP was madressa reform. Even though personally I see zero logic in reforming madrassas, and am a vocal proponent of doing away with them entirely, even that intention has fallen victim to the Federal Interior Minister’s intransigence, and the plan has whittled down to trying to register the madressas. Though the interior minister has claimed that only about 10% of existing madressas are involved in terror activities, one cannot quite rely on his information given that he still does not know that Daesh/ ISIS is well entrenched in Pakistan. Moreover, what is key here is not ‘activities’, but Islamist indoctrination of superiority of the Musalman over all others, hate for other religions and sects and their followers, concept of khilafat that goes against the concept of nation states, jihad and what have you.

These seeds are sown not just by madressas, but also by the otherwise seemingly harmless ‘dars’ many women’s groups conduct all over the country, by the Tableeghi Jamaat, by the material included in the compulsory Islamic studies taught in every school (public or private) in Pakistan, and by khateebs and imams of hundreds of thousands of mosques all over Pakistan. Once the seeds are sown, the indoctrinated are free to take the ideology to any limit – the internet and secure access to masterminds and experts being freely available.

As long as Pakistan focuses only on militants, and not the ideology that creates them, it will continue to wage a losing battle. Without attention to changing education and clamping down on indoctrination, wherever it takes place, Islamist terrorism and militancy will surge back the day military operations cease. Only the militaristic aspect of NAP is being implemented (and that too not fully), whilst measures to bring about attitudinal changes are not being focused upon.

The reason one finds law enforcement and military action is also partial is that organisations such as Jamat ud Dawa (JuD) and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) are operating and recruiting future militants freely in the country. It appears that on the one hand the state is allowing free operation of militant/ extremist creation factories, and on the other swatting down their products. What kind of a zero sum game is this? Or negative sum game… in the longer run.

One understands the state of Pakistan has differentiated between Pakistan centric and neighbour centric militant organisations. One has always disagreed with the state’s strategy though, asserting that differentiation is a faulty policy as ‘good militants’ invariably eventually turn into ‘bad militants’. The key to understanding this is that once you infuse ideology into someone, they eventually become more loyal to the ideology more than the infuser. Time and again one has seen that the state’s ‘strategic assets’ have turned against it.

The most recent illustrative example is that of a ring of erstwhile JuD operatives in Sialkot having changed allegiance to Daesh and working to not only send operatives to Syria but to overthrow government in Pakistan to establish Khilafat. Quoting from a Dawn news report of Dec 29:”‘Investigators claimed that the suspects had taken oath to overthrow democracy and introduce Khilafat in Pakistan through armed struggle” and that they had “already established infrastructure in the district to carry out operations across the country.” What bears witness to what the civil society has been screaming for many years is this extract from the same news report, “Originally the suspects belonged to Jamaatud Dawa, but later joined the IS.”

It’s not the centricity, it’s the ideology, stupid!

And the ideology is the bedrock of terrorism, not just in Pakistan but world over. Minor difference are either overcome, or the ideologues morph to achieve ‘higher’ objectives. This is why we see Pakistani Taliban joining hands with Al Qaeda, the JuD gravitating to Al Qaeda, the Laal Masjid lot swearing allegiance to Daesh, the Shia centric Sipah e Sahaba turning on the Pakistan military. There are scores of more examples one can cite, but the principle should be clear by now: Islamist ideology is toxic, no matter how you cut it, no matter how you try to use it. It may only ever serve a very short term, myopic purpose. In the long term, the snakes will evolve, deform, morph, cut loose, and come back to bite.

This country, if it is to survive, will have to change its Ka’aba; whether with a fell strike a la Ata Turk, or whether less visibly, it will need to become secular to survive; it will need to stop patronage of religion at state level, the primary purveyor of extremist seeds.