Up to five kilogrammes of explosive material was used in the blast at Wagah, and included the use of ball bearings to inflict maximum damage. The suicide bomber was trying to make it to the Wagah parade but was stopped at a security checkpoint. There are three checkpoints on the way to the parade ground. It would seem he passed through the first and the second without incident. How did this happen? Law-enforcement agencies had been alerted about the possibility of an attack at Wagah amongst other locations in Lahore a day earlier. They were informed about a missing young boy who might be used as a suicide bomber. Even with this intelligence at hand, they were unable to prevent an attack and the significant loss of civilian life. At the time of the writing of this editorial, at least 60 people have died.

Two groups have separately claimed responsibility for the Wagah border attack. Jamaatul Ahrar, a splinter group from the TTP claimed that the single-bomber attack was a response to the army operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan. They refuted an earlier claim made by Jundullah, another outlawed outfit quick to claim responsibility. It is relevant to understand the significance of the attack, and where it came. This has been the biggest retaliatory attack by militants since the beginning of Zarb-e-Azb, and the choice of venue is not random. The incident occurred at Wagah Border which is symbolic for what it means for law enforcement agencies, and the state of Pakistan. It is a message: if such an audacious attack can be carried out at a heavily guarded border checkpoint, then no place is safe. The series now includes attacks on Military Headquarters in Rawalpindi, on the Police Training Academy in Lahore and Karachi Airport.

The fourth suicide attack this year in the Punjab has rightly set into motion an important debate about the need for a comprehensive strategy and narrative that tackles militancy. While the army fights militancy in the north, the problem continues to thrive in the centre. If the fight against militants does not focus on the need for a counter-narrative, ready recruits for suicide bombings will always exist. The IG Punjab Police said it was difficult to check suicide bombers in time; yes, by the time the police gets involved it is too late. But it is possible to get them when they are still children taken off the streets into madrassas that feed them twice a day. It is still possible when, failed by the state, they fall victim to narratives of hate and revenge. Then, it is still possible to give them something else to hold on to. And that is the only way, the only time, to stop them.