New Delhi: The Pakistan Taliban’s massacre of Peshawar schoolchildren should awaken the country. Would it?

Unfortunately no.

The tragedy of Pakistan lies at two levels. One is at the level of state institutions and the other on the plane of society. Both spheres have been perverted by misinterpretation and misapplication of religion. When religion is turned into a political weapon, it indubitably destroys the wielder.

In general, Pakistani society is scarcely concerned about the wellbeing of religious minorities in its midst. This is not a matter of secularism; that is a fraud. Your religion should be respected and tolerated by those around. This is a matter of decency. It has everything to do with values and little to do with ideology. When ideology is brought into what is simply fair-play, it makes it political and destroys the goodness.

The blasphemy laws of Pakistan are terrible. Because they are so, they become dreaded tools for every sort of wrongdoer. You may not have blasphemed anything or anyone but the accuser has the force of law, the judiciary and society behind him. It is only in the rare case that you would escape with your life. Then the patriarchy of Pakistan society joined with religious misinterpretation debases women and inflicts terrible punishments on them for supposed transgressions, which the terrorists generously feed on, and replicate on a larger scale.

Meanwhile, the schoolbooks of Pakistan spread horrendous lies about other religions; India is perpetually demonized. The emphasis on religion often comes at the cost of non-religious studies. Mathematics, the sciences and humanities, commerce and economics, jurisprudence, and art, music and literature are condemned in Pakistan’s radicalized curriculum. The well-off emigrate; talent is also deserting Pakistan. There are pockets of excellence as there will always be, just as there are those with the means and authority to indulge in hedonism. But otherwise, Pakistani society is rapidly regressing. The terrorists are drawn from this same pool; why would they be kind to women and gentle to children?

Now look at Pakistan at the level of state institutions. Pakistani politicians often blame the military (rightly) for the unfolding horrors of Pakistan; but they are also implicated in them. Z. A. Bhutto did not oppose Pakistan army genocide in former East Pakistan but was at hand to take power from the disgraced generals after Bangladesh was formed. His daughter, Benazir, created the Afghan Taliban with the aid of her ISI chief to benefit American oil interests in Central Asia. And Nawaz Sharief was propped up by the Islamist General Zia-ul-Haq to replace the Bhutto clan. The Punjab-based Nawaz Sharief family has dubious connections with the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorist leader, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, who ordered the 2008 Bombay terror attack. Imran Khan, likewise, is soft on terrorists. In other words, Pakistani politicians of all generations and ideologies remain part and parcel of the culture of extremism.

The other Pakistani establishment institution responsible for the radicalization of the country is the Pakistan army. The Pakistan army has been responsible for all terror attacks in Afghanistan and India since the late-1980s. It is the patron of LeT, the Afghan Taliban, the shadowy groups that target Iran, and it had a big stake in Al-Qaeda till Osama Bin Laden incurred American enmity. The Pakistan army is synonymous with terrorism in South Asia.

It is such a military institution that has taken possession of the Pakistan state. It has imposed its Manichean vision on Pakistan. Pakistanis may elect a government; but that government will have no say or control over foreign and strategic military policies. Because the Pakistan military is funded and sustained by the United States, it cursorily heeds to American interests in the region; most often, it acts against its benefactor. Even knowing about this, the Americans do little; they openly plead helplessness. Pakistani craftiness is beyond them.

An all-powerful civilian government would know how to avenge the Peshawar massacre. But a military which has sponsored terrorism all along cannot afford to be harsh. Civilian governments have to answer for the death of children; militaries operate in a faraway cynical world of low intensity war and strategic depth. Pakistan army-sponsored terrorists would have no compunction killing schoolchildren in Afghanistan and India; in 2008, the boarding schools of Dehradun were reconnoitred for LeT attack alongwith Bombay city. If the Pakistan army can so heartlessly sponsor terrorism, why would it be swayed from its strategic goals by the death of 132 children in Peshawar? If anything, there are likely moves afoot to scale down the counterterrorism campaign in North Waziristan which provoked the massacre. The worse it gets in Pakistan, the more it remains unchanged.

For the smallest transformation to begin, the Pakistan military must come under total control of the civilian government; that is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. Secondly, Pakistani society must turn the spotlight on its radicalism and move towards reform; again a distant dream. In the meantime, children have borne the price of Pakistan state terrorism. In the insulated fortress of the Rawalpindi General Headquarters, they won’t hear their cries.