Coming shortly after the devastating terrorist attacks in Charssada, Shabqadar and Peshawar in Pakhtunkhwa, the carnage brought about by a suicide attack in a Lahore Park on Sunday March 27 is regarded to be the most shocking blow of recent times in view of the huge number of casualties that include children and women. Some of the victims were members of the Christian community who had gathered in the park to celebrate Easter.

Lahore is the capital and heart of the Punjab which is not only the most populace and prosperous province of Pakistan but it is also regarded to be the core area of the Pakistani state apart from being a political and social base of the country’s ruling civil and military elite.

Although it was not for the first time that terrorists have targeted Lahore, but coming more than a year after the approval of National Action Plan (NAP) and nearly two years after Zarb-e-Azb in Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) that was supposed to have broken the back of terrorism in Pakistan, the Lahore bloodbath has raised serious questions about the counter-terror strategy of the country.

However, three other developments, coming slightly before and immediately after the Lahore carnage, dramatically demonstrated the deepening civil military divide in the state system of Pakistan. This problem has aggravated to an extent where both sides even do not pretend anymore to be “on the same page”; a favorite mantra of the civilian government that has been monotonously used to hide the divide.

The first development was the gathering of Sunni Barelvi sectarian organizations in Rawalpindi on March 27 to observe the 40th day of Mumtaz Qadri’s death. Qadri, a security guard and a religious fanatic was the self-professed killer of the former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. He had earlier received the death sentence from the courts for the murder and was executed at court orders after due judicial process more than three weeks ago. The sectarian crowd subsequently marched on Islamabad and occupied the Red Zone which is the nerve centre of Islamabad, in a sit in to put pressure on the government for accepting its extremist sectarian demands.

The second development was public announcement by the Public Relations wing of the Pakistan Army that COAS General Raheel Sharif has raised the question of the use of Iranian soil by Indian intelligence operatives for subversive activities against Pakistan with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during his recent Pakistan visit. By making public pronouncements about the content of General Raheel Sharif’s talks with the visiting Iranian President the Army’s Public Service Relations department not only disregarded international protocol but also totally sidelined the country’s foreign office. This is something unprecedented under a civilian government. But when Iran denied any such exchange the Pakistan army released a video containing the confessional statement of the alleged Indian Intelligence operative who was arrested some time ago, confirming what the Army leadership had been saying.

The third development was the parallel meetings by the top military and civilian authorities in the aftermath of Lahore carnage for conducting action against terrorists in the Punjab coming out with parallel strategies. The military seems to have lost patience with the PML-N government in Punjab for not giving it the type of autonomy for conducting operations that it already enjoys in the other three provinces and FATA. So it is pushing ahead with its own plan in the Punjab without caring for legal niceties. The military doesn’t seem to be contented with the apex committees already formed on provincial level. It wants more powers in the Punjab similar to what the Rangers have gained in Sindh by putting pressure.

Ironically the NAP, the most comprehensive anti-terrorist action plan in the country’s history that was approved by an All Parties Conference in 2014 after the Peshawar school attack, seems to have lost relevance. Its implementation is not deemed urgent or necessary anymore. By now NAP has acquired amazing similarities with General Musharraf’s notorious “enlightened moderation” which did not stop the expansion of extremism and regrouping of Taliban but did help in deflecting international pressures. It is pretty clear for all practical purposes that “good Taliban”, which include Afghan Taliban, JuD and some other networks, are there to stay, the claims to the contrary by the civilian government notwithstanding. Afghan Taliban are all set to launch their spring or summer offensive and “persuading “ them for peace negotiations doesn’t seem to be high on agenda. The security establishment of the country doesn’t seem to be amused by the civilian government’s efforts to normalise the relationship with India. Intelligence sharing with India on terrorism has particularly not gone well with them and they are ready to boldly play their cards for changing course. But more dramatic and significant is the twist in relationship with Iran. For the first time in the country’s history Pakistan’s security establishment seems to have discarded even the pretense of neutrality in polarisation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. This development is going to have grave consequences for not only the bilateral relations between the two countries but also for the situation in the entire region. Zero sum games and proxy wars are expected to gain greater currency. For example, as an important immediate neighboring country of Afghanistan, Iran already feels left out in activities of the Quadrilateral Coordination Council (QCC). After the fresh set back in relations with Pakistan it can not be expected to extend help to the efforts of QCC. The threat of proxy wars in Afghanistan has deepened. The said development also doesn’t augur well for sectarian harmony. Not only that, as if Pak-India polarisation was not enough, the growing Pak-Iran rift can create hurdles in implementing China’s vision of One Belt One Road which is based on the strengthening of regional cooperation. Building of CPEC in Pakistan also needs peace and stability.

Political developments of the last few weeks have brought the issue of civil military divide to the forefront. The state system is almost bursting at the seams due to the deepening divide. It can’t be pushed under the carpet anymore. The paralysis and confusion during the illegal sit in by extremists is a case in point. What can be more serious than the insinuation by some electronic media outlets and political circles about the elected Prime Minister being a “ security risk”? Time is running out on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for taking parliament and all political forces of the country in confidence about the situation and for finding the way out.