What was the initial target of the suicide bomber in Lahore?

On one level, the bomber who slaughtered dozens of Pakistanis enjoying a day in the park was targeting Christians celebrating Easter Sunday. So far 72 people have died, including many women and children. Scores more were fighting for their lives in hospitals.

What was the other main target?
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's vision of a more liberal, inclusive democracy in the Muslim-majority nation. Lahore is the biggest city in Punjab and Sharif's hometown.

How severe was this attack compared to others?
The attack was the deadliest since Pakistan Taliban fighters entered an army school in December 2014 and massacred 134 students, shooting some point blank in the head. That strike prompted Sharif and military leaders to enact new measures to fight terrorists, leading to a reduction in violence that helped spur investor interest in the frontier economy.


How is this an attack on Sharif's programme?
The latest bloodbath represents another pivot point for Sharif. In recent months he's called for a more "educated, progressive, forward-looking" Pakistan, a country created for Muslims following independence from the British in 1947. In doing so, he's backed moves to improve the lives of women and religious minorities - including Hindus, Christians and Shia Muslims - who have been frequent targets of sectarian violence. "Sharif seems to have taken some steps which the terrorists clearly are angered by," said Farahnaz Ispahani, a Pakistani author and former MP. "The terrorists are continuing their quest to purify Pakistan of all religious minorities and those who don't conform to their limited vision."

What has the Prime Minister done?
Sharif condemned so-called 'honour killings' as a "dark side" of Pakistani society, and MPs in his political base of Punjab are backing a bill to protect women. His Government also unblocked YouTube and agreed to allow Easter and the traditional Hindu festivals of Diwali and Holi as public holidays. Perhaps most significantly, his Government in February executed Mumtaz Qadri, a bodyguard who shot a former Punjab governor in 2011 after the official sought to ease the country's controversial blasphemy law. As rescuers raced to save victims of Monday's terrorist attack, police in Islamabad clashed with Qadri sympathisers who wanted Sharif to adopt sharia law. "Sharif is suffering a blowback," said Rohan Gunaratna, who runs the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.

How badly is Pakistan suffering from terrorism?
The country has seen more than 60,000 people die from terrorism since 2001, as Pakistan Taliban insurgents based in the mountainous areas near Afghanistan look to overthrow democracy and implement Islamic sharia law. "Pakistan is today a victim of terrorism, and the world needs to understand that without constantly accusing it of being a perpetrator of terrorism," Gunaratna said.

Why does the country struggle with perception over terrorism?
Pakistan battles to convince the world that it's really serious about eliminating all terrorist groups. The military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its history, has long used extremist groups as strategic assets against India and Afghanistan. Sharif himself has also relied on support from conservative elements in society to win elections. Punjab, which is governed by Sharif's younger brother, has failed to take serious action against jihadist groups, according to Ikram Sehgal, a former military official and chairman of the Pathfinder Group, one of Pakistan's largest security companies. "There is a complete network that has to be uprooted and destroyed," Sehgal said. "The Punjab Government talks a lot but there's no action. Unless you move against jihadis, their hideouts, their logistics, their personnel, their contacts, their complete network - these things will keep going on."

What is Sharif saying?
The army conducted raids in cities throughout Punjab, arresting suspected terrorists and recovering weapons. "Our goal is not only to eliminate terror infrastructure but also the extremist mindset which is a threat to our way of life," Sharif said today after reviewing security in Lahore. "We must take this war to the doors of terrorist outfits before they are able to hit our innocent country men."

Can the Government make progress?
Whether Sharif follows through remains an open question. Pakistan has been accused time and again of tolerating militants who attack its neighbours while fighting back against those that strike within the country. Ispahani is sceptical. "There is no sign that the military strategic calculation has changed. It is still dissipating energies cornering secular and ethnic political forces instead of single-mindedly confronting jihadi groups."

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif talks to an injured victim of the suicide bombing during his visit to a hospital in Lahore. Photo / AP
Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif talks to an injured victim of the suicide bombing during his visit to a hospital in Lahore. Photo / AP