The character and life of a nation is not measured in the number of years since its birth, nor in the amount of foreign reserves in its bank, or the expanse of highways built across its land, or even by the lofty accolades that are ascribed to its name. The only true measure of a nation, its life and its character, can be imagined in the love, purpose, joy, and pain experienced by its people; the honesty which it reflects on the past; by the manner in which it celebrates its heroes and treasures their memory; the passion with which it greets the future; and the ferocity with which it meets the challenges of the time.

By this virtue, whenever the chapter on Pakistan is written in the annals of history, a major section will be devoted to the ‘Massacre of Innocents’ (in Biblical language) that occurred in Army Public School (APS), Peshawar, on 16th December 2014. And our generation, our people, and our nation, will be judged on the touchstone of how our humanity summoned the courage and tenacity to confront this unprecedented evil.

One year on, while our people, and especially the families of the martyrs, are still reeling from the horrors of that infamous day, it is pertinent to take stock of how far (if at all) we have come from that excruciating moment in time, and what direction we must take hereon.

The State of Pakistan has been at war with militancy since September 11 2001. The people of our nation, for all intents and purposes, joined the battle on the afternoon of APS Peshawar. In an instance, moved by the irresistible force of certitude, the untenable lines of ideology, of faith and partisan divide – between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ militants – were washed away, into oblivion, by the streaming tears of wailing motherhood. The menial bickering, across political lines, convulsed into an All Parties Conference. The mis-found khaki doctrine of ‘Strategic Depth’ was immediately discarded by a new and brave military leadership. Even the legislated contours of our laws as well as the Constitution, seemed to hold no meaning in the face of a 140 school-uniform souls, who were too young and innocent to have ever appreciated the nuances of jurisprudence.

In just one moment, as soon as the first child was mercilessly executed by the followers of a perverted religious philosophy, our nation was stripped of its politico-religious prejudices, and made to confront herself in the mirror of truth, with a series of existential questions: How long will we let our conscience suffer at the hands of religious bigotry? How long will we live in the shadow of apathy, shirking away from a confrontation with evil? How long will our State and our laws exonerate those who take pleasure in stabbing our national heart? How long will our inaction claim the lives of the innocent? How long will we allow this land to swallow the martyrs, without avenging their memory with the fullest might of our physical and ideological muscle? Tujh ko kitnou ka lahoo chaheeye aye Arz-e-Watan, Jo tere aarz-e-berang ko gulnaar karen? Kitni aaho’n say kaleja tera thunda hoga? Kitny ansoo teray sehraon ko gulzar krien?

For the first time in our national history, this unprecedented resolve gave birth to unequivocal action. In the immediate aftermath, the military intensified its crusade against extremist elements in our urban centers (e.g. Karachi) as well as the remote militant stronghold. Zarb-e-Azab, under the command of General Raheel Shareef’s demystified leadership (which was a welcomed departure from the dubious policies of his predecessors), put a tangible dent in the serge of religious extremism.

Simultaneously, perhaps as an abhorrent (last) measure, our parliament enacted the 21st Constitution Amendment, along with corresponding Amendments in the Army Act, 1952, thus creating a constitutionally mandated system of military court for the prosecution and trial of “persons” who are, claim to be, or are “known to belong to” any terrorist group, or otherwise wage war, “using the name of religion or a sect” (section 2 (d) of the Army Act, 1952, as amended).

Along with this, the Federal Government introduced the National Action Plan (NAP), which include a 20-point strategy aimed at curbing terrorist activities in the State of Pakistan. These measures, supplemented by the earlier enactment of, and amendments in, the Protection of Pakistan Act, 2014, now provide sufficient constitutional, legislative, and policy paradigm for mounting a purposeful offence against terrorist elements within our society.

This, from the perspective of statecraft, is nearly as much as the law can achieve. The fight against terrorism, hereon, for avenging the martyrdom of the innocent souls of APS Peshawar (and others like them), must be fought at a human, cultural and ideological plain. Law and policy alone cannot banish the darkness of extremism, till such time that the people of our nation find the courage to call the enemy by its name, and confront him on every street and corner of this country.

Sadly, despite our military efforts and legislative interventions, the passion and resolve against extremism, which had surged through our nation in the days following APS Peshawar, seems to slowly be disintegrating. Over the past year, religious extremism has claimed dozen of lives of Shia’s in Khairpur and Quetta, of activist on the streets of Karachi, and of social workers on the outskirts of Peshawar. We have seen large protests in favor of Mumtaz Qadri, public gatherings that hail Hafiz Saeed as a hero, and a resurgent Mulana Abdul Aziz of Lal-Masjid announcing his intention to wage nationwide ‘jihad’ for the imposition of his particular brand of sharia law.

To allow these activities to continue unchecked, berates the memory and sacrifice of the martyrs of Peshawar. Our inaction, on an individual as well as collective basis, to curb these activities, is betrayal of that unspoken promise that we all made to lamenting mothers on the eve of 16th December last year. And the fact that each individual who reads this Op-Ed piece, will soon put it aside and return to the banality of life, is a revocation of that primordial challenge that our Creator threw to the Angels, when He ordered them to kneel at our feet.

There is still time to redeem ourselves. There is still time to fulfill the promise of our national potential. There is still time to be vindicated in the gaze of history. If not for ourselves, then for those who were interred into the earth too soon, for having being born in a nation of apathy.