The heinous attack on a school in Peshawar this week has made one thing manifestly clear: nothing is worth fighting over if we cannot protect our children. In the aftermath of the attack, competing political parties and opposing forces across Pakistan have realized they have no option but to work together to curb and ultimately eliminate the extremist from their midst. Unfortunately, this realization has come at the cost of numerous innocent lives, which is by no means limited to the carnage in Peshawar this week.

Leaders in Pakistan today have to address a series of pressing issues. For one, terrorist threats have been looming for more than a decade and we have yet to devise a strategy to counter this threat on a nationwide scale. Even though the military operation in North Waziristan is often claimed by the government to be a successful one, and it may very well be that, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the operation alone cannot bring a conclusive end to the terrorist threat. Why? Because we are fighting this war on multiple fronts that include major urban centers such as Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and many more.

In addition to this, the enemy is mobile, taking refuge in sleeper cells scattered across the country or hiding beyond the border in Afghanistan. So how far can an operation in North Waziristan go in capturing extremist forces beyond North Waziristan? The answer lies in the question itself.

Secondly, the oft-repeated and somewhat emotional response of finding and eliminating each and every single terrorist is not a holistic approach to counter the extremist threat. Hypothetically, for the sake of discussion, even if we are able to successfully identify each and every single terrorist, despite the fact that extremist sentiment doesn’t need to manifest in any form until it has already done enough damage, what are we going to do with these terrorists? Will we fail to convict them like we failed to convict others before them? Will this exercise only award us a bargaining chip to negotiate the release of army officers captured on the other side? Will all the bloodshed and sacrifice result only in a cessation of hostilities until the same terrorists are released back into the world to fight us another day? In short, identifying and capturing terrorists is futile in the absence of a system that effectively exacts justice.

Apart from consolidating our security apparatus so that all our forces are on the same page, we also need to galvanize the people of Pakistan in the effort to counter the terrorist threat. On a personal level, before anything else, the people of Pakistan need to be able to identify the enemy and report instances of unusual behavior. To do this effectively, the question, ‘who are we really up against?’ has to be answered in detail by the security forces. We already know that the enemy is not someone who will flinch at the thought of taking an innocent life. We know the enemy is someone who justifies violent action through his or her own interpretation of religion. We also know that the enemy is someone who will not be deterred by the prospect of death. The problem is that all of the above can be concealed which is why we need to know more. Specifics. Organizations. Locations. Key people. Key beliefs. Areas of operation. Size and scale of network. Traits specific to each group; something a common man can easily identify and report. In short, it is in our best interest to understand what we are fighting before we fight it, together, as one nation.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, there is plenty of talk about fighting the war against terrorism with drones and tanks and AK-47s but not enough weight assigned to the war of ideologies. Extremists are not popping out like candy from a vending machine we can pull the plug on; they come into this world like you and me and everybody else. But somewhere along the road, these individuals become vulnerable. Some are orphans. Some are jobless. Some are abused. Some are brainwashed. Some are all of the above. And invariably, they all embrace an extremist mindset to give some semblance of a higher meaning to their otherwise difficult lives. Economic deprivation, in this particular scenario, gives impetus to the extremist narrative.

In sum, the road to peace seems like a long one. It demands a concerted counter attack that combines the collective strength of the common man and the security forces. It demands an effective system of justice. It demands a state that is strong enough to protect and provide for vulnerable individuals. It demands an environment conducive to a basic level of economic activity. And most of all, it demands leadership that doesn’t pussyfoot on all of the above.

Today, it’s been four days since the attack in Peshawar. The entire world is mourning the death of 132 school going children and desperately trying to reconcile with the loss of innocent life. The devastation that was wreaked upon humanity is hard to put into words and will most likely cloud our judgment with overpowering emotions of anger and despair. But like always, we will gather ourselves from the wreckage of this incredible loss and attempt to combat the next impending extremist threat. When that happens, it is important we realize an eye for an eye is not enough.

The writer is a communications consultant based in Lahore.