The children must have departed that morning with shining faces, waving their hands, fully assured they would come back to play in the backyards of their homes. Their mothers could never have imagined that the children they tucked into green sweaters that day would come back to them in coffins.

And now, Pakistan has plunged into the abyss of melancholy. No word can gauge the intensity of the pain.

More than 132 students have been martyred.

And now, to talk about strategy; how do we move on from here? How do we remedy the pain? Is there any long term strategy at all in the minds of those in Islamabad and Rawalpindi? Or will we await yet another carnage? Will this be the game changer?

Much has been gorged out on the eve of the Peshawar carnage – a resolve to start anew has been widely exhibited. All are united – the political rivals, who had vowed never to see each other, have joined hands.

Now, we must confess to

our errors.

The first mistake was not joining in the Afghan war against the Soviet Union, as is mostly quoted without knowing the realities of geo-politics of the early 80s. Being non-aligned was not an option. We had to choose. The Soviet forces were moving forward. The anti-Pakistan regime in Afghanistan with the Indian pat, had joined hands with the Soviet Union. Could we remain neutral given the porous border of Pakistan with Afghanistan where the infiltration had always been the easiest? No, we could not. We had to join in the war and align with the Americans to defeat the designs of the troika - the Soviet Union, India and Afghanistan. Instead we used our own people as proxies. Other countries play proxies, but they don’t use their citizens. We repeated the mistake in the Kashmir jihad. Using our own citizens as proxies was the fundamental error we made in sowing the seeds of extremism in our society.

Second, we ignored the ideologically charged people of the post-Afghan war, which created chaos and emboldened the puffed-up winners of the war to keep the ball of their ideology rolling.

Third, there is no effort visible on national forums to produce counter-arguments to our misadventures which were later exploited to whip up emotions against the state as well as the army. For example, we never produced counter-arguments for the Jamia Hafsa episode, Aafia Siddiqui’s alleged abduction or Akbar Bhugti’s murder.

Fourth, the state of Pakistan never showed any will to mend the ways of religious seminaries, many of which are in fact the breeding ground for extremist ideology.

Now, it has been minutely observed that almost all politicians condemn the terrorist-attacks by terming the carnage a ‘dastard attempt of terrorism’. Why don’t they name the terrorists who overtly claim to have perpetrated it? Shun away the fear; if not now, it shall never be. Name them. Address them directly. Don’t call them by generic terms of ‘extremists’ or ‘terrorists’.

All politicians, civil society activists, military junta and media men must raise their voices collectively to force religious leaders to announce or denounce the Taliban’s favour or rebuttal. Still, many in our ranks look least convinced to condemn the brutal killings of innocent children. These apologists must be prosecuted in courts of law.

We need to initiate and develop real debate in the media, to mould counter narratives. This could be a great national service at this time.

Ultimately, all stakeholders must come out of their cul-de-sacs and join hands with strong collective will, to bring about change and peace in a land that has already bled far, far too much.

The writer is a lecturer at Punjab Group of Colleges, Lahore. He can be contacted at tahir_iqbal87@hotmail.com