There is a Pushto saying being circulated on social media. “When your child dies, you bury it in your heart. It only leaves this world when you do.”

When your children are mercilessly killed in a battle for the country’s survival, it is time to suspend all frivolous activities, shelve all differences and unite till the menace is totally annihilated.

Now is the time for everyone, including the religious parties and clerics, to come out and speak in unequivocal terms against these elements. Now is the time to ask all, “Are you with us or against us?” and take it from there. The time to hide behind ambiguity is over.

This is our 9/11.

This incident should be the turning point of our nation. Let us set our house in order. It should be an eye opener that Palestine, for whom we are out on the streets perpetually, never even bothered to release a statement of regret and solidarity. It is amazing that while in India there are vigils throughout the country to pay respect to our martyrs, Saudi Arabia remains conspicuous by its silence.

The faces of the killers of innocent children were like the hounds of hell. They did not look human. It is insulting even to call them animals. How much more civilized they are compared to these so called humans! These hell hounds had not come to take hostages. They did not bargain for anything. Their sole purpose was to set a new record of barbarism and cruelty - and they succeeded.

What happened in Peshawar is something unprecedented in the whole world. In cold blood, shooting defenseless children in such staggering numbers is horrifying beyond words. Setting their teachers ablaze in front of them, killing and maiming terrified children and proudly claiming responsibility for the deed.

Words fail us! They say it is in retaliation to Zarb-i-Azab, but who are they trying to fool? They have been committing atrocities since years now. Our nation is no stranger to tragedy. Then why are we surprised? Mosques have been bombed. Funeral processions targeted. Hospitals where victims are taken have been attacked. As for schools, they have always been a prime target.

No one has forgotten Malala who was also followed and targeted at point blank range; shot in the face for speaking up against them, and for wanting to gain an education.

Those who are still skeptical about her need to think again. The choice is clear. On one side is a young girl who carries the marks of distortion on her face, yet after her miraculous recovery she has won us laurels and speaks of peace and love. On the other hand, are these faceless monsters who continue to strike mercilessly at the heart of our nation and are hell bent on destroying our future generations. Denying them polio drops, preventing them from education, our children are physical and mental targets. These monsters only know the language of hate and barbarism.

It took the blood of 150 innocent lives of mostly children to bring the political leadership together, and for once, the bickering, the accusations, the name calling has been shelved. If only they had done this earlier; if only the whole nation had risen as one when Zarb –i- Azab started and worked towards ridding Pakistan of the cancer of terrorism! This war is not only of the forces. It is our war and our children are being killed.

If only we learn from our tragedies even now. Is it not blasphemy to murder children in cold blood, one by one, telling them to recite the Kalma? If even this does not bring us all together and unite us against these terrorists, then nothing will.

As a nation we have suffered so much but still not become organized to meet these challenges which have sadly become a part of our lives. By now we should have made strategies to deal with these situations. If anyone sees suspicious activity, no one knows whom to contact. There should be a crisis management cell in every city, well equipped to respond immediately to any emergency. All TV channels and newspapers should perpetually advertise the contact number of these crisis centers. People should be trained to provide first aid to save lives. The free flow of ammunition and weapons which are so easily available to miscreants should be checked. If it is coming from Afghanistan, we need drastic actions to seal the porous border.

By nature we are a nation with a short memory. We easily forget and move on. But this incident must not be forgotten. It should not be forgotten. The raw sentiments of the entire nation should be galvanized to bring about real change, starting with each individual contributing towards changing this atmosphere of hate. By turning a blind eye towards it, we are encouraging it and the fire is burning down our house.

Recently, a homeless person died in Dublin. The whole of Ireland was out, demanding why and how it happened. We have to set a higher value on the lives of our people.

It is said that the smallest coffins are the heaviest. The time for dialogue, the time for clemency is over. If we do not turn the future of our nation around now, we never will.

 The author is the Project Coordinator for a  Pak-German humanitarian organization and a freelance writer.