Six days after Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi of India received this year’s Nobel Peace Prize “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education,” the hideous tragedy at the Army Public School in Peshawar occurred. The 17-year-old Malala and 61-year-old Satyarthi had earnestly hoped that prime ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif would attend the ceremony in Oslo.

But the two leaders, both small-minded men, are shackled by their lust for power and decided not to participate in the historic event which was being telecast worldwide. In hindsight had Nawaz Sharif, who never misses an opportunity to venture abroad, been present at the Norwegian capital for the annual ritual which was established in 1901 to celebrate the marvels of human intellectual endeavour, it would not only have worked wonders for the country’s international image but would also have raised his stature in Pakistan as he grapples with the aftermath of the coldblooded slaughter of more than 130 blameless schoolchildren in Peshawar.

The massacre was proudly owned by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s immediate response was to convene an All-Parties Conference in Peshawar on December 17. The usual cast of characters participated.

It is always sound policy to get the major political players on board insofar as pivotal security-related national issues are concerned, but in Pakistan this is taken to a ridiculous extreme. Given the enormity of the heart-rending tragedy, there was no need for another APC because the people of Pakistan – young or old, male or female – are convinced that terrorism must be conclusively defeated.

The PML-N government has a substantial majority in the National Assembly and does not even need the support of other political parties to implement the National Internal Security Policy 2014-2018 which was approved by parliament in February. Furthermore after the massacre in Peshawar, no political leader would dare oppose military action against terrorist groups entrenched in various parts of the country.

Against this backdrop one would have expected the leaders who met in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa capital to immediately endorse the pre-existing policy with minor modifications. But instead it was decided to constitute a parliamentary committee which was asked to craft an anti-terrorism National Action Plan within a week.

Instead of wasting his time, army chief General Raheel Sharif along with DG ISI Lt-Gen Rizwan Akhtar flew to Kabul that day where they met President Ashraf Ghani, US commander of Isaf General John F Campbell and their Afghan counterparts. An understanding was reached on close coordination between the armed forces of the two countries and a hammer-and-anvil strategy for combating terrorism seems to have been put in place.

Shortly afterwards Afghan security forces launched military operations in the Dangan district of Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan where the TTP chief, Mullah Fazlullah, who planned the attack on the Peshawar school is hiding. The Afghan army chief, General Sher Mohammad Karimi and General Campbell rushed to Islamabad on Tuesday where they briefed their Pakistani counterpart.

Things are moving in the right direction but the situation is far more complicated than it seems at first glance. For its part, Pakistan must do all it possibly can to support and strengthen Ashraf Ghani’s national unity government. Operation Zarb-e-Azb, launched in mid-June by the Pakistan Army with the support of the air force, has been a game changer.

It has, on the one hand, resulted in unprecedented Afghanistan-Pakistan military cooperation, and, on the other put the Islamabad-Washington equation back on track. This was evident from the visit of General Raheel Sharif to the US which was extended from a few days to two weeks.

But all these gains could dissipate as quickly as they have appeared unless Pakistan moves fast to shore up President Ashraf Ghani who is treading on extremely thin ice. The war on terrorism is against a ruthless and amorphous enemy which has relies on the hit-and-run tactics of guerrilla movements.

The remedy lies in pre-emption which is only possible through smart intelligence backed by national unity. This poses a formidable problem insofar as Afghanistan is concerned. In an opinion column on December 23, an Afghan intellectual alluded to a recent report in the Christian Science Monitor which said: “In a nation that is a patchwork of ethnic groups, many with their own languages, about 70 percent of those at National Directorate of Security hail from Panjshir or have ties with the Northern Alliance.”

He then disclosed that several influential Afghan politicians have accused the NDS and the Khidmate Ettelat-e-Dawlati (KHAD) of being in league with various Taliban factions and of misappropriating secret funds. The NDS chief, Rahmatullah Nabeel, retaliated by exposing the involvement of key parliamentarians in narcotics trafficking, money laundering and the arms mafia.

An Afghan MP, Wagma Safi, responded angrily and did not mince words when she bluntly told the NDS chief: “You have not done anything to improve the insecurities of Dangan district in Kunar province. You are the spies and servants of foreigners.” This is the background to the Afghan military operation in Kunar.

It is immaterial whether it was undertaken at the behest of General Raheel Sharif or on the demand of MPs from the area. Far more important is that it has put Pakistan-Afghan relations on a trajectory of unprecedented cooperation. Should the internal dynamics of Afghan politics result in the fall of the national unity government in Kabul then a prolonged civil war will become a certainty.

To avert such a possibility, Islamabad will have to move fast to use whatever influence it still has with the Taliban to persuade them to sort out their differences with the Ashraf Ghani regime at the negotiating table. The alternative is chaos and the only beneficiary will be the terrorist groups on both sides of the Durand Line.

Although this has to be a core element in any anti-terrorism policy, it was not included in the 20-point National Action Plan announced by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif a little after midnight on Wednesday. The only reference to Afghanistan was in the context of “the formulation of a comprehensive policy to deal with the issue of Afghan refugees.”

In his address to the nation the prime minister said, “This agreement is a defining moment for Pakistan. We will eliminate terrorists from this country. We have the backing of the nation. Our resolve to fight terror is a strong message for those who want to destroy Pakistan. The time for half-baked decisions is over...” Yet the entire National Action Plan contains only two new elements.

The first is the establishment of special courts headed by military officers for the trial of terrorists. Precisely how the government intends to do this is still not clear. One option could be the revival of Articles 212-A and 212-B of the constitution. The first of these dealt with the “establishment of military courts or tribunals” while the second was titled, “Establishment of Special Courts for trail of heinous offences.” Both articles were later repealed. The other option is an amendment to the existing Article 245 which pertains to the “Functions of Armed Forces.”

The second specifically mentions “zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab.” This is the first time ever that the PML-N has admitted the existence of terrorist outfits in the province. What is conveniently forgotten is that in last year’s elections 55 candidates from Punjab were from 10 different sectarian groups, and, out of these 40 belonged to the outlawed to the Sipah-e-Sahaba which now calls itself the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat.

The rest of the Action Plan is unspectacular and deals with such issues that already exist in the constitution or are addressed under various laws. Tall promises have been made but, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in its eating. Everything depends on the implementation of the proposals.

The writer is the publisher of Criterion Quarterly.