There are nineteen other points in the National Action Plan to counter terrorism but the discourse generated about establishing military or special courts continues to overshadow the importance of other commitments made to the nation by the prime minister after he got all the political parties to cooperate with him in the aftermath of the Peshawar school carnage.

By no means is it being suggested that establishing special courts for speedy trial of terrorism suspects must not be debated. However, equal importance needs to be attached to other points – which are about changing the course of our thinking as a state and society, encouraging a more peaceful, inclusive and tolerant mindset of our people and bringing an end to any overt or covert support to militancy in any name by any or all state institutions, political parties, security agencies, media, schools and madressahs.

I question the government’s choice to begin the process by convening an All-Parties Conference in the presence of an elected parliament in order to develop consensus and continuing with the executions of those already in prisons. When parliament exists, all such discussion should take place in its two houses. Having such issues discussed outside parliament undermines the role of the prime law-making institution which any democrat will consider supreme to any other institution or conference. Eventually, any legislation and amendment to the constitution, if required, has to be done in parliament.

Debate and decision-making on all matters of national importance must begin and end in parliament. Anyone, public official or citizen, can be summoned by parliament if needed. It is understandable if the opposition calls for an all-parties meeting outside parliament to lodge some protest against the incumbent government but such meetings called by the government make little sense.

It is about time the sitting government realised the importance of the supremacy of the institution of parliament and does not wait for someone like Imran Khan to take to the streets again and then seek refuge in the Senate and National Assembly to find legitimacy.

As far as lifting the moratorium on executions is concerned, there are major issues with the state being empowered to take life and there is a reason that capital punishment has disappeared from the legal systems of more than a hundred countries across the world. We are not in a mood to debate that as a nation in our current stupor of grief and anger. But this is an irrevocable penalty and life cannot be brought back, even if a person is proven not guilty after some time.

These executions look like acts of vengeance – and need to be questioned. There is stark difference between the two – fighting in the battlefield against those fighting against our state and the state beginning to execute those it has already taken as prisoners. It is more important to pre-empt terrorism from taking place and extremism from taking roots by bringing about ideational changes in our thinking and structural changes in our system. Adnan Sattar’s piece (‘Against the death penalty’, December 21) on death penalty published a few days ago in this newspaper warrants both attention and reflection.

All said and done, we have a twenty-point National Action Plan to counter terrorism. Let us first dispense with the issue of the establishment of speedy trial courts. There is a near consensus that our criminal justice system has not functioned properly, particularly when it comes to dealing with terror suspects. But we must realise that it has less to do with the existing laws and legal parameters and much more to do with weak prosecution, threat to the safety and security of judges, lawyers and witnesses, and the existence of a lobby that supports and provides legitimacy to organisations and individuals carrying out terrorist acts. If that fear is not removed in the short run with the state taking the responsibility of safeguarding the life and liberty of its citizens, such lobbies are not contained by effective action, and prosecution is not made clearer and stronger, military courts will be the only quick solution.

But why can’t we have a Supreme Court appellate bench formed above the speedy trial courts for upholding, striking down or revising the verdict on an appeal? Military courts have been used to persecute political workers, journalists and writers in the past. The remit of such courts must be limited to the issue at hand and very well defined even if there is an appeal mechanism made available.

Coming to other points in the current action plan, which to me are more significant to act upon immediately if we are committed to change the narrative in our society, these are similar to what the government had announced to do in February 2014, ten months ago. At the level of the brass tacks, within six months a rapid response force at the federal level had to be raised and counterterrorism departments within the police forces had to be established across provinces.

At a more strategic level, the policy was still pussyfooting when it came to dealing with madressahs – most of which are out of government control – but it did articulate the need for immediate regulation. Also, the policy spoke about changing the direction of society at large and instituting a national de-radicalisation programme. It said that constructing a robust national narrative on extremism, sectarianism, terrorism and militancy is the corner stone of an ideological response to non-traditional threats and that such a narrative is essential for coming up with common ideological denominators in a diverse society.

Nacta was given the mandate to facilitate a dialogue with all stakeholders to strengthen the democratic values of tolerance and respect for diversity. Can we ask the government, the prime minister and the interior minister particularly, what they have done in the last ten months to translate into practice the 94-page National Security Policy made earlier this year? It is shameful that we wait for our children to be butchered to wake up from our deep slumber. But it will be more shameful if the sacrifice in blood offered by the students and teachers in Peshawar goes in vain like other thousands of sacrifices in the recent past.

What was written and presented in some depth in February 2014 is encapsulated in the twenty points of the National Action Plan with a clear point about recognising and eliminating the threat in Punjab. No harm in reiterating again and again that these must be implemented. The state must not be apologetic about regulating any organisations or institutions, religious or otherwise to ensure the safety, security, livelihood and dignity of its citizens. Also, militancy per se has to be eliminated and the action need not be limited to religious and sectarian outfits. Any political organisations or criminal groups with militant wings must be reined in. There should be a complete ban on hate speech, production and circulation of such material with transgressors must be penalised. Religious persecution in any shape and form, of non-Muslims or Muslim sects, must be punishable by law.

Dear readers, the year 2014 leaves a bitter aftertaste. We suffered brutal terrorism all along but December was the worst month. We witnessed growing helplessness among the disadvantaged and the weak and a bleak apathy among the rich and the powerful. But being incorrigible optimists, some of us cannot give up hope. I wish you all a happy and peaceful 2015.

The writer is a poet and author based in Islamabad.