Avoidable martyrdom

It doesn’t matter what you call it, the fact of the matter is that the families of the Second Lieutenant and the Sepoy have lost their loved ones at a stage when these young men were all set to flourish and live life to the fullest

I planned on writing on something else, but then I came across a tweet from the ISPR, which quoted the COAS, saying “Freedom isn’t free, it costs sons of the soil. Freedom that we enjoy is owed to many such brave hearts. Salute our Martyrs”. The tweet came in the backdrop of the mortal sacrifices of two young soldiers; Second Lieutenant Abdul Moeed and Sepoy Basharat, who were martyred after terrorists fired on their vehicle from the mountains surrounding North Waziristan Agency. Both were in their twenties.

To me the message and tone of the tweet came off as oft-repeated and clichéd. It reminded me of a short story by the name of ‘Shaheed-saaz’, meaning martyr-maker by Saadat Hassan Manto. Although written in a different context, it was a story in which martyrdom is used as a means to pacify the people.

It doesn’t matter what you call it, the fact of the matter is that the families of the Second Lieutenant and Sepoy have lost their sons, brothers and husbands at a stage when these young men were all set to flourish and live life to the fullest. Their deaths were completely unexpected. People have lost their lives while fighting wars from time immemorial; however in almost all cases, the adversaries were clearly identified. Unfortunately in our case, we have been apparently fighting a war against religiously inspired militancy and terrorism for almost two decades. Despite this, we still haven’t been able to truly identify our foes.

It’s telling to note that 50,000 civilians have been killed — or if one would rather use a more tranquil phrase, martyred, in this conflict. Apart from this we have lost around 6000 men from our armed forces in this war against sectarian and religious terrorism. This doesn’t just include foot soldiers but at least one three-star and two two-star generals. These mortal losses by our armed forces amount to more than two brigades. This is around twice as many Pakistani fatalities as the 1965 Indo-Pak war.

Parents of fallen soldiers might put on a brave face, or even show pride over their children’s martyrdom in public and in front of the media. But deep down in their hearts, they cry helplessly

We are losing young lives and trained officers with such frequency that I fear it may negatively affect our morale as well as our dedication to uproot the menace of religious terrorism. Hardly a month passes without us reading about a young officer, lost forever. Just this month we lost Lieutenant Abdul Moeed and Sepoy Basharat. In November we heard of Captain Junaid Hafeez and Major Ishaq. This was followed by Captain Hasnain in October. In September it was Lieutenant Arsalan Alam, who was only 22. Arsalan’s father was so shocked that he died just a month later.

Parents of fallen soldiers might put on a brave face, or even show pride over their children’s martyrdom in public and in front of the media. But deep down in their hearts, as well as in private they cry helplessly over the loss of their young sons. I have seen this.

Obviously, young men and their families know full-well the risks to life and limb when they enter the armed forces, anywhere in the world. It is the policies of the state which determine the extent of risk to a soldier’s life. For example, why isn’t a Malaysian or Thai soldier as likely to lose his life in the line of duty as much as a Pakistani soldier? At the risk of sounding overly simplistic, its about whether the deep state of any country obsessively views things only from the lens of security and conflict as a zero-sum game.

It won’t help Pakistan’s domestic security situation if we are unable to maintain friendly ties with our neighbors. Terrorist groups such as the Haqqani Network and others who we allow to use our soil to destabilise Afghanistan automatically leaves the Afghan government no option but for tit-for-tat policies, thereby harboring those insurgents who are hostile to us.

For a change, Pakistan’s deep state must run the country like less of a security state and more of a state that is interested in sustaining internal and external peace and development. There might be vested interests which don’t want this approach to be taken, since insecurity brings its own economy. However, for the sake of saving the country from remaining perpetually stuck in an internal security crisis and to minimise fatal risks for our young soldiers, we must go for this more pro people option.

 

The writer is a sociologist with interest in history and politics. He tweets @ZulfiRao and can be reached at Zulfirao@yahoo.com

Published in Daily Times, December 14th 2017.