Worshipping dead heroes

After the death of every brave soul, our leaders do not waste a moment in declaring them to be a shaheed (martyr), implying that the dead have received their reward already. It is time we expunge this word shaheed from our national psyche

At the age of 15, Aitzaz Hussain Bangash did what the leadership of this country, both civilians and men in uniform, has failed to do. He died a hero’s death so that his schoolmates could live on and realise their worldly dreams. He cut his life short so others could blossom. Aitzaz could have listened to the pleas of his friends and run away like them, he could have reasoned with himself, he could have thought of his family and his unfulfilled dreams, he could have been smart like our leaders by saving his skin and letting the suicide bomber blow dozens of children up in flames but he chose otherwise. He confronted the bomber with the intention of preventing an attack.  
Aitzaz Hussain died in the incident that took place last week in Ibrahimzai, a Shia-dominated region of Hangu district. Imran Khan should know that Aitzaz’s school was neither training drone operators nor was it a launching pad for drones. What Imran Khan and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would never say publicly is that the children were targeted because of their faith — a Shia faith. Imran Khan acclaimed the hero but timidly avoided condemning the villain. 
His friend Nayed Ali was right on the money when he told the media that it was time people came out and fought these terrorists on their own. His despair was visible with the security forces, which have failed to protect the lives and property of innocent Pakistanis. In another incident, we lost an intrepid police officer, Chaudhry Aslam Khan, to a suicide attack in Karachi. According to media reports, he had survived several earlier attempts on his life, including a devastating attack on his residence in 2011. This time around, Chaudhry Aslam’s luck had, unfortunately, run out, as a powerful bomb targeted his van. 
The bravery of his wife, Noreen Aslam, was heartening. She said her husband knew that he was “living to die”. He was top on the list of the Taliban and other criminal gangs but he never shied away from his duty to take on these brutes. He indeed had conquered the fear of death.
And what did we give these two brave souls in return? We lamented their death with shallow condemnations from our leaders, with strings attached that talks with the militants are the road to peace. The typical condemnatory statements that their blood would not go wasted and that their sacrifices would be remembered forever appeared on television channels as they do somehow after every such incident. To make sure that their deaths, and those of the many more before them, do not go in vain, the government has to take firm action to uproot all violent extremist outfits. 
The Frankenstein monster that our security forces created to hurt the interests of our neighbouring countries is biting back. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai was right when he said that the earlier Pakistan realises the perils of nurturing terrorists, the better it will be for Pakistan and Afghanistan: “Terrorism is a snake and when you train a snake, you cannot expect it will only go into the neighbour’s house.” Pakistan has nurtured snakes like the Razakars, al Badr, al Shams, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Harkatul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Muhammad, and the list goes on. The first target were the unarmed Bengalis in former East Pakistan, which ultimately gained freedom to become Bangladesh. Almost 20 years later, these private militias were sent to Kashmir to stoke the fires of separatism. The recent phenomenon is the launching of the lashkars (collective tribal forces) in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), frontier regions and districts bordering the tribal belt to fight against the Taliban, thus exposing the tribesmen to militants and creating chaos in a society that is already passing through difficult times. One wonders what the purpose is of holding a large military apparatus if the battles are going to be waged by civilian militias. 
It is no secret anymore that Pakistan supported the war in Afghanistan against the former Soviet Union, funding and arming several jihadi groups. After the withdrawal of Soviet forces, the military establishment pitched one group against another, which resulted in infighting costing thousands of Afghan lives. 
Following 9/11, the rules of the game changed and more multi-ethnic terrorists arrived in the tribal belt when the government of General Musharraf looked the other way. The tribal belt turned into a large guesthouse where these terrorists stayed, relaxed and left on their missions, furthering their expansionist ideology. 
After the death of every brave soul, our leaders do not waste a moment in declaring them to be a shaheed (martyr), implying that the dead have received their reward already. It is time we expunge this word shaheed from our national psyche for two reasons. One, with its religious overtones, it becomes the property of religious parties, which they use as they will. Second, it glorifies death and is a tool in the hands of rulers who employ it to rule. One wonders that, if being a martyr is such a coveted position, why do the preachers of martyrdom, the generals, politicians and the contractors of paradise, the mullahs, not aspire to embrace martyrdom? “They say my son is a martyr. He died during a sacred month but who will feel my pain, the pain of losing a son?” the late Chaudhry Aslam’s father said with tearful eyes.  
Being a country without heroes, Pakistan needs heroes but those who are alive, not dead. This business of making martyrs has to stop. The business of worshipping dead heroes has to end.  
Can we humbly ask the leadership of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) to enlighten us about who they think is a shaheed: Aitzaz or the suicide bomber, Chaudhry Aslam Khan or his attacker, Naeemullah?
The former chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, has been provided with a bulletproof vehicle on the court’s order. It is another matter that the vehicle could have been used by soldiers fighting terrorists but being at the end of his life’s journey, who is Justice Chaudhry really afraid of? Liberals do not appreciate violence and fanatics have the highest regard for him. The Taliban have said that if they respect anyone in Pakistan, it is Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. I rest my case.  

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