A few days ago, my friend Dr Wadhayo Baloch of Preston University, and his wife, invited me to join them at Islamabad Club to see the new and highly acclaimed film, ‘Yalghaar’, meaning, the attack or, the great battle. It is said to be Pakistan’s costliest film production, made with the help of the Pakistan Army. I am glad I went to see this impressive film, depicting the country’s fight against insurgents. The film uses both Urdu and English so knowledge of both languages is best. The film is broadly based on the Swat operations in 2007 and 2009, mainly the latter, ‘Operation Black Thunderstorm’, which brought the area back under national control. But the film could have been about any other major military operation, and there have been many in recent decades after 9/11.

What made the film a piece of art and not only a report and war film, was that it showed that soldiers are people like everyone else, laughing, having wives, friends, relatives, and developing friendships with fellow soldiers, maybe even understanding the enemy – and its thinking about the female hostage they kept. All soldiers and insurgents get scars and injuries, if not physically, then indeed mentally. Sometimes, it was revealed that the higher military officers can be both ruthless and arrogant, not having to face the direct fatal situations themselves, but pushing the buttons and making the decisions in the command centre. Well, those jobs, too, are indeed terrible and defense mechanisms are needed to carry out that work. It is evident that the soldiers are passionate and patriotic about their duty to the country. The militants, too, have passion, either they truly believe in their cause, or they are used as cannon fodder by their leaders.

The film’s director is Hassan Waqas Rana and it is produced by Mind Works Media. The film is a tribute to the slain children in the 2014 Peshawar school attack.

After the film, I said to Dr Baloch and his wife that the film showed the brutality of war and that maybe it was exaggerated. Dr Baloch was more realistic, though, saying that cruelty in real life might have been even worse than what the film showed, and that was one of the major reasons why the military had to take action in Swat. But there were a lot of bullets, bombs, blood and fires in the film; maybe that is how such films are made, especially if the details of the direct, epic story are less essential.

All this said, I wonder how it is for the military men, and also the guerrilla insurgents, to live in the midst of ongoing conflicts for long? Will they ever be able to come back to normal, everyday life, if they survive, that is? What about their spouses, relatives and friends, are they given the sympathy and assistance they deserve, and are their lives getting back on track?

No wars and conflicts ever end without scars, many that can never be healed even if one survives and seemingly picks up normal everyday life.

The film has some resemblance to Erich Maria Remarque’s famous book, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, or its German original title, ‘Im Westen nichts Neues’, which came in 1928/29, with its sequel in 1931, ‘The Road Back’ (Der Weg zuruck). Later, both books became films. Remaque writes about the First World War, one of the most terrible wars ever, but they can be seen as being about any wars. The main story in his first book is that outsiders who only see wars at a distance mainly see what is newsworthy, namely, who wins battles, who advances or retreats on the front. The terrible everyday life of soldiers and civilians in war zones is give less attention unless there would be some special stories that might hit the newspaper front pages, radio news, or the cinema new reels, which were common in those days; today, we would have been ‘breaking news’ on TV.

In ‘Yalghaar’, we are quickly told the plot and we know the end of the actual operation early in the film. But Rana and Remarque tell the human story, the soldiers’ sacrifice. Remarque also talks about how soldiers are recruited from poor backgrounds.

These are the sides of wars and conflicts that we, who are not soldiers, officers and relatives have limited ability to see, or we may lack compassion and don’t want to know. Sometimes, decision-makers, too, don’t want to see too much of the cost of wars, only the benefits. To many of us, it is enough to report the bottom line, but less the real sacrifice and cruelty that wars and conflicts inflict on soldiers and civilians in affected areas – yes, on both sides of conflicts; the country or group we sympathise with, and the country or group we oppose or hate.

I don’t write this because I thought ‘Yalghaar’ romanticised war. I think the opposite, and it showed some of the extreme sacrifices, including the ultimate sacrifice of giving one’s life for fellow soldiers and country.

As a pacifist, I am not quite able to understand it. But I too would also be willing fight for my values but in other ways than militarily. I don’t believe in wars and using violence; I believe in fighting evil with good. Naïve? Maybe. But if all people were pacifists, there would be no wars and violent conflicts any more. And if the was the foundation of a society, maybe the causes for insurgencies and wars would not be there, or be less. We have to would work for fair and just solutions to conflicts before military actions would be needed. Besides, after military victories, there is always need for developing the everyday peace, so that people can live together in harmony.

If ‘Yalghaar’ can lead to this dream come a little bit more true than it is now, or, at least that we start discussing peace issues, then the film has moved mountains. If the sacrifices of the soldiers shown in the film, can make us all understand, by heart and mind, that we have to find other ways of solving disagreements than through military means, then the film has done more than moving mountains.

I hope many will see the film, read the books I referred to, and consider the key issues in question. We who are getting old, even if we had the right dreams, have not much to show for our idealism and hopes in a world where rearmament is again high on the agenda in Europe and elsewhere. Can we not find better ways?

Would I be against the 2009 operation depicted in ‘Yalghaar’? In principal I would be; yet, in practice, I don’t know. My heart bleeds for the victims on both sides; and indeed for the sacrifices of the military. I know that everyone who sees the film, in Pakistan and abroad, will reflect on the many difficult issues. That is the least we can do.

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.

atlehetland@yahoo.com