Call Me:

I was serving in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) in 2010-11 in Bukavu, South Kivu Province. It was here, amidst the violence, the poverty and homesickness, that I witnessed the most powerful image of my life; one that I was fortunate enough to photograph and now carry with me as a reminder of the hope we can inspire.

In the eastern DR Congo’s South Kivu province, in the capital city of Bukavu, there stands a school established by Pakistan Army officers and soldiers as a gift to the people of the city. All the way in Central Africa, there exists a Jinnah Public School, where each year school children otherwise fluent in Swahili and French stand upright and sing the national anthem of Pakistan. The first time I heard their voices rise to sing our, “Pak surr zameen,” I was moved to tears. One by one, class by class, they paid their tributes to the father of our nation, to our Quaid-e-Azam, and spoke in his honour; in the honour of a man we cannot seem somehow, to hold in the same regard and reverence.

The bizarreness of this experience has lived with me. Pakistan has been a consistent contributor to all UN Missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Our participation in the UN Peacekeeping Mission from 1960-64 marked the beginning of Pakistan’s peacekeeping journey, which paved the way for missions ahead. Since then, our peacekeepers have performed multifarious tasks under the banner of the United Nations in the DR Congo ranging from humanitarian assistance to the provision of security and the improvement of the law and order situation. I have witnessed and been a part of the enormous respect Pakistani civilians and military peacekeepers under the United Nations have earned from the citizens of the DR Congo, and I find it troubling that in Pakistan, we cannot seem to value the worth of our own people. Besides the protection of civilians and ensuring stability in the region, one of the mandates of UN peacekeepers is WHAM- winning the hearts and minds of the people through activities like the Jinnah School. Of course I am grateful for the nation’s support, which has allowed men like me to glorify the name of our nation and our people in the Great Lakes region. An undisputed professional standing of Pakistani peacekeepers has made them the passion of every Special Representative of Secretary General (SRSG) and Force Commander in each of the UN Peacekeeping Missions

The Pakistani Blue Helmets earn honour through their services to humanity and their contributions are widely acknowledged by the people of the war-torn country. By contrast, in Pakistan we devalue the greatest of our people, targeting the very soul of our nation: education. In the tribal regions, the blowing up of school campuses has become common practice. Every time I read of Pakistan’s school attacks, I think back to the Jinnah School in the DR Congo, existing quietly, paying gentle tributes to the Quaid when our people and our schools are being destroyed by the dozen. All we have, I often say to people, is education. It is only this kind of human capital that is worth investing in. This is why the bullet that was meant to kill Malala only amplified her message. This is why the perfect tribute to the father of our nation, even somewhere as far off as the eastern DR Congo, is a public school. It has humbled me to no end.

As the annual event of the Jinnah school ended, the children filed out holding up a portrait of the Quaid-e-Azam. Perhaps they were too young to truly understand the significance of this. Later, as I glanced upon the photograph of them, I couldn’t help but revel once more in the tragic gratitude and humility of that moment. Long live Pakistan; long may live the ideals we built this nation upon and quickly may we awaken from our dark sleep.

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