I recently visited a military hospital in Rawalpindi to look up an old family acquaintance, who was suffering from the inevitable disease known as old age. Lost in the maze of roads and one way routes, my companion pointed to a building saying that this was where, army casualties of the ‘War against Terror’, Siachin and the Line of Control in Kashmir were treated and rehabilitated.

I must have appeared preoccupied to the gentleman I had come to see, since he asked me if all was well. I couldn’t tell him that at that particular moment ‘all was not well’, for images of young men without arms and legs were moving across my mind like a slide show. I had met one of these ‘ghazis’ many months ago at a friend’s home, where I had gone to fulfil a social obligation. A few days later, I saw some photographs, featuring this special breed of men. It was then that I promised to myself that I would write about them and humbly dedicate the piece to them. This is the week, I am fulfilling that promise.

This column is also directed to those Pakistanis - politicians and ‘liberal activists’, who make a living by pointing fingers at the Armed Forces. Sitting in the comfort of their air conditioned environment cocooned from scorching heat, their families around them, drinking bottles of sparkling mineral water and safe from the bullet that strikes out of nowhere or a mine that makes mincemeat out of a limb, it is easy for these critics and ‘finger pointers’ to spew venom on subjects like defense expenditure, political meddling, welfare institutions such as the Fauji Foundation (which is one of the major sources of prosthesis for those, who have lost limbs in the performance of their duties) and the so called ‘rewards and perks’ allegedly enjoyed by military personnel.

One of the photos that I saw, featured an officer, whose bloody stump below the knee needed no explanation of what must have happened. To my amazement, there was not a hint of pain or regret on the face of the young man. On the contrary one of his hands was raised in a victory sign. The most distinctive feature of the photo was the huge grin adorning the officer’s face. Another somewhat similar picture was that of another young officer sporting two stumps below his knees and a wider grin. Amidst a turmoil of thoughts, I wondered, which amongst the finger pointing politicians would volunteer to trade a limb in exchange for the young men’s ‘perks’.

A third photograph showed a Major sitting on the ground eating what appeared to be ‘dal roti’ out of a tin. What caught the eye was a plastic bottle beside him containing murky water to wash his lunch down. In the fourth picture, apparently taken during the summers, one saw a number of ‘soldiers’ seeking shelter from the heat under a big military truck. Would the critics like to spend a week in this manner away from the cool environs of their offices, land cruisers and homes – I guess not for it is not an easy task to become a hero.

Heroism is a gift that surfaces under a particular set of circumstances. Heroes have existed and will continue to appear across the globe generating awe and respect. Nelson Mandela is a name that immediately invokes these sentiments, as does Mao Zedong of China and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. I was therefore upset, when in a recent speech Prime Minister Imran Khan linked one of the Sharif Brothers (albeit sarcastically) with Mr. Mendela. I would request the Prime Minister of Pakistan and his associates, not to insult the memory of the great son of Africa, by drawing a parallel, albeit in sarcasm, with a member of the Sharif Family.

There is another category of heroes - unsung and humble, going about their business silently. I happen to know some of them, putting their lives on the line on treacherous mountain trails to ‘light their own brand of candles’ in some remote faraway village. I have given my word to keep their achievements vague and their names out of print, leaving me no option, but to deferentially comply.


The writer is a freelance columnist.