I had always been conflicted when it comes to my feelings towards the Pakistan Army. Being a blue blooded ‘bloody civilian’ I closely got to know army families when I married into one. I loved the cantonments I visited, as my brother in law is an army officer too. I admired how planned these cantonments were, the discipline, the simplicity and more importantly closely noticed the similarity amongst the army families and the stark difference from civilian families. It’s a completely different mindset, a product of the upbringing an army child has had as compared to a civilian child. I used to at times feel envious towards the beautiful living space army families enjoyed, the great opportunities for sports and safety that my nieces and nephews experienced as compared to my children. And in my usual debate I would have with any army officer I came across would be why is the national budget so greatly contributing towards defence and naively stressing that ‘see we pay for all the plots you get in DHA ..etc.’ One of the usual arguments I would hear would be ‘well why don’t you send your son on the border to risk his life and take a DHA plot too.’

In my heart of hearts, I have always been pro-armed forces owning them up with love and pride but recently an experience further made me feel the unacknowledged love I have for our forces.

I was fortunate enough to attend the Passing Out Parade in Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) in Abbottabad. Passing out is the completion of two years of military training of soldiers; their graduation from PMA to put it simply.

With ambivalent feelings I attended this ceremony, my civilian mind curious to see what the fervour was all about. This was an almost two-hour ceremony as I saw these impressive young men, hardly 19 years of age, parade beautifully and take the oath to protect our country, not hesitating to sacrifice their lives and promising to put Pakistan first.

I saw emotional parents from all classes of society watching their sons in uniform take the oath, their faces filled with pride. The overwhelming thought that hit me first was that some of these young boys will lose their lives to protect us and some of these parents sitting here with hope will be burying these young men.

I realised for the first time what our forces really go through to defend us. I mean this parade alone spoke of days and days of hard practice and this is nothing compared to the exercises and routines they follow day in and out so they are ready to shield Pakistan; and protect not only from external enemies but be there whether there is flood, or earthquake—in short when no one comes, the army does.

I felt emotional throughout the ceremony. I fell in love with my country all over again and my pride in our forces increased more.

Another thing that stood out for me was that all the men in uniform were men who were nothing but respectful towards the women participating and never had I felt safer in a mixed gathering. Also the regard for seniors was impressive; the air was filled with loyalty and regard.

I strongly suggest that one way to reduce the resentment that civilians have for the forces is to include them in certain spaces like the passing out parade for example. Reserve some seats for them and invite them so they also witness this glorious occasion. It’s the exclusion of the ‘bloody civilians’ as well as lack of information about the working of the armed forces that makes them have drawing room conversations against their own people, which are the forces.

Our forces are part of us. They are our people. As I remember the young faces of the soldiers who graduated yesterday, my heart is filled with pride and prayers for them and I fully own each one of them as one of our own.