When we think of Pakistan, we envision a place where violence has become a norm. We find it in a history of over a decade long ‘War on Terror’, one that is orchestrated as much by us, as by external powers. When we think of Pakistan we come across an alarming toll of over countless lives that have been lost and affected in the worst possible way.

For the most part, we live it almost every day, in one way or another. Perhaps, that can explain why a large number among us have fallen prey to a desensitization phenomenon, where we seem to exercise a sense of deliberate oblivion towards misfortune. But there are also those who have given new meaning to tragedy by turning individual feelings of pain and loss into a life-long struggle against the unswerving terror and fear rising in the country.

I believe in times of tragedy and hardship, one’s true individual character is easiest to discern. Trying times in this way become a test of our inner strength - our faith in us. In the country that we call home, human tragedy is all too common. However, when I came across Tahir Wadood Malik’s story, it was not loss that I felt; it was true courage of heart. Through his story, his work and his resilient outlook on how life ought to be lived, despite the most dreadful sufferings- I believe that one can truly get through almost anything. For Malik, there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

On October 5, 2009, a suicide bombing at the UN Office in Islamabad resulted in five staff members losing their lives, one of whom was Gul Rukh Tahir, Malik’s wife. For him, that moment changed his life forever. While it may have marked the end of his most cherished relationship, it also marked the beginning of a personal war against Islamic extremism, radicalization and indoctrination. In a way, his wife’s death gave him the strength to keep fighting a good fight; one that we had forgotten had to be taken care of.

Malik’s story is inspiring and thoughtful. Unique for its courage, it is at the same time representative of a bigger picture of Pakistan as a nation. For as long as the violence stirred in the wake of a ‘War of Terror’ is separated from us by a thin television screen, its true impact can never be felt. This war was until then, not part of parcel of Malik’s reality as well. He now devotes his energies to those whose voices are all often forgotten amidst the political cacophony of terrorism – the survivors. When I asked him why he embarked on such a journey, his answer was simple, yet momentous. For him, every little help he offered to individual survivors of terrorism, he felt closer to the companion he had lost. I was touched.

Malik is the Founding Member and Director of Pakistan Terrorism Survivors Network – a private organization that provides survivors a forum to share their experiences and help them regain a semblance of their former lives. He was awarded the Civil Society award ‘Azm-e-Aalishaan’ in 2011 in recognition of his efforts for survivors of terrorism. According to him, it is individual stories of people he has helped that will eventually help the whole nation in countering the extremist, lopsided narrative manufactured by a selective and ruthless tirade of the international and local media. Through the means of social media and an unstoppable will to speak out, his urgent call to the nation is one of crusading against the “let it happen” syndrome that dominates the national psyche. He speaks of the need to react in the face of the threat from radical militants. For him the choice is all too obvious: as citizens we either fall in the category of those who are prey to the self-defeating fallacy that defers all misfortune to the ‘Will of Allah’ or among those who believe in the human struggle to self-actualize and work towards helping the community progress.

At a time when Pakistani security agencies enter the closing phase of Operation Zarb-e-Azab, the government is expected to find some breathing space to ponder over the impact of the long years since 9/11. The noise of drones hovering overhead may have plummeted, but the anguish of those affected has not. Pakistan is yet to consolidate a sound policy in support of the surviving victims of terrorism, one that clearly lays down a mechanism to enforce their rights of monetary compensation, physical well-being and psychological healing. This policy should favor the state’s approach of constantly engaging with infrastructure on the grassroots level to ensure that victims are rehabilitated back into their lives and receive the socio-economic support they deserve.

At the end I asked him about the kind of policy dilemmas faced by the government departments. He was critical of the current compensation mechanisms for their complete lack of sustainability. As someone who has worked with survivor families he is convinced that cash payments do not help nearly as much as subsidizing education for affected children and employment quotas. At the level of foreign policy, Malik continues to emphasize the need to repudiate the Western narrative that traps all 18 million of us Pakistanis into an overarching stereotype of bearded, irrational fanatics that belie the diverse realities surrounding us. For him, highlighting Pakistan as indeed a victim of terrorism can help us shed off the negative residues of conflict that have unfortunately defined Pakistan’s politics, society and international credibility in recent times.

The state of Pakistan can simply not afford to squander away an opportunity to deliberate over how to ensure that future victims of terrorism are not compelled to suffer through the callousness and lack of support we show them - on top of the trauma consequent upon witnessing and living through graphic episodes of violence. It is not my sole rationale to offer a personal tribute, but to narrate a story of courage in the face of sheer gloom and bereavement – of how it is never too late to become a force for good in defense of the lives and livelihoods that have been mercilessly trampled in a battle, we no longer know when and why it started in the first place.