Cadet College Hassanabdal (CCH) is an unassailable fraternity. A place of hope and nostalgia. Located in the serene embrace of moderate mountains, north of Taxila, CCH has red-brick buildings, multiple football and hockey fields, an imposing Academic Block, and tidy residential Wings circled around the manicured Oval cricked field. I remember the first day, 31st March, 1994, when my mother drove me to CCH, entrusting me to the company of five hundred other young boys, all dressed in Khaki uniform, and distinguished only by the colour of pips on each shoulder, representing the Wing that they belong to. I was greeted by a neatly dressed cadet, on the steps of the Academic Hall, who handed me my khaki uniform, with sky-blue coloured pips, and was then led to the first Wing on the left of the Academic Hall – Jinnah Wing. At the entrance of the Wing was a large name plaque, titled ‘Wing Commanders’, i.e. students who were chosen to ‘lead’ the Wing each year. Names dated back to 1954. I remember standing in the shade of that plaque, at the entrance of Jinnah Wing, on my very first day at CCH, and wondering what great feats these emboldened names might have gone on to achieve in life.

Several years later, much after I and many other faceless cadets had already left CCH, the name of Asfandyar Bukhari, was engraved as Wing Commander of Jinnah Wing, for the year 2005-2006. And on Friday, the word “Shaheed” was added to the end of this name.

While terrorism has claimed thousands of lives in Pakistan over the past decade (including 150 students in uniform), Captain Asfandyar Bukhari, an Abdalian, and recipient of the Sword of Honour in PMA 118 Long Course, represents a turning of the tide in Pakistan’s war against terror. This brave soldier died while attacking the terrorists, as opposed to being attacked by terrorists. Unlike the martyrs of Army Public School, Peshawar, who were armed with their books and stationery, or the victims outside Data Sahib, Lahore, who were visiting a Saint, or those massacred in Quetta, who were just passerby on the street, or the ones in Shikarpur, who had gathered to celebrate the progeny of the Prophet (SAWW), Captain Asfandyar, as part of the Quick Response Force, rushed to the scene of terror, transacted with gunfire, choked the enemy’s plans, and coloured the pages of history with his blood and valour. His courage represents the spirit of Pakistan; one that is more enduring than the mortality of life.

This new Pakistan, Captain Asfandyar’s Pakistan, has an Army led by a General, who no longer follows the duplicitous policies of his predecessors; an intelligence structure that is learning to share information between disparate agencies; and a National Action Plan which, though imperfect, has the potential to develop into a formidable national counter-terrorism strategy.

However, there is still a long distance to travel between here and that place where Pakistan fulfils its promise of becoming a peaceful and progressive nation. And traveling this distance requires a number of important transformations.

First, the prevalent ‘no non-sense’ mindset of the incumbent Army Chief must be institutionalised as the new ethos of an un-politicised Army. General Raheel Sharif seems to have aggressively quelled the seductive lustre of an Afghani ‘strategic-depth’, which none of the Army Chiefs before him mustered the courage to do. He has erased that murky distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban, which had plagued our establishment’s mindset for almost three decades. And perhaps most importantly, he has inculcated an Army top-brass that represents a liberal mindset, an unrelenting stance against militancy and, at least ostensibly, shies away from active political involvement. However, this transformation of the Army, for it to be meaningful, must last beyond the tenure of the current Chief (who must not seek or be granted an extension!). It must become the hallmark of a new Army mindset; one that reviews it mistakes of the past, and forever buries its proclivity to court to the mullahs.

Second, our politics must summon the courage to make tough choices in the war against militancy. We have a PML-N Federal Government that sympathises with right-wing Sunni religious parties, and counts on the support of organisations such as Islami Jamiat-e-Tulabah for its street mobilisation. In PTI, we have a leader who supports active involvement of Taliban in our political decision-making process, and encourages dialogues with those who have murdered thousands of innocent civilians across the cities and towns of Pakistan. In PPP, we have an inert set of politicians, who seem to be least interested in confronting forces of extremism – because this effort takes away time from robbing the wealth of National institutions. And every few months, we are reminded of the street power that our religious parties have, along with the fanaticism that their supporters carry in their thoughts and rhetoric. The ongoing military solution, even if it achieves one hundred percent success, cannot translate into long-term peace unless the same is supplemented with sustainable political will.

Third, our civilian law enforcement agencies, and especially the provincial police forces, which suffer from an acute anemia of resources, training and (most importantly) purposeful leadership, must be reformed. Born out of a colonial administrative structure, without any meaningful reforms, the police forces of Pakistan spend most of their time, energy, and resources serving as personal guards to the political and administrative masters. The fight against militancy, especially in our urban centers and rural towns, cannot be fought by the Khakis; it necessarily requires a competent police force, which is non-partisan in character, adequately equipped and trained, and led by officers who serve the interest of the people over and above protecting their personal ‘nokri’ of the political superiors.

Finally, we need to evolve a legal and judicial mindset that serves the essential role of convicting the terrorists through our civilian Court structures. We need legislative reforms that plug the loopholes in our procedural and evidentiary laws, preventing terrorist suspects to slip through the cracks. We need well-trained prosecutors, who specialise in countering the arsenal of defense counsels. We need to rid ourselves of the culture of celebrating former Chief Justices who go on to become lawyers for confessed murderers. And above all, we need fresh judicial standards of convictions in cases concerning terrorism, so that never again does our nation turn to military Courts for trying of terrorist suspects.

These reforms, along with our most humble prayers, are a debt that we owe to the martyrs of Badhaber, APS Peshawar, Quetta, and others before them. We owe it to Captain Asfandyar. So that for all the times to come, when young cadets look on that board in Jinnah Wing, on their first day at CCH, they no longer wonder who Captain Asfandyar was; they recognise that he is the Shaheed, who represents the spirit of a resurgent nation.