The brave die young… with their boots on

Tuesday, December 12 was a gloomy, wet day because of the rainy spell, confining old fogies indoors. Perforce, one was forced to watch more than the usual dose of insane, pointless talk shows in which politicians and some others exchange barbs with each other to underscore their masters’ conflicting viewpoints. Then most channels began reporting the martyrdom of 2nd Lt. Moeed Ahmad and Sepoy Basharat, both 21 years old, both from the Northern Light Regiment. Their vehicle was fired upon by militants, when it was travelling on the Hamzani Road near Datakhel in North Waziristan. They both breathed their last due to their bullet wounds. There may also have been some other non-fatal casualties in the vehicle, but no channel made mention of them. Moeed, belonged to a village near Burewala in Central Punjab, while Basharat came from Danyor on the banks of the Hunza River where it joins Gilgit River just a few kilometers downstream from Gilgit town. Later in the day, the channels flashed several pictures of Moeed, such a handsome young man, in the prime of his life, with an engaging smile. He must have been the joy and pride of his family and friends. No longer in this world, they will live forever in the hearts and minds of their near and dear ones. May these brave sons, like many who have made the ultimate sacrifice, rest in eternal peace.

As the COAS so rightly said in his message, the freedoms that we enjoy don’t come cheap; they have come at the cost of so much blood and sweat of the brave sons of the soil. Most of them come from the modest or humble backgrounds, unlike those we see on the TV screens or seek greener pastures within the country or abroad. In the last few years, I have met several young officers in Rawalpindi’s military hospitals. They were amongst the ones lucky to have survived in the harsh climate and terrain along our western and northern borders. A few examples:

One young officer sitting on the hospital bed, staring blankly at the wall. His attendant told me that he had to be evacuated from his high post in Siachin. He was suffering from cerebral oedema because of prolonged exposure to the low oxygen levels at those forbidding altitudes. Since 1984, Pakistan and India have been locked in the world’s highest battlefield, with no end in sight in the foreseeable future. The hostile terrain, high altitudes, frequent avalanches, etc. have taken a greater toll of lives than enemy action, and the same is likely to happen ad infinitum.

Another handsome young captain I met was suffering from some eyesight problems. He was from 6 Light Infantry whose entire battalion headquarters, which some readers may recall, got buried under an avalanche. He was amongst the “lucky” ones that fateful day because he was manning a post at above 18,000 feet. (Gen Kayani, then COAS, ensured that the bodies of over a hundred officers and men were dug out from under the snow – a herculean task indeed)

On another occasion I met a young officer whose shin bones had been badly shattered by militant bullets while he was serving in Waziristan. He was in good spirits despite his debilitating wounds. A little “gup shup” revealed that he belonged to Ghora Gali near Murree, and had studied for many years in my alma mater.

There never seems to be any end to the “Do More” mantra coming out of Washington, DC. The head hawks who sit comfortably in DC seem to have no idea as to how much Pakistan’s people and economy have suffered and endured fighting the USA’s fruitless war in Afghanistan ever since the Soviet Union’s invasion of this blighted country in 1979. This prolonged engagement, with all the US military and economic strength, is yet another example of how fruitless have, been past attempts to conquer, subdue or control Afghanistan and its people. Pakistan has become the convenient whipping boy of DC’s armchair warriors for their own failures in that country.

It is so gratifying that the Pakistan Army takes very good care of those who have served in it, along with their families, and especially of families of those who give their lives in the line of duty. We, as a nation, cannot ever repay them to mitigate their loss. In this regard, Fauji Foundation and the Army Welfare Trust, both of which are sometimes maligned for being the biggest corporate entities in the country, also play a very significant role in the welfare of ex-serviceman and their families.

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