Though Tuesday was an eventless private members day at the Punjab Assembly, a resolution moved by a minority member caught the attention of the galleries.
Najma Saleemi, a PPP member, asked the house to adopt a resolution urging Pakistan Air Force to name a base after Cecil Chaudhry, the late war hero. Law Minister Rana Sanaullah read out a reply on behalf on the air force, saying that the suggestion will be considered “in due course of time.” At best the answer is a non-committal sentence right out of a bureaucrat’s book and at worst a polite way of saying ‘no’.
Though the House approved the resolution without any opposition, the treasury members opted for silence.
It is widely believed that Chaudhry, who was decorated in the 1965 and 1971 wars for his courage, was retired quietly because of his faith. The conservative military establishment could not consider a Christian commanding the air force. Otherwise, a decorated war hero was certain to make it to the position of air chief.
Squadron Leader Anwar Shamim who led the 1965 Amritsar mission to destroy the radar station (that brought a Sitara-i-Jurat for the then Flight Lieutenant Cecil Chaudhry) made it to the top. However, Shamim’s name was later tainted for allegedly accepting kickbacks in an F-16 deal with the US.
Cecil’s patriotism did not wane until his death. After his retirement from the air force, he fought for the rights of minorities and served as an educationist. It’s a shame that it took a resolution from a minority member to remind us that Chaudhry has not been appropriately recognised. It should have been done already.
We frequently see the names of captains and majors who laid down their lives for the country inscribed at crossings. We also see fighter planes installed at road crossings to remind us of the blows to the Indian Air Force in 1965 war but we don’t see the name of the hero who flew one of those Sabres.
The life for minorities is hard as it is. Limited economic and political opportunities and the fear of persecution at the hands of extremists define their lives.
And now we don’t want to acknowledge the heroes among them. Have we forgotten that Muslims were a minority when they raised the slogan of a separate nation in the name of their religious identity? The minorities in Pakistan are now facing exactly the same circumstances as the Muslims in India did 65 years ago.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2012.
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