“For heaven’s sake! Give Malala’s story a rest. We all have daughters and we all make compromises for them. Don’t you know her name is being used to plan an attack on North Waziristan?” These were the lines I had to endure from a colleague, who was incensed by the media’s continuous focus on the little girl, attacked by the Taliban. In his outrage, he was not even ready to listen to me as I tried to tell him that I had just returned from a rather important meeting where I was told that there were no plans for any operation in North Waziristan.
This response was not new to me. I have continuously seen educated, seasoned people giving in to conspiracy theories just because they do not want to believe that our own people can do this to us. Engaging with these friends becomes impossible, thanks to the likes of Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who never loses an opportunity to peddle unsubstantiated conspiracy theories and Imran Khan, who teaches his supporters to blame the US for all ills in this country.
It is the denial of this sort that forces us to ignore the sacrifices of our valiant soldiers, policemen and political leaders exposed to terrorism. Have you not wondered why it is so easy for a newscaster to use the word ‘shaheed’ (martyred) when narrating a story about people killed by the Israeli or Indian forces and difficult to call our own soldiers anything but ‘jan bahaq’ (killed) when martyred by the terrorists?
Malala Yousufzai’s story is important. Not just because it exposes the Taliban for the vandals they are, but because of the courage a 15-year-old girl can show when confronted by an armed gunman committed to denying her the right to education. Only in a weird world can one resent the attention being given to such heroism. Unfortunately, we Pakistanis live in the very same weird world.
While growing up, I always wondered why we have such a dearth of national heroes. Consider this: our national poet died years before Pakistan was created, never used the country’s name in his poetry and wrote an anthem for a country that we fought all major wars with. While many countries have pictures of more than one leader on their currency notes, ours carry only the picture of the Quaid-e-Azam, who died only a year after the creation of Pakistan. Don’t get me wrong. Of course, these leaders have every right to be there. But our national journey certainly does not end there.
The trouble is that Pakistani nationalism has become a dogma in itself and we do not want to update it with every passing development. Our state and some of its deeper parts do not want to meddle with the sacrosanct notion that the only existential threat to us comes from India and only those who fight it can be our heroes. To this day, we don’t have the exact details of the Kargil war but our soldiers who perished there have been awarded the Nishan-e-Haider, but those who have written tales of great valour in the fight against terror have been offered none.
It is time to put an end to all this denial. While we remain confused about our enemies, our heroes are going to dust. It is time to celebrate the best for who they are: shining beacons of hope. Let us start by nominating Malala for the Nobel peace prize and by acknowledging her as a true national hero.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 17th, 2012.