Foot soldiers: Our forgotten war veterans
It is incumbent upon all of us to cherish the service of our soldiers and help them in times of hardship.
Supporting the war on terror and the military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is one debate - however, the recognition, acknowledgement and appreciation of soldiers and war veterans is a different issue.
One of the strongest agents in forming one’s national identity is the support of a country’s armed forces. One can malign the Pakistan Army for its continued meddling in politics, and for maintaining a monopoly over the national security policy, but this does not give us the right to forget the foot soldiers who fought on the frontiers for our safety.
These war veterans are the real heroes in the fight against extremists and terrorists. They, along with their battalion or brigade commanders, take the battle to the enemy’s doorstep. It is very unfortunate that these heroes are only represented in numbers and causalities in national debates.
Civil society can be at odds with military leadership and their respective policies. This is their right. However, the common soldier, the Jawaan, is just following orders. There is no room or permission for debate amongst the lower ranks of the military. Thus, why should these foot soldiers come under the crossfire directed at senior army officials, and not be given the respect they deserve?
Another tragedy is that most of Pakistan’s infantry comes from lower income, poor families, mainly from the rural areas of the country. They remain unknown from the time of their recruitment, and for the most part, to the time of their death. There is no network of support that goes out to these soldiers.
Small gestures of acknowledgment that recognize the service of these brave men and women are completely absent from Pakistani society. Slogans of “Supporting our Troops” and “Proud parent of a Pak soldier” on T-shirts and bumper stickers, landmarks, and a day of remembrance, would go a long way to boost their morale. Such gestures would reinforce a society’s support for their sons and daughters who are risking their lives to protect their ountry.
It is also regrettable that there is no federal ministry that looks after veteran affairs. Despite the fact that Pakistan has the sixth largest army in the world, our country only has one rehabilitation center that remains understaffed. Politicians hardly ever pay this rehabilitation center a visit, and it would not come as a surprise if many did not even know it existed. This is because civil society hardily ever inquires or hears about the physical and mental challenges facing our veterans. How to re-integrate veterans in to society is an issue that is not addressed.
These returning veterans are children of poor Pakistanis, who not only struggle to make ends meet, but are also the chief victims of terrorism and war. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers give up their homes and win the label of ‘internally displaced persons’ (IDPs), and many lose their lives in the line of duty.
The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) has taken some measures to bring these soldiers to light and make them mainstream. Alpha-Bravo Charlie and Faseel-e-Jaan Se Agay are some examples. However, the responsibility of recognition and support falls more in the hands of citizens more than anyone else.
Our troops come from within us, making us the first in line to appreciate their service. As citizens and members of civil society, it is thus incumbent upon all of us to cherish the service of our volunteer soldiers, and help them in times of hardship, despair and injury.