On Defence Day, families of defenders demand recognition

Soldie­rs’ famili­es critic­ise allian­ce with US, govt’s dual policy .

Taha Siddiqui September 06, 2011

LAHORE: For Asma, time stopped when her husband and two sons were killed in a terrorist attack on a mosque in Rawalpindi cantonment in 2009.

“I heard the first blast just when my older son Minhaj who had recently joined the Pakistan Air Force left for Friday prayers.” Survivors said her husband, Lt Col Fakharul Hassan, was shot in the chest when he tried to stop a terrorist. “I never thought it could happen to us. It feels like civil war.”

Another victim of the ongoing War on Terror, Lt Faraz Malik died in a roadside IED explosion while he was on patrol the South Waziristan military operation. His father, Lt Col. Zafar Sultan echoes the same feeling of disconnect with state policy and blames the situation on military dictator Pervez Musharraf’s decision to join the war. “If the government had channelled the jihadi element [after the Afghan war], things would have been different.”

Col. (retd) Syed Jaffar, father of Lt Yasir Abbas who died in the PNS Mehran attack, said the armed forces need to be smarter about compensating victims. “We need to acknowledge martyrs through symbolic gestures […] to motivate the younger generation to join the forces.” He wrote to the prime minister to remind him of his promise to recommend Yasir for Nishan-e-Haider, but has yet to receive an answer.

But Pakistan Army spokesperson Maj Gen Athar Abbas said compensating victims of the War on Terror has strained the army’s resources for there are individual shaheed packages. More than 3,000 soldiers have been killed and over 9,500 injured. “Not every soldier deserves an award,” he said.

Defence analyst Imtiaz Gul said Pakistan’s alliance with the US is no secret, which creates resentment among victims since terrorists touch their hearts with their narrative on Muslims suffering. “The biggest fallout of the War on Terror is radicalisation in urban areas.” The government needs to realise that rehabilitation is necessary for victims so that they can build a counter-narrative. It has become an ideological battle, good versus evil and the army cannot fix this since it has a garrison mentality, he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th,  2011.