Martyrs are valued anywhere in the world because of their valour, courage and bravery. In Pakistan, they are valued because they help in setting the public image right, secure votes and feed our national sadism that responds only to death, misery and destruction.
Let us start with political parties. Most political parties, barring various factions of the Muslim League, boast about their ‘shaheeds’. Everyone mourns the death of their party members but is perhaps secretly thrilled by it as well because we, as a nation, practise politics on the basis of the number of shaheeds per party. The Pakistan Peoples Party, which has achieved ‘shahadat’ of two former heads of the government, is at the top of the food chain and have won elections by asking their voters to atone for their leaders’ death by voting them into the assemblies. Others do it to lesser degrees of success. Case in point: every transgression of the ANP’s leadership is countered by tales of personal losses incurred by people like Mian Iftikhar Hussain. Mian Iftikhar’s loss of his only son and nephew to terrorism is extremely tragic but it cannot counter the irresponsible behaviour of people such as Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour who announced a bounty for the man behind the anti-Islam video, for short-term political gains.
The armed forces also need martyrs to feed the bogey of the ‘other’ and justify their existence as well as the huge drain they are on the country’s meagre resources. Ever since the war against home-grown terrorists began, nothing worked as well for them as coffins shrouded with the national flag, images of children left behind by the fathers, mothers mourning deaths of their sons and father stoically professing that they would be happy and proud if they lose their other son for the country.
One martyr who does not get either the same amount of reverence or the same coverage in our media is the much-maligned policeman; the policeman, who gets killed every time a group of terrorist or miscreants want to play hooky with the security of the country. In the battle for Islamabad’s red zone last week, Islamabad police came out most harmed — apart from the country’s image, that is. Not only did policemen suffer injuries — 55 policemen were wounded on September 20 alone in Islamabad — but the mob also set fire to their check posts and vehicles, destroying their records and valuable public property, which was paid for by taxpayers. The religious parties and organisations that are fed on the populist rhetoric wanted blood and wanted to march all the way to the US consulate, but it was the capital police that stopped them and perhaps helped the government in averting an international crisis. One can only shudder to think what would have happened had the mob reached the consulate. The very next day, three policemen lost their lives in Karachi when a similar mob was busy looting and burning the city, while many others got injured.
Policemen form the first line of defence against terrorism and many have lost their lives or limbs fighting them with old, outdated and inadequate weapons. They are asked to fire tear gas without proper safety equipment, sent to deal with deadly opponents underprepared and paid a lot less than other security agencies with inadequate pension plans and medical insurance. On top of that, they face public ridicule every day. Though their services are generally below par and there is much to be done to improve police services, it is time we start honouring our police force for doing what they are doing right.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2012.