Hukum Khan, 51, a veteran in the Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS), laid down his life on September 27 while defusing a roadside bomb near the border of Khyber Agency in Peshawar. He had successfully defused one bomb, but as he reached the second bomb — which was allegedly targeting him — it exploded. The government of Pakistan should honour Mr Khan for his lifelong devotion to saving thousands of civilian lives and for making many fine soldiers who will continue his work.
Mr Khan’s sacrifice is a heavy loss for the government, the BDS and the people of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), who are at constant threat in this unending battle with terrorists. One of the first few recruits to combat terrorism in 1978 during the Afghan war, Mr Khan pioneered the BDS team in Peshawar. He fought militants and started defusing bombs during the 1980s when Peshawar was heavily hit by militant attacks and little was known about defusing bombs. His services continued at the peak of militancy in 2006-07 when bombs of different genera gave a tough fight to the nation. With the number of bombs that were defused outnumbering those that exploded, imagine the number of lives that were saved by the BDS in K-P. In 2012 alone, 250 bombs have been defused in Peshawar so far, out of which 200 were defused by Hukum Khan.
Mr Khan was a legend for younger squad members, who looked up to him for inspiration, knowledge and lessons of bravery. For many of his pupils, he was jokingly known as being immortal when he expertly handled arduous tasks. His devotion was remarkable. When his left hand became useless after losing three fingers, he was told to not risk his life working with one hand. But he knew his expertise was still needed in the BDS so he continued to go back in the field.
His friendly, forthcoming nature earned him many friends. Journalists, police officials and many others who fight terrorism in the frontlines of K-P have all been deeply grieved by his death. His leadership had kept many in the BDS together, especially those who were weakened when fellow members were injured or killed on duty, when stress was high and when families pressured members to leave the dangerous job. His mentoring steadied many hands at using the pliers to manoeuvre and manipulate yellow and blue wires. Even though his family would always worry for his safety, one of his own sons eventually chose to join the BDS to carry on his father’s work.
For these soldiers, walking into the red zone comes with buckling up to face death. Hukum Khan told me in December 2011, “No matter how many times you have defused a bomb, your hand will still shake using the pliers, your family will still flash in front of your eyes for a moment and at times your tears will mix in your sweat.” His sense of obligation to save lives had kept him coming to work even at a withering age. What else makes a national hero, if this does not?
Surely, with his loss, tears will be wept, hearts will swell and breaths will be held several times, but it is important to preserve his sacrifice into a medal. It is a great obligation now for the government, which has equally grieved the loss of lives of soldiers and men in this war, to show grace and responsibility in this tragedy and honour Hukum Khan with the recognition he quite well deserves.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 5th, 2012.