KARACHI: As Iftar time comes close for the Pakistan Army soldiers, they sit in a circle eating the same food as the rest of the country. With their weapons resting by their sides, the group gobbles down pakoras with raita, fruit chaat and Rooh Afza.
"Cantonment soldiers can go home on holidays but the troops stay here in isolation," said Col. Ahmed. "We try to facilitate them as much as we can but security also has to be enhanced during national celebrations because extremist elements get active during such times," he explained.
An hour and a half from Karachi, the isolated post, which also serves as a training centre, is home to 60 soldiers. The location of the post cannot be disclosed due to security concerns. Vigilant 24/7, these men work on eight-hour shifts, alternating between day and night duties every four days.
"We think of our duty as Eid and celebrate it," said a bearded Muhammad Akram, a soldier hailing from Multan who has been in the army for seven years. Leaving his wife and three children behind, Akram explained how a soldier's Eid is different from that of a civilian. "The commanding officers sometimes visit and we eat mithai and greet each other," he said, shifting his heavy weapon from one arm to the other.
"I have been on duty every Eid for the last seven years. I have only spent one or two Eids at home. This is Eid for us. Our duty," said another soldier Muhammad Mansab in a matter of fact way. Hailing from Vehari, Mansab, who is also a father, shared that the soldiers who are not on duty go for Eid prayers, while the others stay and guard the building.
"Everyone misses home, especially on Eid but we have our duties," said the youngest soldier of the unit, 22-year-old Ali Haider. He reminisced about the special food made for the Eid day at home. "You only get that kind of happiness when you are at home with your family, not in the field. So people who have the chance to be at home on Eid should enjoy it," advised the young soldier.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2015.