“He is Maalik Ashtar of today. Imam has sent him in his place to fight for him”, said my taxi driver in Tehran couple of years back while pointing towards a billboard that we passed by. That time Iranian revolutionary guard commander General Qassem Suleimani was not that much camera comfortable as he is today so I did not recognize the face. The billboard depicted him in deep though while in the background Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei was waving a salute cum salutation towards him.
“Even Rehbar sends him salam. He calls him a living martyr. He is alive but still a martyr”, he continued. His references were towards the historic Maalik Ashtar who was sent by Hazrat Ali a.s to be the governor of Egypt where constant threat of war was looming over.
And the references did not end there. As we our journey continued towards the city of Qom, more billboards came with more heroes and their pictures with Ayatullah Khomeini and Khamenei with Persian couplets praising the martyrs or Iraq war or the ones fighting in different parts of the world through IRGC or even some key diplomats.
“Here what you see is Muslim Bin Aqeel. Imam has sent him as an ambassador on a very critical mission”, “He is Ammar Yasir. He died in the battle in Iraq”, “He is Ghazi Abbas. He got martyred in command in attempt to save others”, he went on and on till the point where I stopped trying to figure who was who. All the references were mostly from the time of Hazrat Ali a.scaliphate or Karbala. Throughout all his talk what stroke most was how casual he seemed while telling this. It was like he was stating a matter of fact like adding two and two equals four. The decade long Iran Iraq war, the international sanctions and the continuous engagement in Syria has taken its toll on the Iranian people and perhaps this is the reason why everything from a normal cab driver to an organized state machinery makes sure they remember what they are fighting for and that they never forget their heroes, like they would not forget a family member.
The current continuous turmoil that has hit Pakistan is nothing less, if not more than the experiences of Iranian people. At least for Iran’s case they are clear that they have external enemies. In our case the enemy is internal. It is within our society, growing continuously like unsupervised weed. It can be your colleague or your next door neighbor and you would never know. And yet, after losing more than sixty thousand lives we still lack a common national narrative. We still move on from one tragedy to the next, thinking it as part of our routine lives, like taking the car out for tuning once in a while. Unless of course, the tragedy hits us personally.
Do we remember our martyrs? Have we celebrated our heroes enough? We cannot even seem to decide whether people being affected in this war can be called our heroes or not. We are still debating whether this is our war or not. If in any other country Aitzaz Hassan who stopped a suicide bomber in Hangu to enter his school and got martyred in the process, there would have had a statue carved in his honor or at least a memorial in his name. We cannot even seem to honor people like him and Malala by naming schools after them in fear of provoking our ‘misguided brothers’ for another attack. If not for his heroics, Hangu would have witnessed the same tragedy which Peshawar has.
How many precious soldiers have we lost? How many children may never grow old to be doctors, engineers, soldiers or to just be a regular brother who had plans to stand by his father’s shoulders on his sister’s weddings? Sometimes they were in a ‘supposed’ wrong place i.e a wrong mosque, a wrong Imam Bargah, a wrong jaloos, a wrong church and were just part of big collateral damage. Other times they just happened to be in schools, buses, markets. The enemy is clear that they want to do a hard blow wherever they can, while we are still in a fix of trying to talk to them to figure out ‘what actually is their problem’? If their problem is desire for revenge, what do we plan for the revenge desires of all their victims if we plan to pardon them? Consider the curious case of Asmatullah Muawiya who recently attended a funeral of his father in a big village and even stayed during his illness for many days. There was not even an attempt made for arrest. It seems like all his crimes have been vanished in a puff!
How many scholars and intellects have we lost? Do we even remember their names? Everyone in Pakistan knows the name of Hakimullah Mahsud, how many know who was Shakil Auj? Why did we lose a national poet like Mohsin Naqvi? Did we ever catch the killers of Sibt e Jaffar? Why don’t we have the answers of these questions?
Wars cannot be fought with soldiers alone. We need to build a national narrative that reaches every house in the country till the point each one of us remembers it as important as drinking water. We may move from one tragedy to another, but we will only remember those that deeply affect us on personal level. So the faces of martyrs need to be paraded in all corners of the country. People need to own each and every hero. Our soldiers, our generals, our brave politicians who refused to bow down to blackmail, our men who spoke and wrote bravely and paid the price. Our women whose liberty they fear.
But above all we need to remember our children. Remember our children who died without even proper concept of crime. Remember them because they were the future we could have had and instead we are heading towards a future where there is a dark abyss unless something is done quickly.
And most importantly do not forget the enemy, because they never forget they are in a war. We do. National narrative cannot be set without the proper media campaign reminding us that we are in a constant state of war. It may take years or a decade, but sooner we own it the better. We need to do long marches to declare we are not afraid. If this is the war on terror, only way to defeat is to come out and say “Yes this is my war and my country and I will not allow you to burn it”.