Today was Veteran's Day in the US - a day to commemorate the sacrifices of the member of the armed forces and of civilians in the times of war. It is observed on 11 November to recall the end of World War 1 on that date in 1918. Major hostilities of World War 1 were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice . As I sit here in Atlanta observing the celebration of Veteran's Day, I can't help but think about the war being waged half way across the world in my home country Pakistan.
I have observed how much respect and honor is given to those who have been in the US armed forces. During one of my MBA classes today, one of my colleagues - a veteran who was deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan previously - was given a round of applause before the start of lecture. A small gesture perhaps, but it just goes to show how much the efforts of armed forces are appreciated. A message from the Dean to the entire school later in the day expressed his appreciation to family members and friends of the school's employees who are on duty and away from their loved ones. Schools all over the country held assemblies recognizing teachers and staff members who served in the United States Armed Forces, and remembered US troops who died in the past by playing patriotic music and songs.
Even Harley Davidson came up with a campaign saluting those who defend freedom (http://h-d.com/thankyou). The website campaign features the ability to add personalized thank you notes for veterans. "To everyone in uniform now and everyone who wore a uniform, thank you," says Rich S . Harley Davidson also offers an exclusive promotion for veterans to win a Harley Davidson bike of choice on this Veteran's Day.
I have heard people say 'I am against the war in Iraq, but I support the troops in Iraq'. And that made me think about people's attitude towards soldiers and armed forces personnel in Pakistan. Pakistan is in the middle of a war against terrorist elements that threaten the sovereignty of the nation. The military has been in an intermittent state of war against Taliban since 2004, before an all-out operation (Operation Black Thunderstorm) was launched in Swat in April 2009. Later in October this year, the armed forces also launched an operation in Waziristan aptly called Rah-e-Nijat, Urdu for 'Path to Extermination'.
The attitude of people in Pakistan towards the war varies - a majority unwaveringly supports the war after seeing the disastrous consequences of a spate of suicide bombers all over the country in the wake of the the War on Terror. There are those however who still think that war is not the most effective solution to the issue. Whatever the opinion on the war and government policies around this may be, it is important to distinguish the role of the soldier from that of the politician. I have seen so many people curse soldiers for the ill-fortunes of the country. What they do not realize is that these soldiers hardly have a say in the policies dictated by our politicians and senior military leadership.
These soldiers are the ones who are away from their families, fighting in extremely harsh conditions with an enemy who is willing to take lives not just of soldiers but also innocent men, women and children. These soldiers are are up against the invisble enemy lurking in the shadows. They face the constant threat of an enemy right in front of their eye dressed as a common man. They face the incredible challenge of being in war in their own country, and trying to eliminate terrorist elements without compromising the lives and security of innocent people. And every single day, these soldiers are giving up their lives for the sake of freedom for the millions of people inhabiting Pakistan.
Last month, gunmen killed an army brigadier in a target shooting in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan. The brigadier was on a visit home from his post as commander of Pakistan's contingent of peacekeepers in Sudan. A soldier was also killed in the attack. Five days later, another brigadier narrowly escaped death as he was shot at by gunmen on a motorcycle as he was driving out of his car with his mother on the way to the bank. This was followed by another attempt at the life of a senior military officer on 6 November.
These are the news we hear on TV and in the papers. What we don't get to hear are news of the thousands of others - be it armed forces personnel or civilians - who are laying their lives for the sake of freedom. I was bereaved to hear news of the janitor at a university in Islamabad who courageously attempted to stop a suicide bomber from entering the university cafeteria after the terrorist had shot down the security guard at the gate . Because of the heroic act of the janitor, the terrorist was unable to enter the crowded cafeteria and self-detonated outside, spraying many of his explosive vest's arsenal of ball bearings outside into the parking lot instead of into the cafeteria. Given that 300 to 400 girls were in the cafeteria at that time, the number of lives lost could have been huge if terrorist had managed to enter the hall.
Events of the past few months have proved that whoever thinks this is a religiously motivated war, or a so-called 'Islamist' movement, could not be far from the truth. This is a political movement that is being supported by foreign elements. The Taliban, bred in the 1980s as a counter to the Russian threat, have fragmented into numerous many sub-factions, gathering support from self-intereted groups both within and outside Pakistan along the way. Taliban is no longer the name of a group, but an ideology. Pakistan - once a safe place to live, and now plagued with suicide bombers in the wake of the War on Terror - is the country that has had to pay the heaviest price of this war. But that discussion is for another occasion.
For now I will just say this: the next time you get up to point a finger at an army veteran, or question the motives of an airforce pilot, think about the enormous sacrifices they are making for the sake of your future. We owe them a lot more than sincere appreciation for their courage and valor, but that really is the least we can do for them. Let us not blame the soldiers for the misjudgements and corruption of our politicians and military leadership. Let us give them the moral support that we owe them. I end with a tribute to the veterans from the 1960s by the famous singer Noor Jehan. Rumor has it that during the 1965 war, Noor Jehan stayed for 18 days recording songs at Radio Pakistan without going home.