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Hope, Courage and Confidence - Honouring Jinnah's Message - by Jennifer McKay

(Content from Hilal Magazine)

My message to you all is of hope, courage and confidence. Let us mobilize all our resources in a systematic and organized way and tackle the grave issues that confront us with grim determination and discipline worthy of a great Nation.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Eid-ul-Azha Message to the Nation (24 October 1947).

Muhammad Ali Jinnah's message is as relevant in today's Pakistan as when he wrote these words in a 1947. There are still grave issues confronting the nation that require a determined and systematic approach and a lot of courage.

Courage is a word that has become devalued in the international media, too often applied to - sports stars and others for simply winning a contest. Confusing courage with ambition and persistence devalues the true meaning and spirit of the word. But in Pakistan, real courage in the face of adversity is all around us. We find it not only in the military, but every walk of life - police, communities affected by disasters and conflict, victims of terrorist attacks, polio workers, even children wanting an education. Over the years, I've interviewed many people - both civilian and military - in post-conflict and disaster affected regions in Pakistan. I've learned so much from their stories and I've found that so often there are those common threads of courage, hope and confidence of which Jinnah spoke. I am always a little puzzled though, as to why this is not recognized and applauded more widely.

In the military, these arc characteristics of service to the nation. Pakistan's location in a difficult region, local insurgencies, and its terrain make it a tough country to protect. Thousands of troops are deployed in border areas and other regions, risking their lives to protect against the harmful elements that threaten the security of the country. In the harshest of environments with very few basic comforts, they stay for months at a time. Their work is dangerous and relentless. I've had the privilege of visiting a few such places and it is hard to imagine what it would be like to have to stay there a week, let alone for months on end. If something goes wrong, if s a long way from help and sometimes the environment itself becomes the enemy. The tragedy of the soldiers killed in the avalanche at Giyari in the Siachen Glacier region was yet another reminder of this.

Air and ground operations against insurgents, rescuing and protecting communities affected by conflicts and natural disasters, reconstructing and rehabilitating whole regions recovering from conflict are all part of what the military does today. But civilians take the military for granted and don't give a second thought to what it would be like to combat the threats, or to undertake complex rescues in difficult environments. There are countless examples of extraordinary courage above and beyond the call of duty but we seldom see stories profiling these anywhere except in magazines like 'HilaF. These are certainly stories for future articles but for now, it is the personal courage of those faced with adversity the victims of war against terror and those who stand up against the threat that is in focus.

In April, I attended the Yaum-e-Shuhada (Martyrs Day) ceremony at Rawalpindi for the first time. It was a stark reminder of the sacrifice of so many in defence of the country. It was an impressive and moving ceremony, culminating in the laying of wreaths and flowers by the leadership and all the guests at the memorial honouring the martyrs who have sacrificed their lives for Pakistan. Reflecting the impact of terrorism on the entire nation, the Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, paid tribute to the sacrifices of all the security forces including Army, Air Force and Navy, Frontier Corps, Frontier Constabulary, Rangers and Police. Civilians who lost their lives in terror attacks were also honoured in this year's / ceremony. The videos were confronting as were the personal tributes paid by families of military, police and civilians in memory of those lost, and their pledges to honour their courage and sacrifice by continuing to stand firm against terrorism.

This salute by Army to all Pakistanis, who have fallen victim to the war on terror, was timely and fitting. But this does not seem to be reflected in the public thinking. Foreign media was conspicuous by its absence and even the local media was thin on the ground. To most people the war against terror is something remote from our lives even though it has an impact on the life on everyone in Pakistan. We read of attacks, pray it never happens to us, and then forget about it and the victims and their families. We rarely wonder what happens to these people and it is seldom if ever discussed in the media. This is unfortunate because meeting some of them face-to-face is inspirational.

To learn more, I recently visited the Armed Forces Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine (AFIRM) at Rawalpindi with a television crew from Australia's ABC Foreign Correspondent Programme. We toured the facility with Major Dr Muhammad Ali Raza Qureshi, an accredited specialist in rehabilitative medicine who explained the work being conducted there and the background of many of the patients. In this impressive and well-equipped 100-bed facility, I spoke with some of the most courageous people I've met in some time - soldiers who are now dealing with the devastating reality of the war against terror. All had been injured in Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) incidents and other blasts, mostly along the western border of Pakistan.

We interviewed several soldiers who were recovering from their injuries and N learning to use new prosthetic limbs and to rebuild their lives. I am sure it's not easy to talk about such things with a total stranger. These are private matters so I was touched by their generosity in sharing their stories of what happened, what it is like to suffer such injuries, and their hopes for the future. Seeing their injuries, it was impossible to imagine what they went through or the agonies they suffered in these blasts. I can only hope that at the time, shock masked the pain. Everyone had a horrific story to tell and they told them | calmly. It made me wince at the thought of how most of us complain when we have the slightest medical problem. I hope I will learn to complain less in future.

The first soldier, we spoke with, was one of three who were injured in an IED blast in Kurram Agency. The intensity of the blast threw him ten feet into the air. He lost consciousness for only a few minutes and awoke to discover his leg was gone and he was bleeding profusely. Then, what must have been excruciating pain, kicked in. He was shifted to the military hospital in Peshawar for stabilization and then to AFIRM where he is spending several months in rehabilitation. He has been fitted with a prosthetic leg and is learning new skills using his hands. He works hard on learning to walk properly and to keep up a high level of fitness. When asked if he still thought it was worth it to fight against the militants, he answered, "I have lost my leg but I am ready to fight again. I will serve in the Army and we will defeat the miscreants. I am ready to sacrifice my life for the country ".

Another soldier, from the Mehsud Scouts, was one of two injured in an IED blast in Khyber. He had lost both legs and an arm in the blast. He told us he was conscious and saying his prayers throughout the 50-minute journey to the military hospital in Peshawar for surgery to save his life. He is now undergoing extensive rehabilitation at AFIRM, learning to use his new legs and arm. The journey will be tough but he too was firm in his conviction that the sacrifice was worth it and he would do the same again for his country to defeat the miscreants.

We walked with them to the exercise rooms. They certainly weren't talking things slowly yet I know that prosthetic limbs can be really painful for some time until the natural limbs adjust. AFIRM has own state-of-the-art facility for making prostheses and staff are constantly undertaking training to learn new techniques to ensure maximum mobility and comfort for the recipients. In the exercise rooms and gym, men with a diverse mix of injuries were all working hard to restore fitness and to 're-train' their muscles to work in new ways. Many go on to become accomplished sportsmen and train on the AFIRM sports field for competitions. These events are not for the faint-hearted - these guys are very competitive and capable sportsmen.

DrAli spoke of a robustness and toughness he had observed in all his patients and how motivated they are to face the future as normal human beings. Few have needed psychological interventions for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is common amongst those who are the victims of extremely traumatic events such as terror attacks, war, serious injury, and other near death experiences. Ongoing medical care and the support of families are of course crucial in the recovery process, but perhaps it is a faith in a higher purpose that accounts for this ability to deal with the psychological effects of such trauma.

The Army will ensure that these soldiers will not be left alone to face the future. Some will return to new duties in the Army and others will be assisted in finding work outside if that is their wish, using skills, they've learned in the AFIRM vocational training workshops. Knowing they have the support of Army has brought them comfort but life will never be quite the same for them or their families. Living with a disability can be challenging but every one of them was facing the future with extraordinary courage, determination and faith.

Unlike other countries, there appears to be little interest in profiling the stories of military casualties in Pakistan. These are incredibly brave men and sadly, their numbers are growing. Not only have they served the nation with valour, they are now fighting their own battles for a dignified life.

But what happens to non-uniformed people who have been struck down by terror attacks? Thousands have been killed and injured in recent years. Although all provinces have been affected, it is K h y b e r Pakhtunkhwa that has been the scene of the largest number of attacks over recent years; In addition to the security forces, Police, politicians, journalists and ordinary civilians have all been targets. The sheer numbers of those in need of rehabilitation make it difficult for the State to provide enough facilities so their struggle to achieve a normal life is likely to be more difficult. Somehow though, they find the courage to go on. Some receive compensation but blast injuries are lifelong and costly to treat. Few articles have been written about their plight, and many are too afraid to talk publicly for fear of reprisals by militants anyway, so there is little understanding of the immense challenges they face. But we should not forget them and do all that is possible to find ways to ease their suffering.

We also see displays of courage amongst civilians working in sectors that in normal circumstances would be a safe working environment. Attacks by militants have killed 22 polio workers and their security escorts in recent months yet thousands of men and women across Pakistan continue to fight against a viral enemy polio. It is certainly not for the money. A polio immunisation team member is paid only a meagre PKR 200 per day. Some have security as they do their rounds but there are not enough police to protect all these workers, so many are moving around in insecure areas, totally unprotected, knowing the risk they face. A woman polio worker, when interviewed during the immunisation campaign in Tank recently, spoke with quiet conviction and courage about the importance of ensuring the health of all Pakistani children and fighting this terrible disease. She, and her health official colleague, also spoke of their faith and stressed that they would not be intimidated by the threats. Their stance is common to so many ordinary civilians who quietly serve their country in whatever way they can.

In some parts of the country, even going to school requires courage for both child and parents. The story of Malala Yousafzai is now well known but her resolve and courage is not uncommon here. Countless numbers of children attend school each day, desperate to receive an education despite the threats from militants to do them harm. For parents in these areas, making the decision to send their children off every day cannot be an easy one to make. Education is the key to the future of this country and it is sad that in some places, extraordinary courage is needed to do something that is every child's right to receive an education.

Since 2009, the Army has moved thousands of people from Swat and FATA to safety prior to military operations against insurgents. Sometimes, they are away from home for several years in camps for displaced persons and with host families. Returning home is hard. The Army has eased their concerns by the extensive reconstruction and rehabilitation projects and by ensuring their safety, but it still requires hope, courage and confidence to make the decision to return home to rebuild their lives and to come to terms with past divisions within their communities.

Looking at all these examples of courage, I find it sad, that although the military commemorates Yaum-e-Shuhada, there is no national civilian commemoration of all those who have lost their lives or suffered in conflict and attacks. To me it seems it would be an important step towards building understanding and national cohesion on the fight against terrorism. Many countries commemorate those lost in wars, peacekeeping and disasters. In Australia, we have been fortunate that we have never suffered conflict in our homeland. Yet ANZAC Day, marked on 25 April each year, is a day of remembrance by the nation for all Australians lost in war, conflicts and peacekeeping around the world. Even the loss of civilians in terrorist attacks like the Bali bombing in which 202 people including 88 Australians is remembered annually in separate ceremonies. Our losses to terrorism are so small in comparison to what Pakistan has suffered but every life everywhere is precious. Other countries hold similar commemorations for those- lost in conflict and attacks. So why not in Pakistan where more than 4 0 , 0 0 0 | people have the war on fallen victim to terror? Perhaps it would focus people more on the need for unity and resolve to address the threats that face the country.

The future for Pakistan holds many challenges and determination combined with hope, courage and confidence needed to overcome them. Clearly, these attributes are alive and well in so many Pakistanis. So is it not then up to the rest of us to honour the words of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and all those who've sacrificed or risked their lives, and display these same qualities to contribute to making Pakistan the great nation of which he spoke 66 years ago?

(Courtesy Hilal Magazine)

The writer is Australian Disaster Management and Civil-Military Relations Consultant, based in Islamabad where she consults for Government and UN agencies. She has also worked with ERRA and NDMA. [email protected]