Foot soldiers: Our forgotten war veterans

Published: September 13, 2011

Disabled military veterans at Pakistan's Armed Forces Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine (AFIRM) perform exercises in Rawalpindi. PHOTO: AFP

Supporting the war on terror and the military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is one debate – however, the recognition, acknowledgement and appreciation of soldiers and war veterans is a different issue.

One of the strongest agents in forming one’s national identity is the support of a country’s armed forces. One can malign the Pakistan Army for its continued meddling in politics, and for maintaining a monopoly over the national security policy, but this does not give us the right to forget the foot soldiers who fought on the frontiers for our safety.

These war veterans are the real heroes in the fight against extremists and terrorists. They, along with their battalion or brigade commanders, take the battle to the enemy’s doorstep. It is very unfortunate that these heroes are only represented in numbers and causalities in national debates.

Civil society can be at odds with military leadership and their respective policies. This is their right. However, the common soldier, the Jawaan, is just following orders. There is no room or permission for debate amongst the lower ranks of the military. Thus, why should these foot soldiers come under the crossfire directed at senior army officials, and not be given the respect they deserve?

Another tragedy is that most of Pakistan’s infantry comes from lower income, poor families, mainly from the rural areas of the country. They remain unknown from the time of their recruitment, and for the most part, to the time of their death. There is no network of support that goes out to these soldiers.

Small gestures of acknowledgment that recognize the service of these brave men and women are completely absent from Pakistani society. Slogans of “Supporting our Troops” and “Proud parent of a Pak soldier” on T-shirts and bumper stickers, landmarks, and a day of remembrance, would go a long way to boost their morale. Such gestures would reinforce a society’s support for their sons and daughters who are risking their lives to protect their ountry.

It is also regrettable that there is no federal ministry that looks after veteran affairs. Despite the fact that Pakistan has the sixth largest army in the world, our country only  has one rehabilitation center that remains understaffed. Politicians hardly ever pay this rehabilitation center a visit, and it would not come as a surprise if many did not even know it existed. This is because civil society hardily ever inquires or hears about the physical and mental challenges facing our veterans. How to re-integrate veterans in to society is an issue that is not addressed.

These returning veterans are children of poor Pakistanis, who not only struggle to make ends meet, but are also the chief victims of terrorism and war. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers give up their homes and win the label of ‘internally displaced persons’ (IDPs), and many lose their lives in the line of duty.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) has taken some measures to bring these soldiers to light and make them mainstream. Alpha-Bravo Charlie and Faseel-e-Jaan Se Agay are some examples. However, the responsibility of recognition and support falls more in the hands of citizens more than anyone else.

Our troops come from within us, making us the first in line to appreciate their service. As citizens and members of civil society, it is thus incumbent upon all of us to cherish the service of our volunteer soldiers, and help them in times of hardship, despair and injury.

Shahzeb Shaikha

Shahzeb Shaikha

A staffer at The Express Tribune who is a graduate in the field of Security Studies from the University of Pittsburgh. He tweets @shahzebshaikha (twitter.com/shahzebshaikha)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • M Ali Khan

    Support our Sepoys. Not our Generals.Recommend

  • http://www.pakistani-revival.blogspot.com Ovais

    Only one comment .. so sad how we love to comment on Zoya nazir mariyams and that rishta girl blogs .. when this just gets one comment ..
    Excellent article bro but one which doesnt sell . .sad reality ..Recommend

  • Mustafa Moiz

    These men are willing to risk their lives for our country, we must always pay them proper respect, and, I think, most Pakistanis have immense respect for the Armed Forces. I don’t think we need t-shirts saying Support Our Troops or anything, every Pakistani knows how we love, respect and support our troops.Recommend

  • http://none Bangash

    its a tragedy that these poor soldiers pay for the stupidity of our Generals.Recommend

  • Baber

    Alpha Bravo Charlie sold like nothing else in Pakistan yet the producers of than and now’s TV shows bent towards Star Plus influence.

    While I did not like ISPR producing TV shows but when the civilians are more interested in competing (copying) Star Plus, Ill let ISPR pass on this one.

    The policy makers of the Army received only hate for the institution however, be it floods or war, the soldiers came forward on the frontline whenever we called while their generals sat relaxed in Air-con and hired cooks and servants. And these guys are the only reason why I still have faith in the Army. Long live.

    Remember folks, these guys are men of action, who are trained to overcome obstacles. Never pity them because they still can do far more crazy stuff than your lazy bum can. Recommend