On January 6, when a suicide bomber in the Hangu district of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province decided to blow up a school, he did not expect to be intercepted by a student.
Affectionately referred to as Pehlwan (wrestler) by his friends, the 15-year-old Aitzaz Hasan was late for school. While his classmates buried their noses in their books inside, he fought the suicide bomber, which ended with the bomb detonating and taking both their lives. Hasan had managed to save hundreds of intended victims inside the school.
Social media activists were swift to take up the cause and, within hours, petitions were posted online, calling for a civil award to be posthumously conferred upon the brave teenager. Some excited campaigners started comparing him with Rashid Minhas – a pilot officer of the Pakistan Air Force who died on August 20, 1971. Minhas lost his life in a T-33 jet crash as he struggled to take control of the aircraft from Flight Lieutenant Motiur Rahman, who intended to hijack the plane and join the Bangladeshi Liberation War. Minhas was conferred the Nishan-e-Haider – Pakistan’s highest military honour.
Activists were temporarily satisfied when the Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif approved the country’s highest award for bravery, Sitara-e-Shuja’at (star of bravery) for Hasan, but soon found something else to focus on – another brave, young Pakistani child: Malala Yousafzai.
On October 9, 2012, Malala became known all around the world as the schoolgirl who survived after she was shot in the head by the Taliban, for championing girls’ right to education. Since then, she has gone on to become one of the most prominent Pakistani figures in the international media and was nominated last year for the Nobel Peace Prize. She was among the first to call on the government to award Hasan.
Malala has devoted her life to her cause and took a bullet for her beliefs and for her struggle. Aitzaz Hasan took the proverbial bullet on the spur of the moment. What he did was brave, but it was not the culminating moment of a lifelong struggle to fight or rise against oppression.
With respect to the gallantry and memory of Aitzaz Hasan, while some might be tempted to say: “Blessed is the country that has such heroes”, I will counter with: “Cursed is the country that needs its heroes to sacrifice their lives.”
According to the South Asian Terrorism portal (www.satp.org), more than 575 bombs killed 1,624 people and injured 4,118 in Pakistan in 2013. For 2012, the figure is 652 blasts – 1,007 killed, 2,687 injured.
Let us not ask for more heroes, but fewer villains.
The writer is an honest-to-goodness desi living in Dubai