Soldier’s Debt – by Saroop Ijaz


The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore saroop.ijaz@

In the last scene of ‘Macbeth’ when the battle is over, the tyrant King defeated, one of the victorious generals, Siward, is informed of the death of his soldier son in the words, “Your son, my lord, has paid a soldier’s debt. He only lived but till he was a man, The which no sooner had his prowess confirmed. In the unshrinking station where he fought. But like a man he died.” The old Siward asks for confirmation of his son’s death and is told that he has indeed died in battle, and “Your cause of sorrow. Must not be measured by his worth, for then. It hath no end.” The father’s terse final query is if the wounds on his martyred son’s body were on his front side. When told that they were, he responds that then there is nothing to grieve about and “Had I as many sons as I have hairs. I would not wish them to a fairer death.”

This is amongst the most powerful scenes of Shakespeare. However, even this pales in comparison with what young Aitzaz Hasan’s father had to say about the martyrdom of his young son. He tells people not to express sympathy, instead congratulate him for his son’s glorious death, while also expressing the desire that his second son embrace a similar fate. The tragedy for Aitzaz Hasan’s father is more acute than Shakespeare’s Siward. Young Aitzaz had not signed up for battle; his possible death was not part of the bargain. Similarly, one can listen to Chaudhary Aslam’s widow come on television hours after her husband’s martyrdom and convey pride at his death, steady voiced, without a hint of fear. What are these people made of? We do not know what these people are made of. It has come to the point where it has stopped mattering. What we do know is that they do not belong here.

Aitzaz died in preventing a terrorist attack where the target was an assembly of hundreds of school children. Everything in us should be repulsed, not only by the attack and the mindset behind it, but also by those who either because of cowardice or due to sheer criminal stupidity make excuses for these murderers. And there are many, relying on made up histories, facile analogies, nauseous causal links with drones, imagined definitions of imperialism. They were never coherent, yet more recently, the apologists have even stopped offering any more conspiracy theories, even making the effort. They do not need to. Their brand of ignorance mixed with cravenness is winning, if it has not won already. However, the same people have the nerve to ‘condemn’ and ‘express sorrow’ at the martyrdom of the valiant child, Aitzaz. They are the same people, who cannot find it in themselves to condemn the murderers, i.e., the TTP by name, even after it takes gloating responsibility. The same people, whose ignorant rambling would suggest that the young child and possibly the hundreds more who were the intended targets would have been victims of ‘justifiable retaliation’.

These people who would lie, fabricate, foam at the mouth, do just about anything to avoid stating or facing what looks us plainly in the face. What are they ‘condemning’ then or ‘expressing sorrow’ about, the ‘unfortunate incident’? Till the time you cannot name the known murderers and condemn them, please do not bother, thank you very much. The families of Aitzaz and Chaudhary Aslam can do without your pseudo pity. They are not random victims of some global political conflict. They have been murdered by people who seek to bomb the schools of our kids, and do it due to ideological persuasions.

Mr Imran Khan and Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan looked like they had lost a very dear loved one the day Mr Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed — one almost worried for their well-being in their moment of great loss. Yet, the death of young Aitzaz fails to evoke the same sense of loss or anger. Sirs, at least do us the courtesy of owning up the side that you clearly are on (which is the TTP’s side) and saying that you do not feel sorry at the death of the school kid, and that the kid died because of drone attacks alone. Revolting as it would be, it would be the honest rendition of your position.

Make no mistake; nobody comes out in glowing light. All political parties, which signed the All Parties Conference resolution of negotiation, should now make their positions clear. Let us not dishonour the memories of martyrs and our kids by condemning and lamenting every death, while maintaining the same position on the fundamental policy issue. The government has decided to posthumously recommend Aitzaz Hasan for the highest civilian award, and rightly so. However, awards in general, particularly, posthumously mean very little, in the absence of policy shifts. To remember Salmaan Taseer’s martyrdom without having the overdue conversation on blasphemy laws means very little. It is not possible to cherish Malala without policy reform in education in general and girls’ education in particular. The debt that the state and we as a people owe to Aitzaz means that we rethink or at least stipulate very clear preconditions and time frame for negotiations with his murderers, if that’s still the plan. Those who know Karachi better will be in a better position to comment on Chaudhary Aslam; however, his martyrdom requires that the structure and functioning of the police force be revisited. Cities and states do not run on super cops alone, they run on efficient law-enforcement agencies. Nobody should be required to be this brave.

Boiler plate condemnations have run their course. Get on with the talks if you must, or get on with enforcing the writ of state. In any case, display the spine to say when our children are murdered that this is ‘our war’, If you are unable to do that, keep the condolences and condemnations to yourself. We have more than enough martyrs already, both civilians and from the armed forces. We do not need more, particularly when we cannot decently honour their memories.

Shaheeds Aitzaz Hasan and Chaudhary Aslam you did not die in vain, however, weak words of condolence is all that we have for you right now. Like the words spoken to the old Siward, our cause of sorrow cannot be based on your worth, because then it will have no end, perhaps it should not. May you rest in peace and thank you.

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