The Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana aptly said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Among the plethora of “almeeaas” (tragedies) that Pakistan seems to face, the biggest one appears to be the short-term memory of our nation, whereby we easily tend to move on from the most appalling, most horrendous ordeals that we have faced – episodes, which, in developed societies, would leave an enduring scar on the peoples’ collective conscious for eons to come.
A case in point is the scourge of suicide attacks that befell Pakistan in the last two decades, due to our ill-informed participation in America’s war in Afghanistan. This war completely lacerated our society and our way of life; it not only cost us billions of dollars, but much more importantly, we suffered the loss of more than seventy thousand innocent Pakistani lives, all for fighting someone else’s war.
Most Pakistanis are well aware of the immeasurable damage that suicide attacks inflicted on our people. However, the question that arises here is: do we truly remember our fallen brethren? Our politicians, military, journalists and political analysts often refer to the figure of seventy thousand lives lost, but have we ever asked who were these seventy thousand Pakistanis? What were their names? What were their professions? How are their families coping today? Sadly, no one in our officialdom or media has ever pondered upon or tried to address these important, yet unanswered, questions.
To the best of one’s knowledge and belief, to date, no national monument or memorial has been erected in any major city by either the Federal or Provincial governments to pay respects to the common Pakistanis who lost their lives in the war on terror
If we look at how developed nations across the world react to national tragedies, we see that those societies employ different means to pay homage to their dead: the United States of America built a graceful memorial at the very site of the twin towers, on which are inscribed the names of each of those 2,977 people who died during the attack on 9/11. In Germany, a Holocaust Memorial was built in Berlin to honor the six million Jews murdered by Nazis under the rule of Adolf Hitler. Similarly, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in Japan, which was the only structure left standing in the area after the first atomic bomb exploded in 1945, has been preserved in its post-explosion state to remind not just the Japanese, but the rest of the world, of the disastrous effects of nuclear weapons.
Such memorials serve a twofold purpose: first, they help countries remember and honour their dead, and secondly, they ensure that the nation never forgets its past mistakes and transgressions. In this way, their future course of action is informed by the actions of the past.
In Pakistan, the military and police have constructed their respective memorials to properly honor their fallen. However, it is unfortunate that to the best of one’s knowledge and belief, to date, no national monument or memorial has been erected in any major city by either the Federal or Provincial governments to pay respects to the common Pakistanis who lost their lives in the war on terror. These people included the innocent children studying in schools, the elderly walking on the roads, the university students full of ambition and dreams, the women shopping in markets for loved ones, and the men praying in shrines and mosques. These Pakistanis also deserve to be remembered by their names, and to be honoured equally as our national heroes.
In this regard, it will be befitting to designate a ‘National Remembrance Day’ when the whole country can observe a few minutes of silence and collectively pray for all the victims of the terrorist attacks that plagued our nation in the last twenty years. A poignant suggestion for such a day would be the 16th of December, which certainly is an agonizing date for every Pakistani, being the date of the horrific APS school attack. Let us mark this day as our remembrance day, not only to pray for those innocent school children that were martyred, but also to evoke the memory of all seventy thousand plus Pakistanis that we lost in this war.
Such remembrance will also help foster a sense of unity. We witnessed such national unity after the unprecedented earthquake of 2005, when people from all walks of life contributed whatever could to help their brethren in the distress in the affected regions. Similarly, the APS attack proved a watershed moment, as thereafter, the entire nation (which was earlier confused between the “good Taliban, bad Taliban” debate) was finally able to look beyond its ethnic and sectarian differences and came together on a single page to demand an end to terrorism in Pakistan.
Although it is unfortunate that it takes a national catastrophe for us to unite, yet by constantly reminding ourselves of the trials and tribulations we as a nation have suffered, we will hopefully ensure that going forward, we remain conscious and mindful of never going down the same path again. No better words can be used to conclude on a hopeful note than those spoken by the indomitable Faiz:
“Thus always has the world grappled with tyranny
Neither their rituals nor our rebellion is new,
Thus have we always grown flowers in fire
Neither their defeat, nor our final victory, is new!”