September Special

Gul Zada: The Citizen

This is not an obituary. Obituaries are for the dead and hasn't God said, those who fall for His cause and the cause of humanity never die. This is not a tribute either, for no words have the glow befitting the glory that is selfless service to one's nation. This is but a soldier's humble salute to an extraordinary citizen; an outstanding son of the hills where I now serve. This is a song written to the soul of a hero who didn't want any medallions for the sport that would ultimately claim his life. And it is hoped that as the song is sung, its beats will be heard by all who, without wearing any military fatigues or ribbons, desperately fought and honourably died for the idea that is Quaid's Pakistan.

Pedantic treatises on counter-insurgency suggest that armies can't win such wars without support of the people. Gul Zada's work in life, gul2and his glory in death, proves that people actually are the army. It is more so in our case. For over a decade now, we have been locked in a seminal struggle against forces that aim for the very jugular of our collective ideals and aspirations. Our enemies are brutal in their tactics and insidious in their narrative. They prey on the minds and bodies with equal ferocity. These bands of what some call “the fourth generation warfare” (4GW) know no morality and respect no law. They use society's networks to pulverize the nation from within. They operate amongst the people and exploit divisions and fault-lines within communities only to ultimately take the same societies apart and rule over ruined homes and broken hearts.

The only sure way to decisively defeat such enemies is for the people to offer no chinks, no exploitable wedges. It does not need a lot of thinking. It only needs a will, on the part of every man and every woman, to vigorously protect their freedom, to lead their lives without coercion and fear. It needs Gul Zada's spirit; his unschooled but mighty heart. It is only when citizens' spirit combines with the soldiers' skill that a nation comes out victorious against the menace we have been facing.

It's all easier said than done because patriotism is a surreal emotion that is invariably and entirely one-sided. The object of this love is a nebulous, immaterial idea called varyingly as one's land, one's country or one's nation. The lover goes on loving without expecting, with any clarity, a return of the feeling. Hundreds of thousands of brave men and women live and die in the name of that boundless, bottomless, endless love. Gul Zada gave life for Pakistan. To men like our Gul Zada, patriotism often means love of one's faith and family, blood and belief, honour and esteem. It's about one's ownership of that small home on a big hill; those lush forests and green terraces; healthy cattle and noisy children; and a bright moon over shimmering snow. It's about all those little things that, when threatened, acquire an untradeable place in one's heart. It's about being master of one's own destiny; about being the captain of one's own soul. It is when those seemingly vague, individual feelings of many are collected into one pot, that a brave, proud and undefeatable nation is born. And hence perhaps, a brave nation needs the incorruptible soul of many like Gul Zada.

Gul Zada never claimed to fully understand the scope and scale of the challenge facing our nation. He didn't care much about the academic intricacies of the term “patriotism.” But he was always rock solid in defending his ancient right to have his way on his hill. He was unwilling to submit to the ruffians and rascals masquerading as “custodians” of his faith and his tradition. Around the fall of 2011, Pakistan Army's pursuit of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Swat (TTS) thugs arrived at the farthest edge of our sovereign territory in Upper Dir. Terrorists couldn't find a lasting toe-hold in the entire Dir region mainly because the local populace was unwilling in the face of all threats to let their homes become bunkers for the bandits. Gul Zada was amongst the bands of hundreds of local patriots willing to fight and die for what was considered as their prized tradition of unwavering resistance against threats to their freedoms. Just a couple of kilometres inside Pakistan, Gul Zada's home sat atop a wooded hill in a small village called Sunai. The lore says that the village had been named in the memory of a Hindu lady, Sunai Bai, whose high quality lassi (Yogurt Drink) was a riot in the area. The village thinned out into a ravine which gradually narrowed and climbed into a pass before rolling into Afghanistan. He thus lived right inside the mouth of danger. The treacherous and wooded pass offered an easy entry and exit route to his enemies just across the border. Our enemies in this area included more than half a dozen proclaimed offenders from Gul Zada's own village. These felons went on to become the disciples of the mad mullah notorious for dealing once in radios and now in roadside bombs. The criminal law-breakers now claimed to be fighting for the banner of that greatest of all law-givers, our Prophet (PBUH). Any one of them could, on his day, attempt on Gul Zada's life. This, however, never deterred him from doing what he thought was the right thing.

He worked hand in hand with the Army. He patrolled his area, organized his kinsmen and dominated the passes used by terrorists for infiltration into Pakistan. His watchful eyes pried for any unfamiliar faces in his area and his prompt reporting led to countless successful responses against the terrorists. Over time, Gul Zada became a one man army in support of our deployment. And this was enough to make him a rather high-value target for the terrorists.

On 12 October 2012, Gul Zada came to the nearby military post to have a cup of qahwa with the Army Officer he called his brother. In the evening, just as the sun set on a million trees across Dir changing colours before dropping their crumbling leaves, he left for his home. He wanted to say his evening prayers with his son, a sixteen years old boy who, Gul Zada would often proudly say, was taller than him. On the way, a coward lay in ambush to take the life of this brave-heart. In a dark, thickly forested corner of the trail, he was hit. Incessant bursts of AK-47 rained into his chest and ripped him apart. The enemy quickly crawled back into the safety of what is the “sovereign” state of Afghanistan. Gul Zada, the lion-heart, lay dead in a pool of blood. The village of Sunai Bai had lost its bravest son. Early next morning, he was buried next to his father's grave.

Exactly a year after his death, in the face of approaching winters, Pakistan Army has established itself on the heights that have choked the murderers' routes forever. Hundreds of the village folks worked with the Army day in and day out. A police check post now operates from within Gul Zada's village. Dozens of school children chant national anthem every single morning, literally from within the hearing distance of where their hero was martyred. To the chagrin of the maniacs, this anthem is the one written by Iqbal for the nation of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. As the vermin who killed our citizen sulks across the border – homeless and condemned forever – Sunai Bai's village has moved on. Gul Zada's son, now even taller, regularly meets with the Army Post Commander his father called a brother. He travels back to his home unarmed. Never again will anyone, at any dark, wooded corner of the trail, dare to cast an evil eye at our people. While the counterinsurgency treatises may say what they will, a nation's enemies are routed only when people become the army. And like it happens in an army at war, Gul Zada's son has taken over the emblem from exactly where his father left. The results of the duel between Gul Zada and his enemies are unmistakable. Like all fights between the right and the wrong, the right endures. Gul Zada's son is the owner of his home, his hearth, his hill, his pride and his destiny. A grateful nation celebrates his sacrifice. The killers of Gul Zada continue to lead the faceless lives of thieves in others' country, on others' lands and in others' homes.

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