Pakistani born British author, Nadeem Aslam, once said that “Pakistan produces people of extraordinary bravery. But no nation should ever require its citizens to be that brave.”
Aitizaz Hasan is one such brave 15-year-old boy. Born and raised in the village of Ibrahimzai, Hangu, in the North-Western province of Khyber Pakhtunkwa of Pakistan, Aitizaz was being punished for being late to school by being made to stand outside his class. Him and his two classmates saw a man laden with explosives coming towards his school. When his classmates fled, as would anyone else, Aitizaz tackled the terrorists, detonating their bomb, killing himself with the terrorist.
“My son made his mother cry but saved hundreds of mothers from crying for their children,” Aitizaz’s mother, another brave Pakistani, said. Pakistani’s banded together, calling the government to award Aitizaz the Nishaan-e-Haider, Pakistan’s highest military award for valor (Aitizaz was in a military school).
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a militant group with ties to the Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for this attack. And what were they attacking? A school in the city with the most Shia’s in the region. Education seems to be a threat. Teenage boys seem to be a threat, just as much as teenage girls receiving any education were. And what does the government in power in that province do? Engage in dialogue with the Taliban. The much-lauded Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf or the “Party of Justice” championed by ex-cricketer Imran Khan, has stood their ground on engaging terrorists in dialogue. Talking, calmly over tea, with those who are proudly claiming responsibility for killing children. Imran Khan issued a statement, promising to set up a trust fund for Aitizaz’s parents and showed disappointment in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government (his own, although there is an apparent rift between his governance and the current Chief Minister of the province) for not taking such action itself. Although popular at its outset, it is safe to say that Imran Khan is losing following fast, but not quite fast enough.
As we saw Malala stand up to the Taliban as a teenager, we saw Aitizaz stand up to the likes thereof last week. Dr. Adil Najam, writing for the Pakistani newspaper The News says: “Fifteen-year old’s should not be in the business of dying in ghastly encounters with self-righteous lunatics in suicide jackets. Fifteen-year old’s should not be in the business of saving their school and their class-mates from horrendous death by themselves dying horrendously. As we salute Aitizaz Hasan’s courage and bravery let us also remember that 15-year old’s should not be in the business of dying a hero’s death. The only business a 15-year old should be in is to live a child’s life: a little mischief, a lot of innocence, maybe some frolic on the side.”
Malala Yousafzai has said she will donate £5,000 to Aitizaz’s family. Additionally, the government has now announced it will confer the Sitara-e-Shujat “The Star of Bravery” to Aitizaz, which his family will receive on Pakistan’s National Day in March. The provincial government is giving five million rupees to the family and naming a new sports stadium after Aitizaz Hasan. The International Human Rights Commission has also bestowed Aitizaz with a global bravery award.
Will all this recognition of bravery for the boy, we must remind ourselves what Nadeem Aslam said, no nation should require its citizens to be that brave. Least of all its children.