Let this be the last time an innocent child loses life due to terrorism. Though our dear country has been a target of terrorism for years, there have been courageous people and youth who have stood up for peace and even sacrificed their lives for their rights.

Courtesy Aitzaz Hasan's family
Courtesy Aitzaz Hasan's family

Think about the story of the brave teachers of Peshawar school – Tahira Qazi, Afsha Ahmed, Sumaira and many others – who were brutally killed and burnt alive by the militants. They sacrificed their lives with the hope that this will save their students’ lives. The brutal attack on the city of Peshawar, which was once called the city of flowers by Rahmat Shah Sail, a great Pakhtun poet from the mountains of Malakand, is an attack on our whole country. My family and I are mourning and standing with all the families who went through the tragic trauma caused by the Peshawar attack. I salute those children and teachers who stood strong and did not stop their mission to continue their education.

Our country is blessed with brave people. The story of Aitzaz Hasan reflects their resilience, courage and bravery. I am honoured to have this opportunity to write about him as the Herald’s Person of the Year 2014 — and as our hero of all times.

Hasan was a grade-nine student who sacrificed his life while preventing a young suicide bomber from entering his school where students were holding the morning assembly. He was late for school that day. He and his two friends were waiting outside the school. Who knew them being late was going to save the lives of 700 innocent children inside that government high school.

According to his classmates, the suicide bomber told them near their school gate that he was there to get admission in their school. Hasan’s schoolmates ran into the school after noticing a detonator on the man’s vest while Hasan stood firmly and decided to stop him. The terrorist did not have any mercy. He might have thought that this was going to find him place in paradise, so he blew himself up — as well as Hasan. He was a suicide bomber.

Hasan could have run away but he did not. He was committed and bold and believed that it was his duty to save the students and his school. On that day, this 15-year-old shining and strong student’s sacrifice “made his mother cry but saved hundreds of mothers from crying for their children”, as his father later said.

A picture of Aitzaz Hasan is placed next to Muhammad Ali Jinnah's portrait at Hasan's school – Aurangzeb Khan
A picture of Aitzaz Hasan is placed next to Muhammad Ali Jinnah's portrait at Hasan's school – Aurangzeb Khan

I am sharing this story not only to tell you that Hasan is our hero but because he did something unexplainable and unbelievable. This story also reminds us what true responsibility and patriotism mean. Before stopping that suicide bomber, before saving the lives of the students, Hasan did not ask whether the attacker was a Muslim or a non-Muslim, a Sunni or a Shia, a Pakhtun or a Punjabi. He did not bother if his school friends were from a different religion or sect. He believed that we are all human beings and we deserve the right to live, the right to learn and the right to dream.

The violence around us has been going on for a long time. Around 100 children and women were killed in 2009 in Peshawar’s Meena Bazaar in a deadly bomb blast. Over 100 children and young people were killed and wounded in a volleyball game in 2010 in Lakki Marwat. Scores of people, including children, were killed in a Peshawar church in 2013. Over 50,000 innocent people have been killed in Pakistan, mostly in the northwest, while hundreds of thousands have been injured due to terrorism. Over 2,000 schools have been bombed, including over 400 in my Swat Valley alone, in the last several years.

Only condemning the inhuman target killings, bomb blasts and suicide attacks on innocent people is not enough. We need to unite. We need to take action.

It is time that we decide to see the last. Let this be the last time when innocent children lose their lives to terrorism. Let the Peshawar attack be the last. Let the attack on Hasan be the last. Let this be the last time any cruelty, any inhuman and brutal act takes place.

Islam says: “Killing one person is like killing the whole humanity” and “saving one person is like saving the whole humanity”. Hasan has saved humanity by saving the lives of hundreds of school students.

My mother always says a mother cannot even wake up her dear children from their sweet dreams in the morning. How merciless and cruel these terrorists must be since they brutally kill children. She calls these attacks on innocent children a painful attack on every mother’s heart. Our support and prayers are with the family of Hasan.

Dear brother Aitzaz, your message of peace and the right to education will spread in every corner of the world. We are proud of you and salute you because you gave your life and saved many others.
Aitzaz Hasan, you are our hero.

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