Footprints: Heroes and villains

Published January 24, 2016
Pakistan troops arrive at Bacha Khan University. ─ AP/File
Pakistan troops arrive at Bacha Khan University. ─ AP/File
The staircase at the rooftop of the boys hostel at the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda where four militants were holed up before they were gunned down by security forces on Jan 20. — Photo by writer
The staircase at the rooftop of the boys hostel at the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda where four militants were holed up before they were gunned down by security forces on Jan 20. — Photo by writer

THEY struck again. They attacked our students and teachers, yet again. This time at a university founded in the name of a leader who was a great advocate of peace. The Bacha Khan University in Charsadda is placed amid green sugarcane fields and villages with strong tribal traditions. It is spreading the light of knowledge in an area where many children don’t go to school.

The university’s grand main gate and name engraved in bold, gold letters on the front wall painted red displays the acceptance of modern education by the deeply conservative Pakhtun society. But Pashtunwali’s peaceful traditions have been badly mauled by bloodthirsty militants spawned by years of a dangerous state policy that brought home international wars and endorsed deadly proxies.

The campus is not very vast. It is the size of a conventional government college. The whole institution is protected by a boundary wall some three metres in height with barbed wire on top.

Yet, the militants managed to penetrate the premises taking advantage of the foggy conditions that fateful Wednesday morning, as well as of the sanctuaries in this area which our security forces don’t appear to have located.

They were four. They were hiding in the area. They planned it very well. They came early in the morning, used the sugarcane fields as their shield, and chose a safe place to intrude into — behind a family quarter in the university.

First, they tried to sneak in by breaking a grille protecting the ground sewer at the back of the boundary wall, just behind the quarters of a university staff member. They partially broke it, but failed to enter the campus because of the narrow space. Then, one of them climbed over the wall, cut the barbed wire and jumped in. He put an iron-frame bed against the wall to help his partners.

Once in, they first targeted the cars and buses parked under a shed near the boundary wall, firing bullets. They then entered the university guest house at the other corner of the back wall. There was poor Fakhr-e-Alam, a caretaker at the guest house, using an electric heater to keep himself warm as he watched television in the well-furnished lounge of the guest house. Meanwhile, the morning struggled to break through the dense fog.

Alam’s blood created a red pool on the soft carpet on which lies a television remote. The guest house presents itself as a place of rampage. Holes in the doors, locks broken, wood scattered around and long lines of drops of blood going out. Bullet casings can be seen all around.

On the first floor of the boys’ hostel, where the militants were cornered after brave efforts by the university guards, students and teachers, is a small wooden plaque over the staircase. It reads: ‘Heroes die young.’

And Prof Hamid Hussain wasn’t old. He was only 33. He started his career just three years ago. Until sometime ago, he was not a ‘brave’ person. He had never used a weapon until a few months ago. Then he changed, because he could not bear the memories of the massacre of the children at the Army Public School in December 2014. He started preparing for the time when he would be needed to fight to save other children of his nation. And when that time came, he did not think about his own ‘young heroes’, his three-year-old son Hashir Hussain and 11-month-old daughter Hareem; he took out his gun and challenged the militants.

He took bullets to his forehead and chest, just above his heart, and died a hero. The four militants were burnt minutes later. Their faces were unrecognisable. They were dumped naked.

Hamid Hussain’s home in Swabi city is now the centre of large crowds gathering to pay homage to this great hero, who came out to fight with the killers face to face. His actions saved the lives of dozens of people. But no one is there to accept the body of the militants who were cowardly enough to attack from behind.

“Hamid was our pride. Our poor family gained recognition because he excelled in education, winning scholarships for MPhil, PhD and research in England,” says his brother Sajjad Hussain. “He has now won us an even higher status; now we will say that we are the brothers of a martyr. We are proud of him.”

His father, Lal Bahadur, says he should be offered greetings and not condolences for becoming the father of a martyr. “He did it for his country. He was very devoted to his homeland. I am quite happy for him, for the job he has done.”

He concludes: “The situation is worsening every year, and nothing has helped so far. The government must improve conditions in the country so that the public can live a better life and sleep peacefully and earn a living peacefully. I won’t say anything about the Taliban, may God give them direction, and show them the path of good.”

The winners are those who fought for peace. The losers are those who fought for terrorism.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2016

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