This article is a response to Taha Siddiqi’s recent Opinion piece, “Dear Pakistanis, this Defence Day, please stop celebrating hate”. You can read Siddiqi’s article here.
In an opinion piece published by Al Jazeera on September 6, Mr Taha Siddiqi criticised Defence and Martyrs’ Day celebrations in Pakistan and asked Pakistanis to “stop celebrating hate”. He claimed that the Pakistani military is using Defence Day celebrations to propagate a false narrative about the 1965 war between India and Pakistan in order to “justify its oversized role in the society”.
This could not be further from the truth.
First of all, Pakistan is neither the first nor the only country that has a national day that honours its armed forces, veterans and martyrs or commemorates past military achievements. United Kingdom, Belgium, France and many other countries observe Armistice Day on November 11 every year to mark the armistice signed between the Allied Forces and Germany at the end of World War I. The US commemorates Veterans Day on the same date to honour its military veterans and observes Memorial Day on the last Monday of every May to remember the people who died serving the country’s armed forces. The Dutch celebrate June 29 as their Armed Forces Day. The Turks celebrate Victory Day on August 30 every year to mark one of the most decisive battles in the Turkish War of Independence. In India, Armed Forces Flag day is observed on December 7 every year to honour the soldiers, sailors and airmen of the country.
It is sinister to think Pakistan’s Defence and Martyrs Day is any different from the aforementioned national holidays or to claim the intention behind Pakistan’s commemoration is to keep the army relevant and its budget intact. Pakistan’s military does not need to prove its importance to the Pakistani people. No institution is more crucial for a nation state’s survival than its military, and military’s importance is even more heightened in Pakistan, as it has been facing overt existential threats from its neighbour, India, since its inception. Moreover, the Pakistani military has been on the front line of the global struggle against terror for a very long time. If Mr Siddiqi thinks Pakistani military needs to remind the public of a 53-year-old war to make itself relevant, he is highly mistaken. The professionalism and skill with which it has fought the menace of terrorism in the last 17 years make it relevant enough as it is. The Pakistani military’s success against terror groups in the last few decades has been enough to raise its stature not only in Pakistan, but also in countries that are going through similar experiences.
Every year on July 14, France celebrates Bastille Day, which marks the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris and the beginning of the French Revolution, with military parades across the country. This year President Emmanuel Macron presided over the Bastille Day parade in the capital, Paris, in which thousands of soldiers marched down the famous Champs-Elysees in uniform. President Macron also signed a new military budget on the eve of the parade, which was aimed at lifting defence spending to two percent of gross domestic product. The celebrations in France on that day were not much different from the ones held in Pakistan on September 6, however, no one questioned their necessity or implied that they were held only to keep the French military relevant and its budget intact.
Offering sweat and blood for your motherland has been an honour of the highest degree throughout human history and remembering these noble souls with love and respect is the minimum any nation could do to recognise their sacrifices.
‘We love Pakistan’
In his article, Mr Siddiqi also accused Pakistan’s military of elevating itself above the state and beyond accountability. However, in response to similar accusations, Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan General Qamar Javed Bajwa has repeatedly asserted that army is just another wing of Pakistan’s state machinery and that it will play its meaningful role as the defender of nation professionally, under the directions of the government. In his Defence and Martyrs’ Day speech, Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan also dismissed all rumours of a civil-military rift and said that all government institutions share one goal: the uplifting of Pakistani nation. In light of these statements, it is hard to accept the accusations that the military has an oversized role in Pakistan.
Mr Siddiqi further accused Pakistani military of re-writing history and claimed Pakistan did not win the 1965 war against India and therefore, should not celebrate Defence day on September 6. This argument not only trivialises the success, bravery and sacrifice of the thousands of Pakistani soldiers that fought in the 1965 war, but it also completely ignores the Indian attempts to re-write history. Since the far-right BJP took over the central government in India, we have been witnessing a shameless saffronisation of Indian history.
And above all, Mr Siddiqi accused millions of Pakistanis who proudly participate in Defence and Martyrs’ day celebrations of “celebrating hate”. However, he conveniently left out the fact that, this year, the motto of the Defence and Martyrs’ Day ceremony was “We love Pakistan”. How did he manage to see hate in a people’s declaration of love for their country?
The Defence Day ceremonies across Pakistan, including the main one that took place at the army’s headquarters, were broadcast live on national TV. In those live feeds, we witnessed countless emotional scenes: tears rolling down the cheeks of young widows, grown-up boys and girls trying to conceal the pain caused by the loss of their fathers, old parents trying to see the faces of their martyred sons in the faces of marching soldiers, young, disabled veterans saluting the flag with pride, a nation united acknowledging the greatness and sacrifices of their soldiers.
How cruel was it to imply that all these people were spreading hate! Remembering one’s dead is a symbol of love and loyalty, not hatred. This is the least that we, as Pakistanis, can do for those who gave their lives not just in the 1965 war, but also in the many other battles that followed, so that we can live in peace today.
Whatever the detractors of the Pakistan Armed Forces may say, the people of Pakistan know and value the sacrifices Pakistan’s soldiers have made for them, and they will not stop honouring their heroes.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.