In recent years we have seen an incredible transformation of Defence Day. What was once a somber reflection on the sacrifices of martyrs of 1965 became a celebration of supposedly miraculous victory over much larger Indian forces. However even this ‘victory’ has come under scrutiny as historians have raised questions about the historical accuracy of the official line. If angels were fighting on our side, why did the war end in a ceasefire after costing us huge losses in soldiers and land? This does not mean that India won. Actually, the rest of the world is in agreement that nobody won.
Despite this push for sanity by historians, state myth makers seem to be pushing the boundaries of delusion even further. Media reports are now comparing Zarb-i-Azb to 1965, which should be extremely worrying to anyone who remembers that both sides lost thousands of soldiers as well as land in a conflict that ended in what was essentially a stalemate. Even COAS boasted on the occasion of this year’s Defence Day that ‘defence of Pakistan has now become invincible’ and that ‘Operation Zarb-e-Azb has attained its laid down military objectives’.
Over 450 civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks this year. Gen Raheel’s claims of invincibility come only weeks after dozens were killed by a suicide attack in Quetta. COAS said this week that armed forces ‘will go to any length for the sake of national security’. However it is unclear whether we are willing to give up our delusions of grandeur for such a noble purpose, or whether we would rather die than face a difficult reality.
Every year on this date the nation pays tribute to the martyrs who sacrificed their lives defending us during the 1965 war. This is usually accomplished with posters, parades, and chest thumping TV shows. We feel good for a day or two before things return to normal. Is this fleeting honour really any tribute? I am not saying that we should replace traditional celebrations, but I do believe we would better honour the memory of our historical martyrs and our current soldiers by expanding Defence Day activities to include reflection and evaluation of what we are defending and how we are defending it.
To begin we should have more honest discussions about our own history. We are fortunate that we can turn to some of those like Air Marshal (r) Nur Khan who saw first hand the events of 1965. We are unfortunate that we have mostly ignored them. In the words of Retired Air Commodore Sajjad Haider, ‘the first step in learning from your mistakes is to acknowledge those mistakes in the first place, and that is something we have not done’.
Celebrations and festivities that promote nationalistic pride are important, but they are not enough. Just as important is facing the reality of the past, even when it does not conform to the myths that we have created. As Air Commodore (r) Sajjad Haider explains, ‘We must not shy away from acknowledging the mistakes of the past. It is only by doing so that we can secure our future’.
Another Defence Day has been celebrated with the expected ceremony and appreciation of our armed forces and the sacrifices made especially by the martyrs who gave everything for the protection of their country. I have always enjoyed Defence Day and the pride that it builds in one’s chest. How can one not see the unity and patriotism that is on display and not feel proud to be Pakistani? This, year, though, that feeling was mixed with an uneasiness due to the commonality of messages that were not about showing appreciation for our armed forces but beating the drum of war.