At the Presidency: Tearful on Pakistan Day - By Adil Najam

At the Presidency: Tearful on Pakistan Day
Adil Najam, All Things Pakistan, March 25, 2010

On March 23 I was at the Presidency in Islamabad for the Pakistan Day Awards Ceremony.

This is usually a festive occasion full of pomp and ceremony and amongst the most elaborate state occasions of the year. The grandest room at the Presidency is all spruced up. There are starched military uniforms bedecked with chests full of shining medals (most of the awards handed out are always military awards). The President as well as the Prime Minister of the Republic preside over the proceedings. National power-brokers - political as well as bureaucratic - are all assembled. Everything is choreographed to convey a sense of pride.

This is how it should be. After all, it is the nation and the state honoring those who they choose to honor. In normal times this should be a day of pride and joy.

But these are not normal times. These tend to be tearful times. And so, too, was the ceremony this year. It was not meant to be that way, but that is what it became. It still conveyed a sense of pride, but it was pride drenched in too many tears.

The event started on a high note with the swearing in of the new Governor of Gilgit-Baltistan, Dr. Shama Khalid and later the merit awards for the military’s top-most brass. But then came the gallantry award, the Sitara-i-Bisalat, and it was as if the room changed in front of us. It was a parade of wives receiving awards for dead husbands, mothers and father for dead sons, sons and daughters for lost fathers.

Each a poignant reminder of the times we live in. None more poignant than when the young son of Maj. Mohammad Akbar Shaheed - barely 6 or 7 years old - came up to receive his father’s award. Dressed in a child’s mock military uniform he walked up to the President to give a brisk salute. What might otherwise have been cute, was outright heart-breaking. When the President picked up the child to give him a hug he too was fighting back tears. I do not think there was a single person in that huge hall whose eyes had not filled up. Some, like myself and at least a couple of the generals sitting next to me were no longer even trying to hold them back.

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