Aitzaz Hassan Sacrificed His Life to Protect Schoolmates. But His Family is Still Unsafe
The list of Pakistan’s unsung heroes is long. Journalist Abdullah Malik reports on the story of a young man who displayed immense courage. His family is insecure and needs protection.
It was a cold Monday morning on the 6th of January 2014 and as the first light appeared on the mountains of the Ibrahim Zai village of the Hangu district, people were already out and about. The shopkeepers of the bazaar were pulling up the shutters on their shops. Residents were on their way to the markets. And morning assembly was in process at the Government High School of the village.
Aitzaz Hassan, however, had been late far too many times. So, too, were his two friends Shahzeb and Zohaib. The three pupils were quite sure that the teachers would punish them for their habitual tardiness.
Shahzeb and Zohaib were quick to cross the road to reach the school, while Aitzaz Hassan was following them several metres behind – he couldn’t walk as fast as his friends due to his weight.
It was then that they noticed another young boy, 17 -18 years old perhaps, wearing a school uniform and making his way to the school.
Shahzeb was suspicious and asked: “What are you doing here?”
“I am going to the school!” he replied.
“But I haven’t seen you in school before!” replied Shahzeb, unconvinced.
“I am getting admission here” came the reply.
Shahzeb was still not satisfied, and pointed out “It is not the month for admissions.” Then he told the new boy: “Wait here! I am informing the headmaster of the school…”
So saying, he began moving towards the school. Seeing that the new boy was following him in, he stopped and pushed him on the chest. That was when he felt some heavy material attached to the chest of the boy!
He called out to his friend Aitzaz: “Khud-kush!” – so as to raise the alarm that it was a suicide bomber. He then started running towards the school.
Aitzaz began moving towards the suicide bomber. He had been wrapped in his woolen shawl, but now threw it aside. And he picked up a heavy stone to try and hit the attacker. It failed to stop him. Having reached him, Aitzaz grabbed him and held on to him with all the might of his body. The suicide bomber, unable to get away from the tenacious boy, detonated his explosive vest.
A heavy blast rent the air. Parts from the two bodies were hurled a hundred metres away.
Mujtaba, the elder brother of Aitzaz, narrates the story with deep grief. Tears appear in his blue eyes as he recalls being at home that morning.
He says: “When I heard the sound of the blast, I came out of the room. I heard my mother crying. When I asked her as to what had happened, she replied that Aitzaz had just left the house and that she was sure he had been injured in the blast. I replied, ‘For God’s sake, don’t talk that way in the early morning!’ But she went on crying. ‘My Aitzaz is not safe’, she said. ‘My heart is telling me so!’ And then I left my house and was running towards the school as dozens of people gathered there and everyone was looking towards me. I asked, ‘What has happened?’ No one replied. After repeatedly asking, one relative asked me ‘Can you bear the news?’ I told him that I could. He told me that Aitzaz had been seriously injured in the attack. I sat on the ground in shock, clutching my feet and asked people to give me some water. They took me to the hospital where my heart, my lovely brother, was sleeping forever. And from that point on, I don’t know what happened…”
Aitzaz Hassan was born in 1995 in Ibraham Zai village, Hangu District in the house of Mujahid Ali Bangash, a daily-wage employee working in the UAE. Mujahid Ali Bangash has 4 children: two daughters and two sons (of whom Aitzaz was one). Hangu has been an area cleft apart by sectarian conflict for long now. Most of the anti-Shia militant organizations in the region emerged as a product of the jihadist movement against the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Over the years, some members of the Shia community also chose to respond to sectarian militancy in kind. Aitzaz’s house was targeted by a missile in 2006 during yet another round of sectarian violence but no casualties occurred.
Mujtaba recalls some sweet memories of Aitzaz. He was very fond of eating and sleeping. He loved hunting. He hoped one day to join the armed forces.
When faced with a diet plan from his family, he simply followed the plan in front of them and then moved to his grandmother’s home to be able to eat his fill.
Despite his love of hunting, his elder brother Mujtaba would not take him on such an excursion, since he thought he wasn’t fit enough for it. One day his mother made Mujtaba take his younger brother along. As they set out, he asked Aitzaz to carry a bottle of cold water for them. After walking for a while, when he asked Aitzaz for a drink of water, the younger sibling simply laughed at him. “Brother, I have finished the whole bottle!” When the older brother saw the empty bottle, he was quite angry but couldn’t beat his six-foot-tall younger brother. He simply decided never to go hunting with Aitzaz again.
He would lead the Ashura mourning procession in the month of Muharram.
Classmates often teased him about his weight and asked him questions such as, “How will you run if you’re confronted by a suicide-bomber?” Little did anyone know that he would not run from a suicide-bomber who was determined to kill others.
Their father was in the UAE and could not be back in Pakistan fast enough to shoulder the coffin of his heroic son Aitzaz. Mujtaba remembers finding it difficult to tell him about the loss they had suffered.
Every evening, over dinner, the family remembers their foodie brother and his valiant act. His mother remembers him tearfully, but knowing what a great sacrifice he made at such a young age, she also thanks God.
“The media portrayed my brother as a shaheed and hero of the country. The President of Pakistan even gave him the highest civilian award, the Sitara-e-Shujaat (Star of Bravery). But after three months of Aitzaz’s martyrdom we received a letter from the TTP demanding that we stop portraying Aitzaz as shaheed and hero, as he was not one. The letter was handed over to a shopkeeper in the market. The shopkeeper was told to give it to Mujahid Ali Bangash. We lodged an FIR and requested the Hangu administration to provide us security. Now they provided two policemen to protect my family, but we all are still under threat.
The KP government announced after the martyrdom of Aitzaz that two degree colleges of Hangu and the cricket stadium will be named after Aitzaz, but could not keep any of these promises. So my family now decided to return all the awards and compensation to the government as they forget the great sacrifice of my beloved brother. For them, the blood price of my brother is only 5 million rupees, as provided by the KP government in compensation! My brother sacrificed his life for the nation but neither the chairman of PTI Imran Khan nor the chief minister visited my home to offer condolences and praise the sacrifice of my brother. Imran Khan promised that Aitzaz’s family will receive monthly compensation but after the fourth anniversary the fulfillment of that promise is still pending! Human rights activists and people linked to the NGO sector promised to raise funds for Aitzaz’s family but after taking some pictures for publicity, now they are all silent and they don’t answer our calls!”
The family of the young hero cannot even continue its life in Pakistan. Mujtaba wants to move abroad and wants to take his parents with him. “It’s not possible to live a life under the shadows of security guards. My brother is a hero to the world but in our own country people have forgotten the sacrifice of Aitzaz Hassan Shaheed!”
Mujtaba is appealing to the international community and human rights organizations for asylum.
The government of Pakistan should take note of this situation. Why do we treat our heroes in such a manner?