In a Hollywood blockbuster Enemy At the Gates, in a depiction of WWII battle scene that was underway in and around Stalingrad, Soviets were facing heavy causalities at the hands of Germans. Rumor was abound that if Stalingrad fell, Soviet Union would fall. Nikita Khrushchev assumes charge of that front. He was facing a stringiest of the challenges as how to to raise the spirits of a badly demoralized army. When one of his public relations officer suggests him that they needed heroes and the projection of those heroes would help raise the desired confidence. Khrushchev in a snarlingly mocked tone asked his officer “Do you see any heroes around?”. Certainly, we are living in strange times, today we also need heroes around. Heroes who we could emulate, cherish and present as role models.

Any country where institutions stay chronically weak and system doesn’t deliver the desired, the need of strong and charismatic individuals grows manifold. They serve as a precedent for others. Obviously Pakistan is a very fertile land in this respect and there has never been any dearth of great individuals who actually left their mark on the country’s timeline. There have been great individuals who earned wide respect among the masses from many walks of life including, politics, military, sports and social service -- although theoretically politics is an all encompassing form of social service. However, in our perspective, political heroes have always been marred by the natural political divide and general consensus doesn’t get formed around them easily. Apart from Muhammad Ali Jinnah, for very long time we could just hear the name of PM Liaquat Ali Khan as a consensus political hero; although lately Bhutto’s name is also getting some acceptance.

An interesting phenomenon is the role of school text books. When some personality makes its entry there, it becomes an accepted celebrity and hero of the entire nation. Perhaps this could be attributed to the lack of general reading habits in our nation apart from what we are imparted in our schools. Now the big question arises as to who decides to put in some names in the textbooks while leave others and what yardstick is used in this filtration process? Not so long ago, there was a federal body who would decide the contents of school curriculum especially those of social sciences and literature. That body would consist of state approved educationalists and some senior bureaucrats, who would push their recommendations. Unfortunately, Pakistan went through a series of martial law regimes and during these tenures the role of these committees would be subservient to the dictates of military rulers and their particular ideological alignments. For instance during the Zia-ul-Haq regime the name of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto wasn’t kosher enough to make any mention in the school textbooks. A funny instance was regarding an essay on the Islamic Summit Conference of 1974 in the high school English language textbook. In that essay all the credit for holding that historical conference in Pakistan was given to Mr Fazal Ilahi Chaudhry, the then Bhutto time Pakistani president!

The political expediencies and the short-sighted approach has severely limited the choices to name major highways, bridges, major auditorium and other public monuments. Consequently, if you travel through Pakistan majority of these places of interest would be named after MA Jinnah or Allama Iqbal. There is nothing wrong in naming places after these legends but it also reflects the image of a nation that is facing the severe drought of personalities of note after its inception in 1947.

Another full time preoccupation of our leadership and certain ideological parties is their practiced dichotomy in the process of hero selection. Like any other country Pakistan also had its fair share of left-leaning liberals and right-leaning moderate to conservatives. Given that Pakistan has always been aligned with Capitalist block led by US, it naturally defined its Right that was/is sympathetic to Capitalism. The genesis of this divide goes back to the days of Cold War era, when both Soviets and US would woe many countries to enhance their dominance in the world. Traditionally in Pakistan, a Muslim majority country, the US would apply its bonding based on faith by labeling its foe, Soviets, as godless. Thus we see many great names of literature always kept away from the national narrative. Giants like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Habib Jalib, Josh Maleeh Abadi, Ibn-e-Insha, Manto, to name a few, were never on the state’s approval list. It is another matter that their work was so powerful that it couldn’t be withheld and would make its way to the public, however the caveat is, the public had to seek their work and wouldn’t be available as those of their counter-parts. And finally now with the invent of Internet many people are discovering their amazing work to this day. It was not only tragic but a sheer intellectual dishonesty.

And then their are the names who were in the good books of this selective ‘hero-making’ enterprise. It is beyond ethics to name such people but many of them erstwhile ‘leftist’ had to change their orientation to be acknowledged by the state. Legendary Edhi, who was simply a social worker, and in his own words inspired by the socialist literature. He rose to the prominence for his untiring humanitarian work and got his fame just like when moon shines, nobody needs to tell it. But what could be more tragic that when an acceptance had to be given to his work by the state, without his approval, the prefix of Maulana was added to his name. Because these were the ways of life then and certainly still in wide practice.

Question to ponder on is why it is not acceptable to us that a person who rises to the top of his trade because of his sheer hard work and can serve as a role model for the general public has to go through the state imposed filtration process to be declared as a hero? It is high time to shun this practice. We lost so many good people in the past based to this narrow minded approach. What could be more painful than the fact that world recognized two Pakistani individuals and considered them worthy of highest human achievement award, the Nobel prize -- but we didn't. One of them physicist par excellence Dr Abdus Salam died in exile and second, the child wonder, Malala Yusufzai is already in exile. Acknowledging them heroes is a far cry, there have been so much baseless stories weaved around them that general public simply considers them state-enemy. Dr Salam is no more, but his work is alive. Why can't his mention grace our school curriculum, so that when a school going child grows into an effective member of the society, he/she should be proud of Dr Salam as a great Pakistani scientist and not to be concerned with his beliefs. Malala is serving an icon for millions of school going girls across the globe, why can she not be projected as a role model in her home country. Just imagine how much that would do to the uplift of our female population. It is high time to revisit our priorities that should be focused on the message and not who is saying it.

Tailpiece: Please note in this write-up, I couldn’t possibly include the names of all of the great people who have served and are serving Pakistan in various leading capacities. By not mentoring their name shouldn’t be read as a belittling effort to their work, it is just beyond the scope and permissible length of an article. There are some honorable omission of people who have performed their military honor and sacrificed their lives and countless name of great intellectuals, sports personalities and people belonging to many other faculties of the society. Objective was to appeal a practice to provide a fair and proportionate mention of all the great people who could serve as a role model for masses.