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Hugging death in Pakistan

The site of an April 16 suicide bomb attack in Peshawar, Pakistan. The blast, which targeted the secular, anti-Taliban Awami National Party, killed at least 17 people and wounded many others. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. (Nasir Khan / AP)

SARGODHA, Pakistan — As I reached the polling station, ready to cast my vote here in my hometown after a 24-hour trip home from the U.S., where I’m in college, my biggest concern was not rigged elections or standing in a long line in scorching heat but simply coming out of the place alive.

Considering that Taliban leaders had openly threatened to attack polling stations across Pakistan, I was not being paranoid. Between mid-April and May 9, 81 people were killed and 437 were injured in over 119 violent incidents. If the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, responsible for most of the violence, could abduct the son of a former prime minister, I sure did not feel safe entering a polling station that was ill-equipped to prevent an attack.

In the chaos created by exploding bombs, targeted killings and a fearful public demanding security, when a politician climbs the podium to speak out against the Taliban and other militants, most of us just applaud him for his bravery and pray that he survives. But recently, I was reminded that some Pakistanis dedicate their lives to hunting these militants in an effort to keep the rest of us safe.

Wahab Ali and Misbah Ullah were two such silent warriors. Both were members of the Pakistan Elite Force and part of a contingent dispatched to arrest a group of suicide bombers on May 8. After receiving information from intelligence sources about the location of a group of specially trained suicide bombers sent to disrupt the elections, Peshawar police raided a house in the Rasheed Garhi area.

They volunteered to scale the wall as other officers surrounded the house. One suicide bomber, who was on the top floor, spotted them and opened fire, picking off Ullah and killing him instantly. Ali managed to climb inside, but died, too, when the suicide bomber exploded himself. Police arrested two more suicide bombers in the basement, while a third managed to escape.

Both Ali and Ullah were fully aware that the man on the top floor was wearing an explosive jacket. They knew, too, that any attempt to go near him would result in death, and yet they stepped forward. And this is not an isolated event. It is the story of thousands of policemen and soldiers who are deployed across our country. Some of them are lowly constables, but their service and commitment to the country and its people exceeds that of all our politicians put together.

These unsung heroes stand at checkpoints and take part in raids. They are the first and the most frequent target of militants. And yet when they see a suicide bomber, what do they do? They stand in front of him and hug him.

My dad said that he felt ashamed at the funeral of those two police officers because their families live in poverty, though we owe them so much. Since then, I’ve been telling my friends that the next time they even think of complaining about the lack of security in Pakistan to remember the soldiers and policemen who risk so much. They literally hug death to keep us safe.

Umema Aimen is a student at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass.

Umema Aimen is a student at Qalam Institute Seminary in Arlington, Texas. She is a native of Pakistan.



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Melinda Henneberger · May 18, 2013

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