Worth It All

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

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| This is the 187th story of Our Life Logs |

I was born on March 15, 1945 among the beautiful hills of Gilgit Valley, Pakistan as the second youngest child in our family. Growing up I was an extremely naughty kid who loved to mess with people. Most of the time, it was all in good fun, but I remember one time I took it a little too far.

I was roaming around carrying my sling shot. I had this craze of practicing my aim back then. I saw a man carefully crossing an unstable bridge over the river with his donkey, and I aimed at the poor animal’s feet. Luckily (or unluckily), I hit its feet perfectly. The donkey panicked and fell in the river along with all the valuable materials the man had loaded on its back. The poor man was wailing for his loss and I was standing there dumbfounded, unsure of what to do. The news reached my parents and I got scolded and a proper beating, but being the mischievous child that I was, I didn’t stop messing with others after that. Now that I look back at my eventful childhood, I can’t help but laugh at how naughty I was!

My parents were simple folks who loved helping others, and they taught me the importance of good will. I remember once we took in a homeless family and provided them with food and shelter, and in return, they worked for us, helping with house chores and farming. Yes, even as a naughty child, I was raised with good values. I’m glad my naughtiness faded away as I grew up, replaced with a high moral dignity that carried me through my life.

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Raised in a period and region that was heavily, politically unstable, I always had this thought in the back of my head to play my part, no matter how insignificant it was, to eradicate the evils of society. But, that didn’t come without cost.

Our region was suffering from the horrors of the FCR (Frontier Crimes Regulations)—a callous “gift” left to us by the colonizers that took away many of our rights. It also gave the rulers power to abuse the people however they wanted, referencing the FCR for justification. I witnessed firsthand how the people were being treated like animals, and I wanted, so strongly, to change that.

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In 1971, after I finished my early education in my hometown, I went on to Karachi for college, with dreams of becoming a lawyer. While I was studying law, I had a chance to meet with the Prime Minister of the state, as I was the head representative of Gilgit Baltistan Student Welfare.

During the meeting, the topic of FCR emerged. I told the Prime Minister how the people in Gilgit were suffering. I added to his knowledge about a recent incident where ten people were shot by the local ruler because they were unable to pay the taxes that were loaded onto them. I requested the Prime Minister to see to the horrendous situation and do something about these inhumane laws. To my great happiness, the Prime Minister was understanding. He promised to eradicate FCR, but only if the common public provided consent.

After hearing his response, I came back to my hometown–leaving my law school midway—to help people raise their voices against the tyrant rulers of the area. I set up an extended branch of the Prime Minister’s political party. Then, I gathered around my people and tried to convince them to vote in the favor of eradication of FCR.

At first, I faced a lot of rejection because people were hesitant to go against the rulers. There were, however, a good number of people who agreed and helped me with my efforts. So, I continued.

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A ray of hope emerged in my heart when the Prime Minister himself visited our region in 1972. With him there to see the condition the people of Gilgit were living in, maybe now he would help and there would finally be peace in our region.

I arranged a meeting with the Prime Minister and reminded him of the promise he made to me a year ago in Karachi. The power to eradicate FCR rested in his hands. After witnessing the situation firsthand and taking into account the vote of the common public, the Prime Minister eventually decided to dismiss the reign of Raja, a local ruler, thus abolishing FCR!

I vividly remember the triumph I felt that day. After continuous efforts, I was finally able to help get rid of the oppressive FCR! My success was celebrated by the whole village with teary eyes and wide smiles. The local rulers no longer had the authority to kill or torture anyone!

However, there was a downside to this victory. The former rulers of the region swore me as their enemy from that moment forward. Every day, I was in danger. I was attacked twice by the people of Raja and barely escaped with my life. The first attempt was made a few weeks after the eradication of FCR. I was returning home after my evening prayer, walking through a mountainous area with a friend, when we were confronted by Raja’s men who were hiding behind a worn-out building with weapons in their hands. We ran as fast as we could, using darkness to our advantage, and managed to escape. The next attack came a month later when I was promoting local elections. I was passing by the bazaar in my car and got ambushed. Luckily, I was able to get away with only a shoulder injury.

Still, I held my ground. Although in the back of my mind I had a subtle feeling of uncertainty, wondering if all of it was worth it, after seeing the freed and content faces of my people, the uncertainty was superseded by the pride.

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The constant threat did make me fear for the safety of my family, who, however, remained my backbone during this stressful time, refusing to let me feel guilty because they were extremely proud of what I had accomplished. Seeing the situation, a friend of mine suggested that I join the police force so that I would at least have the power to defend myself and those I loved.

I pondered over that option for some time and eventually joined the police department later that year. Little did I know it would initiate another struggling phase of my life where my morals would be tested.

It wasn’t a difficult task for me physically, since I was by nature quite energetic and strong. However, each day was a new scuffle because it seemed impossible to be an honest and uptight man on the police force. No matter where they stood in the hierarchy, most officers were very corrupt. They would take advantage of their positions and neglect their duties toward the poor with no remorse. I faced immense pressure on the job, the most common being asked to help criminals with connections get off their crimes. But, how could I do that? I chose to stick to my conscience and refused to fall into the corruption.

Unfortunately, and sadly, that made me an unfavored person in the department. I was often posted to remote areas that were laced with the most dangerous criminals and law breakers, and even though my performance and qualifications were both good, I didn’t get a promotion for the next 30 years.

I didn’t regret anything though, because I was doing what I believed to be right. There were moments along the way where I made my family and myself proud, and that’s what really mattered to me. In 1985, while I was on duty escorting a group of English guests from Oxford University, a bus full of visitors from the opposite side lost balance and crashed into the river. I jumped in and saved five lives. I was awarded the Tamgha-e-Shujaat (Medal of Bravery) for my act. Did the icy-cold water hurt my body? Did I worry I might lose my own life? Yes. But again, it was a moment of pride.

Receiving Tamgha-e-Sujat from the president of Pakistan, 1985.
Receiving Tamgha-e-Sujat from the president of Pakistan, 1985.
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