January 6 marks the second death anniversary of Aitzaz Hasan – a schoolboy who sacrificed his life tackling a suicide bomber in an attempt to save the lives of over 2,000 schoolmates in Hangu District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The teenager was known for openly criticising militant groups. His selfless act captured the hearts of many not only in Pakistan but also around the world, and he was hailed as a national hero.
An extraordinary student, Aitzaz was cherished by his classmates. He was a 9th grader at the Ibrahimzai High School. His cousin Mudassir Bangash described him as an accomplished student who excelled in all extracurricular activities.
- Confronting the bomber –
On 6 January, 2014, Aitzaz was outside his school with two other students. He had not been allowed to attend morning assembly due to his tardiness that day. Allegedly, at this time a 20 to 25 years old man approached the gate and stated he was there to “take admission”.
One of the students noticed a detonator on the man’s vest, whereupon Aitzaz’s schoolmates ran inside the school, but he confronted the suicide bomber, who then detonated his vest.
According to other accounts, Aitzaz was on his way to school when he spotted a suspicious person. When Aitzaz tried to stop him, he started walking faster towards the school. In an attempt to stop the bomber, Aitzaz threw a stone but was unable to hit him. He then ran towards the person and grabbed him, prompting the suicide bomber to detonate his explosive-laden vest.
- ‘I’m going to stop him’ –
Aitzaz died in the hospital. His act saved the lives of thousands. Scores of people attended his funeral to pay their respects. “My cousin sacrificed his life saving his school and hundreds of students and school fellows. The suicide bomber wanted to destroy the school and students. It was my cousin who stopped him from this destruction,” Bangash spoke of Aitzaz after the latter’s demise.
Aitzaz’s friends had urged him not to confront the suicide bomber but he ignored their pleas and decided to confront the man with the intention of halting him.
“So he told them ‘I’m going to stop him (bomber). He is going to the school to kill my friends’. He wanted to capture the suicide bomber. He wanted to stop [him]. Aitzaz was a brave and a good student. He always used to say ‘I am always ready for my country’,” Bangash said.
Aitzaz’s family insisted that rather than focusing on the sorrow brought about by his death, they wanted to focus on their pride in his actions. “He is a martyr; a ‘shaheed’ of his whole nation. My son made his mother cry, but saved hundreds of mothers from crying for their children,” Aitzaz’s father – Mujahid Ali – said.
- Aitzaz is a national hero –
Aitzaz’s story led to an outpouring of emotion on television and social media, as #onemillionaitzazs trended on Twitter. Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif said that Aitzaz Hassan “is a national hero, who has sacrificed his today for our tomorrow”.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Information Shah Farman said Aitzaz was a “real hero and true face of the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa”. Malal Yousafzai – a Pakistani teenager education activist and winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize – described Aitzaz as “brave and courageous whose bravery must never be forgotten”.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan announced setting up of a trust fund for Aitzaz Hassan’s family. He also said that he would establish Aitizaz Hasan Fund.
Many people demanded the Nishan-e-Haider – Pakistan’s highest military award – be awarded to Aitzaz Hasan posthumously. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif advised President Mamnoon Hussain to confer Aitzaz Hasan with Sitara–e-Shujaat (Star of Bravery).
He was named as “Herald Person of the Year for 2014”. The award was received by Aitzaz’s family on March 23, which also marks National Day of Pakistan. On January 12, 2014, the International Human Rights Commission (IHRC) announced a global bravery award for Aitzaz.