The struggle for Pakistan inflicted severe economic and human devastation, which made survival for the fledgling country a daunting challenge. For Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, however, the biggest asset was freedom and he believed that with unity, faith, and discipline Pakistan would eventually emerge as one of the greatest countries in the world.
Looking back in history, there are shining examples of courage and bravery from men who have sacrificed their lives for their country and kept Jinnah’s dream alive. The brightest of them have been awarded the famed Nishan-e-Haider. Nishan-e-Haider, which translates to ‘Emblem of the Lion’, is the highest military award of Pakistan.
‘Haider’ was the title given to Hazrat Ali who was the fourth caliph of Islam and cousin of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) so this award also honors the memory of one of the greatest servants of Islam who the Prophet (PBUH) referred to as the ‘Lion of God’.
The award was enacted in 1947 to pay tribute to those who acted fearlessly under high-risk situations and has only been awarded to eleven individuals. Not surprisingly, it has only been awarded posthumously which makes it a unique gallantry award.
Every year, the month of July brings back memories of three such sons of soil whose memories will live forever in the hearts of their family members and the entire country. Captain Muhammad Sarwar, Captain Karnal Sher Khan, and Havaldar Lalak Jan embraced martyrdom in this month while defending their motherland against the enemy.
In 1948, Captain Muhammad Sarwar left his family behind to go to the battlefield. Before leaving, he handed over the expenses for the renovation of his house and said that he might not return. He launched an attack on an enemy position at Tilpatra Ridge and despite being halted by a wire obstacle and a bullet in his shoulder he went on to cut the wire himself and also inflicted damage on the enemy with hand grenades.
An enemy machine-gun burst and eventually took his life. As per God’s will, he was not able to see his house in its new and improved condition but was taken to an even better place on 27 July (20th day of Ramadan) after laying his life for Pakistan.
His colleagues who were with him shared their memories with his family of his final days. They recalled that he used to pray for achieving martyrdom and also lifted the morale of everyone in the camp.
His late son, Raja Safdar, narrated a story of former Pakistani president General Zia-ul-Haq visiting his residence to honor the memory of his father many years after he had left the world. Raja Safdar’s son followed his grandfather’s footsteps and joined the army. He is proud of the fact that his grandfather kept fighting till his last breath.
To fulfill Captain Sarwar’s dream, the government established Sarwar Shaheed College in his hometown upon his family’s request. Khalid Masud Raja, whose father spent his youth days with Captain Sarwar, fondly remembers the stories of the first Nishan-e-Haider.
He nostalgically remembers that Captain Sarwar always looked after the community and everyone respected him for his dedication. He views his martyrdom as a just reward for his devotion and good intentions.
Lionhearts of Kargil
Many decades later in 1999, Pakistan and India faced off in Kargil under harsh weather conditions. However, the freezing temperatures could not drain the spirit of Pakistani soldiers. Amongst them were Captain Karnal Sher Khan and Havaldar Lalak Jan.
Captain Karnal Sher Khan hailed from Swabi, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and joined Pakistan Army in 1992. During the Kargil conflict, he was assigned to clear a vital position. He and his fellow soldiers ignored the firepower of the opponents who were in a better combat position and bravely managed to push them back.
Captain Karnal Sher Khan led the charge and was able to inflict heavy losses on the enemy. His courage and valor was recognized by his opponents as well. After managing to take down Captain Karnal Sher Khan and before sending back his body, the Indian officer in charge who witnessed his bravery placed a praise-filled note in his pocket.
Captain Karnal Sher Khan embraced martyrdom on July 5, 1999, and his family members were proud to learn that he gave up his life for his country. He left an everlasting mark on the younger generation in his family who firmly believe that there would be nothing without this country.
His nephew, Nauman Sher, expressed his love for his uncle and said that he is his role model. He added that every youngster in our family wants to follow his footsteps and make him proud. His nephew acknowledges the love and kindness extended to his family by the people and government.
Their help has enabled them to establish projects in his memory that are further elevating Captain Karnal Sher Khan’s name. He shared the interesting story on how the Shaheed’s own name is based on a military rank. Captain Karnal Sher Khan’s grandfather volunteered in 1948 war where he served under Colonel Sher Khan.
He was so impressed with his character that he named his grandson after him and even included his rank. During his academic and professional career, people questioned Captain Karnal Sher Khan’s name as it did not seem suitable but later on when he became Lieutenant it served him well as anytime someone would ask his name he would say I am Lieutenant Karnal Sher Khan and so was given extra respect.
According to his relatives, the biggest motivation for him to join the army was the chance to attain martyrdom. After settling into his military career, he used to be asked about his plans of getting married to which he replied that I will get married in the heavens.
He cared for the needy and spent most of his salary to deliver essential items to them without informing his family members. It was only after his martyrdom that those people came to his house and disclosed that they have lost their benefactor.
His elder brother, Anwar Sher, looked after him after their mother passed away when Karnal Sher Khan was only a young boy. Losing his younger brother was very painful for Anwar Sher but he states that he takes comfort in the fact that his brother has been rewarded in both the worlds.
He poignantly says that a thousand Shers are ready to die for this country. Born on 1 April 1967, Havaldar Lalak Jan was enlisted in the Pakistan Army in 1984. Since childhood, Lalak Jan preferred outdoor activities over studies, and one day he told his father that he wants to join the Army like his elder brother Gul Sambar.
Lalak Jan was serving in Northern Light Infantry when the Kargil War began and embraced martyrdom shortly thereafter on July 7 after refusing to let go of his post that came under heavy enemy fire. Ignoring the option to evacuate, he fought on and destroyed one of the enemy bunkers which killed a number of enemy soldiers and destroyed their ammunition.
He eventually succumbed to his injuries but his resistance was recalled as “the most gallant defensive action” by his opponents. He was blessed with two daughters and a son. Being recognized as the children of a Nishan-e Haider recipient is a matter of great pride for his children. His family cherishes the love they receive from the community because of being related to Havaldar Lalak Jan.
His younger daughter, Amina Lalak Jan, remembers his father’s sacrifice with the following poem: Aye Watan tere liye yeh jan bhi Qurban hai, is zameen ka hur jawan samjho ke Lalak Jan hai. These words from a martyr’s daughter capture the spirit of the entire nation that has overcome many challenges in the last 70 years.
Captain Muhammad Sarwar, Captain Karnal Sher Khan, and Havaldar Lalak Jan are all deserving recipients of the Nishan-e-Haider. Quaid-e-Azam famously said that “there is no power on earth that can undo Pakistan”. The legacy of Nishan-e-Haider recipients and the spirit of their loved ones will make sure that Pakistan will prosper forever.
Ali Haider Saleem is a member of the editorial team at Global Village Space. Previously he worked at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad and National Defence University. He holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from Queen Mary University of London.