The United States and its NATO allies have been fighting terrorism in Afghanistan since the terror attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, losing almost 3,000 fighters in the process. But there is another front in the battle against the Taliban and al Qaida -- along the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier. And despite tensions with Washington over how to conduct the battle, Pakistani officials say their military forces have suffered more casualties than the U.S. and its allies.
Captain Kalimullah Khan’s unit was preparing to set up a hilltop outpost in northwestern Pakistan, near the Afghan border, when he stepped on a landmine planted by the Taliban.
The Pakistani soldier knew he had lost a leg. His other leg was so badly damaged it was later amputated.
“Actually, we had to build a blocking position somewhere on the hilltops," he recalls. "While establishing that blocking position I met with this injury and after that I was fully conscious till the time I was given anesthesia in hospital.”
Khan has been at the Armed Forces Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine in Rawalpindi since January.
Major General Waheed Akbar is the institute's director. He says the facility has its own psychological treatment centers, its own speech therapy units and even a workshop that makes artificial limbs.
“And we have treated thousands of patients, thousands of patients, who are disabled," he says. "Presently there is probably a shortage of specialists and technicians, but gradually we are training them and I think in another two, three years we will have plenty of staff.”
Life after war
Naik Azam suffered a gunshot wound in a Taliban ambush and is paralyzed from the waist down.
"God willing, one day these miscreants will retreat and ultimately our military and the government will emerge victorious in this war," he says.
Pakistani officials say the military has suffered more than 13,000 casualties in the U.S.-led fight against terrorism since 2001, including 3,000 dead.
Captain Bilal Sunawar is one of those who died. His sister Lubna Sunawar, says he volunteered for deployment even though his critically-ill mother was in the hospital.
"He was a brave and courageous officer and he proved that," she says, proudly.
Captain Sunawar's father, Chaudhry Muhammad Sunawar, is a former army officer. He says the Pakistani military's determination to defeat the Taliban is unshaken. He says the extremists are using Islam to terrorize the population and weaken the state.
“They don’t know anything about Islam and they are indulging in such like butchery, killing innocent people by carrying out bomb blasts and otherwise fighting with the Pakistani army,” he says.
Even wounded, these soldiers are ready to continue to fight to rid their homeland of extremism and militancy.
“I am very spirited from the very first day. Now I am more spirited even. [If] I am able to walk there again; I will not hesitate to go there again,” he says.
As these wounded soldiers struggle to rebuild their shattered lives, military commanders hope better combat tactics being adopted now will help reduce the human cost in Pakistan’s fight against terrorism.