(Lieutenant Colonel Amer Baig Mirza and Major Umar Baig Mirza embraced Shahadat in 2005 & 2009. Their families, today, carry the spirit of martyrdom and the resolve to sacrifice even more for Pakistan)
Written By: Naila Inayat
These days it has really become difficult to keep up with the mass media debates on defining a 'traitor,' the norm of labelling one as a traitor as opposed to a loyalist has become the norm of the day. Sometimes the mere use of terms like: 'martyr', 'patriot', 'nationalist' etc blurs their actual meaning, and as a nation we're experts at doing that. For instance, though ironically, the most-quoted figure of at least 51,000 people, including over 3,500 security personnel, killed in terror acts in Pakistan since 9/11 attacks remains a lifeless figure for many. Of course, yet it is a worrisome moment for all of us as a nation.
In our villages, towns and cities, we come across many families who have lost their dear ones, for no other cause but defending the motherland. These families make us proud due to their unflinching faith in the country, and in the cause for which their loved ones chose to die happily. These families are always seen determined to carry on with the mission of defending the country and it values, the way their loved ones who sacrificed happily while serving the country.
One such family is that of Major Umar Baig Mirza and Lieutenant Colonel Amer Baig, brothers of the current Commandant 'Command and Staff College', Quetta Major General Shahid Baig Mirza. All three brothers were commissioned in 11 Punjab Regiment; a Battalion that their proud father, Lieutenant Colonel (Retd) Abdul Haq was also part of. “Both of my martyred sons and my eldest son Shahid were passionate about joining the army and wanted to follow their father. He was one of the prisoners of 1971 war and young Amer used to say that he would join the army to take his father's revenge from Indira Gandhi,” tells the proud mother Zaib-un-Nisa.
“I remember Amer got his arm injured in the earthquake of October 2005, but he kept working for rescue operation without taking rest. Amer and Umar were both much passionate for shahaadat and that they loved Pakistan more than anything,” she added. Zaib-un-Nisa further shared the grief of losing her sons, “it is unexplainable to lose your children but then I feel proud of being the mother of courageous sons who sacrificed their lives while serving for the country. Even their wives are to be commended for putting up such a brave face in the difficult times and bringing up the children in such a nice way. I am proud of them,” she said. “Though Umar was younger to Amer bhai but both were very close to each other,” tells Asma, wife of Umar Baig (shaheed). Recalling the earthquake of 2005, Asma tells that they were stationed in Bagh, where Lt Col Amer and Major Umar were serving in the same unit, 11 Punjab. “The families of all the officers were pulled out immediately and a week later, on Oct 15, 2005, I was in Rawalpindi when Umar's helicopter crashed,” her voice begins to tremble.
The helicopter was on a relief mission and Major Umar Baig Mirza was guiding the pilots to reach to the affectees. It wasn't the first mission for young Umar who had done several relief operations since the October 8 earthquake. Although Umar wasn't asked to go but he volunteered to accompany on the pilot's request for a difficult mission in an uncertain weather. Lieutenant Colonel Roghani, Captain Alamdar and others who embraced martyrdom in the crash shall never be forgotten because of their devotion to duty. “Initially it was very difficult to come to terms with the entire situation, my children were too young and one is never ready for untimely death. But I got strength with the passage of time and by realising that my husband died for a cause – he saved many lives in the relief efforts – his country was his only passion,” she says.
Lieutenant Colonel Amer had always romanticised Shahadat and ever since the death of Umar he became very expressive about his thoughts on martyrdom. “When I got married to Amer, within a few days he had started talking about his desire of Shahadat. When he joined military, he not only spent time at Siachen, but also volunteered for Kargil War in 1999, but he didn't get a go-ahead then,” says Aniqa, wife of Amer Baig (Shaheed). And then on May 27, 2009, an explosives laden vehicle rammed into the gate of ISI office in Lahore that resulted in the death of at least 26 people and injuring many. Lieutenant Colonel Amer Baig Mirza was one of the two ISI officers who embraced Shahadat in the incident. “If there is anything that has kept me strong in tough times is the way Amer carried himself after Umar bhai's Shahadat. He was very calm and composed and kept the entire family together. For Umar's family, we moved to Lahore so that we could be around the children. I had seen him cry for his brother all alone but in front of his mother and rest of his family, he put up a strong demeanour – and that has exactly been my inspiration ever since Amer left us,” she says.
Both Asma and Aniqa (both first cousins) tell that their sons, 10-year-old Ahmed Umar and 17-year-old Adnan Amer are passionate to join the army and someday will wear the uniform. As mothers, where it is definitely a proud moment, but then the lives of officers are so tough that their families often find themselves in difficult situations.
“It has been a tough journey as a wife of an army officer and I can't begin to imagine how it would be as a mother, if at all Adnan decides to follow his father and his uncles. But I will always support him and there is no doubt about that,” says determined Aniqa. “For Ahmed the image of army is still something that he can relate to, the only memory of his father because he was only one-and-a-half-year-old when Umar died and today all he has are the memories and the great work that his father and uncles have done for Pakistan,” says Asma. Owing a debt of gratitude to such valiant sons of Pakistan, 30 April, also known as the Yaum-e-Shuhada (Martyrs' Day), the nation commemorates each year to pay tributes to such unsung heroes who died for a cause – a cause to defend Pakistan at all costs.
The writer is a journalist based in Lahore.
This is not an obituary. Obituaries are for the dead and hasn't God said, those who fall for His cause and the cause of humanity never die. This is not a tribute either, for no words have the glow befitting the glory that is selfless service to one's nation. This is but a soldier's humble salute to an extraordinary citizen; an outstanding son of the hills where I now serve. This is a song written to the soul of a hero who didn't want any medallions for the sport that would ultimately claim his life. And it is hoped that as the song is sung, its beats will be heard by all who, without wearing any military fatigues or ribbons, desperately fought and honourably died for the idea that is Quaid's Pakistan.
Pedantic treatises on counter-insurgency suggest that armies can't win such wars without support of the people. Gul Zada's work in life, and his glory in death, proves that people actually are the army. It is more so in our case. For over a decade now, we have been locked in a seminal struggle against forces that aim for the very jugular of our collective ideals and aspirations. Our enemies are brutal in their tactics and insidious in their narrative. They prey on the minds and bodies with equal ferocity. These bands of what some call “the fourth generation warfare” (4GW) know no morality and respect no law. They use society's networks to pulverize the nation from within. They operate amongst the people and exploit divisions and fault-lines within communities only to ultimately take the same societies apart and rule over ruined homes and broken hearts.
The only sure way to decisively defeat such enemies is for the people to offer no chinks, no exploitable wedges. It does not need a lot of thinking. It only needs a will, on the part of every man and every woman, to vigorously protect their freedom, to lead their lives without coercion and fear. It needs Gul Zada's spirit; his unschooled but mighty heart. It is only when citizens' spirit combines with the soldiers' skill that a nation comes out victorious against the menace we have been facing.
It's all easier said than done because patriotism is a surreal emotion that is invariably and entirely one-sided. The object of this love is a nebulous, immaterial idea called varyingly as one's land, one's country or one's nation. The lover goes on loving without expecting, with any clarity, a return of the feeling. Hundreds of thousands of brave men and women live and die in the name of that boundless, bottomless, endless love. Gul Zada gave life for Pakistan. To men like our Gul Zada, patriotism often means love of one's faith and family, blood and belief, honour and esteem. It's about one's ownership of that small home on a big hill; those lush forests and green terraces; healthy cattle and noisy children; and a bright moon over shimmering snow. It's about all those little things that, when threatened, acquire an untradeable place in one's heart. It's about being master of one's own destiny; about being the captain of one's own soul. It is when those seemingly vague, individual feelings of many are collected into one pot, that a brave, proud and undefeatable nation is born. And hence perhaps, a brave nation needs the incorruptible soul of many like Gul Zada.
Gul Zada never claimed to fully understand the scope and scale of the challenge facing our nation. He didn't care much about the academic intricacies of the term “patriotism.” But he was always rock solid in defending his ancient right to have his way on his hill. He was unwilling to submit to the ruffians and rascals masquerading as “custodians” of his faith and his tradition. Around the fall of 2011, Pakistan Army's pursuit of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Swat (TTS) thugs arrived at the farthest edge of our sovereign territory in Upper Dir. Terrorists couldn't find a lasting toe-hold in the entire Dir region mainly because the local populace was unwilling in the face of all threats to let their homes become bunkers for the bandits. Gul Zada was amongst the bands of hundreds of local patriots willing to fight and die for what was considered as their prized tradition of unwavering resistance against threats to their freedoms. Just a couple of kilometres inside Pakistan, Gul Zada's home sat atop a wooded hill in a small village called Sunai. The lore says that the village had been named in the memory of a Hindu lady, Sunai Bai, whose high quality lassi (Yogurt Drink) was a riot in the area. The village thinned out into a ravine which gradually narrowed and climbed into a pass before rolling into Afghanistan. He thus lived right inside the mouth of danger. The treacherous and wooded pass offered an easy entry and exit route to his enemies just across the border. Our enemies in this area included more than half a dozen proclaimed offenders from Gul Zada's own village. These felons went on to become the disciples of the mad mullah notorious for dealing once in radios and now in roadside bombs. The criminal law-breakers now claimed to be fighting for the banner of that greatest of all law-givers, our Prophet (PBUH). Any one of them could, on his day, attempt on Gul Zada's life. This, however, never deterred him from doing what he thought was the right thing.
He worked hand in hand with the Army. He patrolled his area, organized his kinsmen and dominated the passes used by terrorists for infiltration into Pakistan. His watchful eyes pried for any unfamiliar faces in his area and his prompt reporting led to countless successful responses against the terrorists. Over time, Gul Zada became a one man army in support of our deployment. And this was enough to make him a rather high-value target for the terrorists.
On 12 October 2012, Gul Zada came to the nearby military post to have a cup of qahwa with the Army Officer he called his brother. In the evening, just as the sun set on a million trees across Dir changing colours before dropping their crumbling leaves, he left for his home. He wanted to say his evening prayers with his son, a sixteen years old boy who, Gul Zada would often proudly say, was taller than him. On the way, a coward lay in ambush to take the life of this brave-heart. In a dark, thickly forested corner of the trail, he was hit. Incessant bursts of AK-47 rained into his chest and ripped him apart. The enemy quickly crawled back into the safety of what is the “sovereign” state of Afghanistan. Gul Zada, the lion-heart, lay dead in a pool of blood. The village of Sunai Bai had lost its bravest son. Early next morning, he was buried next to his father's grave.
Exactly a year after his death, in the face of approaching winters, Pakistan Army has established itself on the heights that have choked the murderers' routes forever. Hundreds of the village folks worked with the Army day in and day out. A police check post now operates from within Gul Zada's village. Dozens of school children chant national anthem every single morning, literally from within the hearing distance of where their hero was martyred. To the chagrin of the maniacs, this anthem is the one written by Iqbal for the nation of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. As the vermin who killed our citizen sulks across the border – homeless and condemned forever – Sunai Bai's village has moved on. Gul Zada's son, now even taller, regularly meets with the Army Post Commander his father called a brother. He travels back to his home unarmed. Never again will anyone, at any dark, wooded corner of the trail, dare to cast an evil eye at our people. While the counterinsurgency treatises may say what they will, a nation's enemies are routed only when people become the army. And like it happens in an army at war, Gul Zada's son has taken over the emblem from exactly where his father left. The results of the duel between Gul Zada and his enemies are unmistakable. Like all fights between the right and the wrong, the right endures. Gul Zada's son is the owner of his home, his hearth, his hill, his pride and his destiny. A grateful nation celebrates his sacrifice. The killers of Gul Zada continue to lead the faceless lives of thieves in others' country, on others' lands and in others' homes.
From a son to his Father, Lt Col Tahir Iqbal Shaheed
Written By: Muhammad Abubakar (Student of 8th Grade)
It was 28 June 2009, I was with my family, living in Peshawar, when I heard the news that my father had been shot in the head by the Taliban and had embraced “Shahadat”. I didn't understand it at that time and I didn't pay much attention because I was just 7 years old. But when I saw my mother crying and saying that “I can't live without him,” I got little worried. My best friend's mother, who was also the wife of my father's course-mate, informed my mother about this tragic news. That very night we went to Wah Cantt to my maternal uncle's house. I didn't know anything at that time so I started playing with my cousins. My mother sent me to bed at about 8:00 p.m.
The next morning I woke up and saw my mother again crying. I asked her that why she was crying. She didn't tell me anything and said that there was something in her eye. I could guess that she wasn't speaking truth because there wasn't anything in her eye. That afternoon my mother told me the truth that my father was no more in this world. At first I thought that it was a joke but then my uncle asked my mother that why she had told me. At that point I understood that my father had embraced Shahadat and was no more.
The next day we went to Islamabad for my father's funeral and burial. At about 6 o'clock in the evening, my father's body arrived. Everyone rushed towards the ambulance, took out the coffin, and moved inside the house. I sat right beside it with my little brother and mother. When I saw his face, I noticed a little smile on it. I can't understand it till today, that why he was smiling.
Then, we went to the graveyard to bury him. In the ambulance, I couldn't stop myself crying. The Commander Rawalpindi Corps and friends of my father were giving me hope and were asking me not to cry. When I arrived at the graveyard it was about 9 p.m. First of all, we attended the Janaza and then we buried him. He was later given Gun Salute and wreaths were laid at his grave.
Instead of being sad, I was feeling proud of my father because he made Pakistan proud, made the army proud, and made his family proud. A Shaheed never dies, I can still hear his voice in my lone times. Two days before his Shahadat, he told me to always take care of my mother and my little brother. When my friends talk about their fathers, I then miss the times spent with him.
Before going on that particular mission, he specially called at home and asked my mother to call me as he wanted to speak to me. He told me that he had to go on an important mission and said, “Abubakar, you are always my dear and brave son; you have to take care of your mother and your younger brother, and remember we are fighting for a good cause.” These things he shared with me and not with my mother, and two days after this call, my mother received this news that Lt. Col Tahir Iqbal had embraced Shahadat.
Today I feel so proud of my Baba. I am a proud son of a brave Pakistani and I will serve my country like my father. Today six years have passed since his Shahadat but his memories still live with us. I feel his presence around me all the time asking me to be brave and to work hard. Even though if he is not with me now, physically, but he still lives with me spiritually.
It is my advice to all the children whose fathers have died for Pakistan, not to be sad about it rather must be proud of it. When he embraced martyrdom, I was in 2nd grade and now I am studying in the 8th grade but I still remember all his lectures, his love, gifts, and occasional scolding. I remember, his anger was always for very short time, and then he would love more than before. I miss the chocolates and candies he used to bring for us while returning from office. Sometime, I just feel that he is at the gate with lots of fruit, ice-cream, chocolates and with a big smile. I wait for him, do not open the door as now he can pass all the doors. He can see me but I can't.
Eversince Shahadat of my father, my mother has been both my mother and my father. She never made us feel that our father is not with us and always played a father's role in our life. I feel very proud when I tell my friends that my father gave his life for Pakistan. Pakistan Army has backed us in this difficult situation and we never feel alone. I am living a very good life in a very good place; all because of my father. I salute to all these Pakistanis who have given their lives for Pakistan.
The story of a successful ‘Rescue Mission’ by Pakistani soldiers serving under the UN that saved lives of many American soldiers.
Written By: Lt Col Kamal Anwar Chaudhary
It was on October 3, 1993, that the US intelligence found clue of a secret meeting to take place in Olympia Hotel, a two-story building in the heart of Mogadishu City. It was learnt that General Farah Aidid, the notorious warlord of the troubled Somalia, and his aide Colonel Omer Jess would be present in the meeting. It was irresistible for eager Americans to seize the moment and apprehend or kill the Somali warlord. To ensure that the mission is accomplished successfully, an elaborate heliborne and ground force was constituted comprising Army Rangers, Delta Force, gunship helicopters, Little Birds, Black Hawks and infantry.
The operation commenced by a heliborne force, firing a salvo of anti-tank missiles into the compound, while Delta Force and Rangers roped down from hovering Black Hawks towards the building. Whilst some Somalis within the building escaped after the missile attack, American forces were able to capture some 24 civilians. To avenge the American intrusion into their heartland, the Somali militia rounded up as many Aidid supporters as possible and, within minutes, hundreds of armed civilian-soldiers were marching towards the American positions. They fired RPG-7 rockets at the three Black Hawks hovering in the air, sending two Black Hawks spinning down to the ground while the third, though damaged, was able to escape. The ground convoy, a part of this operation, was to reach the site to provide intimate infantry support by cordoning off the target area. This convoy too came under fire on its way to the Olympia Hotel. Eventually, after suffering casualties, the convoy managed to reach the building where the civilian-prisoners were held. These civilian-prisoners were hurriedly loaded on trucks, still under fire from the militiamen. In such a condition, the convoy resumed its move out of the city while several soldiers had to travel on foot due to limited space aboard the vehicles. As would happen in any such like situation, the convoy was ordered to immediately reach the location of the downed Black Hawks to bolster the strength of the Task Force and also to help it extricate from an increasingly ugly situation. The soldiers on foot reached the helicopter site instantly. The vehicle convoy did not oblige and moved back to its headquarters under orders of the convoy commander who opined that the convoy had already suffered enough casualties. This effectively left the downed crewmen and soldiers to defend for themselves.
As nightfall approached, roughly 90 American soldiers had made their defensive positions near the site of the first crash. Little Bird gunships provided air support as best as they could with mini-guns as thousands of Somali militiamen closed in all around the ground forces. The survivors were also attempting to keep the militia at bay while retrieving available medical supplies and ammunition from airdrops. With wounded men, limited ammunition and a growing militiamen presence, the situation for the survivors was getting bleak.
Located in the Horn of Africa, Somalia was ravaged by a bloody civil war which had started in 1980s. In January 1991, Somalian President, Mohammed Siad Barre, was overthrown and the Somali National Army disbanded. The erstwhile soldiers reconstituted as irregular regional forces or joined the clan militias. The main rebel group in Mogadishu was the United Somali Congress, which later divided into two armed factions: one led by Ali Mahdi Muhammad, who later became the president, and the other by General Mohamed Farrah Aideed. The civil war led to the destruction of Somalia's agriculture which led to starvation in large parts of the country. The international community began to send food supplies to halt the
starvation, but vast amounts of food used to be hijacked by the local clan leaders who would sell food to purchase weapons. This situation necessitated the employment of a peacekeeping force in August 1992 as a part of UNITAF (Unified Task Force) and the US military transporters started and led the multinational relief effort in Somalia. Though massive, the relief still proved to be inadequate to stop death and displacement of the Somali people, besides growing security concerns due to ongoing activities of the warlords. It was in this context that the scope of the UNITAF was enlarged to conduct relief as well as security operations. The UNSC authorized the transition of UN force from UNITAF to UNOSOM II and all fifteen Somali parties agreed to the terms except Farrah Aidid. Defiant Aidid's militia attacked a Pakistani force (10 Baloch) on 5 June 1993 that had been tasked with the inspection of an arms cache located at a radio station, which resulted in 24 casualties and 57 wounded. Responding to the blatant act, the UNSC passed a resolution declaring war on Aidid and his forces.
Still stranded in a grim situation, the UN Quick Reaction Force (QRF) was put into action to extricate the stranded personnel after the Black Hawks went down. This force consisted of infantry, some remaining elements of the original Delta Force and Army Rangers accompanying them. Pakistani UN forces constituted a major part of the QRF and provided all out support to the besieged Americans. 15 Frontier Force Regiment and the Squadron of 19 Lancers played the leading role in rescue operation.
The squadron of 19 Lancers was at the seaport to receive the ship carrying tanks from Pakistan, when it received call from the Pakistan Brigade Headquarters to join UN QRF to be part of the rescue mission being planned by Americans. The APCs of 15 FF were also placed under command the armour squadron to provide local protection to the tanks. The task given to squadron of 19 Lancers was to lead to the crash site, cordon off the area, provide fire support at the crash site and cover the withdrawal of the force to the nearest Pakistani base. Tanks of 19 Lancers rolled out of the seaport at 2230 hours, leading the US Rangers' QRF and, with the help of effective speculative fire, reached the crash site without any loss. Two of the tanks took position on the shoulders of the narrow street, where entrapped Rangers were fighting for their lives inside a building, whilst the other team took position on road crossings on either side of this street. US Rangers dismounted and went into the street while the Pakistani tanks kept on exchanging fire with the Somalis, preventing their efforts to get into the same street. At around 0350 hrs, Rangers started coming out of the narrow street and started mounting the APCs, but owing to some wrong calculation of APCs, it became difficult to accommodate everyone. Meanwhile, Somalis were reorganizing to quell efforts of rescue force; and started bringing heavy fire at the place where APCs were parked. Therefore, remainder US personnel were accommodated in tanks and APCs of Pak Army. The convoy managed to extricate and found a temporary reprieve at an open-air stadium-turned-hospital held by Pak Army contingent. At around 0640 hrs in the morning, soon after which US gunship helicopters started punishing all the suspected sites of Somalis and destroyed all the buildings which, in their opinion, were harbouring militia.
The operation by the Americans to apprehend the warlord eventually became a huge embarrassment for the Clinton Administration. By the time the American Task Force was extricated with the help of Pakistani contingent, it had suffered 73 wounded, 18 dead (including 3 Pakistani soldiers) and one helicopter pilot taken prisoner. This episode had such a shocking effect on American psyche that it continued to shape the US policy for long term and restricted American involvement in subsequent humanitarian crisis. Pakistan Army proved its mettle in the time of crisis and brave officers and soldiers added a brilliant chapter in its brilliant history of peacekeeping operations. Ironically, this incident is mentioned in the US media, movies and literature as an exceptional US operation (which it certainly was not) and gives a very cursory touch to the role played by the Pakistani contingent which extricated the US Task Force at the peril of their own lives. Had it not been for the bravery and chivalry of Pakistani QRF, the US force would have remained surrounded and obviously, suffered heavier losses.