(An Eyewitness account of the Operation undertaken in Congo by Pak Army)
Written By: Brig Anwar Ahmed
25 February 2005, like most other days in the year, was a moderate day in Bunia, the eastern part of Democratic Republic (DR) of Congo. William Lacy Swing, the Senior Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG), was on helicopter tour with eleven ambassadors from various countries and was convincing them on stable security and humanitarian situation in that region. The Ituri Brigade Commander Brig Dev Bahadur Ghale and myself, being the Pakistani Battalion Commander, accompanied. It was widely believed that the largest ever UN mission MONUC was fast losing its credence in maintaining peace in the area and was termed as “toothless mission” in the face of audacious and ever growing threats from various militant factions against civilian population and UN peacekeepers.
The entourage returned by afternoon. The Deputy Brigade Commander Col Mehmood, a Bangladeshi Officer broke the shocking news that nine Bangladeshi soldiers who were on a routine patrol that morning had been ambushed and killed. The worst was that the dead bodies were still at the ambush site since the rebels presumably Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) Militia had encircled the area and were resisting evacuation. The sun was fast going down and aviation did not have night flying capability. The gut feeling was that if the bodies were not recovered in next few hours, they would probably never be recovered. Congo had a history of cannibalism. No orders to any troops had been given in the absence of command. PAKBAT-II (3 Punjab) was tasked to recover the dead bodies as soon as possible. A quick rescue mission was planned. Two MI-17 helicopters loaded with PAKBAT troops were rushed to the site within no time. The area had been effectively cordoned off by the rebels. Blue helmets were identified with some difficulty. The rebels opened fire. Troops jumped down from helicopters with running rotors and rushed for the bodies. All nine bodies were rescued amidst intense firing from nearby bushes. The bodies were badly mutilated. All the weapons and equipment had been taken away by the rebels. Bangladeshi troops had gathered at the landing site to receive their bodies. There were extremely moving scenes. Everyone had broken over fallen comrades. Next morning, the martyred were accorded highest protocol by the UN and local administration. PAKBAT, as a symbol of solidarity and support, carried one of the coffins to the C130 which had arrived from Bangladesh to carry martyrs to their loved ones. The feeling of pain, loss and losing was beyond description among Pakistani troops. There was deafening silence after the aircraft left. Nobody knew what was to follow. Under the circumstances, the UN mission couldn't go on. It was huge blow to the reputation of UN peace keepers. Bangladesh, one of the largest troop contributing countries, had suffered ever highest loss on a UN mission. Bangladesh Observed a day of mourning on 1 March 2005 for its fallen soldiers, the day when Loga Operation was being conducted. The Battalion was in no condition to undertake any punitive action against the perpetrators. In the evening, a meeting was called at the brigade HQ to review future course of action. It was decided to undertake military action against the rebels responsible for such a heinous crime. PAKBAT was once again tasked for the operation.
I was leading the PAKBAT troops as we moved to Tche, a distant location for this purpose. A platoon each from NEPBAT and South African were given in support besides Indian MI-25 and Bangladeshi MI-17 helicopters. On 28 February, a heliborne operation against suspected rebels' location was conducted which was only partially successful in finding few weapons. It was a tough and disappointing day. Late at night Major Abdul Hakeem Arif, passed credible information about Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) headquarters in Loga village, some 22 kms from Tche. The information was passed quite late at night; hence no detailed planning could be done. Ground troops mounted in APCs set out for the operation by about 7A.M. The convoy had reached half way when an APC broke down beyond local repair. It could neither be returned nor taken along. There was grave risk in leaving it under the situation, that too without long range communication. However, no precious time could be wasted in deliberation. It was left under command a Nepalese Capt with some PAKBAT and NEPBAT troops with clear rules of engagement in case of a danger.
The rebels had been sufficiently alerted due to helicopters and APCs' noise. As APCs neared Loga village, they came under intense fire. It took an hour to enter the village. Maj Nisar with his troops entered the village by 1030 hours after intense gun battle. I soon realized that the troops had been surrounded from all directions. The football ground where helicopters carrying south African troops were about to land, had also been occupied by the rebels. The helicopters unaware of the ground danger, were immediately sent back. Troops under Capt Zia were rushed to get the ground cleared of rebels. He reported that the rebels were using heavy weapons including mortars and RPG-7s. This took considerable time and effort. FNI headquarters was established in a market as it was easy for them to collect extortion from population and shopkeepers. House to house clearance started as the troops made foothold. A lot of ammunition and weapons were being recovered. Maj Amir Zahid reported about presence of some suspicious person in a mud room. The person was not responding to any warning. Usually no chances are taken during violent search operations. However, prudence suggested careful checking. It revealed that a woman had covered herself under the blanket. She had given birth to a baby that morning and had been abandoned. She was immediately taken care of by our doctor, given some eatables and was comforted through the interpreter. On the other side, there was no let off from the fire. Rebels appeared to be under the influence of locally developed drugs which made them fight irrespective of losses. In the mean time, Capt Saqib reported safe landing of South African troops. By 1330, it was decided to call off the operation. Before the troops left the area, I observed that the mud room with the lady who had delivered the baby, had caught fire. Immediately, few soldiers were rushed to get the two occupants out. Before the roof collapsed, the lady and her baby had been taken out.
The troops reached the football ground with a lot difficulty since clean disengagement was difficult in the face of rebels' fire. Having secured the troops in the football ground, I asked Capt Deshpal Singh from India, the MI-25 pilot to engage the rebels. However, due to close proximity, the engagement could result in fratricide, advised the pilot who was observing the things in much better way. Hence, the troops had to rely on their own. Immediately an APC carrying 106 mm RR on an improvised mount was moved to support the troops. While the barrel was being lowered, it accidentally went off. Two soldiers who were just behind the APC were hit by massive back blast. Sep Itebar from SSG lost both his eyes while Sep Gulzar Ahmed damaged his eye and both ears.
Capt Desieko, the RSABAT (Royal South African) Platoon Commander was under tremendous pressure since his troops were exchanging fire with rebels across the elephant grass surrounding the football field. He was asked to call back his troops. Battle field confusion was at its best. PAKBAT troops facing outside were about to shoot at withdrawing South African troops due to similarity with rebels both in complexion and uniform. With nerve breaking care, the fratricide was avoided. SA troops had been inserted through Bangladeshi helicopters but for extraction, Indian MI-17 had been sent which had less capacity than the Bangladeshi. In addition, now there were two casualties which had to be evacuated to the base hospital. With a lot of difficulty, the additional troops were adjusted in the APCs. On checking the fate of broken APC and route, MI-25 pilots reported that the APC was safe; however, the rebels had laid ambushes at three different places. The troops were given orders to deal with the situation. After clearing ambush sites, entailing heavy exchange of fire, the convoy reached the broken APC sight. APC was towed with another APC and the convoy reached Tche around 10 p.m. Quick stock of men and material was undertaken and found in order. It was difficult to give count of militia's casualties. A careful estimate and the intelligence reports suggested militia casualties to be around 60.
The success of the operation had lasting impact on overall stability in DRC. New locations were occupied such as Magbwalu. It also paved way for elections. Success of the operation was widely covered by International Media, though local media was mostly silent. Maj Gen Moeen Ahmed, then CGS and later COAS Bangladesh Army, visited PAKBAT on 19 March 2005 and remarked, “I am extremely happy to visit 3 Punjab in Ituri, Also very happy to see that it is doing an excellent job in maintaining peace in the area. Thanks a lot for the support the battalion had provided on 25 February 2005, when we lost nine soldiers. All the best.” The performance of Pakistani troops caught attention of international media. New York Times, in its 3 March 2005 edition reported,
“The gun battle took place on Tuesday between 242 Pakistani peacekeepers and militia fighters. It broke out at a heavily fortified militia camp near the village of Loga, 20 miles north of Bunia, the capital of the lawless Ituri region. "While on operation we were fired upon, so we immediately responded," He said 50 to 60 militia members had been confirmed dead.”
A website 'News.telegraph.com' commented on 7 March 2005, “After years of passively watching while the world's most vicious conflict raged around them in Congo, United Nations peacekeepers have at last taken the fight to the enemy.” Aljazeera network also took the story on its website on 2 March 2005 and wrote, “The clash was one of the biggest involving the UN force in the DRC, where militiamen roam vast swathes of the lawless east of Africa's third-biggest country.” On the similar date, 2 March 2005, BBC also published the news commenting, “UN troops strike back in DR Congo. United Nations peacekeepers in the DRC have killed more than 50 militiamen in a gun battle in the north-east. The Pakistani UN troops had used helicopter gunships and armoured vehicles in the operation against the militia.”
The writer served in Congo during 2005 and led this operation.
Advocate Fizza Malik Shaheed who became victim of Terrorism while defending the Law.
Written By: Capt Kanwal Kiani
The sunrise of 3 March 2014 was usual for everyone but not for the few families of Islamabad whose dear ones had left homes for routine work but were destined to leave this world forever. Mr. Tariq Nasrullah Malik and his family were one of them. The family could not even think of receiving the shocking news about sudden demise of their daughter, Advocate Fizza Malik, who had left home for the court to carryout routine law practice. When she had woken up on 3 March, she was an aspiring junior lawyer and in a couple of hours, became “breaking news” all over the world. “We were praying for her safety after hearing the news of the blast but it was hard to accept that my angel who said good bye few minutes before with the promise to come back soon, had left for ever,” shared Mrs Tariq who lost her only daughter Fizza Malik when the terrorists attacked the District Courts in Islamabad, killing 12 innocent citizens and injuring over 30.
“She was the asset of my life and much of my dreams and hopes were associated with her. After losing her, I have questions to ask from these terrorists and religious extremists. She never harmed anyone and did not deserve such kind of death,” added Mrs Tariq with tears running down her face. Fizza Tariq Malik 23, was the youngest and only sister of Saad and Ali. A law graduate (LLB) from UK, she wanted to purse her career in Pakistan. She had an option to start her practise in Dubai but she was devoted to work in Pakistan and was often heard saying, “the quality of leadership skills and cultural diversity I have learnt and experienced through my degree has provided me a platform to become an agent of optimism for change in my society.” “It's high time that we need to put an end to the barbaric acts of the terrorists. For how long will people keep losing their loved ones? What future do girls have who get foreign education and wish to serve their country? Will they ever be provided adequate security in a society where terrorists roam around with licence to kill anyone at anytime? If these questions are not answered now, time will never forgive us,” said Saad, Fizza Shaheed's elder brother.
Fizza’s elder brother, Ali was equally sad. He also expressed his sentiments, “Being Muslims we believe that martyrs are alive, so I want to tell Fizza that we love you and we miss you so much. We feel like a part of our heart and soul is lost.” Her family recalls her excitement and at the same time nervousness, at the time of the interview for obtaining practice license as a lawyer. She wanted to be a criminal lawyer, not knowing that before stepping into her field of choice, she will become its prey one day. Fizza was the first one who received bullets; one in neck and the other on chest. This visibly proves her valour that even in the time of mayhem, she was daringly facing it. President Islamabad High Court Bar Association, Mohsin Kayani while recollecting his memories about Fizza tells that she was full of energy and wisdom, and lost her life in an attack by the malicious elements working against Pakistan. I wish I could go back in the past and take Fizza along to the high court that day, Kayani sighed with whom she worked since Nov 2013.
Madiha, another victim of the attack who saw Fizza alive for the last time told, “I will never forget the very first day of my professional life, that started with great fervour and ended dreadfully, the day when I found and lost forever, a friend, a colleague to be, with whom I had just started to move around in the court.”
Fizza was ready to go to obtain the degree of LLM from UK. While applying for the programme she wrote about herself: “My struggle became my strength to strive for success. I wanted to diversify and practice law to be able to implement changes. But challenges came my way yet, made me tough and I fought through my medical problem of Retrobulbar Optic Neuritis. I wasn't one of those who are born with a golden spoon but I was definitely one with the outlook to achieve one. I continue to learn to the best of my abilities and pursue for higher education to attain my goals, high quality of education, diverse culture and skills that will make a difference.”
“My daughter was very gentle, loving and caring…always been very supportive to everyone. I can't say anything about the people who snatched our pleasure from us, they are also children of someone,” said Mr Malik in a low bewailing voice. I ask the government and concerned authorities to take action against her assassins and bring them to justice. She was the youngest in the company with a lot of positivity, energy and ambitions evident through her sparkling eyes, one of her former colleague told with whom Fizza worked in UK based customer service firm.
Malik family broke down in tears several times while sharing their daughter's memories and it was really very difficult for me to console them with the mere words of condolence. To glorify the sacrifice rendered by their daughter, the family has decided to form “Fizza Trust” with the theme, “Every Life Counts”, aiming to help educate Pakistani women in the field of law. Pakistan is passing through challenging times. Hundreds of Fizza, Aitazaz, and Talib Hussain have become victim of terrorism and religious extremism. I don't know how much more bloodsheds we have to see, but if we stand together against these terrorists and start calling spade a spade, we may see our motherland free of radical elements and extremism.
Major Abdul Wahid Danish Shaheed, TBt (The story of an ISI Officer who embraced Shahadat while valiantly fighting against the Terrorists)
Written By: Lt Col Fahd Bin Sultan
On a pleasant afternoon of October 1997 at Jhelum, a Tonga entered from the main gate of 46 Supply and Transport (S&T) Battalion and stopped in front of the unit office area. A tall handsome young man with thick moustaches dismounted with a typical black military trunk. Most awaited, second parental officer of the unit, Second Lieutenant Abdul Wahid Danish, had arrived. All the officers of the unit including myself received him. It was beginning of the journey that concluded with his Shahadat on 7 February 2014. He was an upright, straight forward and clear headed officer with abundant courtesy. His conduct and approach towards the profession was quoted as an example to the young officers. With a sober sense of humor, his light jokes would always make us laugh. The battalion was desperately waiting for Maj Danish to take over the responsibilities as next Commanding Officer being parental officer, as he was being considered in Promotion Board-2014. We both spoke to each other on 7 February 2014 at 1445 hours to know about his willingness to assume command of the unit. Calm and contended as he was, “Sir, as Allah wills,” he replied. I tried to convince him to give preference to his parent unit. He promised to call me at night or the next morning. I had no clue that morning would never come. Next afternoon I received a phone call, not from Danish but about Danish. I could not believe, he was fighting for his life in Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Lahore. To my luck, I was in Rawalpindi and went to see him with all the hopes and prayers. All his memories flashed back while crossing Jhelum, my lips moving faster, praying to Allah for his life. As I reached the hospital in Lahore, I saw Maj Danish lying straight, unconscious. The flowers outside his room, the people visiting him and all well-wishers were praying for his long life. Seeing the pain in the eyes of his mother, brothers and family, I recalled his association with his family. Maj Danish was a responsible son, supportive brother, affectionate father and a caring husband. His day would start in a routine with light mood, his daughter Ayesha normally patting his back and giggling. Overflowed with love, Danish would tell his wife, “My day has begun.” There were days in routine when his family found lunch awaiting for them ordered by Danish. When asked by his wife, the caring reply would be, “I thought you should relax today.” On the fateful day of his Shahadat, his wife asked him about his well being as a routine at about 1745 hours and his reply was, “All OK. Pray for my success. Allah Hafiz.” It was last conversation between the husband and wife. Allah had decided a higher pedestal for him and a test of endurance for the family. Danish had carried out many successful operations during his two years tenure in ISI and had given serious blows to the anti-state elements, and saved many lives. Few days before his Shahadat, he was working on few elements closely linked with the terrorists. In order to nab them and their masters, he encircled the terrorists in surroundings of Khanewal on 7 February 2014. While he was trying to arrest them, he was hit by a bullet in the head at a point blank range. Major Danish fell on ground and the terrorist tried to run away. The cover force deployed by Major Danish followed the terrorist, who ultimately blew himself up before being arrested. During the encounter, one extremist was killed while the third one was apprehended. Major Danish was given first aid treatment in District Headquarters Hospital Vihari and was evacuated in a helicopter to CMH, Lahore. He was in a state of comma and was operated immediately, however doctors declared next 48 hours very crucial for him. After two days, he gave few positive signs and breathed for 50 seconds without ventilator. Next day he moved his head and foot when a wet cloth was put on his eyes. In the similar struggle to recover, his health kept deterioriating while doctors declared his brain clinically dead. All were waiting and praying for a miracle to happen but Allah had planned an eternal life for him in Heavens. He left us at 2055 hours on 16 February 2014 for the highest award. Major Danish had saved Punjab from yet another tragic incident by laying his life. He was different and unique. He lived like an example to be quoted and gave his life for Pakistan. He is the hero of entire nation. May Allah be with his family and his son Awaiz and daughter Ayesha. In recognition of his services for the country, President of Islamic Republic of Pakistan conferred him ‘Tamagh-i-Bisalat’ posthumously on 23 March 2014.
Salma Rasool is from Khuzdar, Balochistan. Her father was murdered by BLA in 2008 for his pro-Pakistani stance. Later her brother was also murdred by same people in 2013. But brave Salma Rasool stood for her family, Balochistan and Pakistan, and is braving the challenges of life.
Written By: Humera Karim
Human is a supreme creature of the Divine. Everyone is blessed with numerous known or unknown capabilities. His or her life is difficult and complex but some people with their combatant spirit not only overcome the challenges but set an example of inspiration for other fellows as well. Salma Rasool is one of the inspirational illustration of courage and tenacity. Salma was born in a small village of Khuzdar, a district of Balochistan. She belongs to a tribal family as her mother was Mengal and father was from Muhammad Hasni Tribe. Her father, Mir Ghulam Rasoom Muhammad Hasni, held prominant position in his tribe and was called as Mir. Salma had two sisters and five brothers. She, being the eldest, was very close to her father, who was an enlightened man and always encouraged Salma to express her views and allowed her to accompany him on various gatherings. He, despite all social pressures, enrolled his daughters in Army Public School & College, Khuzdar. Salma completed her 12th grade from the same institution.
Life was smoothly moving for Salma until 17 November 2008, when everything changed for her, and for her family. Her father was brutally murdered by the terrorists of BLA, (Balochistan Liberation Army). She recalls, “my father was a religious and a kind man who always taught us to love Pakistan. That day also, militants trapped him disguising as needy men. We were waiting for him at home and my mother asked me to call him. I made a call but after the first bell, his phone was switched off. We thought he was nearby. But then my maternal uncle entered in the house and told us about the tragedy. It was a dooms day for us. We were not able to believe that it was true. He received 17 bullets and we kept sitting around his bullet riddled body the entire night. My brother Abdul Ghiyas, who was then 15 years old, lost his senses. My seven year old brother later refused to wash his hand saying it had father's blood stain. When I saw bullet in his beautiful face near his eye, I fainted”.
Salma, eldest of her siblings, stood for her family and took all the responsibilities on her shoulders. The dearest and protected daughter of a martyred father suddenly found herself doing things she could never imagine before. Now she had to earn for her family and had to fight for justice. She says, “my father was Mir of a tribe. He was my friend and my protector. In our tribal society, socialization of men and women is not considered modest. Although I was studying but males other than family could not interact with me due to traditions. But after his death, I had to knock many doors to seek justice for him.”
Her step-brother (as her father had contracted two marriages) deprived them of their entire share in the property. Her real brothers were too young to fight for their rights. She recalled a horrifying night, “once my brother went to get our share of wheat; the step brothers and uncles attacked our home. They were armed and my brothers were kids. The villager helped us to escape on motorbikes. I still remember that scary night; we crossed the dark mountains and reached Khuzdar.” Salma and her family had to start a new life in Khuzdar. She was then studying in 12th grade and decided to earn a living for her family as she wanted her brothers to continue their studies. She joined Army Public School Khuzdar as a teacher but that wasn't enough to support the family so, she also joined an NGO that used to educate street children. During the same time, she got admission in Degree Girls College Khuzdar and completed her B.Sc. She gives all the credit of her achievements to her mother and brothers.
After graduation, on the advice of their family friends, they shifted to Quetta and hired a house. She joined FG Public School as a teacher and at home, she started giving tuitions. Her brother Abdul Ghiyas was growing up and becoming her support and hope for the family. He started sharing family responsibilities and asked Salma to continue her studies, so she got admission in Law College Quetta. But those good days did not last for long as another tragedy awaited her family. This time her brother, Abdul Ghiyas was attacked and martyred by the militants. She narrates, “I just reached back Quetta from Khuzdar after Eid vacations. Ghiyas stayed back in Khuzdar for few days. After two days, we received phone call from his friend who told about attack on Ghiyas by armed men. I managed to muster up courage and inquired about his condition from him; upon which I was told that he had been martyred. My brother was also killed due to my father’s ‘sin’ of loving Pakistan. I immediately left for Khuzdar. I am not able to recall how the transportation was arranged, but I reached Khuzdar with no chappel in foot and bare head. We were preparing for his wedding but just two weeks before his wedding, we lost him forever.”
One challenge after the other made her more strong and brave. She then was left with no other option but to come out with more courage and to seek justice for herself, her brother and father. She had a dream to establish an organization to help terrorism affected families. Her efforts eventually paid off in the shape of an organization named, 'Organization for Deserving Victims of Terrorism in Balochistan.' Its opening ceremony would take place during the current month (April 2014). She explained the need of such an organization, “I requested many of my relatives to file a complaint of my father's murder with police against terrorists but no one was willing to talk against them. They even asked us to stay away from the matter and warned about severe consequences. Some relatives even asked us not to mention that our father was murdered. My father and brother were killed only because they loved Pakistan. They used to raise Pakistani Flag at our house. My brother used to wear badge of Pakistani flag. The fact that the victims' families could never speak against the culprits, I decided to raise voice not just for my family, but for everybody like me. I want to tell the real story of Balochistan to the rest of Pakistan.”
She expresses, “I wish to work for education. We don't have good schools in Balochistan. My father resisted a lot of pressure to educate his daughters. After him, people tried to pressurize my brothers against my education and job. I had to face hurdles at every level. At one point they asked me to stay home and they were ready to abandon their own studies as well but I convinced them. I was never encouraged to study; rather I was advised to get married instead.” In a male dominated society, women like Salma have to fight continuously at various levels. According to Salma, it is another kind of struggle to convince men to take females seriously in any profession. And it is not an easy task, as it takes lots of efforts to make them respect you. Often they come with negative perception about working women and it takes long and hectic efforts to change their perception. Today, Salma sees a considerable change in people’s behaviours. People don't behave as rude as they used to because she is not helpless and weaker any more.
She wishes to address a gathering one day at the same place where her father was murdered. She is greatly concerned about the youth of Balochistan. She says, “our youth has been misguided. Whoever is fighting against Pakistan is a trapped one. I request them to think and choose their own path; don't allow external powers to exploit them for their vested interests. Our youth is witness to everything; they know who is responsible for the migration of teachers, doctors and other professionals from the province. Love your country, work hard and achieve your goals. This is the only way to gain prosperity in life”. Salma is one of the many Baloch youth who now aim to brave the difficulties and challenges posed by terrorists and with a hope for a peaceful Balochistan. They have decided to stand for Pakistan. They are determined not to let their voices muted by few hooligans who are misguided to the extent of killing people of Balochistan. The message of the Balochistan youth to every one is ‘to stand up against the militancy,’ and defend Balochistan and Pakistan.
The writer is a working journalist based in Quetta.