Lt Col Haroon Islam Shaheed
The building of Ministry of Environment in Islamabad was set ablaze. This was July 2007. Terrorists had taken refuge in the religious seminary and were using hundreds of students as human shields. Lt Col Haroon Islam, the Commanding Officer of the Anti-Terrorist Unit was taking stock of the situation. Had the lives of innocent male and female students not been at risk, he would have preferred to charge on the target. The question of saving innocent lives had delayed the proceedings for more than a week and consequently, the terrorists had the audacity to set government buildings on fire. The Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) had surrounded this place which more looked like a battle front than a serene corner of the federal capital, Islamabad. The terrorists were using the sanctity of religion and religious sites to propagate their violence prone hate agenda. The whole national and international media was crying for an immediate action against these armed extremists.
Amidst such a precarious situation, the genius of Lt Col Haroon came up with a plan, which was approved also. The plan aimed at sniping the armed terrorists in a synchronized action who had prepared fortified positions on the roof-tops and were occasionally lurking around to show their strength. The Commanding Officer himself positioned his snipers at surrounding dominating buildings and once they hit the 19 armed terrorist simultaneously, it broke their will. The very next morning, they agreed to let free the female students. The head count confirmed that over 900 females were freed, but still many students were forcibly locked inside the complex. Lt Col Haroon made yet another plan to help these hostages free from the captivity. The new plan was to breach the perimeter wall of the seminary with a view to make a way out for the detainees. He led the operation from the front, though in the capacity of Commanding Officer, he could have stayed in command post that was located at some distance. However, he did so to ensure that the execution was fool-proof and that he was willing to risk his life just as his other comrades did. He falls into the category of those battalion commanders who prefer to fight and die with their men. He took the risk of being vulnerable and it proved fatal. On July 8, 2007, two bullets fired by the terrorists from a short distance hit him; one proved fatal as it pierced straight through his neck. He embraced shahadat right then and a glorious chapter of Special Services Group came to an end.
His unit did not abandon the mission, however, and in the next two days the seminary was cleared of all active resistance. Lt Col Haroon Islam had in his personality an amazing contrast of a true believer, who in the words of Dr. Allama Iqbal, “is soft like silk in the company of friends, but hardens like steel in the war of good and evil”. He was a true patriot and would never tolerate anything against Pakistan and its founding fathers. He was on crutches after he met a serious road accident and next week on the roadside, he could not resist taking on the man who was irrationally abusing Pakistan. I am the eye-witness. He always groomed his juniors to respect our national heroes and build a national character. And above all, his un-matched motivation, dedication and passion to serve the motherland were his personality traits. Late Major General Amir Faisal Alavi, then General Officer Commanding of Special Services Group, once narrated this story. An aircraft was hijacked and landed at Lahore Airport. Lt Col Haroon being the Commanding Officer of Anti-Terrorist Unit was tasked to conduct hostage rescue operation against the hijackers. His force was on board, flying towards Lahore. When enroute, Maj Gen Alavi, who was accompanying them, received news that the hijacked flight had been sent back to its original destination after refueling and that there was no need of operation anymore. According to Maj Gen Alavi as soon as he conveyed that news to Haroon, tears ran down his cheeks and he almost cried “Sir, this is unfair. After a long time, we had an opportunity to be in action and why authorities have now flown the aircraft away?”. This is how much he loved being in action.
In fact, his whole life was full of action. He met three serious accidents owing to his thirst for action and adventure; including one hang-gliding accident, second a road accident and third a fatal sky-diving accident, which almost left him with a diminishing scope of regaining fitness. But it was his firm resolve and commitment that he was on track and fit enough to command the Anti-Terrorist unit once again. His motivation level was beyond normal and enviable.
During Kargil Conflict, when he was a Major, commanding the Anti-Terrorist Company, he had no role to play as per the proceedings by the book. But he contacted his commander and volunteered to participate in the war. The Commander promptly refused to allow him, because that was not his duty as per the appointment he was holding. But after a lengthy debate, he finally succeeded to convince his commander that he and his snipers could play an efficacious role in the battle. His passion won and he alongwith his sniper team moved to the battlefield to snipe the enemy patrolling along Pakistani border.
The Operation Sunrise itself is a true example of his unparalleled motivation. During the breaching phase, he by virtue of his appointment was not required to move himself so close to the target, but he did and the gratuitous exposure led to his shahadat. He fulfilled his earnest desire, but Pakistan Army lost a very fine officer and a true leader, indeed. He often used to tell his wife that he had a strong desire to be honoured with martyrdom and that she must re-marry after he embraced shahadat. Such a strong conviction he had! All ranks of Special Services Group still remember his lively talks, his warm hospitality, his charismatic personality and above all his inspiring leadership.