Written By: Lt. Gen Masood Aslam (R)
And don’t call them ‘Dead’ who die in the cause of Allah, they are Alive only you can’t understand
Surah Al Baqarah (2:154)
It is so painful to relive the period when during my command of approximately three years, we lost close to 1500 shuhada from Army and Frontier Corps alone. It was therefore very difficult for me to motivate myself to pen down some of those unforgettable memories of acts of valour and sacrifice of our brave young men in uniform which remained hidden to a large portion of our nation. Losing even a single soldier in battle is not easy for a commander but it’s the faith in the cause which overtakes the concern for security and achievement of the objective becomes supreme. Great nations remain ever indebted to these martyrs and never hesitate in honouring their sacrifices. It’s impossible to do justice with all these shuhada, what to talk of those who lost their limbs or other ghazis. At the outset I would therefore seek forgiveness from the shuhada and their families/units for my failure to include all of them in this brief article. My fading memory is also responsible for this inability which may please be overlooked.
The security situation in FATA and KP in 2007 is difficult to comprehend, especially when one sees such relative peace and security prevailing in the country today. This peace has not been achieved easily. Hundreds of young men in uniform under 25 years of age happily embraced death for the future of the country (not undermining the sacrifices of our civilians as well as senior men in uniform. Pakistan Army is probably the only military where our shuhada include senior officers of the rank of Generals to a Sepoy). I am trying to share memories of some sacrifices which may be an eye opener for many.
Dera Ismail Khan is a small town on the bank of Indus River in Southern KP. Close proximity to South Waziristan makes it a sensitive Divisional Headquarters. Two young boys named Atif Qayuum and Zeeshan grew up studying and playing together in this town. Besides being class fellows and good friends they were always striving to be better than the other. After intermediate both decided to join army and then were commissioned from the same course in Infantry. Atif joined 28 Sindh Regiment while Zeeshan was commissioned in 41 Baloch Regiment. Atif’s unit was the first to move into Swat in July 2007. His unit was tasked to secure Najia Top height on the night of November 24/25. This young officer with less than two years of service was the leading platoon commander and despite the most arduous ridgeline led his platoon through pitch dark night to the hill top. The feature is named “Asmani Sar” but Fazlullah had named it as Najia Top (it is the highest feature on west of River Swat dominating entire valley including Kabbal, Kanju towns and Saidu airport). The top was held strongly by the terrorists who had prepared proper weapon positions. Despite stiff resistance Lt Atif ably led his men to the objective. He destroyed three of the terrorists’ bunkers and was in the process of clearing the last bunker when got hit by a number of machine gun bursts from the flank. Though he continued with the assault and cleared the last bunker, he fell down and breathed his last. When his troops picked him up he had received dozens of bullets and his hand was still stuck on the trigger while the barrel of his SMG and hand had also been hit by the hail of bullets. It was the indomitable courage and resolve of Atif Shaheed that the whole formation operation succeeded. Reportedly, when Lt Zeeshan attended his burial, he said, “O’ my friend, we have always been in touch for almost two decades and I never accepted losing to you but today you have outshone me in the actual test”. However, destiny plays its own games; Zeeshan’s unit was moved into North Waziristan within next year. As the army had greater priorities in clearing Swat and handling the Mehsood threat, the environment in North Waziristan was to be managed politically. This was to the dismay of a large number of youngsters and officers like Zeeshan. Once clearance of Swat had been achieved to a great extent, formation in Miranshah was tasked to clear off the area between Gharlamai and Alwara Mandi (the area of Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the Taliban Commander in NWA). This was the opportunity which Zeeshan had been looking for since long. He volunteered for the most difficult task of establishing a blocking position to deny any reinforcements from other areas as well as acting as an anvil for the unit to destroy them completely. He accomplished his mission but under repeated attacks by the terrorists to link up with their bottled up colleagues he also received serious injuries. He stuck on to his position but by the time the unit was able to linkup with his position he could not survive the excessive bleeding and met his Maker. Thus in less than a year and a half of Lt Atif’s shahadat, Lt Zeeshan lived up to his promises and sacrificed his life to join his bosom friend in Jannah creating a unique history of sacrifice by two childhood friends.
Losing even a single soldier in battle is not easy for a commander but it’s the faith in the cause which overtakes the concern for security and achievement of the objective becomes supreme. Great nations remain ever indebted to these martyrs and never hesitate in honouring their sacrifices.
I shall now very briefly allude to a few more officers whom I feel need to be mentioned at least. One sees youngsters like Capt Maeraj Shaheed, sword of honour from PMA, Armoured Corps officer who came on attachment with FC but volunteered to continue and was made commander of the SOG (Special Operation Group). During May/June 2009 while moving as reserve he heard of his troops being stuck in Ambeyla Pass (known as a graveyard of attacking troops) and rushed forward with his small number of available troops. During broad daylight he used an extremely difficult approach to reach the terrorist bunker and destroyed it. In the process he was badly wounded and couldn’t survive the injuries. I am also recalling Maj Zubair of 22 Punjab sitting in Mingora in August 2009. The Valley is peaceful and the entire TDPs have returned to their homes. Suddenly a report of some terrorists hiding in the outskirt of the city is received. Maj Zubair with the available Quick Reaction Force (QRF) rush towards Nawankilli. On reaching the site he finds out that some terrorists had taken refuge in a small house. They surround the house and ask the terrorists to surrender but no one comes out. In order to ward off any chances of innocent casualties, Maj Zubair decides to storm the house rather than blowing it up. He decides to lead the charge and breaks through the front door. He was met by a hail of bullets but kept rushing forward. Seeing this the terrorist blew up his suicidal vest and Zubair took the entire blast. His troops tried to move ahead but the officer had protected his entire team and saved the citizens of Mingora from a suicide bomber. Zubair shaheed was blessed with a son few months after his shahadat. Despite knowing his wife’s condition the officer never hesitated in leading from the front. To him the country and his men came first while his family and self later. Similarly, there are streams of images flowing in front of my eyes but to wind it up, however, I would very briefly mention the valour and indomitable courage displayed by numerous other individuals.
I have no words to offer accolades to each one of the unsung heroes from the junior most soldier to General officers who displayed exemplary courage, grit, sense of responsibility and patriotism in performance of their duties beyond the call of duty. I would be amiss if I do not recognize the services of KP Police and Frontier Constabulary in bringing normalcy in the province and the Frontier Regions.
The shuhada have written sagas of insurmountable courage, resolve and valour to sacrifice the last ounce of their blood yet the Ghazis especially those being severely wounded need a mention too. Today when I see Maj Gen Zahid commanding a division running around with an artificial leg, I am reminded of Lt Col Zahid commanding 63 FF Regiment in Bajaur leading his men through a myriad of obstacles, mines and defence works securing one objective after the other. In one such encounter, he had a mishap of stepping on an IED, blowing off his leg. Nothing deterred them from moving forward and clearing their objectives. I can go on but unfortunately will still miss many. To sum up, I would like to highlight that it wasn’t the young officers only but a large number of NCOs, JCOs and senior officers who made exemplary contributions. Gen Javed Sultan shaheed didn’t have to fly in bad weather and visit a company position soon after the ceasefire in Operation Tri Star. Brig Hussain Abbas Shaheed decided to lead a platoon deep inside Tirah Valley to rescue the crew of a Cobra helicopter as the challenge was too big to be left to a subaltern. Similarly, Major Karim 30 FF, the wing commander of Ladha Fort, and the way he defended a totally cut off fort deep inside Mehsood territory for more than a month has been etched into my mind. I really am at a loss on how to bring an end to my sojourn in history but would like to first pay homage to hundreds of thousands of those brave men of army and FC who served under me during the most challenging times of our history in KP and FATA. I have no words to offer accolades to each one of the unsung heroes from the junior most soldier to General officers who displayed exemplary courage, grit, sense of responsibility and patriotism in performance of their duties beyond the call of duty. I would be amiss if I do not recognize the services of KP Police and Frontier Constabulary in bringing normalcy in the province and the Frontier Regions. Though there were numerous incidents of the policemen even stopping the suicide bomber by embracing sure death, yet one person, IGP Safwat Ghayyur, has to be mentioned in golden letters. This brave policeman came as the CCPO when the terrorists had made life difficult for the citizens of Peshawar. Despite serious handicaps of equipment and training he infused a new life in this force by his personal example. With close coordination of the Corps Headquarters, soon the entire Ring Road, Badaber and Karkhana area were totally secured. On being promoted as IG Frontier Constabulary he worked tirelessly to reorganize and motivate the entire force. He was in the forefront in clearing Darra Adam Khel with his FC undertaking joint operations with the Army troops. The shaheed was specially targeted by the terrorists with inside support and attained martyrdom through a suicidal attack just outside his office.
December is round the corner and it brings with it the pain and reminder of the sacrifices of scores of our innocent youth who also became unwitting victims of these beasts known as terrorists. The incident of Parade Lane Mosque of December 4, 2009 took away from us around 40 military personnel and their wards who had gone to the mosque to offer Friday prayers. They included 17 children of ages between 7 to 21 years, taking with them not only the hopes and aspirations of their parents but also the hope of the nation. Since it involves a personal loss of my only son Hashim, I would only speak of the loss of Ali, the only son of Col Qaiser or Waleed, son of Brig Mumtaz or sons of Col Shukran, Brig Sadiq, Col Durrani and many others. Five of these youngsters were Hafiz-e-Quran. The silent questions of the mothers and sisters of these shuhada remain unanswered as the nation has forgotten to even make a passing reference of their tragedy. Besides these young boys, even serving individuals and their fathers embraced shahadat. I want to specially mention the shahadat of Maj Sohaib whose only child was a disabled handicapped daughter, who through her own determination and resolve of her mother has completed her PhD, a fact not known to many. The daughter of the shaheed needs support and recognition to lead an honourable life and support her mother.
This remembrance will be incomplete without mention of the most barbaric and tragic incident of APS Peshawar. Though the incident helped in forging a consensus across the board in the nation yet the callousness and dastardly act of targeting hundreds of young kids of our nation needs to be condemned widely. The loss of over 130 budding youth can never be recovered. I would like to pay my sincere homage to the shuhada of Parade Lane and APS Peshawar and offer my heartfelt condolences to the parents and families of those innocent kids. While paying homage to all these shuhada I would like to remember the sacrifices of over 70 thousand of our innocent Pakistanis. It’s time to show our resolve that we shall not desist from giving any sacrifice to preserve peace and stability of our homeland. At the same time, I shall like to express my gratitude to the families of our heroes for their ultimate sacrifice for the country. May Allah bless their homes with greater peace of mind and heart and grant blessings in abundance to the shuhada. Aameen
Note: As the war against terrorism is still on, Hilal requests all the commanders/staff and participating officers and soldiers to share the untold stories of valour, sacrifice and commitment to duty.
Lt Gen Masood Aslam (R) commanded 11 Corps from 2007 to 2010. The Corps has valiantly fought the war against terrorism in KP/FATA.