Written By: Dr. Amineh Hoti
Imet Major Uqbah from Pakistan Army at Kristiane Baker’s sufi-flavoured dinner in Central London where we were all introduced to Salman Sahib, the direct descendant of the great sufi saint of Ajmer Sharif, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. Subsequently, Major Uqbah invited my husband, Arsallah, my son, Ibrahim and myself to visit him at Sandhurst Military Academy, UK where he was based for two years.
Major Uqbah was the first ever Muslim and only Pakistani teaching at Sandhurst. At the station, Major Uqbah himself came to receive us in his smart Pakistan Army khaki uniform and green hat. The Pakistani flag badge on his uniform shirt glittered proudly on his chest. We drove off in his Mercedes car towards Sandhurst as he explained all the historical buildings and the very distinguished people who were at Sandhurst. Major Uqbah told there were many Pakistani students at Sandhurst Academy. Like Major Uqbah, I admired the English method of education and training which attracted so many students from around the world to its schools, universities and training centres.
Major Uqbah walked us through Sandhurst’s halls and corridors which were aligned with numerous pictures of soldiers and battles from the subcontinent. The pictures below show an array of officers, including those in battle.
One of the main entrances led to a large hall where the name “Waziristan” was engraved on one of the stained glass windows: a Pukhtun soldier stood proudly with his patkay and his rifle and looked straight into the eyes of the beholder. As a young girl I spent a few happy years in Waziristan as my father was posted as Political Agent in Wana and Tank areas of Waziristan. My childhood memories of playing with the children of local Wazirs who were always proud, friendly and helpful are still fresh.
In another room of Sandhurst accessible only to senior army officers, there were placed souvenirs from different countries: Pakistan had gifted a small bronze statue of a rider tent-pegging on a fast riding horse chasing his target.
In a time when Pakistan’s image abroad has not been most desirable in the media, I was impressed with the respect Major Uqbah received: English students and soldiers saluted him and even politely and respectfully stopped for him on their way. Major Uqbah always had a friendly greeting in return for each one of them. But Major Uqbah said he drew the line of loyalty. In the entrance hall, there was a striking large painting of Her Majesty the Queen and her family. Major Uqbah told that he did not take his oath at the feet of this painting. Perhaps, there was nothing personal against the royal family, but the oath taken under the Green Flag has always held deep meaning for a Pakistani soldier and nothing can subsitute that.
After a very ‘English lunch’ of fish and chips in the formal hall, and tea in the private rooms of the ‘officers only’, which reminded me of the formalities of Oxbridge Colleges, we visited the library.
Major Uqbah showed us the books he had donated on the Quaid-i-Azam, the founder of Pakistan, who was a lawyer trained in England and who had fought hard for the rights of minorities, which resulted in the second largest Muslim nation on earth, Pakistan. Maj Uqbah also showed us his name honoured under the title “Overseas Sword” along with the names of others.
In reciprocity, I donated our Centre’s peacebuilding textbooks to the library on Teaching Acceptance with the hope that young cadets will learn about an inter-disciplinary method of peace-building and also learn to fight for peace, not just by the sword, but with the more powerful tools of respect and empathy for other nations and peoples. It was a wonderful visit to Sandhurst Academy and the fact that Major Uqbah showed us around in the best possible manner-Pakistani hospitality made this trip very special for us all.
The author is a PhD in Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge. Presently she is Director at Centre for Dialogue and Action, FCCU, Lahore.