12
June

Written By: Zarghon Shah

On the damp bank of River Yamuna stands the famous love story icon, the Taj Mahal, which daily bustles with over 20 thousands tourists, mostly Japanese and Europeans. And nearby Agra’s Ved Nagar slum, a ceremony is taking place – dozens of Muslims are being converted into Hinduism. Pursuant to their Ghar Vapsi or ‘homecoming’ campaign, the Dharam Jagran Samiti and Bajrang Dal cells of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) herded 250 Muslim men and women of the Bengali speaking poor Muslim community into an open space besides a statue. A Hindu priest recites Shlokas and smears vermillion on the converts’ foreheads, asking them to repeat the ritual, ahuti. Finally the priest removes Muslims’ caps and thrust them beneath his feet, and handover each family the idol of godess, Kali.

Shortly after the formulation of Narendra Modi’s government, Dharam Jagran Samiti (religious awakening committee) and Bajrang Dal, the militant wing of the largest Hindu organization, Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), resorted to nefarious Ghar Vapsi drive. According to them all Muslims and Christians in India are originally Hindus whose ancestors had converted to other religions and they need reconversion in a predominantly Hindu majority country. Carrying forward the mission-reconversion, the VHP converted another Muslim family of 12 in Achhnera tehsil of Agra, 58 Muslims and Christians at two temples in Kottayam district, 42 members of 20 different families at Puthiyakavu Devi temple in Ponkunnam and 16 Muslims in Krishna Swamy temple in Thirunakara.

Backing the conversions, Chief Minister Kerala Oommen Chandy had said, “the situation did not warrant a government intervention.” The RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat justifying the homecoming said, “we will bring back our brothers who have lost their way.” More harsh was Samiti leader Rajeshwar Singh’s comment who said, “our target is to make India, a Hindu Rashtra by 2021. The Muslims and Christians don’t have any right to stay here. So they would either be converted to Hinduism or forced to run away from here.”

Addressing a Hindu Sammelan at Yamunanagar in Haryana, Joint General Secretary of the VHP, Surendra Jain said, “Muslims are at war across the globe and the hatred against them is growing. If they want respect in India, they should become Hindus.” Jain added, “If Muslims want to survive, they should take the blessings of the Hindu saints.”

Encouraged by the Agra episode, Bhartiya Janata Party’s Member of Parliament and senior Vishwa Hindu leader, RamVilas Vedanti claims to organize a rather grand Ghar Vapsi for over 3000 Muslims at Ayodhya where Muslims from Faizabad, Ambedkar Nagar, Bahraich, Gonda, Shrawasti, Basti and Siddarth Nagar districts would assemble in near future.

The argument given by supporters of the Ghar Vapsi campaign is that unless corrective measures are taken up urgently, there is a danger to the existing demographic profile of the country. Many leaders of the Sangh Parivar argue the way the population of some religious groups is growing, there is a possibility of Hindus being reduced to a religious minority in several states.

Muslims’ outrageous conversion into Hinduism not only irked Pakistanis but the entire Muslim world. Within India itself a Muslim cleric Salim Ahmed, who heads the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC) said that he would wage a war against the country if incidents of religious conversions were not checked. Darul Uloom of Deoband activated its conversion-prevention wing nationwide, while Shahi Imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid declared he would launch a “ghar ghar Islam” (Islam in every house) campaign to counter the Ghar Vapsi.

As a reaction to caste discrimination within the Hindu creed, recently four Dalits converted to Islam in Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh. The Sangh Parivar organizations, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal, reacted swiftly and threatened to punish them by destroying their crops and dispossess them of their land. The police also booked them under the state's draconian anti-conversion law. Due to these threats, they reverted to Hinduism. Mass and forceful conversion of Muslims and Christains into Hinduism also led to pandemonium in the Indian Parliament. In the Upper House of the Indian Parliament, all opposition parties got united under the Congress Party's leadership and demanded reply from the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issue of forcible religious conversions. As Modi did not respond, the Parliament appeared to be log-jammed.

Modi’s failure to curb fanatical Hindu-nationalist anti-Muslim wing of the Sangh Parivar, the family of organizations within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the RSS, of whom Modi himself is a member, have left him in deep trouble.

Stories of mass Muslim conversions, anti-Muslim riots and the objectives of building a Hindu India have mushroomed to such an extent that Modi was reported to have warned RSS about possibility of his resignation.

Adding fuel to the fire, abusive racial remarks by woman minister, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, at a political rally, further embarrassed Modi when she said that non-Hindus (i.e. Muslims) were illegitimate: “Aapko tay karna hai ki Dilli mein sarkar Ramzadon ki banegi ya haramzadon ki. (You have to decide if you want a government peopled by the children of Ram or one full of illegitimate children)”.

On its part in the past, the RSS and Bajrang Dal had been tasked to build Ram Janambhoomi temple in Ayodhya on the ruined site of Babri Mosque. These outfits aim at, what they claim, restoring and preserving India’s Hindu individuality by checking Muslim population increase. Not to this extent, Bajrang Dal also was involved in the Gujarat riots of 2002, besides attacking Christians in Orissa and Karnataka. Fanatic Hindutva supporters feel it is an appropriate time to reassert India’s Hindu identity. While Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and its propagation, Hindutva followers view Christianity and Islam as outsider faiths.

Narendra Modi may be pursuing uplift agenda and greater connectivity with the world, he is also dependent on the street powers of fundamentalist organizations for more political space. But these outfits pose a threat to Indian inclusiveness and much depends on how Modi handles with perilous moves.

To sum-up, Ghar Vapsi has considerably exposed the way how Indian political landscape is taking new dimensions in the wake of BJP’s rise to power. During the Indian general elections, the RSS were closely involved with the selection process of BJP candidates. In line with this hypothesis, Muslim demography is also being changed in Indian-held Kashmir.

This situation shows the cruel and real face of India behind ‘shining-India-face’ to the world. As India is striving to acquire permanent berth in United Nation Security Council, its violations of human rights and forceful imposition of religion by religious extremists is something that merits attention of world community.

The writer is a journalist working for a private TV channel This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
12
June

Written By: Shaukat Qadir

Balochistan; our largest province, has almost 45% of our land mass and hosts less than 10% of our population. It is a vast, unfriendly and inhospitable desert; even most of its mountainous terrain is scarce of water. Life and communication is governed by the location of water. I know of at least two places where humans and animals drink from the same slime covered pond.

Harsh land breeds harsh people; and the people of this region are hardy, harsh, and cruel. What is more, the population is widely diverse. There are the Baloch, the Pashtun, the Brahvi, Makranis, Sindhis, and a very small percentage of Punjabis. Other then the Punjabis, all other ethnicities have tribes and sub-tribes; most of them don’t get along with others. Internecine warfare has been the way of life from time immemorial. The peoples of this land have always been exceedingly difficult to govern but the geo-strategic location of this land made it so attractive that, whoever could, did annex it, and struggled to govern. It was always the overland link to the Middle East and, through Afghanistan, to Central Asia. Despite the harsh land, therefore, it was always a commercial route. And a smuggler’s haven, which it still is.

In recent times, not only the strategically important ports, Gwadar being most noteworthy, but others as well, have increased its importance. This is with special reference to the Strategic Commercial Corridor that China and Pakistan seem to be working on these days. But that is not all. Geological surveys have disclosed that the region has enormous resources of minerals, oil and gas – the last we have been using for the past decades. There are more and richer Though very reluctantly, many of these youth admitted that the majority of such deaths, laid at the door of “Agencies”, were committed by locals: many smugglers, some politicians, tribal leaders, even many of the Baloch rebels. It was the best way to get rid of somebody they did not wish to be suspected of killing. resources as well; Reiko Dik being the best known, though not the only one. As Balochistan gains importance in our commercial future, it also becomes an increasingly lucrative location for nation states that do not wish us well, to destabilize by nefarious means. That is where we now stand.

Brief Recent History It will not be fair if I fail to point out that we are responsible for having created a situation which our ill-wisher countries, India being foremost of all, to exploit.

foreign hands1Perhaps the best example I can think of is Nawab Akbar Bugti. Among Baloch tribes, no tribal leader – how insignificant his tribe is – will accept the supremacy of another tribal leader. But if there was a leader among them whom they could and did defer to, it was Nawab Bugti. His tribe was neither the largest, nor did it hold sway over the largest territory. And yet, he stood tall among tall men.

After partition this highly educated, sharply intelligent, patriot, and loyal Pakistani 20 year old Nawab Bugti, who had recently assumed leadership of his tribe, was appointed as Adviser to the Governor General on Balochistan affairs. On August 26, 2006 he died a rebel. I have no intention of justifying his rebellion or his death. But there was a huge transition from what he was and what he was finally killed for. This was either caused by consistently bad policies of governance, change of ideology by Bugti, or, rebellion on foreign behest. The time would tell but if there was a disagreement, it should not have turned into anti-state rebellion.

Over the past five-plus decades, successive governments have created an impression among the peoples of Balochistan that they are ‘Children of a Lesser God’ in Pakistan. Our enemies reinforced it.

Admittedly, the vastness of the province and scarce, sparse, widely spread population makes governance a nightmare. Just ensuring the provision of basic necessities is so hugely expensive as to be prohibitive.

But if a land is important, so must its peoples be. And, if for no other reason, for pragmatic requirements to ensure that the peoples are happy alone, good governance must be ensured, so that no enemy can exploit their dissatisfaction. This we failed to do.

Over the past decade or so, a realization of this failing has grown and things have begun to change. To the credit of the army, it was the first to start rectifying matters. President Musharaf could be justifiably criticized for many of his decisions, but he initiated the beginning of Balochistan’s reconstruction, which has steadily increased in tempo.

The Complaint From 2008 to 2010, I undertook numerous security related analytical studies of Balochistan. Most of them were for NGOs but I also undertook one for a government agency.

The basic sense I got was that the hard-core of Baloch rebel was small. But the tragedy was that it was the disillusioned youth. When I met some of them they exuded a sense of hopelessness, despite the fact that reconstruction of the province was not just well under way but was continuing to increase in tempo.

While much of their disillusionment came from the deplorably and unbelievable extent of corruption that was prevalent under the provincial government, it was multiplied manifold by the fact that the standard of education in the province was so poor that even students with MSc degrees could not compete for jobs with those of equal education from other provinces.

At one of my meetings with the Baloch youth, one of them cried out, “Why have you condemned us to this state of Jihalat.” After numerous meetings when we had a better rapport, I began to get more of the truth out of them; there is always a first, before others begin speaking out. According to them, the truth was that, some years earlier, intelligence agencies abducted some people who later turned up dead of torture. They However, what is most important here is to point out that, even when these rebellious youth accused the agencies and generally held the army responsible for their ills, they were unhesitant in acknowledging that, it was the army alone that gave them a glimpse of hope by providing affordable but quality education, health, food, water, and a communication infrastructure that linked the province. listened more and more on this foreign sponsored propaganda and finally it is taken as a reality. Yes, enemy is liable to use propaganda but where is own national healing process to replace the scars with twinkles. However, with the passage of time, the theme was picked up by other ‘bad’ people; particularly a politician who was a smuggler. Thereafter, he eliminated his competitors by brutal unclaimed killings; the trumpet of ‘missing persons’ grew stronger with each killing. His example was followed by many others.

Though very reluctantly, many of these youth admitted that the It is in this backdrop that the COAS visited Balochistan again on April 15th this year and issued a general warning to “foreign hands and intelligence agencies” trying to destabilize Balochistan to desist. They will not be allowed to succeed. Although numerous politicians have hinted at the presence of foreign hands, this is the first time that an Army Chief has issued such an unequivocal warning. Anyone who knows Gen Raheel will pay heed. He is not used to merely making loud sounds, without meaning them.majority of such deaths, laid at the door of “Agencies”, were committed by locals: many smugglers, some politicians, tribal leaders, even many of the Baloch rebels. It was the best way to get rid of somebody they did not wish to be suspected of killing. An added advantage was that the person behind the killing could warn other possible opponents off by telling them that, even the agencies were supporting him. That surely killed all opposition.

Now there is really no way of knowing today if any of the agencies are responsible for all the “Missing Persons”, but I am quite certain that if at all any individuals are guilty of such acts, it is because roles can be reversed. Now the employees can tell that the act was committed by X, Y, or Z, because these individuals are known to regularly resort to such tactics. But why should the state resort to such activities – to add fuel to the fire? – no sane policy can support it. That is how this blame-game and dark propaganda campaign be viewed.

However, what is most important here is to point out that, even when these rebellious youth accused the agencies and generally held the army responsible for their ills, they were unhesitant in acknowledging that, it was the army alone that gave them a glimpse of hope by providing affordable but quality education, health, food, water, and a communication infrastructure that linked the province. While no one said it in so many words, but the fact that the media focus on missing persons assisted those non-state actors who were, and probably still are, guilty of such murders, to get off scot free was tacitly acknowledged.

COAS’ Recent Visit to Balochistan It is in this backdrop that the COAS visited Balochistan again on April 15th this year and issued a general warning to “foreign hands and intelligence agencies” trying to destabilize Balochistan to desist. They will not be allowed to succeed. Although numerous politicians have hinted at the presence of foreign hands, this is the first time that an Army Chief has issued such an unequivocal warning. Anyone who knows Gen Raheel will pay heed. He is not used to merely making loud sounds, without meaning them.

Some things need to be pointed out here. While our present political incumbents are far from perfection, perhaps still closer to imperfection, things are far better than they were under the previous regimes. Malik, the Chief Minister is neither as corrupt nor indecisive as his predecessors. The central government and the military leadership seem more committed to improving conditions in Balochistan than any previous combination. And, most importantly, conditions in Balochistan have shown a marked improvement in the last two years. This fact is born out most of all by the aggressive efforts to induct Baloch in the army, and many thousands are being inducted every year.

Despite this, there are still some rebels and they have foreign support. That is certainly disturbing. After the foul carnage at the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar last year, Gen Raheel visited Kabul and, since then Pak-Afghan relations on security related issues have shown a marked improvement. No official has shared all that was discussed by Gen Raheel with the Afghan politico-military leaders, but there is a strong rumour that Gen Raheel carried along evidence of Indian involvement in the Peshawar Carnage and the fact that the Indian involvement was based in Afghanistan. The assurance that Afghan soil would never again be allowed to be used to challenge Pakistan’s security, If anything more is required, it’s an interim step. The next generation has hope now. It might take time for all the ill-will, doubts and suspicions to be allayed but if the future politico-military leadership continues on this path, we will get there, sooner, rather than later.could merely be an acknowledgement of the succor provided to Fazlullah, the leader of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). But it could equally have included the possibility of Indian presence and involvement in the dastardly attack.

While there is no way of verifying the truth of this rumour but while Indo-Afghan relations are cooling a little, Pak-Afghan relations broke fresh ground when the Afghan Army Chief, Gen Karimi, became the first foreign dignitary to be the chief guest on the passing out at Pakistan Military Academy (PMA). A singular honour that was bound to and succeeded in winning over a lot of the hardened Afghans in Kabul who had joined the anti-Pakistan campaign over some years past.

Just for the Record Army officers might be familiar with these figures but for those who are not, whether in uniform or out, the army’s contributions to development in Balochistan are remarkable. The first step was providing quality and affordable education in Quetta by the APS, this was followed by initiating another chapter of the amazingly successful Sabaoon in Swat to Quetta. Sabaoon is a Pushto word meaning the crack of dawn and also the ray of hope. It is run by a lady psychiatrist to reclaim and rehabilitate those children whose minds are corrupted by terrorists into becoming suicide bombers. Apart from the enormous communication infrastructure, health and education facilities at each one of its cantonments, it has undertaken the cleaning and repair of that labyrinthine marvel of underground flowing water known as the Karez.

Quality and affordable schools and health facilities have also been provided at numerous other population centres, funded by the government and most constructed by, or under supervision of, the army. Cadet colleges, universities, including technical universities have cropped up. If anything more is required, it’s an interim step. The next generation has hope now. It might take time for all the ill-will, doubts and suspicions to be allayed but if the future politico-military leadership continues on this path, we will get there, sooner, rather than later. What is missing is hope to the present generation; victims of a poor education system which awarded degrees without education. If respectable employment opportunities are provided to them, which enable them to support their families and provide hope to their children, it will throw water on the few remaining sores that still sizzle in Balochistan.

We have come far, but there is still some way to go.
The writer is a former Vice President and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
19
May

Written By: Kanwal Kiani & Maria Khalid

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It’s still dark and freezing outside. Citizens of a snow-clad mountainous city are enjoying profound sleep waiting for the sun to rise. But for few wide-awake souls in a walled parameter in Kakul, the day has already commenced with the sound of reveille and morning fall in. The sound of continuous throbbing of heavy boots, and echoes of chanting rhythmic slogans have made this place a dreamworld for youth which aspires to join it. This is home of KHAKIS – the cradle of leadership - this is Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul (PMA).

Since its inception in October 1947, PMA has been productively fulfilling the assigned task by training Pakistani cadets and cadets from the allied countries. The Academy furthered its record of brilliance, as for the first time ever, in February 2015, Afghanistan decided to send its cadets for training at PMA. The move was welcomed by Pakistan as Afghanistan is a brother Muslim country with common history, culture and civilisation. The batch of six cadets arrived in Pakistan in February 2015 for 18-month-long training that has already commenced at PMA. This positive move by the Afghanistan Government is surely a sign to improve peace and tranquility in the region for which Pakistan has been trying since decades. With a common enemy in the field for both the countries, the training of Afghan Cadets in Pakistan will go a long way in professional assistance of Afghan National Army (ANA).

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To keep the world abreast about training activities of Afghan Cadets at PMA and to highlight different contours of their everyday life, Hilal Magazine decided to cover it in detail. For the same purpose, we both, Deputy Editor Hilal (English) and Assistant Editor (English) visited PMA. We interacted with the Afghan Cadets, observed their routine, met the PMA faculty and covered their activities.

Having arrived at PMA, we stopped briefly at reception and were straight taken to the Firing Range where Afghan Cadets were carrying out firing with the cadets of 134 PMA Long Course. Six cadets were in alternate prone firing position at the ‘Short Firing Range’ with the targets clearly in view, each having 20 bullets to fire. An instructor from ‘Weapon Training’ (WT) faculty was standing behind each Afghan Cadet and was giving necessary instructions for better results. The cadets were being told to maintain a comfortable position between their body and the axis of the rifle. Echoes of gun fire rumbled through the PMA grounds as the branches swayed in a breeze quite perceptible at ground level.

Look, I Am not a diplomat!
gc_kafayat.jpg Kefayat Ullah was a student of civil engineering at the Engineering Centre in Kabul before joining Afghan National Officers Academy (ANOA) as a Cadet. “I left everything behind to be a military person”, he says. Much did he talk of the Kick-off Exercise at PMA where they were taken out on foot in the field to practice different field craft manoeuvres and carried their complete load along with their personal weapons. This exercise is designed as a preparatory event for a larger exercise (Yarmuk) which they would undergo in the 2nd term. In response to a question regarding further collaboration between the two countries in future, he said, “I am not a political delegation from Afghanistan to Pakistan but if I am asked to comment I would say it’s a very prestigious academy and I am lucky to be here.” As a military personnel, his message for the youth is to join army and take a stand against terrorism. He himself would be using the experience gained at PMA to fend off Afghanistan’s enemies.

As the firing was about to end, with the last 10 bullets to spare, it all made sense to Gentleman Cadet (GC) Javed, who hails from Wardak province of Afghanistan, because with each round that he fired, his aiming skills also improved. The bullets had now started hitting the target and he was smiling. The hardened face of the WT staff had also changed its colours. The Pakistani instructor appeared satisfied over the training standard achieved by Afghan Cadets.

Minutes later, he rushed to the target as part of the drill with the WT staff to check his target and review his performance. The staff briefed him about his firing skills and also advised him to take necessary measures for future. It was now the turn of GC Ishaq, a smart cadet from Paktia, who was anxious to prove himself as a good firer. The excitement, danger and difficulty of handling the weapon made him miss all the targets. It was then their Platoon Commander, Major Qamar who came forward to guide Ishaq to use weapon to the perfection. After fully understanding the points he made, Ishaq was now ready to fire another 20 bullets. And, the improvement was visible. Afghan Cadets were learning quickly. They were happy and were smiling.

To make the junior leaders hardened and instill warrior spirit in them, PMA follows a well structured programme and carries out training taking into account the psychological, motivational and emotional aspects. This includes a variety of sports, adventure training activities, and endurance building events. Personality grooming in PMA refines a cadet’s character and instills comradeship traits, devotion, obedience, patriotism, and loyalty that helps him lead during war and peace times.

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Physical training of the cadets remains an integral and important part of PMA life. Clad in white shorts and T-shirts, it is always heartening to watch cadets in the Physical Training (PT) area. As we reached the PT ground, we could find Afghan Cadets carrying out different exercises with their course mates. The training usually comprises PACES (Physical Agility and Combat Efficiency System), one-mile practices, and different exercises to improve physical fitness. ‘One Mile Test’ not only challenges the endurance level of an individual but also brings in self-confidence and determination that remains the hallmark of any field commander.

It is said that the foundation of discipline in battle is based on drill. Just like physical fitness, drill is given equal importance in PMA. Not much accustomed with movements of drill at PMA, Afghan Cadets looked in much difficulty to carry out drill with the weapon and to match up with the standards of the other cadets. However, Drill Subedar Major and other qualified drill instructors were paying special attention to allied cadets. GC Saleem who has his home in Uruzgan, was apparently very keen to learn the drill movements. He aimed to pass out with flying colours and was showing his keenness to learn drill with sword. “I will pass out as a cross-belt and will hold this sword at my parade”, he said with lots of pride. As the drill period ended, GCs were now rushing to Halls of Study (HS) to attend classes.

gen-raheel_sharif.jpgGeneral Raheel Sharif, Chief of Army Staff during his visit to PMA on March 10, 2015, highlighted the importance of training of Afghan Cadets in Pakistan. He made a mention of initiatives taken for improved relations with Afghanistan and expressed appreciation for President Ashraf Ghani’s gesture of extending full cooperation in transforming bilateral ties marking a new beginning in the relationship. There were, according to him, already appearing signs of greater understanding, including training of Afghani Cadets at PMA and improved trajectory of economic ties between the two countries.

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The academy not only imparts combat training but also focuses on personality grooming of the cadets. Through an organised system, cadets are infused with the wisdom and knowledge necessary for their professional life ahead. As we entered the HS, computer period was in progress. We saw Afghanis immersed in the computer screens, trying to learn the techniques and military use of this hardware. There was a lecture by the Platoon Commander on Field Craft and Patrolling in the next period. Maj Qamar was teaching academic aspects of field environments to the cadets. It was interesting to watch Afghan Cadets asking different questions about battlefield which related to their peculiar Afghan environments.

Maj Qamar, who himself had served on different field appointments and had participated in different operations, was quick in satisfying them. GC Mansoor, who couldn’t participate in the routine activities due to a fracture in his left foot, was actively participating in the question-answer session as he was curious to know about the various types of patrolling.

This Mutual Cooperation would Enhance our Relations

gc_m_javaid.jpgMuhammad Javed was born to Colonel Muhammad Hussain of ANA, serving in logistics branch, back in Kabul. His wish to be like his father, with a profound desire to serve his people, drove him to ANOA. “After graduating in 12th grade from Ali Mustaghni High School in Kabul, I wanted to join army so I passed the required tests and got into the ANOA. We were trained there for two months before we heard of a scholarship in Pakistan.” He has three siblings, two brothers and a sister. When asked about his future plans, after having graduated from PMA as a Second Lieutenant in ANA, he says he would be fighting against the terrorists that have much damaged the peace and progress of his country. “This mutual cooperation would enhance our relations. I hope that in the next term and in future, more cadets would be sent from Afghanistan to Pakistan for training.” PMA, according to him, is the epitome of good training, discipline and has pleasant weather. What will always be in my memory from my training at PMA is exercise “Kick-Off” when we moved out for two days and a night in the mountains and villages. We learnt many things from this exercise like how to fight the enemy when we are under attack. It was tough yet very enjoyable. He says there’s no doubt about the best standards of training at PMA. “We don’t just learn military things. We also learn how to take care of the civilians.”
Because We have so much in Common
gc_mansoor.jpg25 year old Mansoor who hails from the capital city of Kabul, graduated from a high school in Kabul, Ibn-e-Sina. Because he was “born in the army”, he also had the desire to join the ranks. He was under training at ANOA when he heard of his selection for PMA. “Day by day our academy is getting better like PMA. We need few more years to have a good academy in Afghanistan.” “When we were told that we had been selected for PMA, we didn’t know much about it as we hadn’t been here previously. After we came to PMA and saw how they would train us and the education we would get here, we have a feeling of being blessed ones.” This experience, he thinks, would guide him through each phase of life, not only professionally. “I have many experiences and memories. What I love the most is that they have sent us to Aurangzeb Company where we have found cadets who can speak Pashto.”
 
Therein lies the Vision
gc_fawad.jpgA graduate in journalism from Balkh University in Afghanistan, Fawad Ullah was born to a mathematics school teacher, Sirajuddin, from the province of Kunduz. He’s the eldest of his five school going brothers and four sisters. He has already set his sight on making his mark as a good commander in the military. Fawad Ullah is confident that this course (in Pakistan) will prove to his benefit. “PMA is good for training. I see the academy, the food, the instructors and the people around me and a wave of contentment runs through me.” “But I miss home sometimes”, Fawad Ullah said as his eyes moistened and the mind winged away from PMA to somewhere in Afghanistan, back home. “When I go back to Afghanistan, I would want to teach other cadets the skills that I learn at PMA. But I am sure of one thing that Pak-Afghan are brother countries and we are friends forever.”

wb7.jpgThe classes were now over and after lunch, cadets were getting ready to go for the sports. GC Javed stood confused as his first arrow missed the centre and hit the edge of board during archery. He was deliberating as to where did it go wrong. Maj Shadab, Physical Training & Sports Officer (PT & SO) instructed him to draw the bow straight back and to release the arrow in a straight line. Archery is not only aiming the target but calculating the elevation and wind drift of the light, acing arrow. The other cadets were waiting in formation for their turn, a few metres back with curious eyes as the next arrow darted forward. It was evening now. The life in urban and rural areas was getting to silence but it wasn’t over for PMA cadets yet as dining in the mess and observing night rituals are part of the training.

"When I go back to my country, I will teach what I learn here at PMA to Afghan Cadets if I join as an instructor in our military academy. If I don’t serve in the academy, still I will have much to transfer to my subordinate soldiers in my battalion."

 
wb8 We walked in the Arena at Aurangzeb Company Lines of 2nd Pakistan Battalion (Quaid-i-Azam’s Own) to a third game of snooker between GC Fawad, who is originally from Kunduz and GC Javed. Both were tied at 1-1. Fawad played a fine second game to equalise and wanted to take momentum to the third. He hit three red in a row with two blues and one black and was thus on the driving seat. The pressure, Javed was under, was then being reflected in his game. But eventually Fawad who was winning, lost on last 5 shots as a result of pure genius from Javed as he scored 54 points leaving him behind on 48. As we took a look around, we saw other Afghan Cadets busy in table tennis, chess, while few others were happily watching their Pakistani course mates playing with X-Box and other indoor games. It was dinner time. It was during this time that we could talk at length with our Afghan brothers and had a chance to know their feelings about being in Pakistan.
 
They specially Make it for Us!
gc_saleem.jpg“My name is Saleem Shah. Before coming to PMA, I was a cadet in ANOA. My father is a dentist based in Uruzgan province and I have eight brothers and two sisters”, he introduced himself to this scribe, showing his ‘picture perfect teeth’ as he talked. “It is very tough training. When we make it to the end of this training, we will be good as officers.” He doesn’t wish for an escape from the dutiful life of a cadet, later a soldier. The chefs at PMA make special food arrangements for the ‘allied cadets’ of different friendly countries. “For every country there is different food. For Pakistani cadets the cuisine is Pakistani, for us it’s Afghani.” This is the first ever time that six cadets from Afghanistan came to Pakistan. “In future, this relationship will further improve because I hope more cadets from Afghanistan will come to Pakistan.” “When I go back to my country, I will teach what I learn here at PMA to Afghan Cadets if I join as an instructor in our military academy. If I don’t serve in the academy, still I will have much to transfer to my subordinate soldiers in my battalion,” Saleem Shah spoke with a firm voice while staring at PMA insignia. For now, it’s enough to be here at Aurangzeb Company Mess, appreciative of the fact that he would be leaving with experience and friends he would keep for the rest of his life.
 
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Afghanistan Needs Soldiers like Us

gc_m.jpgMuhammad Ishaq’s day starts early each morning. “We have PT, after that we are taught military and other academic subjects during the class. We are busy all the day. We don’t get enough time to have rest, which I think is positive for our professional career in the future.” In frequent imaginative bursts he would think himself having moment of respite, which would help him later in Afghanistan when his role would be to fight against enemies of the state. Ishaq thinks Afghanistan is in dire need for soldiers like him. “We are in the state of war and the country needs soldiers like us. We need to serve in the military and make progress in the field of defence.” “I was very happy when I made it to PMA because I wanted to be a professional army officer in future. We have good instructors and we are definitely growing professionally in here.” He thoroughly enjoys the pride for having an opportunity to be trained at PMA which is counted as one of the best academies in the world.
maj_gen_nadeem.jpgThis prestigious academy has come a long way in gloriously performing its desired role. Our curriculum and combat training is continuously updated and modified as per the modern century’s requirement that enables cadets to be good role models and leaders in the future. We take pride in training our allied cadets from various countries and this is the first time that we have Afghan Cadets in this institution. We are looking after the Afghan Cadets as our own and closely supervising them. The Afghan Defence Attaché went back happily after his visit as he saw the Afghan Cadets being trained at par with the Pakistani Cadets. His only concern was the communication barrier thus we scheduled extra English language classes for them in the evening.

Maj General Nadeem Raza

Commandant PMA

 
After having spent very fruitful two days at PMA with Afghan Cadets, we both, with a heavy heart, packed up our luggage and prepared to return to Rawalpindi. But experience of interacting with Afghan Cadets was unique in many ways. We thanked our conducting officer Maj Abdul Mannan, and left PMA with many memories intact.
 
19
May

Written By: Feryal Ali Gauhar

It is still early when the flight lands in Skardu, the plane setting itself down gently like a large bird of prey descending upon a startled animal. In the air, I can sense the coming of winter. The light throws gentle shadows upon the sand dunes in this high altitude desert landscape, cradled by mountains which appear to be sleeping behemoths, their massive presence awe-inspiring yet reassuring, as if someone is watching over you.In the arrival lounge, I was received by Major Shumaila, Public Relations Officer (PRO) at Force Command Northern Area (FCNA),

who is stationed at Gilgit. Major Shumaila is the first woman officer in Pakistan Army from Gilgit-Baltistan and had travelled to Skardu from Gilgit to receive me, bringing along with her on the long and difficult journey, her young daughters Eeshal, Nanny, and Ateeqa. These four females would give me company while I waited in Skardu for the helicopter to fly me to Goma, and then onward to Gayari Sector where I wished to offer Fateha for 140 martyrs of the terrible tragedy which hit that base on April 7, 2012, burying the entire camp in snow and rock more than 50 metres deep.

 

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Major Shumaila had organized my meeting with the families of Gayari Shuhada, the next morning. That night, I sat out besides the lake at Shangrila and tried to imagine how difficult it would have been for the families to receive news that your loved one had been buried alive and that he would never return. I watched as the birds flew home to their nests, their silhouettes dark against a luminous sky the colour of ripe apricots and peaches which blush with the warmth of summer. It was autumn then, and the trees were bare, the fruit already picked and consumed or dried for the long winter. What was it like for the wives and children, the parents of these men who never came home?

Coming to Skardu is like coming home, in a strange, deeply felt way. This is where my late mother chose to spend the last twenty years of her life, caring for the many mothers and children who would visit her health centres in Skardu and Hussainabad, many of them severely anemic, most of them malnourished, poor, clad in second-hand clothes bought off the numerous carts parked in the crowded bazaar. For twenty years my mother came to know these women and their families, and came to hold them in the highest esteem for their serenity and dignity in the face of so much hardship. I wondered if I would witness for myself that same quiet grace when I met with the widows the next morning. I knew that I shared a sense of loss with them, having grieved at my mother’s sudden death in her beloved Baltistan, receiving her mortal remains in a casket which had to be transported through landslide and roadblocks along the world’s highest highway. In my heart there was certain stillness, a certain acceptance of the terrible things which scar us, against which we, mere mortals, have no power.

The air carried with it news of snowfall on some far mountain peaks, and I gathered myself and my belongings, tearing myself away from the lakeshore reluctantly. The day had ended, but a journey still lay ahead, for which I needed to prepare, for this was a journey like none other that I had ever taken.

Her Limpid Eyes

“When my father left I did not know I would not see him again”, Ambereen, not yet twelve years old, speaks like a woman with many years woven into the fabric of her young soul. “He put his hand on my head and said: ‘Apna khayal rakho – (look after yourself)’, and then he left. We never saw him again. And he left us to look after ourselves, since his father, my Dada, asked us to leave soon after we heard the news of his death…”

Ambereen is perhaps the most beautiful little girl I have ever had the privilege to meet. Her eyes are like a lake, the waters calm and limpid. She holds onto her aunt’s hand while looking straight at me, unfaltering, unwavering, trusting. Ambereen lives with her aunt in Shigar while her mother lives in Skardu, looking after the other three children, all boys, now attending the Army Public School in the headquarters of Baltistan. I ask Ambereen what she wants to be when she grows up. Without a moment’s hesitation she says: “A doctor with the Army Medical Corps…I want to make sure that our beloved soldiers return home to their families and never die unattended, wherever they may be posted to serve the country.”siachin_where2.jpg

Ambereen’s father, a sepoy in a Northern Light Infantry (NLI) battalion, died in the massive avalanche which destroyed the Battalion Headquarters of 6 NLI at Gayari, a barren desolate place now, a veritable graveyard for the dreams of 140 men, both civilians and military officers and soldiers. There were thirty families in the room with me, widows and their children, gathered together to share their stories, their suffering, their dreams and their aspirations. I learnt from the women that when a soldier dies, his family is informed by members of the unit, sometimes accompanied by an officer, who bears the Shaheed’s personal belongings and hands these over to the family. I was told of the moment when the news of the many deaths in these treacherous mountains came, of the disbelief, of the inability to accept that their loved one shall never return. One of the women told me that her husband had come home to condole the death of his friend. He left the village after three days, leaving his fifteen year old wife with his aged father. He never returned, and the day his wife was informed of his death, she delivered their child, a boy, who would never see his father!

There were many stories, of widows who had to leave the homes of their in-laws since they were now considered a burden on the meagre resources of the family. There was the story of Ruqaiyyah who had to take her five children from her in-laws home in Shilding to Skardu after her father-in-law took the money paid by the Pak Army on her husband’s death, leaving her with nothing. She remembered when the soldiers, accompanied by a subedar came to the house and handed over her husband’s personal belongings in a trunk and a cheque. Nine months after that day, Ruqaiyyah was asked to leave and to make her own way through life. Her youngest was a month and a half, her eldest ten.

I turned to the ten-year-old boy, Mehdi Ali, and ask him what he wants to be when he grows up. He is shy, and almost inaudible, so I move closer to him in order to hear his response. He says that he wants to be an officer, or just a soldier, like his martyred father. I stare at his pale face and then look at his small hands, the skin cracked and dry. I look up again and see the tears welling in his eyes, and I turned away, for the grief carried in this little boy’s heart is more than I can bear.

With a heavy heart I returned to my room and prepared for the journey to the north-east ranges, as close as possible to the Line of Control (LOC) which has sparked so many conflicts in the past 68 years of our existence. I studied the maps I have printed out, looking for the places where I expect to land in this rugged, inhospitable terrain. These are just tiny dots in the huge mass of rock and snow and ice, reminders of our own insignificance in the natural order of things. I shudder to think of what life for our troops must be like in temperatures which fall below minus 40 degrees Celsius, even lower with the wind chill factor. These are temperatures that were spoken about with horror just last year as the “polar vortex” hit the northern hemisphere and froze even the breath rising from our lungs. Why is a war being fought over masses of ice and snow and rock in a place where no one has ever lived and thrived in the history of humankind? The answer can be best sought from the country that initiated and imposed this conflict.

I had placed my fur-lined boots and ancient woolen duffle coat with its hood at the foot of my bed, taking care to remember my leather gloves and the beret I have had since I was a university student in Montreal, Canada, several decades ago. I struggled with the choice of cameras, wondering if my small steady shot camera would suffice or whether I should lug the larger digital single lens reflex camera with its 300 mm zoom lens. Convinced that I would be weighing myself down with an extra, unnecessary burden at altitudes where each step requires the careful calibration of breath, I reluctantly put away the larger, more sophisticated camera and turned down the covers, snuggling up against the chill on my first evening in Skardu. I knew it would be infinitely colder where I was going, and I said a silent prayer for a safe journey, and another one for the safety of the people I had come to greet, to talk to, to learn from, and to write about. It is not every day that one gets the opportunity to travel to bases where the snow never melts, where the skin is burnt black with the sun, where the mere touch of bare metal against bare skin can tear the flesh. It is not every day that one meets the men who have lived and fought at the world’s highest battlefield, the world’s largest non-polar glacier which apparently has no strategic value but which has claimed 3000 Pakistani and 5000 Indian Army men since 1984.

According to one source, India gained more than 1000 square miles of territory because of its military operations in Siachen, the source for the 80km-long Nubra River, a tributary of the Shyok, which is part of the Indus River system. The volume of the glacier has been reduced by 35 percent over the last twenty years. Global warming and military activity have been cited as the main reasons for the receding of the glacier. It is time to take stock of human and environmental loss and to wage a war against war itself.

But before I took this journey, it was important that I met the families of those who never returned, buried forever in the snows which cover the treacherous slopes of these, most magnificent mountains.

Feet of Clay

On the map the feet of the mountains are like the claws of gigantic creatures reaching out to devour whatever they can overpower. The ridges and crags are the bones of these claws, the many rivulets and tributaries flowing down from melting glaciers are the veins and arteries of this creature which lives in the far north, watching us, waiting to destroy all those who dared to venture forth into its frozen lap.

The helicopter left Skardu at the appointed time, Major Shumaila had left her toddler with Ateeqa at a relative’s home, and we were airborne by 10:30 a.m. Lieutenant Colonel Faisal was assisted by Major Rizwan in piloting the chopper, part of the ‘Fearless Five Squadron’ based at Skardu. We followed the Indus River as it winds its way past Hussainabad where my late mother had set up a centre for the health care of mothers and children. I tried to find it from the helicopter – it was located at the edge of the road leading towards Kargil, branching off towards Shigar once it crossed the Indus. I followed the Skardu-Kargil road, a snake winding along the Indus and dipping south with the bend in the river, the “Lion River”. We were soon to arrive at Youching where Brigadier Liaquat Mehmood looks after the deployment of his men to the posts along the LoC with India.

At Keris, the Shyok River flows into the Indus, a grand meeting of glacial waters rushing down from the barren slopes of the Karakoram. The road turns south towards Khaplu, and the helicopter flew over the hamlets of Ghawari, Kharfaq, Daghoni Balgar, Barah until we sighted Khaplu, a picturesque town nestled in the lap of the mountains, an oasis of stately poplars, their leaves turning gold with autumn’s first chill. Behind us was the town of Saling at the mouth of the Hushe River valley. If we continued north into that valley we would come to the Masherbrum peak, located in the Ghanche District of Gilgit Baltistan. At 7,821 metres it is the 22nd highest mountain in the world and the 9th highest in Pakistan. But we continued towards another range of these magnificent mountains, the Saltoro, following the Saltoro and Ghyari rivers, flying over the town of Farowa and the hamlets of Dunsam, Konith, Mandik, Palit and Haldi. Cautiously, the helicopter began to set itself down onto the helipad at Goma – the battalion deployed in that general area was an NLI regiment and its Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ghulam Ali was accompanying us in another chopper.

I looked out towards the base and wondered at the courage it takes to live in an area which appeared to have been hewn out of rock, literally. These men are here to fight a war, one which was waged on Pakistan and the one we could do without, and on the face of it, they seemed to be living in this wilderness as if it was the most natural thing to do.

Many of the men serving with the NLI regiment are from Gilgit-Baltistan, and would be familiar with living at altitudes unbearable for most of us living in the south. But even these hardy mountain men cannot endure for prolonged periods of time the harsh temperatures at the further posts towards which we were headed.

For survival here, not mere equipment is necessary, but essentially the courage, motivation and hard professional training of Pakistan Army. “Our soldiers are trained to live and fight where the eagles fear to tread”. to be continued…

The writer studied Political Economy at McGill University, Montreal, Media Education at the University of London, Development Communication at the University of Southern California, and Cultural Heritage Management at the National College of Arts, Lahore. She teaches at apex institutions, writes columns for a leading daily, makes documentaries, and has published two best-selling novels.
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