By Brig (Retd) Waheed Uz Zaman Tariq
My last day in the military uniform, was as the head of department of virology at AFIP Rawalpindi with my team of officers. I was commissioned in Pakistan Land Force (Army) on 21st of June, 1980 and retired as brigadier on 17 March, 2009. The process of my retirement was initiated at my own request, as I personally felt that I have given sufficient part of life for the nation and then it was my privilege to go and settle in civilian life. Army has its own system of promotions and progress in the career. I respect the system but all such systems are manmade. In army if one is not promoted, one may opt for a dignified exit to step out with dignity and integrity. I felt pride to opt this choice. Retirement is, indeed, not the end of the story. In our army careers, we mostly think of making sacrifices and serve with selflessness and devotion. We are contented and satisfied with what we get and are told to live within our means. Debt is considered as a negative personal characteristic and we avoid extravagance. If one overspends, the commandant takes a serious notice of it. Outside the army, if we join a materialistic capitalist world, we face people have altogether different values and feelings.
Beginning of Military Life
I still remember, a hot day of 31st of May, 1980, when Punjab University had announced our MBBS result. We have finally qualified as medical doctors and we wanted to make a search for job. A certificate was needed from the college. I was told by our college clerk Mr. Hameed, that I to receive a certificate, I had to clear all my outstanding dues and arrange a clearance from almost twenty different offices; one of them being Employment exchange office of my own district. I rushed to Gujranwala and reported to that office, near the Town railway station. I was asked to wait for quite some time and after a couple of hours or so, I was handed over a railway ticket and a letter to report to Army interview in Combined Military Hospital (CMH) Lahore on 11th of June, 1980. Failing to that, I was liable to be fined heavily and may be imprisoned for a term of maximum of seven years. Now I was under strict army rules and regulations and free style student life was left behind as a sweet memory. The conscription was imposed on the fresh graduates in medicine, after 1971, when Bengali doctors had left Pakistan Army for Bangladesh, as they opted to remain no more Pakistanis. By then, the doctor from the West Pakistan generally avoided joining army. Most of our college graduates ended up in the United States of America. Others wanted easy money and could not wait for that. Even after the conscription law was enacted, most of our colleagues could make their way out to greener pastures. Therefore, joining army was then considered to be a sacrifice by the doctors.
I reported for interview to CMH, Lahore on 11th of June, 1980. We were lined up by a Havildar and our nominal role was read. One after another, we had our blood and urine tests done and then underwent a thorough medical examination and had to fill many forms. The interview was conducted by Lt Gen Faheem Ahmad Khan, the Surgeon General and Maj Gen Bokhari, the MS and the Adjutant General. That was my first experience to see such high ranking generals of Pakistan Army. Their well ironed uniform, badges of rank and glamour was enough to galvanize or even mesmerize me. I was asked where I will like to go for initial attachment. I replied anywhere in Pakistan. That sentence was appreciated and after an hour or so, I was told I had been commissioned as Captain in Pakistan Army and I was asked to report to CMH Gujranwala on 21st of June, 1980. It happened so quickly that I could hardly compose myself. It was a temporary commission for a couple of years; a year in hard area and another in some peace station.
On 21st of June, 1980, I reported with another classmate of mine Capt Khalid Aziz. The Commanding Officer (CO), Lt Col Yaqub was on leave and the acting CO was Col Zahir ud Din, a legendary personality and a great physician. We were given a sum of Rs 2200/- for preparing our kit (uniform, shoes, badges and other articles) and asked to see the tailor master and other relevant contractors. We were allotted a set of two rooms each at the Artillery Mess and a batman Sepoy Akhtar was provided. I had cards for local club, garrison cinema and other facilities. Were briefed about army life, instructed about manners and customs of service and given some booklets of army rules and regulation to read. We were acclimatized to army life. Army life inculcated in us dignity, self respect and confidence. I felt the life more disciplined, organized and meaningful. That was the first time that I started loving the service. To me it was not a job but a lifestyle and culture, which is never understood outside the mess and barrack. You enjoy your dinners and lunches in the mess, where you discuss about the current affairs, international happening and military service. Without ever being conscious, you learn from your seniors about the mannerism and conduct. You start learning about the selection of words and phrasing of sentences. Your dress, outlook and appearance are all monitored and undergo improvement, with the passage of time. My salary as a Captain was Rs. 2020/- and after cuttings for income tax and other funds, I received Rs. 1920/-. It was more than other brother officers of other arms, as the medical officers were entitled to non practicing allowance. I feel it was sufficient to run a household.
Personal Life and Marriage
Army is a family and we care for each other. This inculcates respect for families and we enjoy social life. Young unmarried officers were not encouraged to mix with the families. However, at dinners, tombola nights (once in a week in the services club) and cinemas, the officers are visible and people start knowing who and who is around. That was the time, when the people around me suggested some matches for me. I was too shy and simple. I told to my father all about that and he realized that it was perhaps the right time for my marriage. Few proposals were discussed and as it was the matter of hot debate, I received a letter from Dr Irfani, my great teacher, from Sialkot. He wrote me that there is a girl, who according to him was the most suitable match for me and if I was interested I should send my parents to him for the further proceedings. A couple of exchange visits made the matter materialized. Late Dr Irfani’s wife was granddaughter of elder brother of Allama Iqbal and his barat was the last to be received in Iqbal Manzil by Allama Iqbal. Now the girl he proposed was granddaughter of his (Irfani’s) sister. I was allowed to see her on a dinner from a distance and there was no way to talk. I liked her from a single glance. I took it as a continuity of the great tradition, as in our days we felt comfortable in doing what our elders liked for us and it was usually successful. We had been married by the proposals made by our teachers, who were taken as our spiritual fathers. My Nikah sermon was recited by my maternal grandfather Hafiz Mohamamd Gondalawi, in a simple ceremony at Sialkot, on 5th of November, 1980. Amra Mustafa became Mrs. Amra Waheed and she remains a living spirit throughout my life.
Hardships in Army Life
My attachment with the CMH was over and I had to join Army Medical Center for my basic military training for six weeks. Immediately, after my Nikah, I left for Abottabad. I was slightly late and all rooms of the mess were occupied and I was asked to move No. 15 Bungalow, across the road. It was a huge old big villa of colonial days and was named as Bhut (ghost) Bungalow. I myself, Capt Khalid Aziz, Capt Amin and Captain Azam were asked to live there and ultimately, they all left except me. It was winter and there was no natural gas supply in the town. People used coal to warm the houses. There were no geysers and a bucket of hot water could be provided for taking a bath in the morning. It was too cold there and when we returned from mess at the midnight, we had to pass through shrubs and bushes, which were often covered by snow. Sometimes dogs barked at us and we had to keep our bravery and confidence to the utmost.
The days were long and we had to undergo exercises, drills, lectures, demonstration and instructions about army life, accounts, administration and morale and special matters pertaining to medical corps. We had to go to long marches for miles and miles, while carrying dummy guns and expedition to the hills, ravines and rivers. We had to learn grenade throwing and use of ammunition and guns. In the evenings, we had to go for basket ball and other sports. Abottabad had an extremely cold weather but a great landscape and scenic view. Pine trees lined across the roads and Shimla hill was covered with such trees, which dominated the view. We had to remain under the sun for heat. My complexion was darkened under the sunshine and as my marriage was to be held on 25th of December, 1980, I was really concerned about my ever darkening of the facial skin. On the other hand, fair complexioned local people became reddish and fresh looking in this weather. Discipline and activity was our life. Physical activity was making us lighter and we lost weight. We had good meals and the dinner was served at 9 p.m. Then we stayed in the mess but we felt hungry after another two hours. Silently, we went out to take another dinner with Naan and chapali kebabs. Then I went to telephone office, where a paid facility for trunk (outstation) phone call was available. I tried to call my fiancé (who was legally my wife) but my in-laws listened to me and avoided to call her for a chat. There were no mobile phones and no electronic means of communications. Letters were forbidden but Dr Irfani could pass my letter to Amra but she did not reply. Then at midnight, we returned to our residence.
One morning, Capt Amin was sitting on a bench of the AMC center, surrounded by a group of officers. He narrated stories of seeing ghosts in the bungalow. Al listened to him and enjoyed the tales. When they asked me to confirm, I told them that nothing such thing has been witnessed by me. He shouted and uttered that he recited Divan e Hafiz and other Farsi poetic books, the whole night and the ghosts would never go near him. The people said that there was a British couple living in the bungalow during the late nineteenth century. One night the colonel died mysteriously there and his widow to married to British lieutenant. In those no non British person was commissioned in the army. The couple lived for quite some time and both were found dead one night. Their ghosts become active during the night and nobody could live there. In the servant quarters, many families lived for decades and they declined to confirm such tales and they told me that their children were born there and grown up, without experiencing any problem. Net night, Captain Amin tried to frighten me but he failed to do so. I remained in the bungalow till the end but all other officer left the place. It had broken pans and wind came in during the nights while snow fell outside. In the quiet dark nights, we had many sounds around but we lived with them. The training ended on 15th of December, 1980 and we are qualified and given ten days joining time and posting order. I was posted as regimental medical Officer of Fourth Battalion of the Frontier Force Regiment, which still retained the old colonial legacy of Bawanja (52) Sikh Regiment, hidden in the memories and slogans. Everyone congratulated me for joining such a legendary unit of Pakistan Army.
Return To My Village
I went to my village happily for joining days and prepared for my marriage on 25th of December, 1980. Those were simple days and people had little money but contented. I was married and on 27th of December, 1980, which was very next day of my Walima, I left for my unit and could remain with my newlywed wife for only one day. I did not know, how to ask for leave, when I was in joining days and I have read that if you ask for a leave, immediately after joining a new unit , you lose your prestige and reputation. I acted as a dedicated soldier and moved to the mountains of Kashmir.
This is all we have from Brig (Retd) Waheed Uz Zaman Tariq. Lets wait for more from him and its an honor for me to publish this story on his behalf. All credits go to him for writing this story.