We Will Defend it
(An Interview with family of Leiutenant Colonel Tahir Iqbal Shaheed)
I went there overwhelmed and immersed in a deep sense of loss and came back with a renewed hope and resolve to serve my country. This is the concluding impression once I am writing these lines about Lieutenant Colonel Tahir Iqbal Shaheed. It appeared as a great personal loss once I heard about his death but then thinking about Shahadat and the cause for which he laid his life brought me some soothe. Lieutenant Colonel Tahir Iqbal embraced Shahadat on 28th June 09 in North Waziristan Agency once his convoy was ambushed by terrorists near Gharlamai. Losing an old comrade is always painful and swallows us with deep sorrows. No doubt soldiers have a commitment to lay down their lives for the country but still we have a human soul and are made of flesh and bones. We have brass on our shoulders but just one foot below there is a heart which is willing to sacrifice every thing for the country but still can not shed away the intrinsic human feelings of love for family and friends. Soldiers knowingly and voluntarily enter into the Valley of Death but it never means that they forget the proud face of their father, warmth of mother's lap, care of brothers and sisters, love of dearest ones and chuckle of their kids. They keep all this in their hearts, never utter a word, often smile while advancing and embrace death like a darling. Has someone ever thought that no money or privilege can compensate for these great sacrifices. Of course, these are not the material gains but sheer love of the country that moves them forward under the greatest perils of death and disability. They are pride of the Nation.
I knew Lieutenant Colonel Tahir Iqbal Shaheed once we together served in Military Operations Directorate. I knew him as a man with great sense of commitment, interminable energy for consistent hard work and above all an amenable demeanour which he maintained during intense working hours of Military Operations Directorate. He was a friend and a brother. He was too willing to help out not only the colleagues but also our staff in solving their problems. He was a true humanist who always had a smile on his face and a big heart to accommodate. With these in my mind, I was moving to Islamabad to interview the family of this great departed friend. I was thinking more of their personal loss and less about other issues. And then I met those brave souls who changed my entire thinking patterns. A bereaved mother, a gloomy wife and dim children were in my imagination. This all was there but not in that magnitude that it could swallow the beaming pride, patriotic talk, unflinching resolve and above all a desire to keep serving the country with more gusto and dedication. This is the family of Lieutenant Colonel Tahir Iqbal Shaheed: Iffat Tahir, the wife; eight years old Abu Bakar and five years old Mohammad Hassan, the children and eighty years old Zubaida Khanum, the mother of this great son. They all are too proud of him and the cause for which he laid his life. They talked so passionately about him and Pakistan that our interview lasted for more than four hours.
Zubaida Khanum recalls her memories about her youngest son who took birth on 16th March 1969 in Gamtala Village, Narowal, District Sialkot. Being the youngest son, he was the most favourite and loved one for the complete family. Late Muhammad Rafique, father of Lieutenant Colonel Tahir Shaheed and his two elder sons Muhammad Zafar Iqbal and Javed Iqbal were all too keen to take care of him. Due to his loving manners, he still remained the favourite even after birth of his only sister, Bushra Farroq. Once Tahir Shaheed was in 6th class, his father succumbed to death and left the great burden of raising the family on shoulders of Zubaida Khanum. On 28th June 2009, history repeated itself and this time Abu Bakar and Hassan are only eight and five years old that their beloved father has departed them. Now Zubaida Khanum sees her daughter-in-Law Iffat Tahir performing the same Herculean task which she undertook with great courage and dedication. She still remembers with immense affection that how Tahir Shaheed used to search her in nearby houses, if she was not at home on his return from the school. He was a brilliant student who did his matriculation with distinction. Later the family shifted to Islamabad once Zafar Iqbal got a job there. Having few gently sloping down tears in her eyes, Zubaida Khanum remembers how her son was always concerned to take care of her happiness and health. Even on the night of 27th June 09, the night before his shahadat, Tahir talked to her on telephone and asked about her health. “It was a brief talk which was very unusual. He just asked about my health and requested to pray for his battalion” recalls the old mother. The way he said goodbye was aching for her but then thinking of his role as commanding officer of brave soldiers gave her some satisfaction. She knew that soon he will be with her as he had not availed vacations for last three months and he was also due for moving to Turkey on a special assignment. “I waited for him during entire month of June that he would come on leave but then I received his dead body covered in national flag. This is how God Almighty wanted and that is the way the great sons like Tahir depart. I am proud of him and pray that my son's sacrifice should bring peace to my country. I pray for Pakistan Army to succeed in every field. We owe everything to this land and if we have to sacrifice more sons like Tahir for keeping the Flag high, we must not hesitate for a moment”, adds the valiant mother. Who can surmount this Himalayan Spirit?
“Though he was a complete family man, yet during the month of June 09, whenever I enquired about coming to home on vacations, he would always reply that he might not come as few of his soldiers had yet to avail the leave. It was his habit to talk in details about family routine issues, but during last week before his shahadat, he was always brief in his telephone calls. He would just talk for one or two minutes, enquire about the well being of the family and then ask to pray for success of his Battalion i.e., a renowned Baloch Regiment. He was too busy in planning and executing the operational tasks assigned to his Battalion. We also did not bother him as he used to tell me, “Iffat it is my Battalion and my soldiers who come first in priority. I love you all but then Army is my love too. I had taken oath to serve my country and I would do every thing possible to serve my Army and the Country”. It was his habit to often utter the slogan “Pak Army-Zindabad”. Once he was posted to Waziristan, he said to one of his friends who had already served in Swat that instead of returning from front as a Ghazi like him, he would choose to return as a Shaheed. He has fulfilled his promise. We are also happy that he died while 'Boots On' and met a shaheed's death. We know that he sacrificed for a cause and this cause is dear to us all. And we will do all to keep this cause of patriotism and nationalism alive in our hearts and deeds”. This was beginning of our talk with this frail lady with an Iron Will; Iffat Tahir, wife of Tahir Iqbal Shaheed. She is a lady with a passionate and un-daunting spirit to keep serving the country. She braves her huge loss with a patient smile and then talks incessantly about the cause of bringing stability and peace to the country for which her husband sacrificed his life. While talking about their happy days, she remembers the day with a nostalgic reflection once they got married on 11th October 1996. He was always caring and affectionate. Soon after marriage, we were posted to Junior Leadership Academy, Shinkiari. Tahir worked diligently to train young leadership of Pakistan Army. Later we went to Quetta in 1999 once Tahir was undergoing his staff course. After completion of the course, he was posted as Brigade Major to the Brigade fighting the battle with Indians on one of the highest battlefields of the world i.e., Siachin Glacier. During our twelve years of marriage, I always found Tahir as a great humanist whose heart was full of empathy and humility. He was always willing to help others. He would not care about his comfort or position and participate in even minor activities of all his acquaintances. “He was a good son, brother, father and an affectionate husband”, adds Iffat Tahir with a revered tone. He was a Hero, a Leader of his soldiers; to be praised and to be followed. “He was always passionate while talking about his soldiers. They were very dear to him. He used to open the 'Unit Complaint Box' himself after finishing the routine work at night and then ensured solution of the problems”. As a caring father, “he was very much concerned about education of Abu Bakar and Hassan. He would buy them story books and then narrate them good moral stories. He was hopeful that one day they would also join the Army” adds a hopeful mother of her small sons. “I sometimes think that now who would take care of these kids who have lost their loving father? But then she also adds that Abu Bakar and Hassan are contented that their father is in Heaven and is among the God's chosen ones. They are sure that they will meet their father on the Day of Judgment”.
Then Iffat Tahir talks about the importance of the cause for which her husband offered his life. She says, “it is the responsibility of all the Mothers to train our future generations. We have a great task to perform. During this era of foreign media invasion and cultural onslaught, if we are unable to teach the true values of our religion and culture, tomorrow we would have to pay the price. We achieved this country after lots of sacrifices and now it is our responsibility to defend it at all cost”,she said in firm tone. Iffat Tahir further added, “I have taught Abu Bakar that after every prayer, must pray for Pakistan's progress, peace and stability. Pakistan is our identity and never forget to work for the betterment of this country”. Sometimes Abu Bakar asks me, “if Quaid-i-Azam was alive at this time, would Pakistan be the same as it is now? She has no sure answer but tells him about her firm resolve to work relentlessly for making this country according to the dreams of our beloved Quaid. This resolve, pledge and ambition has overshadowed the great loss the lady has suffered. And now serving the Motherland is her agenda like her patriotic husband.
I moved back to my office after completing the interview deeply engrossed in thoughts and emotions. These are the real heroes and national assets who have offered their share of sacrifice to the country but still volunteer to keep the national flag high at all cost. They are ready to again sacrifice for the country. No loss has wavered their faith and determination to serve the nation. If she and many more 'daughters of Pakistan' are willing to sacrifice, no power in the world can damage Pakistan. But now I am faced with the most serious unanswered question, “What is my share and where is our share in this whole struggle for stability of Pakistan?”.