Published in Dawn Newspaper and Chowk.com on August 7th 2009
Prof. Ayaz Ahmad Khan recounts the horrors of his son’s death Capt. Jonaid Khan: Special Services Group in the Pakistan army was born in Quetta in 1983, with his primary education in Ankara, where his father Prof. Ayaz Ahmad Khan was stationed on deputation in the Pakistan Mission, Ankara. He was abducted by Taliban on April 19, 2009 and said to be martyred on May 10th 2009.
I met Prof. Ayaz Ahmad Khan at Saint Mary’s College in Rawalpindi. He was sitting in a modest office, inquiring about costs he had to approve for the college which is run for those students who fall through the cracks. This was 100km from where his son, Capt. Jonaid Khan, died 2 months ago, in Swat.
His kind green eyes seemed like he was accustomed to the often misplaced bravado and valorous praise that visitors greet him with since his son was killed in combat fighting with Taliban. Misplaced, because, Capt. Jonaid died in extraordinary circumstances that require not the commemorative tone of a shaheed cleared for the pearly gates of heaven, but with simple silence, shock and disgust at the barbarity that he faced in his last hours. It is incredibly impossible to maintain confidence when you are meeting a man who lost his son at the hands of the Taliban, whose son was, according to the Pakistan Army, was beheaded.
I could have said something: “I came to pay my condolences. I am sorry for your terrible loss.” But I couldn’t and instead we began chatting about Turkey, where he was posted for years. He talked about how Pakistanis were considered blood relatives of the Turks, and how the major difference between Turkey and Pakistan was that Turkey was never colonized and how people in Ankara with whom he worked with tried to convince him to stay in Turkey. There was a deep sadness in his anecdotes, like there is a dam of emotions held back with concrete and fierce pride. Prof. Ayaz was a proud Pakistani Pashtoon, a Yousef-Zai Pashtoon and it was not hard to imagine the dignity with which he was fighting this battle between pain and sanity.
Eventually he said, “I should have stayed back, maybe then, I could have saved my son.” He smiled sadly as he said that.
Only in times of great trauma does one realize that life is short, and the meaning comes from the relationships we hold, between parent and child, and most importantly between nations and citizens.
Although we can interpret the brutal beheading of an SSG Commando and a number of others by Taliban, as an act of war, and within the rules of war, it was a vengeful strike back by the enemy on an army that once fed it and nurtured it with American aid. A more introspective analysis may perhaps reveal that the nation has failed to protect its most loyal citizen — a commando.
The failure is not abstract – Any country’s armed forced are designed to send their best and bravest in harm’s way – but failure in the sense that on one hand the country is protecting its dynastic political kings at the top in the name of democracy, and on the other hand barbaric thugs equipped with medieval ruthlessness from Arab and Central Asian war techniques hound Pakistan’s northern borders like they own those lands. Under a new cyber law, it is criminal to send any derogatory messages against President, Asif Ali Zardari electronically, leading up to 16 years in prison. The survailance needed to put this law into action is astounding, proving that it is far more imortant for the current adminstration to protect a public figure’s already tainted reputation than it is to locate an abducted Army officer fighting for his country.
If a nation is only as strong as its army and any constitution’s basis is undoubtedly on a strong and equipped army then the question arises: Is the government effectively focusing on winning this war in Swat with minimal loss of men?
On April 19, 2009, Capt. Jonaid along with 3 others was on a surveillance mission in Swat, when the Taliban, led by Maulana Fazlullah, abducted them in the cagey mountains, to use as bargaining chip against key Taliban Mujahidin that the Pakistan Army had taken as prisoners.
What is strange is that Prof. Ayaz continued to receive phone calls from his son after his abduction.
“I was concerned about Jonaid when I didn’t hear from him, and contacted his officers who assured me he was safe and in a location in the Swat Mountains that didn’t have communication signals, but when I heard from Jonaid a few days later, I had no reason to be alarmed.”
Partly to protect his mission and partly to be positive with his family, Capt. Jonaid spent hours talking to his mother about his upcoming wedding and the arrangements needed. These calls continued for a few more days until they stopped. Soon after the Pakistan Army contacted Prof. Ayaz and told him that they suspect Capt. Jonaid was abducted by the Taliban, and that they are hopeful that they’ll learn his whereabouts soon.
Upset at being left in the dark for so long after the army knew, Prof. Ayaz probed on his own as well as provided helpful details to the Pakistan Army. When he called back from the various numbers Capt. Jonaid used, and few days later after the abduction, a Taliban called and asked to talk with Jonaid’s father about his son who has been with them.
“What he said after that was so insulting that I broke down. It was terrible; he insulted me, and the Pakistan Army. He cursed at me for sending my son to fight Muslims and finally demanded an explanation from me about why my son doesn’t know how to speak good Pushto…I told him, son, I don’t know, I never really saw the need, we knew the languages we required to communicate,” narrated Prof. Ayaz in a calm, descriptive voice.
The Taliban asked: “What kind of father are you? You don’t even know what your son is doing here?”
“I could answer that, but you won’t like my answer, and you have my son at your mercy, how can you expect me to honestly respond?” Prof. Ayaz said.
At the Taliban’s insistence, Prof. Ayaz asked him a question in response to his: “Do your parents know what you’re doing right now, son, do they know you are kidnapping and beheading and killing fellow Muslims?”
Not hardened to the extent that Prof. Ayaz expected, the Taliban Mujahidin was speechless for a few seconds and then engaged in softened conversation, referring to him as “Uncle,” and at the end asked what can he do for him. Prof. Ayaz asked to release the persons they have abducted. The Taliban said he can’t do that. However, he did promise to protect Capt. Jonaid as long as he lived.
Prof. Ayaz may be a victim of the psychology of all parents who lose their sons without identifying them after death. He may be reacting to the grief by denying that Jonaid is dead, because he has not seen the coffin of his son and is still in a state of illusion.
I thought of this as I observed Prof. Ayaz tell me this tragic series of events. He looked out the window and drew a breath of conviction and said, “I am still looking.”
I thanked him for his time, and his story. What else could I say?
If Capt. Jonaid and his team were bait for Maulana Fazlullah, the Taliban faction leader, linked with Al Qaida is still alive and well, according to the national press. Maulana Fazlullah has enjoyed many other privileges too: He is more commonly known as the FM Mullah, for his ability to run and preach anarchy against Pakistan over the country’s own air waves without any restrictions from the government. This went on indefinitely, as long as he recruited enough men to stage this insurgency in Swat. He is also the son-in-law of Sufi Muhammad, the group’s leader. The government officially had a pact with Sufi Muhammad early in the year so he could officially establish an Islamic state in Swat, in return for clumsy peace.
On July 27, 2009, the Urdu Jang reported said that Sufi Muhammad was taken into custody at Sethi Town, Peshawar on Sunday July 26 instant and will be prosecuted for the abduction of 3 (not 4) Pakistan Army officers. NWFP Information Minister Main Iftikhar Hussain confirmed the TNSM chief’s arrest and has said the group, Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) and its past conduct will be “investigated.” Sufi Muhammad’s arrest is not as relevant and the militant’s high command is still said to be intact.
Despite the much lauded operation in Swat where the Pakistan Army achieved with creativity and nerve what even other armies better equipped could not, there should still be an accountability of how far we are from ending this war which was started in the name of a US-Backed Central Asian oil pipeline. Are we headed towards a war strategy that is sustainable, or one that has unmanageable reactionary elements as its side effects, punishing the very people who are its most idealistic fighters and who believe in Pakistan?
The games go on, and yet many fathers won’t stop waiting for their sons to return home this Eid. Prof. Ayaz reminded me of Rudyard Kipling’s, poem, My Boy Jack, after his own son went missing in the Battle of Loos, during World War I.
My Boy Jack (1915)
by Rudyard Kipling
“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.
“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.
“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.
Then hold your head up all the more,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!