The Unwelcome Returnees
By Brig® Mehboob Qadir
This may initiate a soul searching about one of the little known effects of 71 War but for the bone deaf and genetically dumb; the ones who have steadfastly refused to learn from their mistakes, are unwilling to identify the country’s arch enemy and too eager to hug those who wish to see this country succumb to the level of Dalit like abject servility. After, what Mr. Modi admitted in Dacca, Jinnah’s prescience and political foresight in demanding Pakistan looks like an act of divine providence. The searing signals coming from New Delhi are highly regressive, to say the least.
It may come to many as a surprise that the nation and, unfortunately the Army at that time, both showed hardly any desire to know what really happened in East Pakistan during the 71 War. That means there was a collective determination not to learn from our defeat.
On repatriation from Indian PoW camps we were taken to an Officers’ Mess in Lahore Cantt and given papers for recording our version of what passed over us .I got down earnestly to writing a detailed account, many sheets later someone from behind picked up those papers. I turned around to see and was pleasantly surprised to see my ex Battery commander (Maj Riaz) who hugged me passionately, took me aside and advised, ” I know what you are writing is the truth, but none here is prepared to listen to hard talk. This write up will not see the light of the day, but you will not be cleared for the rest of your career”. He tore up those papers and asked me to write just flat.
I am grateful to his timely advice, as many of those who wrote what they must were hounded for a long time, sidelined and finally either left in disgust or chucked out of the Army. I am quite unhappy with myself for having buckled in. He said,” your parents have already lost a son in war( My elder brother Major Anwaar Mohi ud Din was killed in Shakargarh Sector), if you are victimized, it could be too much for them. “I gave in and feel sorry till this day. It is easier to philosophize but difficult to face reality.
In the units and formations we were known as ‘returnees’ more as a measure of refusing to face bitter reality of defeat and surrender and less as politeness towards us. An otherwise decorated Division Commander in Silakot refused publicly to accept returnees in his formation. This was perhaps the unkindest cut of all but also arrogance unlimited. Fellow officers in the units kept a discreet distance from us and dubbed our enthusiasm to train hard and burn midnight’s oil for the outfits under our command as crazy. One could almost hear their derisive whispers. I was issued at least 35 warnings for poor discipline in the space of a year by a unit commander who considered traditional military way of doing things as threatening , and naturally went on to join civil service sponsored by a ruling politician. He rose to become a heavy weight federal secretary.
Meanwhile the service had already begun to become partial towards the returnees. Except for posting them near their home stations after repatriation hardly a serious attempt was made to make up their loss of years in captivity when pitched along with their course mates who had been in West Pakistan and did many professional courses and appointments in the meanwhile. There were very damaging gaps in our professional grooming and profiles, as a result of time spent in the Indian captivity. This shortfall told when we reached selection ranks and competed for prized appointments here and abroad. Many officers were seriously disillusioned once again. Despite this handicap those few who rose to senior ranks were either extraordinarily talented or very lucky. Lieutenant General® Imtiaz Warraich ,SJ ( then Lieutenant Colonel) was one such officer the rest were mostly wasted out.
Army’s culture as also that of our society was changing for worse, it appeared. Those with elastic ethics seemed to be getting better of the system. Hard working, matter of fact and conscientious officers were at a definite disadvantage, given unglamorous and tougher tasks to perform. Cheeky favorites were being projected in service circles, rewarded unduly and preferred over hard core officers.
It was during the delusional post 71 War period that Late Gen Zia’s deliberately adopted spurious religiousness, duplicity and other unmilitary practices became tools for promotions and cozy appointments for many, severely damaging our honorable military values. This despicable courtesan culture along with refusal to face consequences and lessons of the 71 War was to cost us dearly during the entire proceedings of the Kargil debacle. The then Commander FCNA was an outstanding specimen of the patronizing, falsifying and shadowy culture thus officially sponsored in the Army. Like 71 War no one is sorry for the awful military-diplomatic embarrassment caused to the country by undertaking hare brained Kargil misadventure. True to our pervasive moral squalor, most of those responsible were rewarded and promoted.
After 71War, our civil society also underwent shattering convulsions under the impact of horrible defeat and a Machiavellian political leadership in the country. There was an overwhelming sense of confrontation and irresponsibility in the air. For the first time one saw youngsters and older males alike wearing clothes with colors normally worn by women, like red, purple, crimson and orange; which meant a whole view of life had changed. There was a visible stand- off between students and teachers, parents and children, peasants and the landlords, labor and the factory owner, subordinate and the official, investor and the government and various other strata of life. Entire social structure was in the grip of a terrible commotion. That was evidence of the society falling apart and a spreading chaos in a country which was not able to rise to the reality of its break up as a result of aggression and intrigue.
On a private plane most married returnees suffered severe psychological stresses as PoWs when their domestic worries caught up with them. Some marriages broke up, the other tilted on dangerous angles and eventually collapsed on return. Children who grew up without their fathers during a crucial period in their lives drifted astray and became either school drop outs or criminalized. Some wives could not adjust to the brittle mental state of their returnee husbands and the household became a living hell for both. Over-focus on religion in adversity led many of us to excessive religiousness and eventual bigotry, making them social and service misfits on return. Nobody had educated the society that returnees needed time and understanding to adjust back to normal life. One is not sure but some suicides or grievous physical injuries might also have occurred. There was no institutionalized counseling available or thought of to prevent this unnecessary social friction among returnees and their immediate families.
It has taken a lot of time for the Army to recover from the twin menace of destructive self-deception after 71 War and the most unfortunate character corrosion set up immediately afterwards by late Gen Zia’s duplicitous practices. Gen Pervez Musharraf could be considered as the last of the Zulus produced by the Ziaist faking forge. By the time of his exit Army rank and file were passing through a kind of self-examination from failure at Kargil. A serious wave of retrospection was set up after Gen Musharraf’s departure and has been fairly well institutionalized by now. Much is still needed to be done and one is sure would be done. Battles are not won on the prayer mat or by mere bravado. Soldiering is not the province of the fake and the tinsel. The sooner we get rid of them the better it would be for the Army and the country.