Thursday, July 16, 2009

An American and A Pakistani

An American and A Pakistani

By Adnan Gill

Way back when; circumstances crossed paths of an American and a Pakistani. While the American didn’t think much of it; the Pakistani couldn’t forget the chance encounter. The Pakistani would spend next four decades looking for the American. Finally, his perseverance paid off. With the help of an American General, the Pakistani tracked down the American in California; the very same American who saved his life 38 years ago.

Believe it or not, there was a time when Americans and Pakistanis were actually allies in letter and spirit. It was the time when Gitmo and suicide-bombers were not part of lexicon. It was the time when Cold War was at its height. The stage was Calcutta and the year was 1971. That’s when a young US Marine Sergeant saved the life of a young Pakistan Army Captain on the run for his life. He just escaped from an undeclared Indian Prisoner of War (PW)/concentration camp. It turns out, the Capt. was the first ever Prisoner of War (POW) to have escaped from the Indian PW camp at Panagarh, about 100 km west of Calcutta. It turns out that he was the first ever PoW to have escaped from Indian PW camp. If it wasn’t because of the Marine, the hunted Pakistani would have been shot at sight.

Back in 1969, an acquaintance invited the Captain to stop by when he would be in Calcutta. Somehow, the young man never forgot the address. Upon escape, he knew he would be saved only if he could reach her home; only to discover the address to be of a tailor shop.

There was no time to dwell over the artifice. Deeply disappointed but not incorrigible, the young man immediately sprung to his backup plan. In a sea of Indians, he navigates his way to the American Consulate General. The consulate was only stone throw away. But it’s as if the lady luck was bent on making an ugly example out of the escapee. Anything that could have gone wrong, did. The hunted man had to quietly pass by the Consulate, because all the access points to it were blocked by the police.

The young Captain hadn’t escaped the concentration camp to give-up. In a secluded corner of a park he contemplates his next move. Dusk was approaching fast; which meant, curfew time. Something had to be done fast. Somehow, the Pakistani manages to call the American consulate. A young American Marine Sgt. answers the phone. Tells the Pakistani to stay put, as he makes his way to rescue him.

With no time to spare, the duo decided to run the gauntlet armed with confidence only. By now, the lady luck had enough too. Alas, she breaks a smile. Both men walk through the police checkpoints as if another ordinary local. The gamble paid off; both entered the Consulate safely. Even though, it looked like the worst was over, the Pakistani isn’t out of woods yet. He still had some way to go before he reached safety in Pakistan. To cut a long story short, loaded with courage and ingenuity, and with the help of Americans, the Pakistani beats all odds stacked against him.

The escapee couldn’t wait to debrief the mountain of information he brought with him. He thought the information on enemy’s strength and tactics would be a gold mine for the Pakistani intelligence. Regrettably, that’s all it was, a thought.

Since his father was a Punjabi and mother Bengali, the young Captain received a welcome party, Pakistani style. There were no parades and no pictures in the newspapers of the first ever escapee from Indian concentration camp. Instead, he was greeted with deep suspicion and charge-sheeted for ‘overstaying leave’! A far cry from the risks Americans in general and Marine Sergeant in specific took to save the life of an ally. Though later on in December 1971, his commanding officer field-promoted the Pakistani Captain for his valor to the rank of Major and re-named Delta Company 44 Punjab (now 4 Sindh) to “Sehgal Company”.

No, it's not fiction. As thrilling it may sound, the story is true. The name of the young Pakistan Army Captain is Ikram Sehgal, and the name of the American Marine Sergeant is Frank Adair.

An accomplished helicopter pilot and a war veteran, Maj. Sehgal went on to become a Publisher of the Defence Journal, and a successful businessman whose business empire would employ 17,500 Pakistanis in 132 cities/towns.

For his part, after serving his country with honors, Sgt. Frank Adair joined the Los Angeles Police Department. Later he retired from the LAPD as a detective.

Ikram would spend next 38 years looking for Frank. Yet one more time, the Marines would help out the Pakistani. Courtesy of good offices of Lt Gen John Allen (Deputy Commander US Central Command), Ikram would get the contact information of Frank.

This is where I come in the story. Mr. Sehgal, barely able to contain his excitement, asked me (a Los Angelonion) if I could talk to Mr. Adair for him? How could have I passed an opportunity to meet a person whom my mentor owes a lot of gratitude?

After few phone calls and emails later Frank and I met at a restaurant for lunch. When I asked if he got in trouble for helping Ikram; Frank responded, how could I have not helped a fellow soldier? Time flew as Frank shared his experiences. There was too much to share in a single meeting. We parted with a promise to meet again soon.

I believe, out of Ikram, Frank and I, I am the lucky one who enjoys the trust of heroes in their own right. And best of all, I walked away with a true story of luck, valor, courage and Marine memorabilia. Special thanks to the American and the Pakistani; Sgt. Adair and Capt. Sehgal.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

ANP’s Rhetoric

ANP’s Rhetoric

By Adnan Gill

A brigade of ANP ministers circling TV talk shows circuits, never miss an opportunity to pin the blame for the current national crisis -- unfolding in the NWFP -- on the Pakistani support of Mujahideen during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

For a moment, let’s overlook ANP’s usual rhetoric of racial victimization, its historical opposition to the creation of Pakistan and its socialist lineage, and focus on bud of its criticism; i.e. Pushtoon are paying through their blood for the Punjab hatched conspiracy of supporting the Americans against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Their rhetoric begs the question: what makes them think, Soviets didn’t had their eyes set on occupying Pakistan next?

Anyone cognizant of ANP’s habit of playing on both sides of fence (like the JUI-F) knows, had Soviets occupied Pakistan, ANP would have cried Bloody Mary over the spillage of Pushtoon blood, followed by signing a peace treaty with the Soviets; only to renounce it after a severe criticism. Then it would have blamed Ayub Khan’s government for the Soviet occupation, because Pakistan fought a war with India.

Ironically, both ANP and JUI-F who could have disrupted the Talibanization during its infancy, looked the other way and pretended everything was hunky-dory. Instead of dealing with the festering menace, both chose to concentrate on grabbing federal ministries and wasted their energies on inconsequential issues like renaming NWFP to Pushtoonkhawa. During their spare time or when Zardari asked, both bashed Punjabis. Of course, until the MQM and Sindhi Nationalists showed their true colors, Punjabis remained their punching bag.

Whether deliberately or otherwise both miserably failed to show the responsibility and leadership expected from them. Even when the monsters were knocking at their door they kept their heads buried in sand, or at best, chased federal ministries. When water ran over their heads, they ran pillar to post blaming any and everyone but themselves for their incompetence. For his part Musharraf with all of power and global support dealt with the Taliban with kids gloves.

Back to ANP’s current scapegoat; i.e. Zia-era support of Mujahideen against the angelic Soviets. Frankly, their rhetoric is plain and simple nonsense. The mistake wasn’t made when Pakistan joined CIA’s war; mistakes were made when every stakeholder disowned the Mujahideen immediately after the Soviets were defeated. Americans didn’t bother to say even goodbye, Saudis saw an opportunity to raise an unaccounted Sunni militia, Arab nations released their Jihadis into Afghan wilderness; and the Pakistanis occupied themselves with pulling legs of successive elected governments.

Instead of helping Afghanistan get back on its feet, whole world moved on to its business. Nobody bothered to rehabilitate the idly sitting army of Muslim fighters who were trained to fight guerilla warfare and nothing else. Not a single dime of financial aid was spent on social recovery projects, like building roads, hospitals or schools. Arab nations turned Afghanistan into a massive dumping ground for the banished, sort of Guantanamo prison on steroids. For example, Osama bin Laden was banished by the Saudis and Ayman al-Zawahiri was dumped in Afghanistan by the Egyptians. With no hope of returning to their native countries, the religiously charged extremists collaborated with the cash strapped locals to form their own style of government.

The dye was cast for the global terrorism. During the lost decade of 90s when Americans were basking in their sole superpower status and Pakistanis were experimenting with democracy, the forgotten religious zealists were looking for new enemies to fight. After beating the Northern-Alliance – raised and nurtured by the Indians, Iranians and Russians – the Taliban set their sights outwards to set the world straight according to their perverted vision. And rest is history.

No matter how hard we imagine: a problem sticks around till we fix it in reality too. The menace of Taliban is a manifestation of collective abandonment of people we used to fight our battles. Let the lesson be learned, never leave the battle ground without cleaning and restoring it first; or its ghosts will haunt, till the end of time. Why the architects of most productive Marshal Plan left the Afghans high and dry to fend for themselves is a trillion dollars question?

However, there is no sense in bickering over who should be blamed for the mess we created in Afghanistan. The responsibility to clean the mess falls upon whole civilized world. Sadly, there are no quick fixes to the problem. If today, we neutralize the Taliban leadership in concert with building roads, bridges, factories, electric power stations, hospitals, police stations, courts, city halls, airports, and most importantly, schools and universities, then hopefully 20 years latter, we could see the initial crop of civilized society in Afghanistan and Pakistani tribal belt.

If shifting blame could rescue the lost generation then there is no better party at the helm than the ANP. If it truly cares for the wellbeing of Pushtoon, then instead of hugging to the ministries tight and blaming whole world for their failures, it should start by bringing its leaders back to their constituencies. Then it should threaten to leave the Zardari coalition, unless the federal government guarantees unrestricted movement of the refugees throughout the Pakistan, including Karachi. Only opportunists take refuge behind racially loaded rhetoric.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Zardari Remembering Benazir Bhutto

Zardari Remembering Benazir Bhutto

By Adnan Gill

Recently, Asif Zardari wrote an Op-Ed piece, Remembering Shaheed Benazir. Following are a few of my observations and comments.

Mr. Zardari, when are you going to stop riding on Benazir Bhutto’s coattails? When are you are going to become a leader in your own right? So far, the only legacy you could leave is of a long list of broken promises and over half of your time in presidency spent abroad in luxury hotels.

If you have initiatives (like Iran-Pakistan- India gas pipeline or Pakistan-India relations) to sell to the nation then please stand next to a portrait of Pakistan ’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah; relate it to his vision, and not next to BB’s portrait and her philosophies. As much you or your party would wish to follow in BB’s footsteps, the only footsteps that should matter to the whole nation should be of its founding fathers, like Mr. Jinnah and Alama Iqbal.

You exhausted BB’s political capital the day you produced a handwritten note to became the co-chair of PPP. If you genuinely want to serve the nation, then please start with spending more time in Pakistan , honor promises you made, and stop posing for photos with habitual Pakistan bashers like Hamid Karzai.

Mr. Zardari, it’s high time you realize BB’s legacy can get you only so far. Please start building your own.