Subject: Memoirs of captivity.
From PAF Sargodha to PAF Risalpur &….
Syed Mohd. Saleh Uddin
PAF authority was in problem. They failed to take decision what to do or what not to with us. By this time rumours were spreading branches. We were visiting mess and taking foods as usual. Sometimes Warrant officer Huq who was most probably the only Bengali speaking Warrant officer of the PAF base Sargodha of that time used to be present in the mess to supervise our dinner. For airmen a Warrant officer is a big rank. He visited the dining airmen, asked about food and other welfare. So, we were very happy with him. Sometimes to comfort us he used to ask us about our family at home.
Depending on various report PAF authority felt ‘an idle brain is devil’s karkhana’. So they decided to keep us busy. Parade again was imposed. CTTB became very active. They sent us to class room to do familiarization course of Miraze-3, F-6 etc one after the other either the individual did the course or not! In tea break we used to take seat under a thorny Babla tree. As a matter of fact the PAF base was created Babla jungle where aircrafts were kept hidden in their shelters. The jungle was so dense that wild boar, porcupine, fox, monitor etc were living there. It was full of various types of birds. Dove, Robin, birds of Magpie etc species was always busy with their natural instincts. Sometimes airmen lived with family nearby and had an airgun attacked that heaven of birds. Their main prey was doves. Peace time nostalgia took me back. In the very morning I had get up and used to report the hanger crossing jungle way to take out Helicopter. Mini truck was waiting. We took out the Kaman H 43-B Helicopter and towed to the flight line. Then other airmen came to inspect that. In the due time the copter took off. It flew in the sky. Once chopper’s flying hour ended. In the evening in my turn I towed the craft back to the hanger. After dusk I followed short cut jungle way where many boars seen busy. Half eaten big birds by jungle cat were also seen under the tree.
The PAF authority became tired about us. They thought of running other fatigue jobs instead of courses. Same fatigue jobs we had to do again and again. As for example we were given tasks of making frames by certain types of sheets etc. By this time Intermediate exams were over and under escort we were permitted to appear the exam. I cannot remember the month. But the rumour of transfer from the base was more powerful. Once we saw a group of Bengali airmen leaving the base by military transport. They were the first party who left the PAF base Sargodha. I am still confused where that advanced party has gone and their numbers. Some said they left for Quetta.
Our turn also came. Once we were ordered to enter military transport bag and baggage. In normal time such is the routine movements for soldiers, sometimes for posting, sometimes for exercise and other duties etc. But our case was different. We were going to leave the PAF base Sargodha forever. Pakistan Government took Pathan area is more suitable than Punjabi area for Bengali. Its main cause might be during liberation war in the war field Punjabi causality was more. So, in future any minor political instigation might cause problems in Punjabi inhabited area for Bengali. However, we took train from Sargodha rail station. Our destination was PAF base Risalpur. It was in the North West Frontier province of Pakistan. PAF academy was in Risalpur where PAF and other Middle Eastern and African countries air force pilots were trained.
We were in full PAF uniform. In the way we had special types of experience. The train stopped at the due stations. People thought we were going to the war field. So, Pakistani hospitality among the waiting people in the stations arose. They purchased Malta, Orange, Biscuits etc and passed inside the train by the windows. It was their token of honour to their soldiers. However, we had to change our train. I forgot the name of the station. We got down there. It was a junction. We got Electric train that carried us to Nowshera station. For us an air force caravan was ready. At about dusk we entered the airmen mess of PAF Risalpur. As it was an operational base next day again we were allotted odd jobs. Some of us were taken to Bomb bay where big live bombs were kept. It was away from tarmac, barracks, family residential area and even runway. There our jobs were mainly fatigue type. It means no job. Someone was old in that base who collected wild desert melons from that sandy land. Test of most of them were bitter but few were test less.
After returning from duty we had no job. Again there were no PT and Parade. There Tabligue Zamaat was very active. Once Flt. Lt Kamal a Bengali Navigator was in a Zamaat. Later I have worked in the same Antonov-26 aircraft with him in Bangladesh where he did his Navigational duty and I did my maintenance duty. He went retirement from BAF as a group Captain. His brother Air vice Marshall Zamaluddin once was Air force chief (he was my last OC in BAF in no-3 Squadron in 1976 where I also served under Flt Lt. Rafique who became Air chief later). Once he was also in the PAF base Risalpur. Both of them were known to be devoted member of Tabligue Zamaat. However let us go back to Risalpur. Again there was rumour that we are leaving Risalpur very soon.
By approximately one month or more in one morning we got military caravan again from the airmen mess of PAF Risalpur. We were informed that we are going to Bannu cantonment. Our caravan moved and reached the main road and turned right towards Nowshera. At the opposite, road to Kalat, Swat etc tribal areas, from where Pakistan – China friendship road could be reached in the Karakorum. From Mari also that road had access. However from Nowshera our Caravan headed towards Peshawar then to Kohat. During my training life in PAF Kohat I travelled by this road. I along with other trainees went to Torkhum crossing Khyber Pass. Communicated Salam with Afghan guards and did hand shake who were at the opposite side of Durand lines. However, our caravan was moving towards Kohat. We crossed PAF Peshawar and Badaber. Once it was an American Airbase. Then our caravan crossed the Mohallah Balo Kheil Pyan a village near the road. It was the Mohalla of my one of the GCI Sgt, Azim Khan in PAF, Kohat. Once during end of training I along with Shfique visited his house. There we got pure Pathan hospitality. After sunset he has given a local people who with a big three knot three rifle accompanied us to show the area. He took us to the Ganna field where Gur(sugar) war making from the Ganna (sugarcane) juice. We were presented Gur and sugarcane.
Our Caravan advanced forward. In both sides of the road there was long barren land. There were graveyards after regular intervals which remind passerby: this is your eternal house. This is the door of your next world. So take preparation to come here before your death. Do good Amal. Hoshiar- Sabdhan (be careful).Then our caravan entered Dara Adam khel. It was a big tribal market. Various types of Arms and ammunitions were at open sell. The caravan climbed the mountainous pass, the market then was in far back. The pass was not as big as the Khyber Pass but its importance was not less for road communication from Islamabad to Peshawar. Our military caravan was climbing the zigzag mountainous road slow and steady. Military transports take extra care to cross such road in the peace time. In due time the pass was behind our caravan and the mountain was going back. Then crossing of Zindapeer came. Once in a holyday in my training period I visited the Zindapeer a mazar (grave) of a great tribal fighter. This fighter was a tribal leader and a religious sofi (mystic) too. So, to show him respect and do ziarat (visit) in his mazar people come from far and near. Many of his followers fought against colonial soldiers and died bravely. It is said a cave in a mountain nearby was his head quarters. In my time the opening of that cave was closed by a big door. Then I saw around the mazar there were orange garden.
The caravan was moving towards Kohat. It crossed our grenade charging range in the left where we had to come for learning grenade charging practically. On due date tribal people were hiding around and after charging was over they ran to collect sprinters what were gone to Dara by them. There those were recycled again and came out as weapons.
Our caravan came near Kohat Cantonment and crossed a westward road. By this road military transport move toward Afghan border Parachiner. In the way there was a famous hilly picnic spot named Khwaza khejer. There were few active springs. It is said once there was hardship of water. So, by an Amal local people called Hazrat Khejer. He came and stamped in seven places under the mountain. There created seven springs. Now it is myth. Though none can prove it yet local people believe it blindly. In my training period I also went there for picnic with Iqbal squadron where I saw following hilly rail line a train was moving slowly. Most probably its destination was the last station. Who knows now! There was other Picnic spot where also I went with RTS PAF Kohat for picnic. It was a Hydro electric station ‘Tanda Dam’. It was more than a picnic spot for me and other member of the PAF Kohat Boxing team. To increase stamina our instructor took us to the Dam crossing low flowing Kabul River during winter jumping over boulders on the water flow. After cross country run the dam was the ideal place for tracking. Then we took Tiffin carried with us sitting near the lake. There birds and other natural beauty charmed us. Once we were taking Tiffin and looked up. We saw two small spots were moving near the top of a high hill. We were taking rest and time to time gazed our sight up. Astonishingly we saw that spots became two shapes of man. We were taking preparation to back to camp. We saw very old women in the slope with basked full of grass. We came to know they do thus regularly for their goats. Thus were the struggling lives of people in the hills.
Our caravan crossed Army area. There were Alo Cha gardens. Alo Cha is a sour fruit. Other fruits available there were Alo Bukhara, Alo kat, Khubani, Khorboja, Sarda, Gorma etc. Among other common fruits were Malta, Orange, Musambee Grape, Apple, Pears, Star apple ( a fruit like our local Gab fruit), Mango, Melon, Akhrot, Pesta, Badam, Mumphuli , plum etc. Our caravan stopped at the gate of RTS, PAF Kohat. One by one truck was stopping so that all the trucks can enter the gate in a disciplined way. In the sequence our truck entered the RTS. It was my training centre where Cpl Kamal (Bengali GCI), Cpl Riaz (Punjabi GCI) and Sgt. Azim Khan (Pathan GCI) taught us Parade. The Sgt. was the senior of the rest two. Indeed he was a soft hearted man. Their Chief was Chief Jan. My PTI was Cpl Niazi and my Boxing instructor and sparring partner was a Provost Corporal a Punjabi whose name I cannot recollect now. I am indebted to them all.
Our truck turned left and was moving. In the left Alauddin squadron. In the right rows of Malta tree and the wooden floor Boxing ring where I fought with Masud, Maqsud etc. Other Bengali Boxer was Jahangir. He was also my sparring partner. He is one of the martyrs of our liberation war. From the back of the truck Iqbal squadron was seen. It was my squadron. I remember my course mate Jamal, Rezaul Karim, Dilshad, Hafiz, Hassan,Zia Bhai, Ashok lal, Edmond, Lawrence etc. Our truck crossed the Munir squadron. The other squadron was Rafique squadron. Our whole caravan stopped near the Airmen Mess. We took our own dry food supplied from the Airmen Mess PAF base Risalpur. We required being fresh.
Our caravan again started journey. Through the Lahore road that moved for few minutes towards Islamabad. Then reached Bannu crossing and turned towards Bannu. In the valley cattle were grazing. We passed a salt mine. We were tired, so natural phenomenon was not attracting us more in that evening. By this time the sun was set behind a hill spreading colour of vermillion. In due time our transport reached Bannu district. We reached near the Bannu Fort. Leaving the Fort at the left our caravan entered an Army unit. Its barracks were vacant. That unit deployed somewhere in any war field. We were made fall in a ground. We were told this was no-2 camp. Required orders were passed. We were allotted barracks. Our life started at a stranded camp where Warrant officer Huq was in charge of the camp from us. He was responsible for our activity to an Air force Flt. Lt. of PAF whose name I cannot recollect now. Later I came to know SAC Tofazzol bhai was living in the no-1 camp who’s in charge was Warrant officer Maula. This camp was at the western side of the Bannu Fort. It was another vacant Army unit. Besides these two camps few airmen were stranded in the camps of Quetta and others were in Karachi.