Bannu to Khyber Pass and Back: The Call of Bangladesh
Syed Mohd. Saleh Uddin
New life started. We were then under International Red Crescent and Red Cross Society (IRCRCS). Our pay and allowances from PAF was stopped. We were drawing Tk 20/- a month as the subsistence allowance. We had Mess but not like normal airmen mess. Bengali cook who came with us from the operational bases they were very less. They were civilian personnel. In the Air force there was no uniformed cook like Army. So, in the Air force messes of Pakistan (west) Bengali civilian cooks were very less. They were employed from West Pakistan. Somehow or other they went there and managed to get job in the Air force as the cooks.
So, airmen became occasional cooks. Turn wise we did Cook Assistant duty. Ration was not less. It was like normal time per head issue. As number of stranded airmen was not less our duty in the cook house came after long intervals. So, except the time of fall in our resting place were our charpoys. There we used to pass our times by playing cards, chess, Lodu, scrabble etc. Some of us could purchase Japan’s brand radio from the tribal smugglers who had free access in the camp. Those radios were well enough to catch Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra. We were inspired by the Bajra Kantha of our great leader Bango Bandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Sargodha’s SAC Tofazzol Bhai was in no-1 camp. So, I had no communication with him. In our no-2 camp our dealings with each others were fair. But none like Tofazzol Bhai came forward with map, compass and planning. Once I heard Jalal in an emotional voice like Bajra Kantha repeating the lecture of March 7, 1969 of Banga Babdhu.,” ……………..Moktir Sangram” etc. I went closer to him and came to know he is also from Barishal district like Tofazzol Bhai.
The camp was not that secured one. There were few long and few small barracks in the camp. I was a resident of a long room at the southern side of the camp near a canal that link with Kabul River nearby. Jalal lived in a small barrack at the northern side. In other barrack commando GC Cpl. Sadeque Bhai lived. Actually in that barrack all the commandos lived. It was near the grave yard. Touching the grave yard Kabul River used to pass. Jalal knew that secret. It was October or November 1971. I discussed with Jalal about possibility to run from the camp.
The hills of the north as if were calling us. We came to know, if we proceed to the north on crossing tribal area we can enter Jalalabad of Afghanistan. At night from the pass along Miran shah lights from moving vehicles were visible. These inspired me to have a risk to run. Jalal also gave me positive signal. He suggested to collect Afghani (Afghan Currency). I decided to collect tribal dress also.
The vegetables and other hawkers who entered the camp with tomato, chicken, duck, pigeon etc were very poor. With one of them I made friendship. My small knowledge about Postu language as Ta Sa Nom Da? (What’s your name?), Sanga Halda? ( How are you?), Ta kum kilida? (From which village you are?), Larsa ke bazar Chirga/ Agoi/Tomatom raora (go to market and bring Chicken/ egg/tomato) took me to his nearer. I collected Afghan old robe (Shelwar, kamiz) and Afghan currency by him. He told me to help us by giving a guide who very often goes to Afghan area. GC Cpl Sadeque Bhai being commando some time told about their operation. At that time they carry dry food like chana boot (a type of pulse). However, it was December 1971. From the news success of our freedom fighters were coming. Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra was giving much important news. It was 16 December 1971 all the airmen in the camp burst into happiness when we all came to know about the unconditional surrender of the Pakistan Army.
We did not run. So. Jalal was frustrated. We talked with each other. We had Afghan dress and Afghan currency. But guide declined to help us because he feared punishments if caught.
It was Eid day. Probably 18 or 19 December or later guards in the camp were less. Probably were on leave for Eid day. Jalal and I by a corner of the graveyard left the camp. By Kabul River we walked few minutes to get a transport for Kohat. Again from the Bus stand we got a bus. Most probably we got down in Dara and got Bus for Peshawar. From the Bus stand we got a Bus of Landi kotal. The Bus climbed the Khyber Pass and followed the spiral way of the mountain. In the check posts also we were not doubted. Our dress like the people of Pakistan might confuse the fellow passengers. But skilled eyes were waiting for us in the Landi Kotal.
“Tum Bangali Nehi ho?” (Are not you Bengali?). We heard a sound. I felt we are in trap. Jalal uttered,”Nehi mey Sindhi ho (no I am a Sindhi). Thik hai mera saath ao (ok, come with me). We were taken in an underground room. I heard a voice” Kapra utaro” (open your cloth). I guessed what is going to happen. They certainly would make us bound to act on their order. We could not prove our other identity except Bengali. I told,” Kapra utarna ka jororat nehi hai, hum Fajaia ho.” (No need of opening cloths. We are airmen). Jo hai le lw magar hame jane do (take what are with us but let us go).
However, they did not make nude. But said,“Our 93000 soldiers are in your country. They will come and you will go home.” He added, “Now we will send you to the Air force.” I thought to make the matter easier. If some way we get to escape from them! I told, “Vukh laga hai.” (we are hungry). Actually we were hungry too. Though they were the agent of the Pakistan Government they were not miser to show Pathan hospitality. Some one of them brought Chapli Kababs and few Tandours (traditional kebab and breads of Peshwar and adjacent area).
Some one said,”Khao”(Eat). Jalal said to me,” Khabona”( I will not eat). Actually after long struggle from Bannu reaching Landi Kotal which is a place near Afghan border but instead of crossing we were in the custody of law enforcing agency. How one will eat? I could also swallow less. But time does not wait for any one. A big blue colour Chevrolet came with armed escort. It was about dusk. We were in the back seat and escorts with arms were in their seats, we two became notorious VIP. The driver started the car.
Landi Kotal is a famous place in a valley of Karakorum via which tourists go to Turkham. Then crossing Durand lines one can go to Kabul which is the capital of Afghanistan. During my time there tribal peoples told themselves ‘Azadi Kabila’. To cross the border they had not require to show pass port and visa to anyone. If they would cross hilly alternative way none would say anything. In my training period (1969) in peace time I went to Turkham with other trainees. In our bus a tribal people took seat by me. I asked him, “Tum kun molok ka ho?”(Which is your country) . The person answered, ”Mey Pakistan ka bi nehi aur Afghanistan ka bi nehi, mei azadi kabila ho.”( I am not from Pakistan or Afghanistan I am from a free tribe). The person got down from the bus with us. He had some goods with him. He did not go to the Durand lines and like many other Pukhtu speaking Pathans followed alternative way and entered Afghanistan. They did not think their business to be smuggling, but to them it was a ‘Halal’ business. Actually they were the main businessmen of the Kissa Khani Bazar of Landi kotal. Without them the shops there would be empty. However, they were proud as they were Pakhtoon. A few lines from a pustu song still I remember. “Munga uda Khyber jalmi, Pukhtoda munga shan de, Munga uda watanda jan kurbande. Yaa Kurban…” (We are the inhabitants of Khyber, Pustu language is our pride, we will sacrifice our life for our country. Yaa Kurban). The people in our Chevrolet were also Pakhtoon.
Our car was in the Khyber. It was crossing the pass in a slow speed. Who knew how far the Peshawar was, it was probably in my mind. But no doubt they knew it. In the dark I was only listening monotonous sound of powerful engine which was required to drive a car in a hilly way. From a side we could look down through the slope. Lights from far and near basti (localities) were visible. Indeed it was also a beauty. Like Sharat Chandra I will not dare to say the beauty of the dark but it was the beauty of lights of the localities in the valleys in the dark of Karakorum and Khyber and running lights of vehicles headlight in the highway of the pass up and down. In the sky there were stars twinkling all around but no moon. Just last dusk Khyber people saw new moon of Eid ul Fitr. To them ‘Ramjaner oi rojar sheshe elo khushir Eid’ (after the Ramjan came happy Eid). It was the story of 1971. But when I was editing it in May 17, 2014 ‘Tanisha’ my granddaughter was reciting a popular rhyme ’twinkle twinkle little star’ .Then also this rhyme was recited by children worldwide and was very popular. Though captive I couldn’t deny that beauty.
We were going down from the Khyber. In one side of the road was still wall of the mountain in the other side and in the front lights were more colourful. Once our car was running through the road of the plain and stopped in front of a building.
It was the office of Director Khyber agency. We were handed over to someone there and we were told to enter a cell. We were in a lock and key. That was the Eid day. So, there were rich foods for the guards (militia or police). By that time they took their dinner but they did not forget their Pathan hospitality. Left over Polao they presented in front of us. We knew that we were going to be handed over to PAF authority but we never knew what would be their behaviour. So, none of us could take much.
By this time we were unlocked and taken to the office of the Director Khyber agency. A nice looking middle aged gentleman was sitting in the seat of Director. Most probably he was a Pathan and inhabitant of Khyber. Very gently he asked us few questions. The reason of trying to run was also there. I am certain that he also knew the answer: It was the call of Bangladesh.
A Flt.Sgt. and a Corporal entered the room of Director. They were Punjabi. The Cpl shouted, “I shall kick you.” The Flt. Sgt. Uttered, “Bas, Bas, you should not kick.” Formally we were handed over to them by the Director Khyber Agency and he asked their permission to accompany with us unto Air force. Most probably he was thinking more misbehaviour in the way. We were again under lock and key in the cell of Field Intelligence Unit (FIU) of PAF Peshawar. We saw the jeep of Director leaving the gate of FIU. For investigation we were there for one or two days then by FIU jeep we were taken to PAF base Kohat for our due punishment for efforts of absconding. We saw Tofazzol Bhai in the cell. He told he took Shahid to run. But he was successful to escape. SAC Tofazzol Bhai was pioneer to plan but was not successful. We three deserters were back again to our respective camps after the end of given punishment.
I remembered the FIU Flt. Sgt. For his saying, “You will be given punishment because you failed to run.” I remember my rough and tough Punjabi instructor who was given responsibility to punish us. I remember the Director Khyber Agency for his nice dealings. He was so much so different than the Air force corporals. My Salam to the Director and best wishes for him. He realised the call of Bangladesh.