Sunday, January 22, 2012

A review of the amazing memoirs ‘From Indus to Oxus’


بسم اللہ الرحمن الرحیم
اَللّٰھُمَّ صَلِّ عَلٰی مُحَمَّدٍ وَّعَلٰٓی اٰلِ مُحَمَّدٍ
 
By Syeda Qudsia Mashhadi.
http://madinaesani.wordpress.com/
What is the impact of a book that is written by a Mujahid who not only happens to be a brilliant orator, writer, defence and security analyst but also photographed almost all of the rare and historical pictures in the book? I am, of course, referring to the phenomenal memoirs of Syed Zaid Zaman Hamid which relate his experiences in the Afghan jihad during and after the Soviet invasion. Never have I read such a genuine tale of courage, passion and the power of belief. One is spell-bound from the beginning to the end and is tempted to finish the book in one go. Though one cannot live the vibrating life of Jihad as lived by the author, one feels as if one is experiencing the Afghan resistance first-hand. My knowledge about Afghanistan and its affairs was limited and there was naivety about it. For most of the Pakistanis as well, ‘Afghanistan’ is a word which is remote and irrelevant and they question, ‘Why Afghan Jihad?’ ‘What is its relevance for Pakistanis in the current scenario?’ These questions are answered very well and it is obvious that with time, people will regard it as the most important and relevant book on the history of the Afghan jihad and what it meant for the whole of Asia.
It is our history told by an extra-ordinary man; for it is extra-ordinary indeed to think about saving nations. This man, unlike any other ordinary man, was NOT thinking about his job or family or buying properties. He was not making a career out in the war-ravaged gorges of Afghanistan. This is exactly what gives him an edge on any other writer or analyst. This puts him in a unique place where he has a bird’s eye view of the Af-Pak region and is in a place to give excellent advice about the current geopolitical scenario to the concerned policy makers. This is not just a tale of war time; it is the blood and sweat of a Mujahid, a holy warrior, which speaks to us through this book. This is our history where a man is on a mission to fight the invaders and oppressors of his brothers in faith. The sincerity of his purpose and the intensity of his passion throughout enthral the reader. Where in the world can we find another man who was in the thick of things during Afghan jihad and also wrote about it? Add to that the special status he was bestowed by Allah where he performed the utmost important role of communication between the leadership of Afghan resistance and Pakistani government during Afghan Jihad, and you have a multi-faceted visionary.

قہاری و غفاری و قدوسی و جبروت
یہ چار عناصر ہوں تو بنتا ہے مسلمان

The narrative has a great sense of humour as well and it makes you smile despite the grave situations faced by the protagonist. While talking about the harsh conditions in the tents of Mujahideen, he says:
Heat was unbearable and mosquitoes were more hated in the camp than the Soviet jets.
[Pg 209]
In a very interesting way, the author mentions how the local villagers utilized the empty cartridge cases that were left after each air raid:
‘When we were fed up of beans and rice, we would pray for a bomber to come and later when the attack subsided, we would have our supply of fresh dairy products. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement between us and the villagers and the Soviets made sure that we continued to have our delicacies.’ [Pg 155]
One also enjoys the comical situation, albeit grave, when the author, at the end of the narrative returns from Kabul to Peshawar in a shabby Soviet-built transport plane. The character of the pilot makes you laugh out aloud.
It also has a very human touch; the mention of little treats in life like Kabuli pulao and Sheer Yakh tell us that he is a human being just like any of us. The only difference is his iron will with which he conquered his inner demons and the special protection which Providence provided him. It is indeed a noteworthy phenomenon throughout the book and confirms the view that Death itself is the biggest protector of life. The author has so many hair-breadth escapes in this adventurous and perilous life that they seem nothing short of miraculous. This book tells us that we don’t need a superman or an ironman to fight a war; a young man with passion and ability to transcend human weaknesses can do it better. A man just needs to believe in his Creator and in himself. This universal truth is beautifully explained in these lines by the author:
Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the ability to overcome that fear with grace and dignity. [Pg. 105]
Feeling fear is natural, succumbing to it is cowardice and overcoming it is courage. [Pg. 106]
The lines that I loved the most in the book are:
It’s good to die for a cause but it’s even greater to live for it.’ [Pg 73]
Another aspect of the narrative is the compassion and pain the author feels for the helpless Afghani widows and orphans and is palpable throughout the memoirs. From the article written in Pakistani newspaper to spread awareness about the deathly minefields spread all over Afghanistan to the efforts of clearing Ahmad Shah Masood’s image in Pakistan, we see him do it all. There is nothing to which his sensitive soul has not given a thought. I also feel honoured to know about brave men like Koochi Khan, Brayaley, Daud and the Russian mujahid, Abdullah Roosi, to name a few. The world would never have known about these unsung heroes if they had not been made part of history through these magnificent memoirs.
Pictures also contribute profoundly to the narrative of this splendid book and I am at a loss of words to describe this treasure trove. They add tremendously to the worth of the already poignant memoirs. The readers are rewarded with the extremely rare and significant historic pictures. Who would have known about or seen the remotest of places in Afghanistan and beyond, especially the awe-inspiring River Oxus? In particular, the view of Hazar Sumuch, a medieval Uzbek village, from mountain top was simply breath-taking.
I would definitely recommend this book to everyone, especially to those in Pakistan who are in any position to affect the world around. All over the world too, this would prove to be a treasure for the scholars of history and international affairs. Then there is the spiritual aspect to the book which I think is the most important one. In that respect, this book should be read by each and every person in the world. After all, what is more important than learning to be at peace with your God and having an irrevocable relation with Him? A man, who can teach us this, is a great man indeed. This is a book by a man with a vision backed with rock-hard experience. To ignore it would be foolhardiness of colossal proportions. This man of God reminds me of Iqbal’s verses:

حادثہ وہ جو ابھی پردہ افلاک ميں ہے

عکس اس کا مرے آئينہ ادراک ميں ہے

کيا عجب ميری نوا ہائے سحر گاہي سے

زندہ ہو جائے وہ آتش کہ تری خاک ميں ہے

[As captured in a mirror,
Are glimpses in my mind,
Of events that are folded still
In the scroll of time.
One day, the warmth of my sighs,
Like a Promethean spark,
Will inflame the fire of thy soul,
Now dormant in thy dust.]
May we all benefit from the golden words of this man who is a God-send for the Ummah. Ameen

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