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Featured OP-ED: War Days, finding an unlikely ally

peagle

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Dec 29, 2019
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War Days: Finding an unlikely ally
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This is one of the most interesting things I’ve experienced; I shall try to tell the story as accurately as I can without revealing any sensitive details. Hopefully one day we shall revisit and write names, locations and make it useful for future generations to learn from it.

It is said that Alexander the Great had the toughest time when he was in our region. On the inquiries of his mother about why his letters were filled with such agitation, he sent her some soil from South Asia, I believe present day Afghanistan, in pots and asked his mother to spread it across her palace. Within three days there were a number of murders around her and she informed her son who replied with something akin to, 'see mother, even the soil here is hostile'.

Eons have passed but the ever changing yet somehow never changing region remains the same and a young nation faced the same undeniable destruction that this soil is capable of head on. The only difference was that this time the men facing that chaos were products of the same soil. However, as you shall soon discover, this isn’t just reserved for the men and women of the region but extends beyond them.

In a ruggedly mountainous area where the echoes of gun fire and wails of dying men were common, a regimental unit of the Pakistan Army was holding the area. The only semblances of civilization here were the makeshift bunkers around them, some caves which were serving as offices and some tents - otherwise it was a sea of dust, rocks and unknown death as the enemy would sneak around them and unleash their fury at random. Day or night, it would take a single whiff of the soil jumping in front of you and you’d know that someone was aiming for you, take cover, figure out where they are and fire back. At other times, the deadly wails of the wind being broken by the rebellious mountains reaching for the heavens would be interrupted by the unholy screams of mortar fire.

This is how it went, day in and day out, relentless and uncaring for what you felt, who you had to see when you returned, or what rank you wore. War is a great equalizer and a brutal kick of reality to whatever notions you hold about the world around you.

There were other demons that haunted you as you patrolled the endless sea of hostility in your armor. Sometimes it was an inconspicuous pile of debris around you, sometimes a wire not much thicker than the width of a human hair somewhere around you being tripped, accompanied by the sound of a small 'click' and followed by a massive explosion that would send deadly shrapnel in every direction. This would go on day in and day out, as men snapped their necks in the direction of the explosion and at times could only pray that you got out in time, and that they would not have to be the ones to tell your family that you had joined the eternal existence of men forged by war.

There are no cellphones, there is no television, there are no distractions and yet these men stand tall day in and day out and still manage to smile.

It is in these trying times that the only comfort for you becomes the food you eat. Believe me, no five star hotel or Michelin star chef can beat the taste of food that comforts you during battle. As often happens that men try to mimic the taste that reminds them of home, their mothers, their sisters or their wives as they cook and tell stories to each other as they eat.
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That is not just something that is reserved for the men as there were feral dogs around who would often get the left overs as there were no refrigerators. The procedure was to bury the food but the young officers there designated some area for the feral dogs because the enemy had blended with the environment - the field dictates procedures more than any paper or manual ever can. This is the first thing you learn when you are actually at war.

The first time the unit realized something had changed was when in the middle of the night the pack of the feral dogs started barking non-stop near the camp sites. They would not stop and appeared aggressively barking at a particular direction. They did not let the men fall asleep and that was enough because an ambush was coming.

From then on the dogs considered the unit to be a part of their pack and would accompany them during patrolling, often sniffing out IEDs. It turns out the most unexpected tide had turned. The connection that the men felt towards these dogs was moving, one of them even said, ‘Sir, they have saved lives.’

In the most desolate hours, it appears, a good deed comes back in multiples.
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Dedicated to the warriors of a very ancient and proud land, men or otherwise.
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This is the first time I've come across your writings, and from the comments it seems its your forte.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, from the backdrop setting of Alexander's story, that makes you want to believe in it, even if it turns out to be just a tale, to your description of the men, and their environment, to the touching human (animal) ending. Well written and extremely well received, thank you.

I wanted to suggest maybe you should consider writing a collection of military short stories, and get it published. I don't think there are many such kind of writings. Pakistanis are not known for reading, so collection of short stories may just prove a hit. Whatever you do, stay blessed.
 

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