Tale of a gallant hero – Martyr of IBO who started as a Cavalry Charger and ended as a Spymaster by Maj Muzaffar Ahmed

Times of chaos and disarray will not remain forever; sons of the soil are offering the best – their lives in guarding the country. Ali called, ―I am committed – rushing towards Army Public School Warsak Road as we speak‖. There was a distinct note of agony in his voice as he said, ―Terrorists have attacked the Army Public School Peshawar. They are brutally killing innocent children. Saman you should go to school yourself and fetch Shahwaiz back home‖. Saman hurriedly turned on the television and saw the horrific tickers being displayed. She was stunned and motionless for a while. After she regained her senses, however with anguish and fear, she dragged herself towards the Army Public School Cantonment Junior Branch and brought Shahwaiz back. Aah! It was all terrible.

The 30-year-old Ali had witnessed the bloodshed of the parents‘ loving lads with impoverished eyes. Saman narrates that she could sense Ali grief-stricken for many days after the dreadful event. Though the grief and moaning of this national tragedy had started settling, yet the cold-blooded massacre had shaken Ali‘s personality, too. He started seeing Shahwaiz in every innocent martyr and injured of Army Public School, which ultimately guided him to seize the perspective of every passing moment and give it a shape, value and substance for contributing towards prosperity in the country. His selfcommitment still echoes in Saman‘s ears that every cloud has a silver lining and it is now the turn of terrorists‘ bastions to stand the blow of wrath even in their most remote and safest hidings. Hailing from Lahore, Ali was curious from teenage to maintain his ancestral legacy of soldiering. The medium-built, amiable Ali, always used to attract everyone‘s attention due to a distinct smile on his face.

Ali Salman‘s childhood best friend Ali Sohail recollects their nostalgic bond, ―We met each other in the Army Public School Peshawar Cantonment in Class V and with the passage of time became close friends of each other. Our fathers were serving in the same city in their respective Army Ordnance setups. To my dismay after one year Ali‘s father (Lt Col Nasir Mahmood) was transferred to Lahore Cantonment. But coincidentally we were reunited again in the Garrison Academy for Boys Lahore Cantonment once my father was also transferred to Lahore. My friend was a shining, lively and jolly figure of our class not only for excelling academically but also because of fervent love for nature and laughter. At his home, he was mostly found busy in exploring ways to behaviorally nurture, serve and manage his caged parrots, rabbits, lambs and plants. Keeping his mother‘s evenings busy by asking for french fries was visible from his appearance that‘s why he also got fame as Dambry (cartoon character) among colleagues.

Due to visiting each other‘s homes almost daily, I could make out that he was very compassionate, loving and fun seeking brother of his two sisters. The bond of our friendship grew stronger with each passing day. I cannot forget his joyous company, especially partnering in cricket, kicking football and visiting the Lahore Zoo for many hours. As adulthood approached and we got into intermediate level education, I could observe in him behavioral inquisitiveness transcending into seriousness and aspiration to attain something in life i.e., from aimlessness to knowing what he wanted. The iconic image of his father and uncles served his motivation to be a flag bearer and join the Pakistan Army. Though his parents neither forced and nor stopped him from pursuing the goal of joining Army, yet being an only and obedient son, he eloquently convinced his mother about his decision. Ali‘s motivational lectures and ethical jolts did not spare me even. His giggles, fun filled routine and narration of challenges at the Pakistan Military Academy inspired me as well to join the Pakistan Army. I often miss him dearly!‖ Ali‘s colleagues from 112 PMA Long Course also cannot forgo cherishing memories of his perseverance and jovialness even during the times of rigorous and taxing training activities. On completion of the training at Pakistan Military Academy in 2005, he joined 13 Lancers, a glorious and decorated Armored Corps unit located in Quetta. Enthusiastically responding to the unit‘s grooming modules, Ali turned out to be a responsible and professional Cavalry Charger in very less time in line with the expectations of his seniors and subordinates.

His unit officer, Lt Col Aaitizaz Asbuq Waheed remembered him as an opponent in squash court and a close comrade, ―We used to hang out in the evenings, playing squash together. Ali‘s aggression, gaming strategies and spirit to win the contests of squash and will to fight back for any game lost, were all admiring.‖ Youngsters Hammad, Waqas and Noman used to pose immense confidence in his guidelines, mentoring sessions and timely elderly directions. Moreover, his love for good music was also a talk of the unit. Due to day and night earnest endeavours and buckling down, the under-command troops started loving him as he remained their Adjutant – custodian of discipline, the Quartermaster – responsible for feeding, health and hygiene and the Squadron Commander in thick and thin. Besides 13 Lancers, while he was posted to serve with another unit 25 Cavalry at Razmak in Operation Al Mizan in year 2010, the CO (Commanding Officer) of the unit found him at the front lines as Squadron Commander and expressed high words about him. During the course of professional building up, Ali remained an instructor in an Armour Division Battle School at Gujranwala.

Thereafter, he started realizing and discussing with seniors in the unit that his inclination and mental faculties are probably more suited for intelligence tasks. Thus year-2014 proved to be a turning point in Ali‘s life which parted him from 13 Lancers for a new venture but his association, interaction and contacts with the unit were never broken. ―Yay! Saman, I have been selected for service in the Corps of Military Intelligence and need to undertake the intelligence course in the School of Military Intelligence in Murree. I am happy to join Pakistan Army‘s highly professional frontline force – the spymasters. I will use my potentials to the best of the service interests.‖ To prove himself the best suited for the upcoming assignments, he strived extra hard. His fellow course-mates said that he proficiently grasped the art of being invisible and an extraordinary intelligence operator and could disguise, surveil, detect and solve with near-perfect masteries.

His skills are reflected through his securing the first position in the Officers Military Intelligence Mid-Career Course. At the end of year 2014, Ali was posted to Peshawar for intelligence field works. Having witnessed the Army Public School massacre, he frequently started motivating his team individuals through his spyglass. ―The spirit to avenge the blood of innocent victims of terrorism in the country remains fresh in my heart. Pakistan and the scenic valley of District Dir, its loving people and Panjkora River don‘t deserve bloodshed and can‘t be deprived of peace and prosperity.‖ To offset the game plans of enemy, he acquired reasonable grip over local Pushto dialect, demography, behaviour, culture and traditions of people of the area in a very short span of time. Then discretely started unearthing, fixing and destroying the active and passive networks (sleeping cells) of the terrorists of Tehrik-i-Taliban Swat and other splinter groups operating in District Dir as well as adjacent areas. Covert efforts of his team succeeded in averting numerous bomb blasts and led towards recovery of huge caches of ammunition and explosives. A testimony of his achievements is the letter of appreciation from the Commander Peshawar Corps, Lt Gen Nazir Ahmed Butt.

As an influential humane intelligence operator, local notables of the area and Village Defence Committees applauded cordial relations of his team with the masses. His comrades were also admirers of his leadership qualities and affection for subordinates as stated by his driver Nobel Masih. After completing three years‘ eventful stay at District Dir, he received orders to pack up for next duty as an instructor at the School of Military Intelligence, Murree. While saying goodbye to the affiliates, the District Police Officer and the District Coordination Officer of Dir spoke high of him and felt downhearted on his departure. On August 5, 2017, with renewed spirits and happy feelings of posting to new location, Ali and his family reached Peshawar for their farewell Dining Out.

After the ceremony Ali told me, ―Today‘s words of appreciation and good wishes by the Commander and my colleagues have supplemented and strengthened my job satisfaction.‖ On August 7, amidst fine memories of service in Peshawar and District Dir, Ali left for Dir for his final pack-up. Then came Sunday – August 8, 2017, a usual sunny day with unusual loud chirping of birds around the residence; an eternal day of test of Ali and his teammates. His eagle eye estimated through grapevine about the presence of four high value terrorists of Tehrik-i-Taliban Swat in Sherotkai village of Sultankhel, Upper Dir, who were actually on his watch-list for quite some time. These terrorists were planning to sabotage our Yaum-eAzadi celebrations by attacking at a mass gathering of innocent people thus turning the day into a national level tragedy for the country. Though Ali was over with his responsibilities in the area and was ready to move for the new assignment in Murree, yet his pneuma conscience forced him to handle these terrorists.

He discussed the situation with his senior Commanders and planned an IBO (Intelligence Based Operation). Under the shadows of parents‘ prayers and wife‘s hope of success, he left his base in the evening with the team – Havildar Akhtar, Havildar Ghulam Nazir and Levies Sepoy Kareem Khan along with Sher Dil Task Force, part of Army‘s SWAT Division, led by Lt Zeeshan. The vehicle driver noticed and asked Ali, ―Sir, you seem very excited today and the glow is visible on your face‖, to which he responded, ―Dear! yes, I am happy because Almighty Allah has confidence in me that‘s why He has again afforded me an opportunity to contribute, and Allah be willing our team will succeed.‖ Once it was dark, Ali briefed the Sher Dil Task Force Commander about the target, which was a house where the terrorists were hiding. On reaching the site at around midnight, Sher Dil Task Force established a cordon around the hideout of terrorists. After 10-15 odd minutes, upon not detecting an imminent danger, Maj Ali Salman made an attempt to trace out and feed Sher Dil Task Force Commander the exact location of terrorists in the rooms. While he was approaching the terrorists with his team, one of the terrorists got alerted but he was overpowered by fire.

Then in a span of few seconds, in an attempt to apprehend the terrorists alive, Ali and his teammates briskly jumped over three terrorists and firmly gripped them. After overpowering the terrorists once clearing the terrorists for the weapons and explosives was in process, one of the terrorists blew himself up. Destiny came into play. This resulted in raising of the nation‘s four brave sons (Maj Ali Salman, Havildar Akhtar, Havildar Ghulam Nazir and Sepoy Kareem Khan) to the highest pedestal of martyrdom (shahadat) and averted a national tragedy planned by the terrorists. Then a fire exchange started between Sher Dil Task Force and the remaining terrorist, who was shot down in a little while. There ended the chapter of Ali‘s life with fulfilled commitment with the Army Public School Peshawar by foiling another big terrorist plot and saving the innocent human lives.

Back at home, at around 01:45 a.m. midnight, his younger sister received a call, however; tremblingly handed over the mobile phone to the father with the fear that Ali‘s request to sisters for praying for his shahadat had probably come true. His father could also sense the reason, thanked Allah and stated, ―Ali has won over me by giving sacrifice for the country.‖ The courage, fortitude and patience of such fathers are really praiseworthy. Later, with wet eyes, his mother recalled that Ali used to take care of her, loved her cooking especially daal maash but now there is a vacuum as he will not be there to appreciate her cooked food. His wife Saman, 29, standing as a rock of conviction said that Allah had selected Ali and his comrades because He wanted to correct those who had gone astray. She painfully expressed that Ali had the intuition of his shahadat before commencing his final journey for the high-level operation.

Stalking Dir with Eagle Eye – IBO – Story of an Armor boy to MI OfficerA day prior he briefed me, ―If I am not with you one day, don‘t worry, then whatever decision you take for our kids, Shahwaiz (6 years) and Abdullah (2 years), it will have hundred percent support of mine‖. This courageous lady has to pass through the marathon of life without her husband but her determination is matchless as she intends offering Ali‘s sons Shahwaiz and Abdullah to Pakistan Army as protectors of the country. Ali‘s love for his sons is irreplaceable. He fulfilled all the wishes of his sons. Mentioning two long awaited wishes is heart wrenching. Shahwaiz wanted to take rides of a tank and a helicopter. His son‘s wish of the tank ride was fulfilled by him once he took Shahwaiz to his unit to the utter pleasure of little lad. The other wish was also fulfilled but that was after Ali‘s departure from the world once the family was flown on a helicopter for funeral ceremonies. After Ali‘s sacrifice, other brave spymasters immediately filled the place and resumed the missions with full zeal and zest to block the nefarious acts and designs of external and internal enemies of Pakistan. Ali, his teammates and many others are those heroes who were confided by the destiny for glorification, however; there are numerous other unsung spymasters who silently keep working for the honour and love of the Green Flag and contribute towards bringing peace. These spymasters are the real asset of our nation who strike terror into the hearts of the enemies by their invisible presence everywhere thus making it difficult for the actors of chaos and terror to operate easily.

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