Lieutenant General Tariq Waseem Ghazi (Retired)
I write this sitting on the veranda outside the Cedar Hut on what has become my annual pilgrimage to the Command and Staff College to deliver a talk on ‘The Lessons of History’. An eerie calm surrounds me this July evening as I gaze across the slim colonnades into the distant haze that blurs the outline of the Murdar Garh massif. The landscape is desolate – the chinars and cedars parched by a continuing drought, yet rising tall and majestic, full with character. The gentle breeze warmer than I can remember, but still inviting and fresh with promise. The smell of Quetta is in the air and nothing distracts me save the quiet rustle of leaves and the happy chirp of sparrows. Time too holds its breath in this stirring stillness, as the aura embraces me completely, taking hold of my body and soul. I close my eyes and go back in time – just as a thousand others have surely done over a hundred years.
It is true that the Staff College grips you – growing on you slowly, year after year after year – until it possesses you totally. Equally true, you grow with it.
My earliest memory of the Staff College goes back to 1953, when my father was a student and I a toddler no more than four years old. We lived on Austin Road, which goes by the inane title of Street 2 now, in a wood and mud brick hut that looked out onto the expansive vistas of the Hanna river bed, the Sleeping Beauty, the Coolie Camp…..It snowed that March, almost three feet of it I think, because I remember that it covered the bright-red water hydrants that stood as sentinels outside our houses ready to douse out any fire. They were our friends, these hydrants, because we could hide behind them and disappear completely when someone came looking for us! I remember quite vividly the joy of playing football with little tin cans, the smell of fresh snow and the coal-laden smoke blanket that shrouded the valley at night. We played hide and seek in the park, jumping into puddles when the rains came, climbing trees and waiting for the Sunday morning cartoons at the Auditorium – today’s Abrar Hall.
Sadly, there were very few of the little hydrants left when I was next here in 1958, living at ‘The Oval’ – a collection of 6 or 7 decrepit tin-roof huts in what came to be known as Bilgrami Lines much later. We were just a stone’s throw from the magnificent swimming pool where we learnt to ride the waves, paddle rubber dinghies and launch ourselves into shrieking dives from the high platform. On our way, we chased after dragonflies that we tied to strings and flew before us as tiny kites. Returning, we would wallow in the Urak Stream that ran full in those days, filling our pockets with little tadpoles to scare the girls, and floating paper-boats that we caught up with at the corner shop of the officers’ mess, our daily watering-hole for the delightful bunta bottles.
For the next twenty five years, I watched the College from a distance- sometimes nostalgically as a school boy, sometimes admiringly as an aspiring young officer, sometimes enviously as a member of the rival Infantry School campus, but always with dread at the prospect of becoming an inmate here! Preparing for the Staff College Entrance Exam, I vowed before my friends that I would not do the staff course at Quetta- it was too much hardwork and heartbreak for one year. It was far more sensible to instead devote 6-8 hours of study a day for three months to come out on top of the merit list and earn a birth on a foreign course! That is the choice I made and it proved not a bad bargain in the end, since I eventually did return to the College in 1986 as a Canadian graduate for truly memorable and extended three and a half years tenure on the Faculty, staying at 6 Sahibzad Gul Road.
By now, I had a family and my three boys would hang on to every recollection of my youth at the College. They decided to better it with their own memories! Their friendships from that time have endured and they found self confidence in the search for adventure that the campus life instilled in them. When I asked them how they would want me to record their experiences for you, they protested that there were far too many to choose – the picnics; the riding gala; the gourmets; the night cricket at Al Nisa; the cycle polo at the College parking lot; the hikes; the school at Iqra…. but there is one memory that I know stands out for all the young girls and boys of the time, ‘The Bus Stop’ – at the centre of a vast network of friendly gangs that hatched conspiracies, whispered secrets, spawned rumours, settled scores, forged alliances and set the agenda for the coming days. However, they are unanimous that one word would say it all: ‘unforgettable’. My wife sums up her experiences also in one word:- ‘togetherness’, saying that she particularly reveres the family life that was always in abundance despite the workload on the husbands, and the fulfilment that came from the sharing of individual joys and sorrows by an entire community. For me, the opportunity to connect professionally at the cutting-edge of education and leadership continues to provide dividends many years after.
Some say that we each have the grant of one wish assured in our lifetime. I had mine fulfilled when I arrived in February 2000 to take over as Commandant. It was an honour, the import of which only I can fathom. Let me explain. As children in 1953, we had heard that promptly at 4 pm everyday, the Commandant stepped out of the ‘House’ to walk on the ‘Trail’. It was rumoured that, perched always on his shoulder was an owl, the emblem of the Staff College. We would collect at the Bus Stop to sneak a look, but every time the gates opened, each one of us would bolt the scene, overawed by the imminent presence of a person so mysterious and magical that nobody dared to refer to him by name. For one full year, none of us picked enough courage to face ‘The Commandant’ and so the story survives to this day. Imagine, therefore, my feelings when I walked into the very same gates to now make it my home! It is a humbling experience and one that can rank among the highest of honours – fortunate and privileged.
February 2000 to May 2001, I tried to give back to the Staff College everyway that I could; professionally, socially, in traditions and infrastructure, in emotions and with feelings, to life, to the present, but most of all to the future, on and off campus. Without doubt this has been the most fulfilling period of my life and service. Without doubt this has been the most enjoyable, the most remembered. This came about due, in very large measure, due to the quality of the College community (both faculty and students) of the time, and the sharing of a clearly identified vision as common goals. I am glad that the ideas we sowed persist, the marking of the Centenary with these celebrations one indication of this germination. I am glad, too, that the relevance of the College in a technological future is assured by the initiatives and risks – that we took. And it gives me no end of joy, every time I think that someone is dialling the internet code of 610 without realizing that it stands for 6 October, my birthday
P.S. I am writing this concluding paragraph on 2 October 2004. Today, in keeping with the custom and traditions of service, I submitted a request seeking premature retirement. Just as I am about to leave the office, my staff officer walks in with three samples of etched glass panels that the Commandant had authorized me to fabricate for the Staff College Centennial Monument. I select one which you will soon see adorning the interior, and walk out of the door. My last act in uniform dedicated to the Command and Staff College, Quetta.
May you prosper long and continue to provide joy to thousands other.