Greatness Personified: Captian Isfandyar Ahmed Bokhari

Hassaan Bokhari, brother of Captain Isfandyar Bokhari pens his personal account about his martyred brother.

Aleader has to make choices but his choices are neither limited to himself nor to his close circle. His choices affect many, all those who are under his command, all those who are related to the purpose and all those who intend to follow in his footsteps. This is the realisation where true leadership starts, a place where one has to see beyond one's own self, his comforts, his goals, his worldly desires and his material possessions. This is the fact which, unlike most, Isfandyar realised. My mother was talking to him during the summer about buying a car. She advised him to buy it from Peshawar as it would be cheaper there. His reply stuck to me and I hope to always remember it. He said, 'Mama, I am posted as a GSOIII in an Infantry Brigade in Peshawar, an important and a powerful post. I don't want anybody to even remotely think that they can trade favours with me. It is better to pay more and buy it from Attock'. This is true integrity. Another important lesson is the realisation of the responsibility that he had the awareness of the environment we live in Pakistan, where most try to gain as much advantage as possible by using their power (starting from blocking roads to selling rogue plots, to acquiring beneficial contracts, to collecting ransom or 'gift money' etc.). He knew that everybody has to play their part and go beyond their responsibilities for this society to succeed and he started this with himself. He knew that the belief of the people in the system is of paramount importance and he thought that some extra rupees is a cost too low to pay for that belief to remain untarnished. 
Isfandyar has always given his best and came out on top most often than not, be it on the ground playing hockey or being the wing commander of the champion Jinnah Wing at Cadet College Hasanabdal. He got the Sword of Honor for 118 Long Course, always featured among the best in his military courses and got outstanding reports from all his commanding officers. He also developed an instrument during his basic infantry course in Quetta. The instrument is very cost-effective and can be used for locating a target with pinpoint accuracy. This is Isfandyar always going an extra mile and bringing more than what was asked of him. It was his competence and intelligence that when standing in the thick of the battle with bullets flying all around, he flanked the terrorists who had barbarically murdered people offering Fajr prayers in the mosque. He and his team managed to complete the operation even before SSG reached the base. Although he was the G-3 (Staff Officer), he voluntarily took part in the operation and I am sure that it was because he had always been very proactive and able to anticipate the problem. Nobody knew how many people there were or what ammunition the terrorists had brought but he was able to perceive that if they were given enough time, it would bring another disaster; which in hindsight proved to be a very astute estimate as they brought a large number of IEDs and ammunition. Judging from the Twitter feed of TTP, they came to wreak havoc and inflict a wound much bigger than ever before.  

I would like to emphasize that it is the quality of the great leaders to anticipate the problem and being proactive even before the problem finds its feet. This minimises the losses as demonstrated by Isfandyar's leadership, initiative and bravery which saved many innocent lives. 
We all know that TTP has no regard for the sanctity of innocent lives (APS Peshawar, December, 2014) and would have tried to do this again on September 18, 2015 in Badaber. Isfandyar had all this in mind and while he was approaching the site with Brigadier Inayat, Commander 102 Brigade, he said to him that he won't let it become another APS attack. As a true, genuine person when he volunteered to command Quick Reaction Force after Major Haseeb's injury, his aim was first to cut off the terrorists from the colony. He also brought the MRAPs, using which he distracted the terrorists and located their positions. He didn't wait for SSG and pressed his initiative. It is a cardinal rule for the military that when you are attacking an enemy and you have seized the initiative, never let it go, press on and ensure victory. When you take time away from the enemy, it disrupts the enemy's plan and forces them to rush actions which gives you an advantage. Conversely, giving enemy time allows them to dig in. When you don't even know the ammunition enemy has, this becomes imperative. Taking time away dwindles enemy's chances of reaching the soft targets as nothing is beyond those who can shoot people during Fajr prayers in the mosque, in cold blood. 
Generally when talking about teenage years we link it to troublemaking, lack of seriousness and fun without consequences; Isfandyar used it to structure his life. He didn't allow himself to be consumed by worldly desires, power, or make concessions for temporary gain but kept his integrity and purity intact. He followed a pure thought he had when he was in matric and kept this innocence close to him all his life. I can't even begin to comprehend such purity of intentions. This is indeed the stuff of legends. I have found such references in books and he made me see it in real life. He made me feel deeply honoured to be his brother and for all his great acts and noble intentions. 
Isfandyar has always been pure hearted and a responsible leader. I had asked him why he leads from the front and advised him 'not to do it', for he is my brother and when one leads from the front, he faces the maximum mortal danger. He disagreed with me and told me that I didn't understand. His opinion was that the leader has the responsibility to make the mission successful and when I lead them from the front, my troops' morale skyrockets and the way they fight then, is completely different. He also treated his subordinates as his family. He had the point of view that your team deserves the same care as your family. I remember when I first went to see him in Peshawar after his posting, he said that all the soldiers in the Cantt on duty should have bulletproof vests, and he made that happen. I was very proud to have a brother who treated the people under his command as his own family, cared for them, valued their lives and also never forgot his objective. He believed that human life is temporary and our great deeds will outlast us. So one should put his faith in Allah, stand up for the right, give his best for the cause and never waver.  
On September 18, before leading the QRF, he borrowed a gun from a Sepoy and tested it before going in to the battle; when he was about to start clearing the rooms, he made his soldiers swear that they would follow him, he would go in first and if something happened to him then the next one would come inside.  
With the love for his team, the respect and value he gave to them, the sense of responsibility, the composure when facing mortal danger and the bravery to dive in perilous conditions while taking the most risky position for himself, the tactical competence and the poise of mind to devise a plan even under extreme stressful conditions possible, he personified leadership. I have seen people miss red flags under stress, I have known competent professionals panic when facing the extreme, even before an important interview people start getting cold sweats and here was Isfandyar, facing the most difficult and stressful conditions, keeping his cool, coming up with a plan, being pro-active, analyzing the situation, measuring the dangers, weighing the options, taking the responsibility and jumping into danger with a clear mind and extreme bravery. Some people say a person's worth is measured in the thick of battle when he stands face-to-face with death and Isfandyar is off the charts (and many other people like him e.g., Aitezaz Shaheed). He didn't care for his bright future in the army or worldly laurels. When the time came he was a leader of his men with focus on his objective. He didn't want terrorists to enter the colony, he attacked them head on and made them panic. He didn't care that he was the sword of honour, for he didn't believe in the term 'career officer' or he could choose to not take part and let his men go into the danger by themselves. He believed in Allah, cared for the cause, foresaw danger, took action, and gave the nation a hero to be followed, a true leader we have always aspired for and lit up a path for success. 

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