With every loss, individuals find themselves at a crossroads — to give in or to pick up the pieces and start afresh. Very often, we see people doing the former and letting life take charge but then there are those few who do not let their losses dictate what the rest of their life is going to look like. Such are the people Allah chooses for his greatest trials — a belief that was further solidified when I talked to Mrs. Maj Javed Akhtar Shaheed. Mrs. Kausar Javed’s husband, a prolific athlete, award winning mountain climber and an officer with promise, Maj Javed Akhtar embraced shahadat in East Pakistan in the hostilities preceding the actual commencement of the 1971 Indo-Pak War. What follows is a story of patriotism, courage, grit, and valour of not just the man who went to answer the call of duty but also of those he left behind to bear the torch.
Dhaloi Molvi Bazar, Sylhet, an area known for its tea gardens was crucial for Indian designs so it came under attack on October 28, 1971. Only two platoons of Pakistan Army were defending the post established there. Against this handful of patriots, the Indian Army sent the whole 2 Jat Regiment to attack and capture the post. The Pakistani officers and troops fought tooth and nail but were overcome and all of them laid down their lives for the motherland. Consequently, Battalion Head Quarters was unable to establish contact with forward posts, and so the 2IC of 30 FF Regiment, Maj Javed Akhtar, decided to take a platoon with him and head to Dhaloi post to assess the situation. Since there had been no contact, he was unaware of the heavy enemy deployment or what had transpired. After reaching the tea gardens and assessing the situation on ground, he decided to launch an attack to recapture the post. When Maj Javed headed out for assault, the enemy had already been alerted, thanks to the intelligence reports sent by Mukti Bahini and Indian spies who were present in the tea gardens in the guise of workers. 2 Jat Regiment ambushed Maj Javed and his party, surrounding them from all sides. The beleaguered men fought valiantly to try and break the cordon and, in the process, obliterated two platoons of the enemy, killing two officers and a JCO, but heavy fire from all sides lead to shahadat of most of Maj Javed’s men.
Maj Javed Akhtar came from a strong military background, so valour and sense of duty ran in his blood. Despite being outnumbered, Maj Javed Aktar whip-smart graduate of Staff College, Camberley, United Kingdom, pressed on as one after the other his brave soldiers fell for the glory of the country: none of them willing to surrender. When one of his men (the only surviving member of his party) was shot, Maj Javed evacuated him to safety and despite the heavy fire went back in saying that he could not abandon his mission or leave his other wounded soldiers behind to die; he went back in, never to return.
Meanwhile, separated by a thousand miles of hostile Indian territory, in West Pakistan, his wife Kausar was busy preparing for Eid-ul-Fitr. That day she had gone to the market to get her elder son’s Eid clothes. When she got home, the orderly came running and before she could get her children out of the car told her that there had been a phone call at the neighbours’ house about Maj Javed. That rang alarm bells in her head and she headed straight to her neighbours to inquire about the call. She was told that it wasn’t anything important. She suspected something serious so she made a call to an uncle of hers who was also in the Army. He told her that Maj Javed had only been wounded and there was nothing to worry about. She was not convinced.
Later that night, her father arrived at her doorstep accompanied by two of her husband’s course mates. He took her in his embrace and broke into tears. She knew what was coming but inquired anyway, only to have her suspicions confirmed that her husband had attained the status of Allah’s blessed one — a shaheed.
Maj Javed Akhtar Shaheed’s body was never recovered. For the longest time his mother and wife kept hoping that he might return. Whenever there was an unexpected late night caller to her house, his mother thought it might be her son, her only child — her hopes dashed every time. She had asked her son not to go to war telling him that even the Prophet (SAW) told his companions not to go to war without the permission of their parents. However, when her son sat at her feet and pleaded that he wouldn’t be able to look in the mirror knowing he didn’t go while his soldiers and comrades went to lay their lives for the country, that he would think of himself as a coward, she conceded saying, “If not going means my son will feel like a coward, I won’t have it!”
Mrs. Maj Javed Akhtar Shaheed was residing in Mangla with her four children (the last of whom was born only three months before his father’s shahadat) in the Army provided accommodation when her husband of seven years was martyred. She says that she did not feel any fear or hesitation when her husband was posted out to East Pakistan even though she was pregnant with her youngest child — a time when a woman needs her husband the most. After all, coming from a family with many generations in the Military, she had just as much courage and sense of duty ingrained in her as her husband.
She was a source of comfort and strength for him and he relied heavily on her support in all matters despite her being much younger than him. The day he left for his mission, in his last conversation with her, he requested her to bring back his mother from her visit to the village and to take good care of her. The canteen contractor from 30 FF with which Maj Javed was attached showed her his last canteen bill on which was written in his handwriting: “Kausar will pay.” And to this day, she is doing her duty to her husband.
Mrs. Kausar Javed moved to Rawalpindi after the dust settled instead of moving to her father’s house in Jehlum to give better educational opportunities to her children. Even though Maj Javed Akhtar Shaheed — an inspiration for other brave hearts like Maj Shabbir Sharif Shaheed, Nishan-e-Haider, his cadet at PMA, who joined 6 FF following in the footsteps of his mentor and who even followed him to the ranks of shuhada during the same Indo-Pak War of 1971 — was not there to help her, Mrs. Kausar Javed made sure that she brought her children up in a way that would make him proud. As a single parent, life was tough for her but she knew that she had to be strong for her children. This courageous woman braved through it all and brought up her children — Mrs. Kanwal Irfan, Maj (R) Shehryar Javed, Mrs. Umber Ahsan and Lt Col (R) Waqas Javed — in the best possible manner so that they have gone on to become good human beings and upstanding citizens. She says, “When my youngest son started going to school, I decided to start working. Initially, there was some opposition from family, but some family friends convinced my mother-in-law to let me work. I started working with Fauji Foundation and continued there for seventeen years. It wasn’t easy. I used to drop off my children to their schools, go to work and then pick them back up.” She juggled work and homelife in the best possible manner, never neglecting the care of her children so she could set an example of diligence and independence for them.
She is a source of strength for her children and a pillar of her extended family. Her children still rely heavily on her guidance and draw strength and assurance from her in times of difficulty. Her youngest son, Lt Col Waqas Javed, looks to her to this day whenever he has a concern. Her daughter, Mrs. Umber Ahsan, says that their mother is a role model for the siblings. “Even though we have all terribly missed our father’s presence all through our lives, our mother has never let us feel that we lack a parent’s support. She has taught us to be strong and to stay calm and composed in the face of any difficulty. She has raised us to be independent and rely on our own. She has always been content with her lot in life and taught us the same values,” she explains. She says that they learnt from their mother that they should be fearless in tackling life’s challenges. She also talks about how their mother demonstrated for them the way to keep a family together by always being there for her extended family and taking care of everyone around her, helping out in any way that was required.
Not only this, Mrs. Maj Javed undertook the monumental task of building her house never asking anyone for help. This woman of steel never let anyone think that just because she was a young war widow, mother of four, she could not take care of her affairs and had become a burden for them, even though her family came together for her and offered to take care of her in the aftermath of Maj Javed’s shahadat.
Mrs. Maj Javed not only did her duty to her husband but also kept his memory alive for next generations. She not only tells them all she could about him but also maintains an album that features his accomplishments so that even though the references to his valour abound in Pakistan’s military history, his progeny should have first-hand knowledge of who he was as a person. It is her efforts in this regard that when her grandson (Capt Haider Gulrez, 9 FF) decided to join the Army, he declared that he wasn’t following in the footsteps of his father or paternal grandfather (both being Army officers) rather his maternal grandfather, Maj Javed Akhtar Shaheed. Mrs. Umber Ahsan says, “We had always been told that our father is a shaheed and to this day when someone says he died I correct them. For us he has always been around and the belief that a shaheed is not dead is what keeps us going.” She says that despite all the accomplishments of the rest of the family, they all still believe that their father gave the identity they are most proud of; for them to be the offspring of a shaheed is an honour like no other. She believes that the pride and honour that he bestowed upon his family by making the supreme sacrifice is priceless. The sense of patriotism and the thought it evokes is the reason that she supported her son’s decision to join Pakistan Army even though she knew that the life of an Army officer is that of discomfort and constant challenges.
Mrs. Maj Javed says that after her husband’s shahadat, her children kept her going but on an emotional level, she has always missed the presence of her husband and felt loneliness without him. The void became even more pronounced when she had to take major decisions in life, for her children; “I had no one to share responsibility with, in such cases, but with Allah’s help and the support of my father I pulled through,” she says.
The grit shown by women like Mrs. Maj Javed Akhtar Shaheed is what makes our nation resilient and strong. It is the conviction, strength of character, and support of such brave women, that men like Maj Javed Akhtar Shaheed carve out their names in the annals of history. Mrs. Maj Javed says that everyone has to leave this world, it is how one departs makes the difference. “My husband is a national hero. When he embraced shahadat, the then Chief of Army Staff wrote in his condolence letter to me, ‘No doubt your loss is great and irreparable but Pakistan has lost a great general’. I only had seven years with him — seven great years — but the honour he has left us with is unmatched.”
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