Friday, November 20, 2009


Brigadier (r) Samson Simon Sharaf

Major General (Retired) Amir Faisal Alavi, the 1st General Officer Commanding of the Special Services Group (SSG) of Pakistan Army was ambushed and gunned down by assassins on 19 November 2008, a few hundred meters away from his house in Bahria Town Rawalpindi.

A down to earth and plain speaking soldier, Alvi’s only appetite was his motivational vocation. ‘Soldiers are sworn for life’ is what he said to me in 1972. Alavi lived and died a soldier.

When I joined Pakistan Military Academy in 1972, a group of seniors came to rag me. The news had spread that I spoke lucid English but typical Lahori Urdu. Ragging for fun was followed by a visit to the cafeteria, where we chanced to talk of our common linkages in Kenya. I was impressed the way he talked of Pakistan, the army and the sacrifices we needed to make to avenge 1971. Unlike most, he was a Pakistani by choice and renounced his British moorings with the intervention of Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the President of Pakistan.

Alavi was amongst the genre that volunteered for the Army after the tragedy of 1971. These years of yester taught us to be proud as well as unbending in honest failure. It opened vistas of true wisdom and meekness of strength. Our emotions were not ours alone but also shared by every grieved Pakistani. There was always, a temperate will, a quality of imagination, vigour of the emotions, an appetite for adventure and the resolve to win back the lost honour.

In the academy library, he held out the autobiography of General Douglas MacArthur and asked me to read, “It is the destiny of every professional soldier to lie in wait for a day that may never come and yet be prepared if it does even at the peril of his life”.

Soldiering for Alavi, spanned those romantic expanses of military life through its peaks and valleys, which none other than soldiers grasp; and always leading towards a horizon of ideals that no profession but soldiering rival. “The honour of the country is paramount; that of the men we command the next; and self, the last”. He was a Pakistani soldier who lived and died every moment of it.

Gen Alavi, General Officer Commanding of SSG, personally led the anti terrorism operation in Angoor Adda Waziristan in 2004/5. The operation was conducted to flush out Al Qaeda Militants from a base inside Pakistan, close to the Afghan Border. Many Afghans and Arabs were either killed or captured including a senior Al Qaeda operative Abdul Rehman Sherry. Ever since, he was in cross hairs.

Ironically, the emotive traits of flirting with danger, fearlessness, aggression and plain speaking that made Alavi a domineering military leader were also his undoing. After his forced retirement, there were failed attempts on his life and death threats chalked on his Bahria Town residence. Surprisingly, his security level was never raised. Finally a group led by Ilyas Kashmiri got him outside his house between 9-9:30 AM on 19 November 2008.

My last meeting with him was in PC Rawalpindi. He was now the CEO of Redtone, a Malaysian telecom company in Islamabad. He had no regrets with a deep personal conviction that he was right. He wanted to redeem his honour at any cost and mentioned death as his final vindication. The honest child in him remained; A boarder of Abbotabad Public School, climbing dangerously to pluck pears and bunk nights for the sake of thrill.

Such are the rallying points to build courage when valour seems to fail; to regain faith when despair haunts; and to create hope when it is forlorn. It was this code that sustained a sense of pride and yet of humility in Alvi even after his pre-mature retirement.

Alavi loved to flirt with danger.

In boxing he took on Talat, a cadet twice his weight and danced around him. In assault course, he set a record and jumped obstacles reminiscent of the Kenyan safari land he came from. Like the marathon runners he had lived his childhood with, he would always lead the gruelling nine miles.

We were together in School of Infantry and Tactics as instructors and he craved to identify those ruthless vertical climbers. During our Staff College Course together, we had the honour of bringing up the tail in the two mile endurance test.

But my best memory is our parachuting course together in 1973. It was gruellingly tough though all fun. We were in the same flight.

As the last post echoed and he was laid to final rest I could hear him yelling, ‘four men right door’ and off we jumped into the open sky. ALAVI MY CHEERLEADER!

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