Azam Mairaj

EEver since the creation of Pakistan the sons of Pakistan’s soil belonging to the Christian community, have always presented themselves for the defence of the country along with their Muslim brothers, and even sacrificed their lives for the motherland, as and when the testing time came.

Shaheed Lance Naik Yaqoob Masih was the first of this caravan of martyrs, who hoisted the national flag over the Pando top during the battle for Kashmir in 1948. As the details are not available, very few have mentioned of this martyrdom in their books. This scribe contacted the 21 Punjab, the unit of Capt Sarwar Shaheed (Nishan-i-Haider), with a hope of information about LN Yaqoob Masih but in vain. Be it the 1948, the 1965 & 1971 Pak-India wars, the 1999 Kargil conflict or the ongoing war against terror, our brave Christian soldiers and officers have always been ready to defend the homeland shoulder to shoulder with others. The number of Christian martyrs is in hundreds. Among them are: Yaqoob Masih Shaheed, the martyr of Pando 1948; Pilot Officer Novan Theodore Fazal Elahi Shaheed who mastered the skill of passing the aircraft from under the bridge of Attock; Flight Lieutenant Edwin Shaheed who lost his life during F-86 aircraft crash in Quetta in 1995.

Recently in the April 7 Gayari sector avalanche incident four out of 139 martyrs of Pakistan Army were Christians – Asif Masih, Amon Gill, Adil Masih and Naveed Masih. On the ill-fated day, the Christian soldiers were observing their Easter festival along with their colleagues on duty, far from their families, and embraced shahadat.

We have the story of Squadron Leader Peter Christy Shaheed who was among the ones who retaliated with full force in the 1965 war. As Flight Lieutenant he took part as navigator of B-57 Canberra aircraft and remained part of many successful operational missions. To honour his bravery and professional skills, the government awarded him Tamgha-e-Jurrat and promoted him as Squadron Leader. As the war in 1971 started, he was on deputation in PIA when he was called back and assigned the mission of destroying the Indian airport of Jamnagar, as there were reports of air attacks on Karachi. A Do-or-Die (DoD) mission was decided, the Christian base commander of Mauripur Base, Air Commodore Nazir Latif, gave a long briefing and two persons were selected for the mission – Squadron Leader Khusro, who had earlier been retired from the Air Force and called back, and Squadron Leader Peter Christy – both volunteered for the mission. On the morning of December 6, both headed for the mission in B-57 bomber aircraft. While after completing their mission they were returning, a surface to air missile hit their aircraft and both got martyred. The Indian Air Force did not verify this incident and they were declared “Missing in Action” and then ‘Martyred’.

Wing Commander Marvin Lesley was commissioned in 1954. In 1965, when enemy attacked Pakistan, then young Flight Lieutenant Marvin Lesley Middle Coat (known as Commander Lesley) was deployed at Masroor Base, Karachi. When the enemy attacked Karachi he was among those flying the F-86 aircraft. He destroyed two aircraft of the IAF. Because of his bravery and professionalism, he got the fame of “Defender of Karachi”. In Lahore at the Mushaf Air Base he was given the charge of 9 Squadron Command where he held the spirit of his Squadron high by leading from front. He performed 17 sorties and three photo reconnaissance missions. The government awarded him with Sitara-i-Jurrat. It is noteworthy that he left his attractive deputation at Jordon and voluntarily rushed back to Pakistan as the 1971 war started.  During the Operation “Amritsar Radar”, Commander Lesley was among the six pilots selected for this difficult mission that was meant to destroy India’s Jamnagar Air Base. On December 12 together with his colleagues when he completed his mission, an Indian MiG of 47 Squadron attacked them. He took a lower flight and saved his aircraft from two missiles but when he reached near Gulf of Kuchh, another missile hit his aircraft. According to Indian Air Force’s Flight Lieutenant Bharat Bhoshan Soni, who hit his aircraft, he saw him ejecting from the aircraft and falling in the deep sea and asked the headquarters to send a rescue team. When rescue team reached, Commander Lesley was found nowhere. He was declared “Missing in Action” and awarded Bar Two The Sitara-e-Jurrat. The same day, on December 12, another young man of 19 was writing the story of valour with his blood. Second Lieutenant Daniel Utarid Shaheed volunteered for the most difficult task when he was in the PMA, Kakul. He was deployed in Sylhet, East Pakistan. In the early morning of December 13, his Company returned from a night-long war mission; he was taking breakfast with his batman, then the news came of the enemy attack over a platoon of 31 Punjab; there were heavy losses. He got his soldiers ready and immediately reached the front. He got severe injuries during an encounter. When he was being operated upon, three bullets were removed from his chest, he asked the surgeon to please give those bullets to his mother as the souvenir. He was recommended for Sitara-i-Jurrat.Captain Michael Wilson Shaheed fought the enemy at Chumb Sector in 1971 war and got injured in a tank accident on November 21, 1972. A day before his martyrdom he was worried about the honour of his regiment, not life. Since 2003, the Christian soldiers have participated shoulder to shoulder with other in the war against terror. Shaheed of Nawazkot, Major Sarmas Rauf (Tamgha-e-Baslat) is one of them, who sacrificed his life for his motherland. He got commission through in 1987 and was attached to 44 FF. Out of 20 years of his service, he passed 17 years in the border areas of Sialkot, Kashmir, Siachen and Waziristan. He never preferred family responsibilities over the defence of country.

Ghazi of Kargil War 1999, hero of Marpola, the companion of Hawaldar Lalak Jan Shaheed (Nishan-e-Haider) and Captain Colonel Sher Khan Shaheed (Nishan-e-Haider), Major Sarmas Rauf was posted from 44 FF to Kurram Militia Parachinar on 3 January 2006. Since then the Pakistan Army started Operation Al-Meezan, Bajaur Scout 3 Wing had taken part in it and destroyed many important hideouts of extremists. When 3 Wing Bajaur Scout took responsibility of Nawazkot, Major Sarmas Rauf as a strong force against them. Four days before his martyrdom an important extremist commander, his son and several accomplices were killed in an encounter. To take the revenge the extremists took the siege of Nawazkot post with their posts at height where they occupied the routes of supply. Under his command the soldiers posed great resistance and caused major losses to the enemy continuously fighting for three consecutive days. As the ammunition exhausted, Major Sarmas Rauf took the difficult decision of evacuating the post and moved towards Razmak Fort. The brave soldier, the Ghazi of Kargil, transported all officers and soldiers to Razmak Fort, and finally headed himself to the fort, but while crossing a dry ravine his armored car got hit by a RPG 7 round. He got injured; due to excessive bleeding he passed away and met martyrdom. He was awarded Tamgha-i-Basalat. While summing up, I have full faith that the Christian sons of this soil have proved that as a nation whatever religion we belong to, we never let others realise that this country is only ours.n