An Afternoon at the Famous Sandhurst Military Academy with Pakistan Army’s Major Uqbah
By Dr Amineh Hoti
Centerfor Dialogue and Action
I met Major Uqbah from the Pakistan army at Kristiane Baker’s sufi-flavoured dinner in central London where we were all introduced to Salman Sahib, the direct descendant of the great sufi saint of Amjer Sharif, Khwaja Moinuddin Chisthy. Subsequently, Major Uqbah invited my husband, Arsallah, my son, Ibrahim and myself to visit him at Sandhurst where he was based for two years.
Major Uqbah was the first ever Muslim and only Pakistani teaching at Sandhurst. At the station, Major Uqbah himself came to receive us in his smart Pakistan army khaki uniform and green hat. The Pakistani flag badge shone bright and proudly on his chest. We drove off in his Mercedes car towards Sandhurst as he explained all the historical buildings and the very distinguished people who were at Sandhurst. Major Uqbah said there were many Pakistani students at Sandhurst. Like Major Uqbah, I admired the English culture of education and training which attracted so many people from around the world to its schools, universities and training centres.
Major Uqbah walked us through the Sandhurst’s halls and corridors which were aligned with numerous pictures of soldiers and battles from the subcontinent. The pictures below show an array of officers, including those in battle.
One of the main entrances led to a large hall where the name “Waziristan” was engraved on one of the stained glass windows: a Pukhtun soldier stood proudly with his patkay and his rifle and looked straight into the eyes of the beholder. As a young girl I spent a few happy years in Waziristan – now one of the most droned places on earth – as my father was posted as political agent in the Wana and Tank areas of Waziristan. My childhood memories were of playing with the children of local Wazirs who were always proud, friendly and helpful.
In another room of Sandhurst accessible only to senior army officers, there were presentations from each country: Pakistan had gifted a small bronze statue of a rider tent pegging on a fast riding horse chasing his target.
In a time when Pakistan’s reputation abroad has not been most desirable in the media, I was impressed with the respect Major Uqbah received: English students and soldiers saluted him and even politely and respectfully stopped for him on their way. Major Uqbah always had a friendly greeting in return for each one of them. But Major Uqbah said he drew the line of loyalty: in the entrance hall, there was a striking large painting of Her Majesty the Queen – looking radiant like the sun and central in the picture, Prince Charles and his two sons, Prince William and Harry, with Camilla in the shadows. Major Uqbah said he did not take either a picture or his oath at the feet of this painting. Perhaps, this was nothing personal against the royal family, but a deeply embedded memory of the colonial past people in South Asia held in their collective and individual memories.
After a very English lunch of fish and chips at the formal hall, and tea in the private rooms of the officers only, which reminded me of the formalities of Oxbridge Colleges, we visited the library.
Major Uqbah showed us the books he had donated on the Quaid-i- Azam – the founder of Pakistan, who was a lawyer trained in England and who had fought hard for the rights of minorities, which resulted in the second largest Muslim nation on earth, Pakistan. He showed us his name honored under the title “Overseas Sword” along with the names of others.
In reciprocity, I donated our Centre’s peacebuilding textbooks to the library on Teaching Acceptance with the hope that young cadets will learn about an interdisciplinary method of peacebuilding and also learn to fight for peace, not just by the sword, but with the more powerful tools of respect and empathy for other nations and peoples. It was a wonderful visit to Sandhurst and the fact that Major Uqbah showed us around in the best style of South Asian, Pakistani hospitality made this trip very special for us all.