Today’s Kamal Khan was nothing like the shy, hesitant 18-year-old who had joined the army a mere two years prior. On that day, most of the recruiters and interviewers had marked his file as a washout—unable to complete basic training, much less achieve the numerous medals and trophies that decorated his chest and bookshelf at home.
Having grown up in a wealthy Pashtun household, Kamal had shocked his family when he chose to enlist in the military rather than attend university. Not a stellar academic student, Kamal didn’t feel that he would be able to excel in the university environment as much as he would in the military.
His father, Afzal Khan, an economist at a private bank, had taught him with the stick rather than with love and care, regularly using his fists to teach Kamal the basic lessons of life. He was unconcerned with what career choice young Kamal made.
“He won’t complete basic training,” he would say. “Look at him. Does he look like a soldier?”
“Dad, that’s what the army is for.” Kamal would say. “They will turn me into a soldier.”
“Not you, Kamal! You should be thankful if they even let you in the door.”
Today, that was not the Kamal Khan that stood before his commanding officer. He was strong, confident and ready to be a professional soldier.
Kamal leapt from his seat in the outer office and snapped to a solid salute when his commanding officer entered.
“God dammit soldier,” came the retort from Major Aziz. “What are you here to bother me about now?”
“Sir, I am here for your command approval for transfer,” said Kamal holding his salute, awaiting the Major’s ‘at ease’ command.
“Follow,” said the Major as he motioned over his shoulder.
Major Aziz was the commanding officer for the snipers of the artillery division based at the Lahore Garrison. He had served the nation proudly for over ten years and earned his command by proving himself on the battlefield. This was a monthly exercise for him with Kamal.
Each month, Kamal would come to the command center requesting permission for consideration for the intelligence division of the army. Each month, the Major would outline for Kamal why he would not be able to succeed in the intelligence division, but it was never a deterrence as he would return the next month with the same request.
“Corporal, this is the last time I am going to entertain you,” the Major said firmly. “Last month, we had this discussion and both agreed that you were not ready. What has changed in 30 days?”
“Sir, I am not requesting your permission any longer,” said Kamal. “I am demanding it.”
“Demanding it?” the Major barked back, “Who the fuck do you think you are? What makes you think that you can come in here and demand anything?”
“Sir…” Kamal tried to interrupt.
“Do I look like I am done talking soldier?” screamed the Major. “I should send you to the Siachen for a year just to remind of your place in this army!”
Kamal stood at full attention waiting for the Major to complete his abuse. Preparing to speak each time the Major stopped to take a breath, only to exhale as the abuse continued.
“Give me your fucking request, so I can put this to rest once and for all!” said the Major ripping the paper from Kamal’s outstretched hand.
As he reached for his red refused stamp, he stopped and gave Kamal a devilish smile.
“You want to go to intelligence?” asked the Major.
Kamal hesitated and then nodded his head realizing that this was not a rhetorical question. Grabbing his pen from his table, the Major took a deep breath and looked at the Corporal.
“Then go,” said the Major. “But if you fail there, I will have you dishonorably discharged from the army. Do you want me to sign this with that understanding?”
Kamal thought for a split second, weighing all the possible scenarios of his impending decision. Finally, Kamal looked firmly into the Major’s eyes and said, “Sir, yes sir!”
And with a glide of the pen, Kamal was given permission to interview with the intelligence division.
Enlistment in the intelligence division was not an easy road for any serving soldier. There were a battery of written examinations and physical endurance that had to be successfully completed before even being considered. Kamal knew that this would either be the beginning or the end of his career, but this was now his chosen path, for better or worse.
“Thank you sir,” Kamal said before turning towards the door.
“Corporal,” came the booming voice from behind him, “make this command proud or don’t come back.”