May 29, 1989, a team of paratroopers, led by Brig. Tariq Mehmood, for a free fall demonstration at the Army Aviation passing out parade at Rahwali near Gujranwala.That ill-fated day, circumstances took unfavorable turn. TM’s first Parachute did not open and the ropes got badly entangled. He cut those ropes with his dagger, and tried to open the backup Parachute. Its ropes also got cut and the parachute failed to deploy. At that moment the velocity with which he was coming down was enormous. He tried his best and somersaulted several times to cut speed but in vain, his distressed family witnessing this calamity helplessly from below. He hit the ground with a very high momentum and embraced shahadat.
Brig. Tariq Mehmood was one of the most decorated soldiers of Pakistan Army* who fought in two wars and completed various special and classified operations. He played a father-like role in Special Services Group and has left a deep legacy. He was given the title of ‘Man of Steel’ and this steel man carved a legendary path which today’s commandos strive to follow. His dedication and sincere efforts helped to make our Special Forces rank as one of the finest in the world.
I still remember, it was a pitch black night when we started off from Pabbi for the mountain city of Cherat, the abode of the gallant soldiers. It was a narrow, winding road and in between turns, we caught glimpses of some flickering lights on a faraway ridge. That was Cherat, known as ‘The House of the Eagles’. For my father it was like going home, as we were to attend the re-union of his course at the Special Services Group, SSG . Reaching Cherat around midnight, we were given a whole hearted and over whelming reception which made us feel at home at once. Our host was the Commandant SSG, a stocky, well-built man with a pleasant countenance, surrounded by an aura of grace and composure. This was Brig. Tariq Mehmood, popularly called, TM.
TM had been my father’s course mate at SSG and both of them shared a long history of comradeship. They had also completed the Para Course and Air Bourne Operations Course together and I was told that not only was TM the Master Paratrooper, after the completion of his fifty jumps, but he was also a master strategist and tactical thinker.
We grew up listening to interesting stories and anecdotes from their adventurous and rigorous lives as commandos. Recollections of how during physical training, they had to go through grueling forced 36-mile marches to be completed in 12 hours and run 5 miles in under 40 minutes with full gear. How during exercises they had to brave inclement weather, and make way though harsh terrains, eating scarcely and drinking out of muddy puddles for days at end.
Once crossing though the old Attock bridge, we were told that one dark, cold night, during a covert mission, they had to climb on the trusses and crawl all though the span to reach the other side, unseen by the enemy. Seeing the mighty Indus flowing in its full swing under the bridge, I found this story very frightening and at that time I wished each of them had a ‘Sulemani Topi’ like Umro Ayar to make them invisible to the enemy.
My favorite story remained the one about how after a whole day and night of travelling through wilderness, starved and exhausted, they reached a village where, to their delight, a ‘daig’ was being cooked. The villagers were hospitable and offered to share. But how they had to wait for what seemed like eternity, amid the inviting aroma of the rice and meat, for the ‘Chacha’ to arrive… as the old man in charge of the whole ‘daig’ affair was adamant that it will be opened only on the arrival of his ‘Chacha’ from the neighboring village.
How once on climbing a steep ridge, during an exercise, a rock fell on TM’s forehead and broke into pieces. This incident earned him the name ‘Pathar Tor’ in SSG circles.
These vivid memoirs made TM a regular name in our household and our minds got imprinted with sharp impressions of respect and admiration for him.
During our stay, we visited TM and his family a couple of times in his majestic house on a ridge in Cherat. Thinking of that house now, reminds me of a saying that ‘Great men are like eagles and build their nests on some lofty solitude’. He was indeed a great man, a heroic soldier and a true friend. Fear and hesitation being alien to him, his philosophy to achieve was simple; he just needed the plan, the road map and the go ahead signal to press on to the destination with invincible determination.
After that meeting in Cherat, I had some fleeting glimpses of him at the Pakistan day Parades, leading the contingent of his gallant commandoes, clad in camouflage combat dress and maroon berets. TM’s thundering voice being distinct as they chanted ‘Allah Hu,’ marching on in their unique style. Just looking at them ran chills through the blood and boosted the morale of the nation.
Brig TM always led the team of paratroopers carrying the national flag, on Pakistan day parades. He did this for the last time on 23rd March, 1989.
On his last day, at that dire moment when he would have realized all efforts were ineffective…and the end was inevitable. Knowing him, it is certain that he would have recited ’Kalimah e Shahadat’ and surrendered to the will of Allah. It was one mission he failed to accomplish but it was the ultimate win, by the will of Allah.
Brig Tariq Mehmood is considered to be one of the best commandoes of the 20th century. Our nation is and will always be proud of this Man of Steel, who with his unwavering courage and legendary valor, became the personified version of the SSG slogan, ‘جانبازم من ‘
* TM Shaheed, (Oct 8, 1938 – May 29, 1989)