Excerpts from Random Musings by Dr. Alaf Khan-VIII

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Excerpts from Random
Musings by Dr. Alaf Khan-VIII

In the Frontier

The reborn NWFP had no teaching medical cadre. Khyber Medical College was under the semi-autonomous Peshawar University. The government could accommodate me in my pay scale only as District Physician in the Bannu District Headquarters Hospital (DHQ). Driving alone on the rough, narrow, desolate and serpentine road from Peshawar to Bannu was a four-hour-long ordeal on 7 July 1970. An old friend and co-tribesman, the late Fazlur Rahman Safi, was the local Traffic Magistrate in Bannu. I stayed with him for a week until I rented a small place having two small rooms and a veranda. Municipal supply of brownish water came for an hour twice a day. We stored our supply in several large earthenware pitchers. Stray dogs roamed the street round the clock. Dacoities and kidnappings were daily hazards. Here I encountered my first-ever case of established rabies in the 12 years old son of a school teacher. The healthy-looking handsome boy was buried two days later. More about him and rabies later.

The initially frightening job in Bannu soon proved enjoyable. A tall and shapely man wearing Frontier Constabulary uniform and splashing a mega-grin across his face entered as the Medical Superintendent and I were sipping our forenoon tea. I was introduced to him as Dr. Alaf Khan, Bannu’s first-ever Medical Specialist. The visitor was introduced as Wajahat Latif, District Officer of Frontier Constabulary. Wajahat’s shoulder straps were those of a Superintendent of Police (SP). It felt as if I had known Wajahat for ages. Mian Shaukat Mahmood was a Central Superior Services (CSS) batch mate of Wajahat and was posted as Superintendent of Peshawar Central Prison. Wajahat one day phoned him to accommodate me in his jail’s Rest House overnight on my way to the village for Eid. Wajahat and Shaukat have been my closest friends ever since 1970.


Dr. Alaf Khan

Brigadier Bashir was the Station Commander and Sub-Martial Law Administrator (SMLA) of Bannu District. He was married to the sister of K. H. Khurshid, the ninth President of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and an erstwhile Private Secretary to Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Bashir allotted me a spacious colonial-era bungalow in the cantonment between his own and Wajahat’s. The three of us spent almost every evening together until my transfer to Abbottabad in September 1971. Brig. Bashir’s brother, the late Khalid Hasan, was a famous American novelist. He gave us his delightful company for a few weeks in 1970 and again in 1971. He served as Bhutto’s Press Secretary for a while and was later made Chairman of the National Book Foundation of Pakistan. Bashir, Wajahat and I drove down to Dera Ismail Khan once or twice a month for enjoying the company and hospitality of Jamil Ahmad, the Divisional Commissioner. Jamil’s Bavarian widow (Helga) has been fighting an incessant humanitarian battle against the human folly that threatens all life on earth. She writes copiously and forcefully about the looming catastrophe in the form of climate change and water scarcity.

Jamil was a scholarly person and an expert on antiques. He last served as Chief Secretary to the government of Baluchistan. The measure of his character showed itself when he collided head-on with the governor, Lt. Gen. Rahim Uddin. The governor had asked him to implement some order of his that Jamil Ahmad deemed improper. After perhaps some altercation between the two, Jamil, I was told, left his desk for good. It was his way of telling the governor that he could wash his dirty laundry himself. Jamil, in the last few years of his long life, acquired literary fame through his novel, The Wandering Falcon, that portrays life in the tribal belt of the NWFP and Swat state.

Amanullah Khan from Peshawar was Superintendent of Police for Bannu District. Though personally cordial towards me, he made little contact with the other members of our group. His son, Hafizullah, was then a student in a Cadet College. During his summer vacations, Hafizullah periodically joined me on the ward rounds to learn the ABC of medicine ahead of his expected clinical training in Khyber Medical College. Hafizullah retired in March 2016 as Professor of Cardiology in the Postgraduate Medical Institute, Peshawar, but continued to serve as Vice-Chancellor of Khyber Medical University for many year.

Capt. Ashraf Hussain was the Deputy Commissioner of Bannu residing in a bungalow close to ours. He was somewhat of a recluse by nature and was seldom at ease in a group. He gave us his company not too frequently. His son, Nasim Ashraf, was then a medical student at Khyber Medical College. He also used to join me on the ward rounds during his vacations. He is settled in the USA and UAE as a practicing nephrologist, humanitarian activist and politician. He had befriended Gen. Pervez Musharraf before the latter’s military coup of 12 October 1999. The General brought his doctor friend to Islamabad and posted him as Minister of State in the Federal Government for all the years that Musharraf was in power. The two friends departed together after Musharraf’s ouster in 2008. Together we came, and together we will go is what Gen. Fazle Haq is reported to have said to Gen. Ziaul Haq in one of their meetings. So did Musharraf and his doctor friend. Personally, Nasim Ashraf and his doctor wife Aseela have always been very affectionate and very respectful to me all these years.

Sarfaraz Khan of Dera Ismail Khan was posted in Bannu as a Junior Revenue Officer (Naib Tehsildar). He, his young wife, their four months old daughter and their housemaid lived in a small rented house inside the walled city of Bannu. It was December 1970 and general elections had just started countrywide. Sarfaraz had been sent on Elections duty to some remote station. Contact with him was possible only through some special messenger. Their housemaid approached me in the ward one morning. ˜We don’t know where sahib (Sir) is. Bibi (Madam) is lying unconscious. Her baby is starving and just whimpering. Please come and see Bibi. We walked the short distance to their house. The young woman lay pale, cold and virtually unconscious. Her feeble pulse was barely palpable in the neck only. Her Blood Pressure was unrecordable. Her belly was distended and had signs of free liquid rather than gas. I scratched every bit of my head for a possible answer. Can only be a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, I argued with myself. But she is breastfeeding her four months old baby. I countered my own reasoning in an effort to avoid a misdiagnosis. ˜So what?, I silently discarded my own logic.˜Get a buggy to take us to the hospital, I asked the housemaid. The patient, fortunately, had a very small frame and an equally lean build. Placing her in the tonga wasn’t difficult. Dr. Bashir Ahmad, our Medical Superintendent, had had considerable general surgical experience but wasn’t very conversant with obstetric emergencies. That was when and where my six months as Obstetric House Officer in Glasgow in 1963 rescued us and Mrs. Sarfaraz Khan. Having no anesthetist on the staff, Bashir and I generously infiltrated the skin and muscles of her belly with a local anesthetic to reach the ruptured Fallopian tube. The free blood in her belly was collected and, after filtering it through layers of surgical gauze to remove clots, was re-transfused into her. That young mother had so many babies later with her one remaining ovary and a single tube that she had to be sterilized. About 18 years later my wife and I were Special Guests at a wedding reception in Peshawar’s Greens Hotel. The bride was Nadia, that four months old baby that I had first seen in Bannu in December 1970 lying by her unconscious mother’s side.

(To be continued)

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