Author : M. Salahuddin Khan
Publisher : Karakoram Press
ISBN : 978-0-578-05288-5
Sikander - A story bringing glimpses of the changes in the world. The changes which rechristened the world as:
a) pre-dismantled USSR and post-dismantled USSR (Pre-dismantled USSR phase saw the world divided more on the basis of ideologies or philosophies - communism versus capitalism. After the demise of USSR, this division lost its existence to a large extent)
b)pre-9/11 and post 9/11 - (Post 9/11 world is now divided on religious fault lines)
This book enlightens the world's citizens about the dreams, realities and struggles of people of Afghanistan and Pakistan and what it is like to be among those who bore the brunt of these changes the most. The saga provides just the right balance of historical facts of the happenings in the west Asian region as well as the personal and emotional perspective to the sequence of events through the central character Sikander.
The life of a seventeen-year old Pakistani student Sikander, takes an unexpected turn when after having an argument with his father, he decides to leave the comforts of the home in order to prove his worth to his family and specifically to his father. A chance meeting with an Afghan Mujahideen group steers his life towards the struggle to fight against the occupying Soviet. While being a part of them and dealing with the harsh realities of the war, he realized how different was the experience of actually living the war in comparison to the intellectual debates that he often engaged in with his class fellows.
Sikander gets chosen for the Britain sponsored special training of an advanced weapon - Stinger
Missile, which was conducted in the beautiful locales of Applecross (Scotland). The author brings out the irony of the whole situation through perfectly apt words - "He was in the nameless paradise having come to learn how to kill people whose names he'd never know, who would be trying their best to kill him without knowing who he was, for reasons at best only vaguely understood by them, but largely to avoid their own deaths. And it wouldn't end there. Who knew how many disasters would be spawned by any one of those deaths? Or for that matter, by that same death not occurring?"
With America's assistance in the form of weapons, expertise and the finances, the mujahideen could vanquish Soviets and made them retreat. Now Sikander could go back home as an experienced and a matured individual hoping to start a normal life in Pakistan with his new Afghani bride.
But unfortunately it was not meant to be. Shortly after Sikander's home coming, 9/11 happened. Perhaps bad US foreign policy was responsible for the birth of a monster which had eventually attacked America itself. Sikander found himself trapped in the aftermaths of this ghastly event when he was falsely convicted as Taliban or Al-Qaeda terrorist .
People of Afghanistan, who were waiting for the peaceful period after Soviets left could not enjoy it for long. On one side, the Taliban brought more confusion in the country and enforced stricter rules especially for women and on the other they had the American attack to deal with. Pakistan was equally confused. The Pakistani people were expected to sever all links and ties with Afghanistan and Afghani people overnight.
I specifically liked the way author emphasized the need and desire of every individual to have a peaceful and happy environment and that hatred cannot be a solution to any problem. The end of Sikander's odyssey could not have been better when Mahler(the American in charge of Sikander in captivity, post 9/11) so desperately wants to search for that one thing which had eluded him so far - the humanity. Humanity - which does not come by just belonging to a certain caste, community, religion or nation.
These are some of the questions that are so validly raised in the book:
1) Americans decided to catch the criminals in the Afghanistan land post 9/11, yet so many men, women, children had to die to let the Americans have their revenge. What kind of revenge is this?
2) With the aim to eradicate terrorism from the society, the nature of actions that are taken, is it ensuring a terrorism free world or leading to a situation where new terrorists are going to get spawned by the unintended death of a father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife or child? Would the surviving family members see these events as accidents and applaud the justice of America?
3) Who is responsible for the plight that the middle eastern part of the world is in - the misplaced priorities, short sighted foreign policies or petty interests?
The author has very rightly pointed out the doubts which must have bothered many Pakistani and Afghani people at some point of time - Did God that created the cosmos and managed all existence for tens of billions of years has formed a preference for blessing America, which has existed for a little more than two hundred of those years? If God cared for nations more than human beings, would he pick America over others? Why would he not want to bless Iraq, Pakistan or Afghanistan at least as much as America?
Many books have been written on this topic but 'Sikander' presents systematic and humane saga of common people living in Pakistan and Afghanistan. How like the people in the rest of the world, they also enjoy freedom, peace, fearless environment and happiness. World needs to understand what America is fighting for in Afghanistan and it is very important to realize that when any ammunition is used against people of a particular city or a village, it does not discriminate common innocent people from the handfuls who are at fault.
A must read for all those who want to know the truth behind the whole issue, why it gained such monstrous proportion and the questions which are unanswered still. A perfect mix of fiction, entertainment, reality and truth. In spite of the book exposing some harsh realities and ugly truths, the tone of the book is very positive and warm, because of the brilliant character portrayal of Sikander.
"You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend" - Paul Sweeney
After reading Sikander, I really felt like I lost a dear friend and am sure other readers will feel the same for this book. Sikander is one character who will stay with me for a very long time.