In Pakistan I discovered the full force of religious faith. I covered my first war, the struggle which was to lead to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. After several days’ fighting in the Saidpur region, in the north of what was East-Pakistan, but only for a few more days, I asked the Pakistani army to escort me back to Dacca, so that I could send my films to Paris - I had a scoop. They took me, by night, to a makeshift landing zone. Just like in a film, the moonlight picked out the silhouette of the General and his escort scanning the sky, anxiously awaiting the helicopter which would ferry us over the Indian lines surrounding us. Again, just like in a film, the chopper did not appear. The General then decided to cross the enemy lines by road - he had to be at his HQ by morning - and invited me to go with him. Were my films worth such a risk? I told myself that a General did not take as many risks as a lieutenant and agreed to go with him. What I did not know, and one look at his face the next morning revealed this, was that I was dealing with one of those firebrand Generals, a ‘mad General’, the sort who leads his troops into battle himself. Since then I have never accepted an invitation from anyone whose face I could not see in the dark.

While the General busied himself rustling up a bigger escort, I asked his aide-de-camp, a captain, what the chances were. He answered: ‘It’s suicide!’ It was too late to turn back and from time to time I had to test my luck. Two trucks bristling with machine guns surrounded the general’s jeep, and that idiot put me in the first vehicle. We would be the first in the firing line, that was certain. Wedged between the driver and the aide-de-camp, I would not be able to jump out quickly, and I wouldn’t even get any shots of the night attack: using a flash was out of the question. The convoy stopped every half-hour, so that the general could consult his map by the light of a dim torch. When at the fourth halt the aide-de-camp muttered ‘to be honest, I think we’re lost,’ fear, which I had felt only vaguely at first, crept up on me.

At dawn, ‘when a white thread can be distinguished from a black one’, as in the Muslim tradition, we stopped for longer. Increasingly anxious, I got out to see what the hell this general was up to, holding us up when we no longer had the cover of darkness, right in the middle of enemy lines. I found him by the roadside, behind the last truck, quietly absorbed in dawn prayer. My fear evaporated at once. With men of this calibre, nothing could happen to us. Nothing did happen to us.

Abbas Allah O Akbar':' a journey though militant Islam October 1, 2008
Posted on October 1, 2008