My legs ached, my mind was numb and I had a sense that my body had ceased to exist. I had been marching alongside the soldiers of the 18th Punjab regiment, all of us in full kit, since the early hours when it was still dark. Every step was an exercise of will. The march was about 25 miles long on a flat monotonous thin road. It was the first long march from the Sialkot Cantonment after the summer months and its purpose was to position the regiment on the border with India, with which Pakistan had fought a war recently. It was late in 1967, and I was there as part of President Ayub Khan’s scheme to attach young CSP officers, the elite cadre of Pakistan’s civil service, to individual army regiments for three months. CSP officers were practically running the country and manning its divisions and districts and needed to understand the command structure of the Army, which then dominated the country. So, my entire CSP batch was sent off for attachment to an army unit before our posting as Assistant Commissioner in the field. That is how I found myself reporting to the 18th Punjab in 1967.Knowing how much depended on this march, as the army officers had been quite aggressively dismissive of civilian officers, considering them “softies” and “sissies,” I began a rigorous program of long walks on the Sialkot golf course wearing heavy army boots so that when the actual march took place I would not be completely unprepared. By marching with the soldiers, I wanted to show that civilians could do it. Once we set off, officers of the regiment repeatedly asked me to sit in the jeep with the luggage if I felt exhausted. I politely declined. The sun was now low and would soon set. We still had some distance before we arrived at our destination. As we neared our camp, I had a crazy idea. Let me run the last half mile to show the men that a civilian was up to the challenge. Perhaps, because I was by now quite light-headed with exhaustion I did not consider the possible perils of failure. My friend Major Khalid, a star hockey player for the Pakistan Army and very fit, walked alongside me, and, out of consideration for my reputation, tried to dissuade me. “Even if I collapse you make sure I continue,” I insisted. I knew if he ran with me, I would be able to try and keep up simply as a matter of honour; in that way, I would achieve my objective. With a degree of exasperation, he agreed. By now late in the march, the soldiers, or as they are popularly called jawans, divided on both sides of the thin metal road into two rows. The men had started the day looking impeccable in their starched uniforms with the plume in their caps riding high but now appeared tired and dishevelled. As Major Khalid and I began to run, our boots made a clacking sound on the metal road that was eerie as the noise broke the larger silence of the march; the soldiers stared at us in disbelief as we passed them by. To maintain their maximum best and preserve their integrity, the army needed to remain within its professional parameters. The impact on the regiment was electric. As we passed the junior officers who had made humorous remarks about the “soft” civil services, I could not resist calling out, “Come on, keep up with the civilian.” As this was done in good humour, everyone took it in that spirit. When we ran into the camp, the soldiers present setting it up looked in disbelief. “Where is everyone else?” “They’re on their way,” we said quietly with the air of someone who knew more than they did. It had been a test of stamina and strength. It was also a test of courage and dignity. The next day, my body and limbs ached as if I had been on the rack of a master torturer on loan from the Spanish Inquisition. The experience was what novelists call searing and the pain what they describe as excruciating. But it was a sweet pain because throughout the next day, and the days that followed, soldiers, sometimes in groups and sometimes individually, came to congratulate me. They were delighted that I had marched with them. After the march if I suggested I would like to accompany them for the day’s activities, they would insist I stay back and relax. I had shown them my commitment and I did not have to prove anything. For the men of the regiment, by so willingly marching with them, I had earned their respect. They felt I had honoured them. For them, that event would define me. What more could I ask for? Those were the beautiful winter months of Punjab when the sun gives enough warmth to take the chill out of the cold and there’s nothing like sitting in the sun reading a good book with regular cups of tea being served by friendly companions. As for meals, nothing could beat the simple diet of the ordinary jawan. Hot piping daal and naan so hot I could barely hold it. And on a cold day out in the field, nothing could taste better. On the long march, I saw that the men marched with a grim determination. There was no grumbling or objections. The men took their orders and obeyed. The result was resolution and a strong command structure—vital for any disciplined fighting force. It made them among the most formidable soldiers of Asia. It was from this Punjabi stock, prominent in both World Wars in which they fought for the imperial British and the Allies, that the 18 th Punjab regiment to which I had been attached was formed. The British had categorized them as the “martial races” and encouraged their recruitment. But I also saw even at that young age, I was just 24 years old then, how these very men not trained to deal with civil administration and civilian life would be exposed during the long bouts of martial law to the same pressures that civilians faced in terms of corruption, incompetence and nepotism. To maintain their maximum best and preserve their integrity, the army needed to remain within its professional parameters. Taking over civilian government was its kryptonite. As relations between the military and the civilian government would remain problematic and create tensions between the two in the coming time, there were lessons in my experiences for the future. It was imperative that both sides attempted to understand the other side. There were prejudices, but they could be overcome. Ayub Khan’s idea to attach CSP officers with army regiments was fine in theory. In practice, there were many problems. To start with the CSP did not take kindly to being attached with regiments and facing a backlash from Army officers constantly reminding them in different ways that as civilians they were effete and even corrupt; the implication was that by this logic and definition martial law was justified. Instead of creating goodwill, the scheme almost collapsed several times. The news of our march spread rapidly beyond our unit: a civilian had marched with the regiment. That night after I had struggled into the camp and fallen numb and exhausted into bed to sleep, the flap of my tent was suddenly opened and someone entered and asked loudly, “Who is the CSP civilian who marched with the men?” Half-awake, I said, “Yes, I am that civilian.” “I have come to congratulate you personally,” he said. “You have shown esprit de corps and motivation. Well done. The jawans are proud of you.” With that, he vanished into the night. The visitor was the already legendary Major Shabbir Sharif, decorated for gallantry in the last war against India, and the star officer of the 6 Frontier Force. This I said to myself was the scourge of the civil service. The story circulated among civil servants of an officer of the Frontier Force Regiment who was put in charge of my CSP batch mate. My batchmate had refused to march with the regiment and insisted on being driven in a jeep. They had unceremoniously dumped him with the bedding rolls and baggage into a jeep. The CSP officer was also known to have made derogatory remarks about the mental capabilities of army officers. Shabbir had found the solution: he had ordered the CSP officer to hide in a cornfield and his men to shoot at him if he raised his head above the level of the cornfield. At the same time, the CSP officer had been given the task of writing the numbers of the passing trucks and cars on the nearby road. The terrified CSP officer did not stay in service too long after his attachment. So Shabbir’s reputation as a tough no-nonsense officer had preceded him. But in his kindness and public acknowledgement of my efforts, we saw another side of him. He had taken the trouble late at night after a long day’s march to come from his regimental camp to the 18th Punjab to personally express his appreciation. That gesture won me over and we became good friends; the friendship would last as long as he lived. The writer is Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, School of International Service, American University and author of The Flying Man: Philosophers of the Golden Age of Islam.