The Loss of a Friend

Friday February 29, 2008 03:15:57 PM

Major General Azhar Rashid, Dr. Novick and Surgeon General Mushtaq BaigOn Monday, February 25, 2008 a suicide bomber succeeded in killing a Lieutenant General in the Pakistani Army. The bombing took place on Mall Road in Rawalpindi, the town outside Islamabad where Army Headquarters is located. The Lt General was killed along with his driver, bodyguard and 5 other innocent bystanders; this is how the media reported the attack. The jihadist had succeeded in killing the highest-ranking Pakistani military man to date. I am sure that whoever sent the bomber thought they had struck a blow deep into the heart of the Pakistani military. Surely the loss of such a high-ranking officer would seriously disrupt the Musharraf Government and the Pakistani Military!

The person they killed was indeed a Lt. General in the Pakistani Army, but he was a physician, a healer, a man deeply committed to improving the health care of the people of Pakistan. I knew Lt. General Mushtaq Baig. The world has lost another wonderful person, a family has lost a father and I have lost a friend, colleague and an advocate for the children of Pakistan with heart disease.

I met the Lt. General a little over a year ago, when another of my dear friends retired as the Surgeon General of Pakistan. The former Surgeon General had brought the attention of the International Children's Heart Foundation to the situation in Pakistan for children with heart disease. He was the reason that we started our program at the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi. However, he retired when our program at AFIC was in its infancy. How would the new Surgeon General look upon our program? I was unsure as to what type of a man I would find. Would this new Surgeon General support our program at the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology (AFIC) as his predecessor had, or would he, as an ophthalmologist not understand the issues that face the children of Pakistan with heart disease?

Lt. General Mushtaq BaigI pondered this question as , the Commandant of AFIC, and I were driven to General Headquarters for this first meeting. I was not sure first meeting would be revealing. My fears were unfounded. I was struck immediately by the Surgeon General's disarming gaze, his confident, but unassuming handshake and his genuine smile. I found a man who was keenly interested in providing the best possible care for the children of Pakistan with heart disease.

I was fortunate to meet with the Surgeon General on nearly every one of our trips to AFIC over the next several months and discuss ways to improve pediatric cardiac services in Pakistan. Each meeting brought me closer to understanding this unique man. When I asked why he had taken on the enormous responsibility of being the Surgeon General he told me he had done it because he thought that it would be the greatest service he could provide to his country, his patients and God.  You see, Lt General Mushtaq Baig was a deeply religious man, he thought that God had lead him to this point in his life. The loss of such a human being would be sad regardless of the reason, but to lose such a man through such a heinous act should shake us all to our cores.

Why, I asked myself as I read the report on the web, would God allow such a man to be taken from us? I do not know the answer. I only know that we have lost a great friend, Pakistan has lost an outstanding Surgeon General and a family has lost a father and husband through a senseless act of terrorism.

We send our heart-felt condolences to his wife and four children. No one can consol them at this time of great personal loss and tragedy, but perhaps they can take some small comfort in knowing that the man who left them was a healer and friend to all the people of the world.

The Pakistani Military is building a new center for the care of children with heart disease. The center will be the most modern in all of South Asia when it is completed next year. When I return to Pakistan it is my intention to suggest that the center be named the "Mushtaq Baig Pediatric Cardiac Center at AFIC". Knowing Lt General Mushtaq Baig was a unique opportunity for many of us and we will miss him dearly. God though will enjoy his company. 

I hope that all who read this know a little more about the man whose death was but a sound bite for the media, in his life; his family, work and country received so much more than what was reported.