Major Langlands: The blue-eyed boy

Published: December 22, 2013
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The story of the Englishman whose heart lies in Pakistan. DESIGN BY MUNIRA ABBAS

The story of the Englishman whose heart lies in Pakistan. DESIGN BY MUNIRA ABBAS

When the young orphan from Yorkshire decided to take charge of his life at the age of 12, he could have never imagined that his decisions would lead him to influence the lives of so many in a country that was yet to be conceived. For the young boy, the logic had been extremely simple — since people’s kindness had helped him through the darkest hours of his life, he had to return the favour. Now more than eight decades later, just shy of his centenary, Major Geoffrey Douglas Langlands is an institution rich with stories and an understanding of the people and the country he once witnessed coming to life in 1947.

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The officer who landed in India as part of the British army has now retired in the heart of Punjab after a long teaching career in Pakistan. Having recently stepped down after running the Langlands School and College in Chitral for 24 years, Major Langlands took up residence earlier this year at the Aitchison College in Lahore — a place far too familiar for someone who taught there for almost 25 years. With doors wide open, visitors (most of them being his students) are often welcomed in the suite of comfortable rooms that he lives in now. The prominently placed white marble plaque outside his suite details all the interesting bits of his life, offering a brief insight into the intriguing personality that sits on a comfortable couch on the other side of the doors.

The words “acha acha” can be heard in the hallway leading to his suite. Seated on a sofa, he attends to one of his former students, a young girl from Chitral currently studying at the Forman Christian College, who has come down to meet him. As she leaves, he inquires how she got here. “Rickshaw,” she says. He hands her some money for the commute back to her college. His staff smiles and calls it a generous habit of Major saheb.

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The news of his retirement has attracted attention from the local and international media and Major Langlands is well aware of it. Beside him, on a small coffee table lies a folded newspaper carrying an article on the role models in the country. His name is mentioned as a prime example but he laughs at being termed as a saint. “I never knew my voice was so clear,” he says recalling one of his recently televised interviews. But his memory seems equally clear. With exact dates often part of his conversation, Major Langlands has a way with narration. Not one to skim through events, each part of his life is given due credit. “You see in my life, my long life, everything that has happened is linked to prior events.”

The most striking part of his life however, is his decade long stay in a region of Pakistan that even its own citizens shy away from. From April, 1979 to September, 1989, Major Langlands spent his life in North Waziristan, the north-eastern part of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan. The newly established Cadet College Razmak at the time was looking for a principal after its first one left. “No one sensible was ready to take charge especially after the first principal described the area as a horrible place,” says Langlands. But a letter from a former student and the education secretary of the province convinced the educationist in him. “The letter read, ‘Please leave your comfortable job at Aitchison and come to a difficult job in the tribal area’ and I simply couldn’t refuse a challenge,” he says.

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Langlands retired from the Langlands School and College in Chitral after serving for 24 years.
PHOTO COURTESY: CAREY SCHOFIELD

The Cadet College was shifted to Nowshera earlier this year due to growing security concerns in the area. For Major Langlands, the institution he once headed at Razmak was not just any college. “I told the locals I will treat it as a special college where good, talented students would be taught.” Besides students from the area, a quota was also set for students from other parts of the country, who would be admitted to the college on the basis of merit. “I admired those parents who were prepared to send their sons to a school in the tribal areas,” he explains.

Issues and conflicts appeared simpler in Major Langlands world. “North Waziristan was very tribal as they [locals] didn’t like anyone from outside the tribal area to come in,” he recalls. And those who did were often kidnapped for ransom. With his speck of silver hair and piercing blue eyes, he attracted all the more attention but claims he never had any issues with the locals, other than his kidnapping in 1988.

Caught in the midst of a political clash between two different groups in North Waziristan over representation in the National Assembly, he was kidnapped by one of the groups who wanted their demands to be met by General Ziaul Haq in exchange of his release. After being held hostage for six days and transferred to a no-go area within North Waziristan, he finally told his captors that he had travelled enough. “They were not used to a kidnapped person standing up for himself,” he says with a smile. The next day, he recalls, they served him tea and boiled eggs for breakfast. Soon senior tribal leaders got involved and he was released on the condition that the kidnappers would not be apprehended. “The leaders said, ‘You simply can’t kidnap the principal!’”

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The number of students at the Langlands School and College increased from 80 to 1,000 during Langlands’ time.
PHOTO COURTESY: LANGLANDS SCHOOL AND COLLEGE

He seems to understand the tribal mindset. “I got along with the tribals just by being nice to them,” he says in a matter-of-fact tone. “Most people don’t realise just how completely the tribals are on their own, with no laws and no police.” The provincial government wanted to transfer him from Razmak after the kidnapping but it never materialised. “Had they asked me I would have definitely said no.” But didn’t the incident scare him? “No. Nothing scares me,” he chuckles.

And if you know his journey, you will understand why. “I was born at a time when everyone was miserable,” he recalls. Born in 1917, during the First World War, he and his elder twin brother were 10 minutes apart. Followed by the birth of a younger sister next year, the Langlands’ household was struck with grief, as their father died just five days after the birth of their youngest child. From Yorkshire, the children travelled with their mother, a classical folkdance school teacher, to their grandparents’ house in Bristol. At the age of 11, they lost their mother to cancer too and were left under the care of their grandfather. The next year, their grandfather, who was also the last adult in the family passed away.

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As the orphan twins struggled to cope with the situation, Langlands’ elder brother landed a scholarship in an orphan school in Bristol. Soon after, the principal of a public school in Tauton, an old teaching acquaintance of his mother, managed to collect money to get the younger Langlands’ in school too. The next six years shaped him into the man that changed the lives of thousands of students in the years to come. “Those six years of schooling made me very confident. I witnessed that while I could have been placed in an orphanage, people helped me in my upbringing so that I get good education. Things like these stay with you.”

His teaching career began in London in 1936, at the age of 18. He started by teaching the second grade and soon mastered the art of making the dullest subjects interesting for his students. English has always been his primary medium of communication regardless of where he is in the world. He learnt Urdu but refused to use it. “The only way to get people to learn a language was to speak in that language all the time.”

Just as Langlands was settling into this life, the world changed again. On September 3, 1939, Langlands — by then a young school teacher — heard Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announce that Britain was at war with Germany. He immediately signed up to be an ordinary recruit in the British army. “I thought my (my)! This was going to change everything. I decided I wanted to be in the war right away.” Making his way into the British army commandos based in England, he was later part of the force that carried out raids on the French and Belgium coasts.

In 1943, during his officer training in Kent, when the army was looking for young army volunteers for India, Langlands did not hesitate. In January 1944, he finally arrived in India and spent the next three years in the army as part of the selection board for officers training in Bangalore.

Langlands’ life as a British army officer was to change in 1947. “Then came along the day Mountbatten was eager to hand over power. British officers were asked to volunteer to stay for one year either in India or Pakistan.” Even though he had never served in the areas that were to constitute an infant Pakistan, he was eager to join the Pakistan army. “I knew that Pakistan would have great difficulties in establishing itself because India was deadly against it. I wanted to help them and that has been my job ever since.” He travelled to Rawalpindi on August 12, 1947, just days before the Partition.

While not many British officers chose to stay back in Pakistan, Langlands recalls that the one-year contract by the British government was cancelled by Pakistan in December, 1947. “We were told that the Pakistani government will give a two or three year contract from January 1, 1948, to British officers they wanted to keep.” Langlands was awarded a three-year contract followed by another one. At the end of those six years, the commander-in-chief of the Pakistan army at the time, General Ayub Khan expressed his desire to retain Major Langlands. But with the Pakistani government only extending contracts to specialists in engineering and medicine, it was unlikely that Langlands would get another extension. “Then he [Ayub Khan] says to me ‘don’t go back to England we need people like you in Pakistan. You can help us a lot’ and then and there I said I will stay.”

Although he had never thought of leaving the Pakistan Army, staying in Pakistan was never a part of the bigger plan either. “But then everyone wanted to help. I had been on my own all my life really,” he says. “I wanted to do good because various people had looked after me. I wanted to make use of my life.” Three days after his decision to stay back in Pakistan, Langlands was offered a teaching job at the Aitchison College, where he had the likes of Imran Khan and Zafarullah Khan Jamali in his tutelage. The next 25 years were spent teaching at Aitchison until he retired and took up another stint in the education sector.

A white marble plaque detailing the interesting bits of Geoffrey Langlands’ life. PHOTO: ABID NAWAZ

After serving as a principal in the tumultuous terrain of North Waziristan for a decade, the next challenge was in the serene mountains of Chitral where he set up the Langlands School and College and headed it for the next 24 years. The institution lived up to its motto ‘There is always room for improvement’ and empowered hundreds of young boys and girls over the years. Having started with merely 80 students, it now educates as many as 1,000 students each year. While the people of Chitral are deeply grateful to this Britisher for bringing a new world to their children, Langlands attributes all the credit to the people. “The people loved the institution, they wanted education for their children and they worked to materialise their desire,” he says.

Langlands never married and his twin brother has only visited him a handful of times in Pakistan. The vacuum of family in his life seems to have been consumed by a love far greater than a desire for personal fulfillment. “Right from the age of 12, all the decisions in my life have been taken by me. I am not sure if that’s a good thing but that is something I did. I decided that I have to do good to people in the world simply because people have been good to me.” And that is precisely what he did.

The Langlands School and College has found a new English principal in Carey Schofields, a writer and journalist who has covered everything from Mick Jagger to the Pakistan Army. But it might be impossible for Pakistan to find a replacement for the crisp Englishman who not only devoted his life to a country that did not bind him by blood or birth but has also chosen it as his final resting place.

Some of the photographs were provided by The Citizens Archive of Pakistan, and are drawn from material obtained as part of its Oral History Project.

Aroosa Shaukat is a Lahore-based reporter for The Express Tribune. She tweets @aroosashaukat

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 22nd, 2013.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (55)

  • ironMan!
    Dec 22, 2013 - 2:52PM

    Thank You for this article – been searching for quite some while to know more about him. Thank you Sir for your services and devotion to Pakistan. We love you and admire your contributions. We hope to see more of you – lot to learn to make things better in Pakistan.Wish you good health.

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  • Dec 22, 2013 - 2:59PM

    This guy deserve every single Pakistani civil award possible.

    FO should submit a formal request to British High Commissioner to have him knighted as he wished in a recent interview.

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  • Bob
    Dec 22, 2013 - 3:06PM

    Respect!

    Sir, Thank you for helping us. On behalf of all Pakistani nation I salute you for your contributions.

    May God bless you.

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  • Liberal
    Dec 22, 2013 - 3:09PM

    Respect to you, Sir! Respect!

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  • Muslim Leaguer
    Dec 22, 2013 - 3:10PM

    Sir Geoffery Langlands has fond memories about his students at Aitchison College.. In an interview (televised in November 2013), Sir Langlands has informed that Imran Khan was never a good student and Chaudhry Nisar was a brilliant student!
    His student legacies have proven true in thereal world 40years down the road.

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  • Umar
    Dec 22, 2013 - 3:19PM

    I tip my hat to such a wonderful man. Pakistanis want to leave their country for England because of a lack of infrastructure, jobs and security but this man did the absolute opposite. This is what great people are made of. How unselfish. Ayub Khan was right. This country needs brave people like him. How lucky are those people who studied under him or were under his watch

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  • Caresless Whispers
    Dec 22, 2013 - 3:31PM

    Thank you Sir Langlands..

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  • Asad
    Dec 22, 2013 - 4:14PM

    Respect!

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  • Saleem Tahir
    Dec 22, 2013 - 5:44PM

    Major langlands deserves our national gtatitude and should be awarded Honorary citizenship ( if he is not already a Pakistani ) and awarded Nishan – e Imtiaz and Nishan e Khidmat.
    Wake up Mr.Nawaz Sharif !
    Wake up Imran Khan ! what are you waiting for

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  • Asad
    Dec 22, 2013 - 5:46PM

    @Muslim Leaguer:
    Haha, yeah I saw that interview but what has Nisar done so far? IK being a bad student has brought a lot. Mind that!

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  • rashid khan
    Dec 22, 2013 - 7:09PM

    @Muslim Leaguer
    I don’t think Langlands ever taught Ch Nisar because he only did his A levels or HSC (as it was referred to then) in Aitchison. College and Langlands did not teach these classes.Ch Nisar was in Aitchison for two years only from 1969 – 1970.

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  • ta
    Dec 22, 2013 - 8:22PM

    The only thing I can say…….Thank you Sir for guidance during and after school hours

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  • Humayun
    Dec 22, 2013 - 8:56PM

    Salam to Langland :
    A true Brave PakistaniRecommend

  • naeem khan Manhattan,Ks
    Dec 22, 2013 - 9:02PM

    What a heart warming story, there are special people all over the world who has devoted their lives to serve the humanity you Major Langlands for serving this unfortunate nation of Pakistan, they could never repay your kindness, love and generosity, hopefully some of your students will emulate you and be a productive citizen. I recall another English gentleman and a teacher, the late H M Close who taught for decades at Islamia College Peshawar, he was also an amazing person, would recognize his former students with their names, God bless him. My sincere thanks to ET for publishing this article.

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  • Dec 22, 2013 - 9:17PM

    @Muslim Leaguer:
    Sir Langlands has informed that Imran Khan was never a good student and Chaudhry Nisar was a brilliant student!
    His student legacies have proven true in thereal world 40years down the road

    Way to go finding anything to bash IK. By the way he never said Nisar was a “brilliant student” he mentioned to him as “pretty good” And just so you can put your muslim leaguers eye glasses on the side, he termed Aitzaz Ahsan to be “outstanding”. For your party favourites “Bugtis” he simply said “no comments”

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  • Tahir
    Dec 22, 2013 - 9:33PM

    Respect I am proud of achievement and Pakistan should honour him with the highest award
    similar to knighthood here in the UK.

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  • amina
    Dec 22, 2013 - 9:38PM

    Can’t thank you enough Sir

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  • Muslim Leaguer
    Dec 22, 2013 - 10:09PM

    @ rashid khan
    I don’t know how much you personally know Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan but I watched Sir Geoffrey Langlands interview on 8th November 2013 televised by Aik Din Geo K Sath.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJuv-TIYW7E
    You can watch that interview at YouTube and listen to what Sir Langlands says about his students!

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  • Dec 22, 2013 - 11:25PM

    what a fantastic article on a fantastic ‘pakistani’ :) Thanks tribune

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  • Aamir - Toronto
    Dec 23, 2013 - 12:39AM

    What a great man, I salute you Sir from bottom of my heart…….only ALLAH (SWT) can reward him for his selfless service to people of Pakistan.

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  • Stranger
    Dec 23, 2013 - 3:44PM

    No words to describe this person … I am sure there are plenty like that on both sides of the border.

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  • Mubashir
    Dec 23, 2013 - 5:42PM

    A very well-written piece giving us a glimpse into the life of the great man!

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  • Mubashir
    Dec 23, 2013 - 5:53PM

    A very well-written article giving us a glimpse into the life of the great man!

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  • Kiera Khan - South Dakota USA
    Dec 24, 2013 - 4:12AM

    A great man who understood the British and their motives after Pakistan was created but he chose the side with the problems and fast-forward we are still on shaky grounds.

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  • Abubaker Hashim
    Dec 24, 2013 - 1:07PM

    After reading the details of this great person, I feel the entire Pakistan nation owes him
    the highest gratitude that could be offered to any teacher of his repute. No doubt he has
    secrifised his own self for Pakistani community and deserves to be praised in all cannons
    of life.

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  • Turbo
    Dec 25, 2013 - 1:41AM

    A Britisher more loyal to Pakistan than Pakistanis themselves…great man!

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  • @Muslim Leaguer
    Dec 26, 2013 - 2:04AM

    I dont know how secluded you are from society, but if you have recently been on his twitter account , you will notice his hatred for the current (PMLN) government of Pakistan and his appreciation for every thing Imran is doing.
    Please do some research before claiming something bold.

    https://twitter.com/ImranKhanPTI/status/408215718325657600
    https://twitter.com/GDLanglands/status/407721353320873984
    https://twitter.com/GDLanglands/status/408028217292120064

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  • Ibrahim
    Dec 26, 2013 - 2:18AM

    Thanks for everything. I salute your courage , determination and all that you have done for this county. Thanks.

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  • death
    Dec 26, 2013 - 6:31PM

    A real life Mr Chips ,
    I salute you sir.Recommend

  • Maryam Mirza
    Dec 28, 2013 - 3:28PM

    Another great figure in a little geographic setup !
    Salutes to Sir Geoffrey Langlands and respects to him for his steadfast devotion* . People who learnt from him , however diverse their priorities may be , have a great responsibility on their shoulders ……to prove themselves worth being *his students. If it were possible I would own him as my teacher however I still take pride in belonging to ” The Ideology Based Piece of Land ” for which great leaders were chosen by fate itself . Recommend

  • optimist
    Dec 29, 2013 - 3:44AM

    A great human!
    .
    We salute you :)

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  • sardar fakhre alam
    Dec 29, 2013 - 12:14PM

    i salute u sir and love u too much,,,GOD BLES U ,AND WE PRAY FOR U ARE LONG LIFE..

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  • Glenn Robinov
    Jan 1, 2014 - 12:42AM

    In 1976, I was a 22 year old recent college graduate from the U.S. and one of my dearest friends from those days, who attended Atchison, persuaded me and another friend to travel from the U.S. to visit Pakistan and to go on a trek into the Hindu Kush. My friend persuaded Mr. Langlands, who had not done a trek in years to do one this year. After the birth of my children, it was the single most awe inspiring experience of my life. So much so, that 37+ years later, I still think of that trek virtually every day as I do of Mr. Langlands. Although he is from a different time and place, it is gratifying to know he is still around.

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  • Jan 2, 2014 - 1:42PM

    man of honor!
    so wants to meet him.
    may he be blessed

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  • Kay.
    Jan 2, 2014 - 2:01PM

    I wanna be like this guy one day.
    ‘ONE DAY’ :)

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  • Ahmad Junaid
    Jan 2, 2014 - 2:59PM

    Well some people really live forever and he surely will be one of them. Thank You Sir for your services to Pakistan. We cannot thank you enough for what you have done for us. For all those who are leaving Pakistan just read it once i am sure you will prefer to stay.

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  • ayesha amin
    Jan 2, 2014 - 4:36PM

    salam sir and thanks alot for the services in Pakistan may ALLAH bless you alot.we all respect you:)

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  • Riaz
    Jan 2, 2014 - 5:35PM

    Great man, but please note the title picture’s arabic text in background is being photoshoped to make it completely unreadable, search google images with “Major Geoffrey Douglas Langlands” and you will find the original picture. Who is responsible to publish such edited pictures in the article of an agency like Tribune?

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  • Muhammad Saeed Akhtar
    Jan 2, 2014 - 9:47PM

    Thumbs up for this great gentleman. The government of Pakistan must consider to consider giving him a civil award in recognition of his long meritorious services. We are proud of you Sir Langlands. Profound regards.

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  • Jan 3, 2014 - 9:48AM

    Truly inspired.

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  • rabia
    Jan 3, 2014 - 10:09AM

    God bless u Sir with health and more respect u deserve.
    true and pure heart…symbol of humanity and purity..

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  • Jan 3, 2014 - 11:08AM

    A life Worth living for.. Really inspiring

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  • Shahzad
    Jan 3, 2014 - 11:47AM

    As a boarder in Aitchson found old langy which is what we called him always lead by example he would lead are morning jog in shorts and vest along the canal on bitterly cold winter mornings. Later he would turn up to collect donations from his old students for the college in Chitral , my last recollection a demand from him was for second hand computers for the Chitral school , he would not take no for an answer and no one of his ex students from Aitchson could say no to him. The fairest teacher I have come across in my six years in uk never met an English man like him.

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  • Mir
    Jan 3, 2014 - 6:46PM

    I am very proud to call my self his student. Back in 2002 he was teaching us trigonometry and used to solve question in Air.

    As a student from chitral i must say this man has changed many of lives. Currently i am working in Siemens Germany and he is the cause for it.

    Thanks you Sir for every thing.

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  • Syed Nasiruddin Peerzada
    Jan 3, 2014 - 9:31PM

    Great men we solute u for your services.

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  • Farhan shakeel
    Jan 4, 2014 - 10:25AM

    A warm salute to you Sir from a patriotic Pakistani… May you live long

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  • Noman Meer
    Jan 4, 2014 - 8:36PM

    We salute to you …. you u did for us that we would not able to do for ourself…………..may you live long

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  • muzammil hussain
    Jan 6, 2014 - 2:23PM

    I am proud to be your student for 5 years. Such a amazing personality.Recommend

  • Zhuruddin
    Jan 6, 2014 - 11:24PM

    I honestly don’t have the words to thank G.D Langland for his contributions towards Chitral. My five younger brothers and a sister were your students and they are enjoying very successful careers.And the credit goes to YOU Mr. Major Langlands.

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  • SYED JAMALUDDIN SHAH
    Jan 8, 2014 - 10:11AM

    Mr. Langland has don good work for Chitrali nation,

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  • SYED JAMALUDDIN SHAH
    Jan 8, 2014 - 10:15AM

    Great man, God bless him always, his contribution for especially Chitral is unforgetable.Recommend

  • Muhammad Shahid Raza
    Jan 12, 2014 - 12:09AM

    SALUTE YOU SIR.you are real hero

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  • TSdoc
    Jan 12, 2014 - 4:56PM

    Sir, I find myself short of words to express my feelings….. THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH.

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  • muhammad asad ayaz
    Feb 14, 2014 - 9:10PM

    A person like you is much more than a Light House for nation.
    May you long live. Thank you Major !!!

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  • Rizwan Khan
    May 10, 2014 - 12:14AM

    Thank you very much to this legend.
    Government of Pakistan much honor this great man.

    Love you Sir

    Recommend

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