Marching To The Top

Meet Dr. Shahida Malik, the first female Major General

from Dawn

This supposedly male-dominated society has seen many a woman rise to the top. The country has had a woman prime minister, woman ambassador, woman newspaper editor and woman ministers - there are three of the latter in the present government.

Not to be outdone, the Pakistan Army turned a leaf in history last month by promoting a woman to become the first ever two-star general.

The plucky woman is Dr Shahida Malik from the medical corps, who had the badges of the rank of major general pinned on her shoulders at a simple ceremony at GHQ, Rawalpindi, on June 17. The mother of three children has achieved this enviable position after 32 years of service in the army.

No woman has yet been recruited into the Pakistan Army's fighting or combat corps, but there are women officers in all three military branches of the army, navy and air force. It was only natural that the first woman general should come from the medical corps since most women officers in the armed forces are in the medical or nursing corps, although they are also in other departments like air traffic control, information technology and meteorology. The Pakistan Navy even has woman officers performing duties on board ships.

"It all still seems like a dream, like I'm in a trance. But when I see the new badges on my shoulder, then I realize it's a reality," said Dr Shahida.

"It's a reality only because General Musharraf took a bold decision," she insisted. "There have been lady doctors before who were of merit, but it had to be the right time and there had to be the right person to decide to do it."

Dr Shahida was selected for promotion at a meeting of the Selection Board for the promotion of brigadiers to the rank of major-general held at GHQ on February 1. The meeting was presided over by the Chief of Army Staff, General Pervez Musharraf. Out of the 132 brigadiers considered by the Selection Board, 27 were deemed to merit promotion to major general, and Dr Shahida was the only woman. How did she reach the top? "Through super human effort, hard work and the support of my life partner." And superhuman effort it has indeed been.

After topping in her studies through out in school and college and graduating from Fatima Jinnah Medical College in 1969 with a distinction in surgery and a gold medal award, she went on to pursue a career in the army. She even completed an advanced medical post-graduate course in administration at the age of 50.

All this while she raised a family of three children and looked after her parents and mother-in-law. And if success in the latter two family tasks can be quantified, she can be said to have achieved equal distinction in her career. Her three children are all now doctors, and her parents and mother-in-law lived with her until a ripe old age.

Her eldest daughter, a 1997 graduate from Fatima Jinnah Medical College, is working in a hospital in Washington in the US. Her only son, a 1998 graduate of King Edward Medical College, is also working in a hospital in Philadelphia in the US. The youngest has just recently graduated from Fatima Jinnah Medical College.

The most difficult period for her was when her children were small and her husband was pursuing his career as a surgeon, also in the army. She had wanted to specialize in her field, which was radiology, but decided that her first and foremost duty was to her family and her home. So she took on a job that was less demanding, as a general duty medical officer, whereshe could be home by two in the afternoon.

As for her parents and mother-in-law: "It was a difficult time, seeing them very ill, but thank God, with my husband's cooperation, we were able to look after them to the best of our ability, till the very end."

Her father passed away at the age of 93 in 1998, and her mother, about a year ago at the age of 88. Her mother-in-law also died about a year back.

What were the major influences in her life? "My parents, and then after marriage, my husband." With both her father and then husband also in the Pakistan Army - her father was in the Military Estate Service (MES) at GHQ, and her husband, Major General Asad Malik, is currently the Commandant, Army Medical College, Rawalpindi - the army was the natural choice for Dr Shahida to pursue a career.

The final push came from her mother. "When I was doing my house job, my mother fell sick and was admitted to the Combined Military Hospital in Rawalpindi. She was admiring a lady doctor in uniform and said that I should also be like her. Incidentally, the lady doctor's name was also Shahida."

She appeared for the interview, was selected and joined the army medical corps. Then, like in her younger days when her father was in service, it was different stations again all over the country. "Everywhere I went, it was hard work. And I did it with the feeling that I wanted to do the best. Never for a moment did I think I was doing it for the rank."

Nevertheless, rise in rank she did, from lieutenant, captain, major to lieutenant colonel, colonel, brigadier and finally now major general. But even more rewarding than these promotions has been the rapport that she has established with her patients. "It makes me very happy to see patients whom I treated 20 years ago remembering me."

The drive to work hard also came from competing with her two sisters. "We three sisters were very competitive, first in school and college, and then in our careers." Her elder sister is now teaching at the University of Alabama in America, and her younger sister is the PTV newscaster, Shaista Zaid.

Her promotion to major general has brought another first for the Pakistan army: the first husband and wife who are serving generals. "Delighted" was Major General Asad Malik's instant reaction to how he felt about his wife's promotion.

"He has been my role model since we married, both professionally as well as in religion," she said admiringly. "I was never very religious, but after seeing him be very particular about his five prayers and in the recitation of the Quran, I have also followed suit."

Their day starts very early at 4.00 a.m. with prayers and Quran reading. Then it's a four-kilometre walk before a light breakfast. They are at their respective offices by 7.45 a.m. Afternoons are quality time spent with their children, although two of them are now abroad. "We keep socializing to the minimum," she insists.

Dr Shahida was previously Deputy Commandant of the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology/ National Institute of Heart Disease, Rawalpindi. With her new rank, she now takes on the new challenge of the post of Inspector-General of Hospitals. Her duties require her to visit regularly, with an inspection team, all of the 31 hospitals of the Pakistan Army scattered throughout the country, to suggest improvements in their functioning and oversee the implementation of new projects.

The first lady general is not shy about her age. "I'm a Pisces born on 5 March 1946. I have no regrets at all and am very proud of the 56 years I have lived. If I had to re-live it again, I couldn't do it any better."

Extracted 07/12/02 from Dawn


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