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Sunday 24 September 2017

Pakistan's 'Mr Chips' finally calls it a day at age of 94

Rob Crilly in Islamabad

HE HAS survived being kidnapped by armed tribesmen, was on first-name terms with two of the country's military dictators and, by some counts, has educated half of Pakistan's government.

Now, aged 94 and five years after beginning the search for a successor to run the remote, mountain school that he founded, Major Geoffrey Langlands is finally ready to retire.

The school is in North Waziristan, the tribal region that borders Afghanistan and which has become a haven for Taliban fighters and al-Qa'ida terrorists.

In September, a new British principal is due to fly out and Major Langlands will leave for Lahore and a suite of rooms at Aitchison College, one of Pakistan's leading schools, where he used to teach.

"It won't be all rest," he said. "There's a biography I'm working on and I'll still be raising funds to ensure the future of the school. No, I don't think I could stop completely."

Major Langlands' life has followed the twists and turns of Pakistan's history. After seeing action with the British Army in France during the Second World War, he joined the British Indian army and stayed on after the partition in 1947.

He spent six years as an adviser to the new Pakistani army, before taking the job at Aitchison College.

In the 1980s, when the authorities needed someone to run a new school in North Waziristan, they turned to Major Langlands with his reputation as a Mr Chips-style master known for instilling the values of duty and punctuality.

Kidnapped

The area had its dangers. The new headmaster was kidnapped by militia trying to overturn an election result. They reasoned that president General Zia ul-Haq would back down if they took one of his friends.

Major Langlands shrugged off the episode. "It was all part of the experience," he said.

The following year, he moved to his school in Chitral.

His alumni include high-ranking politicians, military officers and thousands who otherwise would have received only a basic education.

Major Langlands said the staff insisted on hiring another "Britisher" and they will get Carey Schofield (58), an author.

But the remote location and bitter winters make it a difficult posting and the region's insecurity has deterred potential replacements. Four different candidates were offered the job but each one backed out. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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