Christmas Charades: Echo of war in Aladdin's cave: At this time of year, people play funny games. We put on an act and go through the motions, but behind the scenes, things may not always be as they seem .

ALADDIN was playing at the British Club in Islamabad, a wooden shack on the British diplomatic compound at the foothills of the Karakoram mountains. The principal boy ran off with an immigration officer and the ambassador, who was playing the Emperor of China, had a custard pie thrown at his face each night. The Chinese ambassador was amused and wanted to know which dynasty he represented.

It seemed life in Pakistan had returned to normal as 1979 drew to a close - a tense year which had seen the execution of the prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and violent anti-American rioting. Well, up to a point. The weather was sensational: sunny, cloudless days followed by crisp winter evenings. But for the first time the British were not lost for turkeys. You could get all the trimmings by merely showing a British or Commonwealth passport. Christmas that year would be special.

A month earlier the British had watched horrified as a mob sacked the American embassy down the road. The women and children and most of the non-essential staff had been shipped out, leaving an American commissary filled with Christmas stock and no one to buy.

It was rather appropriate that Aladdin was the pantomime. When the American embassy opened the commissary door the British rubbed their eyes. They found themselves in wonderland - jars of cranberry sauce, packets of stuffing, crystallised fruit, flagons of Californian wine and turkeys, scores of the damn things, and bacon.

Suliman hadn't cooked a turkey for years and got his stuffing and cranberry sauce mixed; the sauce went inside the bird and the stuffing was stacked around it. But there was no problem about the cake and Christmas pudding.

Suliman made them in September and each week insisted on anointing them with brandy. The liquor cupboard was opened in the presence of two witnesses (so no one could be accused of imbibing - drinking liquor being an offence punishable by the lash in General Zia ul-Haq's Pakistan), the grog was brought out, the pouring took place, and when it was over the brandy was locked away again. By Christmas Day, cake and pudding weighed a ton.

It was a grand day. The sun was out. We were a large party; we played croquet on the lawn and games with the children in the house. The cranberry sauce dribbled out of the bird and turned the stuffing into a rather tasty goo.

Boxing Day would be exercise day. There would be an outing to Rawal lake on the edge of town; we would take a lavish picnic, put up a tent and trestle tables, and play more games. If we were lucky, we might see a jackal.

On Christmas night it rained. It wasn't an ordinary shower, it was the start of the winter rains. On Boxing Day the sun had gone. Our party went out with picnic and tent, soaked to the skin. The tent was opened briefly and put away in its bag, never to be opened again.

It was a miserable day. But while we were isolated in the Punjab sage, trying to read waterlogged instructions, slipping on our arses as we pulled on guy ropes and banging into fruit bats hanging from the bushes, London was waking up and trying to make contact.

For across the border an odd report had been picked up by the BBC's radio monitors. It was a garbled message quoting a local radio station in Tajikistan. It referred to Babrak Karmal as leader of Afghanistan and talked about a contingent of Soviet soldiers being invited to serve there. Hafizullah Amin was head of the Afghan government, not Babrak Karmal. Babrak had been deposed 18 months earlier. So, London wanted to know, what was going on?

God and the Russians only knew. It took 24 hours for the rest of us to find out. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had begun. Quite a clever Christmas charade, you might say.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

    £27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

    £19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

    Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

    Day In a Page

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor