[After the other British left, Mr. Langlands stayed on, taking a teaching job at Aitchison College in Lahore, Pakistan’s most prestigious boarding school. Over a quarter-century there, he imparted algebra to the offspring of the Pakistani elite, some of whom went on to lead in politics, sports and the military. Former charges include Zafarullah Khan Jamali, who was prime minister between 2002 and 2004, and Imran Khan, the cricket hero turned politician.]
By Declan Walsh
CHITRAL, Pakistan — During a grand gathering of tribal elders in this rugged and remote mountain district recently, one guest of honor stood out: an elderly Englishman in a suit and polished shoes, his snowy hair carefully combed, the morning newspaper folded on his lap.
That man, Geoffrey D. Langlands, has had a front-row seat on Pakistan’s many dramas since he arrived, at the country’s chaotic birth, 65 years ago. He has taken tea with princesses, dined with dictators, been kidnapped by tribesmen and scraped through several wars.
Now, at 94, Mr. Langlands, a former British colonial officer who retired with the rank of major, and a lifelong educator, is striking out on a fresh adventure: retirement.
For the past quarter-century, his home and work have been in Chitral, a sweeping district of snow-dusted peaks at the northern tip of Pakistan. The institution he founded and ran here, the Langlands School and College, has become a watchword for excellence; each year, the best of the school’s 1,000-plus students, one-third of them girls, go on to universities in bigger cities, the United States or the United Kingdom.
That success is all the more startling for its setting in a region awash with violence and intrigue: to the east of Chitral is the Swat Valley, where Pakistan’s army fought Taliban insurgents in 2009; to the west lies the Afghan province of Nuristan, where American troops have seen some of their toughest combat. Some years ago mysterious Americans turned up in town asking questions about Osama bin Laden; locals said they worked for the Central Intelligence Agency.
But for “the major,” as he is known, this has been a cherished chapter in a life that has mixed adventure and arithmetic in his adopted homeland. He is turning to the next one with a discernible touch of reluctance.
“Time to take life a little easier, I suppose,” he said, sitting on a terrace overlooking a broad valley dotted with modest, tin-roof houses. Then he sat up. “But there’s still so much to do.”
Doing nothing has never been an option for him.
Mr. Langlands fought in a commando unit during World War II, assaulting German defenses on the French coast. In August 1947, he was stationed in British India, where he witnessed the bloody partition of the subcontinent at close quarters. Stuck at station on a train filled with Hindu refugees, he came under fire from Muslim gunmen; farther down the line, he saw Sikhs attack a mosque. “It was terrible,” he recalled. “Nobody knew what to do.”
After the other British left, Mr. Langlands stayed on, taking a teaching job at Aitchison College in Lahore, Pakistan’s most prestigious boarding school. Over a quarter-century there, he imparted algebra to the offspring of the Pakistani elite, some of whom went on to lead in politics, sports and the military. Former charges include Zafarullah Khan Jamali, who was prime minister between 2002 and 2004, and Imran Khan, the cricket hero turned politician.
“He stood out,” Mr. Khan said. “He had this mixture of being firm yet compassionate.”
In 1979, he moved to North Waziristan, in the tribal belt, to run a school in a district that is today better known for American drone strikes — Al Qaeda’s deputy leader was reported killed there on Monday.
Mr. Langlands, however, remembers the tribesmen as rascals more than villains. At one point, he said, tribesmen held him hostage for six days in a bid to overturn an unfavorable election result. It did not work, but his captors treated him decently, even insisting he join them for some rifle practice.
“It wasn’t so bad,” he said with a soft chuckle. “They were very polite once they found out I was 71. And before I left, they insisted on having their photo taken with me.”
In Chitral, life is quieter. In the northern corner of Khyber-Pakhtunkwa Province, it has escaped the Taliban firestorm thanks to its geographic and cultural isolation. The spiked peaks of the Hindu Kush are a formidable palisade, although an insurgent attack on the Afghan border last year jangled nerves. Unlike most of the surrounding region’s people, the Chitralis are not ethnic Pashtuns, and their passions lie with playing a rambunctious version of polo (imagine rugby on horseback), educating their children and cutting loose.
During the recent gathering to install a hereditary tribal prince, things became typically raucous: tipsy young men danced wildly in celebration as they took gulps from a bottle of moonshine, watched quietly by police officers.
Mr. Langlands is in some respects the quintessential Englishman of old, a living relic of the Raj. He lives in a ramshackle little cottage in the town center, where he rises every morning at 5:40. Exactly 40 minutes later, a servant appears with breakfast: oatmeal, a poached egg and two cups of tea, always. Mr. Langlands flicks through the latest newspaper, which, given the valley’s erratic plane service, may be several days old.
Then an assistant, who answers his phone and juggles his e-mail, turns up to take him to work. Famous visitors watch from dust-smeared photographs on the wall: Diana, Princess of Wales, who visited Chitral in 1991; and Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, the Islamist dictator, whom Mr. Langlands knew well. “Once,” he says in a stentorian voice, “General Zia kept Henry Kissinger waiting so he could see me.”
Behind his chirpy laugh lies a cool intelligence and a diplomatic reserve. It is an old-fashioned, low-key style at odds with the multimillion-dollar budgets and media-driven philanthropy of modern development aid. He pays himself a $270 monthly salary — paltry even by local standards — and travels on public buses. He knows Urdu but declines to use it: “I’ve always felt my job is to improve the level of English,” he said. Not much of his family remains: he was orphaned at 12, he never married, and his twin brother, who lives back in England, has visited Chitral just twice.
“I just take life as it comes,” he said when asked about his philosophy.
Chitralis consider him one of them. “The major is invaluable,” said Multan Mehmood, a local development worker. “We cannot replace him.”
But replace him they must. A minor stroke a few years ago left his hands trembling; doctors worry about the effects of another freezing winter in Chitral. A current of worry courses through local conversations: when the major goes, will his proud school survive him?
The answer, they hope, is another English principal — but this time a female one. From September, the Langlands school will be run by Carey Schofield, a writer who has published books on French gangsters, Mick Jagger and, mostly recently, the Pakistani Army. Ms. Schofield, 58, admits to no teaching experience, but says Chitralis were insistent on another “Britisher.”
“They have so much respect for Major Langlands that I think they wanted to clone him,” she said by phone from London.
Urgent work awaits. As Mr. Langlands has slowed in recent years, problems have piled up: unpaid school fees, lagging teacher wages, a lack of computers, organization and money. Already, Ms. Schofield has raised $55,000 to improve the bumpy track that curls up a steep slope to the senior school: last year a school bus with 14 students on board tumbled over the side; miraculously, no one was badly hurt.
Mr. Langlands, meanwhile, will move to Lahore, where his former students have arranged a small apartment for him on the magnificent grounds of his old school, Aitchison College. He has also, quietly, chosen his spot in one of the city’s Christian cemeteries: near the gate, he says, so friends can visit.
But first, he says, there is more work to be done: a memoir to write, a 95th birthday to share with his brother and more fund-raising. His dream, now, is to build a proper dormitory in Chitral, creating an ever better academy.
“I refuse,” he announces firmly, a gimlet sparkle in his blue-gray eyes, “to sit back and do nothing.”
NOTIONS OF HONOR COLOR HIGH-STAKES HAGGLING OVER NATO SUPPLY ROUTES
[On the face of things, money could settle the argument. Pakistani officials initially demanded $5,000 per truck on each trip; after talks between the American deputy secretary of state, Thomas R. Nides, and the Pakistani finance minister, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, the figure has dropped to a “much more realistic level,” according to a senior American official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The precise figure remains secret, and the Pakistanis have not indicated whether they will accept it.]
By Declan WalshISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Early in the negotiations to reopen NATO supply routes through Pakistan, a senior American official suggested to his Pakistani counterparts that they should engage in “carpet haggling.”
“I give you a figure, you give me a figure, and then we’ll sit down and have tea and agree on a figure,” was how one participant in the meeting remembered the suggestion.
The remark annoyed some of the Pakistanis, who viewed it as a crude characterization of a politically delicate process; others took it more phlegmatically. But as the talks between Pakistan and the United States drag into their seventh week, a haggle is what they have become — over money, certainly, but also over roads, drone strikes and, the trickiest of all, intangible notions of honor and pride that play into electoral politics in both nations.
Peter Lavoy, a senior Defense Department official, arrived in Islamabad on Friday in a bid to inject momentum into the bargaining. But though the stakes are high, optimism that a deal may be struck is in short supply on both sides.
Until November, about 5,000 NATO trucks trundled up the bumpy road from Karachi to the Afghan border each month, carrying fuel and other nonlethal supplies for American and coalition troops. But then an American airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in a disputed episode at the border; since then not a single truck has traversed the route.
The dispute has slowed the flow of supplies to American troops, but what will soon matter more is its effect on traffic in the opposite direction. As the United States starts to withdraw troops from Afghanistan this fall, a huge quantity of military equipment will have to be extracted by road.
On the face of things, money could settle the argument. Pakistani officials initially demanded $5,000 per truck on each trip; after talks between the American deputy secretary of state, Thomas R. Nides, and the Pakistani finance minister, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, the figure has dropped to a “much more realistic level,” according to a senior American official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The precise figure remains secret, and the Pakistanis have not indicated whether they will accept it.
The Americans are trying to close the deal with sweeteners, offering, for example, to repave the highways the trucks use from Karachi to the Afghan border, a distance of 1,000 miles on one of the routes used. That could be an elegant solution, allowing the Pakistanis to claim a major concession while the Americans write off the cost as a transportation expense.
But in these complex talks, money and asphalt only go so far. Both President Obama and President Asif Ali Zardari face elections in the next nine months, and neither can afford to cede too much at the negotiating table.
Officials from both sides say that this week, Mr. Zardari has been sticking doggedly to his demand that the United States apologize for the November airstrike; without that, they say, his group, the Pakistan People’s Party, will be vulnerable to defeat by ultranationalists in the elections scheduled for early next year.
“There will be a crater the size of Jupiter in the P.P.P.’s electoral prospects if they don’t sell this to the people of Pakistan,” a senior Pakistani official said. “And for that, they need an apology — or something that looks like an apology, smells like an apology, tastes like an apology.”
A senior American official said, “We’ve been several times very close, until ‘ghairat’ intervened,” using the Urdu word for honor.
Political calculations also loom on the American side. A visit to Afghanistan and India this week by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta had the diplomatic effect of a baseball game in a tea shop. In New Delhi, Mr. Panetta stridently defended drone strikes, and he chuckled publicly about excluding the Pakistanis from the raid that killed Osama bin Laden on their soil, still a sore point here. In the Afghan capital, Kabul, Mr. Panetta warned that American officials were reaching “the limits of our patience” with Pakistan.
Mr. Panetta’s blunt talk may reflect genuine frustration in the Pentagon, said Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, but “it won’t exactly create a rush to get things resolved around here.”
The character of the Pakistan-United States relationship has changed profoundly over the last five years. When Gen. Pervez Musharraf governed, relations were warm and friendly in public, and any frictions were kept behind closed doors. Since the Bin Laden raid, though, the relationship has become more transactional, measured in dollars and cents, inflected by every public utterance, and largely conducted in the cold light of publicity.
If the talks over the supply lines fail, the United States has a Plan B in place. On Monday, NATO concluded agreements with several Central Asian nations allowing tens of thousands of vehicles and other military equipment to traverse their territory by road, bypassing Pakistan as they carry matériel northward out of Afghanistan.
But the political cost would be high: It would give a great deal of leverage to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who wields influence over the countries, former Soviet republics, that the trucks would pass through. The Pakistanis think that the Plan B may be a bluff by the Americans, like a prospective carpet buyer threatening to walk out of the shop.
“The northern route costs so much more, that if we don’t do a deal this week, the Americans will happily do it one month, or three months, from now,” a senior Pakistani official said.
Both sides say that whatever the outcome, the tough bargaining may ultimately drive them further apart, with negative repercussion for a diplomatic relationship that is already strained.
“The real danger is that this could become the new normal for an extended number of years,” the senior American official said. “And we have to get past that.”
@ The New York Times