Remembering Lt Gen Gul Hasan

Columnist Col (Retd) ABDUL QAYYUM goes down memory lane remembering an old soldier who recently passed away

I read with interest Colonel EAS Bokhari's article on General Gul HASAN in the February issue of the Defence Journal. I regretted not having sent a few lines myself for publication and now it is too late to write an obituary. But the memory of men like Gul Hasan deserve to go beyond an obituary, particularly within the Army and those who care to enquire into the lives of those who have left their imprint, for better or worse, on the mood, manner and style - the composite personality, if you please - of the institution to which they belonged.

The mind of an army, or any corporate body for that matter, is best understood when a study of its leading personalities ends in a mosaic of ideas which have dominated its growth over the years and the decades. Autobiographies alone will not do because introspection has its limitations and no one man may see what many do as time itself adds to perspective, winnowing the chaff from the grain.

I, for one, enjoyed reading GUL HASAN'S 'Memoirs' while it was still in its manuscript form - without the polish which all editors earn their living from! Even so, the finished product retains the essential flavour of the man, the story of a soldier professional to the core caught in the turbulent politics of his time as he climbed the last rung of the ladder. The fall was nobler than what the cynic would concede. When I told the general that he should not have accepted the assignment in VIENNA, his response was a solitary sentence: 'Bloody chap, I still had a few mess bills to clear!'

The fall of the man was as characteristic of the man as the manner in which he rose: a soldier absorbed by and in his profession, with some time left to marry but no time to build himself even a modest home. In many ways reminiscent of SHAUKAT RIZA, another of our lean generals far removed from the opulence of ZIA-UL-HAQ'S time and after. Had Gul Hasan continued as Chief of the Army for a while longer, we may have had a few generals less with this craze for material splendour. In the context of our times, that would have been no mean contribution to the 'mosaic of ideas' to which I made a reference earlier.

Unlike SAHABZADA YAQUB KHAN, Gul Hasan was short on strategic vision. He was the field commander, division and below, hell bent on tactics and the training of his men 'on the grounds', troop to unit level. Unlike ZIA-UL-HAQ, this passion for tactics was exclusively military, never allowed to stray into the domain of politics about which he cared little and kept away from. As the CGS of a conventional army trapped in an unconventional war, a civil war at that in distant East Pakistan, Gul Hasan had no contribution to make to the resolution of a conflict beyond his ken. With the Sahabzada set aside, none of our leaders (civil or military) knew how to go about salvaging Pakistan. Mr. BHUTTO made his clever debut to 'pick up the pieces' (the spoils of war, really) and when he made Gul Hasan the Army Chief it was an arrangement doomed to end the way it did. Better for Gul Hasan though, because Bhutto went to the gallows and he retired to write his 'Memoirs'. How a man falls, I am tempted to conclude, is no less important than how he rises. The sunset is as much a part of the day as the sunrise.

I bear witness that Gul Hasan went in peace. I was with him during his closing years and his closing weeks, closer than we ever were while in uniform. When I had gone through the manuscript of his 'Memoirs', I exercised my right of a quip: 'This, Sir, is great. I didn't know you knew how to write!' 'Spoken like a professor!' was the general's response, with that twinkle in his eye which faded ever so slowly as he wasted away on a hospital bed. I seek your indulgence to reproduce below, hopefully with no editor around with his glasses on, two pieces on Gul Hasan which I had written in my diary of those days.


25 July, '99

A few days before he died of a sudden heart attack, Akram Syed (Brigadier, retired) told Parveen that General Gul Hasan was very ill in hospital and he was going to see him. Now, Akram Syed is dead and yesterday we went to see Gul Hasan. He had just returned from the hospital, back to his two rooms in the Artillery Mess.

The old man was sitting on a chair staring vacantly at the wall in front of him, unable to get up because of the excruciating pain in his back. Parveen bent low and kissed him on the forehead. The old man smiled.

We talked about cabbages and kings, Kargil excluded. He talked about his boy studying in England, 'Economics, if you please, not at the LSE'. I took the photograph off the wall and placed it before Parveen. 'Looks just like the General!' I said. The old man smiled.

When we were ready to go after half an hour or so, the General asked us to stay for dinner: 'The Mess is closed. We will walk over to the restaurant next door.' After I had said my Maghrib prayers (on Gul Hasan's prayer mat!), Imtiaz (his driver, batman, housekeeper, friend) told me that the General was very ill, could hardly get up from his chair. I nodded. 'We will come again', I told the General, 'when you are a little stronger.' 'Who the hell are you to tell me that? Stay for dinner!' commanded the General, in an imperious flash of his old self, and sank back in his chair. 'I promise we will come again, soon!' I repeated, as we made ready to go. Parveen kissed him on the cheek. He smiled. We walked out into the gathering darkness of a hot, humid July night in Rawalpindi.

For whom do the bells toll, who knows? Akram Syed did not know, did he? Nor do we. Incidentally, if you have not read 'The Death of Ivan Illich' (by Leo Tolstoy), read it. Death is an enigma, no less than life. It takes a lifetime to prepare for death. Whatever the quality of our lives, may we learn to die gracefully! May our sunset be more glorious than our sunrise has been!

- The last of the Prophets used to pray:

'O Allah, let my closing years be my finest years;
my closing deeds, the best of my deeds;
my finest day, the day I stand before Thee face to face!'

- Rabia al-Basri used to pray:

'O Allah, if I pray to Thee for fear of hell, cast me into hell. And if I pray to Thee for love of paradise, exclude me from paradise. But if I pray to Thee for the joy of a glimpse of Thy Countenance, deny me not the joy I seek!'

- Lines from Robert Louis Stevenson (from memory):

'Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
And this be verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be,
Home is the sailor, home from sea
And the hunter back from the hill!'

27 August, 99

SARFRAZ (Commander LOG AREA, Rawalpindi) told me GUL HASAN was ill in hospital, not at all well. He went to visit him and had taken some flowers along. Gul Hasan's response: 'Bloody chap, you have brought these a little too early:!'.

Parveen and I went to see him when he was back in his two rooms in the GHQ Artillery Mess, an unlikely dwelling in Pakistan for a former Commander-in-Chief of the Army. What a contrast from MIRZA ASLAM BEG'S mansion on the way to the brewery, the hideout of the serving COAS next door and the opulent villas that line the Golf Road!

GUL HASAN received us on the steps of his humble dwelling, clad in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, majestic I thought even as a wrinkled shadow of his former self. He kissed Parveen, held her by the hand, led her gently across the threshold and into the sitting room. The room was untidy, worse because the only MULAZIM (driver, batman, bearer, housekeeper - all in one) was away on leave. On the mantelpiece there were a few candles, in one corner a small refrigerator, on a side - wail a small portrait of GUL HASAN'S wife surrounded by a cluster of their son. Handsome boy he, I said; 17 years old, said Gul Hasan, on his way to college, to the USA he hoped. Good for him, I remarked, as we told him MUNIER' story.

Soon after, the lights went off - another display of WAPDA's whimsical loadshedding. I ran out to fetch a match box from the restaurant next door. When I returned and lit the candles, I found GUL HASAN had been groping in the dark, going round in circles in the same room. 'What the hell,' he said, ' I was looking for a match box myself, and I thought I was in the kitchen!' Gul Hasan can't see too well now. He will go in for a cataract operation next week.

I have always had some admiration for GUL HASAN, our many violent tiffs notwithstanding. He was a field commander excellence, a great love of the troops - bright, bouncy, always on the move, a man who drank his whisky and did his duty with equal gusto. Above all, he has been an honest man without a trace of cant, blunt of speech and an inimitable sense of humour. He once wrote a one-line ACR ( yes, a formal ACR) on one of his lazy and not so competent subordinates: 'This bloody chap needs a kick up his ars-hole!' Beat that, if you can, for brevity, complete honesty and, of course, eloquence. We have not had many commanders like GUL HASAN. A few more ACRs of this kind and we would not have had the muck that has risen to the top.

I admire Gul Hasan's stark simplicity, his modest dwelling, his appearance in shorts and a T-shirt - so far removed from the SAHABZADA in his saville Row suit and stiff upper lip. Had be taken to the Quran, he would have been a SUFI. But you can't have a GUL HASAN with a beard. His prayer-mat was the army the loved and he was the roving Commander-in-Chief who knew and cared for his men 'better than their mothers did'. Wish this army had a few more GUL HASANS, not men in lvory Towers who retire to mansions even more vulgar - unspeakably vulgar. Those bloody chaps need a kick up their ars - hole!

15 October, 99

GUL HASAN is gone (10.10.99), without many left behind to mourn him. Parveen and I certainly do, which you may consider queer when I recall how often we quarrelled while in uniform, all the way from the School of Armour (NOWSHERA, 1955) to his command of the 1st Armoured Division (MULTAN, 1967). Now that he is gone, I am left with an aching emptiness, more than what every death does to diminish all who are left behind. Why? The explanation would take too long. At the end of it, it would still be unsatisfactory.

Very often, little gestures speak far louder than words. Towards the end, Parveen and I were often at his bedside in hospital. The last time we saw him and promised to come again, he smiled wearily, clasping Parveen's hand for what seemed to be an eternity. Five days later, he died. They buried him with full military honours. I did not attend the funeral - no point in kicking up dust where all one wants is the dust to settle.

GUL HASAN was a good man, a simple and straightforward soldier wedded to his profession. He loved his men even more than his whiskey, his swagger a poor cover-plan for his innate shyness and modesty. Gul Hasan had a hearty contempt for all things ceremonial, he was happiest when out in the field with his troops. After an illustrious career, which saw him run into turbulence as our last Commander-in-Chief, he retired quietly to his two rooms in the GHQ Artillery Officers Mess in Rawalpindi. He was the last of our very few generals cast in the Spartan mould - swashbuckling maybe as Khalid Ahmad (of the 'Friday times') observes, but not war-hungry as Altaf Gauhar would have us believe. I'll have more to say on this some other day.

GUL HASAN hated being sedentary and this led to an irrational dislike of the staff officer and staff duties. He was no hot rod in planning matters, operational or administrative, but he was a field commander par excellence - by our standards, at any rate. He almost equalled PATTON in linguistic matters, but he was our version of ROBERT E. LEE in the field. GUL HASAN was warm, sincere, forthright, without a trace of cant or deceit, wholly committed to his command, bold and generous of spirit. I hope he has not been the last of our non-mean, non-pretty, non-scheming generals. God rest his soul in peace!

GUL HASAN knew the end was near. When his wife came from VIENNA to see him in hospital, he gave her 11 lacs and she left. To his son SHER, a winsome boy of 17, he gave an equal amount. His last lac he handed over to his faithful orderly. That left GUL HASAN ready to go. I think he went in peace.

I'll remember GUL HASAN for many things, not the least because of his personal order as C-in-C to 'Bring Qayyum back from that silly detention camp (QUETTA, 1971)! He will go to Bangladesh when he wants to.' Gul Hasan is gone, and I am still in Pakistan. Khalid Hasan (of his commentary on 'Zia-ul-Haq and I) will never understand why. Maybe, he ought to read again the closing lines in the penultimate paragraph of the book:

'This is the end of the road for all of us, big and small.

For those left behind what remains is what we salvage of friendships crushed and scattered by the forces of time.

I believe there is on earth nothing more sacred than human relationships honestly forged and when everything else comes tumbling down they continue to flicker in the encircling gloom.'

About the Author

Born in Barisal (Bengal), 1932. Educated at the Prince of Wales College (Dehra Dun, India) and Aitchison College Lahore). Commissioned as a Cavalry Officer in the Pakistan Army (1952). Winner of the Sword of Honour and the Norman Gold Medal from the Pakistan Military Academy (Kakul). Honour graduate of the Fuhrungsakademie (Hamburg) and an Honorary Member of the German General Staff. Soldier, civil servant, teacher. Last assignment in uniform: Senior Instructor, Command and Staff College (Quetta). After retirement (1974): Professor of Geopolitics, Logic and Scientific Method at the same institution (1974-77). Later, Additional Secretary (Policy Planning and Research) in the Ministry of Information, Islamabad (1978-89) and President, Institute of Regional Studies, Islamabad (1990-94). Presently, 1994 onward, Professor of Islamic Studies at the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST). Author of ON STRIVING TO BE A MUSLIM (Kazi Publication, Chicago (USA), 1980), UNDERSTANDING THE QURAN (ICCTS, Islamabad, 1986). Under publication; LECTURES ON ISLAM (NUST, Rawalpindi, 1997). Yet to be published; STUDIES IN COMPARATIVE RELIGION (lectures for the Asian Study Group of Diplomatic Community in Islamabad, 1986-89). Visiting lecturer on a variety of topics in several civil and military institutions in Pakistan.