Prince, Soldier, Statesman

Sahabzada Yaqub Khan

Columnist M. ZAFAR is inspired by COL QAYYUM’S tribute to Lt Gen SAHABZADA YAQUB KHAN to add to it.

This piece is inspired by Colonel Abdul Qayyum’s tribute to General Sahabzada Mohammad Yaqub Khan that appeared in the Defence Journal in July 2000 issue. Like most personalities of his genre Yaqub Khan means different things to different people. To the socially conscious he is an archetypal prince, to the professionals of the Army he is a philosopher commander, to the cloistered Brahmins of Corps Diplomatique he is ambassador extraordinary. To cursory observers he is an obsessed figure who lives in an ivory tower and is out of tune with times. To the historians of the era he is an unexplored subject but whose influence in the defence and diplomacy of Pakistan is permanent.

Due to an inborn shyness, a fierce desire to remain correct and guard privacy he has not written his memoirs nor has he encouraged others to record his part and viewpoint in the epics of Bangladesh and Afghanistan and of course the Pakistan Army. All suggestions in this regard have so far not gone further than a polite acknowledgement and a promise to discuss the subject ‘soon’. The Official Secrets Act and contemporaneous disregard for intellectual property will ensure that real contribution of Yaqub Khan will never be known to the public and his role may come to be understood to be that of a good craftsman who did a fair job. This will be incorrect and unjust.

General Yaqub Khan’s career that is by no means ended is best summed up by the motto on the personal standard of the Prince of Wales ‘Ich Dien’. The glory of the fleur de lis is underscored by a commitment to service. Service that is not qualified in terms of when, where and what but that demands the ultimate in loyalty and integrity. When one serves to such specifications, service assumes the dimensions of a spiritual discipline that enjoins cleanliness of the body, the soul, the thought and the action. Being on parade is equivalent of being on prayers where the ideal is pursued with single-mindedness, where nothing is compromised and no lowering of standards tolerated. Over a period of time such an attitude assumes the form of asceticism that commands continual self-denial and subjugation of the self in the pursuit of the ultimate.

Astringency of the process purifies the soul, fortifies the will and bestows moral authority. That severe and unrelenting sobriety, often overflowing the limits of normal reason, is in fact the price that those who enjoy the privilege of exercising power over fellow beings have to pay. Princes are taught this very early in life. Other officers learn after induction into service.

General Yaqub’s apparent disregard for the sensitivities of normal run of mill officers has to be understood in relation to the professional and cultural excellence that he desired to see around him. The aim was to train officers of the regiment who would stand out anywhere as examples of quality. There were no other motives. On this score the general has been misunderstood not only by those who were his unfortunate victims but also those who untiringly professed liegehood to him.

I met General Yaqub for the first time in the closing months of 1960 when he took over command of 1 Armoured Division at Kharian from General Sarfraz Khan HJ: MC. The division had arrived back at the home base after a grueling set of exercises that had lasted a whole summer. Lessons from Exercise Tezgam were the favourite menu at every discussion table. Some pleaded for the break up of the armoured division into independent brigades. They thought the division was too heavy and country’s infrastructure too inadequate to support operational and tactical moves within the battlefield. Others wanted all available armour to be organised into Corps on the style of Panzer Corps of German Army. They dreamed of Pakistan Army equivalents of Group Von Kleist and Gen Guderian moving fast and establishing line from bend of Jamuna to slopes of Arvalli. Their argument was that in view of the Pakistans strategic axiom stating that defence of East Pakistan lay in West Pakistan such deep incursions were essential for political bargaining after the war. Practical soldiers considered capture of Line Kathua-Jandiala Guru and Beas-Sutlej Confluence was good enough for the necessary bargaining. Whatever the ground objectives such offensives could only be undertaken by tank units organised in divisions and corps. Klotzen, nicht kleckern. Dissipation of armour into packets would reduce the war to static battles of trenches and duels of artillery. Pakistan would end up in repeating Aliwal, Mudki and Sobraon of nineteenth century. In the event that is what happened 1965.

The new commander of 1 Armoured Division did not commit himself to any school although his preferences were clear to those who listened to him with care, but he did embark on a plan to educate the debaters on mechanics of armoured warfare that in essence consists of movement and administrative maintenance. He would refer to a photograph of Field Marshal Rommel pouring over a map with a compass in hand and a ruler lying nearby. This is how you plan a tank battle cold calculations, he would say. To further emphasise the point, he would during visits, ask unit officers questions like the TPP (Time Past a Point) of the units F echelon, tonnage of Second Line ammunition and length of an armored divisions column. The ignorant were ticked off as a matter of course. Generals bite was often deep and hurtful. But the debates in 1 Armoured Division messes did become informative.

General Yaqub Khan believed that military duties especially in an armoured formation could only be performed in a culture where commitment to service was an article of faith and above every other consideration. The boy who stood on the burning deck should be serving in the ranks of 1 Armoured Division and England expects everyone to do his duty should suffice for orders from the march column.

His first address to the officers of the Division in which he gave out his philosophy of command made a lasting impression. After passage of nearly forty years some parts of it still reverberate in my mind as clearly as if the lecture had been delivered yesterday.

First point he made was regarding the continuity of command policies and acknowledged the contribution of his predecessors. We will start from where my predecessors have left. We shall build on their successes. If we do not do this, we shall be starting from exactly zero. I do not want to start from zero. Then he dilated at length on the commander-command relationship. You should know what to expect from me and what I expect from you. You have the right to expect justice and fairplay from me.

That much I can promise you on my part. Now what I expect from you is nothing more than a days worth of work- done with honesty and integrity That much I shall ensure. Then he went on to explain integrity. Integrity comes from word integer which means whole Remove one brick from a wall, it still stands. But the integrity of the wall is impaired. Decrying the low level of knowledge of applicants to staff college examination, he said Aspirants to the highest command levels in the Army do not know the number of vehicles that the division they are serving in holds. This apathy is intolerable. Such ignorant people cannot be recommended to have authority over the lives of soldiers.

The difficulty with General Yaqub was that having said what he said he would set an example and expect others to follow. Service with such a person does become difficult especially for those who throw the weight of brass at you and advise Do not do, what I do. Do as I tell you to do. Precisely at the appointed hour the General would drive to the Division Headquarters in his shining black Rover where he would be received by the Aide de Camp and his Personal Assistant the gentle Mr.Toor. His driver would a little later drive off the Rover to the garage. Mr.Toor’s work would start as soon as the General stepped out of the car. Sometimes a letter was dictated before he would reach the office door. Then he would settle down to routine. Office work followed by visits to training sites and then back to the office for more file work. Polo in the afternoon was followed by a glass of nimboo pani in the Officers Club. Of course the time between the sips was spent on browsing through the book that happened to be on his reading list.

With him in the station, intellectual activity picked up a great deal.

All exercises were to start with presentation of the concept and lessons meant to be drawn. At the end of each exercise a critique was held where officers blew each other to smithereens. Units would hold critiques, for example, after training drives, fires at short-range and after regimental Guest Nights. The general was known to hold a critique after a good polo match. Only if Saghir had read the situation and galloped only if the pony had not bolted with Tiwana.

Officers were encouraged to make public presentations on subjects of their choice. I myself was given an opportunity to speak to the whole garrison on the person and programme of the then recently elected President of the United States Mr. John F. Kennedy. Presentations of Alexanders battle with Porus on the Hydaspes (Jhelum) and Raja Sher Singh’s battle with the British at Chillianwala were memorable.

At about that time Pakistan Army was also plunged deep into the controversies surrounding the New Concept of Defence and Pentomic Divisions. The known commitment, one way or the other, of some of the most powerful personalities in the Army had turned the whole officer corps into two squabbling camps the protagonists and the antagonists. In that charged and fractious atmosphere General Headquarters set up an exercise called Exercise Milestone to test these concepts and appointed General Yaqub Khan as the chief adjudicator -the Chief Umpire.

New Concept of Defence was in fact a page picked out of the Schlieffen Plan, which sought to concentrate two thirds of the army for the decisive Schwerpunkt on one front, while leaving a much smaller part for defence on the other front where ground was to be dominated and denied with fire rather than with physical occupation. Defence was to be in a series of lines and after the enemy had been bled white, a counter attack was to be launched to annihilate the attacker. Pakistani officers were expected to duplicate Tannenburgs at battalion and brigade level.

Pentomic division on the other hand was the suggested organization for an American Division for an atomic battlefield. Five highly mobile battalions with adequate supporting arms and services would constitute a division. Brigade headquarters would be done away with and task force headquarter under Deputy GOC would be put in place. The Task Force Headquarter would have no units under its command and would be required to carry out a given task with units designated just before the battle.

Leading lights of Pakistan Army thought that they could combine the two concepts and fashion a new army that would be economical, light and effective. Politically such an army would raise President Ayub’s stock immensely. His support for such an Army was more than manifest. A much-advertised event those days was the visit of General Westphal the one time Chief of Staff to General Rommel. During his meeting with the German General, President Ayub was reported to have said that Pakistan Army needed generals like Von Schlieffen. Westphal was obviously perplexed at Ayub’s choice of Schlieffen as a role model for Pakistani officers. Von Schlieffen was known in the German Army neither as a trainer nor as a field commander of much distinction. He became famous because the German Plan for prosecution of 1914-18 war on two fronts which he crafted in association with Ludendorff and the under the direction of younger Moltke, came to bear his name. Pakistan General Staff, however, got the intended hint.

The position of the Chief Umpire was not a happy one. He was far better informed on German military doctrines and his uneasiness with their application in the military ambience of the sub-continent was though clearly guarded was manifest to those who could follow his diction. He devised a technique for communicating the difficulties inherent in the proposed doctrines to the highest and the mightiest, the protagonists and the antagonists direct from the horses mouth. He made it a point to invite the every body who was anybody and happened to be in the area to the Chief Umpires Daily Conference. Every evening reports of tactical level umpires were made at first hand and discussed by the house. The Chief Umpire intervened only to correct the facts but never the perceptions. By the end of the exercise both concepts stood rejected through consensus an outcome that the Yaqub Khan privately approved. Curiously Chief Umpires report on Exercise Milestone was not accorded that wide publicity that had been given to General M.G. Jilani’s report on Exercise Tezgam.

After the command of 1Armoured Division General Yaqub proceeded to Command and Staff College Quetta and plunged headlong into organizing Army War Course, a course designed for to equip selected senior officers with the intellectual wherewithal required for high command. The emphasis was on creativity. Plans were discussed in all dimensions- time space being the favourite of the general. Concepts like schwerpunkt, balance, time space dimension, centre of gravity, friction dguerre, hypotheses and variants gained currency in the army. The graduates of Army War Course started a movement that was equivalent of a renaissance. Officers began to think of alternates to every solution and cater for dynamics of the interaction. Two and two would be equal to four plus minus the effort that it takes the two figures to undergo the process of addition. Concepts of static and set piece battles came to be scoffed at. Ingenuity and movement was the order of the day. Many of Yaqub’s colleagues in the General Staff who preferred to remain limited to Military Training Pamphlet No 8 were visibly disturbed at this onslaught of military intellectualism and did everything to put the teacher down. What is this thing called Hypothesis roared General Bahadur Sher MC once at one of his colleagues in a conference attended by the Commander-in-Chief this is an unauthorised term and appears nowhere in the training manuals. Many thought that General Yaqub had taught too much to too many. This uncalled for creativity; Yaqubism was getting under their skin and having an affect on tranquility in their commands.

When 1965 War came he was still at Staff College. After the launch of Grand Slam Mr.Aziz Ahmed came to lecture the War Course students to reassure them that Pakistan will win its battle in Kashmir without arousing reaction across international border. Colonel later Major General Shaukat Riza asked that on what was his conclusion based? On volumes of study pat came the reply. None was convinced and General Yaqub the same evening said privately that if India does not attack within next 48 hours then some bfool is sitting in Delhi. India attacked across international borders in small hours of 6th September well within the time limit allowed by the guru.

1 Armoured Division was by far the best equipped, trained and motivated formation of the Pakistan Army in 1965.Every body entertained great hopes when it was launched and ordered to break out from Khem Karan Bridgehead and capture Patti and then be prepared to move either south to Harike on the Sutlej or north to Jandiala guru on the G.T.  Road. In the event the formation was not able to make much headway and was withdrawn less one brigade into reserve and moved to Sialkot. The GOC and some senior members of his staff were removed. General Yaqub was recalled to the command of 1Armoured Division. Ceasefire came on 23rd September but formations were told to be ready for resumption of hostilities at short notice. Every one plunged into maintenance of equipment, updating of operational maps and revision of plans. Armoured Division officers were kept busy in updating tank trafficability maps of the operational area and the staff was burning midnight oil on revision of operational plans. It was here that the future President of Pakistan Zia ul Haq then a Lieutenant Colonel joined his staff as General Staff Officer Grade 1. Zia was worked to his satisfaction except that his tendency to fly off the handle had to be curbed. Once Zia while making a presentation took too long to come to the issue. Full stop. cried the GOC Full stop, I said. You have uttered some four dozen words. Not a single one is operational.

One of the reasons for the failure of the division in Khem Karan was given to be the inaccuracy of the Tank Going maps on which the operational plans were based. The Divisional headquarters ordered extensive reconnaissance. But the problem remained. An area judged and marked on map as Good by one Reconnaissance Party was called Impassable by another. The General encouraged junior officers to research on the subject come out with a solution that will give more accurate maps to the commanders for planning and conduct of operations. General Yaqub and Brigadier RG Hyder Commander 5 Armoured Brigade particularly encouraged this writer, who was GSO-3 (Ops) at Headquarters 5Armoured Brigade. In cooperation with a brilliant official of Soil Survey of Pakistan Mr. Mohammad Alam Mian, I produced a paper that recommended two things. First, that ground trafficability should be judged in definite quantitative terms which should give definite guide lines for the quantum of armour to be employed for the battle. The current system of assigning vague qualitative values like Good, Fair, Bad led to no valid operational deductions. Secondly for cartographic exactitude soil survey maps should be utilised and trafficability values superimposed on the delineated parts. This paper was ordered by the General who had by then become Chief of the General Staff to be presented to the Commander-in-Chief at the GHQ. Rather unusual and some sort of a record - captains are generally not allowed anywhere near such sacrosanct activities. It is axiomatic that everywhere work of junior officers is appropriated by high level personages and passed as their own. Not under General Yaqub. He was not afraid of letting a thousand flowers bloom.

The subject continued to be studied at different level headquarters but the author was carefully excluded. Axioms are not based on nothing. Colonel Altaf Hussain, Brigadier Jan Nadir made their contribution. Later General GS Butt, a doctor in Soil Mechanics developed the subject fully and had it made a part of the curriculum in the training of Armour and Engineer officers.

General Yaqub’s tenure as CGS was marked by another reorganisation exercise. Logistic System in the Army was given a new dekho. An updated system was put in place. On the Staff Duties side a revised manual of Staff Duties in the Field was published under Yaqub’s signatures.

So when his promotion came he happily walked out of the GHQ and proceeded to East Pakistan where things were happening.

East Pakistan in1969 was seething with trouble. Bengalis were unanimous on full internal autonomy in case Pakistan was to remain in tact in some form or the other. An unprecedented cyclone brought untold misery to the people and gave tons of ammunition to the politicians. Political leaders had become more assertive and masses more disruptive. An open revolt was very much in the air.

For the General it was a case of déjà vu. Back in 1947 he had seen the comings and goings of leaders of Indian independence movement to Viceregal Lodge and now in Dhaka he did not miss the ominous signs. Coincidentally the Governor Admiral SM Ahsan had also been witness to the unfolding of the events of 1947 from much closer distance. It is, therefore, not surprising that they both read the situation in similar terms and suggested the same remedy. General Yaqub made a valiant effort to charm the East Pakistanis in the style of Lord Moutbatten and was reportedly much successful. But whereas Lord Mountbatten had extricated plenipotentiary powers from the British Government Yaqub had no authority to formalise any breakthrough that he may have achieved with the Bengali leadership.

The military aim of Commander Eastern Command, in bare bones, was to defend East Pakistan against an attack from India. Some of the worlds biggest rivers divided the area of responsibility into four sectors; Jessore-Khulna, Hilli-Bogra, Mymensingh-Tangail and Sylhet-Chittagong. India could attack all four sectors, with equal facility. The lay of communications was from north to south and generally conformed to the alignment of the rivers. For lateral movement there were only two bridges, one across the Jamuna at Paksey and the other across Meghna at Bhairab Bazar. Mutual support and movement of reserves was not a realistic military possibility and if the local population should turn hostile even the miniscule chance that there was would evaporate.

Therefore, the support of local population was the first essential for the defence of the territory. The battle for East Pakistan could either be conducted on the basis of four independent sectors for which the strength of troops would have to be quadrupled (8 to 9 divisions) or by concentrating east of Meghna to retain a large enough foothold till aggression could be vacated. It did not need a genius to know that first option was physically impossible and the latter politically unthinkable.

Yaqub Khan, therefore, insisted in the name of military necessity that his task should not made be impossible by deliberately alienating the people of East Pakistan. He demanded solutions of sanity to the political imbroglio.

On being rebuffed, his resignation became inevitable. But when it came about, some awful lies were fabricated to assassinate his military character. He was reduced to his substantive rank and retired from service. Not a word of complaint was heard from him in public. He accepted the dispensation in the spirit of Ich dien. The regime that had become deaf and blind died in disgrace in the dying days of 1971.

The new regime resurrected Yaqub Khan and inducted him into the diplomatic service -the second preferred vocation of princes. And thus began a new phase in the public service of this remarkable man. That phase is outside the scope of this article.