DJ’s A H AMIN interviewed this indomitable aviator and dedicated field commander of the Corps of Engineers. Gen Niazi distinguished himself in his military and civil career and introduced pioneer reforms wherever he served.
Gen (Retd) Hidayatullah Khan Niazi, SJ
Please tell us about your early life and parents?
I was born at Mianwali on 6 Feb 1937. We were a family of 6 brothers and 2 sisters, I was the 3rd, in the order of seniority. My father Yar Mohammad Khan Niazi a police official was a symbol of honesty and devotion to duty. A good sportsman who excelled in hockey, he was a member of the Indian Police Hockey team before partition. To quote just one instance about his honesty, when he was then posted at Jhelum at the time of partition as Hindu friend of his, offered him to get his palatial four-storied house along with his movable and immovable assets to his name. He also promised to cover all legal aspects. My father firmly refused to have anything to do with the house or his movable or immovable property. This was at a time when many people became millionaires overnight by looting or plundering property left by Hindus and Sikhs in West Punjab, NWFP and Sindh. I must add that my father was a God-fearing man with very strong faith in God Almighty. He had high moral character and strong will. He retired in 1960 as Deputy Superintendent in the West Pakistan Police.
My father-in-law was also my elder uncle. He was from the Education Department just like his father (my Grandfather) and rose to the rank of Divisional Inspector of Schools. He was again a specimen of honesty, dedication and wedded to his noble profession. He had inherited all those qualities from his father Khan Ahmad Jee who was a well-known religious man in Mianwali town and died at the age of 105 years while my grandmother died at the age of 110 years.
School days, any teacher/s who exercised a decisive influence on your personality formation, development of convictions?
My early education was spread over number of schools in different towns of Punjab. It started from Mianwali where I joined the Primary School, followed by transfer to Jalalpur, Gujrat, Dinga, Malakwal, Mandi Bahauddin, Jhelum, Attock, Rawalpindi and again back to Mianwali where I studied in 8th class and finally doing Matriculation from ML High School Empress Road Lahore in which I stood first in my school and won a government scholarship.
The only place where I spent more than two years was in school at Lahore. Here I had a very close friend by the name of Bashir Jahangiri. He was an extremely decent, polite and intelligent person. In addition he also excelled in academics. He was a self-made man and I was very proud of our friendship. Later on I met him at DI Khan where he was the Sessions Judge during President Bhutto’s visit to DI Khan. He later rose to the appointment of Judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and Ombudsman.
Any teacher who deeply impressed you at college?
During my stay at FC College Lahore as an
Intermediate student I was deeply impressed by one Mr Abbas Khan who was
our Chemistry professor. He was extremely polite and helpful to the
Motivation for joining the army?
I had a great passion for flying so I initially
applied for the 24th GD (Pilot) Course and started my flying training in 2
University Air Squadron located in Lahore. My initial training was on a
Tigermoth Twin Wing Single Engine aircraft which had no brakes! One fine
day I overshot the time allotted to me i.e one-hour solo while doing
aerobatics. I forgot the time limit and only realized it when I had
already flown for two hours! Therefore, to save taxiing time I landed the
aircraft very close to the main
gate of Apron. Thus two
persons who were supposed to halt the aircraft by holding its wings could
not stop it! This was a crisis situation with myself steering my aircraft
through the parked aircraft to avoid direct collision with them. It was a
miracle that I avoided hitting any of those many aircraft. Finally, I had
to stop my aircraft by colliding it with the Main Hanger door in order to
bring it to a complete halt. As a result Air Headquarters decided to
transfer me to the army. As I was hurt by their decision so I did not join
the PMA. Instead I rejoined FC College and cleared my FSC Examination. In
the third year it dawned upon me that the army also had a flying wing. So
I decided to join the PMA. GHQ informed me that
two years had lapsed since my earlier clearance of the ISSB,
therefore, I would be required to clear the ISSB again. I reappeared
before the ISSB and landed in PMA.
Life at PMA and choice of arm?
Life at PMA was Spartan. I enjoyed playing Hockey and was a member of the PMA Hockey team. We won various prestigious tournaments. After commissioning I continued with hockey, was Captain of the E-in-C team. I also joined the army hockey camp. However, I regret that my hockey career was cut short because of long-term effects of a thigh injury, which I had suffered in PMA.
I gave my first choice of arm as “Artillery” in
order to join the Air OP. However, keeping in view my academic performance
as a science student GHQ selected me for the Corps of Engineers. We were
doing our B Sc Engineering when General Muhammed Musa
C in C Army visited Risalpur. At lunch I requested Gen M. Musa that
Engineer Corps officers should be allowed to join Air OP and that the age
limit should be relaxed. It may be noted that the age limit for Air OP was
24 years at that time but it was open for all arms and services except
Corps of Engineers (Technically) since by the time Sapper officers cleared
their B Sc Civil Engineering they
were approximately 25 or 26 years old and thus above the limit of 24
years. Gen Musa promised that he would look into the matter. After few
weeks we received new instructions i.e age limit for Air Op had been
raised from 24 to 29 years. Thus I was able to realize my flying ambition
by applying for the aviation corps after completing my B Sc Engineering.
Any seniors or contemporaries who exercised a decisive influence during cadetship?
My Platoon Commander (19th PMA Long Course,
Salahuddin Company) Major (later Brigadier) Habib Akbar an armoured corps
officer was a highly dedicated and upright officer. A man of few words who
was caring and fatherly in attitude and outlook. A tall man with a fine military appearance was
every inch a soldier and gentleman. He had really made us gentlemen
Experiences as a young officer from date of commission till 1965?
I was commissioned on 26th April 1959 and joined the 92 Field Company of the Corps of Engineers. This company was located in Swat and was one of the units tasked to build the road to Gilgit via Swat and Indus Valley. Later this road became more famous as KKH and its alignment was changed from Swat to Thakot, Mansehra and Abbottabad. I was the first second lieutenant to be posted to this outfit from PMA in Swat. The company had three other officers. I remember an incident when my company commander asked me to write a presentation on how to take six bulldozers across Krora River for excavation/cutting high from the other side. Being mission oriented young and enthusiastic, I made a quick plan how to do it by foot recce and took all six dozers across. In the evening my company commander asked me about the plan. I told him that I had not written any plan in appreciation format since I had already taken all six dozers across the nullah! The stratagem, which I had employed to perform this seemingly impossible task, was simple albeit unorthodox. I had first taken the biggest dozer with the highest exhaust pipe thus avoiding water getting inside its engine and had later towed the smaller dozers across the nala with this larger dozer. In order to inspire my men and set personal example I had led the whole operation by placing myself in the leading dozer. I must add that I was lucky in having many experienced NCOs who were veterans of the famous 14th Army in the WW Two Burma Front who gave me valuable advice.
I remember another memorable incident in the same area. Right above the place where our company was working there was a large boulder balanced very delicately on the mountaintop above. Thus there was constant danger that this boulder could fall anytime and wreck havoc with our men working on the road. I asked a labourer to get it removed. He hesitated with the plea that he had five kids and could not risk his life! I was disgusted and told him that I had five brothers and no liability or hostages to fortune in shape of wife or kids and immediately started climbing the hill to personally remove the stone. My men followed enthusiastically and we successfully removed the stone. It was a thought provoking experience in the sense that I realized the immense importance of leading from the front.
In January 1960 I joined the Military College of Engineering at Risalpur and stayed there till April 1963 for my bachelors degree in civil engineering. In 1963 on graduation I joined the 11 Engineer Construction Battalion. Here I represented the Engineers team in various hockey tournaments.
In January 1964 I finally attained my ambition when I was selected in the Air OP and joined the P-6 Air OP Basic Course at the School of Air OP, Dhamial. I passed out in October 1964 and was posted in the 1 Army Aviation Squadron at Dhamial. I got married in November 64.
I was in the same squadron flying the L-19 aircraft
when the Rann of Katch skirmish took place and later the 1965 War started.
Any memorable incident, which left an indelible impression on your personality?
There were many experiences in flying career and off course the flying experience in 1965 War. However, one traumatic incident which was particularly memorable was in the final term in PMA. This happened in the final exercise “Acid Test” before passing out. It was a two sided exercise with third termers as our ‘enemies,’ we being the final (fourth termers). It was the month of Ramadan and I was fasting without having taken any Sehri since I had failed to wake up! We had been out in the field all day without having eaten anything because of the fast. By evening we were very exhausted, waiting for the B-Echelon vehicle of the enemy which was supposed to bring replenishments for them. This we were doing in order to take the vehicle to our camp. Suddenly we saw a 3 Tonner truck approaching us. It was full of stores and few ‘enemy’ troops (3rd Termers) with one cadet Rashid BD a famous boxer sitting on the commander seat. On seeing us the truck immediately reversed and started going back. We ran after the third termers with great vengeance since they had earlier made one of our recce patrols prisoner and had severely thrashed them. Naturally they feared a similar fate. I managed to climb the trucks, while I was doing so Rashid started kicking me out while the truck was on the move. On his third or fourth kick I fell and the trucks rear wheel went over my thighs. By a stroke of luck the Jamaat-e-Islami’s mobile dispensary ambulance was parked nearby. They immediately came to my help, administered me first aid notably a pain killer injection and evacuated me to CMH Abbottabad. The doctor there initially would not believe that a 3 Tonner truck’s wheel had run over my thighs. However, he was finally convinced that it had happened after having seen tyre marks over my overalls. This happened in March 1959. Immediately my legs were
X-rayed and it was discovered that miraculously there
had been no bone injury. I spent three weeks recovering from this
traumatic injury and only joined for the final rehearsal of our passing
out parade. Since I was a JUO (Sports) I was able to escape the more
rigorous parts of the rifle drill to which a normal cadet is subjected!
Any memorable incident in the pre-1965 flying career?
There were many but one, which I remember in particular, was while practicing mock forced landings in solo training. While doing so when I had come fairly low and close to the ground I realized that my engine would not pick up and I was actually compelled to make a forced landing. Unluckily, the ground was all wet because of a previous night’s heavy rainfall. The aircraft overturned and I had to make a Mayday call while being upside down. Within fifteen minutes I was picked up by a PAF.
Any senior or contemporary who impressed you in the aviation career?
Major General Naseerullah Khan Babar SJ & Bar without any doubt. I first came across him while posted in 1 Army Aviation Squadron at Dhamial. Babar was commandering 3 Army Aviation Squadron. I was deeply impressed by his sincere and helping attitude of complete cooperation towards all, specially juniors. A man of immense drive and ability, Babar without doubt was my role model in Aviation.
I remember one incident in particular. Our Base Commander made me incharge of the Base hockey team. Since I was a junior captain I requested many senior officers to organize the hockey team. All refused on one pretext or the other. At the end I requested Lt Col Naseerullah Babar who without thinking for a second agreed to help me. The same day within few hours of this incident Lt Col Babar came to my room to pick me up to organise the hockey team.
In another instance, sometime after the war in 1966 Babar was instrumental in getting me a house allotted by Station HQs. I was keen to get one particular house on Peshawar Road probably 94-A being the house number. My CO deleted the word strongly from the original statement of “Strongly Recommended” from the draft covering my application. There was little chance in this situation of my getting that house. I requested Lt Col NUK Babar who readily agreed to do his best. After a day or two Lt Col NUK Babar accompanied me to the Station Commander Colonel Ismail’s office. Present for the same purpose was another senior officer from Military Police for allotment of the same house. The Station Commander tried to buy time by stating that he would decide the matter within a day or two. Babar insisted that here are we four, all SJs, i.e winners of a gallantry award and we cannot decide about one house in a day! The Station Commander finally allotted me a house the same day!
The war experience of 1965 War and the circumstances in which you won the SJ in 1965 War?
The 1965 War was an unforgettable experience for me as a man and as an aviator. In this regard I would like to narrate numerous incidents in which I was a direct participant spread all over the war.
The first I remember is one, which occurred on the first day of the war. I was detailed as an Air OP in Maharajke-Shakargarh area.8 Medium had reached the operational area after a long road move. Its Adjutant, Captain Aslam had been my instructor earlier in the School of Army Aviation. In the evening I went to him to get artillery frequency for the next day. He was too exhausted having come from Kashmir and went off to sleep. I decided to get the frequency the next day. Next day, while flying suddenly I came across four enemy aircraft two overhead and two flying below my flight course. I immediately dived down in order to get out of their flight path. In the process I descended to a with steep nose down dive very low altitude. Now I tried to regain some altitude but discovered that the controls were no longer responding and the aircraft was going towards the ground like a stone. It appeared that I would crash, but by some miracle or because of wind pressure, suddenly the controls started working again and I was able to nose up the aircraft. While going down I was having the horrible feeling that I am about to die without doing anything for the country and the army who had spent so much on me and my flying machine!
During the War we were flying in Air OP Role for four hours in the morning and four hours in the evening. As Air OP we had to guide and direct artillery fire by direct observation, acquire targets for artillery, assess the strength and dispositions of the enemy when ordered and keep an eye on all enemy movements and convey the assessment of damage caused to enemy by our Arty fire.
8th September 1965 was a memorable day for me. I had been tasked to assess the strength of the enemy armour. I was flying over Maharajke-Charwa area when I observed some hidden Indian tanks in the mud houses in Maharajke village. On seeing me the enemy opened all types of fire. Some 32 bullets went through my aircraft, many going through the cockpit, but none hit me! On my way back to Sialkot I saw about 15 or 16 enemy tanks near Aik Nala just few miles from Sialkot Cantt! I immediately reported the matter to HQ 15 Division. Initially Brigadier Sardar Ismail the acting GOC wanted the bridge on Aik Nala to be demolished! However, on Col Staff S.G Mehdi’s intervention he decided to send some RRs to cover the approach. These RRs fired on these enemy tanks and stopped this tank thrust which was pretty close to Sialkot’s eastern flank.
On the same day while flying in Zafarwal I was told by the higher headquarter that enemy tanks were moving in that area. Once I reached those tanks I discovered that those were own tanks retreating southwestwards. I reported the matter to HQ 15 Division who asked me to drop a message leaflet to the tanks to stop withdrawing and return to their battle positions north of Zafarwal on the left bank of Degh Nala since enemy was now on the defensive. Leaflet had no effect so I had to land my aircraft L-19 near their tanks and asked them to go back to Zafarwal. On my insistence most of the tanks turned back but some stayed in the same locality. It was on the basis of this incident that the squadron commander of this tank squadron was later court martialled.
13th September 1965 was one of the most memorable days for me in the 1965 War. Early in the morning while flying along the border I saw some reflection from Samba area. Since Samba had no lake I was intrigued by this reflection and took the calculated risk of flying across the border into enemy territory. I adopted Degh Nala as my course since flying over the Nala was my best bet to avoid enemy troops deployed on ground. On nearing Samba I suddenly saw more than 3,000 enemy vehicles dispersed in the forest near Samba. I immediately passed a radio message to the artillery headquarter who passed it on to GHQ.The GHQ asked the PAF to confirm it .On confirmation by PAF air recce the enemy vehicle concentration was subjected to PAF attack. The next day the Indian radio accused Pakistan of using Napalm bombs in Samba. We discovered later that this was the enemy 14th Infantry Division tasked to provide infantry support to Indian 1st Armoured Division at Chawinda.The 14th Division suffered seriously because of the Napalm strike and its move was severely delayed. Thus the Indian 1st Armoured Division was deprived of the valuable infantry support, which it needed at this stage. I was awarded an SJ for this action.
In another incident on 16th September I was attacked by enemy Mysteres. Captain Akhtar was a newly inducted rear observer and was behind me in the aircraft and facing rearwards in order to observe the enemy. Suddenly we contacted some aircraft flying right above our head. Initially I thought that these were our own aircraft since Mysteres and F-86 look quite similar. I only discovered their true identity once these aircraft started engaging my aircraft with their machine guns! Number of bullets hit the aircraft and damaged my control cables as a result of which I lost partial control on the aircraft and was forced to make an emergency landing initially at Sambrial which could not materialize and finally at Sialkot. All along this action I thought that Akhtar sitting in my rear had been hit was dead or wounded since he would not respond to my calls. On crash landing I discovered that Akhtar was alive but in a state of shock because of the enemy machine gunfire were directly firing on him. In this case my aircraft was written off because of very heavy damage that it had suffered because of enemy aircraft fire. Since start of war I was continuously getting the aircraft ridden with the enemy fire. My co decided to send me back to Dhamial as I had more than my share of this war.
We have read a great deal about Rommel flying all over the frontline in his Storch Aircraft. Did ever any officer of the rank of brigadier or general ask you to take him to the forward localities in your aircraft?
No one ever asked me for any such thing.
Please tell us something about your service profile from 1965 till 1971?
After the war I did the conversion course from L-19 to OH-13 Bubble Helicopter in 1966. During this year I did a lot of flying over the Punjab and Sindh border seeing the whole of Cholistan and Chhor Desert down to Rann of Katch which I had seen earlier in 1965 too.
In 1967 after getting training on Alouette III I volunteered for the Northern Area. The Northern Areas were a great flying experience for me. I had the opportunity of flying over a vast area including Skardu, Deosai, Astor, Khunjerab etc.We saw rare breeds of wildlife like Snow Leopards, Brown Bear, Ibex, Marco Polo, Markhors etc. At time we flew over 20,000 feet for more than two hours. I remember one incident in particular when my co-pilot Major (later Brigadier) Jawaid Hameed from Armoured Corps and I decided to land on the Nanga Parbat some 26,000 feet high. We also took some Oxygen cylinders. While flying over the summit we discovered that the oxygen cylinders were non-operational. Nevertheless we decided to land without Oxygen. On getting close to the landing place, snow started flying and we were forced to make a decision not to land since it was dangerous for the helicopter. It may be noted that our experience proved that the Alouette could go over the maximum permissible flying limit of 16,000 feet.
In 1969 I cleared the staff college competitive examination and was selected for the 1970 technical staff course. After Staff College in 1970 and technical staff college in 1971 I was posted to 75 Field Company in Muzafarabad.
In August 1971, I was posted to 4 Army Aviation Squadron stationed in East Pakistan. I wanted to stay in AK and fight the war there but the GOC Major General Akbar insisted that I must go since a field company could be commanded by anyone while flying was a specialized job.
Before I could go to East Pakistan I was detailed on Helicopter Test Pilot Course initially to be held in France but later held in Dhamial. French Instructors instead were flown to Dhamial. I was now keen to go to East Pakistan, however, the base commander insisted that I must first do the course. Before this course finished the war started and my dream of going to East Pakistan was shattered. I tested about 16 Alouettes III helicopter of Army Aviation in “After Assembly Tests” and three Alouette III belonging to the Pakistan Air Force.
During this time I remember one incident in which Major (later Brig) Khalid Yaseen took me to Paje DE Galli in Hajipir area in AK. The GOCs helicopter’s battery had failed and the GOC was struck there. Maj. Khalid Yasin had not been to that area and insisted that I should accompany him. We reached the place and gave our helicopter to the GOC to fly out. However, we got stuck there since immediately after arrival heavy snowfall started and we were stranded in some 35 feet of snow in the area for the next three days. I returned with the helicopters after three days to Dhamial with full of snow in the helicopter cockpit and around it.
Experiences of 1971 War?
In 1971 I flew mostly in AK and Upper Punjab area
flying senior officers in Alouette-111 to the frontline. We were told that
it would be a long drawn battle and that the senior pilots would get the
opportunity of flying along the frontline
What was your emotional state at the end of 1971 War?
We were all severely demoralized because of the
surrender in East Pakistan. It was a traumatic period and we wept many
times because of the historic situation in which God had placed us.
Any impressions about the senior officers who you saw in 1971 ?
Lt Gen. Gul Hassan was an extremely frank and approachable person. I had seen him since 1965. Anyone who saw him instantly liked him. He inspired great confidence.
In addition, I was deeply impressed by Major General
Eftikhar Janjua who embraced Shahadat in 1971. I had earlier seen him in
1965 in Rann of Katch where he had commanded his brigade with great
distinction. I remember an incident in 1965 after the Rann fight. Tikka
Khan had been preparing to brief the foreign correspondents. Janjua used
to speak very well and knew French too. During the briefing one French
journalist asked Brig Janjua a question with a belief that Brig Janjua
being on the spot could answer the question more in detail but Brig Janjua
kept quiet and asked him to address the GOC Tikka. He was a man of few
words who did not seek cheap publicity. He was a man who behaved like a
general and died like a soldier.
How was regimental life like in the period before 1965?
I remember one incident in an exercise near Chak
Beli.I was the senior student doing the aviation basic course. I asked Lt
Col (later Brigadier) Mukhtar Karim regarding dress for dinner. He told me
that it is Dinner Jackets. In the evening all came to the mess in Dinner
Jacket clean and in full form. Lt Col (Brig) Mukhtar Karim then remarked
that had he asked us to wear anything all would have come in flying over
all and in a haggard condition!
Who in your opinion damaged Pakistan the most in terms of political leadership in its entire history from 1947 till to date?
If one can single out one man then I would say that it was Governor General Malik Ghulam Mohammad! He intrigued against prime ministers, dissolved the first constituent assembly and destabilized democracy. It was around this time that Nehru had remarked that Pakistan changes its prime ministers more than he changes his dresses! While on medical leave for treatment of paralysis one journalist asked Ghulam Mohammad about Pakistan’s condition. Ghulam Muhammad replied “Like me”! All the ills that afflict Pakistan now can be directly or indirectly linked to Ghulam Mohammad’s actions as a governor general!
Please tell us something about your experiences as a student at the Command and Staff College Quetta, the standard of instruction, any instructor who particularly impressed you etc?
I would say that too much emphasis was placed on SD and outward form, rather than serious soldiering. The British had sited the college in Quetta because of its proximity to the axis of advance of the most likely threat i.e Russia. After partition this was no longer the case and this institution should have been re-located somewhere like Mangla or in Sindh where more realistic TEWTs etc and familiarisation with terrain could not be done. In other words students could be trained in their wartime operational areas.
In the staff college, I was deeply impressed by one
of the instructors Lt Col Nishat from Punjab Regiment. Nishat later rose
to the rank of lieutenant general, headed the NDC and later the Strategic
Please tell us about your service profile from 1971 till retirement?
After the war I served in the Aviation in the Northern Areas. 1972 was a black year.
Here I must add that the period 1972-89 was particularly painful for me since I lost three brothers during this period .We had lost the war and soon after the war I lost my brother Flying Officer Zakaullah whose F-86 crashed near Mauripur. The official reason for the crash was that it was a material failure. However, I strongly feel that it was an act of sabotage for which the prime responsibility lay on a Bengali mechanic who had tampered with the aircraft. Then in December 1985 I lost my brother Ikramullah Niazi. My brother Ikramullah Niazi was a legendary police officer. Fearless, dedicated and in short all that a man can possibly be. He had won various gallantry awards including the police model. He was of the type who marches towards the sound of guns. He had survived some 30 dangerous encounters with dacoits and hardened criminals in which some 33 people had died. I had a premonition that Ikramullah may not survive his Lahore tenure. Therefore, I tried my best to get him posted out of Lahore. Unfortunately the Governor, General Ghulam Jillani immensely liked him and did not let me get him posted out of Lahore. Ikramullah died in action in an encounter near Ferozewala on 21 December 1985. This was a traumatic event for the entire family. He was buried with great honour at Mianwali. A very large number of people attended his funeral. Initially his Namaz-e-Janaza was offered at Lahore and then at Sargodha. His body was led by two motorcycle riders and SP of the district in the jeep. Each police station on Lahore Mianwali Road presented a Guard of honour as we travelled to bury him from Lahore to Mianwali. The crossroads immediately south of Shahdara Bridge were renamed as “Ikramullah Niazi Chowk” in his memory. People of Lahore had been having eye camp and other medical camps in his honour.
In April 1991, I lost my brother Rehmatullah Niazi in a road accident on Eid day. He was an honest and courageous police officer.
The normal tenure of a pilot in Northern Areas was two months. However, I immensely liked the area and stayed there till 1973. There was sense of achievement flying in that area. One was helping people, evacuating casualties and saving lives. The natural and scenic beauty of the area was an additional bonus.
I remember an incident near the junction of Gilgit and Indus River when my helicopter struck a trolley rope. Had we been flying just few inches below we would not have survived since the helicopter would have got fully entangled with the rope.
In 1973 I became the GSO-2 of the Army Aviation but also continued to fly Alouette-3 because there was a shortage of Alouette pilots.
One incident which occurred around this time in 1974 and one which I can never forget was that of a PIA Fokker which had crashed into a mountain about 10,000 feet above Kamilla in Indus Valley. Myself and a PAF pilot in another Alouette flew to Kamilla to retrieve dead bodies from the aircraft. On nearing the site the PAF pilot had second thoughts and flew onwards to Gilgit citing technical reasons for not taking part in the retrieval operation. I decided to go on singlehandedly.It was a tough and heart rending experience bringing multilated and stinking dead bodies from the crash site. I did it because I knew the mental anguish and agony of the relatives of the crash victims.
In 1974 I was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and posted as CO 5 Engineer Battalion with headquarters at Muzzafarabad.The battalion was integral engineer unit of the 12 Division which extended from Neelum Valley in the north till Bhimbhar in the south.
On arrival I learnt that the battalion had so far failed to launch a 200 feet bridge across River Neelum at Develian and the GOC Major General Majeed Malik was very unhappy with the battalion. I assured the GOC that I would launch the bridge within a week. The previous CO had avoided launching the bridge since he did not want to risk his career. I took up the task as a challenge and we successfully launched the bridge within days of my arrival.
We also successfully demonstrated to the Corps Commander Lt General Aftab Ahmed a crossing of the very rapid Neelum River by using field expedients. Initially infantry had refused to cross the river and I did so by employing a company strength of my Engineer. The Corps Commander, an extremely hard task master was deeply moved and praised the battalion for crossing a river which was previously considered to be an impossible obstacle.
During the same period we successfully completed a bridge on the Bhimbhar Nullah. The Engineer estimates for constructing the River Trainins works i.e. guide Banks was 1 Crore 10 Lakhs. We completed the task in Rs 10 Lakhs. The bridge was inaugurated by the COAS General Zia ul Haq in 1980.
In 1975, I was posted in DW & CE Army in the planning and design section. From here I was posted to Governor NWFP’s Inspection Team for Tribal areas. During this assignment I visited the entire tribal areas number of times and submitted reports on all projects to the Governor Maj Gen Nasirullah Khan Babar SJ & Bar (Retd).
Once Martial Law was imposed on 5 July 1977 I was told that I must not see the ex-Governor General NUK Babar since he had now joined the PPP. I replied that Gen. Babar was my senior from Army Aviation days and it was not possible for me to tell him not to come to my office. As a result the Corps Commander Gen Sawar shifted my office from Governor House to Corps Headquarter.
Immediately after Martial Law the civil secretariat
raised an allegation that all my inspection reports recommending action
against corrupt officials were
politically motivated and
should be dropped. The matter was counter checked by a team comprising Log
Area Commander and Engineer Centre Commandant. They reported that I had
been lenient rather than strict in my reports and the allegation that the
reports aimed at political persecution was totally false.
In September 1977, I was posted to 1 Engineer Battalion in 10 Division Lahore. My arrival date coincided with the GOC Maj Gen Agha Zulfiqar Ali’s visit to the battalion. All that I had to do to avoid being in the battalion on that day was to delay my arrival by few hours. However, I decided to report in the battalion in the morning. The GOC was very unhappy with the battalion. However, I assured him that things would be different if he gave me just two weeks. We worked hard and after two weeks the GOC was satisfied and cancelled his earlier decision to move the battalion to Mahfoozpura outside Lahore as a punishment!
In 1978 I was promoted to the rank of Full Colonel and posted to the Northern Areas Works Organisation (NAWO) in Gilgit. The organization was a military body tasked to carry out civil works like construction of schools, hospitals, roads,offices etc. At this juncture the Minister for Frontier Regions and Kashmir Affairs Gen Faiz Ali Chishti had agreed to disband this organization and hand over its job to the highly corrupt Civil and Works Department. I knew Chishti having served with him in 12 Division. I persuaded him to not to do so, Gen Faiz Ali Chishti agreed. We worked with great zeal and to date NAWO is performing an excellent development role in the Northern Areas.
In 1980 I was posted to FWO as Commander 495 Engineer Group with headquarters at Muzafarabad on promotion to the rank of Brigadier. This outfit was in a bad state. There was no accommodation and no civil official ever visited its headquarter.
I took the assignment as a challenge and within three months I ensured that a proper camp was constructed. We constructed 22 offices, a brigade commanders office, library, basket ball court, 7 OR Barracks,10 JCO quarters, 5 Married Officer Quarters and a three bed room residence for the brigade commander.
Soon I started receiving messages from the highest civil officials to visit our camp. This was in sharp contrast to the previous state when no one ever wanted to visit the headquarter. During this period we successfully constructed roads in Bagh Valley, Neelum Valley and Lipa Valley.
In 1981 I was posted to the NLC. The NLC at this stage was occupied in important national reconstruction activities. We built many grain silos, storages, godowns, and roads.
In 1982 I was detailed on the armed forces war course. After the War Course I was posted as Commandant Engineer Centre Risalpur. This was one of my finest postings. I really enjoyed my tenure during which I succeeded in bringing the Engineer Centre and Military College of Engineering, who were previously daggers drawn into a very close association. We planted some 100,000 trees with a survival rate of 97%. We also commissioned an old steam locomotive for seasoning woods enabling our carpentry apprentices to construct furniture which enabled the army to save considerably on local purchases.
In 1985 I was posted to the Housing Directorate in the GHQ. At this stage the housing scheme was going at a snail’s pace and only few hundred houses had been constructed. We decided to speed up the process and 750 new constructions were started.
In August 1987 I was posted as Administrator DHA Karachi. At this stage I was near retirement and represented against this posting. While doing so I had a very hot exchange of words with the then Adjutant General Abdul Waheed Kakar. However, my relief had reported and I decided to take up my new posting as a challenge. Thus I reported to Karachi.
I served in the DHA for five years till 1992. In the same tenure I was given the rank of honorary Major General. In 1992 I was posted as Chairman National Highway Authority on deputation. I retired from the army in 1993 and continued as Chairman NHA on contract.
What are your impressions about Zia as you saw him in your army tenure?
Firstly, as a man Zia was honest, God-fearing and
kind hearted. He offered his prayers five times a day. On the other hand I
make no hesitation in stating that Zia institutionalized corruption. He
gave many corrupt people like Air Chief Anwar Shamim three to four
extensions. Personally Zia was not corrupt but he tolerated corruption,
sheltered corrupt people and conveniently ignored their activities. Perhaps
he thought it politically expedient to do so. As a man Zia was clean,
intensely devoted to his mother but as a head of state and army chief he
damaged institutions. It was simply impossible humanly to be effective as
a president and army chief. Thus the country as well as the army suffered.
What was the influence of Zia’s one man rule on the Pakistan Army in the period 1976-88?
Personal likes and dislikes became the most important
factor in promotion. Institutions outwardly improved but quality of
soldiering deteriorated in essence. Outwardly the army was more educated
but inwardly lacked the qualitative steel grit and determination of the
1965 era. Since Zia’s foremost priority was political survival, politics
got greater attention at the expense of the army.
How was the stint as Administrator DHA? We understand that you carried out some unprecedented and pioneer reforms?
When I joined the DHA it had only one club, one school and one girl’s school in Phase one. There were no funds for any development work. Initially, I decided to institute procedural reforms in the DHA Office. No proper record was maintained and no one exactly knew who were the plot owners and how many plots were unallotted. Documentation pertaining to ownership was sketchy and simplistic leading to fraud and double-dealing. We carried out exhaustive reforms. All Allotment Records were microfilmed, computerised, entered on streetwise and membership number wise registers and a complete stocktaking was carried out. As a result we discovered that some 3,000 plots were unallotted. This enabled us to generate a large amount of revenue.
I started a systematic operation against commercialising residential plots thus driving out business concerns, which disturbed peace and tranquillity of residential areas. I had started with the premise and firm belief that DHA had the potential to become one of the world’s finest residential society.
In addition we started some revenue generation schemes by introduction of a scheme in which all allottees had to pay 75% difference of market value for change of plot. Through this scheme we generated some 75 Million Rupees.
Our conceptual philosophy was that while clubs pay back the initial investment through entrance fee within an year or so, schools’ parks and libraries were the symbol of prestige of a residential society.
By 1991 there were some five clubs (Main, Sunset, Creek, Marina, Beach View with a sixth i.e Golf in initial stages) with 24 Tennis Courts, 13 Squash Courts including one glass court with a capacity of seating 500 spectators, largest in Pakistan, six swimming pools including three covered pools. DHA had a fully stocked library, 5 schools, and two colleges. DHA had built a centrally airconditioned library, fully stocked with books of all types, all modern facilities like computer, audio and video aids, and games for children etc. In addition we had planned a research library for which the renowned advocate Khalid Ishaq had promised to donate his entire personal library of research books numbering approximately one and half to two lakh and whose value was about 30 Million Rupees.
An international standard cricket ground, a football ground and deso turf hockey stadium were built to provide sports facilities to residents. Land was earmarked for horse riding school and a central hospital. Model School which previously had limited facilities was expanded manifold with gymnasium and covered swimming pool with heating arrangements. The only existing Central Club was also expanded to have additional tennis court, health club, jaccuzi/sauna baths, additional children tennis court. We had renovated the Central Club so that it could compete with any of the finest clubs of the country like Sindh Club, Gymkhana or Islamabad Club.
In all flower competitions in the city DHA started emerging as winners whether it was a mosque a residential lawn, or an institution.
For the first time in Karachi a concept of plant nurseries along the roadside was introduced to clean the dirty area on both sides of the road and give it scenic beauty. We introduced convenience stores next to refuelling stations.To ease the sewerage problem and water supply problem for watering the lawns we built a number of Water Recycling Plants with a total capacity of six lakh gallons per day. Recycle water and exclusively designated bowsers were sold at nominal prices to residents who wanted to water their lawns. In addition the same were provided to nurseries.
Five new mosques were built. In addition three major restaurants were built along the beachview avenue on the seafront and leased to private parties. Beachview avenue was widened and improved and wide footpaths with lighting and seating arrangements were provided along its entire length.
In the main headquarters a special section was created to provide transfer deeds within 48 hours on payment of a special fee. Door of Administrator were kept open till very late to listen to complaints or suggestions of the society residents. Major efforts were initiated to improve roads, water supply and sewerage with the help of Clifton Cantt Board. Local problems were given top priority in both the offices. A new Cantt Board building with an excellent design was built in Phase six. We advertised in the press that we would allot a plot to any army officer who had not so far been allotted a plot and had more than ten years service. In this process all who applied and were eligible were allotted plots after necessary payments.
Many members of the governing body/executive board manoeuvred to have additional plots. I requested the Corp Commander Gen Asif Nawaz not to accede to this demand and he kindly agreed. Thus we did not accede to this demand. Even Gen Arif Bangash also did not agree to their demand. Later, however, as all know the rule was changed.
In addition we had planned a desalination plant to take care of water shortage. Unfortunately Research library and desalination plant projects were dropped at a later stage. We had also finalized a plan to have a security system in which all residents of DHA were assured full security at extremely low rates of about Rs 75 /- to Rs 200/- per month. Unfortunately some vested interests involved in nefarious activities sabotaged this scheme by painting it in a negative light and writing letters to the Ministry of Defence and in the press that this is the duty of government and not of the Society.
By 1992 when I left DHA we were close to the ideal of
turning it into one of world’s finest residential societies.
Unfortunately, the much needed desalination project and the research
library projects were axed due to a strange and very twisted logic! While
the world around us is moving towards intellectual progress we in this
part of the world are axing projects to build libraries and desalination
We understand that late General Asif Nawaz had a great liking for you. How would you assess Asif Nawaz as a professional, senior and contemporary?
Asif Nawaz was an extremely mission-oriented man. He
told us what he wanted but not how to do it. He gave me an absolutely free
hand in all my projects. Once he placed trust in someone he never
interferred in the routine functioning. Thus during his tenure as Corp
Commander the DHA progressed in leaps and bounds. His successor Arif
Bangash, my PMA mate was equally forward looking and mission oriented.
What about your first stint as Chairman NHA ?
It was very hectic and time consuming. A lot of contracts were awarded and work taken in hand, never in the history of Pakistan so many road construction works were taken in hand at one time. Virtually all local contractors were heavily committed and we had to ask expatriate companies to assist us in construction of roads and bridges.
For the first time in Pakistan concept of motorway was introduced and planning done to take motorway from Peshawar to Karachi and Ratodero (near Larkana) to Gwadar port. Work on first and second leg, ie Peshawar to Islamabad and Islamabad to Lahore was initiated. Also contract was given for construction of Islamabad-Murree road.
NHA had a limited manpower, so most of the time we had to depend on consultants to design and supervise the highways and motorways for us. Supervision by Consultant is considered order of the day in the western world. At times we did not have single person to look after highways construction worth billions of rupees from NHA side, and it was consultants who were doing the job on our behalf.
How far is the assertion correct that ex-PM Nawaz Sharif awarded the Lahore-Islamabad Motorway to Daewoo arbitrarily and without consulting the experts i.e NHA.
Contract of LIMP (Lahore-Islamabad Motorway Project)
was awarded to Daewoo before I joined NHA. However, from record it appears
that proper tendering was done, lot of negotiations took place which were
conducted by Chairman planning commission AGN Kazi whose honesty could not
be doubted and finally after full analysis of rates Daewoo was awarded the
contract. I am not sure, neither I am in a position to pass comments
whether some money was passed or exchanged in this deal.
Why were the lanes of motorways changed from four to six?
Initially it was designed as four lanes. Later it was
changed to six lanes and work commenced on six lanes. Later it was changed
by political decision to four lanes in 1996. This created many problems
and delayed the project. Again it was changed to six lanes in 1997.
The assertion that the long alignment of motorway made it toll wise less profitable?
The motorway was planned as a road linking Peshawar
with Karachi. Thus The alignment Islamabad-Pindi Bhattian was logical
since this was the shortest distance from north to south. Later once Mian
Nawaz Sharif amended the original plan to Lahore instead of Multan as
originally intended, the length of the motorway became toll wise
unprofitable since it was a longer route to Lahore as compared with the
existing Lahore-Islamabad road.
How was second stint as Chairman NHA?
I joined NHA on the request of PM Nawaz Sharif. I
joined NHA with one aim in mind and that was to complete ongoing projects
of my previous tenure and other major bridges specially River Jhelum. I
did complete the motorway. After inauguration of motorway Prime Minister
Nawaz Sharif attitude changed and appeared that he did not want me around.
I also did not feel as comfortable with him as I previously used to be. In
August 1998 I requested the PM to relieve me of my appointment which he
kindly agreed to.
Based on your experience as Chairman NHA with both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir who had a better perception of communications sector?
I worked very closely with Nawaz Sharif and also
worked as Chairman NHA during PM Benazir Bhutto tenure. Communications was
of first priority to Nawaz Sharif. He would approve and start
constructions of any major highway which was presented to him.
Communications was lowest priority to Benazir.
Circumstances in which mobilisation advance released to Bayinder?
Advanced to Bayinder was given during my tenure.
After Nawaz Sharif left the government in 1993, Interim government of Moin
Qureshi came. They wanted to drop the Islamabad- Peshawar motorway and
they asked the Minister of Communications Mr. Ahmed Farooq whose father
was a very close friend of Mr Demirel President of Turkey. He was
confident that Ahmed Farooq will convince the President of Turkey that due
to financial constraints it was not possible to undertake the project. He
went to Turkey with very high hopes. After he came back he wrote a note to
Prime Minister Moin Qureshi that President Demirel was so touchy about the
project that he passed a remark that if it was cancelled, he will consider
it a slap in his face and the relation of two countries will suffer. Based
on this note Moin Qureshi decided to release the Mobilization advance.
Comparison between Pakistan Army of 1965 with that of 1971 and 2001?
As I said earlier, outwardly the army is more educated, more technically sound. However, qualitatively it is on the decline since 1965. Primarily because of relaxed selection standards as well as massive expansion after 1965. The war courses run between 1965 and 1971 brought sub-standard material in the officer corps. The deterioration accelerated after 1971.
The political setup after 1971 wanted to degrade the
army to a level where it cannot interfere in the political government’s
Something about your daily routine?
Golf in the morning, then visit friends, sometimes I
attend the office of Engineer Coop Society which I am looking after as Hon
President. I am also member of Evacuee Property Trust Board and have been
attending its meetings regularly. I am also member of the Board for
Mianwali Educational Trust School and Qadeer Khan Technical
Institute in Mianwali, we have large number of friends from Army,
Corps of Engineers, from civil dept, so meeting them occasionally takes
most of my time.
What is the solution to Pakistan’s political problems?
We have to strengthen our institutions like Justice
Department which was eroded by Justice Muneer followed by number of
honourable Chief Justices. If we provide quick, cheap and fair justice,
things would start improving. Police has to be reformed. Merit has to be
given highest priority for employment or promotion or in scholarship.
Education should be given top priority.
How did you enjoy your life as a pilot or an engineer and which appointment gave you most satisfaction?
I have a firm belief that wherever you are you must see the good points of a place and then you start enjoying. I enjoyed my stay with engineers, aviation and in the DHA. In all places I tried to improve things, as much as was humanly possible. I was a willing worker and never turned down a casualty relief operation. I derived great satisfaction in evacuating casualties and the worst weather conditions could never weaken my resolve to do so.It used to give me great pleasure to see things mature and improve and to see my plans being executed or translated into action. I enjoyed my stay in the Engineer Centre, in DHA, in NHA and in all these places I worked with maximum zeal and dedication.
Flying was my life’s greatest passion from school days.That is why I first joined the Airforce and later the Army Aviation. In my flying career I got the opportunity to visit places which are normally inaccessible to an average citizen.
Future of Indo-Pak in the geopolitical sense?
50 years have passed and Indians have taken only one
step that they have invited our President. They could not sign the draft
agreement. To expect any major change in their attitude is wishful
thinking. We have lived with Hundas for very long time, and we know their
mentality. Whenever we visited them they would wash their kitchens with
cow urine to make it clean. How can you expect that they would give us the
“Heaven on Earth” peacefully. It has to be taken with blood which the
Kashmiris are shedding with open heart and are determined to achieve their
aim with or without our support.
Any message for readers of DJ?
I will advise your readers that they should have a positive approach towards life. Consider positive points of any place they are staying at or any job they are doing. Be honest and sincere in their efforts. Even if they make a blunder a senior would excuse them if you are sincere and noble in your intentions. We have to build Pakistan from a scratch and have the same spirit as was in 1947. It has to be in spirit of Jihad to build Pakistan economically sound, physically safe from any aggression.