A H AMIN interviews an outstanding son of the soil and a model army
officer who had an illustrious career from his days as cadet at RMA,
Sandhurst to his retirement as Chief of General Staff (CGS) Pakistan Army.
Please tell us something about your childhood in the Pre 1947 India/NWFP?
My earliest memories relate to the period of the Second World War when my father was away in Burma fighting the Japanese.
He was away for long periods which inevitably brought
loneliness to all of us brothers and sisters who had been left behind with
our grand parents in Peshawar. One of the more memorable period relates to
some months that we stayed together in, Shillong (Assam) where my
father’s Battalion had been pulled out from the Burmese Front for the
purpose of Rest and Recuperation. Apart from this I do have some vague
memories of the carnage that took place during Partition. I do, however,
have some very lovely and clear memories of Srinagar, Dal Lake and Gulmarg
where our parents took us for a holiday in June 1947
We understand that your grandfather played a major role in recovery of Miss Molly from Ajab Khan. What exactly did he do?
Miss Molly Ellis was the daughter of an officer
posted at Kohat. She was kidnapped from Kohat Cantonment in 1923 by Ajab
Khan Afridi for the alleged insult to his wife by a British soldier.
During this daring operation (which shook the British Empire to its
foundations) the mother of Molly Ellis was unfortunately killed but Ajab
Khan was successful in taking Molly to Tirah in the heart of the Tribal
Area. My grandfather, Al-Haj K.B. Muhammad Kuli Khan, was then the
Political Agent of Kurram Agency. He was requested by the then Chief
Commissioner to kindly intervene in the matter. He along with a servant
travelled to the heart of Tirah, where no Indian or British officer had
ever been allowed or had dared to go before and stayed as the personal
guest of the great Pir of the Tribals. He successfully negotiated with the
Tribals and brought back Miss Ellis with him totally unharmed. For his
bravery and humanitarian services the then British Viceroy conferred on
him the illustrious medal of QAISER-E-HIND.
Please tell us something about your parents?
My late father Muhammad Habibullah Khan (Bibo to all his friends and relatives) was the second son of KB Muhammad Kuli Khan who was a Provincial Civil Servant officer (PCS) and belonged to the Khattak Tribe. My father’s elder brother is Muhammad Aslam Khan Khattak and his younger brother was the late Mohammad Yousuf Khan Khattak, both notable political personages of Pakistan.
My late mother, Mumtaz was the daughter of KB
Sikander Khan, who was again a distinguished PCS officer who hailed from
Bajaur/Peshawar. My late mother was totally home-educated and spoke and
wrote fluent Hindko, Urdu,
Pashto, Persian and English.1 Unfortunately, she died rather early in 1965
in a tragic car accident, She was a remarkable person who responded most
admirably to the fast changing conditions of her era. She had a
perceptible influence on all her children and is fondly remembered by
everyone who knew her.
Please tell us about someone who had a decisive influence on your personality in the earliest days?
My parents, in their own way had the greatest
influence on my up-bringing; their own personalities admirably
complemented each other and as such affected us the most. Additionally, I
had the pleasure and privilege of having a doting paternal grandfather who
was virtually “all over us” or vice versa till his passing away in
1956! KB Kuli Khan was truly a great man in all respects, self-made,
capable, religious and exceedingly loving (in the truly Pathan tradition
to his sons and grandsons), he reminds me of nothing but sweetness.
How was school life?
I was very privileged in as much that I was schooled
for the first few years at the Presentation Convents of Peshawar and
Rawalpindi and then nine years at Aitchison College Lahore. I graduated
from Aitchison in December 1959 after completing the Cambridge Higher
School Certificate or A levels as they are called today. Nine years as a
boarder at Aitchison were an incredible experience because Aitchison was
and is a great Pakistani institution. Apart from giving a very wholesome
education it did great service for the country as far as integration was
concerned; we were groomed as
Pakistanis first and foremost. Academically, I generally remained in the
top few throughout, was appointed a Prefect and was the proud recipient of the Full School Blazer.
Any contemporaries or friends of school days about whom you would like to say something?
I have always been fortunate to have a large circle
of good friends some of whom did very well in life but I cannot even dare
to classify them!! Each one of them occupies a special place with me.
Any teacher who had a formative influence on your personality?
Like parents, most teachers influence their students;
I am very hard put to mention one particular person in this regard.
However, since you press me, I would like to mention the names of Syed
Zulfiqar Ali Shah, my Principal at Aitchison for five years and Maj G.D
Langlands my Housemaster for the same period. Maj Langlands is probably
the only person I know (who at an age of Eighty plus) who is continuously
working for Pakistan since Partition.
Something about your college life?
I studied at Government College Lahore during the
short interregnum of my leaving Aitchison and joining PMA. This is also a
great institution but since my period of stay was short there is nothing
significant which I would like to mention.
Did you join the army out of pure impulse or was it a deliberate decision?
Ever since my memory starts I was “brainwashed” by
my parents to join the Pakistan Army and no distractions on this score
were ever entertained!! Ironically, by the time I was commissioned, my
father had become an industrialist and people presumed that I was in the
Army only for a short stint?! It was only after I became a Lt Col that the
people reconciled/believed that I was in “for the works!” It would,
however, be appropriate to mention here, that even though my own ardour
for an “Army Career” never flagged, it really was my late father’s
love for the Pak Army that motivated and propelled me through 35 of the 37
years that I spent in the Pak Army. He fondly “relived” every moment
of my army career with me and also provided against any distractions,
financial or otherwise, which are usually associated with a career of
soldiering. Without any false modesty, let me also state, that I discerned
a great deal of pride and satisfaction from him with my progress in the
Profession of Arms. This certainly was unusual support from someone who
was denied the top slot which was rightfully his and was instead retired
at the ripe old age of 46! I am, however, very glad that he did not live
to witness my supercession because I fear it might have broken even his
How did you view your father’s sudden departure from the army over a matter of principle i.e. the differences with Musa Khan?
My father did not resign from the Army on a matter of
principle. The fact is that General Musa and my father were commissioned
on the same day in 1932 alongwith the First Batch of the Indian Military
Academy (IMA) Dehradun. In the graduating order of merit General Musa
(having an advantage of 8-10 years service in the ranks) was placed higher
than my father and as such always remained senior to him. In the ensuing
25 years of their commissioned service, the career of General Habibullah
so thoroughly outshone and dominated that of General Musa that they were
not even in the same league. Having commanded an infantry Battalion for
21/2 years on the Burma front and subsequently held important appointments
like Director Staff Duties (DSD), Deputy Chief of General Staff (DCGS),
Director General Military Training (DGMT), Chief of General Staff (CGS)
and having been appointed as the first Military Head of the Bagdad Pact,
General Habibullah was considered as far superior an officer to General
Musa. However, in 1958, when the time to appoint a successor to General
Ayub Khan, came it was General Musa who was appointed as the
Commander-in-Chief and General Habibullah as the Chief of Staff. With
these appointments these two officers of infinitely
unequal abilities were seen to be working in close proximity of
each other and the incongruity of their appointments not only became
acceutuated but also became the talk of the town. To remedy the situation,
it was considered expedient to retire Lieutenant General Habibullah at the
age of 46. Unfortunately, it are “the tall poppies” which get cut but
then nations have to pay a price for their incorrect decisions and the
effects of this mistake became apparent in the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War,
when Pakistan squandered the best opportunity they ever had vis a vis
India. Is it not a pity that when Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, was
commanding the Indian Army in 1971, General Habibullah, his IMA coursemate
having retired in 1959 was then making a name for himself as an
Industrialist in Pakistan?
How was cadet life in PMA?
PMA is a great institution of Pakistan which has
produced a large number of excellent officers; life at PMA was tough and
traditional but this was well known to me and since I had been educated in
a Public School I settled into the PMA quite easily. The ten months that I
spent there have remained as pleasant memories for the rest of my life.
Any instructor who impressed you in particular?
The instructors who made an impact included, our
Battalion Commander, Lt Col
(later Lt Gen) Akbar, Training Major (Later Brig) Abdul Qadir Khan,
Platoon Commanders Maj (Later Col) Shahnawaz, Capt (Later Brig) Shakoor
Jan, Capt (later Col) Sikander, and Capt (later Brig) NA Soofi.
Unfortunately, all of them except Brigadiers Shakoor Jan and NA Soofi
(whom I wish long and prosperous lives) have passed away.
Any PMA contemporaries about whom you would like to say something?
The PMA cadets of whom I could like to make a special mention include:-
- Capt Zahur Afridi, SJ (Embraced shahadat in 1965)
- Maj Bilal Rana, SJ, (My Platoon Mate who embraced Shahadat in Dec 71 in East Pakistan. He and I spent the first day of the 1971 War, together in the same trench.)
- Maj Shabbir Sharif, NH, SJ. With whom I had a boxing bout before leaving for Sandhurst.
It will not be out of place to mention that my PMA
Course, the 29th Long Course, is probably the most decorated course so far
and apart from producing two current service chiefs in General Pervez
Musharraf and Admiral Aziz Mirza it also has the distinction of having
produced the maximum number of two and three star generals.
Please tell us something about your selection for RMA Sandhurst?
Towards the end of my Second Term at Kakul in
September 1962, I was adjudged as the Best Cadet of the Course and
selected to go to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. The top five who
featured in this selection included our hero Maj Shabbir Sharif, Capt.
Zahur Afridi, SJ (Shaheed), Lt Gen (Retd) Khalid Nawaz Mallik and some
How was life at Sandhurs
The basic curriculum and life at Sandhurst was quite
similar to that at Kakul. The physical aspects of Kakul were tougher but
the approach at Sandhurst was more rational. The academic demands of
Sandhurst were somewhat greater because of the better British Education
System. I was very happy to discover that there was no “ragging” at
Sandhurst but the British Sergeant Majors and Sergeants were something
quite different, tough but with a great sense of humour!!
I thoroughly enjoyed my two years at Sandhurst and take great pride in mentioning:-
a. I graduated as a Senior Under Officer (SUO) which makes me the only Pakistani and amongst only a handful of Non-British cadets ever to achieve this distinction. I was also the first SUO of my course to command a Sunday Academy Parade. On this occasion, the entire Academy was on Parade and in deference to me the March of the Baloch Regiment was played during the March Past - great stuff!!
b. I was also awarded the Commandant’s Cane and declared as the ‘Best Overseas Cadet’.
c. I captained the Academy’s Hockey Team and was a
Member of the Academy Tennis Team.
Any instructor or contemporary at Sandhurst about whom you think made greatest impact on you?
The people who made the greatest impact on me while I was at Sandhurst include:-
a. The Commandant Sir John Mogg, who rose to be a four star and the Adjutant General of the British Army.
b. My College Commander, Sir John Cowtan, MC who retired as a two star.
c. My Company Commander Maj Paul Pike, MC who was posted out three months prior to my graduation and retired as a colonel.
d. My best friend and platoon mate W. H. (Bill)
Backhouse who retired as a Brigadier and with whom I am still in touch.
What made you join the infantry? Please tell us something about your service profile from date of commission till 1965?
I joined my father’s parent Battalion, 12 Baloch in August 64, went through the Collective Training in winter of that year as a platoon commander while the company was effectively commanded by Subedar Mohammad Shafi ‘Choona’ of Khushab. ‘Choona’ was probably amongst the best JCO’s of Pak Army at the time and took me through the initial paces like a father would do with his son; this was hardly surprising because as I later discovered ‘Choona’s’ father Subedar Surkhru Khan had been my father’s Senior JCO in this very Battalion approximately 30 years ago.
In April 65, the Battalion was called out to our
operational area around Kasur, it was obviously exciting stuff and I have
never supervised the digging of so many trenches in my life ever before or
after!! We were ultimately to form a part of the newly raised 11 Division
and fought the ‘65 War at Hussainiwala Headworks. We finally returned to
the Cantonment in the Summer of ‘66.
Please tell us about your experiences of 1965 War?
As I just mentioned, after digging trenches around Kasur, opposite Bedian and Khem Karan, my Battalion deployed opposite Hussainiwala Headworks. We were primarily in a defensive position along the famous BRB Canal, but I am glad to say that in our Divisional Area nobody was caught napping on 6 September. Our GOC, the late General Hamid, was bright enough to correctly gauge the way events were unfolding in Kashmir and by beginning September had ordered us to prepare and occupy our battle locations. Having done so nothing (apart from the usual artillery shelling and regular straffing by Indian aircraft) significant happened on our front. Two companies of our Battalion participated in forming the Bridgehead in the Army offensive in the Khem Karan Sector but returned back soon unharmed.
Excitement came around 20 September when our Battalion was ordered to launch an attack with a Battalion Minus and a troop of tanks to capture the Hussainiwala Headworks. During this period I was the Battalion Intelligence Officer and the Battalion promptly executed what it had been asked but it was only able to capture a part of its objective. Not surprising, because in 1971 the same objective with more or less the same enemy strength to overcome required an attack with four full battalions. Participating in this Battalion Attack was quite an experience and brought home a fact (often overlooked) that going into an infantry attack is totally different from taking part in war from the safety of a dug-outdefensive position. Accordingly, an attacker requires a different kind of courage and fortitude, which only those understand who have experienced it.
Whereas the ‘65 War for most of the people ended with the ceasefire in end September, we were to see a lot more action right upto April ‘66. It appeared, the Indians were smarting from the territory they had lost and had tried unsuccessfully to restore the situation. In this War our Battalion earned two Sitara-e-Jurats, one Tamgha-e-Jurat and one C-in-C’s Commendation Card.
Personally, even though I came out unscathed, the
Baptism of Fire and seeing bullets fired in anger from close quarters was
an unforgettable experience!! Amazingly, some personnel who had been
problem soldiers during peacetime, turned out to be the bravest during
Please tell us something about the standard of training in the army in the 1960s?
The human material that formed the Pakistan Army
before and during 65 was far superior to that which
came later on. This was because of the fact that the Army was much
smaller in size and had the populations of both East and West Pakistan to
draw from. Similarly, because of less distractions in the form of others
duties, it was much better trained and because of the American Aid was
much better equipped also.
What made you decide to join the Aviation?
Having gone through the War of ‘65 and believing that it was going to be another ten years to reach the rank of Major I thought that it was a suitable time to discover and experience other pastures and hence my joining Army Aviation! I have no regrets for having done so and have enjoyed my stay of five years with them.
In 1968, I qualified as a Fixed Wing Pilot and was awarded ‘The Best Flier Trophy’ of the P-9 Course. I was posted to No.2 Army Aviation Squadron which in 1969 by moving to Lahore, became the first Aviation unit ever to move out from Dhamial. Since our Squadron provided support to the 1 Armoured Division during this period I received my first exposure to our cavalry/armour units and the men who ran them, including a genial Colonel Zia-ul-Haq in whose Regimental Mess we were dining!
After a short stint as a Fixed Wing Pilot I converted to the Rotary Wing in early 69 and in September 69 I was selected to go to the Soviet Union for conversion to MI-8 helicopters. We trained at Kremenchug, a small Ukrainian town on the Dnieper River. Apart from learning about MI-8 helicopters, exposure to the Soviet system of living was in itself a great experience.
Flying MI-8s in Pakistan, during those days when heliborne operations were in its infancy, brought along its own excitement. We were everywhere there was trouble irrespective of whether it was dumping rations in inaccessible sectors of the Northern Areas/Kashmir or if it was supporting operations in the hither to unfrequented areas of the Marri-Bugti Agencies.
Meanwhile the political climate in Pakistan was heating up and I cannot forget the first time that I saw the Bangladeshi flag in late 1970. At that time it felt as if a bullet had hit me in the chest and I remember discussing it with Ikram who is your Managing Editor. Having a better “feel” for the conditions I distinctly remember him writing to me from Dhaka that the situation could be remedied only if an immediate surgical operation was undertaken. Unfortunately, this was not done and by March ’71 the situation had gone out of control.
I went to what was East Pakistan in early April 71. These were sad times for Pakistan but I was certainly happier flying MI-8s as opposed to “hoofing” as an infantryman. Flying was very risky because if we ever came down in an emergency that would probably have been the end. Fortunately, luck smiled on us and despite the intensive and extensive flying we did, there were no mishaps. As you will remember the first job in hand of the Eastern Command in the post 26 March period was to eliminate the pockets of Bangladesh which had been established by the Mukti Bahinis. As such there were numerous heliborne operations like Bhairab Bazar, Pabna, Barisal Kushtia and others in which I participated, but I would like to make a special mention of the Belonia Operation of June 71.1
Belonia was a small finger like protrusion of East Pakistani territory in the general area of Feni near Chittagong. The Mukti Bahinis alongwith elements of an East Bengal Battalion had occupied this area. Pakistani efforts (with a force of two battalions) to evict the rebels had proved unsuccessful. Quite suddenly and totally unprepared two MI-8s were called at sunset to drop two platoon loads of soldiers right in the middle of this rebel Battalion position. I was one of the pilots of the
MI-8s which undertook this suicidal mission.
Fortunately, we managed to drop our men in the correct places and
resultantly this rebel force which had defied eviction by two infantry
battalions melted away during the night. The participating MI-8s had taken
bullet hits but we had succeeded in clearing the last rebel enclave in
East Pakistan. This was not the only time we received hostile fire but the
operation deserves a special mention because of the spectacular results it
Your experiences as an aviator in East Pakistan in 1971 and the 1971 War?
I have partially answered this question earlier while dilating on my reasons which led to my becoming an aviator, some further details are as given.
Despite the fact that the Pakistani Eastern Command by end June had cleared all rebel enclaves, the situation in general continued to deteriorate because the Indian planning had entered another phase to which we did not respond suitably. In November 1971, an Indian Army Force of approximately three infantry divisions had crossed into Pakistani territory in the Jessore-Khulna Sector and in areas north of Chittagong; this was proper undeclared war and I suspect the Indians wanted us to be provoked into a full scale war. Since we did not oblige immediately, I am sure the Indians must have been somewhat perplexed. Anyway, when Pakistan finally attacked on 3 December 1971, the Indians were able to put through their War Plans which they had painstakingly prepared and mobilized for.
Unfortunately, Pakistan fought the War in East Pakistan with a troop deployment designed for Internal Security operations. Similarly, with the relative strengths loaded in India’s favour and a sympathetic local population, the writing was on the wall from the first day.
It does, however, go in Pakistan’s favour that throughout the war in East Pakistan there was not a place in which the Indians/Muktis broke through the Pakistani defences. Their attempts to break through were thwarted everywhere and they were forced to go around our defences through the many gaps that existed in the thin line of Pakistani deployment. On the other hand, I regret to say that despite all the disadvantages on 16 December ‘71 there still was plenty of fight and materiel left with the Pakistani forces which with a better leadership/high command could have taken advantage of. In other words, there was no compulsion for a surrender on 16 Dec. 71.
One of the most memorable experiences of my life was the first day of the war when 130 Indian air raids came on Dhaka Airport, close to which we were also located. The PAF and Air Defence acquitted themselves excellently on this day and approximately 17-21 Indian Aircraft had been brought down. Unfortunately, we were so outnumbered that by the next night or so the Indians were able to damage the bases Airfield Runways to such an extent that no PAF aircraft could take off from Dhaka.
With the complete dominance of the skies by the Indians, the only way out for the Pakistan Army Aviation was to fly at night which we did with great success. We undertook hazardous night flights to all parts of East Pakistan during which we carried out ammunition supply, casualty evacuation and liaison missions. All this was done with absolutely basic navigation aids and was truly a magnificent achievement. I must mention an Ammunition supply mission with Maj (later Brig) Ali Jawahar to Khulna during which we ran out of fuel and barely managed to reach our own area near Narayanganj and landed in the only graveyard we had encountered in East Pakistan!!
As I have mentioned earlier, the writing on the wall was pretty, obvious from Day One but, even then it came as a great shock when on the evening of 15 December our Commanding Officer was told by Eastern Command to destroy our aircraft in preparation for surrender on 16 December. All of us protested and our Commanding Officer gave a plan for our escape to Burma taking all our aircraft and whatever else we could carry. Eastern Command agreed to this plan and directed us to start preparations and kept the responsibility of choosing passengers to themselves. When at 2 A.M. the crews reached their aircraft parked all over the cantonment they encountered total pandemonium and were barely able to take off with the greatest of difficulty. Our passengers were all women and childrenbut in this chaos and confusion an ambulance load of nurses got left behind; apparently, they had kept sitting timidly in their ambulance hoping to be asked while the others were clambering into the helicopters.
My helicopter was the second to take off but for some reason the first to arrive at Akyab Burma. We had planned to arrive at Akyab by “first light” and once we identified Akyab we flew over the sea to drop our weapons and other belongings by which we could have been identified as military personnel. I was also the first person to encounter the Burmese military guard of Akyab. Quite surprisingly, he spoke Urdu and asked me if I was a Pakistani, and whether I was armed or not? He then asked me if I was a Muslim and upon getting a reply in the affirmative said “Assalam O Alaikum, I am also a Muslim and my name is Mustafa Kamal”
In a short while seven other helicopters also arrived
and soon there were approximately 170 Pakistan women and children and Army
Aviators milling around the Akyab Terminal which usually received only one
aircraft a day! Our Burmese hosts were most understanding and they lodged
us in a Burma Oil Company Rest House. The women and children2 were flown
out to Rangoon within three days and then to Pakistan within 7-10 days.
We, the Aviation crews stayed in Akyab for approximately 10 days and were
then asked to fly our helicopters and drop them at Meiktila, whereas we
ourselves were flown to Rangoon. After approximately three weeks
in Rangoon we were repatriated to Pakistan. After another month a
party of Army Aviators were invited and taken back to Meiktila where they
found their helicopters painted white with ‘PIA’ prominently
emblazoned on them. Our crews flew these helicopters to Bangkok, from
where they were shipped to Pakistan. Thus ended the saga of No. 4 Army
Aviation Squadron, the only unit of Pakistan’s Eastern Command which had
not surrendered. I feel highly honoured to have been a member of this
elite squadron and feel greatly indebted to the Burmese authorities for
Please tell us something about your service profile from 1971 till 1977? How did you find the staff college as a student? Anything you would like to say about the standard of instructions which you saw as a student?
On return from East Pakistan in 1972 I served with the Army Aviation for another year and was then selected for the 1973 staff course. This was the first one year course since the 1971 War and was a great learning experience.
Staff College forms a watershed in the careers of most army officers; it was the same with me. I worked exceedingly hard during the entire year and found it to be a very rewarding year. The High Point came in the Third Term when I was given a GOC’s appointment in a Map Exercise which was based on ‘Exercise November Handicap’; this in 1954 had been my father’s Test Exercise for promotion to the rank of Maj. Gen. And for a very long time remained Pakistan Army’s largest Exercise with troops; small world!
At the end of the course joined my Battalion at Maiwand in the Marri Area of Balochistan. In May 74 I moved to Sialkot with my Battalion. In January ‘75, I was posted as the Brigade Major of 102 Brigade in Peshawar. My Brigade commander was Brigadier KK Afridi, a fine soldier and human being and I enjoyed being on his staff. In February ‘77, I was posted as officiating Commanding Officer of my Battalion which was then located at Kel in the Neelam Valley. The Line of Control was totally quiet in those days but it still was an exhilarating experience and one learnt first hand regarding the logistic problems encountered during operations in mountainous area. This was very valuable experience and was to prove very helpful during my subsequent career. In August 78, I was posted as an instructor at Staff College Quetta. Working as an instructor was very hard work, even more than as a student but highly rewarding. After approximately an year and a half, I was appointed as the Defence Attache in Egypt.
Life had really been moving at a hectic pace since
1965 and whereas I had thought I would become a major on my thirteenth
year of commission here I was in my fourteenth year in 1980 on my third
appointment as a Lt. Col.
You were Defence Attache in Egypt. How was that experience?
Being a Defence Attache in Egypt was a new and novel experience. Cairo with over a hundred embassies was right in the center of the world and as such a great place to follow international developments. Egypt had recently emerged from their socialistic past and it was very interesting to see them grow.
The Egyptian Armed Forces then were at a very similar stage of development as the Pakistan Army. We had also had similar war experiences i.e. 47/48, 65/67 and 71/73 and as such there was great compatibility between us. Previously, Egypt because of Nasser and Nehru had a very strong and long term relationship with India but I was very happy to note that during my stay their interest in Pakistan was growing by leaps and bounds.
As a society, the Egyptians were and are a very tolerant and enlightened but rumblings against Anwar Saadat for his perceived “sell out’ to the Americans/Israelis could be heard loud and clear. This, inevitably, proved to be true and he was assassinated. I missed out on the assassination itself because I was performing Haj at that time!
Despite the fact, that the Egyptians are generally a tolerant society, yet they have a small but highly motivated (far more than in Pakistan) Islamic Extremist Group. Similarly, despite the fact that Egypt had inherited a very strong secret police apparatus from Nasser it had still not been able to come to terms with these extremists and the threat continued.
What do you have to say about the assertion that Zia’s long tenure had a negative effect on the professional efficiency of the Pakistan Army?
What is asserted is perfectly true. Every moment that
an Army stays away from its primary task will inevitably affect its own
operational efficiency. Similarly, anyone who has trained soldiers will
vouch for the fact this is not an easy task and requires total dedication
and application, leaving little time if at all for any diversionary
Please tell us something about your service profile from 1977 till 1988?
After return from Egypt in 1983, I once again was
appointed as the Commanding Officer of 12 Baloch in Rahim Yar Khan (RYK).
In ‘84 I was promoted to Brigadier’s rank and took over the command of
the RYK Brigade. In 1985, I was selected for the Armed Forces War Course
and on its termination in June ‘86 was posted as the Chief of Staff 10
Corps. After three years as a COS, in 1989, I was posted to command
another brigade and in 1990 was promoted to the rank of Maj Gen and
appointed as GOC 8 Div.
How was the stint in Sindh as a Brigade Commander in the Anti-Dacoit operations?
In the two years that I was posted in RYK as Battalion and Brigade Commander, I hardly stayed three months at RYK. The rest of the time was spent on internal security and Anti-Dacoit operations in the Left Bank Districts of Sukkur, Khairpur Mirs and Nawabshah. This was a new experience and under the inspiring leadership of Maj Gen (later Gen) Waheed we were able to successfully root out the dacoits. Unfortunately, our endeavours of more than an year were wasted when a jail-break of Sukkur Jail took place and most of the captured dacoits got away. I am also glad to mention that because of our fair dealings we were able to once again establish the credibility of the Pakistan which had been badly tarnished during the Post MRD period. It was during the MRD Movement that the Rural Sindhis (for the first time ever) had come out against the govt; when Gen Zia’s administration clamped down on them with the Army, it inevitably alienated the Rural Sindhi populace. With the Sindhi Rural landlords, sulking, it gave the dacoits (who have been a constant factor in Sindh for hundreds of years) a free hand to exploit the void and they did so till a check was put on them by the Pakistan Army.
One day, while we were in a conference with Gen Waheed, the IG Police brought us some highly reliable information regarding a gathering of the top dacoits at an island in the Indus River known as ‘Adam Ka Binda’. We immediately mobilised and decided to cordon of the area from both sides of the River with a brigade each. I was the over all incharge and starting at sunrise we used the third brigade to search ‘Adam Ka Binda’. The search started as per plan and by midday it was evident from the helicopter that nothing had been found. I tried to call off the operation but could not communicate effectively and as such returned to our Base from where the search had been initiated. I still could not communicate effectively and as such then got into the jeep of SP Police Nawabshah and started to move to a point from where I could debrief and personally call off the operation. While we were travelling in the ‘Kacha’ I saw 8-10 people suddenly rush from a clearing towards the jungle. By the time we stopped the jeep we were hardly 70-80 yards from these people who by now were engaging us with heavy rifle fire. We obviously also took positions and fired back but I soon realized that our Police Escort was totally shell-shocked and unable to fire back. The only effective person with me was the army driver of my jeep which was following us and had also been caught up in this ambush. I also discovered that my wireless operator and been hit in his stomach and unfortunately died. This exchange of fire lasted for approximately 45 minutes during which the dacoits must have fired approximately a thousand rounds at us from close range but quite miraculously we suffered no other casualties. It later transpired that these were the very same dacoits whom we had been looking for but they had probably been tipped off regarding our operation and as such were sitting safely outside our cordon. After firing and making a lot of noise and shouting “naras” they broke contact and disappeared. Fortunately, during the night we were able to kill one of their accomplices but the rest had managed to get away. This was once again a new experience and I later learnt that the dacoits were making noises to scare us because they thought we were the Police. I am told that had they known we were from the Army they would never have fired on us.
How was the GOC 8 division?
I commanded 8 Division for one year and a half during
which we went through a fairly tense period of confrontation with the
Indians. The whole Division was out in its battle locations for months on
end and even though it was not very comfortable in the humid summer, it had welded
us as a formation and we were able to refine our Battle Plans and defences.
How was the stint as Commandant Staff College Quetta? Any major changes that you brought as Commandant Staff College?
In early ‘92, I had the honour to be picked as the
Commandant of Staff College Quetta, where earlier on, I had been both a
student and an instructor. Being in the Staff College is always an
invigorating experience because one is dealing with the cream of Pakistan
Army. It was the same this time also and I enjoyed every moment of my
stay. I tried to lay emphasis on building the confidence and integrity of
the students and tried to assure them that genuine mistakes will not prove
detrimental to their
careers. I also modified their curriculum and training activities so as to
take advantage of computers and the emerging information technology.
Unfortunately, my stay as a Commandant was somewhat shortened when in the
wake of General Asif Nawaz’s death I was posted out as the Director
General Military Intelligence.
Do you think that the present one year term of Staff College should be longer?
This debate has gone on for a long time but for
reasons of expediency, career planning and our typical career patterns,
Pakistan Army has stuck to a one year course. Presently, even though there
is a one year course, its ramifications including preparation, with much
more work to be done before the Course including the Science Term makes
its influence felt for a much longer period.
How fair is the system of assessment in the Staff College?
The Assessment is as fair as is humanly possible, and
is constantly reviewed. However, I regret to say that we have, so far,
failed to build enough student confidence in the system so as to eliminate
the use of previous/old solutions.
How was the stint as DG MI?
I came to the post of DGMI quite untrained and inexperienced in the field of intelligence which some people counted as an advantage! It is only when I took over did I realize the MI Directorate’s spread and importance. During my tenure as DGMI, I considered myself very lucky in two respects, firstly, I enjoyed the total confidence of my boss the COAS and secondly, the MI Directorate, while I was the DGMI, was used only for strictly professional intelligence pursuits.
My greatest moment us a DGMI came when the Assessment and Recommendations of the MI Directorate regarding the Indian Buildup in 1994, proved correct and were applauded for its greater objectivity and superior analysis when compared to those of other intelligence agencies.
What do you have to say about the Murtaza case which occurred during your tenure as DG MI?
I have no knowledge of the Murtaza Case other then
what has appeared in the Print Media. Unbelievable, as it may appear,
it was not of primary importance to the MI Directorate.
Please tell us about the alleged Zaheer ul Islam Abbasi Conspiracy affair?
In the Zaheer ul Islam Abbasi case, another
intelligence agency had intercepted the purchase of illegal arms and its
transportation in a military vehicle by an officer of the Pakistan Army.
This was reported to the Army High Command and was of course investigated.
As it turned out, it was an elaborate Plan with dangerous consequences
which amongst other issues also strongly implicated Zaheer ul Islam Abbasi.
They were proceeded against in accordance with the law.
How far in your opinion is the allegation that 1988, 1990, 1993 and 1997 elections were rigged selectively or in any other manner?
I was the DGMI during the 1993 elections and the CGS during the 1997 elections. I mention my appointments just to emphasize that had there been any conspiracy to fix the elections, it would have been very difficult to keep me ignorant of developments. No matter what others say, I believe that both those elections were fair.
What do you have to say about the allegation that the MI Directorate indulged in making and breaking governments in the period 1988-96?
During the period that I was the DGMI i.e. 1993-95, I am certain the MI Directorate did not indulge in making or breaking governments.
How was the stint as Corps Commander and CGS?
I was appointed as Commander 10 Corps in October 95 and consider it as one of the most enjoyable periods of my career, having been the Chief of Staff 10 Corps for three years not too long ago, I knew the terrain and issues very intimately and thus took to the job of commander as duck would take to water! During my command a few major events took place which I would like to mention in a little more detail.
a. Neelam Valley Closure. As soon as I took over in October 95, I was told that because of Indian Firing only half the winter dumping of rations had been completed for Upper Neelam Valley. This was serious trouble and hence the first place I visited was the place where they were interdicting our movement. I personally moved on the road at night, was fired upon by the Indians but it gave me a fair idea of the problem. We took remedial actions by arranging effective return of fire and am very happy to say that within a week our traffic flowed up and down Neelam Valley without any interference. We were lucky that the snows came late that year and we were comfortably able to complete our dumping.
b. Construction of Bypass. In order to thwart any further interference, we immediately began the construction of a Bypass from Kaghan and completed it in record time, from within with the corps resources.
c. Counter - Interdiction in the Northern Area. In the Kargil Area, the enemy road is visible to some of our posts. In case the enemy ever again resorted to firing on the Neelam Valley Road we planned for interdicting the movement of Indian vehicles on this road. Accordingly, with great difficulty and innovation we were able to move special weapon systems into these very high altitude posts from where they could with direct firing weapons effectively interdict Indian vehicular movement. I am also very glad to say this was also done and in later days these weapon systems played a very effective role, Allah be praised!
d. Helicopter War. All Theatres of War usually have their own rules likewise in the War in Siachen also there was an unwritten law between the adversaries, that unless very seriously provoked they would not fire unnecessarily on each others helicopters. One fine day the Indians broke this convention by firing and downing our helicopter with a missile while it was landing at a very high and dangerous post. Fortunately, our pilots in this helicopter were safe but it certainly incensed us all and we began to retaliate in the same coin. I am again glad to report that without any further loss to us, within a period of one year, we were able to down around 6-7 Indian helicopters including an MI-17. Apart from damage to the helicopters, this caused great consternation and acrimony between the Indian Army and their Air Force operating in the Siachen Region, where they depend a great deal on helicopter support.
In April ‘97, I was posted as the Chief of General
Staff and for the first time I sat in the same chair in which my late
father had sat over forty years ago. I consider it a great privilege and
was very happy to enjoy the wide span of this appointment and the fact
that the CGS virtually runs the Army for the COAS, I also became fully
alive to the acute shortage of resources/finances from which the Pakistan
Army suffers. There were many exciting events during my tenure as CGS but
probably the most interesting period was the time when Pakistan had to
work out our response to the Indian Nuclear tests of ’1998!!
You are remembered as the man who reformed Burn Hall?
As Commander 10 Corps 1 was the Chairman of the Governing Body of the Army Burn Hall Schools. One fine morning I was informed that the night before the boarders had ransacked the entire School and the Police and the Army had to be called to control the situation. I immediately went there and confirmed what was reported. It was a terrible scene of total wanton destruction by the senior boarder students themselves. After consultations, we decided to immediately close the School, because with the extensive damage the School could not continue anyway. Similarly, after consultations and in order to set an example we decided to expel the entire lot of boarders and confiscate their security deposits in order to repair the damages. Expelling 308 students in one go was a tough but fair decision and despite great pressure, we made no exceptions and expelled the whole lot. Great care was taken in the subsequent admissions and I am told that happily today, Burn Hall, is amongst the most disciplined schools of the country.
What do you have to say about the fact that the system of selection of Army Chief is highly politicized? Any measure which can counter this negative state of affairs?
The answer to your question is very simple, in that,
whenever anyone tampers politically with a system, they should
also be ready for a political response. Simply put, without very
cogent professional reasons, no one should fiddle with the principle of
seniority cum ability on which the armed forces work.
Should the ISI be under the Army Chief or under the civilian head of state?
The Inter Services Intelligence as the name suggests,
should be de-politicized and working under the Joint Staff Headquarters.
Having said that, I would also like to emphasize that our entire
intelligence apparatus needs to be rationalized.
What are your post retirement activities?
I am working in our family business and am trying hard to revive some units, which for various reasons are not in a healthy state. This activity, keeps me shuttling between Rawalpindi and Karachi. I enjoy hunting and playing Golf whenever possible. I must add here that I have been very lucky with respect to my married life. Neelofar, my wife, has not only been a full partner but a source of great strength to me particularly during adverse conditions. She has been a true soldier’s wife looking after the family during my absences. I have similarly been blessed with three, fine children, Ayesha, Hussain and Khalid. For me the company of my children and grandchildren are a matter of supreme satisfaction and contentment.
What do you have to say about the assertion that army’s increased involvement in civilian administration has negatively affected its qualitative efficiency?
I have said earlier, that anything which takes
away/distracts the Army from its main task of soldiering will inevitably
cast a shadow on its professional efficiency. This should be true of all
What is the solution to Pakistan’s political problems?
This requires a very elaborate answer, however,
stating it in two words, I will say “More Democracy”.
What do you have to say about the assertion that many a times the army took over because it was a matter of ambition/ego rather than principle?
What you state is true to an extent ..............
but it is also too elaborate an answer to attempt at the moment.
Any thing else that you would like to say as a message to DJ readers?
I would like to wish the Management of DJ and its readers all the very best in the future. Their efforts are a great service to the profession of Arms which despite whatever else anyone may say, is a noble profession.
1 Belonia is the same area in which the late Colonel
Sehgal undertook the ‘Asalong Mauza Operations’ as was published in
the ‘Defence Journal’ of October 2001.
2 One of my pleasurable moments in life comes every 16 December, when a young Major Ahad has the decency since the last many years to reach me out wherever I am and thank me for evacuating him in my helicopter. He must have been a small child on 16 December ‘71 and I was merely doing my duty but all the same it is heartening to know that there still are such good persons in this world!!