One of the most outstanding officers produced by the Army, Brig Saeed Ismat was destined for higher rank till his career was cruelly cut short by heart problem. His was one of the most deserving SJs won.
Please tell us something about your early life, your parents and place of birth?
I was born in December 1944 in a village called Bupra
Kaplan near Gujranwala in my maternal grandfather’s house. At the time
of my birth my father was fighting the Second World War as an officer of
the British Indian Army somewhere in Burma.
When I saw
my father for the first time I rushed to my grandfather and complained to
him that a stranger was sitting on my mother’s bed. At that time I was
two and a half years old and in my infancy had taken my grandfather to be
my real father. My father Captain Chaudhry Ismat ullah was posted to
Abbottabad on his return from the war front and my first school
was Burn Hall. I have vivid memories of this beautiful and serene
hill station of Abbottabad. Little
did I realize that one day when I grow up I would return here to embark
upon an exciting and fascinating journey of my life through the Pakistan
Military Academy (PMA). From Abbottabad my father got transferred to
Campbellpur where there was no school and I studied at home by a tutor.
After one year my father was posted to Lahore. I was admitted to
the Convent of Jesus and Mary. After six months my father sent me to the
Islamia School in Lahore cantonment. I was not happy with my new school
where we had to sit on the floor and subjected to very stern teachers who
abidingly and literally believed in the adage, “ spare the rod and spoil
the child”. This was an awesome experience and when my mother saw the
swollen hands of her little son, she lodged a protest with my father.
There was not a trace of sympathy from him and on the contrary I was
summoned and told, ‘ my son
what you shall learn from this school no other school shall give it to
you....’. It did not make any sense at that time. It was after many
years of my life that I fathomed the wisdom of my father’s comments.
Anyway, I thought that my agony was soon to end when the news of my
father’s posting to Quetta brought with it the prospects of a better
school. Now what is that saying, ‘ from the frying pan into the fire’
that aptly described my plight. I was admitted to Government Middle School
in some back street of Quetta city. I do not wish to dwell in detail but
suffice it to say that the school environment was simply pathetic and
shocking. In brief, I was miserable and bullied. After many months it was
a great relief when I was given admission in the St. Joseph School. What a
difference! Though for the better, it took me some time to adjust myself
to the new surroundings. After nearly two years’ stay at Quetta my
father was posted back to Lahore and after a brief stint was assigned to
the General Headquarters. At Rawalpindi I studied at Denny’s High
School, another Urdu medium school. After being promoted to class 9, I was
selected for admission in Cadet College, Hasan Abdal. In those days it was
definitely the best institution in the country and run by the famous
educationist of the sub-continent Mr. Hugh Catchpole. I did my
Matriculation and FSc from this college. I studied at Forman Christian
(FC) College Lahore for graduation studies in BSc. This was perhaps the
most unforgettable part of my student life, as I would relish the freedom,
urbane atmosphere, and that very special ambience and spirit of this great
Could you describe your parents and their influence on your perception and shaping of your personality?
I would love to do that.
The story of my life would be incomplete without the mention of my
grandfather Chaudhry Nawab Din. He was an officer in the Railways and what
a man he was! He was exceptionally honest, truthful and upright. He was
gifted with a towering personality and for him two things were of
paramount importance, integrity and dignity. He would say to me, “Saeed
you should never be afraid to speak the truth. Remember lies and falsehood
are basis of all evil. Standup resolutely to defend your principles and do
not compromise to get temporary gains and yes don’t ever keep what is
not rightfully yours because that is the biggest crime against
humanity”. He loved walking and I would accompany him on some very
memorable and long walks every time that he visited us.
My father was his favourite son and they had a lot in common,
except my father also had a sense of humour. These two persons had
remarkable and profound affect in shaping my personality and character.
Another member of my family Colonel Sarwar Chaudhry (my cousin and married
to my sister) is a person of immense compassion, love, forgiveness, and of
human kindness. A liberal and highly emancipated individual who did
influence my life in a variety of ways and I thought I must mention him as
well for he has been oddly enough a parent, a brother and a friend.
Your father Col Chaudhry Ismat ullah, Tamga-e-Pakistan had made significant contributions to the army. Would you like to tell us something more about him?
Sure, he was commissioned in the Royal Army Service
Corps after practicing law for nearly two years and was immediately
dispatched to the Burma front during World War II. After the creation of
Pakistan, the army relied on his specialty in law and he was in the team
of pioneers who undertook the project of writing and compiling the Manual
of Pakistan Military Law (MPML), Army Rules - Regulations and Instructions
(ARR) and the famous ARI. He had a major contribution in the
reorganization and restructuring of the Army Service Corps that resulted
in the creation of Supply and Transport Battalions (S&T Bns). He wrote
a book on contractual law, which is still in use by ASC and Ordinance
officers. He was associated with military law well into his retirement and
defended some well-publicized cases including the ‘Attock Conspiracy’
case. He had a very logical and analytical mind
How was your student life?
I can confidently say that my student life was
interesting and very versatile. From elite schools like Burn Hall, St
Joseph and Cadet College Hasan Abdal to the very basic schools like
Islamia and Muslim schools, my experience was extensive and varied. From
nursery to higher secondary education I had been to nine different schools
because of the compulsions of my fathers military career. This unsettling
aspect and lack of continuity in my early education was amazingly to have
some very positive effects on my development. I think because I came in
contact with students from the entire spectrum of our society, I developed
the attributes of sensitivity, understanding and adaptability.
Was there any teacher who played a decisive role in the formation of your perceptions?
Yes, there were two great teachers and my benefactors. Mr. H Catchpole was the Principal of Cadet College. He was a great educationist and a perfect guardian. Seldom one sees anybody with such dedication and utter devotion. Honesty and speaking out the truth were the two gifts he would give me. The second person perhaps the most important individual for me alongside my grandfather and father was my housemaster Mr. Shafqat Hussain. Through his personal effort he transformed my life. He gave me inner courage, individuality and self-confidence. He taught me to think independently. Above all he opened a window for me to see the world without the stereo-type divisive prejudices. He was my source of inspiration in my formative years. May Allah rest his soul in peace.
Why did you choose army as your career?
To be honest I did not choose army as my career; my father chose it for me. While I was a student, I had always wanted to become a journalist or a lawyer but my father wanted to make an engineer out of me. I was more interested in humanities rather than science. When I realized that I could not have my way, I informed my father that I had no aptitude whatsoever to become an engineer. I loved aircraft and flying, so I applied to become a pilot in the Pakistan Air Force. Finally when the call-up notice came it was at my father’s address; there was uproar in the family. I was told that air force is out but I could join the army. I was still not 18 years of age and not eligible. Reluctantly, I continued to pursue my Bachelor of Science degree at FC College Lahore. Later I applied for the army and ended up at the Pakistan Military Academy as a reluctant soldier.
How was life at the Pakistan Military Academy?
My first two months at PMA were hard on me: not in
the physical sense but more to do with my lack of motivation and aptitude.
My platoon commander Captain Rizvi summoned me in his office and
said, “Saeed, I am not satisfied with your performance. You are not
putting in your best. I think you are not really interested in this
career, however, I am convinced you have an excellent potential. Army is a
very demanding career and it cannot accept people who are not prepared to
put in their best, we have no room for free wheelers. I think you might as
well quit now and if you want to stay on, you have to make up your mind
that you give yourself fully: body and soul.” I was about to give him
the usual run of mill reply but he promptly added, “I do not want your
answer at this time. You may go, think over it seriously and come back
tomorrow.” My platoon commander’s remarks were to leave a deep impact
on my mind. The next morning I was a new person, totally transformed: I
had decided to do serious soldiering. From herein after I would be on top
of my job. I truly started enjoying PMA life. I was now at peace with
myself and cynicism on military life began to dissipate. By the end of
first term my performance had pleased my superiors to the extent that my
name was in the panel of top 12 cadets vying for selection in the top
slot. The best cadet so selected would be sent to the Royal Military
Academy, Sandhurst. After going through a long process four cadets were
ordered to go to GHQ for final interview by the Chief of General Staff. He
asked me if I would like to get sword of honour at PMA or go to RMA
Sandhurst and pass out as a plain GC. My reply was simple and spontaneous,
“ Sir, if I can get Sword of Honour at PMA, what stops me in getting it
at Sandhurst as well”. He was visibly pleased with my answer and
intuitively I knew that I was selected. I was officially informed of my
selection after eight or ten days.
I believe you were at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for two years. Would you like to give us a comparison between the two academies and your personal views of life as a cadet?
As I have already told you that except for the first
two months at the PMA I really enjoyed my stay to the fullest. I think I
learned a great deal at the same time and made some very good friends. I
reached London on 11 September 1963 and after a few days stay arrived in a
small town named Camberly. Royal Military Academy is located in a village
called Sandhurst. Here we were called
‘officer cadets’ and not ‘gentleman cadets’. I had no
problems whatsoever with the military training and the physical rigours. I
could say that PMA military training and physical standards were better
than Sandhurst. I do not want to be judgmental but Sandhurst did excel in
the fields of academics and general studies. It also was very helpful in
developing a better and broader perspective of military knowledge. It did
a great deal more in broadening the horizon of the gentlemen cadets. I had
the best of both and learnt a great deal from these two academies. At the
Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, I made friends from many countries.
Incidentally, I do take a lot of pleasure in claiming that I have the
longest cadet training in Pakistan army other than the ‘relegees’
(Cadets who were relegated for some reasons).
Which arm was your first choice?
Army had bestowed a special privilege on cadets who
were commissioned from Sandhurst; they were given their first choice of
not only the arm or service but also the regiment. Initially I was keen to
join the Armoured Corps but my friend and senior officer cadet Ali Kuli
Khan Khattak (now a retired Lieutenant General) played a significant role
in my final decision. My
career counsellor at Sandhurst recommended that I could become a good
Sapper officer since I had a good scientific background. I finally decided
to join the infantry and opted to become a member of 8 Punjab Regiment.
How did you like regimental life and what did you do in the first year?
My battalion, 8 Punjab Regiment was stationed at
Rawalpindi as President’s Guard Battalion. The situation in Pakistan at
that time was very tense in the aftermaths of skirmishes in the Rann of
Kutch. I was rather disappointed that my battalion was doing protocol and
ceremonial duties. As a young officer I wanted to see some action. By
August most of the battalions had moved to their battle locations or to
the concentration areas but there were no signs or prospects of our moving
out of Rawalpindi. Come September and when we were really desperate and
exasperated, the orders to move to Sialkot sector were received with
relief and thanksgiving. You should have seen the joy and excitement on
the faces of the soldiers. I
can never forget those profoundly moving scenes when people young and old,
males and females greeted us en route to the battlefront. They blessed us
with their prayers, presented us with food, showered rose petals at the
military convoys and garlanded us with such love and affection. What a way
to send your soldiers to the front line! It lifted our spirits; infused us
with courage and we were fully charged to defend our homeland.
Tell us something of your first combat experience?
light 7 September, the battalion assembled in village in the proximity of
Pasrur. Delta Company was ordered to take up defensive position near
Chawinda by first light 9 September. After carrying out reconnaissance
with my company commander, I was assigned to take the company to the
location and prepare defences. While the company started digging the
defences, I decided to take a quick bath under a tree
and I tell you it was the quickest ever. The moment I poured the
first mug of water on my head, there were thunder and explosions all
around me. I saw 4-5 Indian jets strafing, rocketing and bombing my
defensive position. It was the first time I actually understood the
meaning of being ‘caught with your pants down’. I did not know what to
do, still naked; first I took cover under the trailer of my jeep but I
felt stupid and I grabbed my Sten gun, stood up and started firing at the
Indian aircraft still naked. Laugh — I certainly did not at that time
but since then whenever I am reminded of this incident I can’t help a
good laugh. I haven’t finished yet. When the Indian jets had dropped the
payload they left the scene, I put my uniform on and while tying up my
bootlaces looked in the direction of my company and believe me I could not
see a single soldier, they had disappeared in thin air. I was panic
struck; if they had been hit their remains should be visible — Oh God,
they all couldn’t be? Suddenly I detected some activity; loose earth
being thrown out of trenches but where were my soldiers. Yes, they were
there all right but had dug themselves so deep that I could not see them.
I tell you it must be a record at digging trenches in the shortest
possible time by anyone in the world-ever.
Do you have another anecdote that you could share with us relating to 1965 War?
Yes, this one I cannot forget, this could possibly qualify to go down as ‘Humour in Uniform’. Mind you, this is a fact and can be verified. My Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Khushi Mohammad Khalid accompanied by his Intelligence Officer was on his way to visit B Coy commanded by Major Ashiq Hussain Malik (later Brig and now deceased). When their jeep was almost at the RV given by the Coy Comd, a barrage of heavy artillery fire welcomed them. They leaped out of the jeep and rushed into a small hut. The young I.O. saw an old disused chimney and put himself in it, Maj Ashiq instinctively pulled the I.O out of the chimney and pushing the CO in said, “You get out of there young man, it is privilege of the CO.”
After the war when the battalion returned to
Rawalpindi, the President of Pakistan Field Marshal Ayub Khan and the
C-in-C General Yahya Khan were our guests at a dinner in our regimental
mess. It was a formal affair and I was designated Mr. Vice. While coffee
was being served, General Yahya asked me, “ Young man you have been to
Sandhurst and must have studied military history, tell me what is the
shortest operational order you know”? Hell, if I knew and started
waffling and some other guest tried to help but General Yahya was not to
be satisfied. To my great relief the Field Marshall intervened, “Yahya,
stop harassing the young man. You tell us”. He replied, “The shortest
operational order ever in the military history was by C-in-C General Musa
to his Corps Commander Lieutenant General Bakhtiar Rana when on 6
September the Indians attacked across the international border. It was —
‘Rana Pai Ja’o’.
Please tell us of your activities after the ceasefire. Anything interesting or just the normal regimental life?
After the ceasefire and Tashkent Declaration the battalion was tasked to defend Shakargarh salient. While the rest of the battalion was concentrated at village north of Shakargarh my company was moved to the border. My company commander Captain urf soldier Mohammad Akram (now a retired Lieutenant General) shortly left us as an instructor to the Infant School and I was appointed company commander. I had a wonderful time as I had everything a young officer would yearn for. There was plenty of activity, recreational as well as adventurous since we remained constantly engaged with the Indians in one skirmish or the other. The battalion returned back to Rawalpindi in the spring of 1966.
At Rawalpindi, I was to lead a very busy life. During
a short span of a year-and-a-half I commanded a few army and many joint
services Guards of Honour to welcome several heads of state including the
Prime Minister of China, the President of the Soviet Union and Chancellor
of West Germany. It was interesting to wear the ranks of a major each time
I was given the command of the Guard and when I would return back to the
regiment I had to revert to my real rank of captain. I also had the
privilege of being the Adjutant of the battalion during the regimental
colour presentation ceremony. For a brief period of one month I performed
the duties as an ADC to the President of Pakistan while the incumbent was
away on leave. Soon after that I was called by the military secretary to
the President Brigadier Rafi who told me that the President would like to
see me as he had expressed the desire to consider me as his ADC.
I had an audience with the President and when he asked if I would
be happy to be his ADC, I replied, “Sir, it would indeed be a great
honour for me but I have less than two years of service and I still have
not done OWJTC at the Infantry School”.
Sensing reluctance and hesitation on my part, he was gracious
enough to stand up, patted me on the shoulders and very affectionately
said, “well done my son. I am proud of you and I wish you the best of
luck.” And to tell you the truth, I was lucky throughout my career.
Please give us a resume of your service profile?
After commissioning from the Royal Military Academy, I joined 8 Punjab Regiment and after doing 2 months of regimental duties moved to Sialkot sector. I saw active combat in Pasrur-Chawinda area as a platoon commander and an accompany officer. After the war, I performed the duties of Company Commander and Adjutant. I also attended the basic infantry course, OWJTC at Quetta and all arms engineer course OAF at Risalpur. Later, I did the fixed wing pilots course at the Army Aviation School Dhamial. After receiving flying brevet, I was posted to 1 Army Aviation Squadron, Mangla. I was selected for flying instructors course (FIS) at PAF Academy Risalpur. On successful completion of this course, I was posted as a Qualified Flying Instructor (QFI) at Dhamial. I really enjoyed myself here as I loved flying and teaching officers how to fly. This was really challenging and also great fun. I had the proud privilege to Command 4 Independent Army Aviation Flight that was placed under command 23 Division in Chamb Sector during 1971 War. After the war, I returned to the school. I was selected as a Liaison Officer to proceed with Pakistan Navy on a goodwill and flag showing cruise on board a naval destroyer to Iran, Kuwait, UAE and Oman for nearly 5 weeks. Later, next year I was sent back to the PAF Academy but this time as a flying instructor at the FIS. I was posted to the Pakistan Military Academy in 1973 but was disappointed when Aviation did not spare me as they were short of flying instructors. I was very annoyed and upset. It was yet another turning point in my career when I was called for an interview for selection of a flight safety course in California, USA. When I entered the room the Chief of General Staff asked as to what was an officer like me doing in Aviation? I was very surprised and shocked by his remark. I suggested that the Deputy Military Secretary, Brigadier Safdar Butt, who was sitting as a member might be in a better position to answer the question. When asked where I would like to go, I replied that I would love to go back to 8 Punjab but you cannot send me there as the regiment was still in captivity in India. The Board was very offended by my reply and I was not selected to go abroad. I was advised that the only way out for me was to immediately apply for entrance examination for the Staff Course at Quetta. I attended the staff course in 1974 and on its completion was posted to 52 Punjab Regiment. I was very upset for not going back to my own battalion. I was to learn later that yet another Deputy Military Secretary was to cause such profound changes in my career. It was Brigadier Muhammad Shafiq (later a Lieutenant General and Governor), as he was one of the founding fathers of 52 Punjab and had personally picked me for his unit. I wholeheartedly served 52 Punjab in Gilgit and after serving for over a year was posted as Brigade Major to 62 Brigade Skardu. This was to be the best period of my career where I learnt a great deal professionally. And here I thoroughly enjoyed myself, riding, rafting, water skiing, climbing, trekking, reading, playing bridge, you name it and I did that. On top of all that. I had a great commander, Brigadier Shafiq Ahmed SJ (he retired in the rank of Major General, is living in Lahore and we are good friends).
I was selected on the Command and General Staff
Course at Fort Leavenworth USA in the middle of 1977 and later also did a
Preventive Maintenance course at the Armour School, Fort Knox. On my
return I was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel to command 52
Punjab Regiment at Kharian. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan I moved
the Battalion to Nowshera and later to Nawa Pass. It was here, under
command Major General Mohammad Safdar General Officer Commanding 7
Division (presently Governor Punjab) that the battalion
won the coveted ‘Musa
Efficiency Trophy’ and declared
the best unit of the Golden Arrow Division. 52 Punjab was now to assume a
new name 17 Sind and I was to be its first commanding officer. I was
posted to the Military Secretary Branch as an AMS-D. After about a year
and half I was selected as GSO-1 Ops & Trg in SPAFO Headquarters at
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia under Major General Shamsur Rehman Kallu. For some
reasons he did not assume this appointment and I was to raise and maintain
this organization under the able guidance of Brigadier Mehboob Alam (now a
retired major general and one of my best friends). In 1984 I
returned to Pakistan, was promoted to the rank of brigadier and given the
command of 3 AK Brigade at Kotli. I hardly completed a year when I was
sent to the National Defence College to do the War Course. After this
course I was to command 27 Brigade in the legendary Khyber Pass.
Unfortunately, I suffered a heart attack while playing tennis at Landi
Kotal. I must say the army was very considerate to post me as a member of
the directing staff at the National Defence College. I stayed on the faculty of the college in the War Wing for 2
years. I was selected yet on another important and highly coveted
assignment as Defence Attache, London. This appointment was to change my
life forever. When my contemporaries were promoted in1991/1992 and the
rules did not allow my promotion to a rank of a major general as I had
been placed in lower medical category, I decided to say farewell to the
career I had loved so much. The army gave me so much and I gave my best to
What made you join the Army Aviation?
Alongside my dream of becoming a journalist or a lawyer I had yet another passion: to become a combat pilot. I was denied the permission to join the air force when I was 16 years old, so for me under the circumstances, the next best choice was to join the Army Aviation.
Your dream did come true since you did fly as a combat pilot during the 1971 war. In fact you earned an S J for your outstanding courage and accomplishments during operations in support of 23 Division in the Chamb sector. Please describe the circumstances and incident in your own words for which you were given this gallantry award?
I was serving as a flight instructor at the Army Aviation School when the things were getting heated up in the East Pakistan. 4 Independent Flight comprising three O-1 fixed wing observation/surveillance aircraft and one helicopter was raised to support the operation of 23 Division in Chamb sector. I was designated as the flight commander. I moved the flight to occupy an advance landing ground (ALG) near Kotla where the HQ of 23 Division was located. My first meeting with the division commander Major General Eftikhar Janjua was quite an event. On entering his dug in command post, I saluted, he did not ask me to stand at ease or to take a seat and said, “you aviators can do nothing, and the performance of Aviation in the Rann of Kutch was pathetic”. I was not expecting this and for a moment was speechless but managed a reply that was spontaneous and reactive. I said, “Sir, it is a matter of perception. I think I and my Aviation Flight can do anything in support of the operations but if you have such a poor opinion about Aviation then do I have your permission to take this flight back because perhaps some other formation may like to employ us.” He took a good look at me and said, “Babar (then Brigadier Naseerullah Khan Babur, SJ an aviator who was commander artillery 23 Div) also thinks like that and maybe he is right so, I shall give you a chance to prove your worth. Young man I’ll take you on your word and let us see what you do.” The tension within me eased and I felt fully charged to carry out operational missions.
To answer your question specifically, I think it was not one but several actions that attributed to my being recognized and so honoured. On 2 December 1971, I decided to move the flight ALG in close proximity of divisional Tactical HQ in Padhar. The war in the western front commenced at 1530 hours on 3 December. During my first surveillance mission of the combat zone I came to a conclusion that it was not possible to carry any worthwhile observation into the enemy held terrain. Observation was seriously hampered by haze and smokes generated by very heavy artillery fire on both sides. The visibility was restricted to 1000 m. The rule/doctrine for the employment prescribes that aviation pilots are not to cross the forward defensive lines (FDLs). If I were to follow the book it would be an utter waste of time and effort. On my very first mission I ventured in the enemy area and with the passage of time gained confidence and became bolder and started sneaking deep inside Indian held area upto Jaurian, in fact across Fatwal Ridge in the proximity of Akhnur. This produced excellent results and I gathered some very valuable information about the enemy. I located an Indian heavy artillery regiment across Tawi and suggested to the Division to call for an air strike. Initially they were skeptical of my adventure and doubted the veracity of the information and my report of flying so deep inside enemy territory. When I volunteered to act as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) to lead, guide and direct PAF aircraft inside the enemy territory, the credibility was restored. As an airborne authorized observer I effectively engaged two mike targets well inside enemy area. Next day was also very eventful when I engaged enemy positions and tanks concentration by an artillery shoot — my first Uniform Target. I flew an FAC mission in support of PAF with startling results. I ended the day with 16 bullet holes on my aircraft.
On 5 December, the leader of 6x PAF aircraft established communication with me to take on the Indian artillery regiment located by me a day earlier. The first run did not yield results as they failed to recognize the target. I decided to improvise and told the leader that he should keep me in sight and I shall approach the target and when I say “Target-Target” the guns would be up 12 o’clock 500 m straight ahead. We managed to coordinate our respective positions but in the process we attracted a lot of flak, to the extent that some enemy tanks seeing me so close to ground even fired at me with main gun. When I called out “Target-Target” the leader said negative target not identified I decided to continue getting closer to the enemy gun position. When my aircraft was as close as 100 m, he recognized the target and asked me to get out of their flight path. So I did and witnessed a most spectacular aerial attack. All the guns were virtually destroyed and some blown out of their pits. This was all over in minutes and the leader asked me if I had any other target for them. I had identified an ammunition dump in area north east of Palanwala the day before on my return trip from Jaurian. This was indicated and recognized with ease and destroyed. At this time I observed 4x Indian MIG 21 aircraft on the horizon. PAF jets left the area as they had successfully accomplished their mission and were at the edge of their fuel endurance limits. The Indian fighter aircraft pounced at me. No one had taught me evasive actions under such a situation. I was like a mouse being hunted by wild and hungry cats. I luckily escaped unscathed but when I was entering back in own territory, our own troops fired at me indiscriminately. I landed back at my ALG with 6 holes on the aircraft including the fuel tank and fuselage.
Having replaced my aircraft I was airborne again. I
noticed that the enemy had abandoned their positions in general area south
of line Moel-Chamb and
practically there was no enemy to be seen here. I now carried out an
indepth study to reconfirm the findings of my surveillance. Equipped with
this very vital information I went to the Tactical HQ. As the enemy had
identified the direction of our main effort, he had pulled out the troops
from the southern sub-sector to reinforce the defence. Our division was
way behind in the implementation of its operational plan and was not
getting the breakthrough. The situation at the HQ was very grim and tense.
After a lot of assurances and persuasion, I managed to convince the
Divisional Commander to accept my report as authentic. Quickly the brave,
determined and sharp General Eftikhar, devised a new manoeuvre plan,
relying on information provided by me. Next day, 2 Armoured Brigade
commenced its advance towards Chamb from the right in southerly
envelopment movement. I was gratified to observe from the air the brigade
conducting a set piece attack (like a demonstration in peace time with
preliminary artillery fire and smoke on its flanks) and they did not
encounter any opposition. I noticed the brigade had stretched itself and
was going a bit too south in their advance towards Chamb. I was in the air
observing area ahead and to the flanks of their manoeuvre. Suddenly, I
noticed some movement and a closer look revealed a well dug in position by
a company of anti-tank missiles (later confirmed as SS-11 Guard Company).
I was alarmed and alerted. I tried to warn the Armoured Brigade Commander
of the impending danger on my wireless. When I failed to establish
communication, I panicked because the lead tanks were getting closer and
closer to the missile company. In desperation I decided to land my
aircraft in front of the lead tank. The
squadron commander Major Shamshad came out and I gave him the information
and asked him to change the intended path of monoeuvre. The brigade
complied without fuss. Shamshad told me that I had landed my aircraft in a
minefield. He helped me turning around my L-19 to enable me to take off on
my old tracks made by the landing. I have never thanked him formally and I
like to do so now. To protect the flanks of the moving armoured brigade I
took several artillery shoots that day neutralizing potential threat with
success and satisfaction.
Aviators call you the ‘Conqueror of Chamb’ as you were the first Pakistani to set foot in Chamb. How did that happen?
The manoeuvre plan had 2 Armoured Brigade carrying
out a right enveloping move while 111Brigade was to push frontally for the
division’s objective — Chamb. The minefield had slowed down the move
of armoured brigade and by last light I saw them on the banks of river
Tawi in area Chak Pandit. On my return to the Division HQ, I was
congratulated for the fall of Chamb to 2 Armoured Brigade. I told them
that they must have had wrong information because at last light they were
barely at Chak Pandit. Early next morning I flew over the battlefield and
found 2 Armoured Brigade exactly where I had seen them last night in area.
Chamb looked deserted and the bridge over river Tawi had been blown up
possibly as reserve demolition of the Indian denial plan. The division
staff had difficulty in accepting this information because a brigadier of
the army was insisting that Chamb was with him and Radio Pakistan had also
given out the news to the nation that Chamb had fallen to our valiant
forces. I was not to give up that easily and finally, though very
reluctantly, Captain Tariq, GSO-3 was sent with me to verify the
information. While flying over the area of operation we found own troops
digging 2 miles southeast of Chamb. The small town of Chamb was deserted
and 2 Armoured Brigade was nowhere near it. Communications let me down
once again. I landed the aircraft in a dusty field and told the commanding
officer 10 Baluch to occupy Chamb as the enemy had vacated it. We took off
and the young Captain Tariq was really excited and asked me if I could
land somewhere in Chamb. I landed the aircraft in a grassy field in Chamb,
switched off the engines and started a long wait for own troops to arrive.
We entered the Indian brigade command post and when we came back to my
aircraft, 4x Indian SU-7s were on us throwing all sorts of munitions. It
was a miracle that my little L-19 standing proud in the middle of the
ground was intact. I took off to urge 10 Baluch and 2 Armoured Brigade
that had stopped in their tracks after the air attack to resume their
advance. I landed back at Chamb. It was in the late afternoon that 10
Baluch entered Chamb. When I was to take off, I noticed that the Jawans of
10 Baluch in an extraordinary display of their gratitude had placed many
flowers on my aircraft.
Generally speaking tell me how was the quality of life of an officer before 1971 war?
Quality of life was of a very high order and I really
pity the young officers of today who have been deprived of it. It was
absolutely wonderful and honestly I am not exaggerating. There was
respect, dignity and a great amount of pride in being an officer. The wars
had taken a heavy toll of the economy and it also affected the social
fabric of our nation. There
was a noticeable change as the time went by. Army was not to be an
exception though the deterioration was more gradual and less noticeable.
A great institution ‘regimental mess’ was the first victim of
cutback in the defence budget. In
my personal opinion, in real terms, it took away the home from infantry
officers. It was a haven where they relaxed, learnt etiquettes and
manners, entertained and ate, interacted with juniors and seniors and
learnt a great deal. It provided an ideal atmosphere to groom its members
to become officer and gentleman at the same time.
When this regimental institution was abolished army was to see
officers but not many gentlemen.
What do you have to say about 1965 war?
If you were to ask me this question when I was a
young officer, my reply would have been quite different because I fought
in that war, saw tactical action and in my perception we did well and beat
back the aggressor and won the war. As one matures, learns and has the
ability to analyze, one begins to differentiate between myth and reality, of course, with the advantage of the
hindsight. 1965 War
manifested the shortsightedness and immaturity of our political and
military leadership. Pakistan started with ‘Operation Gibraltar’ in
Kashmir. We have been made to think it was very bold and imaginative in
conception and prepared by a great General. In my opinion it was bold,
unimaginative, unpracticable plan. It was not in harmony with prevailing
environment in Indian Held Kashmir. It was based on dangerous assumptions
and its time frame was unrealistic and quixotic. The plan reflected
strategic naivety and immaturity. To top it all the preparation and
subsequently the execution displayed lack of professionalism. Since it
lacked politico-strategic framework and vision it placed Pakistan in a
very precarious position. On its failure, ‘Operation Grandslam’ was
launched, which did make military sense since it enjoyed the superiority
of strategic orientation. The capture of objective (Akhnur Bridges) would
sever the Indian lines of communication in Kashmir and force them to
retract. This operation was to suffer a major setback when the advance was
halted because of an explainable change of command in the middle of the
battle. Indians were so threatened by this move that they attacked with
full might across the international border threatening Lahore and Sialkot.
Our leaders panicked, ‘Operation Grandslam’ was brought to a grinding
halt. Later, a brilliantly conceived Riposte from Khem Karan failed
because a correct mix of units was not mustered to achieve a superior
relative strength situation at the right time at the right place. We won a
lot of battles but lost the war as we failed to attain the political aim
of defreezing and the ultimate liberation of the Kashmir. Ayub Khan thus
ruined the national economy by one wrong decision that had taken him
several years to build.
You served under Gen Eftikhar in Chamb during the 1971 war and you also saw General Babar in action. What are your impressions about them?
I saw General Eftikhar for the first time a few days before the war. He was a natural battle leader, who commanded from the front with great courage and wisdom. He was to be seen in the frontline at the most crucial stages of battle to exhort, push and drive many reluctant and some weak battalion and brigade commanders.
I had heard of General Babar when I joined the
Aviation. I was told that as an aviator, he had single-handedly captured
an Indian company in1965 war. I have never been a hero worshipper and it
was very difficult for me to believe that any individual could perform
such an extraordinary feat. I got convinced only when I saw him in action
in 1971 as commander artillery and later as commander 111 Brigade. He is
undoubtedly one of the bravest soldiers of Pakistan and his name shall go
down in our history.
Do you subscribe to the view that if General Eftikhar Janjua had survived the fatal helicopter crash, many officers would not have reached general officers rank?
Absolutely, without an iota of doubt. On occasions we
had witnessed scenes and listened to generals’ remarks that support the
assertion that there were many instances of failure in command. Not just
that, perhaps, some of those who joined the list of general officers
later, may have been retired prematurely.
You had a brilliant career but unfortunately because of medical reasons you decided to leave it. When you were later appointed as an Ambassador of Pakistan, you embarked on a new and a different career. Did you adjust yourself easily and how did you fare in your accomplishments as a diplomat?
Diplomatic career was not altogether a new field for
me since I did have considerable experience both direct and indirect.
I have already told you that I had two years experience abroad at
Sandhurst as a young man, later I was in USA for a year interacting with
people from 40 different countries, then two years in Saudi Arabia dealing
with Saudi officials that placed heavy demands on diplomatic skills and
finally three years at the Pakistan Embassy in London as Defence Attache.
I had developed a good understanding of foreign office and the task ahead
of me. I had the privilege of being a pioneer and Pakistan’s first
ambassador to Azerbaijan. It was interesting, challenging and demanding. I
can state with confidence that in a short span of time we managed to
establish the foundation of strong and enduring relationship between
Pakistan and Azerbaijan. Those were very difficult times as nearly twenty
percent of their country was under Armenian occupation and there was large
influx of refugees. I managed to initiate and organize humanitarian
assistance, technical support and advise to the hierarchy in the host
country. This combined with interaction at both government and public
level, and our access to the media produced very valuable results. Through
regular interviews on the electronic media in Azerbaijan and
writing in the newspaper and other diplomatic efforts, contributed to
developing excellent relations at the all levels. I take great pleasure in
sharing with you that Azerbaijan committed herself to support the cause of
Kashmir in 1993-1994 and that in diplomatic and political context was no
mean achievement. I still recall that when the Ambassador’s car with
Pakistan flag pass through the streets people would blow kisses and wave
their hands showing their love for Pakistan.
Why did you resign from your Ambassadorial post?
I had the desire of doing a great deal more than what I have stated but unfortunately many institutional hurdles were put in my way. It was becoming increasingly difficult to accomplish what I thought was required to be done and to keep the tempo going, I needed response from my own government, which was not forthcoming. I made repeated requests to the Foreign Office and even the Prime Minister but to no avail. Under such circumstances it was not possible for me to continue and I decided to resign on professional grounds.