Late Lt Gen SM Abbasi

Columnist Col (Retd) EAS BOKHARI remembers his late coursemate.

It was indeed sad to learn about the sad demise of Gen. Abbasi who was my coursemate in the Young Officers Course in the Royal Pakistan Artillery School, Nowshera in 1949. Of course we were together in PMA and had passed out on the same date, but he was in a different platoon and had migrated from IMA Dehra Dun to PMA Kakul. I happen to be in the ‘Graduate’ course which was hurriedly collected — and perhaps scantily trained and quickly commissioned to meet the Kashmir emergency. 

We had but little interaction in PMA as he held the august appointment of a Senior Under Officer and later went on to win the coveted Sword of Honour, which he richly deserved. I in fact had thought him to be an officer when I first saw him in the PMA. He was extremely impressive, elegant and erudite. Equally articulate and forthright he appeared as if he was a member of the faculty.

Once we were in the Royal Pakistan Artillery School — it was possible for me to see Gen. Abbasi a little more closely as we attended the same basic course. I was, however, unfortunate not to complete the course due to an injury during an anti-tank shoot which impaired my acoustics very considerably and I had to be admitted in CMH Rawalpindi. I, however, soon rebounded back into gunners clan. 

I have a dusty group photograph with me in which Gen. Abbasi is standing just right of me and on his right is Brigadier FB Ali — another gunner of very considerable repute and acumen. Besides some others who rose high, there is (then) Captain Sawar Khan who was then an IG (Instructor Gunnery) along with Major AFHB Fowle RA who was the course in charge.

My impression then was that whereas Ali was an intellectual and a thinker, Abbasi was more matter of the fact, time efficient and a practical gunner. And for all his ancestral affluence he was extremely well organised, hard working, and ascetic. 

I came to know later that he had himself chalked out a daily programme for him — and followed that strictly. I have seen very few officers who had that sense of time management. 

There was no doubt in anybody’s mind that Abbasi was destined to be a great gunner and especially brilliant on the technical side and a great administrator. 

We had some interaction sometimes in 1959 i.e. after some decade or so when he was a Battery Commander in I(SP) Fd Regiment (FF) and I was Brigade Major Artillery in HQ Artillery I Armoured Div. I remember that whenever there was need he was inducted in the HQ Artillery Study Periods, and he assisted me on a number of occasions in setting up training exercises. His technical acumen was superb.

 I do not have a complete record of his services to the School of Artillery where he served as an IG and also conducted research.  He is credited with the work which was needed to unify the artillery technology as we had by now inducted a polyglot set of guns such as the US, British and some other types of artillery equipments, and we were still working on the basic British system i.e. EPS system. Some of the basic tools found in the Battery Command Posts were actually modified by him and may be seen in the IG’s room in the School of Artillery even now. The GFT (Graphical Firing Table) designed by him can be singled out as a perfect example of his erudition and expertise.

 I do not say that he was a late bloomer, but he went to staff college a little later, but he had devoted most of his boundless energies to gunnery problems and went on to do the Larkhill course in UK which was more artillery oriented than staff oriented. I happened to do my Gunnery Staff Course under him and I found him absolutely a first class instructor. At times he could be a little too much pragmatic, perhaps pedantic. 

I remember once there was a problem in solution of a triangle to be solved in a monthly test. I went on to do the sum in my own way using a formula which Abbasi had not taught us and surely I was discredited for my effort. I do not know whether I had produced the right answer, but he told me that such problems are more amenable (especially to logrithms) if a ‘Tangent’ formula had been used. (Of course an approximate answer could even be deduced graphically). He did not encourage such short cuts and encouraged rigorous methods for all artillery problems to be tackled.

I do not mean to say that he was dogmatic because if he had been so, he would not have been able to produce the fire control instruments which were designed by him and which covered all the equipments which had crept in the artillery after 1954.

I had never kept a track of his bright career and gubernatorial assignment in Sindh but I was sure that he was destined to the apex jobs in the Pakistan Army. His devotion to the Regiment of Artillery was phenomenal, and he will always be remembered as one of the most brilliant officers of the Regiment of Artillery.

May God Bless his soul. Amen.