DJ’s interviewer: A H AMIN
Please tell us something about your early life?
In the terms of today my early life would be considered exciting and interesting. My father belonged to the Survey of India whose job was to make maps of the un-mapped regions of India, in the thirties, parts of the Central Province and Orissa, now in India were being mapped. Mapping at that time was done by starting from a base line of two points which had been accurately fixed and taking intersecting bearings of terrain features which had to be shown on a map, measuring distances from one of the base line points with a 22 yard steel wire chain called a ‘jareeb’, contours were hand drawn by measuring height differences with an instrument called a theodolite, everything was hand drawn in pencil by the surveyor. My father’s job was to supervise a number of ‘surveyors’, walking from one ‘surveyor’ to another. The mapping work on the ground was done in the winter months, in the summer it was considered too hot to work in the field, the surveying parties retired to hill stations, Murree, Mussorie, Shillong, etc where the drawings made on the ground in pencil were re-drawn in coloured inks. My mother accompanied my father when he went to the field, from the age of about four years I remember living in tent camps of what was known as EP/IP tents and ‘choldaris’ smaller tents. I remember the orderly who was assigned the duty of looking after me showing pug marks left by visiting animals but the best sight used to be when a troop of ‘langurs’ passed over the camp. I used to accompany my father on his inspection trips perched on top of baggage loaded on a camel.
I started going to school when I was six years old that ended my field trips with my father. I started school at the Loreto Convent in Shillong when I was six years old. At the end of the summer my father decided that my mother would not accompany him to the field but live in Allahabad and hired a house there, our native village was about 15 miles from Allahabad and I spent two years in Anne Besant School. After two years my father managed a transfer to the Calcutta office of Survey of India where his job did not require field work. We moved to Calcutta, I was enrolled in St. Xavier’s in a class lower than the 1st Standard and there my formal schooling began. I walked two miles on the busy Calcutta roads carrying a tin box containing my books. In the school the Roman Catholic priests made us work very hard and punished very severely, I got a beating two or three times, once for not doing my homework, the homework used to be a lot of work in the subjects that were to be taught the next day.
We stayed in Calcutta for three years, my father had joined the Indian Army as a reserve officer in 1936 and he was called for active service in August 1941 in the Survey Department of the Corps of Engineers. He had a choice of leaving his family in any place in India and he chose Bangalore, we packed up our belongings and made a very long train journey to Madras and from there to Bangalore. My father carried a letter informing the principals of schools that he was to proceed on army service and we were to be accommodated in the school. I was accommodated in the 3rd standard in Bishop Cotton Boys’ School. Bishop Cottons was a very fine school, in academics, sports, games, outdoor activities, it had a swimming pool, competition was organised on a house basis.
We lived on the edge of the vast Bangalore cantonment, soon we made friends with neighbourhood boys and on bicycles roamed a radius of eighty miles on weekends and during holidays. Our fathers were away, either fighting the war or were prisoners of war, we had complete freedom for roaming the countryside and doing what ever took our fancy. In August 1945 the Second World War ended with the surrender of Japan, my father was with the 14th Army Headquarters at Rangoon and when the war ended he was posted to Singapore. I was to appear in the Senior Cambridge examination in December 1945, on the way to Singapore he stopped in Bangalore to decide what I was to do after passing my examination, he wanted me to become an engineer and go the Aligarh Muslim University where he had studied, I did not want to go to college but agreed to go to a local college. After the Senior Cambridge results were announced I sent for the application forms for the Indian Military Academy where regular courses were to start but on receiving them found that the minimum age required was 18, I had to wait for over two years before I could become eligible.
In December 1946 my father was reverted to his job in the Survey of India and posted to Murree. in March 1947 we said goodbye to all our friends and left Bangalore by train for Rawalpindi. We started at about mid-day and reached Bombay the next day, we spent the whole day at the Victoria Terminus, there were Hindu-Muslim riots going on in the city and from railway station I could see the riot police lathi charging. In the evening we boarded the famous ‘Frontier Mail’ which ran from Bombay to Peshawar, after travelling two nights and one day we arrived at Delhi early in the morning, the station was deserted, a rumour spread that the Sikhs were attacking trains and Frontier Mail would go no further but after some delay it left Delhi with a disconnected system for emergency stopping of the train. From the train windows we could see parties of Sikhs marching in single file with their ‘kirpans’ and other weapons. Jullunder, Amritsar and Lahore were burning, we arrived at Lahore at night, it was pitch dark and fires could be seen burning. The next morning we reached Rawalpindi, there was curfew in the city but my father was at the station to receive us, he told us that there was rioting in Rawalpindi and in Murree houses were being burnt, we moved into the Mall Hotel in Rawalpindi for about a week, then went to Murree.
Late March schools opened, my brothers Firoz and Shuaib and I was admitted in Lawrence College, Ghora Gali, my sister in St. Deny’s, Shamim and Shamoon in the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Murree. In 1948 I passed my FSc exam but did not have enough marks to apply for admission in the engineering colleges, I still wanted to join the army but my father insisted on either engineering or medical profession. Very reluctantly I joined Forman Christian College in Lahore, from there towards the end of 1948, I applied for the 3rd PMA Course and was selected for the 1st Pre-Cadet Course, the 4th PMA Course.
In March 1949 my father and our family were in Hyderabad where my father was conducting the initial survey for the building of the barrage between Kotri and Hyderabad. I left Forman Christian College and went to Hyderabad, my father was very annoyed when I told him that I had joined the army and was on my way to Quetta, he told me to go back to college but I refused, my father did not speak to me for the three days that I stayed at home before leaving for Quetta.
After I joined the army, four of my brothers Firoz, Shamim, Aijaz and Javed joined the army, three brothers Shuaib, Aftab and Mushtaq joined the air force and Shamoon joined the navy, my father was not able to persuade anyone of us to become an engineer or a doctor.
In the 1965 war I was away in the United States,
Firoz, Shuaib, Shamim, Shamoon, Aftab and Mushtaq fought in the war,
Shuaib and Shamim were decorated with the Sitara Jurrat, Aftab was also
awarded the Sitara Jurrat for shooting down an Indian aircraft but he
refused the award saying that was what he had joined the air force for and
had only done his duty, later he was awarded the Tamgha Basalat. Mushtaq
crashed in 1967 and was killed, by 1971 the two youngest, Aijaz and Javed
had also joined the army, in the 1971 war there were eight of us in the
army, navy and air force, all saw action in combat units, Aijaz, serving
with 13 Lancers, was killed in the Bara Pind tank battle. Now all of us
have retired except Javed who is the youngest and is a major general.
Who exercised a formative influence on your personality in your early years?
This is difficult to answer, my father was away for
about five years, my mother controlled us during this period, even when my
father returned after the war I was in boarding in college.
You were born and received your schooling in a region which is today a part of India and is culturally different from the areas comprising Pakistan. After 1947 did you feel any cultural change or what today’s psychologists refer as cultural shock?
We, as family, were used to moving from one place to
another to areas which were culturally different because of father’s
job, this and the fact that we were safely in Murree during the partition
troubles, we did not find anything different or culturally shocking.
How was the Pakistan of early 1940s?
The British disappeared almost overnight, the Sikhs
and Hindus vanished, everyone claimed to be a refugee who required
resettling and compensation for his losses. I accompanied my father on
tours to Campbellpur-Mianwali area and Hyderabad-Badin area, Hyderabad was
crowded with refugees otherwise everything was functioning as before
Anything that you would like to state about your school and college life?
There was nothing special or spectacular.
Why did you choose the army as a profession?
First of all it offered an easy way out instead of spending years studying, secondly I grew up in an era when everyone was in uniform and thirdly I liked the kind of life it promised.
How was life at PMA?
It differed very little from boarding school.
Any instructor who made a deep impression on your personality at PMA?
The two instructors that impressed me were Captain Syed Ali El-Edroos (later brigadier) and Captain Ghulam Jilani Khan (later Lieutenant Generall and Governor of Punjab), both from the Frontier Force Regiment.
Captain Edroos was our platoon commander in the second and third terms, he had five years of service and was all ‘spit and polish’. He was a good instructor, he created a unity in the platoon; he became the adjutant and was replaced by Captain Jilani in our final term.
Captain Jilani had fought in Burma, his idea of
discipline was different from that of the other platoon commanders, he
even allowed us to smoke when he was teaching us, he established excellent
rapport with our number 15 Platoon which was notorious for getting up to
mischief and trouble but worked hard. Jilani
helped 15 Platoon members throughout his army career and as the
governor of Punjab.
Any contemporaries at the PMA about whom you would like to say anything?
My good and close friends from the Academy were Lieutenant General Khusdil Khan Afridi, Brigadier Mansur-ul-Haq Malik and Lieutenant Colonel Syed Sultan-ul-Islam from our No 15 Platoon, Major Zia-uddin Ahmad Abbasi, SJ and Brigadier Akram Hussain Syed who was in Lawrence College in my class.
Lieutenant General Afridi won the Sword of Honour and
became the governor of Balochistan. Brigadier Mansur-ul-Haq could think up
more mischief than the rest of our platoon put together, a person of great
moral and physical courage who always stated what he considered right,
regardless of the consequences; Lieutenant Colonel S. S. Islam was a
strange personality, a very good friend but he made very few friends, a
bitter enemy who continued a vendetta till he destroyed the personality of
his opponent, he also had the habit of mimicking
people whenever he described what they had said. Major Z. U. Abbasi
was from Tariq Company, he had come to the Military Academy after doing
the full 1st OTS course at Kohat; he and I became friends during our Young
Officers’ Course at the Armoured Corps School, he had a rare
personality, efficient in his work, a good writer and speaker in English
and Urdu, exceptional sense of humour and a practical joker who did not
spare his seniors, he was killed in the 1965 war and was awarded the SJ.
Brigadier Akram Syed was from Qasim Company, he and I had lived in
the same dormitory, in Lawrence College; he was a very handsome,
flamboyant person, who did not seem to take soldiering seriously
but was a good commander who attended to minor details; a very good friend
who was always ready to help out.
With the benefit of hindsight how would you rate PMA of your days in terms of:
(1) Realism in Training.
(2) Development of initiative and leadership.
As I have stated in my book “The Way It Was” the PMA authorities, planners, trainers and educators had no idea of the requirements and methods of creating the foundations required for regular professional officers for the army. There was no realism in the training and no development of initiative and leadership, both initiative and leadership require the creation of situations where these have to be displayed, decision making, as a subject of training was not known. The military subjects, training in military organisation, administration, military law, military history, etc were badly organised and since there were no examinations in these subjects they were not taken seriously by the cadets. The academic subjects were also purposelessly organised and even simple English writing was not taught.
Was the Armoured Corps your first choice and if so what were your reasons for joining the Armoured Corps?
The Armoured Corps was my first choice because it was
the ‘arm of decision’.
How was 13 Lancers of the 1950s?
In the early 1950s there were six armoured corps
regiments, after 1955 there were two more, each considered itself the best
in the Corps. 13 Lancers, the senior most armoured corps regiment, was
non-Indianised regiment and when it came to Pakistan
had only three Pakistani officers, the first two commanding
officers were British, the other officers were from regiments which became
the Indian Armoured Corps, Lieutenant
Colonel I. U. Babar, originally from 5 Horse and a para-trooper of
3rd Cavalry was the first Pakistani commanding officer, he had
fought in Burma and set a very high standard which was maintained. There
was good esprit de corps amongst the officers of the regiment. 13 Lancers
was a ‘qanooni’ regiment, well disciplined and was run according to
rules and regulations. The regiment maintained it’s high standard and
performed well in the 1965 and 1971 wars.
You have written in your book about the caste system and the abolishment of squadrons based on caste while the castes were retained in regiments general composition. How in your view did this system increase or decrease the operational efficiency of an armoured unit?
Because of the
caste system and recruitment from specified areas the Junior Commissioned
Officers (JCOs) had a very strong hold in the armoured and infantry units.
The mixing of the castes, Punjabis from various areas, Pathans from
various areas, Rangars, Kaimkhanis broke the hold of JCOs. The retaining
of the proportions and promotion according to the proportion in each unit
prevented discontentment. It was a very clever and a very good decision.
How was the training in the army of the 1950s?
The Army of the 1950s, consisted of the veterans of the Second World War as far as the men were concerned, they were illiterates or near illiterates, the British had designed a good system of training and the men knew their jobs well, some had war experience and they required very little training in their trades and duties. Recruits were trained by the methods set by the British and was good.
The officer cadre was very weak. There was shortage of officers, officers had received very fast promotion, unit commanding officers had about 10 years service, brigade commanders had about 12 years service, division commanders about 15.
In the Armoured Corps there were three categories of officers, one category had fought in Burma and seen troop level action in support of infantry, a second lot had been commissioned in the Armoured Corps but had seen no action or had been employed in jobs like RTOs (Rail Transport Officer, officers at key railway stations who arranged rail accommodation for officers and troops), the third category were transferees from the Supply and Pioneer Corps. The Artillery was in a similar state.
The Armoured Corps also did not have senior officers who could develop an armour employment doctrine.
The Armoured Corps training was advance to contact and tank infantry co-operation in the attack, defence was taken for granted; the training developed into manoeuvre training with emphasis of on outflanking, specially because T-16 infantry Bren gun carriers were issued to be used instead of tanks for training.
Tactics is said to be ‘fire and movement’ ours was only movement. Both armour and infantry did not differentiate between recruit firing and trained unit firing. The tactical employment of fire by troop and squadron was not there and there was no field firing area and no proper training area where use of cover etc could be taught, villages and crops had to be avoided.
In the Military Training Directorate there was a
British general and brigadiers who advised on training and planned and
conducted formation level training, a number of formation level exercises
were held, Hazard in 1952, Vulcan in 1953, November Handicap in 1954,
Agility in 1956 to train formation commanders, staff officers and unit
What was your perceptions about Pakistan’s politics in the period 1947-58?
We thought politics was a joke, nobody bothered, governments came and went.
Any general officer who particularly impressed you in terms of being a fine professional in the period 1950-58?
My regiment 13 Lancers belonged to 3rd Armoured
Brigade, we had no dealings with general officers and never saw any.
What were your impressions about General Ayub Khan as you saw him as a subaltern and young officer?
He made a very good impression, everyone thought that
he was training and moulding the army in the right way.
Please tell us something about your service profile from passing out of PMA till 1958.
I served in
13 Lancers upto March 1956 as a troop leader and squadron second in
command then I was posted to the Armoured Corps Centre as incharge of
‘wireless’ training of recruits, in 1957 I was posted to the Armoured
Corps School as Research and Development Officer, in April 1958 I went to
the Special Service Group.
In the early years very few officers came to the army from the East Wing. How did you see them and was there any discrimination which these officers experienced?
I do not know the reason but my guess is that they
received their education in Bengali and were very poor in English, even in
the PMA they were very badly hampered by language problem, their physical
performance was also comparatively poor. There was no discrimination.
What were your impressions about General Musa as you saw him as a young officer?
The promotion of General Musa was disappointment to
most of us and was interpreted that efficiency was not important for
promotion only personal loyalty counted.
What were your impressions about the various famous exercises like November Handicap etc in terms of (1) Realism in Training (2) Lessons learnt?
There were a number of large exercises, Hazard in
1952, Vulcan in 1953, November Handicap in 1954, Agility in 1956 or 1957,
Tezgam in 1960 and Milestone
in 1961. (Some of the dates may be incorrect). They were designed to train
senior commanders in handling large formations
and to test organisational changes, they served their purpose.
How did you perceive the martial law of 1958 as you saw it in 1958?
It came as a surprise, we had been taught that the
armed forces had no business to interfere with the government. Later the
reforms and actions taken by the martial law authorities seemed to justify
the martial law.
With the benefit of hindsight how would you rate the martial law of 1958 in terms of its effect on the Pakistan Army as an organisation and on Pakistan’s political system?
The army very hesitatingly took over the running of the administration of the country and did a fairly good job, a lot of malpractices that had crept in were ended, a lot of problems like the settlement of the refugees, the disposal of evacuee property etc were dealt with and finished, economic progress was accelerated. Ayub’s political ambitions were tolerated till we failed in the 1965 war, after the war he lost his charisma and nobody cared whether he remained or went.
There was no political system, the Muslim League had
broken up and every politician seemed to have a political party they got
together to bring down Ayub in 1968-69.
Please tell us something about your service profile from 1958 till 1965?
I was in the Armoured Corps School in 1958 as
Research and Development Officer, in April 1958 I volunteered for the
Special Service Group, I raised, trained and commanded a commando company
in the SSG, in 1962 I reverted to the Armoured Corps and was posted to 23
Cavalry as a squadron commander. In 1963 I attended the staff course and
was posted to the Armoured Corps Directorate, in April 1965 I was posted
as DQ 6 Armoured Division, in August 1965 was detailed on the Armour
Career Officers’ Course in USA but had to come back in September when
the 1965 war started and joined 23 Cavalry in the first week of October.
You were one of the first batch of officers who joined the SSG. How would you compare the SSG of that time with the SSG of today?
The SSG of that time was trained to “stay behind
operations” in case the country was overrun. I have no idea of what the
SSG is trained for now.
Anything that you would like to say about the school of armour as you saw it as a young officer attending the basic course?
As young officers we were treated as officers and were expected to behave as officers. We were always up to some mischief and every day in the tea break some one was in the adjutant’s office and some times the commandant.
We were familiarised with the driving and maintenance of vehicles and tanks, taught the operation of wireless sets and wireless communication and the mechanisms of the tank weapons, loading and firing of guns. The training did not relate to the technical aspect with the battle employment of tanks like application of fire in a tank battle. With our course, a two weeks tactics course was also introduced which taught us basic battle drills.
Here I will quote from my book “The Way It Was”:
“in retrospect, after learning what a junior officer should know the
YO’s course at that time was badly planned. The purpose was not to train
tank commanders and troop leaders but to give young officers a basic
technical training in driving, communications and gunnery training as a
tank gunner. ...The connection between
technical training and the tactical or battlefield application was
missing. ...The tests, as elsewhere in Pakistan, were tests of memory
rather application of the acquired knowledge.” The training of officers
was left to the regiments and in
most regiments, they were left to their own devices.
How realistic was the standard of training in the School of Armour once you did your basic course?
As far as officers were concerned the Armoured Corps School ran driving, wireless and gunnery instructor courses, every officer was expected to do at least one of them, it was not clear to what purpose as officers were never employed as instructors; besides this there was a “Crew Commander’s Course’ which I attended before it was abolished, the course was about the same as the basic gunnery course; besides these, there was the ‘Technical Officers Course’ of nine months which taught the repair and maintenance of vehicles and tanks and most officers trained in this course were employed in the supervision of vehicle and tank maintenance; on the tactics side the tactics course called ‘Tac-Armour’ was run at the staff college but later shifted to the Armoured Corps School and split into ‘junior-tac’ for captains and ‘senior tac’ for majors.
I did every course run at the School of Armour except the Technical Officer’s Course and the Junior Tac. In technical training there was no difference between officer’s training and JCOs and NCOs training and as stated above the connection between the technical training and its battle field application was missing.
The Armoured Corps School lacked a tank driving course where the handling of tanks in crossing of obstacles and loading of tanks on transporters, railway flats and taking up of fire positions could be taught.
Tank gunnery of the early forties, as taught at ‘Babina’ (pre-partition training centre) was taught, for instance a tank gun firing procedure called “semi-indirect fire”, with artillery method of registering of the target by bracketing which related to the Lee-Grant (which became obsolete in 1943) where the commander could see the target and the gunner could not because in the Lee-Grant tank the main 75 mm gun was fitted in a sponson on the side of the tank while the tank commander was up in a turret which housed a 37 mm gun; I had a number of arguments about this method of target engagement, till 1964, even the M47 and M48 tanks were modified to continue this method of firing. In 1964, while I was in Armour Directorate I questioned it again and it was finally discontinued. The application of tank gunnery, in the attack, defence and encounter, the importance of the vertical bracket, and the use of the range finder was never understood and applied.
In wireless communications also we stuck to the inherited British system of ‘regimental and later squadron net’. When we bought the M4A1 (Sherman II, 76 mm gun) tank these came fitted with the SCR 528 sets which enabled the tuning and locking of ten frequencies and permitted independent command nets for the troop leader, squadron commander and the regimental commander; these were removed and British No 19 sets were purchased and fitted. The No 19 set frequency locking device required frequent re-tuning.
On the regimental net of the armoured regiment nearly a hundred sets operated on one frequency with frequent jamming. With the American Aid the AN/GRC 3 and 4 became the main sets with the same frequencies as the SCR 528, and as described above they provided independent command nets to troop level but probably because we had JCO troop leaders whose favourite enquiry was “mayray leeay kia hukam hai”, troop net could not be introduced.
In training in voice procedure in the use of the ‘inter-com’ and the wireless set no methods of giving orders to the crew, orders by the troop leader to the troop and squadron and regimental commanders to their commands were taught.
In short it can be said that the standard of training
at the School of Armour was not battlefield related.
How would you compare the School of Armour with the Infantry School in terms of (1) Realism of Training (2) Transparency of Grading System (3) Quality of Instruction (4) Inter arm bias?
In realism of training both were equally poor; in
transparency of grading system the School of Armour was better; quality of
instruction in both was about equal; the School of Armour had no inter arm
bias because there were no inter-arm trainees.
How would you compare the standard of training in the army in the two periods 1952-58 and 1958-65?
The standard of training remained the same.
How would you assess the negative or positive impact of General Musa as C-in-C of the Pakistan Army from 1958-66?
There was no positive impact, the negative impact was felt in the 1965 war, with our superiority in equipment, specially tanks, we should have won the 1965 war very easily.
We had enough tanks to form two armoured divisions, one of M 47s and one of M 48s, and armoured brigade of M4A1s (Sherman IIs) and providing a Sherman III/V regiment to each infantry division and forming an anti-tank regiment with the M 36b2s.
The re-organisation of 1962-63 with the introduction of the Recce and Support battalions of infantry wasted infantry battalions and anti-tank fire power, the reduction of infantry divisions from nine to seven battalions reduced the capability of infantry divisions, specially with the vast frontages that they had to defend, (an infantry division front was supposed to be 10,000 yards 10 Division had nearly 50,000 yards.)
Since there was a limitation on the manpower and ammunition supply was also restricted by the terms of the US Aid methods should have been worked out to overcome these, manpower could have been easily managed.
The conduct of the 1965 war, under General Musa’s
leadership was deplorable.
Maj Gen Shaukat Riza and many others have alleged that there was lot of anti-artillery bias in the pre-1971 army and this included the 1971 war. How far in your opinion is this assertion correct?
There was no bias as far I know, the only allegations
against the artillery was that they ran out of ammunition in the 1965 war
and in the 1971 war it was that certain divisions fire was controlled by
divisional artillery commander and was not provided when it was required.
What were your impressions of the Command and Staff College as a student?
The college was well organised and well administered,
it taught staff work involved in the functioning of formations. The flaw
in the instruction was that application was always under ideal conditions,
but that was the flaw in all our training, there was no stress created by
the failure of plans and surprise actions by the enemy, the enemy’s legs
were always tied and our plans were always successful.
You saw the transition in the Pakistan Armoured Corps from British to US tanks. Please describe the process and also elucidate how far the allegations that Patton was too sophisticated a tank for the Pakistani tank crew, correct or incorrect?
The tanks in the Pakistan Army were always American, some armoured cars were British. The change was from Stuart light tanks to M 24 Chaffee tanks, Sherman II (M4A1), Sherman III and Sherman V to M 47 and M 48 tanks.
The allegation that the Patton was too sophisticated for the Pakistan Armoured Corps is incorrect, the fault lay in our officers who trained the crew. In the Armoured Corps at that time the best and most educated recruit was trained as a wireless operator, the next best was trained as a driver (this was the most desired trade because a job could be got as a driver outside the army), as far as the tank drivers and operators were concerned they quickly learnt their functions on the new tanks, in fact the operation of the AN/GRC 3 and 4 and the SCR 528 sets made wireless operation very simple.
The Sherman and Stuart gunnery was very simple so normally the least educated and the dopiest recruits were made gunners, the only sophistication the M 47 and M 48 had was the optical range finder which required understanding and a little intelligence in its operation to get accurate ranges for direct anti-tank and other direct shooting.
The range finder was an optical instrument whose working and operation was difficult to make our gunners understand and required about a thousand practice ranging, these were never mastered. What should have been done was to select the most intelligent recruits as gunners.
The M 47 and the M 48 tanks were not too
sophisticated for our tank crew but the Armoured Corps did not want to
change and shed what it had brought from ‘Babina’.
You attended a course in USA. What were your impressions of Fort Knox?
I went on a nine months “Career Officers Course” but a fortnight after the course started the 1965 war started and I was taken off the course to return to Pakistan.
Instruction was function oriented, for instance the ‘Driving and Maintenance’ was the supervision of maintenance, the documentation of vehicles, and the check of the battle worthiness of the equipment according to laid down standards, a company commander could declare his equipment unfit and the ‘Ordnance’ the equivalent of our EME had to put it right.
The course was organised to train company commanders
(squadron commanders) in every aspect of
administration, the maintenance
of equipment, tactics. The commands of the number of companies that would
be available for command at the end of the course was made known and that
commands would be allocated in order of merit, the others would be
posted to staff and instructional jobs.
You have written a detailed account of the 1965 war in your book “The Way It Was”. What sources did you use since you did not see combat in the 1965 war?
In my book I have described events in all the sectors
not a particular sector. I came back from USA and joined my regiment 23
Cavalry in October when troops were still in contact and
memories were fresh. I learnt of the major events of the 10
Division front since 23 Cavalry was the integral tank regiment of 10
Division, I carried out a reconnaissance of the 8 and 15 Division areas
where 1 Armoured Division and 6 Armoured Division were located there, I
learnt about the Khem Karan and Chawinda sector, from 13 Lancers and 11
Cavalry learnt about the
events in Chamb-Akhnoor area; three SSG officers and a Baluch Regiment
officer described ‘Gibralter’, I was in GHQ Infantry Directorate where
the officers who were para dropped in India were called by the Chief of
the General Staff and interviewed, they described how this operation was
conducted, the 4th Cavalry surrender was
described to me by a 4th Cavalry squadron commander who had
surrendered. I also got access to a Staff College study of all the sectors
giving the details of operations
and units involved. I had collected the information for writing about the
1965 and 1971 wars but did not write it as a separate book.
You have stated some commanding officers of some tank regiments collapsed in Khem Karan. Why did this happen?
In Khem Karan the armoured division commander, two
brigade commanders and four out of five armoured regiment commanders
collapsed. This happened because our commanders are neither trained nor
tested for working under
How far do you agree or disagree with Lieut General Gul Hassan Khan’s theory that the prime reason for the failure of 1st Armoured Division’s was Major General Nasir?
Major General Nasir
was responsible to the extent that he failed to get a grip on the
division. The 1st Armoured Division operation was planned to be conducted
with 7 Division, less brigade, providing the required infantry support,
GHQ, which includes General Musa, the CGS and DMO (Gul Hassan Khan) moved
7 Division for the Chamb operation ‘Grand Slam’ and ordered the
Armoured Division to conduct the operation without the required infantry;
the failure of the division commander, firstly,
was in not pointing
out the inadequacy of troops and, secondly, not ensuring
that subordinate commanders carried out the tasks given to them.
How would you sum up operation ‘Gibralter’?
I agree with Colonel S. G. Mehdi’s summing up of
the operation in a written note before the operation started which
stated that “it will be a fiasco greater than the ‘Bay of Pigs’
operation”, in this operation about 5,000 volunteers died and remain
What do you have to say about the system of awarding awards in the Pakistan Army from what you saw and heard in 1965 and 1971 wars?
I was told by the AA&QMG of 6 Armoured Division after the 1965 war that the Indians announced their awards first which caused a panic in GHQ and General Musa ordered formations to forward their recommendations immediately, anybody who was recommended was immediately given the award.
Some awards were won by fighting a telephone battle, including HJ by a brigade commander. After the ceasefire officers wrote their own recommendations and went about looking for someone to sign and forward the recommendation. In the 1971 war in East Pakistan it was the likes and dislikes of Lieutenant General Niazi and Major General Abdul Rahim Khan.
On the whole I would say a lot of awards were
deserved, some deserving cases were ignored because they did not have
backing, some who deserved the highest award got lesser awards, Major
Khadim Hussain, 24 Cavalry, manned a recoilless rifle whose crew had been
killed, knocked out two Indian tanks and was killed by the third Indian
tank, he qualified for the highest gallantry award but was awarded a SJ.
How would you compare the Indian Armoured Corps with the Pakistan Armoured Corps in terms of gunnery, tactical efficiency, and squadron/unit/divisional leadership in the 1965 war?
In gunnery both sides were about equal. The Indian
tactical doctrine was to capture ground which would force us to counter
attack giving them all the advantages
of firing from a stationary position, our doctrine was based on
counter-attacks with all its disadvantages. Squadron, unit and divisional
leadership on both sides was about the same and showed nothing
exceptional. At the troop level the Indians had officers with a three tank
troop and we had JCOs with a four tank troop this
gave them some advantage.
Please tell us something about your service profile from 1965 to 1971?
In 1965 I was serving in the Armour Directorate in GHQ, in April when the army moved to the border I was posted as DQ 6 Armoured Division and was involved in the logistic planning. In August I left for USA for a nine months Career Officers’ Course at Fort Knox. A fortnight after the course started the 1965 war started and I returned to Pakistan and joined my regiment, 23 Cavalry, 10 Division integral armoured regiment. In May 1966 I was posted to the SSG, at first as GSO II at GHQ and later as second in command of the 2nd Commando Battalion.
In August 1968, was posted as the commanding officer of 22 Cavalry in the 1st Armoured Division, after assuming the command of the regiment I went to Jordan as part of a team led by Lieutenant General Abdul Hamid Khan.
After spending three months in Jordan I returned to command 22 Cavalry which I did till May 1970. In May 1970 I was posted to command 3 Commando Battalion in Comilla in East Pakistan. I took part in the military action in East Pakistan and returned to West Pakistan, on an adverse report by Lieutenant General A. A. K. Niazi.
The adverse report was squashed in toto and I was
sent to raise 38 Cavalry at Hyderabad which I raised and the regiment took
part in the abortive operation ‘Labaik’ in Rajasthan. In February 1972
I was posted as Colonel Staff 6 Armoured Division.
How was the experience of commanding 22 Cavalry, a newly raised unit?
22 Cavalry was not a newly raised unit, it was 6 years old and had three commanding officers before me and fought the 1965 war. I found the command most interesting and the regiment responded very well when I introduced methods and control which made each appointment holder responsible for his job.
Although it was raised by transferring men from the
older regiments, it developed a complex when it compared itself with 5
Horse, 6 Lancers, 19 Lancers and 12 Cavalry the other regiments of
the 1st Armoured Division. This I overcame by making the regiment
convert from M 48 to T 59 tanks without assistance from any other regiment
and other things till the
regiment considered itself the best in the division.
How would you describe the armoured divisions of the 1960s as compared with those of today in terms of overall environment, training and operational efficiency?
I have been out of the army for nearly 30 years, I am not familiar with organisations, training etc of today.
Was there any marked change in the army’s training after the 1965 war or not?
There was no change.
You served as a SSG Battalion commander in East Pakistan in 1971. How was the experience?
When I took over the command the battalion was in disgrace for getting into a fight with students in the Chandni Chowk market in Chittagong. The unit was in Comilla, it was confined to the cantonment, the men were sullen and made themselves a nuisance as far as other units were concerned, the frogmen platoon had killed a man in Rangamati and disposed of the body in the Kaptai lake but the District Commissioner informed the authorities and every intelligence unit was making inquiries.
I was given very good advice by Maj Gen A. O. Mitha that while restoring discipline I must not break the fighting spirit of the unit. I managed to discipline and restore confidence in about four months by introducing close quarter combat firing, blindfolded demolition, night firing in daytime with simulated night conditions and other training. After some time the men accepted that being a commando was more than swaggering and bullying and behaved very well during the military operations.
3 Commando Battalion was under command 14 Division lodged in Comilla, I had constant trouble with the Comilla brigade commander who wanted the unit under his command. Later when the military action started in East Pakistan brigade and division commanders wanted commandos for personal guards, everyone wanted commandos wherever any fighting was expected, two men who were by chance with the Chittagong brigade were made to do ‘pointsmen’ from Cox’s Bazaar to Chittagong, we had to bail out Maj Gen Abdul Rahim Khan twice, once in securing the bridge over the Meghna at Bhairab Bazaar and then when his brigade attack with artillery support failed at the Belonia salient, two platoons of SSG cleared the salient.
Similarly on other occasions commandos were asked for unit and brigade commanders and used as assault troops instead of using their own units. A platoon deputed to the Comilla brigade was placed under command 39 Baluch, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel S. M. Naeem who had served in the SSG, he used the commandos to do all the fighting and cleared the area given to his battalion by a series of one commando platoon attacks. Commanders at all levels avoided using their troops and asked for commandos.
3 Commando, a two company battalion, reduced to five platoons, cleared an area of about 2,000 square miles in the Hill Tracts and gained the co-operation of the people and got no credit for it.
In the planning of the defence of East Pakistan,
Lieutenant General A. A. K. Niazi did not understand the strategic
and tactical use of the
commandos, when the defence of East Pakistan was being planned I suggested
a raid on Calcutta, the general refused to listen and remarked that I
wanted to become a brigadier. In
the war in East Pakistan the SSG played no role except one company which
acted as the personal guard of Major General Abdul Rahim Khan, HJ.
Please describe in detail how you arrested Sheikh Mujeeb?
I flew from Comilla to Dacca by C-130 on 23 March 1971 to see the COS Eastern Command about a command problem that had arisen. The city was festooned with Bangladesh flags, a lone Pakistan flag flew in Mohammadpur, the Bihari colony in Dacca. At the airport I was informed that I had to report to Colonel S. D. Ahmad at the Martial Law Headquarters, the colonel told me that Sheikh Mujeeb was to be arrested the next day or the day after and I was to make the necessary plan.
On the evening of 23rd March, Major Bilal, the Jangju Company commander, Captain Humayun, Captain Saeed, platoon commanders and I drove around Sheikh Mujib’s house; there was a large crowd around the house and a police guard. The next morning we carried out a reconnaissance of the roads leading to Dhanmondi where Mujib lived.
I was instructed to report to Major General Rao Farman for formal orders on the morning of the 24th March, he told me that Sheikh Mujib was to be arrested on night 25th, after receiving the order I saluted to leave but the general stopped me and asked “aren’t you going to hear how it is to be done?”. I told him that it was customary to allow the person who had to execute the plan to decide how it was to be done but since he had something in mind he could tell me. The general then told me that I was to take one officer with me in civilian car to Mujib’s house and arrest him. I told him that because of the crowd around the house a company was required; he told me that he was giving an order and I told him that I was not taking the order and he could find someone else to do the job and left his office.
I knew that I was in serious trouble, for the rest of the day I avoided places where I could be contacted. I had been told that Major General Mitha was arriving by PIA that evening, I met him and told him what had happened, he told me to be at Eastern Command Headquarters at 9 o’clock the next morning. When I went to Eastern Command headquarters the next morning I found Major General Rao Farman sitting with Colonel Akbar, the Colonel GS’s office, when he saw me he asked me why I had come, when I told him I had come to see Major General Mitha, he ordered Colonel Akbar to arrange for a helicopter and fly me out of Dacca in fifteen minutes. Colonel Akbar after telephoning the Aviation Base informed the general that it would take about an hour for the helicopter to get ready.
Major General Mitha was conferring with Lieutenant General Tikka, the Eastern Command commander, as soon as he came out I explained what had happened, he took me to General Abdul Hamid Khan, the COAS. I explained what had happened between Major General Rao Farman and me and explained that Mujib could not be arrested without using at least a company of the SSG. The COAS then telephoned Major General Rao Farman and told him to meet all my requirements and told me that Mujib was to be taken alive and that I would be personally responsible if he was killed.
I went to Major General Rao Farman’s office and asked for three troop carrying vehicles and the plan of Mujib’s house. I told the general that Mujib’s house was back to back with the Japanese Consul’s house and if he crossed into the diplomat’s house what were my instructions; I was told to use my discretion. He gave me the house plan and arranged for the trucks.
On a sand model I explained my plan to the company, Captain Saeed (later killed in action at Comilla) with his platoon was to block all routes to Mujib’s house, Captain Humayun’s platoon was to enter the compound of Mujib’s house from, the corner house adjacent to Mujib’s house and form a perimeter around the house taking a special care to prevent any crossing into the Japanese diplomat’s house. The third party of twelve men, commanded by Major Bilal, equipped with electric torches were to search the house. The assembly point was a gate in the perimeter of the airport opening on the MNA hostel side of the airport, the route was National Assembly Building, Mohammadpur, Dhanmondi where Mujib lived, my jeep with full headlights was to lead and the three 5-ton troop carrying vehicles were to follow without lights to prevent determination of the number of vehicles. Captain Humayun with two men in civilian clothes was to keep circling Mujib’s house and inform about any change in the situation.
The H-hour was set for midnight, by 9 o’clock the company concentrated at a small exit gate of the airfield, at about 10 o’clock Captain Humayun came to the airfield and reported that road blocks were being set up on the Mohammadpur-Dhanmondi road, I ordered all the company’s rocket launchers brought and the men armed with rocket launchers joined Captain Saeed’s platoon. I instructed the platoon to form a single line on encountering a road block with the men armed with rocket launchers in the centre and riflemen on either side. The rocket launchers were to fire a single volley, the riflemen were to open fire; on my own initiative I advanced the H-hour from midnight to 11 o’clock to reduce the road block strengthening time.
At 11 o’clock on the night 25/26 March 1971 we moved out of the Dacca airfield and drove to the Mohammadpur-Dhanmondi road and met a road block of vehicles turned on their sides; our column stopped, fire was opened as I had instructed, some vehicles forming the road block caught fire and to remove a part of the road block I used the winches on the troop carriers. After opening a gap we moved about two hundred yards and ran into the second road block of pipes of about two feet in diameter across the road leaving no room for a vehicle to pass. When the vehicle winch was used the pipe moved without creating an opening; I then ordered Captain Saeed’s platoon to sit on one end of the pipe and had it winched from the other end creating a pivot on which the pipe turned and an opening was made.
About two hundred yards further down the road we ran into the third road block of bricks stacked about three feet high and about four feet in depth, we tried ramming with the 5 ton vehicles but it made no difference. I then ordered Captain Saeed’s platoon to manually remove the bricks and make a gap for vehicles to pass through and when the gap was made to bring the vehicles to Mujib’s house. The rest of the troops I ordered to dismount and walk the rest of the way.
Captain Humayun’s platoon entered Mujib’s compound from the adjacent house, fire was opened, some people in the compound ran out of the gate, the perimeter around the house was formed, the police guard outside the house got into their 180 pounder tent, lifted the tent by its poles and ran into the lake in front of the house.
It was pitch dark, the house search party entered the house, a guard Mujib was escorted out with a soldier walking by his side, a little distance from the house the guard pulled out a ‘dah’, a long bladed knife and attacked his escort, the escort behind the guards shot him but did not kill him.
On the ground floor no one was found, on the first floor all the rooms were vacant, one room was locked and sound could be heard that indicated people were in the room, I told Major Bilal to have the door broken down and went downstairs to check if Captain Saeed had arrived and if any crowd had formed. Captain Saeed had brought the vehicles but they were badly stuck in the narrow lane, on my jeep wireless I could hear Brigadier Jahanzeb Arbab urging a unit to use its ‘romeo romeos’.
While I was instructing Captain Saeed, there was a sound of a shot, then grenade exploded and was followed by a burst of sub-machine gun; I was certain that Mujib had been killed. I ran upstairs and there I found a very shaken Sheikh Mujib, I asked him to accompany me and he asked to be allowed to say good bye to his family which I allowed, he went into the room where the family had locked itself and came out quickly.
I later learnt that from the veranda of one of the rooms a shot had been fired at our men, in retaliation grenade had been thrown and a burst from a SMG had been fired. After the firing Sheikh Mujib asked that if he surrendered he should not be killed and after getting an assurance he came out and was arrested.
The Chakma and the Mizo tribesmen co-operated with the Pakistan Army in 1971. You were closely associated with them. How was the experience?
We landed in Rangamati just after nightfall, the next morning I called on Raja Tridiv Roy, the Chakma Chief, He lived in an old bungalow on an island separated from the mainland by a channel about fifty yards wide. I explained to the Raja that the army had come to re-establish the control of the Pakistan Government on the Hill Tracts and asked for his co-operation in maintaining peace and to keep me informed about any rebel movement, concentration and activity, the Raja agreed and co-operated right upto the surrender. At the request of our government Raja Tridiv Roy came to West Pakistan before our surrender in East Pakistan, he was our ambassador in a number of countries and now lives in Islamabad.
The Mizos were a different kettle of fish. Mizos belonged to the Assam province of India, they had revolted just after the end of the 1965 war and were driven out of Assam into the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Rangamati District. They were allowed to live in the jungle on our side of the border and provided with food. The District Commissioner Rangamati made constant protests against this arrangement claiming that they were killing all the wildlife for food.
After 53 Brigade took over the control of Chittagong
I was ordered by the Eastern Command commander to make a water borne
landing at Rangamati, while we were preparing for this the GSO 3 53
Brigade, Captain Zahid, FF, (later brigadier) called me to 53 Brigade
Headquarters and told me that two men with Burmese features and very long
hair had come to the headquarters, one claimed to be the ‘foreign
minister’ of Mizoram and that no one at the brigade headquarter was
taking them seriously. I was introduced to them as Lieutenant Colonel
Shamsher and I spoke to them, one of them introduced himself as
‘Paulian’ the foreign minister of Mizoram, they told me that the
Mizoram army of 2,000 armed and 3,000 civilians were living just inside
our borders and were supplied with food by the District Commissioner but
it had not been supplied for over a month and they were starving and were
considering moving to Rangamati and other areas.
At that time we had five platoons of commandos and two infantry battalions in Chittagong. I told them after consultation with the Eastern Command Headquarters I would let them know what assistance we could provide.
The next morning I flew to Dacca and explained the situation to Brigadier Jilani, the COS, Eastern Command. I told the COS that we did not have the force to prevent them from coming to Rangamati and did not have the means of supplying them with food where they were located. I suggested that we allow the armed men to come to Rangamati and supply all the Mizos with food, in return they should help us to clear the Hill Tracts. After some hesitation Lieutenant General Tikka agreed and as I was already detailed to clear Rangamati, I was also entrusted with this task.
Returning to Chittagong I told the Mizos that their army could move to Rangamati, be under my command and carry out operations as ordered and that we would supply them with food and they could start moving four days later. Mr. Paulian left immediately to inform his government.
After I informed Eastern Command that Rangamati had been secured I received a message from Lieutenant General Tikka to instruct the Mizos to go back; they were already on the move and were 2,000 armed men, after receiving the message from the Commander Eastern Command I was in a quandry.
That day I had also received a message that the Chief of General Staff, Lieutenant General Gul Hassan was in Chittagong, I took a power boat and went to Kaptai and from Kaptai to Chittagong and met the CGS in his hotel room, he was surprised to see me and thought I had come to call on him. I explained my dilemma, he summoned his staff officer and dictated messages to Eastern Command and Director General ISI that the Mizos were allowed to concentrate in Rangamati under my control.
The Mizo army started arriving two days later, it consisted of three battalions of 600 men in each, armed with an assortment of rifles and a few LMGs; with the army came President of Mizoram, Mr. Laldenga, his government consisting of various ministers, the commander-in-chief with his staff. Everything was very formal and government to government, all messages were routed through their foreign ministry; I was Lieutenant Colonel Shamsher as far as the Mizos were concerned but I am sure that they knew my name. We negotiated terms, I agreed to provide a ton of rice per day for the civilians which was to be moved by the Mizos and one pound per day per person for the army on a daily issue basis, I used the daily issue to control them by stopping the issue whenever they misbehaved or disobeyed. They were allowed four days of rest and a medical examination was arranged, after the army was medically examined the Mizos requested that their civilians were unwell, be allowed to come to Rangamati for treatment, I allowed them to come and after two weeks they returned.
I employed one Mizo battalion with a SSG company to
clear Mahalchari, Manikchari, Khagrachari and from there upto the border
with India. While I commanded 3 Commando Battalion the relationship with
the Mizos was good and they co-operated.
What do you say about the assertion that the seeds of secession of East Pakistan were sown in the 1960s and by the 1970 events had crossed the point of no return?
There were several reasons for the secession of East Pakistan. The biggest reason was Gandhi was able to stop the riots in East Pakistan which prevented the Hindus from being driven out to India, these Hindus were denied government jobs, they became school teachers, college professors, lawyers, businessmen, smugglers etc, they influenced the minds of the Bengalis against Pakistan.
There was a vast cultural difference between West Pakistanis and East Pakistanis and a thousand miles which separated the wings prevented any close association, the official language became an issue immediately after independence and because of the language East and West Pakistanis felt like foreigners in each other’s wings.
In 1952-54 my father was posted to East Pakistan,
when he returned he told us that East Pakistan would secede. I was told by
an American senator in 1965 that East Pakistan would secede, when I had
never considered it possible. My younger brother Squadron Leader Shuaib
after serving in East Pakistan told us East Pakistanis were saying that
West Pakistan would separate from East Pakistan because of the economic
disparity. The events of the 1960s and 1970s were the culmination, there
was nothing common except religion, East Pakistan should have been
separate state from the beginning.
What were your impressions about the various general officers who you saw in East Pakistan as a SSG CO in terms of operational ability, grasp of the situation and decisiveness or the lack of it?
General Abdul Hamid Khan, Chief of Army Staff,
had a sharp mind, grasped the situation quickly and gave decisive
Lieutenant General Sahibzada Yaqub, I saw him as the Eastern Command commander before the military action of 1971, he gave me the impression that he had not applied his mind to the problem of inadequacy of troops for the defence of East Pakistan. He seemed to be in complete control of the situation and his refusal to take military action was a total surprise.
Lieutenant General Tikka, I saw him as commander Eastern Command and Governor of East Pakistan. He avoided responsibility, gave orders and then retracted without reason, he always seemed to be looking for guidance from those above him.
Lieutenant General A. A. K. Niazi, Commander Eastern Command who surrendered and brought a big blot on Pakistan. He was out of his depth from the beginning, he never grasped the situation, did not understand how to deal with a rebellion, he had no power of decision and left things to his staff saying “kuch karo”, when I was told to suggest the employment of the SSG in the defence of East Pakistan and I suggested a raid on Calcutta to seize television and radio stations and announce that Calcutta had been seized, Niazi’s comment was that I wanted to become a ‘brigadier’, he did not understand the difference between strategic and tactical military operations at the corps level and covered up his shortcomings with bluster. A jackal who masqueraded as a tiger.
Major General A. O. Mitha, Quartermaster General, he had been my commanding officer in the SSG and GOC in the 1st Armoured Division. With Lieutenant General Tikka as the commander Eastern Command in nominal command, Major General Mitha held the actual command of the initial actions of the military actions to re-establish the writ of the Pakistan Government. He had a good grasp of the situation, went around and briefed the brigade commanders and when the action started he went wherever a crisis occurred and retrieved the situation.
Major General Khadim Hussain Raja, GOC 14 Division, a good officer with a good grasp of the situation, he went wherever there was a crisis and took necessary action.
Major General Rao Farman Ali, I met in connection with arresting Mujib, he knew what the situation in Dacca and around Mujib’s house was and he insisted that I drive to Mujib’s house with one officer and arrest him, the next day he tried his best to get me out of Dacca, later he showed a lot of energy in conveying our surrender message to the UNO, I have wondered whose side was he on?
Major General Abdul Rahim Khan was reputed to have been posted to East Pakistan in response to a special request by Lieutenant General Niazi and was said to be ‘General Niazi’s brains’. He had no tactical common sense and operations started by him usually got stuck and had to be completed by other commander’s troops. The SSG, while I commanded 3 Commando Battalion, was employed three times when he got stuck in his operations, once when his 14 Division got stuck up at the Bhairab Bazaar bridge, once to assist 39 Baluch to clear Bahmanbaria and the third time was when the general undertook an attack with two infantry battalions supported by artillery, under his direct control, to clear the Belonia salient. The attacking infantry went to the ground three hundred yards from the start line and refused to advance. The general applied the ‘DS’ solution, two platoons of SSG were airlifted and they cleared the salient. The next day I admonished the JCOs (the officer in command Major Nadir disappeared when he heard that I had come) because they had failed to establish communications as per my standing orders in the SSG battle drill. For this admonishment after a successful operation, I was removed from command and placed on adverse report. Because of actions in the 1971 war he became known as ‘Bhagora” to differentiate him from other Rahims.
During the period 1947-65 very few (about three) East Pakistani infantry units were raised. While after 1966 suddenly many units were raised. Why was this lopsided and irrational policy adopted and what do you have to say about the assertion that the East Pakistanis would have felt less alienated had more East Pakistani units been raised just like any other infantry unit from 1947-1948?
At partition the manpower that we received was far more than our share of weapons and we could not afford to equip and maintain all the manpower and a lot of it had to be sent home, there was almost no expansion in the army and the infantry except two battalions of a new Pathan Regiment and three battalions of the new East Bengal Regiment. The army, except the infantry, expanded after the American Aid made up our deficiencies in armour, artillery and logistical units, the overall number of divisions remained the same except the 1st Armoured Division and in 1965 14 FF was raised as a motor battalion, the manpower agreement of the US Military Aid limited manpower in each arm and service.
Within the existing limitations, in the expansion beginning in 1955, East Pakistanis had a quota in all arms and services and were recruited but since infantry did not expand they remained limited to three battalions. After the 1965 war the US Aid limitations did not apply and as the infantry expanded more East Bengal units were raised.
The alienation increased as the number of East Pakistani units increased. The mistake was that the East Bengal Regiment did not have a class composition as the rest of the army, two companies of East Pakistani with a company of Biharis and Chakmas etc would have prevented the alienation.
What in your opinion was the solution to the dilemma of defending East Pakistan?
I assume that this question pertains to the situation in 1971 when it became obvious that India would attack.
The dilemma was created by the problems of the distance between West and East Pakistan and Indian territory in between, attitude of the civil population, length of the border that had to be defended, the disparity in the relative strength between the Indian forces and our own.
The problem of the distance between the two wings and the Indian territory in between required a defensive battle in East Pakistan to draw the maximum Indian forces to enable the Pakistan Army in West Pakistan to wrest enough Indian territory to bring the Indians to a rational negotiation. The “fortress” type defence and logistical stockpiling for 45 days were correct actions but Lieutenant General Niazi had his own ideas, Lieutenant General Jilani told me that he visited East Pakistan in early November 1971, the fortress type of defence had not been taken up and when the Eastern Command commander was reminded he told Jilani that he was ready and if the Indians attacked “men goday tor desa” (I will break their knees) and kept his forces spread all over East Pakistan.
The fortress defence would also have reduced the troop requirement due to the length of the border and the difference in relative strength.
A change in the attitude and gaining the co-operation of the people or at least some of the people of East Pakistan was vital for preventing the break up of the country. An effort for getting the support of the local population should have been undertaken immediately after the military action was started. Dialogue should have been sought with the Muslim League and other parties; leaders like Fazlul Quader Choudhry and some others were willing to co-operate and provide manpower which could have been used to reconstitute the East Bengal units, for action across the border and in our own area. In fact Fazlul Quader Choudhry did provide men whom we trained and employed for gathering intelligence and sabotage in the Tripura area.
A number of these leaders, including religious leaders, were hanging around Eastern Command offering the services of their followers, I advocated the acceptance of their offers to Eastern Command but I was on adverse report and not in favour with Niazi. Later some organisations were created but not while I was in East Pakistan. The most valuable service that these men would have provided was anti-Mukthi Bahini intelligence and trans-border intelligence. From Rangamati, without official permission, we were able to establish an intelligence net in the Awami League headquarter in Tripura and another net in the city of Chittagong which reported on the arrival of Mukhti Bahini men. These intelligence nets and trans-border sabotage ended with my removal from the command of 3 Commando Battalion as it had no official authority.
The other manpower available was that of Biharis, Chakmas etc, the East Bengal battalions that had mutinied should have been reconstituted with a class composition from these men. I had about 200 Chakmas enrolled in East Pakistan Civil Armed Forces which replaced the East Pakistan Rifles, these were trained as guards for bridges etc and they performed very well. (They probably became the core of the Chakma rebellion.)
Also thought should have been given to the employment of the Bengali troops who were wandering about lost because their units had disintegrated, I employed some as interpreters. A lesson should have been taken from the 1857 Mutiny, the rebellion should have been suppressed using local manpower.
Eastern Command should have established an ‘internal defence command’ complete with its own intelligence net and troops and left the army to defend the borders against the expected Indian attack. (The internal defence set up was probably created but did not prove effective.)
Apart from the above a surprise of some sort should
have been planned, I suggested a commando attack on Calcutta and was
ridiculed by the Eastern Command commander.
What do you have to say about the issue of “atrocities” committed by both sides in the Civil War period as you saw it in East Pakistan in 1971?
The Bengalis went berserk with the announcement of the postponement of the National Assembly meeting. The Biharis suffered the most, entire colonies were wiped out, West Pakistanis serving in small cities and rural areas were killed. One ex-SSG officer serving in a East Bengal Regiment was said to have been put in a pot and boiled in the urine of the men of the battalion. A 8 East Bengal Regiment officer, wounded and captured near Kaptai, described how West Pakistani girls were stripped naked and made to serve food in their officers mess and provide other services.
I witnessed the atrocities committed in Chittagong, drums of human blood were collected, we came across four areas where non- Bengalis had been decapitated or shot and left, some in the open, some half buried, photographing of such scenes was forbidden; my book “The Way It Was” has one picture.
The other side of the coin. The troops knew about the atrocities committed by the Bengalis, when the military action started it was not declared an “aid to civil power action” no one cautioned the troops to use minimum force, every commander, from the section commander upwards, used his discretion.
During the initial military action commanders were faced with disarming and holding the disarmed Bengali soldiers, some officers resorted to killing. My wife and other people describe the killing of Bengali officers and men in Comilla cantonment. (17 officers and 915 men according to the Hamoodur Rehman Commission).
In Chittagong the West Pakistani labour followed the army and as an area was cleared, they indiscriminately looted all houses.
Arrival of troops from West Pakistan always was discernible by indiscriminate firing at night because they believed they were being attacked by guerrillas and indiscriminate looting in the day time. I placed a Supply and Transport second lieutenant under arrest for looting in Chittagong with two soldiers. When troops arrived from West Pakistan they considered areas under our control “free for all”. 39 Baluch when it arrived in Comilla cantonment and was housed next door to 3 Commando lines, looted our lines which our men had left in a hurry leaving their belongings in barracks.
Rape occurred, troops detached under NCOs and on patrols were the culprits. The claim that a vast number of women had been raped was disproved by the ‘abortion team’ sent by the sympathetic and gullible British, whose workload involved the termination of only 100 pregnancies.
Atrocities committed by the Bengalis were completely blacked out by the government of Pakistan, atrocities were committed by our troops but they were nothing compared to what the Bengalis had done. The Bengalis exaggerated them to gain the world’s sympathy and assistance.
You raised 38 Cavalry. How was the experience?
I earned an adverse report from Lieutenant General Niazi in June 1971, in mid-August I was attached to Station Headquarters Rawalpindi, pending a decision on the report, in the middle of September the adverse report was expunged entirely and at the end of September I received orders to proceed to Hyderabad to activate 38 TDU to 38 Cavalry. Lieutenant Col Akram Hussain Syed had been posted to 22 Cavalry in the same posting order while I was wearing the badges of 22 Cavalry. I protested to the MS and was told that the CGS, Lieutenant General Gul Hassan Khan had ordered the posting; I met the CGS who told me that I had been posted to raise 38 Cavalry as it had to be made ready for war in 15 days.
I then met the Director Armoured Corps who told me that 44 overhauled Sherman tanks, 3 tank dozers, one officer and 75 men were in Hyderabad and postings of officers and men had been made. On 1 October 1971, 38 Cavalry was officially raised, the raising posed four problems, the state of the tanks, shortage of all type of equipment, the quality of manpower posted and the training of personnel, most of whom had not served on Shermans.
After taking over the command I moved the tanks one kilometer and one tank engine seized, every time we moved the tanks an engine would seize and the EME took the attitude that this was occurring because the personnel were not trained on Shermans. I had a good knowledge of the Sherman II tank as I had served in 13 Lancers and 23 Cavalry which were equipped with them. I kept protesting that the overhauling of engines was faulty, the GOC arranged a visit for me to 502 Workshop where the engines were overhauled, I saw the whole process and could not find anything wrong as the engines were tested under load for 24 hours before they were issued. I returned and continued to protest, two days before the commencement of hostilities Colonel Saeed Qadir, later lieutenant general, the Inspector EME came to find out the reason why the engines were seizing. In the tank park Colonel Saeed Qadir, CO EME were standing and discussing the problem when an EME JCO who had served in the 72 Armoured Workshop Company, who was listening to the discussion, spoke and told us what the problem was. From the hull of a tank whose engine had been removed, he removed the oil sump and oil filter, opened it showed us that it was completely blocked with a black gooey substance. Since 1953 when the Sherman II tanks were bought by us the sumps and filters had neither been changed or cleaned as they were attached to the body of the tank. It was decided that the EME Workshop would start work on removing engines and cleaning the sumps and filters, but orders came for our move the next day and nothing could be done.
Anticipating that my tank engines would seize, before the visit of Colonel Saeed Qadir, I asked for twelve spare engines and an EME team with a breakdown vehicle to replace engines, these were provided but the breakdown vehicle that the EME brought was ‘Tatra’ with a low ground clearance and it sat on its belly in the desert so my engine change scheme failed.
I showed Colonel Saeed Qadir that the tanks were classified “Class IIB”, fit for battle, the 508/528 main wireless sets and the No 31 Set for communication with infantry were not working, their wiring had become brittle and power supplies were out of order, the guns had vertical and horizontal play, there were no tools for breaking and joining tracks and other essential jobs.
When I went to the GHQ in connection with the tank engines, I had received a “NA” certificate for 508/528 power supplies, I made enquiries and was told 508/528 wireless set spares were stored in particular store, I went to the Ordnance Directorate and told them, they started an enquiry and I did not get the stores.
There was a shortage of all types of equipment, wireless sets were not available so I accepted the No 62 set used by the artillery before the US Aid. Vehicles and weapons were the same story, out of 40 two and a half ton vehicles we received 9, we were lucky to get 10 one ton Dodge Power Wagon, an excellent desert vehicle and some GAZ, the Russian equivalent of the jeep; in personal weapons we were issued some Indian 9 mm Stens but the Ordnance refused to issue 9 mm ammunition as our TO&E did not authorise 9 mm Stens, pistols were not issued, the regiment went into action without personal weapons.
The officers posted to 38 Cavalry were a good cross section and none asked to be reverted to their original regiments. Amongst the JCOs I was lucky to have Risaldar Major Mazhar Ali Khan from 5 Horse, but many JCOs were obvious discards. I interviewed all personnel as they reported arrival, most of the other ranks said that they had not served on tanks in their whole service, some were professional batmen, including one of a retired officer. All NCOs and other ranks who admitted having served on tanks said they had served on M 48s or T 59s. I organised training in driving, wireless operation and gunnery for three weeks using the TDU personnel and some JCOs who had served on Shermans, the training ending in field firing; there were about twenty five people injured in the training.
Thirty days from the date of raising 38 Cavalry moved
to its deployment area and after sixty two it took part in the Rajasthan operation of 18 Division.
Please tell us in detail about the Loganewala operation of 1971?
While I was busy raising 38 Cavalry in Hyderabad I was called to Khairpur on October 16, where the 18 Division Headquarters were located. There the GOC Major General B. M. Mustafa explained his concept of forthcoming operations to Lieutenant Colonel Akram Hussain Syed and me, with his Colonel Staff Colonel Wajid Ali Shah present.
The general planned to defensively hold the front south of Rahimyar Khan and outflanking the Indian left flank seize Ramgarh and Jaisalmir; 38 Cavalry was to seize Ramgarh and 22 Cavalry was to neutralise the airfield at Jaisalmir; the GOC asked for our comments about the practicability of the plan from the armour point of view.
Lieutenant Colonel Akram Syed and I said that the plan would succeed if we made an approach march to the border on one night and undertook the cross border operations the next night and air cover was made available on the first day from dawn to dusk till Ramgarh and Jaisalmir had been secured. The general said he would make arrangements for the air cover, he cautioned that the plan was ‘top secret’ and was not to be discussed with anyone.
In the first week of November, 38 Cavalry, less ‘A’ Squadron detached to 55 Brigade at Chor, concentrated at Manthar, about 25 miles on the road Sadiqabad-Rahimyar Khan. A few days after the regiment concentrated, the COAS and Air Marshal Rahim, the PAF chief came to Rahimyar Khan where the 18 Division plan was discussed and the PAF chief assured the required air support.
A few days after the Rahimyar Khan meeting, the GOC inter-changed the roles of 22 Cavalry and 38 Cavalry because he anticipated a tank battle in the Ramgarh area for which 22 Cavalry was better suited. I considered the operation, Jaisalmir was 120 miles from the rail head at Reti, I expected an engine breakdown every 15 miles and requested that 12 spare engines be provided with an EME team and a breakdown with a crane to change engines, the GOC agreed to make the necessary arrangements.
The officers of 38 Cavalry carried out reconnaissance for counter penetration covering the approaches to Rahimyar Khan and Lieutenant Colonel Akram Syed and I took our officers along the route that we were to take to the border, Reti-Khenju-Gabbar-Masitwari Bhit-border without telling them that that was the route that we were to follow in the forthcoming operations.
About the middle of November the news indicated that the attack on East Pakistan had begun and Indian aircraft started flying reconnaissance missions over Rahimyar Khan and Sadiqabad.
With war imminent I decided to let my officers and the Risaldar Major know that the mission of 38 Cavalry with an infantry battalion and mortar battery was to capture Jaisalmir and neutralise the airfield. I explained how the mission was to be conducted and that each tank was to carry 200 gallons of petrol in drums. At the division headquarters there was no preparations for the very imminent operations, on 1 December Colonel Saeed Qadir came to investigate the seizing of tank engines and ordered the removal of tank engines and cleaning of oil sumps and filters.
On 2nd December I received orders to report to the division headquarters and there the GOC told me that operations would begin that evening, that 38 Cavalry, 1 Punjab and a mortar battery would follow 51 Brigade upto Loganewala and proceed to Jaisalmir to neutralise the airfield. The GOC told me that I was not to attend the division orders but to organise my force.
I telephoned my regiment to stop the work of taking down tank engines and prepare for moving out, I next went to the AA&QMG and told him that I required 16,800 gallons of octane 80 petrol, the AA&QMG told me that he knew nothing about the requirement and had no petrol available, after a discussion with the colonel staff the AA&QMG told me that the required petrol would be made available at Masitwari Bhit, 5 miles short of the border. It was obvious that the logistics of the operation had not been planned.
When the 18 Division ‘O’ group assembled, the PAF liaison officer, a wing commander informed the ‘O’ Group that the PAF would not be able to support the operation because the Jacobabad airfield had not been activated. This announcement led the brigade commanders to ask the GOC to cancel or postpone the operation, the GOC then telephoned the CGS and discussed the lack of air, after the discussion he informed the ‘O’ Group that his orders were to conduct the operation without air support in the ‘national interest’. The brigade commanders then suggested that the GOC refuse to conduct the operation because it was very likely to fail. The GOC told the ‘O’ Group that he would conduct the operation because if did not he would be labelled as a general who had lost his nerve.
The plan made by Major General B. M. Mustafa required an approach march of about sixty mile to the border, then a forty miles advance to Ramgarh by 51 Brigade of two battalions (the third battalion was a East Bengal battalion and had to be left out of the operations) and 22 Cavalry, by passing Loganewala, to position itself to counter any reaction from the Indian 12 Division which was expected to be deployed facing Rahimyar Khan. I was to command the 38 Cavalry task force consisting 38 Cavalry less squadron, 1 Punjab ex-206 Brigade and a mortar battery, and was to follow 51 Brigade till the metal road to Jaisalmir, 20 miles inside India was reached and then continue to Jaisalmir. 206 Brigade leaving one battalion on the Rahimyar Khan front (this front was held by Hur battalions) was to follow my force and secure Loganewala to form a firm base.
After these orders were issued the 206 Brigade commander objected to 38 Cavalry being sent to Jaisalmir with mechanically unsound tanks, the GOC changed the plan and ordered 28 Baluch the divisional Reconnaissance and Support Battalion less company and a mortar battery to neutralise the airfield and placed 38 Cavalry under command 51 Brigade. I was informed about the change in the plan on the afternoon of 2 December.
The orders received from GHQ differed from the plan that had been suggested, instead of making the approach march of 60 miles to border in one night and going across the border the next night, the GHQ order stated that the approach march was to start at 1530 hours on 3 December and the border had to be crossed at 2130 hours and the advance was to continue to Ramgarh and Jaisalmir, a total march of 120 miles in one night.
On the evening of 2 December I went to the 51 Brigade Headquarters, Lieutenant Colonel Akram Syed was already there, he told me that the brigade commander was shaken and had lost his nerve, a little later the brigade commander came to the tent where the ‘O’ Group had assembled, he appeared shaken. The GSO 3 laid out the maps of the operational area, the maps covered our territory, Indian territory was blank squares, the brigade had not collected the maps of the operational area from the division headquarters. I placed my maps, which showed the terrain features on both sides of the border, on the table.
From the ensuing discussion it became apparent that the brigade commander’s mind had stopped working. Nothing was known about the Indian deployment, even the number of the Indian division was incorrectly said to be 11 whereas it was 12. As the brigade commander hesitated I told him that my guess was that an infantry battalion and a tank squadron would be protecting the Indian flank at Loganewala, that 51 Brigade with 22 Cavalry with an infantry battalion on tanks to move on the track Masitwari Bhit-Loganewal and by passing Loganewala continue to Ramgarh. 38 Cavalry with an infantry battalion to follow and secure Loganewala or wait the arrival of 206 Brigade; no one objected and the brigade commander accepted the plan.
When the ‘O’ Group dispersed the artillery regiment commander asked me for my map saying that his maps were also without terrain features across the border.
On 3 December at 38 Cavalry tanks were to move on tracks for 25 miles and entrain at Sadiqabad and arrived at Reti railway station about, 30 miles from Sadiqabad at 1800 hours. I went to Reti railway station at about 1730 hours and asked the station master at what time the tank train was to arrive, he surprised me by saying that he had no intimation of any tank train, I realised that the AA&QMG had not informed the railway about the movement. I then spoke to the railway movement controller at Sukkur and after a lot of shouting and threatening the controller agreed to move the train to Reti. At the Reti railway station a goods train was standing at the tank unloading line, there was no ‘power’ available at Reti, we were arguing about this when the station master started going through the procedure of allowing a train to pass through, I made him stop the train and use its locomotive to move the goods train. At about nine o’clock the tank train with 14 tanks whose engines had been hurriedly refitted without cleaning the filters arrived and were unloaded.
We were running well behind the divisional planned schedule, from Reti the tanks drove to Khenju along a canal bank, at Khenju my second in command Major Zia Uddin Javed was waiting with petrol and the tanks were refuelled. From Khenju the desert track started and the tanks in low gear ground their way to Gabbar 19 miles from the border, thirteen out of fourteen tanks arriving at 0100 hours on 4 December. At Gabbar I was surprised to find 22 Cavalry and the GOC who told me that 22 and 38 Cavalry were the only troops which had arrived. At 0400 hours the GOC called off the operation for that day and both regiments dispersed. On the 4 December the Indian Air Force did not show up.
On checking up I found that the lorries carrying the petrol promised by the AA&QMG were stuck in the sand near Dharki, I sent a message to Risaldar Major Mazhar Ali Khan and he commandeered the EME battalion 6x6 vehicles and we refuelled. I looked for the tank that had broken down, it was a few miles from Khenju, the Tatra crane was bellied near Khenju, that put an end to my engine replacement plan.
During the day, on the advice of the brigade commanders the attack on the Jaisalmir airfield was abandoned and 1 Punjab reverted to 206 Brigade. Just before last light a battery of 130 mm guns passed through Gabbar and 38 Baluch joined 22 Cavalry mounted their tanks moved off towards the border.
At about 2100 hours six tanks and the reconnaissance troop of 38 Cavalry reached Masitwari Bhit, 22 Cavalry was refuelling; Lieutenant Colonel Akram Syed told me that Brigadier Tariq Mir was behaving very badly and had stated that he had no intention of going beyond Loganewala, I met Brigadier Tariq Mir and he told me that he intended not to go beyond Loganewal. At about 2300 hours 51 Brigade moved off leaving the elements of 38 Cavalry, a platoon of a Punjab battalion of 206 Brigade, one lost FOO at Masitwari Bhit and Brigadier Jahanzeb Arbab joined us.
The operation so far was a movement of fiasco, civilian requisitioned 4x2 trucks could not negotiate the loose sand, 20 FF, a battalion of 206 Brigade, marched across the desert ‘to the sound of the guns’ when their vehicles failed to negotiate the desert.
At about 0200 hours on 5 December, Brigadier Jahanzeb Arbab and I decided that no one else was likely to join us and we decided to follow 51 Brigade. I ordered 2nd Lieutenant Javed Iqbal with the reconnaissance troop to lead followed by the RHQ 38 Cavalry and six tanks under Major Javed Hussain. About two miles after crossing the border I found 2nd Lieutenant Javed Iqbal coming back, when I asked him where he was going he told me that all the vehicles of the reconnaissance troop had disappeared, I realised that the NCOs had hidden their vehicles (I court martialled them after the ceasefire). Major Javed Hussain now took the lead and went 18 miles and four tanks broke down leaving two runners and we had to halt, two miles short of Loganewala, luckily on the highest ridge in the area.
At about 0730 hours, explosions were heard from the direction of Loganewala and columns of smoke started rising, I and my adjutant drove towards the smoke columns in my rover and from a ridge overlooking the Loganwala-Jaisalmir metal road we saw five tanks of 22 Cavalry and Indian tank burning, four Hawker Hunters of the IAF were circling and after firing all their rockets etc they flew away. A little later a helicopter took off, later I learnt that the GOC had come to 51 Brigade as it was out of communications with the division headquarters and ordered Lieutenant Colonel Akram Syed to capture Loganewala.
I and my adjutant drove to the 51 Brigade headquarters, I asked the brigade commander what the situation was and he said he did not know, I then drove to the base of the hill on which Loganwala was located, two companies of 38 Baluch and a squadron of 22 Cavalry were formed up to attack.
22 Cavalry reached the rear of the Indian Loganewala defences at about 0200 hours, in the absence of the brigade commander 22 Cavalry and 38 Baluch decided to attack and clear Loganewala before advancing to Ramgarh. At 0700 hours a squadron and two companies of infantry attacked and were engaged by anti-tank guns, machine guns and AMX tanks, one AMX was knocked out then 6 Hawker Hunters appeared, knocked out 5 tanks of 22 Cavalry and the Baluchis went to the ground due to straffing. Half an hour later 22 Cavalry formed up again to attack and the IAF knocked out six tanks, at about 0900 hours 22 Cavalry formed up again but after a vehement and abusive argument the brigade commander overruled the attack. 22 Cavalry had cut off the roads Loganewal-Ramgarh, Loganewala-Tanot and the road to Jaisalmir. The brigade commander ordered the concentration of the regiment around the brigade headquarters re-opening the Indian communications to Loganewala. In subsequent air attacks 22 Cavalry lost six more tanks bringing the day’s losses to 17 tanks, 10 killed and 17 wounded.
Four Hawker Hunters of the Indian Air Force circled Loganewala from 0700 hours to sunset and prevented any ground movement. 22 Cavalry fired all their 12.7 mm anti-aircraft ammunition and also tried their 100 mm in the anti-aircraft role but could not hit any aircraft that were releasing rockets and firing their guns from about five thousand metres.
After witnessing the pull back by 22 Cavalry I returned to where my tanks were, there I found Brigadier Jahanzeb Arbab, I told him of the affairs at Loganelwala and he asked me to accompany him to Loganewala. We found 51 Brigade deployed astride the Loganewala-Jaisalmir road out of contact with the Indian troops. The 51 Brigade commander told us that an Indian brigade had linked up with Loganewala.
While we were at the 51 Brigade headquarters a helicopter, flown by Captain ‘Mac’ Maqbool of 12 Cavalry, later lieutenant general, landed with orders from the GOC ordering 51 Brigade to capture Loganewal and Ghotaru, a place about ten miles on the road to Jaisalmir; on receiving the orders Brig Tariq Mir announced that he would not comply with the orders as the Indians were too strong for brigade to attack.
While we were witnessing the brigade commander’s refusal to obey the division commander’s orders, Indian aircraft again attacked and we all went into trenches, Brigadier Jahanzeb and I went to the same trench, there we discussed what we had seen and I told Brigadier Jahanzeb that it would be a shame to withdraw after coming 20 miles and convinced him to assume command as the senior brigadier; he hesitated and said I was creating trouble, but he agreed to assume control.
After the Indian aircraft departed Brigadier Jahanzeb informed Brigadier Tariq Mir that 206 Brigade would attack Loganwala and he ordered Lieutenant Colonel Shah, the CO 28 Baluch, the Reconnaissance and Support Battalion, to advance along the road Loganewala-Jaisalmir and capture Ghotaru. The CO 28 Baluch disappeared and explained after the ceasefire that he understood that he was to make a wide outflanking movement to Ghotaru by withdrawing to the Sadiqabad-Sukkur road.
Brigadier Jahanzeb returned to the point where my tanks had stopped, his brigade had concentrated there; he made an attack plan setting the H-hour at 0300 hrs 6 December, he gave out his orders and told me to go and explain the plan to Brigadier Tariq Mir and ask him to mark the “FUP” and provide a squadron of 22 Cavalry to support the attack. I reached the 51 Brigade area at about 1800 hours, I met Lieutenant Colonel Akram Syed and explained the plan, he told me that Brigadier Tariq Mir had decided to withdraw across the border. I then went to 51 Brigade headquarter and gave the requirements of 206 Brigade to the brigade commander who said that he was withdrawing across the border and remained adamant about it; at about 1900 hours the brigade started moving back.
The withdrawing 51 Brigade and advancing 206 Brigade crossed each other on Kharo Tar a high ridge line slightly ahead of where my tanks had stopped, Brigadier Jahanzeb decided to take up a defensive position on the ridge, at about 1130 hours the next day the Indians made contact with tanks and infantry. The GOC came and ordered 206 Brigade to regain the Loganewala-Jaisalmir road and 51 Brigade to prepare a depth position.
Later the GOC ordered a general withdrawal across the border and all ranks to fire small arms at the enemy aircraft. When I heard about this order, I drove to the division headquarters at Gabbar and met the GOC who confirmed his order, I told him that if there was a general withdrawal troops would not stop east of the Indus and if the order to fire small arms at the aircraft was not cancelled the troops would fire all their ammunition and run away. I asked the GOC to cancel both orders and order a fighting withdrawal with the two brigades withdrawing through each other, the GOC cancelled both his previous orders and adopted my suggestion. My motive in making the suggestion was to recover my broken down tanks lying between Kharo Tar and Gabbar and asked the GOC for recovery assistance, he arranged for WAPDA tractors which towed back most of the tanks.
While driving to the divisional headquarters I found the divisional Supply and Transport Battalion vehicles abandoned on the track on which the division had advanced, I ordered my driver to check the state of a vehicle and found that radiators had been drained and when my driver got into the driving compartment the driver of the vehicle came running, he was hiding in a bush.
By the morning of 7 December 206 Brigade was firmly established on Kharo Tar, my Quartermaster, Captain Bhatti, kept us supplied with food “meethi roti” and water from Sadiqabad and when a cry went up that 206 Brigade units were running out of ammunition, I made my Dodge Power Wagons available and ammunition was brought from Sadiqabad.
38 Cavalry squadron left at Manthar because their engines could not be refitted when the division started its movement, moved into counter-penetration positions on the approaches to Rahimyar Khan.
The GOC had complained that he was having a communication problem with 51 Brigade since the beginning of the operation, I told him I would see what the problem was. I sent my command vehicle with my adjutant to 51 Brigade Headquarters to establish communications between the brigade and the division and when my command vehicle would move the communication would break; my signal JCO could not find the reason; after the ceasefire an NCO disclosed that the brigade had kept its wireless set meant to communicate with division headquarters, switched off.
On the night 8/9 December 206 Brigade withdrew from Kharo Tar through the position prepared by 51 Brigade, 38 Cavalry after firing all the HE ammunition destroyed its two broken down tanks and moved to Masitwari Bhit. On 9 December after taking over the front, Brigadier Tariq Mir reported that two enemy tank regiments were turning his flanks to cut off the brigade, 22 Cavalry was moved from Gabbar and were attacked by the IAF and lost another tank; the two Indian tank regiments were a figment of the brigade commander’s imagination.
A little distance from my regimental headquarters the divisional gun area was located, the IAF attacked gun area and my headquarters, a cannon shot made a hole in my leather jacket and a rocket hit the open cupola flap of my tank and broke the hinge. The gun area was defended with training guns of the Anti-Aircraft School which fired single shots but kept the IAF away.
On the night 11/12 December the remnants of 38 Cavalry withdrew to Gabbar, on the morning of 12 December when I with my second in command went to find out where the ‘forward defended localities’ were, I found Major General B. M. Mustafa standing there, someone whispered that the general had been sacked and Major General Abdul Hamid Khan was in command of 18 Division.
I met the general and asked his GSO 2 (Intelligence) where the FDLs were, the general heard me and indicating the GSO 2 and himself he said that they were the FDLs and there was nothing forward of them. Major General Abdul Hamid Khan, the new GOC, on assuming command the previous day ordered a ‘general withdrawal’, both brigades took off in the ‘Gabbar Gallop’ and some men were rounded up and brought back from the Punjab Regimental Centre at Mardan.
On the night 12/13 December I established my headquarters at Khenju and collected all my broken down tanks and started engine replacement. On 16 December ‘Tiger’ Niazi surrendered, two days later, to everyone’s surprise, we ceased fire.
After the operation ‘Labbaik’ ended in fiasco
everyone claimed that they were not privy to the operation though 206
Brigade commander was removed from command for objecting to the operation.
The mission assigned to 18 Division was “Defend the area of
responsibility in order to ensure the security of the main line of
communications Karachi-Multan and be prepared to carry out the war into
the enemy territory under favourable conditions.” This implied the
guarding of 600 miles road and rail communications close to the border, 18
Division successfully carried out its mission. It was a classical spoiling
attack which put the Indians off balance, the division’s mission was
If your allegations about the Gabbar gallop are true, why is it that no officer was taken to task?
Because the GOC Major General Abdul Hamid Khan did not allow the general withdrawal to be disclosed to the Awan Committee.
As an armour officer how would you analyse the reasons for the Bara Pind fiasco?
The first reason was good terrain analysis by the Indians and very poor terrain analysis by 8 Armoured Brigade. I visited the Bara Pind area with the CO 13 Lancers, he showed me the battlefield, a horse shoe covered area with the inside of the horse shoe of open ground providing an excellent field of fire; a part of the horse shoe was close to our main defensive minefield. The Indians very correctly selected the place for breaching the minefield, the breaching point was close to cover on our side of the minefield for a brigade size force, with a good field of fire to receive our counterattack according to our tactical doctrine. Terrain analysis off the map by shading in various colours, cover of various types, fields of fire, important ground, a job that should be done by intelligence staff is neither taught nor done.
The second reason was a wrong estimate of the enemy in the bridgehead. The enemy was reported to have breached the minefield at about 2230 hours on 16 December at a front lightly held by a R&S company or weak battalion (the R&S was not very famous for holding fronts), and had the rest of the night to build up, the 8 Armoured Brigade attack was launched at about 0730 hours the next morning, the enemy strength was estimated as one infantry battalion and one squadron of tanks at 0630 hours on 17 December, this estimate was by 8 Division, confirmed by 24 Brigade and accepted by 8 Armoured Brigade. I visited the Bara Pind battlefield after the ceasefire and was conducted by the CO 13 Lancers, he showed me the horse shoe and asked me to estimate the enemy strength that would hold the horse shoe, I estimated 6 tank squadrons, he told me that nine were identified, the enemy strength was about an infantry brigade and an armoured brigade.
The third reason was that in our armour tactical training ‘the tank versus tank’ battle is not taught, the Pakistan Armoured Corps is trained to ‘charge’ in the attack, tracks are used not the tank guns, one 13 Lancers tank was knocked out fifty yards from the Indian positions. The brigade commander in his report on the attack stated “tanks must not attack enemy tanks in good defensive positions”, put another way the areas which provide the enemy with good fields of fire and cover should be avoided and tank attacks should use covered approaches and when attacking over open ground methods should be used to neutralise the enemy’s fire power.
How would you rate the various committee reports which studied the 1971 war like the Awan Committee, Akbar Committee and the Hamood Commission?
I was present when the Awan Committee investigated the 18 Division fiasco, the commanding officers and brigade commanders were divided into those who were allowed to speak and those who were ordered not to speak, I was in the ‘not’ category. The effort was to cover up the shortcomings of Brigadier Tariq Mir and Major General Abdul Hamid Khan’s ‘Gabbar gallop’ with GHQ and Major General B. M. Mustafa as handy scapegoats. I have not seen the report but it must have been a farce.
The Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report was prejudicial, showed a lack of understanding of tactics and seemed to deliberately malign the performance of the army by its criticism of corps, division commanders and some brigade commnders, examples are the criticism of Lieutenant General Irshad and Major General Zahid for tactical withdrawal and Major General Mustafa for his spoiling attack
I am not aware of the contents of the Akbar
How would you rate the chances of success of the projected II Corps offensive in case it had been launched?
The success or failure would have primarily depended on the maintenance of local air superiority over the battlefield by the PAF and the ability of 3rd Armoured Brigade to protect the left flank.
Please tell us something of your service profile from 1971 till retirement?
In 1971 I was commanding 3 Commando Battalion in East Pakistan. When the military action started and the CO 2 Commando Battalion was killed, I commanded both battalions. In June 1971 I was removed from the command of 3 Commando Battalion and placed on adverse report by Lieutenant General A. A. K. Niazi. In August I was attached to Station Headquarters Rawalpindi, in September the adverse report was squashed in toto.
On 1 October, I raised 38 Cavalry and commanded it till February 1972 then I was appointed colonel staff 6 Armoured Division; I was promoted brigadier and posted to command 3rd Independent Armoured Brigade in August and commanded it till September 1973 when I was removed from the command and posted to 9 Armoured Brigade in 6 Armoured Division.
On 15 April 1974 I was compulsorily retired ‘due to
fault of the officer’ on the recommendation of IV Corps Commander,
Lieutenant General Abdul Hamid Khan, I was never told the reason of my
retirement, my request to be told the reason was refused saying that no
reason had to be assigned.
You saw General Zia right from 1960s as an armoured corps officer. How would you describe him as a man and as a professional?
I knew General Zia from 1951 when he was adjutant Armoured Corps School and I was a ‘YO’. As the school adjutant he had a bullying attitude but I suppose we deserved it, some of us were in his office everyday explaining some misdeed.
He was never considered a ‘hot shot’ professional armoured corps officer. He had a good ‘PR’, he was well liked by his subordinates, he was fond of ‘rewarding’ people with unauthorised promotions, cash and chickens and goats, I commanded 22 Cavalry and 9 Armoured Brigade which he had commanded and I paid off the debts left by him, because of his extravagance and unnecessary expenditure but did not make personal use of funds etc. He was religious but did not force religion on others.
His great acumen was the ability to gauge the
capabilities and character of every individual above and below him and he
always had his superior in his grip.
What was the impact of Zia’s long one man rule on the qualitative efficiency of the Pakistan Army?
He promoted some officers who did not deserve
promotion but because of flaws in their character they could be
exploited. A lot of money was made by people involved in military
Who in your opinion (if any) was the finest military commander of the Pakistan Army in the wars fought by the Pakistan Army?
General Abdul Hamid Khan, COAS and Major General
How fair or realistic is the system of assessment in the army?
All systems are fair, what matters is the honesty, integrity, fairness and impersonal assessment
by the reporting officers which is always lacking.
What were your impressions about Mr. Bhutto as you saw him as the prime minister?
Bhutto, as the prime minister, was a prime disaster for Pakistan. He destroyed whatever discipline the people had by allowing irregularities to be committed by his followers in ‘awami’ interest, he destroyed entrepreneurship by nationalisation of major and minor industry, he destroyed financial responsibility by nationalising banks, insurance and promoting loans from nationalised banks with the backing of politicians etc etc.
Please tell us something about your brothers who served in the armed forces?
We were nine brothers who served in the army, navy and the air force.
Lieutenant Colonel Firoz Alam Khan was the next oldest to me, he was commissioned in 1953 in the 2nd Battalion, Frontier Force Regiment, later 4 FF (at that time there was the Frontier Force Regiment and the Frontier Force Rifles, later merged into the Frontier Force) he had a good career, served as the GSO 2 (Intelligence) of the 1st Armoured Division in the 1965 war, commanded a battalion, was GSO 1 of 18 Division, then raised 36 FF and commanded it in Chamb during the 1971 war, he was mentioned in despatches and awarded the Imtiaz-i-Sanad, after the war he was posted as ‘colonel GS’ in a corps but was deferred by the promotion board because “his attitude towards senior officers was not correct”, he asked for retirement and left the army.
Squadron Leader Shuaib Alam Khan joined the PAF after doing his Senior Cambridge from Lawrence College. At PAF Academy he failed to qualify as a pilot and was commissioned as a navigator, he served in the PAF transport squadrons, navigation instructor at the PAF Academy and operations directorate at the Air Headquarters. Before the commencement of the 1965 war he was transferred to the bomber squadron of the PAF, flew 18 bombing missions and was awarded the SJ. In 1966 he was grounded on medical grounds and transferred to the administration branch of the PAF. In 1971 when there was shortage of aircrew due to grounding of the East Pakistanis, he volunteered to fly with the bomber squadron and again flew bombing missions. After the war he requested to be transferred back to the navigation branch, the request was refused and he asked for his release. He then joined the PIA as a navigation instructor, became the ‘special assistant’ to Air Marshall Nur Khan, became a general manager, then served with PIA, a hotel in Abu Dhabi, retired with the status of a director on reaching the age limit.
General Shamim Alam Khan joined the army after passing his Senior Cambridge from Lawrence College and FSc from the Government College, Lahore. He was commissioned in 20th Lancers, commanded a SSG company in the 1965 war and was awarded the SJ. He attended the Staff College at Camberlay, served with 28 Cavalry in the 1971 war in Chamb and took over the command of the regiment after the war. He served as GSO 1 in I Corps, attended the War Course and was retained as an instructor in the National Defence College. He commanded an independent armoured brigade, the 1st Armoured Division, served as VCGS and then commanded an infantry division and II Corps then he became the CGS and then a corps in Bahawalpur, finally he was appointed the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and retired after completing his tenure.
Vice Admiral Shamoon Alam Khan joined the Pakistan
Navy after leaving school, from his course he was selected for training at
the British Naval Academy at Dartmouth. After completing his training he
served in various posts on the ships of the Navy. In the 1965 war he
served on a ship, in 1971 he was with the ISI in East Pakistan but during
the 1971 war he served on a
ship, was mentioned in despatches and
was awarded the Imtiaz-i-Sanad. After
the 1971 war he commanded the Navy’s frogmen and a destroyer, he
attended the War Course at the National Defence College, served as the
Naval Attache’ in China, as a captain he commanded the Naval Academy and
the cruiser PNS Babar, as a
commodore he attended the Royal College of Defence Studies in London and
commanded the Joint Services Staff College at Chaklala, as rear admiral he
served in the Naval Headquarters in Islamabad and as a vice admiral he
commanded the Pakistan Naval Fleet. After retirement he served as
ambassador to Tunisia and is now serving as an ambassador to Ukraine.
Wing Commander Aftab Alam Khan is the only one of us who went to Lawrence College for one year and got the rest of his schooling at the PAF Public School at Sargodha. He joined the PAF and was selected for training in USA, where he graduated as “Top Gun” and “Outstanding Student”, after his training he flew F-86 fighters and then was selected to fly the F-104 super sonic Starfighter. In the 1965 war, on 6 September, he shot down an Indian Mystere IV flying a F-104; this is recorded as the first combat kill by mach-2 aircraft and first air to air missile kill by the PAF. For shooting down the Indian aircraft he was awarded the SJ which he refused to accept stating that he was paid and trained to shoot down enemy aircraft; later he was awarded the TBt. In 1971, flying a Mirage, he led the first raid on Indian territory. He attended the air force staff college in USA in 1972. In the 1973 Conspiracy Case he was arrested and dismissed from service but later he was reinstated, promoted wing commander and sent to Syria as ‘chief instructor’ in the Syrian Air Combat School, he asked for his release and was finally released in 1975. He then joined the PIA as a pilot and retired as a ‘captain’ on reaching super-annuation. He is now an instructor with Boeing.
Flying Officer Mushtaq Alam Khan was in Jesus and Mary’s Convent in Murree when he was punished for some misdeed he told the nun that when he grew up he would join the air force and drop a bomb on the school. He joined the PAF after doing his Senior Cambridge from Lawrence College and was selected for training in USA. After completing his training he joined a F-86 squadron but was selected to fly the F-104. Before the 1965 war started he intercepted an Indian Canberra reconnaissance aircraft over Kharian but was ordered not to shoot it down; during the 1965 war, much to his chagrin, he did not make contact with an Indian aircraft, he was mentioned in despatches and awarded the ‘Imtiaz-i-Sanad’. In 1967 he was promoted flight lieutenant and posted to Risalpur as a flying instructor, on the day he was to leave Sargodha he and a friend of his took Mig 19s and were dog fighting at ground level when their aircraft collided and both got killed.
Captain Aijaz Alam Khan did his Senior Cambridge from Lawrence College and his FSc from Forman Christian College, he joined the army in 1966 and was commissioned in 13 Lancers. As a lieutenant he was selected as gunnery instructor at the Armoured Corps School. In 1971 he was serving with his squadron and was killed in the tank battle at Bara Pind.
Lieutenant General Javed Alam Khan, the tail ender of
the family, passed his Senior Cambridge and his FSc from Lawrence College
and joined the army. When passing out he gave his choice of arm as the
armoured corps but his platoon commander, a gunner, had him sent to the
artillery and he fought the 1971 war as a battery officer of a field
regiment which was commanded by a course mate of mine. After the 1971 war
ended he asked for transfer to the armoured corps and was posted to 24
Cavalry, he did the Career Officers’ Course at Fort Knox and the staff
course at Camberlay. He
commanded 24 Cavalry, was an instructor at the Staff College, then
Military Attache’ in London, he then commanded an armoured brigade and
later an infantry brigade and an infantry division, and now he is
with the ISI.
How would you compare the Pakistan Army of 1965 with that of 1971 and 2002?
The difference between the 1965 and 1971 armies was that after the 1965 war the nine battalion division was restored and in the armoured corps troop leaders became subalterns with three tank troops instead of four tank troops commanded by a JCO. There were no changes in tactical concepts.
I cannot comment on the army of 2002, I am not aware
of the changes since I left the army in 1974.
You were retired ‘compulsorily due to fault of the officer’, what do you have to say about it?
As the commander 3rd Independent Armoured Brigade I did not have the disciplinary powers of an independent brigade, the corps commander wielded these powers, and took actions which officers concerned considered harsh and unfair and they represented directly to General Tikka. I was removed from the command of 3rd Armoured Brigade and posted to 9 Armoured Brigade, Lieutenant General Abdul Ali Malik told me that I had instigated officers to represent against Lieutenant General Abdul Hamid Khan which I denied. I later heard that Lieutenant General Abdul Hamid Khan had written a letter stating that I had been involved in the conspiracy by Brigadier F.B. Ali and that I had conspired with some of my brigade officers to defame and malign him and therefore I should be retired from service.
On 31March 1974 I received a letter from the Military Secretary’s Branch stating that I was “retired compulsorily due to fault of the officer” and was to be struck off duty on 15 April 1974. On 1 May 1974 I submitted a ‘Representation Amounting to Statutory Complaint’ to the President of Pakistan for examination of my retirement on grounds of “fault of officer”. In reply I received a letter dated 2 August 1974 informing me that my petition had been withheld and not submitted to the President.
The power to recommend administrative action to the
extent of retirement without giving a reason gives senior officers
extraordinary powers and leaves subordinates with no way of defending
themselves. In an environment where senior officers, after making
mistakes, shift responsibility and are not truthful, a revision of the
rules to the extent of giving officers, against whom charges are levelled
which could result in compulsory retirement, a hearing. I had two
Lieutenant Generals, A.A.K. Niazi and Abdul Hamid Khan who told lies, the
first one I disproved the charges with documentary evidence, in the second
case the charges framed by Abdul Hamid Khan were never intimated to me.
What are your post-retirement activities like?
My post-retirement activities were concerned with making ends meet in very difficult times immediately after retirement due to the political situation of time. When General Zia took over he offered me a job but I did not accept it but after I had a heart attack in 1981 I accepted a general manager’s post at Pakistan Steel. After retiring from the Steel Mill I was given a job by Lieutenant General Ahmad Jamal MD Fauji Foundation as Resident Manager Karachi which I held for three years.
After retiring from Fauji Fertilzer I have written two books “The Way It Was” an autobiography which has been read by a lot of serving officers as 20,000 copies were circulated by the Army Book Club paying me one rupee a book and 1,000 copies have been sold through book sellers.
book “Weapons and Tactics”, I started writing in 1973 as a basic
military history book for cadets and young officers, when I got sacked
from the army I had written
about the period from 2000 BC to the 16th century, when I finished writing
“The Way It Was” I dusted the draft of “Weapons and Tactics” and
took about a year to bring it to 2000 AD expecting that it would be
accepted as a basic military history book and bought for issue to cadets
in the military academy. The Army Libraries bought about sixty copies and
about fifteen others sold to the army schools, the Army Book Club wanted
to again issue it but at one rupee a book. I did not think it worth
anywhere near the trouble I had taken to write it.
What motivated you to write “The Way It Was” and why is it that very few of your generation have left any memoirs for posterity?
The motivation for writing “The Way It Was” was killing boredom on a newly acquired computer, I initially meant to write an article about our journey from Bangalore to Rawalpindi in March 1947 when pre-partition riots had just started but I went on and described my army career.
The reason why, as you say ‘my generation’ did not write was their acceptance that everything their seniors did was correct and not to be criticised. There was also a fear that the army intelligence censor would not permit the printing of facts and criticisms, I know of cases where books submitted for intelligence clearance have disappeared even though they did not have any censorable material. (My guess is that no proper censor organisation exists and material submitted for censor is simply shelved to collect dust.)
My book was turned down by the Oxford University Press with the remark that ‘we do not publish such books’ (they published Niazi’s justification for surrendering). I simply forgot to have it officially censored.