A Soldier of Character
Feb 2, 1921 - Aug 6, 1999
Gen Shariff, former Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC), who died of heart failure at the age of 78, was no ordinary soldier. Other than being a thorough professional he was a man of outstanding character and integrity, qualities that he carried with pride to his grave. Throughout his life he maintained a very high standard of self-discipline and moral uprightness, never wavering in his concept of what constituted good military ethics.
Commissioned in 1942 into a battalion of 2 Punjab Regiment, the Muslim companies of which were amalgamated into 1 Punjab post-partition, Gen Shariff moved to 3 Punjab. He became Lt Col in 1952 and was promoted to Brigadier eight years later in 1959. He was one of the panel in GHQ in 1964 that interviewed five of us, Gentlemen Cadets from 34th PMA Long Course for Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. I distinctly remember him as the one officer who asked the most pertinent, searching questions. As a major general, a rank to which he was promoted in 1966, Gen Shariff served in GHQ, commanded an infantry division and then became Commandant, Command and Staff College, Quetta. In 1970 he was promoted to the rank of Lt Gen and posted as Pakistan's Permanent Representative at CENTO HQ in Ankara, Turkey.
On 15 Dec 1971 a jeep escorted by another was checked by one of my platoon checkposts on Sanohi Ridge near Chor. The general officer turned out to be Gen Shariff, having taken over as Comd 33 Div from Maj Gen Naseer who had been wounded on 12 Dec 71. He was unhappy that some of us were not wearing steel helmets but he accepted with good grace the explanation given by our CO, Lt Col (later Brig) Mohammad Taj, SJ & Bar that his officers could not think with their helmets on. The new GOC was calm and composed in adverse circumstances but tough enough to send two Brigade Commanders home immediately for bad war performance. After the war he handed over command to Maj Gen (later Gen) M. Iqbal Khan and headed back to Turkey. He soon returned in 1972 as Corps Commander, overseeing the Aid-to-Civil Power during the language disturbances in Sindh in mid-1972. He took no nonsense from anybody and ensured that not a shot was fired while restoring complete calm and quiet. Because of my closeness to late Gen M. Iqbal Khan, I came to know him well in the last part of his retired life. Whenever he came to Karachi, he would make it a point to drop into the office along with Brig (Retd) TH Siddiqui, former DG ISPR, giving invaluable advice to me for my various ventures in his low-key manner.
In 1974 he became Col Commandant of Punjab Regiment and in 1976 was promoted to full General taking over as the first Chairman of the newly formed Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, a position he served in till his retirement in 1978. He recently took issue with me about JCSC, he wanted the Chairmanship to rotate among the three Services whereas I feel that since the primary role is that of the Army, it should remain with the Land Forces Commander. After his retirement he faded from public life, refusing to accept any post in government, living off his pension and savings. If the grass in his lawn was not cut it remained uncut till he could afford it, adamantly refusing 'fatigue parties' from nearby units. Gen Shariff remained a very much respected figure as a soldier and as a man throughout his life. A decent, upright man, his passing away signals the fading away of a particular breed of men that made the Pakistan Army great.
- Ikram Sehgal