DEFENCE NOTES

 

The Way It Was

za-khan

Extracts from BRIG (Retd) ZA KHAN's very readable book continue
to be presented by DJ

When the raising of the new tank regiments integral to infantry divisions was announced I was posted to 23 Cavalry which was to be raised at Kharian and on reversion from the SSG, I joined the regiment there. Kharian Cantonment was built by the Americans as part of the military aid to Pakistan. Its construction was supervised by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and it was built according to American standards which differed considerably from the standards laid down by the British for Indian and British troops. The bathrooms in the barracks had a flush system which our troops kept blocking for a long time with stones and other rubbish which they would throw in the commodes. There was no married accommodation for officers and other ranks. Some accommodation built by the construction companies to house their personnel, was converted into married officers accommodation. There was excellent bachelor accommodation except that bathrooms had to be shared between two officers. There were no schools and all the ancillaries that make up a cantonment. To make up for the shortage of married accommodation, married officers were given two rooms with a bathroom in the bachelor accommodation and they had to have their food sent from their respective messes. This was expensive and not liked.

On joining the regiment I was posted to 'B' Squadron and set about organizing it with the assistance of a very fine risaladar from Guides Cavalry. By the time I joined 23 Cavalry, the regiment had taken over the tanks from units of the 1st Armoured Division units who had been re-equipped with M 47 tanks. The Shermans which we received were about ten years old but were reasonably efficient and in fair working order. The men, as usual in new raisings, were the ones who were not required in their old units and had been shunted out to the new unit. When it was learnt that 23 Cavalry would be the integral tank regiment of 8 Division and stationed at Quetta some men tried to revert to their original regiments as most of them belonged to the Punjab and Quetta would be a long way from their homes.

Major Z. U. Abbasi, my old friend and Major Mirza Aslam Beg and Captain Nusrat Ullah who had been in the SSG with me, were attending the 1962 Staff Course. I often used to cycle up to the Staff College to spend an afternoon or evening with Z. U. who had interesting tales to tell about persons and events in the Staff College. As part of the Staff College programme, important army officers, government officials and civilians visited the Staff College and lectured the students on various subjects. The Military Secretary came and lectured on 'career planning' in the army. He informed the students of the college that according to the MS planning chart there were no prospects of promotion for those officers who were commissioned after independence. Therefore, we, who had eleven years of service had another twelve to go before retirement. The prospects bothered us for some time and then we forgot about it.

In September the Staff College entrance examination results were announced and I was declared successful. Mansur ul Haq Malik, Abdul Qayoom Anjum, M. Aslam Mirza and Irfan Qureshi from 4th PMA course, Major Shamsur Rehman Kallue, 5 Horse, who had been on the Armoured Corps Young Officers Course with me, from the SSG Major Nishat Ahmad, later major general, Major Mohammad Saleem Zia and Major Syed Jaffar Husein, both later brigadiers and my brother Captain Firoz Alam Khan, Frontier Force, were also on the 1963 Staff Course, the first three from 15 Platoon.

After the Staff College entrance examination results were announced I was attached to 8 Division Headquarters for pre-training for the staff course. I managed a vacancy on a Ground Liaison Officers course at Malir and spent about two weeks in Karachi with my wife and daughter, going every day to Malir to attend the classes. After the course at Malir I went to the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul to attend a course in the English language as a preliminary to the Staff College course.

While we were on the English Language course the Sino-India war of 1962 flared up. For a while we expected that the Pakistan Army would move to the borders but after a few days it became clear that Pakistan was not going to threaten India.

It has been said that the year spent at the Staff College is one of the best years of an army officer's career and the 1963 Staff Course was no exception to this. I moved to the Staff College students bungalow, built after the earthquake in the thirties. These houses consisted of a drawing room, a dining room, two bedrooms and a study. They also had an earthquake shelter built outside the house. My wife joined me just before the course started and soon got to know all the wives in the vicinity.

The feelings of the officers who had been selected for the Staff College were different from the feelings officers have on other army courses. Except for two or three officers who had influence and were nominated after they had failed to qualify, all the students had come after passing a competitive entrance examination for a limited number of vacancies and felt a kind of superiority and importance and at the same time knew that their performance at the Staff College would determine their future career. A lot of the officers had collected the previous years' exercises papers, problems and solutions with the "directing staff's" remarks and because in most cases it was not possible to collect all the previous exercises and solutions, a number of syndicates formed pooling their resources to either study the problems before they were handed out or to find out the correct solutions. These officers certainly had an advantage over those who did not use this method and they certainly seemed to achieve better results.

The College was well organised and well administered to allow the students to concentrate on their studies, the only gripe the married student officers had was that the milk supplied by the Military Dairy Farm was well watered and some people requested that they may be given the water and the milk separately!

On the course with us were about twenty foreign students, the most highly paid being a Saudi lieutenant colonel who hired a local cook and paid him about the same pay as I was getting. He had a fast turnover in cooks because as soon as they had saved enough money to set up a business they would leave. An Iranian Guards colonel on the course asked my wife to teach his son English which my wife did. On the whole a very friendly relationship existed between the foreign students and our officers.

The students were divided into syndicates of about twelve students, as far as possible maintaining a balance of arms and services and distributing the foreign students from a number of countries. Every term the composition of the syndicate and the DS (Directing Staff) changed. The instruction was by 'tutorials', the programme indicated what had to be read and in the class the DS asked questions on what had to be read and sometimes discussions were held. In our first term, Lieutenant Colonel Nasrullah, our DS, had a habit of asking a question while walking from the classroom door to his desk. One day he was delayed in coming to the class and Major Perow, an Iranian, was giving an imitation of Colonel Nasrullah by walking from the door to the instructors desk and asking "How much ammunition in the Pakistan Army, Perow?" his tone and manner of speech amusing us till Colonel Nasrullah walked in behind Major Perow while he was doing the imitation, much to everyone's amusement and Major Perow's discomfort.

As part of the programme to broaden our outlook and improve our knowledge the college arranged lectures by principal staff officers from the GHQ who attempted to throw some light on the mysterious functioning of the General Headquarters, senior civil servants who tried to explain the plans and the difficulties of the government and managing directors, chairmen of firms who talked about management, finance and other subjects. The staff officers from GHQ were invariably asked some awkward questions and sometimes the Commandant had to rescue them. We learnt to do the staff work involved in the functioning of formations but as I said earlier a lot of officers had the corrected exercise papers and used them. The second flaw was that the tactical scenario was always such that it allowed the application of the taught techniques and method under ideal conditions, innovation under un-favourable conditions was never required. This was the major flaw in the staff college instruction and in the tactical training of the Pakistan Army because the Army in war would have very extended fronts and would be outnumbered, requiring innovation. On an advance exercise in which I was the syndicate leader, the advance was to be from the area Spezand to Baleli. The orders did not lay down that the advance was to be along the road Spezand-Quetta-Baleli. Lieutenant Colonel Syed Ali El-edroos was our syndicate DS. As the syndicate leader I said that instead of moving along the road we should put a block on the road and move along a valley leading straight from Spezand to Baleli which except for blocking force at the mouth of the valley had no known enemy force. Members of my sub-syndicate told me that they had the previous year's solution and I was wrong. As syndicate leader I insisted and a plan was produced. The procedure in the class was that maps with plans were deposited with the DS so that they could not be changed and one or two sub-syndicates were asked to present their plans. On this day our sub-syndicate was asked to present its plan to the class. As I stood up to present the plan, the other members of the sub-syndicate announced that they did not agree with the plan that I was about to present. Puzzled Lieutenant Colonel El-edroos asked me what was the matter. I told him that instead of advancing along the road I had planned to move through the valley. I could see that on hearing this Colonel El-edroos was upset. I was told to sit down and another sub-syndicate was asked to present its plan. After the presentation was completed I was asked to present my plan and everyone had a field day critising the plan. I never found out whether the staff college amended its solution to include the plan that I advocated.

About ninety per cent of the officers on the course were married and after seeing their husbands off to the classes and cooking or instructing the cook, wives were free. They formed groups which had coffee parties, gossiped and went shopping. Almost every year on the Staff Course there was a scandal about some officer being involved with another officer's wife. On our course there was no scandal.

When our Staff College course was nearing its end Major Z. U. Abbasi wrote to me and told me that he had been detailed on the Pakistan Air Force Staff Course and that if I agreed his brigade commander, Brigadier Tony Lumb would be asking for me to be posted as his Brigade Major. I had made up my mind to go to the GHQ and see how the Army functioned rather than going to a brigade or to a division headquarters so I declined Abbasi's offer and when choices were asked, I chose a posting to GHQ as my first choice and when postings were announced I was posted to the Armoured Corps Directorate.

After spending a month's leave I reported at the Armoured Corps Directorate and took over the post of a General Staff Officer Grade 2, known as G 2. The Armoured Corps Directorate at this time had a Director, Brigadier Bashir, a General Staff Officer Grade 1, Lieutenant Colonel Murtaza, 15 Lancers and Major Mukhtar Ahmad Syed, 11 Cavalry, the other GSO 2. While interviewing me the GSO 1 took pains to explain that I was to be the administrative officer of the Directorate and would have to look after the administrative requirements of the officers. My interview by the Director was perfunctory. Major Mukhtar Syed I had known when I was posted at the Armoured Corps Centre. The head clerk of the Directorate was from the Armoured Corps while almost all the clerks and peons were civilians. Since I only had a wife and a year-old daughter I got a room in a hotel, called Kashmir Hotel. In Rawalpindi there were four or five hotels which rented accommodation on a monthly basis to officers posted in Rawalpindi, the accommodation consisting of a bedroom, a sitting room and a bath room with a zinc tub and no flush commodes. Meals were provided by the hotel. We lived in the hotel without any hope of getting married accommodation. When I met Major Aftab Haider, EME, who had been my neighbour during the Staff Course, he told me that he had been posted to the EME Workshop in the Vehicle Sub-depot (VSD) at Golra, about five mile out on the Peshawar Road, where he was living in bachelor accommodation of the VSD. He said that two rooms were vacant and I could have them. The problem was going to GHQ and back. From the hotel I went on a hired bicycle. I talked to my brothers Aftab and Mushtaq, both in the PAF and posted at Sargodha and Mushtaq agreed to lend his Volkswagen till I acquired something myself and we moved out of Kashmir Hotel to VSD Golra.

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