Adulthood And Soldiering: Encountering Zia-ul-Haq And Planning For The Future

"When I reached his office, I was ushered in at once and he gave me tea. We had a long talk in which he said that the army, as well as governance, should be infused with religion"

Adulthood And Soldiering: Encountering Zia-ul-Haq And Planning For The Future

Note: This extract is from the author’s coming autobiography titled Not The Whole Truth: My Life and Times

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My tenure in PMA ended rather tragically. I was ill for some time when Ashfaq told Col. Quraishi that the marks I had given to some cadets in public speaking were more than normally awarded for that subject. Col. Quraishi changed the marks on his own without informing me. When I came back and saw what had happened, I was furious. I first confronted Col. Quraishi saying that nobody but I had the right to award marks and that he could not alter them. He told me to see the Officiating DOS who was Colonel Ikram Amin as Uncle Naseer had gone to the GHQ as the Director of the Army Education Corps. I rushed into the office of the DOS and found another officer, Lt. Colonel Safdar Nawab, sitting with him. Nothing deterred I complained against this highhandedness. The DOS asserted his authority by shouting at me and I was so angry that I banged the papers at his table and stormed out threating to resign my commission. And resign my commission I did immediately. I started that resignation of 13 September 1975 as follows:

I feel that an officer cannot serve honourably when his judgment and integrity is not trusted

And ended it with the foolhardy words:

I therefore want to RESIGN voluntarily from the service.

I was persuaded to take this rash resignation back by a number of well-wishers. However, the DOS could not let me go Scot free as he felt insulted before a visitor. So, I was given a charge sheet dated 16 September 1975 which said, inter alia:

At 0930 of 13 September 1975, the officer broke into the office of ….flung two sheets of paper on the Director’s table on a minor issue and was grossly rude to him

The charges they put on me were far more than was necessary to put me in the soup so I used to joke that if they had only asked me to prepare the charge sheet against me, I would only put the charge of conduct unbecoming of an officer. Surprisingly, senior officers in PMA agreed with me that the charge I mentioned would ‘get my goose cooked’ much better than the ‘grossly rude’ one they had used. Even more surprisingly, I was not worried at all and went to the Log Area officers Mess in Rawalpindi where I was to be punished. Luckily, they decided not to hold a court martial but a summary disposal instead. The funny thing is that I had prepared a defence for my own court martial which ran on the lines of taking the evidence of the DOS’s staff officer, Capt. Yusuf, who saw me saluting the DOS. I thought I would say that the charge ‘broke into the’ DOS’s office could be countered by his statement since one halts on the doorstep to salute so I did not break in. As for banging the papers on the table I thought I would say that one cannot bang thin sheets of paper anyway especially when a fan is running as the sheets would fly off. However, all this clever argument—and maybe it would have harmed me—was never used. I did not tell my parents why I was in Pindi at all and remember writing what I self-importantly and quite pretentiously called ‘philosophical’ essays while all this was going on. At last, the day came and the Log Area Commander called me to his office. I marched in and somebody read out the charge. The Commander did not seem to be too bothered. He said dispassionately: ‘I am giving you a reprimand. Dismissed!’ This was a triumph for me though, in fact, such things are never good for one’s career. What I really feel ashamed of now when nearly half a century has gone by is that never for one moment did I think that both Col. Quraishi and the DOS, Col. Ikram Amin, were my father’s colleagues and I had once called them ‘uncle’. I was actually transgressing the code of personal politeness when I acted towards them as if they were strangers. Moreover, now that I have seen more of life, I am aware that senior administrators in civilian institutions sometimes change the marks given by a junior lecturer. Lecturers do not challenge them the way I challenged Col. Quraishi in PMA since I believed that an officer’s integrity and word is beyond doubt and, if challenged, an upright, self-respecting, officer should resign. And look at the cheek of it! I, who was not prepared to be a proper army officer at all—by proper I mean one who obeyed all orders relating to fighting wars—was so ‘upright’ in my view as to lose what was, after all, a pretty good job!

One day I was standing near the Fort colony (residential area for married officers) when the General came along driving his Mercedes Benz himself. I immediately signalled him to stop and he did so

So, I came back to PMA with a reprimand. But since PMA needed the best and the brightest, I was to be posted away. This was bad news and it became even worse when I was told that the place of punishment would be Fort Sandeman in Baluchistan. I vaguely knew of the army fighting against the Baloch tribesmen but I did not know the politics behind this war. I did not want to go to Baluchistan because I thought it could be boring. Had I known about the politics of it I would have protested against it just as I had about Bangladesh. Anyway, in my attempt to escape service in Baluchistan, I contacted the GHQ and met a senior officer who had served in PMA. I told him everything truthfully saying that I wanted a posting where I could study and maybe take an M.A examination. He said nothing at that time and I came back disappointed. However, I was surprised when I received a posting to the Military College in Sarai Alamgir near Jhelum. So, after a few dinners, I said good bye to PMA and went on my 50 cc to Pindi on leave to my parents’ house. After a few days I was off to the Military College, again on the same motorbike.

I reached Sarai Alamgir and was immediately taken to the picturesque little officers’ mess which had only a few rooms. As I was the only officer actually living in the mess, I got the best one. There were a few other mess members at dinner whom I met. Then I went to my room which my batman had arranged in the old PMA style he knew. As I lay in bed, I heard the muffled sound of traffic on the G.T. Road running in front of the College. I was happy at the prospect of teaching in this secluded place. And so I drifted off to sleep. As I expected, Military College proved restful and congenial. I was not over-burdened with work since I had to teach English to seniors in the 10th and 11th classes. In the evenings I sometimes played squash in which Saqlain Afzal (later brigadier), then a boy in the junior classes, was my formidable opponent. He knew I was bad in squash and often waited with a suppressed but amused grin as I ran around the court missing shot after shot. I also went for walks all alone on the canal which ran at the back of the college. In the evening I inspected the food which was served to the boarders which was part of my duty as a deputy housemaster. Sometimes I went to Jhelum Club where I met Captain (later major general) Shafaqat Ali Shah. He lived in Kharian and we visited each other occasionally. Mostly I read and talked to my mess companions. I discussed intellectual ideas with Mr. Alvi, a very senior civilian instructor who was respected by everybody, and found him very understanding and erudite. I also summarized the week’s news--a war between Christians and Muslims in Lebanon--and made it available to the students once in a week. I also wrote short stories but never thought I would publish them.

As somebody mentioned the idea of doing an M.A in political science, I started studying politics in earnest. In this M.A., for which I had no guidance at all, I appeared in the Punjab University annual examination of 1975 and got a second division. My marks were very near the coveted 60 but, since they were not actually 60 percent, I concluded that, like the previous result in English, I was among the top students. However, I could be knocked down by a feather with surprise when, upon visiting the Punjab University later, I was told I had topped in MA that year and that my gold medal was lying in the bank. I trudged off to the bank and retrieved the medal which I have now. This, however, gave me an idea. If I could top the Punjab university but only with a second division, perhaps I could top another university with a first division also. And so, I decided to take another MA degree in either history or political science. 

I did not have many visitors but those who did come were treated to excellent fish since our old mess cook was an expert at this particular dish. I also took them for a walk to the canal and, if they liked drinking, to the Jhelum officers’ club. Anjum Siddiqui also visited me once or twice and told me that he would leave the army and go for higher studies. I offered to teach him some subjects for his BA but this was hardly possible unless I was somewhere near him. I told him that I had no future in the Army Education Corps where, I felt, people were generally not very warm towards me because of my quarrel with the DOS in PMA and perhaps my liberal ideas. I also did not think that I had a future in the armoured corps but, in fact, I was not looking for a future. I knew I would leave the army as my anti-war views had not changed. I also had a vague idea of doing my MA in Political science and then going to England for a PhD in War Studies. I day-dreamed that I would teach in the National Defence College and make senior officers less gung-ho and more inclined to resolving issues peacefully. Part of this day dream—for it was nothing more than that—was staying on in the army. But I was so detached from reality as not to know that no army in the world would allow a man who taught conscientious objection to wars of aggression, to teach senior officers. The fact is that I was confused and uncertain about my future. I was just drifting along and my life was governed by whims and impulses. So, when Anjum talked about teaching him, I said I would join his regiment. He thought it was a joke or, even if it was not, such a thing was simply not possible. Indeed, he seemed none too keen to encourage me in what appeared to be an arbitrary whim to him. One of my arguments, that I would be near Peshawar which I visited for extra para jumps, seemed quite insane to him and to everybody I met since, they all reasoned, I did not actually need any more para jumps. However, I decided to try out the whim without telling anybody not even Anjum or my parents.

I went to Multan with the vague idea of meeting Lt. General Zia ul Haq, then the corps commander of the Multan corps. I had no appointment nor had I written to him. I had many friends of course, and had a good time staying with Jerry, Ghalib and others. However, none of my friends and I myself knew how one was to meet the corps commander. They all told me it was impossible and I had come on a fool’s errand. One day I was standing near the Fort colony (residential area for married officers) when the General came along driving his Mercedes Benz himself. I immediately signalled him to stop and he did so. He then called out my name, shook hands with me and asked me where I wanted to go. I told him and he told me to get in on the backseat. As I got in, a girl turned to me and said something I could not understand. Then she kept staring at me in amazement. General Zia softly told me her name which I have forgotten and I understood that she was his daughter and she was mentally challenged. I did not know what to say and General Zia, whose wife was sitting in the front seat, introduced me to her. Then he asked me how I was and I told him that I wanted an interview with him. I was given a time right then and there and then dropped off near my room.

When I reached his office, I was ushered in at once and he gave me tea. We had a long talk in which he said that the army, as well as governance, should be infused with religion. I said religion could create an oligarchy of priests who would stifle opposition in the name of the sacred. He listened patiently but I could see he did not agree. I then came to the point and requested him for a transfer back to the armoured corps. I do not remember whether I told him about my PhD in War Studies idea or not but I was relieved that he asked me no questions. I did not go into clarification either and if he thought I had become pro-war then, I am afraid, I misled him by not volunteering information about my views. He said it would be done. When I found out that he had been tipped to be the next Chief of Army Staff I knew it really would be done. And sure enough, I was transformed back to the armoured corps and also given 25 Cavalry which was my choice. It was the only regiment near Peshawar where I went for extra para jumps in those days so, besides Anjum’s vague desire to get guidance for his BA from me, this too was my reason for opting for this elite regiment. So, in June 1976 I went to Kohat and joined 25 Cavalry.

I thought initially that the officers of 25-Cavalry would not receive me  cordially because I was from Probyn’s and had no obvious link with the regiment. This regiment prided itself on its commendable performance in the 1965 war and I thought they would learn with dismay that I was known as a pacifist (though only a conscientious objector to wars of aggression). The fact that I knew one of their unit officers would, obviously, not be enough to reconcile them since, at best, it would only be a personal reason while this regiment prided itself for its professionalism. As for the extra para jumps, I could do from there, this too did not seem to convincing. So, I prepared myself for some lack of cordiality. If they had reservations, I said to myself, it would be perfectly understandable. However, I was pleasantly surprised that all of them became friendly with me very soon. The first tank exercise, when I commanded a troop rather well, made them friendlier since they assumed I had forgotten all about soldiering. The funny thing is that I was, in fact, wrong in my map reading and my squadron commander Major Parvez (later brigadier), called Pagey, was right. However, quite paradoxically I was praised even by Pagey himself. Among the officers I associated with most were lieutenants Anjum, Shaheen and Sohail and Capt. Arshad Durrani (later Lt. Col). There were also Capt.  Maqsood (later brigadier) and Capt. Arshad (Bhai Jan). The person I liked the most was Captain Shahid Gilani (later Lt. Col). His house was in Jungle Khel, a village near Kohat. He was from a respectable Sayyad and peer family and was highly respected in his area. Gilani was sincere and honest and very good company. He was also very hospitable and often invited me to his house. I enjoyed the meals their family cooked for us: chappal kebab, shami kebab (kebab cooked with gram flour mixed with finely minced and boiled meat), tikka (skewered pieces of meat) and other meat dishes.

Anjum now started enthusiastically pursuing his studies and slowly gained momentum. However, studies were not where his heart lay. He was, in common with other officers of the garrison, more keen to acquire girlfriends. My own approach towards girls was quite unusual. I thought one should never lie to anyone, be completely honest and never make false promises of marriage or protestations of love when, in fact, there was no love in the offing. So, I stayed away from the nurses and the officers’ daughters. But I did not stop others from doing what they were doing. Anjum’s wild goose chase of the young damsels of Kohat was also unsuccessful but then he fell in love with Duriya, a very nice and beautiful girl in Lahore, whom he later married. As for the other officers, I could never make out which claim of success was pure fantasy and which had an element of reality mixed with fantasy.

In due course, 25 Cavalry got a horse troop of four horses and I, being the only officer qualified as a horse-master, started looking after them. I often went out in the mountains around Kohat tagging along Farooq, Shaheen or Anjum. None of them, nor for that matter other officers, were especially keen to go on rough cross- country rides with me and found ways to wriggle out after a day or two. Thus, I was often left to exercise the horses on my own with only an RVFC NCO. In the evening I sometimes went to Kohat Club but mostly read political science or history. I got along well with the other officers and functioned as a quartermaster, squadron commander and adjutant.

(to be continued)