Adulthood And Soldiering: Leaving The Army Five Rupees Richer

"The anti-Bhutto agitation made us work very hard in the regiments. I was often on duty and kept reporting the situation to higher headquarters"

Adulthood And Soldiering: Leaving The Army Five Rupees Richer

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

Click here for the sixth part

This was the year 1976 and I now carried out my idea of doing another M A but this time from the University of Peshawar since I was living in Kohat and my domicile was of Abbottabad. This master’s degree too would be in politics but the combination of subjects would be different from my previous degree. Again, I got some books but had no guidance whatsoever. Anyway, when the examination came, I took leave and went to Pindi. On the first day I met a gentleman called Colonel Kiyani. He too was appearing in the same examination and I started visiting his office one day before every paper. I would study his notes which were very systematic and he discussed ideas with me. After the paper I had enough time to have my lunch and then I would leave by railcar for Kohat. When the result was declared I got a first division and a first position and, again, a gold medal. However, this result came after I had left the army so I am anticipating. I concluded that the standard of the MA was so abysmally low that it required very little study. But Col. Kiyani disagreed. He proclaimed my genius to everybody he met and embarrassed me.

In the regiment I was first made the Quartermaster by Lt. Col Mahmud Ali Durrani (later major general). I remembering getting food weighed and dealing with goats (called meat-on-hoof) and checking all kinds of lists and dealing with contractors. Also, everybody seemed to be denied a ‘quarter’ (a place to live) simply out of sadism by all previous QMs. And I was supposed to put everything right including somehow getting a tap of chilled beer installed in the officers’ mess. I also discovered that quartermaster dafadars (sergeants) are not like other NCOs of that rank. They are a kind of minor royalty for the soldiers, other NCOs, clerks and even the JCOs. Apparently, they are the ones who spend nights trying to find new ways of depriving honest people of their homes and hearth and this they do through the QM who, obviously, is an idiot and whom they lead by the nose. They are, however, a slimy lot. Hence, though much I suspected this gentleman, I could never actually catch him at one of his tricks. However, I was passed even by the officers since, in lieu of the tap of chilled beer, they were given chilled bottles of Murree Brewery lager in a firing exercise on the ranges of Nowshera. After this ordeal was over, and I do not know why I did not bungle it dreadfully as that would have saved me from future such assignments, I was tried by others as if I was being groomed to be a general in the army. This time I was entrusted with one of the best appointments for a junior officer, that of an adjutant, who is the staff officer of the CO responsible for carrying out all his orders and also looking after the discipline of the soldiers. Even in normal conditions this is a tough appointment. In my case, however, it came at a very bad time. Lt. Colonel Rashid Ali Khan was the CO and he had made himself most unpopular with the officers. At that time everybody considered him grim and unappreciative of his officers. I now realise, however, that he was not a bad man at all. The worse which could be said about him was that he was rather serious and people mistook it as sullenness or gruffness. In fact, it had just become fashionable to oppose him. As his adjutant I had to work very hard not only on the normal work of the office but also the additional task of keeping the balance between him and the nearly mutinous officers. I found that I was not too fond of power nor of the responsibility which went with it. All I wanted was time for reading and the freedom to live as I liked. This was not possible as adjutant. There was just too much work and I also piled some avoidable work upon myself by looking into the Durbar book and bringing it up to date. One funny thing about being adjutant I must relate. My predecessor Arshad Durrani had left a pipe for me.

‘Your pipe Arshad’, I offered to hand it over to him ‘please take it’.

‘No Sir. This is a legacy for the occupants of this office’.

‘What do you mean? And, in any case, I do not smoke. No minor vices you know!’.

‘Sir, just put it in the mouth in the morning when the Wardi Major and the Head Clerk darken your doors. You will see. You do not have to smoke it. In any case, with a pipe one mostly keeps fiddling with the tobacco and then to ignite the damn thing and after a puff or two it fizzles out. So, just put in the tobacco and that is all’.

I did just this and the Wardi Major (an NCO who conveys the adjutant’s orders to sub-units) after a resounding salute said: ‘Sir, I will come later’. The Head Clerk was sidling in with a huge pile of files and he stopped in his tracks too. They both came in later, however, and reported that some of the problems they had come for earlier had been solved for that day anyway. So, just the half hour which they gave me for my pretence of smoking the pipe saved me from pseudo-problems which abound in any organisation. But otherwise, the adjutant has too many problems especially in a regiment in which the CO and the officers disagree with each other. The CO, now that I think back about it, actually trusted me very much. Even in things in which I had no expertise he trusted me. One day when we were on an exercise, I had to take him to visit the fighting formations in the field and he asked me to drive. Now I was not good in driving his jeep (called jeepster) since, unlike most adjutants who love to try their hand on it, I had never driven it at all. In fact, I was not interested in driving at all so, again unlike most young officers, I had never driven jeeps unless I was specifically ordered to do so. So, on a dark evening I, a bad driver, and the CO, who turned out to be a bad navigator, both blundered up a hill from which the jeep could tumble down and have us killed. Col. Rashid Ali Khan sat mum with what I thought was a frown but he did not express any alarm nor did he admonish me. Just then I spied a rough track which took us down with a few nasty jolts and bumps to the position of the A squadron. Here everybody complimented me on my driving and the CO joined in with a few grunts which was more than he vouchsafed to give to anybody. I confessed frankly that I was lost but this was laughed off as a joke though I suspect Col. Rashid knew but his face remained inscrutable and he ordered me to drive him back as if nothing had happened. This time, however, I chose the road and not some shortcut across the hills.

However, one day I won a sudden reprieve from this trying grind of files, letters, telephones and passing and receiving of orders. The GOC, Major General Mujib ur Rehman, sent for me and made me a member of a GHQ committee for looking into the standards of recruitment in the army (height, weight, education level etc. etc.). The other members were commandants of recruitment centres – all brigadiers – and here was I, a mere captain. The chairman was the GOC himself who seemed to have a lot of faith in my writing skills. My work was to put all the discussions into military English prose for the COAS and the general staff. The discussions were interminable but I liked the occasional jokes and, above all, the knowledge which came my way. Brigadier Manto, a confirmed bachelor, was the most entertaining. Moreover, I got the chance to talk to General Mujib and convinced him that he should support my resignation from the army. I also requested him for a furlough and he agreed. I spent four months in the Divisional Headquarters. All this time Anjum studied and appeared in his B.A. At this time, for something, I went to meet General Zia ul Haq who was then the COAS. Again, I stood outside the Army House and he stopped his car. He invited me in and I was served tea. Somebody else turned up and they discussed the law-and-order situation as this was probably April 1977. People were protesting against Z.A. Bhutto’s election and the PNA was up in arms because, they said, the elections were rigged. The impression I got in Zia ul Haq’s drawing room was that while most of the army would obey all orders to suppress the protestors, there was fear of some soldiers disobeying or resisting orders to fire in the areas which were the recruiting areas of the soldiers. Nobody explicitly said as much but I got this impression and inferred that the senior officers there did not really know what to do. My own opinion was that there should be re-elections and the protestors should not be handled with force and this opinion I held with full conviction despite my dislike of Bhutto as a person and, paradoxically, full approval of the ideals of the PPP as a secular party. However, for once I was discreet and kept quiet. The other visitor left, and I asked General Zia for the favour I had come for feeling very embarrassed. He said he would not do it and, in my heart, I was in full agreement with him. I resolved never to ask for such undue favours from anybody again. Otherwise, General Zia was as warm as ever – surprisingly he never forgot people! I also learned that, while never ceasing to smile affably, General Zia could be just cold and ruthless in his decisions as any Attila the Hun or grim and foaming-at-the-mouth Hitler.

The anti-Bhutto agitation made us work very hard in the regiments. I was often on duty and kept reporting the situation to higher headquarters. Then, one very sultry July evening (05 July), I was sleeping outside in the lawn because the room was like an oven, when I was awakened by somebody who blurted out excitedly that General Zia ul Haq had imposed martial law. I completely disagreed with martial law though I considered Bhutto a tyrant in some of his dealings. I never wanted to be on martial law duties though one got extra payment for them. However, they did appoint me for election duties and that too in a far-flung area. I had resolved that if I was in charge of elections, they would be fair and I would not obey any orders no matter where they came from, to rig them. This resolution was never put to the test, however, since the election was postponed and I never went anywhere. Very soon it became clear to me that Zia ul Haq was going to stay for quite some time. His talk of Islamization implied that he was going to use the language of Islam – the sacred – to stifle all political opposition. I was against all such things though I was surrounded by friends, all army officers, who thought martial law was a good thing for Pakistan under the circumstances. Though they themselves had a colonial lifestyle even now and drinking was still the norm among armoured corps officers, more and more of them started using the vocabulary of Islam. My own ideas about military rule and Islamisation were considered quite perverse but them. However, by this time I was branded an intellectual and from such an animal as an ‘intellectual’ nothing common-sensical could be expected. I must add, however, that none of the officers actually opposed me nor were they less warm towards me than before. In fact, Captain Gillani started inviting me more often for lunch and dinner and sat grinning while I poured out my anti-Zia views as if this was a comic show he had put on for the benefit of the other guests.

While in 25 Cavalry I went for two courses to Nowshera where the School of Armour was located. The courses were at different times, of course, but I remember them as one event. I was not interested in the subject of the courses – tactics and wireless – but I liked the interaction with officers from all over the army. The songs, jokes and treats were what made the course worthwhile. However, I worked as little as possible and did not do well in the theoretical part of the courses. My teaching, however, was much better and in that I got a comparatively better grade but the overall grade was poor. I do not still understand why 25 Cavalry nominated me for the second course after such a lacklustre performance in the first one but they did. In the course on tank tactics, I was taught by Captain Tariq Rahim, a very smart officer and an excellent instructor, who was shot dead by the partisans of Bhutto later. I did not know him socially but I was sorry for him.

I was not keen to gain experience in command knowing that I would leave the army someday but I did have to command tanks – and a whole squadron at that – when I was posted to Thall. Here I had very little company – only Lt. Farooq – which was a blessing. But this also meant that I had ample time to study. As mentioned before, I was preparing for the MA so I found the place congenial. I had stayed in bunkers where, so I was told, snakes were the older inhabitants when I had visited Thall earlier. This time there was a room in the officers’ mess of the infantry brigade. Soon I grew so bored that I really wanted to leave. And, sure enough, an officer came to take charge. This was Major Saleem Malik (later major general). He was soft spoken and polite and I had long talks with him. He believed that I was leaving the army because I could not take the loneliness and hard life of places like Thall. I assured him that I was leaving because I did not believe that a person with a conscience like myself would fight wars of aggression. 

‘Tell me, Sir’, I asked him ‘Should an officer obey orders or should he first decide whether he, in his private capacity, considers them morally justified or not?’

‘Of course, an officer’s duty is to obey all lawful commands’.

‘There you are. And if I had been ordered to fight in Bangladesh in 1971 I should have refused since I thought it was a wrong war’, I said triumphantly.

‘Would you really?’ he queried.

‘Well, no! Not really. It takes more courage than I have. I would have obeyed the order rather than be shot for disobeying it but that is just the kind of situation I want to avoid so I should not remain an officer and then collect a pension all my life’.

He pondered that and then reluctantly agreed but also suggested that perhaps I was misled by all the books I read. So, while we agreed to disagree, I and Major Saleem enjoyed long talks and then I left for Kohat.

I was quite happy in the regiment despite the fact that I did not really like regimental soldiering. However, there is a resignation letter of 28 October 1976 which appears to tell a different story. The tone of this resignation is very angry and one of the things I say in it is:

According to the traditions of upright career officers, I have only one course open to me—to resign voluntarily.

It is not at all clear what I am angry about except a vague reference to being considered a ‘shirker of hard duties’. I have completely forgotten why I had resigned as in 1976 I was in 25 Cavalry and I do not remember any untoward incident which could have precipitated this livid response. I also do not know whether I gave it to the C.O. or not. It was not sent forward, this much is certain but the rest is not. I saw this letter in 2023 and what made me laugh was my boast about being a ‘career officer’ when the fact is that I wanted to leave the army and was never a ‘career officer’ in the sense that conscientious objectors to wars of aggression are not army officers—upright or otherwise. Also, all my course mates always called me a dodger which translates into ‘shirker of hard duties’ so this part of it too is a boast. But which hard duties? I went to Thall to command a squadron gladly as married officers did not want to do so. I went for exercises and firing resignedly and cheerfully and proceeded to treat them like picnics despite the lack of sleep, the dust created by moving tanks and the smoke of heavy guns firing. In fact, I did rather well in both exercises and the firing. In the latter my troop once stood first and I was honoured by being called an excellent shot though, if truth be told, in a tank it is team work. The loader loads the gun, the gunner fires it and the commander (myself in this case) guesses the distance and gives the order to fire. So I could hardly have complained about this duty—so which ‘hard duties’? The whole thing is inexplicable and just goes to show that I was not at all pragmatic as a young man. Had I been in the corporate sector they would have fired me immediately for showing such defiance and being so stiff-upper-lip! But I suppose elite cavalry regiments take such things in their stride as, after all, they tolerated officers fighting duels not too long ago. Temper must have had some place in their tradition!

Later, on 01 January 1978, I did earnestly resign my commission. Initially I had planned to write the history of my objection to the military action of 1971 but, being advised by the GOC that it need not be mentioned now as it was no longer relevant, I did not refer to it. I did say, however, that I could not reconcile my desire for research or subordinate my opinions to military policy so I wanted to leave the army. Some officers asked me to stay in the army for about two more years so that I would get premature retirement at ten years of service. That would entitle me to a pension and benefits for life. However, I felt it quite morally indefensible as I refused to do the one thing an army is meant for—fighting when ordered to do so without questioning—and still collect a pension and be eligible for such benefits as free medical care for life. I, therefore, decided to resign and made it clear that it would be without benefits. General Mujeeb had gone to the Ministry of Information but he had promised me that I would be recommended for release from the army. The new GOC (whose name I forget), however, interviewed me as he was reluctant to agree with me that I was not suitable for the army. I had a difficult time convincing him. However, eventually he did agree but he made it clear to me that mine was a case of resignation not premature retirement so I would get no benefits, at all. I thought this only meant that I would get no pension, would not be treated in the CMH free of cost, and would not be eligible to become a member of armed forces clubs at subsidised rates or apply for land and houses for retired officers. However, it went beyond that as I will describe below. 

Before I left the regiment I was dined out as usual. This came at a time when all the officers, except a few senior ones like the second-in-command, were very angry with the C.O – Lt. Col. Rashid Ali Khan. I mentioned that I would be very critical of the C.O in my dining-out speech. All the young officers were thrilled. They made a hero out of me. Sohail, who had resigned and gone to Peshawar, came back to hear me speak. He too was to be dined out but he had earlier declined to attend. Now he said he would come especially for the occasion. Anyway, when the big day arrived I dressed in full ceremonial evening kit—monkey jacket, bow tie and cummerbund--- and went to the mess which was full of beaming, expectant faces. The C.O welcomed me and we sat through a several-course formal dinner attempting to make polite conversation. Then the CO gave a speech and presented me with the regimental shield. Then I got up, looked at the eager faces of my friends, and launched into witty and vitriolic diatribes against the C.O. When I ended the young officers were wild with joy but the second-in-command was livid with fury. He protested with his face contorted but Col Rashid Ali Khan stopped him. It was then that I felt very small and humiliated. In my eyes Col Rashid Ali Khan had redeemed himself by this little gesture of magnanimity. I felt so mean and so stupid that I could have cried. I did not wait for the fellow officer’s ovation. Indeed, I told them that I had made a stupid, mean, small gesture and that I was sorry from the bottom of my heart. I did not apologize to Col Rashid though this is what I should have done. The whole incident left a bad taste in my mouth. In 2022 when I was writing this I felt so sick in my heart about my behaviour that I thought I should seek out Col. Rashid Ali Khan and apologise to him in person. With this in mind I asked everybody I could contact, including the regiment itself, but did not get his address. I still wait to forgive myself and a closure of this sorry episode of my life.

But let me end on a joke I told everybody when I was bidding goodbye to arms. Since I had resigned, I also had to pay about Rs. 4000 as cost of the last course I had done at the School of Armour in Nowshera. My savings in the Defence Services officer’s Provident fund savings was 4, 015. Thus I had fifteen rupees in my pocket when I left the army. I told people that when I entered the army as a cadet in November 1970 I had ten rupees and now that I was leaving it in April 1978 I had fifteen. So, in all these years, I had gained a profit of five rupees besides enjoying the life of an officer in elite regiments. ‘Now where can one stay for more than seven years in great style, the colonial sahib bahadur (the style of high-ranking colonial officers) style—food served by liveried waiters, horses to ride, elite clubs all open for one and even 2000 square yards of land in the Defence Housing Society of Karachi at a subsidised rate (paid by my mother)--- and emerge with a profit?’ I would ask them. So, with a light heart, I sent my batman, Bilal, to my house in Pindi with my luggage and started via the Kohat pass on my 50 CC motorbike. I was finally a civilian again and I was in my 29th year. Anybody else might have thought it was too late to begin a new career but I gave little thought to that.