Adulthood And Soldiering: Friendships And Debates Over War

"I must acknowledge that PMA officers, and I refer to my friends who were from the infantry, armoured corps and artillery not just the education corps, were amazingly tolerant of my anti-war views"

Adulthood And Soldiering: Friendships And Debates Over War

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

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In Multan, I applied for a change of arms to the Army Education Corps. I thought I would be able to carry on in a service in which I would not have to violate my conscience because I would never have to fight  wars of aggression or civil wars. I did not expect to be transferred and was surprised and thrilled when I was. And not only transferred but transferred to PMA! This was, as it were, a fantasy of finding the Garden of Eden. I was happy beyond belief. I was dined out of Probyn’s Horse with Ajmeri providing sumptuous dishes to bid me good bye. I must say that there would be few armies, if any, which treat a conscientious objector to war so well. Somewhat inexplicably, however, they did not call me a conscientious objector to the civil war of 1971; they called me a pacifist which implied that I was against all wars. I did explain to anyone who wanted to hear me out that I was not against wars of pure defense or even self-determination. However, even while being labelled a pacifist, I was posted to PMA which has the best officers of the army. So, very happy with this posting, I went home to Pindi. There I bought a motorbike – a Honda 50 c.c of bright red colour – which looked small, frail and toy-like but ran pretty well. It was that little thing which I drove to the gates of PMA in February 1974. My heart leapt with sudden delight as I was home at last. I did not know till then how much I had missed this lovely place. They lodged me in a half-hut – one of the few remaining ones – near the cinema. It was wonderful to be in PMA again and in a half-hut such as the one I had first called home in 1952 when I came to this place as a child of three and a half.

Next morning I donned the Army Education Corps uniform and joined the Department of English as an Instructor (Class C). I was then a lieutenant and twenty-five years of age. The head of the department was Lt. Colonel Quraishi, once our neighbour in PMA and father of Sabih, Farooq and Naveed who is my brother Ahmad’s best friend. Among my other colleagues were Major Tasadduq and captains Malik, Jafri, Irshad and Iftikhar D. Hassan, lieutenants Abid, Qaiser Faruqi, Rais and Ashfaq. Ashfaq became a good friend of mine. The conversation in the department was very different from Probyn’s. First, although it was a department of English, people conversed more in Urdu than English as most of them had been educated in Urdu-medium schools and the culture of colleges and universities was, and remains, Urdu-based at least in the Punjab and Karachi. Secondly, while in Probyn’s people talked of war and regimental history, here they talked of poetry, especially of Urdu poetry. I was thrilled since I had a taste for Urdu poetry but had never met anyone with such a taste. I lapped up all the talk about Faiz, Faraz, Sahir Ludhianwi and Ghalib and tried to read these poets as much as possible. Unfortunately, my vocabulary of Urdu was so limited, having been educated in English all my life, that I had to work hard on just comprehending the meanings of words. Much later, when I was in my seventies, I wrote a commentary on Ghalib but at that time I just lived with the frustration of missing out much of Urdu poetry because of my ignorance of the vocabulary. Our colleague Qaiser Faruqi provided comic relief by talking like an infantry officer. For example, he called the head of department the C.O. which is not a word used for academic heads in PMA. On the whole the department had a joyous atmosphere though it could be satirical at times.

Ashfaq became my best friend. He was married and his wife, Annie, became a sister to me. I sincerely cared for her as if she were a real sister and did all I could to help the couple buy a T.V and other things. Annie too was caring. She often invited me for meals during which I had long talks with Ashfaq. The talks with Ashfaq, and ever more so in the department, sometimes became arguments. My ideas were very controversial, to say the least, and people did not quite agree with them. Uncle Naseer, then a brigadier and the DOS, once told me angrily that my pro-peace views were simply anti-Pakistan. I said they would actually serve the country better since there would be money for development. But Uncle Naseer was also my father’s best friend so he did not report such conversations to the Commandant of PMA, Brigadier Abdullah Saeed, who, by the way, was very appreciative of me since he visited my class and went back impressed.  However, despite such differences, it was Uncle Naseer who presented me with the captains’ badges of rank in June 1974.

India went nuclear in 1974 and, despite high emotions, the officers listened to my view that nuclear weapons would make Pakistan more insecure than it was

When I joined PMA in February 1974, the 49th PMA long course was the senior most. I taught English to one of their platoons. I also taught the 50th, 51st, 52nd, 53rd, 54th, 55th and for a brief period the 56th long course. Some of my students became generals but I lost all contacts with my military friends so it was only rarely that I met anyone later. I enjoyed teaching English and especially the oral English classes such as debates and lecturettes since I was a good speaker. It thrilled me to speak and I loved doing it. It just made me feel confident and powerful and was a positive experience. Besides academic studies, I was fond of horses and, being the only officer qualified in the advanced equitation course, PMA trusted me with its horses and so I rode daily as I had as a boy. I often led officers and cadets in cross-country rides and also loved show jumping. As usual I was not interested in polo though, perhaps once or twice, I did bring in a horse in the polo ground to train the animal not to shy away as the polo stick swung by or the ball whizzed past its hooves. Apart from riding I also loved mountaineering as I had as a boy. Once or twice I accompanied cadets to the mountains such as Thandiani. I also took the charge of the PMA Cadets Dramatic Club. Very talented cadets, such as Kaleem (left the army as a captain) and Hasan Rafi (later brigadier), acted out humorous and serious roles. In the Elizabethan tradition, feminine roles were played by boys. In the all-male sub-culture of PMA this  led to much good natured raillery and the ‘girls’ were much sought after for photographs. I even wrote out a humorous play in Urdu and English which became the talk of the town. Thus, throughout my two years and a few months in PMA, I remained the  moving spirit of the dramatic club, though I must compliment Captain (later colonel) Iftikhar D. Hassan who was the de jure in-charge and who got the cadets to stage ‘Arms and the Man’ of Bernard Shaw. It was, of course, a great success.

Another club which I joined was the Paratrooper’s Club. We had to be in perfectly fit condition to undertake this physically demanding course. As I was fit, I was selected and went with cadets and officers to Peshawar in the spring of 1975. We were trained in the para-jumping school and what a training it was! Early in the morning, after breakfast with Majors Humayun and Yaqoob, I joined the groups which ran several miles on the Peshawar university road. Then came the actual training, the physical exercises, conducted by fiends in human form such as Havaldar Karam Ilahi. The O.C of the School, Major Tarar (later known as Colonel Imam of the Taliban fame), himself joined us and made our lives miserable by making us completely exhausted. It was like being in first term again.

‘Get ten Sahib’ The NCOs barked as soon as they saw us and down we fell to get ten push -ups.

‘Double around Sahib’, and we trotted away hoping to be recalled but the Havildar developed amnesia, and if he deigned to notice us, he shouted with renewed enthusiasm: ‘Get ten Sahib. Double around Sir. Up. Down. Up. Down….’ and so on.

Before the para-jumps I was pulled by a jeep and could not get up in time with the result that my skin was peeled off and I was in great pain. However, I went in for the jumps despite that. When we were in the air the staff placed me number I in the order of jumping. I stood at the door looking down at the ground. I was not at all frightened and got absorbed in watching the toy-like houses below.  Suddenly the light changed from green to red and I did not notice it.

‘Jump Sir!’ bawled the staff and I jumped out immediately. As I said 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000 the parachute fell like a stone and then came a hard jerk. I looked up and found the umbrella opened up over me. I felt inexpressibly exhilarated as I fell through the air down below till the ground started rushing up dangerously. Then I put my feet together and as I hit the earth, I rolled clear and got up fast to pull the billowing parachute in. If I had not, it could have dragged me as the jeep had since there was a breeze at that time. Then I walked back with the parachute to where the happy parachutists were assembling. I did five such jumps and we were awarded wings in a parade. While others were satisfied with the decoration, I and Major Rana, who was with me in PMA, used to try to jump from the plane as often as possible. We drove down from PMA to Peshawar and requested the Officer Commanding Para Wing for a jump. I completed 18 jumps and Major Rana nearly 50 or maybe more in the next few years. There were a few fatal accidents during this period but somehow they never stopped me from trying to get some extra jumps whenever I could manage it.

While doing this course, I made new friends. Among them were Lt. Khalid Khan (later Lt. Col.) from the Baluch Regiment and Lt. Salahuddin who was one of my cadets in PMA. Khalid Khan was a wonderful, lively, sincere and sociable person. I found him very good company and we kept meeting very often. One of my visitors was Lt. Anjum Siddiqui of 25 Cavalry (left the army as a lieutenant). I had become friends with him in June 1974 and he had visited me in PMA and now, since he was doing a course in Nowshera, he visited me in Peshawar. Both Khalid and Anjum still remain in communication though sporadically but I have lost all trace of Salahuddin.

I loved my stay in PMA. It was like being on leave or a permanent honeymoon with that beloved bride of the earth I called home. I had many friends such as Major Saleem Akhtar Malik, son of the late Major General Akhtar Malik and brother of Jamil Akhtar Malik (left a lieutenant) who was my regimental officer in Probyn’s Horse. Major Yusuf (later General and DCOAS) under General Musharraf, the late Captain Kamal Ahmad (later brigadier) and Major Talat Saeed (later brigadier) and Major Tariq. They would ride and talk with me and we used to go to the Abbottabad Club once in a week where, after a few drinks, we had mutton karahi –actually goat-meat fried with condiments. 

I had many visitors. First, since they also shared the same good memories, members of my family visited me from time to time. For instance, Anwar Bhai came to visit me after his marriage with Ayesha Bhabi. Ahmad and Tayyaba also came at different times. Tayyaba stayed with Uncle Naseer and Ahmad with me and with his friends. Friends also came from time to time. One day, much to my delight, my PMA friend Asad ur Rehman arrived. His brother-in-law was a PMA officer and Asad was staying with him. He had been a POW in India and I met him after years. He told me much about what had happened in Bangladesh (which he called Eastern Command) and then the POW camp in India. As he sat sipping his chilled beer and talking to me about the tragic loss of life, I felt I had been right to oppose that military action and that war. The evening took on a melancholy though charming quality of its own. I have never forgotten it.

Perhaps the most memorable visit of all was of my childhood friends Shaheen, Shala and Shahrukh. Since their father, Major General Rafi Khan knew someone high up, I was told about their visit by a senior officer. I immediately asked for the guest rooms of the Officers Mess itself. The Mess Secretary demurred for a moment since Shala was an unmarried young woman but I assured him that it was the safest and most appropriate thing we could do since her two brothers were with her. To put her up somewhere else would be stupid. He agreed and my friends were lodged a flight up from my own room. I took them for riding since I knew that Shala loved it. And she surely enjoyed herself. We also trekked to a house near the hills near Burn Hall where General Rafi had a house which he had either sold or was about to sell. In short, we had a fantastic time but, at least for me, the four-day visit ended too soon. I waved the three of them off and went back to the mess. 

Another childhood friend whose visit was most pleasurable for me was Tariq Ahsan. But before describing it, let me explain how my car came up as the main topic of conversation (read teasing on the part of Tariq) on the very first day of his visit. As mentioned earlier, I had a Honda 50 cc motorbike. It became something of a legend in PMA officers mess since all my colleagues could borrow it. It was generally not even locked and people just took it after shouting to me through the window that they wanted it. Those who were especially kind put petrol in it but others did not think such formalities necessary. However, I did not want a motorbike; I wanted a car. The catch was that there just was not enough money to buy one. However, in the summer of 1974 I finally mustered enough money, mostly loans from my mother and overdrafts from my bank, to buy a Volkswagen beetle. On the first afternoon of his visit Tariq Ahsan saw everybody fussing about the car in the mess and concluded that I was very popular. When I came back from the office, he saw that the windshield was broken. I was in despair but this really amused him.

‘What are you grinning about?’, I asked him

‘Oh, I heard all about how a huge boulder on the road came under your car and broke the windshield. Everyone talks about you’, he chortled with unholy glee.

‘Well, let us see how they talk about your riding. I will take you out for a cross country ride today’, I said.

He said that he had not been riding for a long time but I insisted so he came along reluctantly. But Lo! and Behold! What happened was that Tariq returned without any mishap from the ride while I, while riding at full gallop, fell headlong as my horse tripped and fell. So, instead of talking about Tariq, I was the one in the news in the mess that evening. How I had not broken my neck was something everyone wondered at. And, to rub the point in, some even said that this fate awaited me in the not-too-distant future and that it was actually the poor horse which had to be pitied. After all, people reasoned, who gallops a horse on uneven ground full of treacherous holes, drains and ups and downs. This provided Tariq Ahsan with more material for merriment later that evening. 

Sometimes in March 1975, soon after the visit of Shaheen and his siblings, my father was admitted to Wah military hospital for an operation of the prostrate. I stayed with him all night after the operation. He was in great pain and all night I nursed him. This was testing time for me since in his illness he became even more irritable than before. But I nursed him throughout his illness and was much relieved when I found him improving.

To continue with the visitors, a frequent one was Omar Asghar had left the army as a lieutenant in 1975. He lived with his family in a small annexe which resembled a beautiful English cottage in Abbottabad. It was very beautifully furnished but too small for the family. They used the hut because Air Marshal Asghar Khan’s big house had been burnt down. Nobody knew what had actually happened but it was no more. Omar thought Bhutto had got it burnt down but of this there was no proof. A new house was being constructed. Omar was studying for his B.A and aimed to go to England for further studies. I encouraged him in his ambition and discussed his studies with him. I told him that I myself was studying a good deal since I was writing a book on war. This book became a 400-page document for which I had read over a hundred books on war, nuclear weapons, deterrence and history. I did not know research methodology so I used only published sources. My idea was that war is an institutionalized event supported by ideologies like nationalism which, in turn, are created and fostered. These, being artificially created institutions, can be avoided. Thus, war could be eliminated by arranging the international systems in such a way that there would be a small armed force controlled only by a neutral United Nations. This would limit national sovereignty but eliminate modern war. I argued that, whereas aggression will still lead to quarrels and spontaneous fights, the absence of national armed forces would eliminate wars just as good policing eliminates armed conflicts among individuals. I presented these ideas to whoever listened to me but nobody agreed—no, not even one person!

I must, however, acknowledge that PMA officers, and I refer to my friends who were from the infantry, armoured corps and artillery not just the education corps, were amazingly tolerant of my anti-war views. India went nuclear in 1974 and, despite high emotions, they listened to my view that nuclear weapons would make Pakistan more insecure than it was; that nuclear waste could poison our food supply chains; that accidents could precipitate a nuclear exchange and that some rash decision-makers could take inordinate risks and begin a nuclear war and, lastly, that all weapons in history have been used so deterrence cannot be relied upon. Some of these officers, such as Salim Malik, were romantic about wars and the military profession. They were really brave and professional soldier whose ideas were being challenged by me. Others, like Major Yusuf, Bukhari (later major general) and Agha Jahangir (later major general), were concerned with the motivation of cadets. And yet, never once did they forbid me from speaking my mind nor were they intolerant.  Kamal Ahmad told me jokingly that I should stop reading Bertrand Russell. I told him to read Russell for a change but he only guffawed. I find this amazing to this day. Thus, my stay in PMA was wonderful despite my unusual views. I sometimes think they liked my behaviour—horses, good conversation, cordiality, conviviality and good cheer—and did not take my ‘eccentricities’ too seriously. I was, so to speak, something of a licensed fool of European courts who could get away with anything. 

My behaviour was also different from the stiff upper lip pukka sahib exterior all officers put on in PMA. I was much more friendly with cadets than officers were supposed to be. Though this meant nothing more than being approachable and allowing them to talk informally in the drama rehearsal, it was inappropriate behaviour for a PMA officer. One day, however, I did something which was not just inappropriate but actually punishable under army rules. My friend, Mian Naveed Ijaz, who had played with me in 1969 when his father was the commandant of PMA, joined the academy as a cadet. His elder brother, Nadeem Ijaz, also a friend when he was a boy in PMA, had been one of my cadets and we were on the best of terms. I therefore felt I was obliged to take care of Naveed. But when I met him, I was alarmed and distressed to find him under great stress. He said he could not take the hardships of PMA anymore and would run away. I told him to wait but Naveed would not wait and repeated the same thing whenever he saw me. I did my best to talk him out of it but he was determined to take the plunge whether I would help him or not. His face used to be contorted with pain and he was not ready to listen to any argument which involved waiting and howled with indignation at the mere suggestion that he should let the first term be over. I should have told the adjutant of PMA about it but I did not. After all, Naveed was a childhood friend and I was apprehensive as to how much such information would harm him career. However, as it happened, Naveed did run away just as my friend Parvez Qadir did. Of course, as it happens in such cases, he was brought to PMA, where he did the decent thing by not mentioning that he had ever confided his idea of absconding from PMA to anybody. His family must have paid the army according to rules but I never met him again though I did meet Nadeem several times.

(to be continued)