A Rewarding Journey

by Brig. (Retd) Fazal Ur Raheem
PA-2709, 1st PMA, 17 Punjab Haidri
21 November 2009

I left Nowshera by bus on a beautiful September morning in 1941 to join Islamia College, Peshawar. At the time, it was the best residential college in the province and promising students from NWFP, FATA, and Baluchistan chose to study there. It was founded by Sahibzada Sir Abdul Qayyum on the pattern of the Muslim University, Aligarh. I was allotted a room in Usmania Hostel which owed its grandeur to a generous donation by H.R.H, The Nizam of Hyderabad.

The college had an excellent faculty. The Principal, Dr. Umar Hayat Malik, had a PhD in Mathematics from the UK. The Head of the English Department was Mr. Harris, a Scotsman devoted to English literature. When Dr. Malik was selected as Director Statistics and posted to New Delhi, Mr. I.D. Scott, who was M.A. Oxford and belonged to ICS cadre, replaced him as the Principal. Professor Mohammad Farid was the Head of the Department of History. He was an honours graduate in History from a British university. The Dean of Islamic Studies was a graduate of Al-Azhar University. Similarly, several other departments, such as Physics, Chemistry, Zoology, and Botany were also headed by prominent scholars.

The Second World War had started in 1939. By 1941, Germany had already over-run France and the Luftwafe was pounding Britain. In 1942, the All India Congress started the quit India movement under the leadership of Mr. Gandhi. The Muslims had consolidated under the leadership of Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the best constitutional lawyer of the British Empire. In April 1943, Mr. Jinnah, the President of the Muslim League, declared:

“The Muslim League calls upon the British Government to come forward, without any delay, with an unequivocal declaration guaranteeing to the Musalmans the right to self-determination.”

This was a clarion call to the Muslim youth to be ready to face all eventualities in the struggle for Pakistan.

In 1944, Mr. Abdul Ali Khan, the youngest son of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the greatest Pushtun leader of the 20th Century, was elected the President of the Khyber Union. I was elected Secretary. After the election, I went to call on the President of the Union. Mr. Abdul Ali Khan met me warmly, and even before shaking hands he said, “Welcome, Raheem. We shall run the union totally in the greatest interest of the student community, irrespective of our political views, whatever they may be.” Mr. Abdul Ali Khan was a dedicated educationist and retired as Education Secretary to the Government of Pakistan. It was a great learning experience to work with him.

In 1945, the Quaid-e-Azam addressed the Muslim League in Peshawar. He said, “We have no friends. Neither the British nor the Hindus are our friends. We are clear in our minds that we have to fight both of them. We shall fight their united might. We shall never be afraid.” When the Quaid asked the crowd whether they wanted Pakistan or not, their answer took the form of full-throated shouts of “Allah-o-Akbar.”

Communal riots reached their zenith in 1946. Sikhs started killing Muslims by the thousands in East Punjab while Hindu mobs commenced slaughtering Muslims in Calcutta. Lord Louis Mountbatten reached New Delhi as the new Viceroy on 22 March 1947 to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire. Aristocratic, vain, and impetuous, he was a grandson of Queen Victoria and a good friend of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. He harbored a calculated disdain for the Quaid in particular and the Muslim community in general. When the partition plan was announced in 1947, the Muslims were completely stunned to learn that it called for the partition of Punjab and Bengal, in addition to awarding the Muslim majority area of Gurdaspur to Hindustan. Consequently, large masses of humanity had to move out of Hindustan to Pakistan in a state of utter lawlessness. Human beings slaughtered each other, killing the youth, raping the women, and torching valuable property under the very nose of Lord Moutbatten. Historian Stanley Wolpert has described it as a “Shameful Flight” in his book about the Partition.

Soon after the Partition when GHQ asked for applications for the 1st PMA Long Course, the youth responded whole-heartedly. There was a large number of applicants at all the centres established for preliminary selection. I happened to be one of the lucky ones who cleared the various stages of selection and medical examination. Since I had been using glasses from an early age, and stood only 5’5” tall, I was rather apprehensive. However, good luck prevailed and I made it to the PMA. A dream had come true. The fact that I was to become a founding member of the 1st Pakistan Battalion, Quaid-e-Azam’s own, became an inspiration of an unprecedented intensity.

Days passed into weeks and months into years, with a new challenge every day, until I found myself marching up the steps and standing in front of Quaid-e-Millat Liaquat Ali Khan on 4 Feb 1950. My first posting was to the 19 Punjab Regiment. It was commanded by Lt. Col. Mohammad Zarif Khan, MC, at Sylhet in East Pakistan. I had arrived at the PMA as a raw youth, but I passed out as a disciplined adult, ready to defend and fight for his nation. Col. Zarif was a veteran of War World II during which he received an MC for attacking a Japanese machine gun position. He was badly wounded and taken prisoner of war. After the War, he was taken to England for plastic surgery. He had seen the enemy from an eye-ball distance, suffered a POW camp for over five years, and hence knew well an infantry soldier’s problems in the battlefield. Before I was given any assignments, he called me for an interview. I had a few apprehensions, but he set them aside quickly as he asked me to take a chair and sit down. He explained to me, as an affectionate elder, that his battalion had a lot of war-time Junior Commissioned Officers who would judge me as a leader only by my character and not for my knowledge. He also told me that all men make mistakes and the only way is to train them to overcome their shortcomings. In the end, he told me that he was going to appoint me as the Unit Intelligence Officer. I would accompany him on all operational reconnaissance missions, with a long range wireless set and selected personnel of the Unit Intelligence Section carrying maps. I thus learnt in 19 Punjab the nuts and bolts of minor tactics through company and platoon level exercises with troops. After four years with the Battalion, I was selected to be an instructor at the PMA.

I took over No. 1 Platoon, Khalid Company, in October 1954. My experiences with 19 Punjab and my earlier training at the PMA provided me a solid base for my job as Platoon Commander of 14 PMA Long Course. This was a most promising Course. It produced two Generals, General Shamim Alam Khan NI (M), SJ, SBt who rose to be Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Major General Naseer Ahmad Khan HI (M), SJ, SBt, as well as three SJ, twelve SI (M), and four SBt. Being a Platoon Commander was similar to being an Under Officer, with greater responsibility. To be a fair, impartial, and demanding Platoon Commander was not easy, but it was essential. After my tenure with 14 PMA, I was posted back to the Battalion in October 1956.

In 1957, I was selected to attend a course at the US School of Infantry in Fort Benning, Georgia. A year later, upon returning from the course, I was appointed as a Company Commander. I was selected to attend the 1959 Staff Course at the Australian Army Staff College in Queescliff, Victoria, Australia. On completion of this course in 1960, I was posted to the General Staff Branch at the GHQ. In 1963, I was posted to 17 Punjab. I felt a personal attachment with this regiment because my course mate, Raja Aziz Bhatti, had been posted to 17 Punjab after receiving the Sword of Honour and the Norman Gold Medal at the PMA. Being a senior Major, I was appointed as second-in-command by the Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. Mohammad Ibrahim Qureshi. The unit was changing from .303 bolt-action rifles to .30 semi-automatics. I had the good fortune to take all the companies, one by one, to the firing ranges for target practice. It was a five-days-a-week job in the summer heat of Lahore, but thanks to our SM Honorary Lieutenant Mohammad Sharif, the company commanders and JCOs, the men achieved full confidence in their new weapons. 17 Punjab had a very good reputation in the Division and the CO enjoyed full confidence of the Divisional ‘G’ Staff. Hence we were asked to run a pre-Staff-Course training program for officers preparing to take the promotion and Staff Course entrance examination. This was indeed a very useful effort and we thoroughly enjoyed all the lectures, discussions, and sand-model exercises planned for this program. In December 1964, I was posted to the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. This was a particularly busy time for all of us at the ISI because Indo-Pak relations were getting worse by the day. In 1965, India imposed an undeclared war on Pakistan. Major Raja Aziz Bhatti was defending Burki, BRBL Bridge, on the road to Lahore. He was awarded a posthumous Nishan-e-Haider for his heroic defense of his area of responsibility. Major Bhatti was the only Nishan-e-Haider of that war and the Battalion has been named 17 Punjab Haideri ever since.

In 1966, I was promoted Lt. Col. and took over command of the 17 Punjab Haideri Battalion. I had the honour to take the battalion to East Pakistan. We were located at Jessore, a beautiful newly-built cantonment. This was a time of intense watermanship training, holding exercises on crossing water obstacles, and practicing attack by infiltration. We were honoured by a visit from the Chief of Army Staff, accompanied by GOC East Pakistan, during the Brigade collective training period. The troops were happy to get sincere appreciation from the GOC for their combat readiness. In December 1967, I was posted to Staff College, Quetta, as an instructor. In 1969, I was promoted Colonel and posted as Colonel Staff of an infantry division at Sialkot. The GOC was concerned with the condition of the bunkers in our operational area which had been neglected after the 1965 war. We therefore took a close look at the bunkers, with the help of the Engineer Battalion Commander, and took appropriate steps to renovate where needed. In 1970, I was promoted Brigadier and appointed to command a Brigade in Azad Kashmir. I had already served in the area as a Major and was well-acquainted with the terrain. I was well in time to renovate and fine-tune our defences before the 1971 war. Recalling the experience gained as Colonel Staff in Sialkot, I employed the services of the Engineer Company Commander to renovate some of the bunkers and other reparable defenses. We were holding the Division’s left flank and therefore we adopted an aggressive defense posture during the 1971 war. Through intensive patrolling by night, we frustrated the enemy’s attempts to infiltrate into the Divisional area and to launch an attack by infiltration. I had a heavy battery under my command which enabled us to keep the enemy under pressure before dawn. In 1973, I had a Jeep accident while returning from an inspection tour in my Brigade area. I was hospitalized for two months, eventually lost my medical category, and was transferred to Kharian to command a brigade in a peace station.

After the creation of Bangladesh, most Bengali Civil Servants left Pakistan for their new country. As a result, the Federal Government fell short of officers in Grades 19 and 20. A “Lateral Entry” examination was therefore held to induct officers from provincial, defense, and private services into the Federal Service to address this shortage. I took the Lateral Entry Examination for Grade 20 and was fortunate to qualify. In 1975, I was appointed Joint Secretary. Upon confirmation in this post in 1976, I took voluntary retirement from the Army. In 1983, I was promoted Additional Secretary. I retired from this position upon reaching the age of superannuation on 31 March 1986.

I have two sons and a daughter. My eldest, Raza, has an MS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Florida and teaches Computer Engineering at FAST National University, Islamabad. My younger son, Riaz, is Managing Director of Data Solutions (Private) Limited, a software company, in Islamabad. My daughter Rehana Mohyuddin is a senior manager at Khushali Bank and is married to Air Commodore Mohyuddin Khurshid. I live happily and peacefully in my home in Chaklala with my wife and faithful companion of six decades. I feel immensely grateful to the Almighty God for his merciful help throughout my life.

One thought on “A Rewarding Journey”

  1. it was good to read about you sir, my grand father was also from 17 Punjab. Lt. Col RD Khan. but i believe he might have been posted to GHQ at the time you were there.

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