A polite ‘shut up’ call


Ikram Sehgal |

Along with one of my platoons, radio operator and runner, I was hugging the bottom of a steep ridge with Marri militants firing down at us on Dec 30, 1973 a few miles west of Kahan. The Marris thought we were trapped, their bullets were ricocheting 10-12 feet away from us, luckily for us they had no concept of “plunging fire”.

While one of the platoons was making their way around the ridge behind them, sharpshooters in the third platoon were picking the hostiles off one by one whenever they exposed themselves on the ridge. As opposed to today, counter-insurgency was a fairly straight-forward exercise 44 years ago.

The Honourable Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, reading them in the Courtroom the rule of law which they must learn to first respect and adhere to if they have any aspirations to govern.

Around 8 am, Maj (later Maj Gen) Fahim Akhtar, the adjutant of the unit, came on the radio set, “Imam Four Markhor, Zarrar was born yesterday”. My Commanding Officer (CO) Lt Col (later Brig) Mohammad Taj SJ & Bar then congratulated me in his usual gruff manner, “Mop them up and you can go on leave.”  

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As an afterthought he added, “Imam Four don’t get yourself killed”. By midday, we had done enough so that I could get to see my first born on New Year’s Day 1974 in Karachi.  I will never forget the Baloch generosity in the form of my friend Saleem Bugti sending four sheep to mark Zarrar’s birth from Dera Bugti where HQ 60 Bde was located to my unit’s base at Kahan.

Our success as a new unit (raised in late 1971) started with our outstanding performance stabilizing the forward defended line in Umarkot-Chor area. We had one of the most hard driving hard fighting soldiers of the Army, Lt Col (later Brig) Taj, SJ & Bar (both 1965 and 1971) as our CO.

Replying to each and every question in a calm and confident manner, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa said he would resign if there was any evidence of the Army’s involvement in the “Faizabad affair”.

A small core group of good officers with professionalism integrity, character and commitment always ensures a good reputation for any Army unit, Fahim, Tariq, Hanif Butt, Jahangir, etc made 4 Sindh into one such unit. A desert warfare expert, Col Taj’s enthusiasm in actual combat was infectious, this gave us invaluable On-The-Job Training (OJT). 

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Today’s counter-insurgency is quite different and far more deadly. Pitched battles are rare, small insurgent units with better arms and equipment than their predecessors employ raids and ambushes alongwith improvised explosive devices (IEDs) combining irregular warfare with terrorism much more effectively. Today’s combat soldiers have their work really cut out for themselves.

Nobody can write your Annual Confidential Report” (ACR) like your soldiers can, your reputation is force-multiplied if they have served with you in battle. The rank and file can be quite scathing about our “patriots” having not only dual or triple personalities but having even different nationalities. Some insanely jealous detractors, having no shame for being on my dole for a dozen years or so, get themselves drunk out of sheer frustration and disseminate any number of falsehoods. Because of their connections some of them have even got away with murder!

The “Faizabad Dharna” was touted as being orchestrated by the Army. Maryam’s husband Capt (Retd) Safdar is rumoured to have funded the Dharna at the beginning to divert attention from NAB’s ongoing criminal cases.

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Commissioned into 16 Baluch Gen Qamar Bajwa commanded this excellent unit as his father did before him. With a history of producing excellent officers, 16 Baluch was lucky to have had COs like Brig Ch Fateh Ali Khan (father of late Lt Gen Iftikhar Ali Khan and Ch Nisar Ali Khan), Lt Gen Amin Burki and my good friend late Lt Gen Agha Jahangir, etc . Groomed as a career infantry officer, Qamar Bajwa has not minced words about his commitment to democracy.

Flash forward to the COAS appearing for an “in-camera” briefing to the entire Senate as a “whole Committee” was a watershed event “civil-military relations”, quashing the persistent rumours of the Army (alongwith the superior judiciary) engaging in “conspiracies” against the civilian govt. The COAS knew very well that he would face hostile questions from the Senators belonging to the Opposition, however most “angst” was expected from the treasury benches because of the obnoxious (and devoid of reality) rantings of former PM Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz.

The jawans quickly got someone to craft a sign SEHGAL COY (meaning COMPANY) for a group photograph together. None of the soldiers were even born when I left the Army 42 years earlier in 1974.

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With the Islamabad High Court (IHC) getting into the act, the govt was forced into a confrontation course. With the police operation to disperse the “Dharna” badly handled, the protest spread to more than 80 towns and cities, a bloodbath across the country with disastrous results was quite possible. Before this could add to the internal and external problems and endanger the country’s future by slipping into “a situation of last resort”.

Qamar Bajwa advised the govt not to use force but negotiate to end the sit-in peacefully. Given this mandate by the PM the COAS tasked the DG ISI, Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar to avert what would become a certain catastrophe. The ISI did this quietly, efficiently and without bloodshed. Because of time constraints it was done in an expeditious manner and that made it seem easy when in fact a lot of persuasion went in to narrow down their demands to one.

Instead of being commended as they should have been for a job very well done, two things happened which in hindsight could have been avoided (1) the agreement with the Dharna organisers was countersigned by a senior ISI officer when they insisted the Army Chief guarantee the govt would adhere to the deal and (2) the DG Rangers gave Rs.13000 from his own pocket to those incarcerated or in hospital complaining they had no money to go home.

I will never forget the Baloch generosity in the form of my friend Saleem Bugti sending four sheep to mark Zarrar’s birth from Dera Bugti where HQ 60 Bde was located to my unit’s base at Kahan.

That stopped the conspiracy theories dead! That the COAS acquitted himself before the Senate in an exemplary and outstanding manner is no surprise. The positive reaction of the Senators across the political divide (even that of the normally extremely hostile Senate Chairman), was unanimously favourable.

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Given the extent and circumstances of the “hybrid warfare” being waged against Pakistan and Pakistan’s Armed Forces, the COAS’ initiative to appear before the Senate was timely and necessary to eliminate the potential threat because of the patent falsehood being bandied about.

Those who revel in decrying the uniform at each and every opportunity were delivered a timely but polite “shut up” call. Those defaming the superior judiciary must get a similar “shut up call” from the Honourable Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, reading them in the Courtroom the rule of law which they must learn to first respect and adhere to if they have any aspirations to govern.

Ikram Sehgal, author of “Escape from Oblivion”, is Pakistani defence analyst and security expert. He is a regular contributor of articles in newspapers that include: The News and the Urdu daily Jang. This article was first published in Global Village Space and has been republished here with permission.