The Romeo General and the Three Pictures
By Dr Asif Javed
An issue of Nawa-i-Waqt of 23 rd March 1971 has remained etched upon my mind. It had three pictures alongside each other: In the middle was Quaid-i-Azam with the caption 'Founder of Pakistan.' On one side of him was Mujib-ur-Rehman with the caption 'Traitor of Pakistan.' The third was of an army officer with all the medals and regalia that go with it, with the caption 'Defender of Pakistan.' The last picture was of Gen Yahya Khan.
In late 60’s, my mother used to visit her brother in Rawalpindi. This uncle of mine was an army officer with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. After one of her visits, my mother narrated an interesting episode: One day, there was some tension in uncle’s house. Mother was asked to make sure she stayed in her room for a few hours since a VIP visitor was expected. The visitor, a female, did turn up, spent a few minutes with my uncle, who was then involved with some civilian affairs while on martial-law duty. After she left, my mother asked her visibly relieved brother about her. In hushed tone, she was told that the visitor had come to ask for some favor, that she had enormous influence, and could only be ignored at one’s peril. The readers may be able to guess the visitor’s identity as they read along.
There is yet another picture of Yahya Khan that I cannot forget: He is sitting with a glass--presumably containing alcohol--in hand, next to Noor Jahan, who is all smiles. There are some other people too; all seem to be having a good time. Years later, NJ was to admit to Khalid Hasan that YK was very fond of her company. He called her Nuri while our Malaka-e-Taranum addressed him as Sarkar. There was one song he was particularly fond of and she would sing it for him, she told KH, “Saiyo ni mera mahimerey bhag jagawan aa gya”. The Romeo General would have been well advised to read the following description of his Nuri, written by incomparable Manto in Ganjay Farishtay:
She had every single characteristic associated with the background from which she came. Everything about her was a put-in. She was flirtatious but not in a cultivated way. I was surprised at how Shaukat (her husband) who came from the heart of UP, could get along with this diehard peasant Punjabi girl.
Twenty years after Manto wrote this, YK was getting along with his Nuri, while Gen Manekshaw was patiently waiting for the Hamalaya’s passes to close with snow, to ensure that China would not be able to move its army South.
Lt Gen Azhar once spent a night at the Governor House Lahore. He was a guest of Gen Attiq-ur-Rahman, who was then posted as Governor Punjab. As the two met for breakfast the following morning, Gen Attiq asked his visitor whether he had had a comfortable night. Gen Azhar had not slept well; he had heard a lot of commotion at night from the room above his. And so he asked, “Who was staying in the room above mine?” An embarrassed Gen Attiq reported that it was YK, enjoying the company of some women friends. The year was 1971 and East Pakistan was sinking fast.
Gen Hamid, Yahya’s COAS, ‘a despised intriguer widely disliked in the army’ according to Air Commodore Sajjad Haider, told his staff that any orders given by the President at night, should be verified the following day.
An incident that has been reported by many later -- but suppressed at the time -- was that of YK urinating in the parking area of Persepolis where he had gone to attend the 2500 years celebration of the Persian Empire. Apparently, he had too much to drink and was unable to control his bladder; he relieved himself behind a bush.
Back to the first picture of YK: I often wonder what was Majid Nizami of Nawai-e-Waqt thinking. He was carrying the legacy of his legendary brother Hamid Nizami. Nawa-e-Waqt was the most prestigious Urdu newspaper in the country that claimed--and probably still does--not to be afraid of telling the truth to the despot; perhaps he got carried away. It is hard to imagine that Nizami could exceed this folly. But this is precisely what he did: years later, he was to confer the title of Mard-e-Hur—whatever that meant—upon one of the most despised and corrupt politicians of Pakistan.
As I think about it, Nawa-e-Waqt was not the only newspaper that misled the nation in those troubled times. There were many others too who joined the bandwagon. Urdu Digest, a popular magazine of its time, published a moving article by Altaf Hasan Qureshi, Mohabbat ka zamzam beh raha hey. The whole nation was swept by hysteria of patriotism, misled by the print media and the government-controlled Radio and TV.
Here is another mind-boggling thing: wherever you read, the retired military officers call Yahya Khan an outstanding officer. And yet, there is not a scrap of evidence to support it. Here is an excerpt from Flight of the Falcon, written by a real defender of Pakistan, Air Commodore, Syed Sajjad Haider; the 1 st paragraph is about the 1965 war while the next concerns 1971:
Unfortunately, back on the ground, ‘Op Gibraltar’ petered out, resulting in total failure, while ‘Grand Slam’ came to a scratching halt. Major General Yahya Khan, the commander of 7 Div who had replaced Maj Gen Akhtar Malik did not launch the grand finale against Akhnur on the flimsy pretext that Gen Musa was not happy with the command communication system. His better and more valid excuse could have been that he neither had been associated with Akhtar Malik’s planning of the ‘Grand Slam’ nor was he familiar with the terrain.
PAF was almost intact after flying over 3,000 operational missions and was ready for the blitzkrieg by Tikka Khan’s Second Corps. A paralyzed President (read YK) and his inept coterie were waiting for the American Pacific fleet to stop the Indians. YK successfully prevented a historic joint operation in the making which could have turned the tables and saved us from humiliation.
But YK was too preoccupied with the likes of Nuri. While the young men were laying down their lives for Pakistan—among them a young Major Shabbir Sharif, from this writer’s home district---the Romeo General was busy ‘conquering the fort of Chataur’ as Manto once famously quipped. It is a myth also that YK handed over power to ZAB voluntarily after the fall of Dhaka; he was forced to do it once he was made aware of the impending coup at Mangla Garrison.
The most revealing account of YK’s activities has been written by Ch Sardar, SP Police, Special Branch, Rawalpindi whose responsibilities included the security of the President. Here is his narrative:
The President House was then quite a place, with all kinds of people. The president was a drunkard and a womanizer…..Then there were the pimps and prostitutes, some of whom enjoyed very high status. Aqleem Akhtar, Mrs K.N. Hosain and Laila Muzaffar were at the top. There were hordes of other ill-reputed but attractive women, smoking, drinking and dancing all over the place. The police constabulary used to call the President House the Kanjar Khana, the Army GHQ the Dangar Khana…In Karachi, Gen Rani told the interrogators, the Shah of Iran, on a state visit, was getting late for his departure but the President would not come out of his bedroom in the Governor House. A very serious protocol problem had arisen but nobody could enter his bedroom. Gen Ishaq, MS to the President, requested Rani to go in and bring him out. When she entered the room, she claims that the most famous female singer of the country was performing oral sex on YK. Even Rani found it abhorring. She helped the President dress up and brought him out…..Yahya had several women to relax with…one evening he went to the residence of Mrs K.N. Hosain, widely known as ‘Black Beauty’….The President remained there for three days and nights without being available to anybody. On the fourth day, he took Mrs Hosain with him, lodged her in the State Guest House and permanently employed her as an interior decorator. Her husband was appointed as ambassador to Switzerland…when asked later why YK had stayed at her house for three days, she said she had been teaching him Bengali music!
After the fall of Dhaka, YK declared on TV that the war will continue on the western front after ‘a temporary setback on the Eastern Sector’, as he put it. But the following day, he accepted a unilateral ceasefire announced by India. The reality had finally dawned on him. Having lost half the country, YK was now getting ready to announce a new constitution; the defender was making himself available to continue as President. Our nation should be eternally grateful to those courageous army officers at Mangla who, at great personal risk, helped us get rid of YK. They are the unsung heroes of Pakistan.
Before leaving for Dhaka in March 1971, on that fateful meeting with Mujib—a meeting that effectively sealed the fate of East Pakistan—the following conversation took place between YK and Sardar Yousaf Chandio, a member of NA. The narrator is again, Ch Sardar, who heard it from a DSP on duty; the venue, a lake near Karachi, and the event, duck shooting:
Yousaf: “Sain, what will happen now? The elections have thrown up a swine (Mujib) on one side and a hound (Bhutto) on the other.”
YK: “Bachoo, don’t worry and just see the tamasha. I shall throw such a bait that either the swine will finish the hound or the hound will kill the swine. The lion will destroy both of them.”
Some of YK’s proclamations remind one of an interesting character from the American Civil War: Before the battle of Chancellorsville, Gen Hooker who was commanding the army of the North, made a boisterous statement, “My plans are perfect. May God have mercy on Gen Lee (his opposing General) for I will have none.” The following day, Hooker had suffered a crushing defeat and was relieved of command by Lincoln. YK, we are told, had been an instructor at Staff College Quetta. One wonders if he had taken the trouble of reading the chapter on The American Civil War.
After Tikka Khan’s military action in March 1971, millions of refugees crossed in to West Bengal. Precisely in those times, what was the defender doing. Read on, the narrator is Ch Sardar:
YK continued to indulge in his merrymaking. With one of his favorite women by his side, he would be out every night for a pleasure drive on the roads of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, duly escorted by my security guards. Sometimes he would stand up in his open-top car and deeply kiss the woman, in full view of the police escort following him. The armed guards resented intensely such behavior of the head of a Muslim state…YK’s abhorrent public display of debauchery was reported to IG Police; his response, “The President is burdened with so many serious problems and needs some relaxation.” Some relaxation!
YK’s sympathizers often blame his advisers for having misled him. But who chose them? It was not that sane advice was not given; indeed it was, but was simply ignored. There were upright, well-informed people who begged him not to postpone the NA session at Dhaka: on Feb 27 1971, Gen Yaqoob and Adm Ahsan, who were serving in East Pakistan, told him that it will be most unwise to postpone the NA session. “A few weeks earlier, S. M. Ahsan had courageously refused to order Pakistani troops to open fire on striking Bengalis. He was replaced by Yaqoob who too rejected genocidal orders”, writes Stanley Wolpert. They were stunned when YK, surrounded by his whisky group, brushed aside their pleas. A letter by Podgorny, President of USSR that had suggested political settlement in East Pakistan, was unwisely ignored. The defender was in a hurry to ‘let loose his tigers’ on Bengalis, oblivious to how bleak the circumstances were in East Pakistan. Intoxicated by power, and surrounded by sycophants, YK once boasted that his war machine was better than India’s. And so, Gen Yaqoob was recalled from East Pakistan, demoted and retired from service. Years later, he was to distinguish himself as Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington. And who was sent by YK to defend East Pakistan at that critical moment? Gen Niazi: his first question to Gen Khadam Hussain Raja, who had come to receive him at the Dhaka airport was, “How many women do you have ready for me?” Just a few months later, Niazi was seen tamely handing over his revolver to Gen Arora; they had been course mates once. Years later, Niazi had the audacity to say that he was the most decorated General in the history of the world; he also compared himself to Gen Rommel and Tariq Bin Zayad in an interview with Sohail Warraich: there you have another defender of Pakistan.
Now, fast forward to 1972: YK was in protective custody in Banni Bangla, a rest house near Kharian and was being escorted to the Sihala rest house to appear before the Hamood-ur-Rahman Commission, by Ch Sardar, who has left this account for posterity:
YK refused to travel back by helicopter and insisted on going by road…I was not prepared for that as it involved a great security risk…YK insisted on knowing the reason it was risky to travel by road. “Because people might lynch you,” I said. “Why people should be against me?” asked YK. “Because of defeat in East Pakistan.” YK's response to this is one for the ages: “Am I a pariah? Did I touch the private parts of somebody’s female ass?”
The actual statement was in Punjabi and presumably, more colorful. YK had his way and they started by road. At the Sihala railroad crossing, the car had to stop. YK was recognized by the passers-by, who started to throw stones on the car.
YK was ashen faced and totally shaken up as if death was coming to him. Having seen his reaction, I offered to take him to Raja Bazar. He was trembling by now; so much for the brave soldier… finally, he was begging me to take him to Banni rest house where he came up with another request; he wanted to be shifted to Abbotabad. On being asked, why, YK said, “I do not like this place as it is full of jackals and they howl too much at night.” “A good company, Sir,” I replied.
The day after the fall of Dhaka, Roedad Khan, the Managing Director of PTV, called on Nurul Amin, the Vice President. This is what Roedad writes in his memoirs:
I had never seen Nurul Amin, a true Pakistani and a great patriot, in such an angry mood. He had been trying in vain to meet the President for two days. I contacted YK on the green line and arranged a meeting that very evening. YK asked me to accompany Nurul Amin to the President House. When we got there, Gen Hamid was already there and they were all—you guessed it—having drinks. Nurul Amin burst out and told the President, “So Dhaka has fallen and East Pakistan is gone, and you are enjoying whisky”…YK put the entire blame on Mujib. It was one of the most painful meetings I have ever attended.
There is yet another picture of the defender that many would recall: YK is sitting next to ZAB; GIK is placing a document on the table for his signature; YK’s facial expression personifies dejection, humiliation and all. How far the mighty had fallen! Is there a better version of a modern Nero?
1. Rearview Mirror by Khalid Hasan
2. Flight of the Falcon by Air Commodore Sajjad Haider
3. Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan by Stanley Wolpert
4. Jernaloon kee Siasat by Sohail Warraich
5. Pakistan: A dream gone sour by Roedad Khan
6. The Ultimate Crime by Sardar Chaudhary
7. The Civil War by Col. Trevor Dupuy
(The writer is a physician in Williamsport, PA and can be reached at email@example.com)