Saturday, 30 April 2016

Book Review

Ikram Sehgal, Escape from Oblivion: The Story of a Pakistani Prisoner of War in India, Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 138, Rs. (Pak) 695/-, ISBN – 978-0-19-906607-0

Business Recorder (Weekend magazine), 30 April 2016

Ikram Sehgal, an articulate member of Pakistan’s strategic community, has been long time editor of the respected Defence Journal, representing the views principally of Pakistan’s military veterans. He earned his spurs as one of about twenty, by his count, prisoners of war of the 1971 conflict who made it back to Pakistan, of the forty or so who made it beyond the barbed wire. The ceasefire of the fortnight long war yielded up a PW count of about 95000 for India. There was little incentive for most to attempt escape since the war was over and parlays for their return were underway. These eventuated in the agreement six months on in Simla, taking another year for their repatriation.
His story is singular in that his escape was not duringor afterthe war, as is the case with most escapes, but prior to it. Its retelling is absorbing not only from the great adventure he recounts but from the little discussed facets of the prelude to the war he provides. Sensibly, the prologue is a recap of his breakout from a camp in Panagarh where he was detained. Sehgal characterizes it as a Prisoner of War (PoW) camp since retrospect indicated that the Indian Army was entrusted with operations in East Pakistan sometime beginning late April. While there, for working out his escape, he pieced together information that suggested that it was run by 430 Field Company of 203 Engineer Regiment reporting to Brig Coelho as the Station Commander.
This indicates that while at the time of his incarceration and decamping, there was no declared war on, the levels of Indian military involvement, alongside that of political, intelligence and border guarding paramilitary, was of the order of a ‘clandestine war (p. 134).However, needing to keep their involvement secret, since interference in internal affairs is prohibited in international law, Indians did not own up to their captives, leave alone hand them back. This puts India’s record in observing the Geneva Conventions under cloud. To Sehgal, since there was an internal ‘armed conflict’ on that had spilled over the border, it was covered by universal Article 3 of the conventions and applicable for non-international armed conflict. His treatment by the BSF and Agartala jailers fell afoul of these, as did India’s opening of an undeclared PoW camp in Panagarh. 
How he gets there and what happens in the camp forms the first part of the book and his escapades as he makes his way out of India form the remainder of the ‘un-put-downable’ book. IkramSehgal, a helicopter pilot, arrived on 27 March by a round-about route through Sri Lanka from West Pakistan for taking up his posting to the Logistics Flight at Dacca. A month earlier, the hijack of an Air India plane ‘Ganga’ to Lahore and its blowing up there had led to India cancelling over flights between Pakistan’s two wings. The episode in retrospect has the signature of an intelligence operation designed to make it difficult for Pakistan as the going got tough in its eastern wing. As it turned out, East Pakistan rose in revolt, a rebellion that had profound emotional impact onSehgal, not quite twenty five then.
Born to a Bengali mother and a Punjabi father, in his emotionally charged state, he opted while on ‘joining time’ to visit his erstwhile unit, 2E Bengal. 2E had revolted, fearing it was to be disarmed the following day. In doing so, it besmirched its record by murdering its West Pakistani brothers-in-arms and in the case of the subedar major, even his family. Since Sehgal’s father had raised the unit and Sehgal spent both his childhood and his subaltern days with the unit, it was regimental spirit that drew him to the unit in the troubled times. Welcomed back, he nevertheless threw the unit officers into a turmoil as to what to do with him, particularly since their revolt they were forming up as the core of the insurgency, covertly aided by India. His Bengali compatriots were deeply suspicious of his arrival and his older colleagues more nostalgic. Eventually, he was handed over through a ruse, to Indian 91 Border Security Force battalion. Tortured for information and on suspicion that he was a commando infiltrating the rebellion to find out more about it for Pakistani authorities, he was rescued by the Indian army that was at the time not involved in the sponsorship of the insurgency. Handed over to the civilian administration, he spent time in Agartala jail, only to eventually be clubbed with other West Pakistani servicemen handed over by the East Pakistan military units and carted off to where his story begins, Panagarh, a Second World War military station and one that today houses the headquarters of India’s Mountain Strike Corps.
As it turned out, getting out from the barbed wire to freedom was the easy part. Pepping himself up with recall of his training days, he headed for Burdwan on foot. The word of his escape was out.  He evaded his pursuers by hitching a ride to Calcutta with an elaborate cover story. His intent was to meet up with an old flame who had shared her address with him. Instead, he found a tailor shop. Thinking rapidly on his feet, he scouted the American consulate. Little did he know then that the Americans were beholden to Pakistan for patching them up with China. His bold telephone call to the consulate gained him respite, but not succor. The Americans not wanting a diplomatic incident on their hands outfitted him and let him go.
An aviator, he naturally gravitated to the airfield, aware that Indian security would be watching other escape routes, but might not think of covering the aerodrome. Off he flew to Delhi, managing there to contact Pakistan’s military attaché. He was kept at a safe house and then dispatched in an undercover operation involving Pakistani agents and their Indian contacts, to Kathmandu. There he boarded a flight for Bangkok with two of his chaperones, managing to reach Dacca back finally after five months and 99 days of Indian captivity.
Though through this journey, Sehgal witnesses the worst of rebellion and faces torture, he does not lose his humanity. He understands what the context to the lives of those he encounters does to them and shapes their actions towards him. He comes face to face with his own mercurial personality, leveraging it for creative problem solving. That is the easy part. Implementing is made doubly difficult by fear, which Sehgal describes frankly as a constant companion. That he made it back is evidence he overcame it with aplomb, the signature of courage since courage is not about not feeling fear, but not taking its counsel.
Besides an adventure story waiting to have a producer turn it into an action thriller, a significant issue the book deals with is of inter-ethnic tensions. His mixed parentage enabled him a unique vantage point, besides pitch-forking him into being the hero and eventual author of his own book. Suspicion continues to dog him when he returns to Pakistan. Facing hostility on joining his aviation squadron in West Pakistan on return, he opts for infantry. He recounts apprehensions of his new Commanding Officer Mohammad Taj, later brigadier, holding reservations about Bengalis. Taj had been on intelligence staff in the Dacca garrison when the uprising took place on 25 March. Nevertheless, when the balloon went up, Taj Mohammad personally came round to Sehgal’s company to make Sehgal a battle field Major for his showing in operations. Even Sehgal’s company senior Junior Commissioned Officer overcame his prejudices, preferring early retirement to serving on when Sehgal was dismissed from service under cloud for his days in India. As the ultimate tribute, his war time company that his CO Taj had initially christened ‘Deserter company’, carries his name, Sehgal Company, to this day!
What Sehgal manages to convey is that people are all alike. Whereas the Bengali troops in rebellion visited atrocities on West Pakistani and Bihari compatriots such as in Chittagong, West Pakistanis were ruthless in putting down the rebellion. As one with a foot in both camps emotionally, Sehgal is aware of the good in both and the compulsions behind the bad. It is to his credit that though witness to India’s doings in East Pakistan and the fact that it did not own up to the Pakistani officers in its custody, he owes its military no more ill will than any self-regarding military man for a war time enemy. With the empathy he brings to narration, he packs his adventure story, with a deep messageof humanity in war, deserving of a wider South Asian imprint.It is insensible for the subcontinent to continue to have such youth as Ikram Sehgal’s younger self pitch themselves against each other in conflict. This review must end with Sehgal’s message: ‘Freedom from captivity is worth risking one’s life for.’

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Rimco Commandants of IMA

Rimcollian, March 2016

Of the thirty eight Commandants of the Indian Military Academy (IMA) since Independence, ten have been Rimcollians. In an inimitable hat trick, the first three Indian Commandants were Rimcos. Closer to our times, the last two Commandants have been Rimcos, including the current one, Lt Gen BS Negi.
Given the centrality of IMA to creation and sustenance of the Indian army’s unique leadership ethos, this is a distinction the RIMC can claim with considerable pride. It points to the College consistently turning out a caliber of officers that are then set by the army to hone the officership of its officer corps.
Major General Thakur Mahadeo Singh was the first Indian Commandant, succeeding five British officers who had held the reins pre Independence since the founding of the IMA in 1932. Stepping up from his earlier appointment as Senior Instructor in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, he took over from the last British Commandant in November 1947 on promotion to Brigadier. He was at the helm when, on 1 January 1949, IMA was converted into the ‘Military Wing’ of the new entity called the Armed Forces Academy.
The ‘Armed Forces Academy’ had two Wings, the ‘Inter Services Wing’, that in the mid fifties shifted to Khadakvasla as the National Defence Academy, and the ‘Military Wing’ that was IMA. Thus, Thakur Mahdeo Singh, who led the AFA in the rank of a Major General, can be credited with raising the first inter-service establishment in the world. The Inter Services Wing that was later renamed the Joint Services Wing. The ceremonial inaugural parade of this institution was reviewed by Sardar Vallabhai Patel.
He handed over the AFA, renamed the National Defence Academy in end 1949, to his illustrious successor, Maj Gen KS ‘Timmy’ Thimayya. At the time, the IMA was the ‘Military Wing’ of the NDA. When the NDA moved to Khadakvasla, the IMA was initially called Military College, till it regained its pre Independence name in 1960. Thus the first three Rimco Commandants were not only Commandants of the IMA, but also of NDA, a double distinction for the College. 
Thimayya was already a national hero at the time of his taking over. He was the first Indian to command a Brigade, a distinction he earned in the Burma theater during the Second World War. He had gone on to create military history in Kashmir; the most famous episode being his employment of tanks at Zoji La. India having become a Republic in January 1950, it was decided to rest the King’s Colours at the NDA. The parade to mark the occasion was reviewed by Sardar Baldev Singh, who had Army Chief Gen Cariappa and NDA Commandant Maj Gen Thimayya flanking him at the podium. Thirty five regimental Colours were laid to rest at Chetwode Hall.
Wadalia who stepped into Thimayya’s shoes had been Cariappa’s BGS when ‘Kipper’ was Thimayya’s boss as Western Army commander. At Independence, he had been a company commander at the Academy. Since he was a services’ squash player and, as a cavalier, an accomplished horseman and polo player, these inter alia received his attention as Commandant. Mrs Wadalia is credited with planting many trees in the appointment house occupied by successive Commandants since the first, LP Collins. Wadalia went on to being the Deputy Chief of Army Staff, then Vice Chief equivalent.
The command of IMA reverted to Brigadier level after shifting out of NDA. A Rimco great, PS Bhagat, took over befittingly as Commandant when war clouds were inexorable advancing across from the Himalayas in June 1962. He had earlier served on staff at IMA under its first, Rimco, Commandant Mahadeo Singh. The Academy received its first Colours on 10 December 1962 when he was Commandant from President Radhakrishnan, to replace the one presented by Earl of Willingdon in 1934. The photo of the occasion has Bhagat escorting the Rashtrapati, behind a Rimco ADC to the President, Capt Zaki, who two decades later went on to head the IMA. Bhagat barely had time to oversee the consequential after effects of the war on training, in particular the expansion of the officer corps and training of emergency commission officers in the early sixties. He was appointed secretary to the commission that looked at the war record of the Indian army and was thereby the principal author of the report that continues to bedevil the Indian security establishment, so much so that even the current government ruled out its release, the Henderson-Brooks report. 
The next Rimco Commandant of IMA in the sixties was K Zorawar Singh.  A Sword of Honour winner of his course, he led Central India Horse in its relief of Rajauri in the 1947 War. He met his Greek wife while his regiment was stationed in Greece in the World War. She recounts her time in the six acre colonial bunglow that served as the Commandant’s residence in the Ton’s valley in her illustrated autobiography, Love and War. The IMA history notes his interest in furthering co-curricular activities in the form of ‘clubs’ and in games. He stabilized the training once again in the pre-emergency patterns with an emphasis on turning out military leaders. 
Taking over a decade later, the only Rimco Commandant in the seventies was Maj Gen SC Sinha. He had been by the side of Brig Mohammad Usman, when a Pakistani artillery salvo took a toll of the Brigade HQs, killing his commander and injuring him. He oversaw the changes in the mid seventies stemming from modernization, principally the balancing of service subjects with academics. Graduates were now gaining the officer commission and there was a need to ensure balance between service and academic subjects. He undertook renaming of the battalions at IMA, rightly including two Rimcos among the four they are named after: Thimayya and Bhagat.
The eighties were a blank. The first Rimco Commandant in the nineties was also one to serve for the shortest time in the appointment. Lt Gen Zaki was recalled to Kashmir, this time as Adviser to the Governor. He had come to IMA from command of 15 Corps in the period that the nation faced its most severe internal security challenge. His four month stint at IMA was nevertheless notable for its emphasis on field training, especially field firing. Insights from the short tenure held him in good stead when as Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia he was able to initiate a makeover for the central university into being one of the foremost universities in the national capital.
Lt Gen Gurbaxani was the other Rimco to head the august institution in the nineties. He is well known for his own physical fitness and propensity to join the units being inspected on their battle physical test runs. Those who passed out in his tenure won this nation the Kargil War. The 2000s, like the eighties, did not witness a Rimco heading the IMA.
However, this decade there have been two Commandants, Lt Gen Manvendra Singh and Lt Gen Negi. Lt Gen Singh was in the news for the visit of the royal couple to IMA. Since the Prince of Wales could not visit RIMC, established by his predecessor nine decades back, the Commandant RIMC and cadets met him at IMA. It is a comment on the priorities of the times, that the Doon School stole a march on the occasion over RIMC in its inveigling the Prince to visit it!
Lt Gen Negi, having been a platoon commander at IMA in the late eighties, clearly knows where the shoe pinches, and can be expected to set the compass of the institution along the straight and narrow. A written history of the Academy dates to 1992 and, a subsequent unauthorized one, was published in 2007. Therefore the details of exploits of the later Rimco Commandants must await the next edition. However, his resume of three blues, a double MPhil and enroute to his second doctorate, along with extensive trekking and biking in the Himalayas, indicate the ‘brains and brawn’ approach he has. However, as is the wont of MS Branch, he is off to take over Central Command, much too soon to leave the impact he could have otherwise had on his alma mater.
This brief review of the contribution of Rimcos in turning out an officer corps in sync with the Chetwode motto suggests continuing need for ‘more of the same’. The earlier prominence of Rimcos in higher ranks has been diluted owing to the expansion of officer numbers. Fewer numbers reach higher ranks and making a wider impact in today’s relatively impersonal conditions is confined to only one’s immediate environment. These constitute all the more the reason for a Rimcos’ sure hand at the ‘cradle of leadership’. 

Handwara: Going Beyond SOPs

Northern Command has ordered an inquiry into the Handwara incident that it termed ‘highly regrettable’. The army chief has thought it fit to fly in for a day’s visit to the state to take stock of the security situation that has witnessed five deaths so far. The aim would be to defuse the situation from snow balling into one reminiscent of the successive years late last decade. Youth who gained their political awakening in those years have since been depicted as tinder waiting for a spark.

This is the situation after over a decade of return of relative stability if not near normalcy. With two oversized corps deployed amongst a suspicious host population in the sensitive regions of the state, it is inevitable that there would be sparks of this kind. Absent conflict resolution that would push the situation indubitably into a post conflict mode, the authorities would likely be resigned to these occurring periodically, irrespective of preventive standard operating procedures in place. For response, there would also be standard operating procedures predicated in information management in a manner as to defuse the situation.

The army court of inquiry has much on its hands. Not only must it investigate whether the SOP was followed in opening fire, if indeed it was the army that did the shooting and not the police, but also who released the video of the girl’s narration of the incident, if it was not the police. These two lines of probe have the police equally in the sights. If the police has gone overboard particularly in respect of the second point - violation of the juvenile female’s rights - then ‘the nation needs to know’.

However, the army must pin point whether its soldier was in the female wash room. This must surely already be known through the peers of the soldier to the chain of command. The release of the video of the girl was perhaps with a view to indicate that there was no army man involved. However, since it already stands contradicted as under duress, no doubt owing to police over zealousness, it has succeeded in just the opposite: being taken as a possible cover-up.

Quite like the layers of obfuscation that papered over the death of two young women that sparked the outrage in 2010, truth in this case might meet the same fate. Whereas the earlier case involved the paramilitary, little better could be expected from a police-paramilitary combine. However, this time round it is the army and it has a reputation to protect.

The army has failed to be inspired by this imperative earlier, the infamous Manorama Devi case being a case to point. Eastern Command had lamentably clammed up and hidden behind AFSPA. Can the army in J&K be relied on to be different? Can this case have a different outcome?

If a benign view is taken then the army in not having owned up to the alleged molester in its ranks so far can be taken to suggest that the girl’s video version of the incident may be true. The latest turn to the issue carried in the media is that the girl deposed before the magistrate to the effect that she was not molested in the wash room but was accosted by two males outside, one of whom was in school uniform. Clearly, to its relief, this does help vindicate the army.

Nevertheless, the Northern Army commander’s direction of a speedy inquiry must result in its results reaching the open domain quickly. Once the girl is released by the police from ‘protective custody’, these findings would then be borne out by the purported victim more fully. However, in case the army is aware of its soldier being implicated in preliminary inquiry in some manner, such as for instance needlessly deploying or positioning near a female wash room, it must punish as necessary.

Morally, this is the least the army owes host communities. As the powerful actor it has to protect the vulnerable, particularly women. Institutionally, its reputation stands to go up in conflict areas in case of action against its errant individuals as against the mistaken notion held by some that sweeping things under the carpet protects its reputation. It would serve as deterrent to potential violators. Outside such areas it would justify the faith of citizens in it. Strategically speaking, the government would not be averse to such self-regulation either. Averse to resolving conflict in both J&K and the North East, it would prefer its lid on such conflicts remain as still as possible. The state government for its part headed by a woman for the first time would find it politically useful.

Now that the situation has cleared somewhat, the army cannot stop at punishments and fixing SOPs. Surely, its rules of engagement need a review. However, immediately, there is need to follow up on how the video footage was released. It rides rough shod over individual rights, particularly of women in such situations and of a juvenile one at that. Over the long term, the episode can be seen as opportunity for army wide action in reorienting rank and file to a modern take on gender issues intrinsic to counter insurgency. It’s not merely a discipline matter; it must be taken as a facet of a modernizing, twenty first century military.

Sixty years of political inaction of successive governments of all hues implies that the army would continue on internal security duties indefinitely. This requires that its approach to gender questions – of how to relate to women in host communities – be subject to self-critique. Rather than training, it is education it must rely on. There is a huge cultural distance between its soldiery and people in areas of conflict. This is particularly stark in the levels of freedom of women, particularly in the North East, as against where the main body of soldiery springs from, India’s cow dust belt. The fairness of Kashmiri women likewise cannot but have outsized effect on troops from catchment areas known for their notorious views on skin colour. Under the circumstance, zero tolerance is a fine disciplinary yardstick, but needs supplementing by mainstreaming gender into military education.

That tremors will persist in Kashmir owes less to what the army does or does not do than that absent political initiatives, both internally and in relation to Pakistan, many if not most Kashmiris will remain alienated. This episode appears have sparked the well spring of alienation, fanned by India’s detractors. This is all the more reason to go beyond mere SOPs and rules of engagement to renewing the army’s gender lens.

The First South Asian Muslim Quetta Staff Course Graduate: A Military Profile
Defence Journal, March 2016, (Pakistan)
Captain Mohammed Ali Ahmed completed the 1st War Course at the Indian Staff College at Quetta in 1940 as a Captain in the H.E.H The Nizam’s Regular Forces.[1] A representative of Command and Staff College Quetta has this to say in gracious confirmation: “…it is my pleasure to confirm that Captain Mohammed Ali Ahmed, The Nizam’s Regular Forces, was the 1st Muslim Student from the Subcontinent to graduate from Command and Staff College Quetta, on 22nd Jun 1940.”[2]
It is interesting that a State Forces officer cornered the distinction which otherwise could have been the fortune of a Muslim King’s Commissioned Indian Officer (KCIO). A third of the KCIOs commissioned into the British Indian Army after Indianisation commenced in 1920 were Muslim.[3] Staff College had opened its doors to Indians 1933 onwards,[4] with Captain (later Field Marshal Cariappa) completing the year-long course in 1933-34.[5] Those commissioned from the Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun were perhaps not by then senior enough to be considered for the course since the Pioneer course was commissioned in 1934.[6] This article is a military profile of the State Forces officer, Brigadier Ali Ahmed, who has the distinction of being the first Muslim staff course graduate from the subcontinent.
The context of the times
For Hyderabad to be so chosen to send a nominee for the course is easy to see since it was the largest princely state with over 80000 square kilometers in territory inhabited by 16 million people. Its Nizam was the highest in protocol among Indian potentates entitled to the 21 gun salute, one among four other rulers. Gaining autonomy under the later Moghuls, Hyderabad had been a princely state in Deccan for about two hundred years. It had come under suzerainty of the British as they expanded across the Deccan after besting both the Marathas and Tipu Sultan in early nineteenth century. Hyderabad was the first state to accede to Lord Arthur Wellesley’s subsidiary alliance system in 1798[7] and consequently was required to maintain forces for use of imperial power in India when required.[8] For the purpose, they were termed imperial service troops. With consolidation of British power, there was less of a premium on State Forces. State forces now were:
raised and maintained by the Rulers of Indian States at their own expense and for State service. It has been the custom in emergency for State troops to be lent to the Government of India, and the Government of India have on many occasions received military assistance of great value from this source. But the rendering of such aid is entirely at the discretion of the Ruling Princes and Chiefs.[9]  
In an article in the June 1940 issue of Owl,[10] Captain Ali Ahmed encapsulated Hyderabad state’s perception thus: ‘Hyderabad State surrounded on all sides by British Indian territory, and removed by thousands of miles from the Northern marchlands through which all invasions of India in the past were effected, has nothing to fear from outside attacks and its boundaries are safe. Therefore, the basic factor underlying the defence policy of our state is the maintenance of Internal peace.’[11]  Under the circumstance, the main role of Hyderabad State Forces was ‘maintenance of internal security; suppression of communal troubles; prevention of sabotage; safeguarding railways, bridges and banks and, in emergencies, to reinforce the army in India.’[12]
Hyderabad was an ‘agglomeration of diversities’ in which ‘Medievalism flourishes by the side of modernity’ and life being ‘full of incongruities’ with even ‘defence forces being no exception to the rule.’ The army comprised the regular troops - Hyderabad State Forces - and irregular troops, Nizami Jameeth. Additionally, there were feudal levies such as the Sarfikhas, Paigah and Semestan troops and ‘swashbucklers’ of Jagirdars and Rajas armed with ‘Jambia’ and ‘Karabin’. Hyderabad State Forces were divided into field service, general service and state service troops, with the first two being Class A troops,[13] armed with relatively modern weapons and organised similar to the British Indian Army counterparts. These units were grouped into Cavalry and Infantry Brigades. The Brigades were under an Army HQs with a Commander-in-Chief and his principal staff officers: the Chief of Staff and the Adjutant and Quartermaster general. The Army HQs was responsible to the Hyderabad Government for the efficiency and wellbeing of the state forces. An Army Minister was the Executive Council member in charge of the Army Department and accountable to the President of the Executive Council, the Prime Minister. Finally, the Nizam, was, ‘The supreme head of the Army as well as the State is our Ruler whose decisions are final.’[14]
Liaison with the Indian Army was maintained through the Military Adviser-in-Chief at the Army HQs, India, who was empowered ‘to tender advice as regards the policy to be followed in respect of Indian State Forces.” The Commander-in-Chief in India maintained general supervision over state forces through the MA-in-Chief. State Forces had a Military Adviser and Assistant Military Advisers belonging to the British Indian Army posted in the state to facilitate this.[15]
In the eye of the storm
Partition did not affect Hyderabad state as it did north India. The Nizam contemplated his options while India set about integration of princely states after Independence. 1947 saw Brigadier Ali Ahmed serving as officiating Brigadier General Staff of Hyderabad Army. He was deputed to represent the Hyderabad Army in the negotiations with the Government of India for integration into India. The negotiations resulted in the Stand Still Agreement of 29 November 1947.[16] Interestingly, his role was to gain for the Hyderabad Army a supply of arms from India. In the event, this did not materialize and among one of the disagreements over the Stand Still Agreement was Hyderabad’s search for arms elsewhere, including the UK.[17]
Hyderabad was subject to India’s Home Minister Sardar Vallabhai Patel’s firm policy to get all princely states to merge with newly independent India.[18] An episode recounted in Hyderabad is that using an opportunity to advise the Nizam, Ali Ahmed reportedly told the Nizam that facing up militarily to the Indian Army - hardened by five years of the Second World War - would be futile. He forthrightly, if colourfully, said that it would take the Indian Army as long as it takes a tank to drive from Solapur (Sholapur) to Hyderabad, a distance of 299 Km, to capture Hyderabad. As it turned out this became the corporate position of the Hyderabad army, given out in a book, Hyderabad of “the Seven Loaves” (1994),[19] authored by its then chief, Syed Ahmed Ali el Edroos. But by then politics of the state had been captured by Laik Ali and Kasim Rizvi and their irregular militia, the Razakars.
In the tumultuous period, Brigadier Ali Ahmed raised, trained and commanded the Hyderabad Rifle Brigade till 1949, alongside raising the Hyderabad Territorial Army in 1948. ‘Police Action’, code named Operation Polo, was launched by the Indian army on 13 September 1948. Brigadier Ali Ahmed was in charge of Southern Sector defending Gulbarga and Raichur. Here he faced-off against the thrust commanded by Brig (later Maj Gen) NV Bal, an officer of the Maratha Light Infantry, placed under Maj Gen AA Rudra’s Madras Area. Bal’s troops included 5/5 Gorkha Rifles, 1 Mysore Infantry and Mysore Lancers (Horsed).[20] Hav Narbahadur Thapa earned India’s second Ashok Chakra in the skirmish over the Tungabhadra railway bridge in this sector.[21] Some skirmishes took place in the area of Hospet, near Bellary. The major operations were instead largely on the western front, thus Brigadier Ali Ahmed missed out on operational level action. Hyderabad capitulated on 17 September,[22] with el Edroos surrendering the next day to Maj Gen JN Chaudhuri, who led 1 Armoured Division under Southern Command’s head, Lt Gen Rajendrasinhji.
Maj Gen JN Chaudhuri,[23] appointed Military Governor of Hyderabad, was a Quetta course-mate and friend of Brigadier Ali Ahmed. For helping with stabilization operations after Op Polo, Brig Ali Ahmed was put in charge of the Internal Security Directorate in 1948-49 and in 1949 headed the Force HQs at Warangal for anti-communist operations. A communist threat was one reason for India’s use of force. By holding this charge, he can be said to have the honour of being India’s first counter insurgency commander![24] Interestingly, half century on, the area remained under threat of Naxalism. After the dust settled, he was appointed Commander of 1 Hyderabad Infantry Brigade in 1950 and, finally as his last appointment, of the Hyderabad Brigade Group.
The British Indian Army that had begun demobilization after the Second World War did not need additional manpower after Partition. Therefore, the State Forces were not integrated but demobilized. The terms of integration were not particularly attractive for the senior members of State Forces. However, unlike their seniors, junior officers did volunteer for integration. For his part, finding integration into the Indian Army presaged a demotion for state forces officers by two ranks, Brigadier Ali Ahmed took the honourable way out. On 1 April 1951, completing 23 fulsome years in uniform and attaining to a princely sum of Rs. 2150/- as his final pay cheque, Brigadier Ali Ahmed was released.

A military portrait
It is fascinating how a man with no aristocratic connections or pretensions, vital to advancement in the feudal era then, rose to play the role he did in the Hyderabad Army. Born as the eldest child to a medical doctor-in-uniform in the State Force,[25] his was the ninth generation of a family reputedly of Uzbek origin that traced its arrival in India to Aurangzeb’s final years in the Deccan. He gained his commission just under-20 years of age in 1927. Doing the usual stint as company officer and quarter master, he was company commander in 1931-33. In the period, he completed the Young Officers’ course equivalent weapons training and junior tactical courses. As is the customary progress today, he was off to a staff appointment with six years of service as assistant station staff officer and later Brigade Major of the Hyderabad Infantry Brigade in 1936-39. He completed the next rung of courses for middle-piece officers, the Short Tactical Courses at the Deccan District and at brigade level, equivalent to the current day Junior Command course.
As Brigade Major, he closely interacted with the British Indian Army regiments located in Secunderabad cantonment. Captain Ali Ahmed’s friend from 4 Battalion 19th Hyderabad Regiment (4 Kumaon) days in Bowenpalli garrison, where it received the King’s Colours, was Major ‘Timmy’ Thimayya.[26] Yet another friend from the period was India’s first Army Chief and second Field Marshal, Captain ‘Kipper’ Cariappa, who after qualifying on the Quetta staff course stood posted as a Staff Captain and later DA&QMG in Deccan Area in Secunderabad.[27]   
Between 1934 and 1939, Captain Ali Ahmed simultaneously instructed Officer Cadets during training and was in charge of officer promotion courses. A report on him records that he was ‘well educated and very well read’ and ‘a keen student of his profession’.[28] After taking the pre-course at the Deccan District Promotion Course, he cleared the Indian Army promotion exam to the rank of Captain in 1936, unsurprisingly standing first in Deccan district, which included Indian Army officer candidates, and with distinctions in Military History and Military Geography. His assessors found him ‘widely read in military subjects’ and that ‘he has followed closely and studies deeply the world situation.’ His personal library held several studies of the Great War, including works on Allenby’s advances in Palestine. The thirst for knowledge explains his selection for the Staff Course over his contemporaries in both the Hyderabad Army and the British Indian Army.
The pre-staff course preparation for a State Forces officer was rigourous, consisting of attachments with Indian Army units. General Sir Chetwode, Commander-in-Chief, India, had in his opening address at the Indian Military Academy had given out the British intention thus: ‘With the federal idea before us, it is just as important that the officer of the State Forces should be highly educated as it is in the case of those in British India.’[29] Captain Ali Ahmed was one of two first beneficiaries of this policy of higher quality training for State Forces officers.[30]
He undertook the pre-course familiarization over a three month period in 1938-39 on the North West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), curiously the scene of just as extensive counter insurgency operations as now. He was attached to the 2nd Battalion (Berar) of the 19 Hyderabad Regiment (rechristened Kumaon Regiment in 1945), today’s 2 Kumaon.  Brigade level training was with the famous HQs Peshawar Brigade, in which he undertook its short weapons training course. Brief stints with artillery and the services followed and an attachment with the Royal Indian Air Force’s oldest outfit, No. 1 “The Tigers” Squadron, in Peshawar in January 1939 when legendary air warriors such as Subroto Mukherjee and AM Engineer served in it.[31] Overseeing the training that included command of a company, Commander Peshawar Brigade Brigadier GO de Channer recommended unhesitatingly, ‘I consider he would do well if sent to the Staff College (junior wing).’ 
The General HQs Staff Course, presumably equivalent to today’s Indian Army’s Command level pre-staff course, followed. His senior instructor, Colonel AH Burnett, CB, DSO, MC, records that he had the ‘characteristic to cheerily make the best of a bad job.’ More importantly, he earned accolade for his ‘power of making a decision without fear of the result’. Further, his assessor wrote that, ‘Although he had opinions of his own, he is tactful.’ Together, these are the necessary traits of good officership in any army in any era. Character is as much of significance in an officer as physical fitness and mental robustness.   
On his nomination for Staff College, he adventurously drove up to Quetta from Hyderabad by car with his family. Between November 1939 and June 1940, he attended the staff course along with legends as Captain (later Lt Gen) SD Verma and ‘Muchhu’ Chaudhuri.[32] He renewed his friendship with Major (later Field Marshal) Cariappa, then Brigade Major of Khojak Brigade, later 20 Indian Infantry Brigade. General Sir Douglas Gracey, commander of the 20 Infantry Division of Burma fame and the second chief of Pakistan Army, was among his instructors. The Commandant General AFP Christisen, MC wrote in his report: ‘You should be very proud of this achievement and if it is decided to send a State Forces officer to ‘Minley’ you have an excellent chance as I shall recommend you.’ ‘Minley’ was a reference to a property with the War Office in 1934 to house the ‘senior wing’, or higher command equivalent faculty, of the nearby Staff College at Camberley in the UK.[33]
On his return to Hyderabad, he commanded the Hyderabad Army Training School that turned out wartime officers. In the war years, as Captain, he raised and commanded the 7 Battalion The Hyderabad Infantry. His reports as Commanding Officer by successive Military Adviser-in-Chief (MA-in-C), Indian State Forces, including twice by General Sir F Gwatkin, CB, DSO, MC, have it that, ‘he appears to be very keen on his job and seems to know exactly what was going on;’ ‘he has the most intimate knowledge of his men;’ and, ‘intimate knowledge of all the details of his battalion.’ He was thus an example in what is known in army parlance as ‘knowing one’s command’. Command of a unit is considered the epitome of command. Success in this guarantees higher appointments; however, being successful and good are two different aspects. In a sound army, a good commanding officer is more desirable than a successful one.
In 1944, the Hyderabad Infantry Training Center was set up under Lt Col Ali Ahmed.  To learn the ropes he had an attachment with the Mahratta Light Infantry Training Center.[34] At the end of the war, after briefly reverting to command his battalion, he was on staff of HQs Hyderabad Army in the coveted operations appointment of GSO-1. Clearly, the Hyderabad Army put his learning at Quetta to full use, a testimony to the quality of training at the elite training institution.
What stands-out in his reports are the remarks on ‘keen to learn’ and ‘real seeker after knowledge’.[35] This made him different as a modern man at the end of a feudal era. That he was marked out for higher command is visible in his reports in references to his ‘strong character’ and having ‘much personality’. In the event, Independence and its aftermath decreed that he retire at his prime.
The old soldier’s legacy
Post-Independence, Brig Ali Ahmed was patriarch of India’s leading Muslim military family. Partition had resulted in partition also of the Indian Army. As a result of departure of the Punjabi Musalmans and Pathans to Pakistan, the proportion of Muslims in India’s Army fell from roughly a third to about 2 per cent.[36] Since South India was not singed by the flames of Partition, Brigadier Ali Ahmed settled into retirement in Hyderabad, Deccan. His choice resulted over time in the family tradition of military service continuing as part of Indian Army.
Of his immediate family, three brothers,[37] three sons, three sons-in-law,[38] three grandsons and two nephews were officers in Independent India’s security forces, all of whom won red tabs for their lapels in their turn. Pre-Independence, his eldest son had been dispatched as a cadet at the Prince of Wales’ Royal Indian Military College (RIMC), Dehra Dun.[39] At RIMC, his son’s contemporaries were the likes of Shaharyar Khan and Shamim Alam Khan, later foreign secretary and general respectively in Pakistan.[40] Two daughters wore khakis, early entrants to the National Cadet Corps, with one in its air wing. One juncture in the early nineties saw at least one officer from the immediate family at every rank from Second Lieutenant to Lieutenant General in the armed forces and the paramilitary.[41] Interestingly, Brig Ali Ahmed’s son attended India’s Staff Course in Wellington and so did his grandson, making the three generations unique, making for yet another first in the subcontinent. 
In an India with an expanding economy, military families are threatened with extinction. A declining proportion of officers’ wards join services. For a professional, meritocratic and all-volunteer army of a republic, noblesse oblige has no place. Wards of societal elite must equally be represented in the military and it cannot merely be seen as a vehicle for upward socio-economic mobility. Consequently, tradition has a place in military affairs and it takes generations to foster. Measures that can preserve traditions need nurturing, including higher emoluments and assured dignity and quality of life to keep the military attractive as a calling.
Like a typical veteran, Brig Ali Ahmed maintained his interest in matters military. In a letter to his friend, Thimayya, then heading his third field army, the Eastern Command on his designation by Nehru as Indian Army Chief, he wrote: ‘I am looking forward to the day when you take over that finest machine – the Indian Army – and discarding ‘Red Tapism’ bring it back to its pristine glory by infusing new life in it … India’s defence forces should be a source of pride to the common man: They should be loved rather than feared (italics added).’[42] The sentiment resonates through the ages and is valid for all armies. Armies are of the people and are to serve the nation, albeit answerable through the government of the day.
Having given the better part of his life and his family to military service, as old soldier’s do he faded away. His fighter pilot son narrates that once after turning in the family car for servicing, they rode back home in a rickshaw. When the rickshaw encountered a climb, as they insisted on getting off, they heard the rickshaw puller say, “Sahib, zindagi mein utar-chadao to aate hain. Main main aapke niche 7 Hyderabad Infantry mein Sipahi tha.” (“Sahib, life has its up’s and down’s. I was a sepoy under you in 7 Hyderbad Infantry.”) With moistened eyes the two comrades-in-arms in the rickshaw receded into the sunset, ringing down the curtain on the medieval era in the Deccan.

[1] As inscribed on the board in the Command and Staff College Quetta on which is maintained the record of names of alumni.  
[2] Email of Internet in Charge, Command and General Staff College, Quetta, 3 March 2015.  The first Muslim to do staff course was an Iraqi army officer in 1935-36 (, accessed on 15 July 2015), who later went on to be Iraq Army Chief of Staff till the coup in 1958 in the aftermath of which he was sentenced to death, commuted later in intercession of the King of Morocco with the revolutionary government (, accessed 20 July 2015).
[3] In the first decade of Indianisation, of the 99 KCIO’s commissioned between 1922-31, 34 were Muslims, a clear one-third.
[4] In his famous speech at the opening of the Indian Military Academy, General Sir Chetwode had indicated that Staff Course was opened to Indians. See ‘Address of Field Marshal Sir Philip Chetwode to The First Term Gentleman Cadets of the First Course At the Indian Military Academy 10 December 1932’, Scholar Warrior, Spring 2012, p. 152,, accessed on 15 July 2015.
[5]Field Marshal Cariappa, commissioned in 1922, was the first Indian entry to Staff College completing the year long course between 1933 and 1934 (‘The Quetta Heritage’, DSSC, p. 6, , accessed on 18 July 2015). From South Asia’s Muslims, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, KCIO commissioned in 1928, did the 3rd Long Staff Course from December 1940 to June 1941, and General Musa, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff in the 1965 War, did the 1942 course. See , accessed on 15 July 2015.
[6] Of the first course commissioned from Indian Military Academy in February 1934, Field Marshal Manekshaw attended the course in 1943.
[7] KM Panikkar, The Evolution of British Policy Towards Indian States, 1774-1858, Delhi: Mittal Publications, 1986, p. 31.
[8] ‘Indian integration of Hyderabad’,, accessed 10 June 2015.
[9] ‘British Empire India (Continued): Army’,, p. 238, accessed on 26 July 2015.
[10] Captain Ali Ahmed, ‘Defence Forces of Hyderabad’, Owl, June 1940 (pp. 17-18). This was the magazine of the 1st War Course at Quetta.    
[11] Owl, June 1940, pp. 17. The subsequent paragraphs draw on Captain Ali Ahmed’s article.
[12] Ibid.
[13] ‘British Empire India (Continued): Army’,, p. 238, accessed 13 July 2015. Class A troops were organized like regular troops. Class B and C were relatively inferior in quality and less systematically organized.
[14] Op cit Note 9.
[15] Op cit Note 9.   
[16] For text see, Standstill Agreement between India and Hyderabad,, accessed on 1 July 2015.  
[17] el Edroos in his autobiography (S. Ali el Edroos and LR Naik, Hyderabad of "the Seven Loaves", Hyderabad: Laser Prints, 1994) recounts making a trip to London for the purpose. See Gautam Pemmaraju, ‘The Fall of Hyderabad’, Open Magazine, 18 September 2010,, accessed 10 July 2015.
[18] K. Venkateshwarlu, ‘How the Nizam lost Hyderabad in 1948’, The Hindu, 14 August 2012,, accessed 20 July 2015.
[19]S. Ali el Edroos and LR Naik, Hyderabad of "the Seven Loaves", Hyderabad: Laser Prints, 1994.
[20] KC Praval, Indian Army After Independence, New Delhi: Lancer, 2013.
[21] Hav Narbahadur Thapa received the award in 1952 when it was instituted. See, accessed on 16 July 2015. For his citation see, accessed 16 July 2015. The first Ashok Chakra awardee, Hav Bachitter Singh, won posthumously in the Hyderabad operations, earning it on the very first day itself.
[22] KC Praval titles his chapter on the army action as ‘Hyderabad – The 100-hour war’.
[23]JN Chaudhuri, 1 Armoured Division in Operation "Polo", East Sussex: The Naval and Military Press, 2014.
[24] Incidentally, his son, Lt Gen MA Zaki, led the Indian army in facing up to India’s gravest internal security challenge yet as India’s corps commander in Srinagar when the troubles broke out in Kashmir in late 1989. He was Adviser to Governor till 1995.
[25] Despite being a medic, early last century, he won the sharpshooter prize, the Golconda Cup, as the RMO (Regimental Medical Officer) equivalent during his infantry battalion deputation.
[26] Today the barracks where Thimayya’s unit stayed in Secunderabad are called Thimayya Lines.
[27] See for a brief biography of Cariappa,, accessed 13 July 2015.
[28] Report extracts are from the Record of Service held in the family archives in Hyderabad, India.
[29] ‘Address of Field Marshal Sir Philip Chetwode to The First Term Gentleman Cadets of the First Course At the Indian Military Academy 10 December 1932’, Scholar Warrior, p.152. Sir Chetwode was promoted field marshal in February 1933. He was a general at the time of his historical speech at Dehra Dun. 
[30] At the 1st War Course was another State Forces officer, Captain BP Walawalker, of 1st Battalion Jaipur Infantry. He was a graduate of Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and course mate of General JN Chaudhuri.
[31] Subroto Mukherjee became the first Indian commander of a squadron two months later.
[32]JN Chaudhuri, General J. N. Chaudhuri: An Autobiography, as Narrated to B. K. Narayan, New Delhi: Vikas, 1948, p. 114
[33], accessed on 20 July 2015. 
[34] Little could he have known that his son and grandson would join the Maratha regiment and his son would be Colonel of the Regiment. Coming to India ten generations back and with Aurangzeb’s army to Deccan to fight the Marathas, it is a testimony to the assimilative character of the subcontinent that two generations of the family post Independence were in the ranks of the Marathas. Lt Gen Zaki earned India’s third highest medal of valour in the 1965 War (See MA Zaki, ‘An Infantry Combat Leader’s Memoir of the 1965 War’, Journal of Defence Studies, 9 (3), July 2015,, accessed on 15 July 2015.  
[35] Later in life this facet led to his being delegated to show the historian Arnold Toynbee Hyderabad when he visited India for the Maulana Azad lecture under auspices of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations in 1960.
[36] Ahmed Faruqui, ‘Muslims in Indian Army’, Dawn, 15 March 2010,, accessed 30 July 2015.
[37] His younger brother, Lt Col Moinuddin Ahmed, commanded an infantry unit as Lieutenant Colonel defending the Bidar axis during Police Action. Offered the rank of Captain in the Indian Army, he instead sought release during integration. He went on to give his two sons to the Indian Army and his daughter married an Indian army officer.
[38] All three attained star rank; with Lt Gen Jameel Mahmood, passing away in a helicopter accident in Bhutan as Army Commander, Eastern Command; the second, retiring as an Air Commodore; and the third as Inspector General in the Border Security Force.
[39]The elder son attained the rank of Lieutenant General and his son – the author - in turn ended up as a second generation Rimcollian and a third-generation Infantryman. At RIMC, Lt Gen Zaki was taught by Mr. Catchpole, who went on to be associated with Pakistan’s elite public schools: Cadet College Hasan Abdal and Abbotabad Public School. 
[40]Ali Ahmed’s two remaining sons were also packed off later to RIMC as was yet another grandson.
[41]Shashi Tharoor, India: From Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond, New York: Arcade Publications, 1997, p. 119.
[42] Brigadier Mohammed Ali Ahmed , ‘Letter to Lt Gen Thimayya’, 19 November 1956, available in Zaki family archives and in the ‘Thimayya papers’ in Coorg.