General Attiqur Rahman was fondly known to his family and close friends as Turk. This pet name was given to him in his childhood by his respected mother. The General himself was quite fond of it in his private life.
My first encounter with him took place in Quetta in September 1964. As Adjutant General, the General came for a visit to the Quetta Garrison. Even before the details of his visit were formally announced, it was rumoured in the unit that he would certainly visit 15 FF as he had been our GOC in Peshawar, the unit’s previous station, and was fond of it. All ranks were gearing up for the visit. That the General had an eye for detail was the talk of the lines. From the quarter guard to the lines and to the uniform, preparations were done by all ranks in right earnest. It was believed that even a missing boot-nail could not escape his sharp eye.
On the day of the visit, the General arrived dot on time accompanied by the GOC, Maj Gen, later Gen Tikka Khan. Officers and JCOs were lined up near the quarter guard. It was later learnt that he had already checked the SM wearing, in his rows of gallantry ribbons, a WW-II ribbon upside down. After the visit to the quarter guard, the CO presented the officers and JCOs to the VIP. Being the junior most, I was standing at the end of the line of officers. After returning my salute, he asked how much service I had. “Nine months, Sir”, was the prompt reply. He looked at my shoulders and asked why I was still wearing a single pip. The CO, Lt Col G. D. Smith, answered that the unit didn't presently have a vacancy. Addressing me, the General said, “We are re-raising 14 FF at Kharian. I suggest you opt for posting to it and you will be promoted there much sooner.” I could see the CO smiling behind him. I calmly replied, “Sir, I opted for 15 FF and I got it. I have no regrets. I’ll get my promotion in due course of time if I deserve it.” Pat came his reply, “Strange! Don’t blame me later”, and he walked on.
During my posting at FF Centre from 1966 to 1968 as the Training Adjutant, I saw the General visit the Piffers Mess periodically in the evenings. He owned a small house in Habib Ullah Colony near Kakul village beyond the PMA for summer vacations. While the family spent summer vacations there, the General joined them during his privilege leave. I recall seeing him sitting in the Piffers Mess lawn with his family one evening and paid my compliments. He signalled me to join him. After a brief introduction, he remarked, “You are not fat enough for the Centre”. Then, he grilled me at length about my duties as the Training Adjutant. During this leave period not once did he visit the Centre during working hours, or sought any assistance at his residence.
Later in 1978, having completed our tenure in Azad Kashmir (AK), my unit, 27 FF (SATAEES), moved down to Lahore in the middle of the year. Our unit lines were located at Nagi Road, close to the old airport, within walking distance from the General’s residence. After my game of squash in the evening in the Services Club, now re-named Defence Services Officers Mess, I usually walked down to my residence. Enroute, in the tennis lawns, it was good to invariably see the General playing tennis. He was a regular member of the tennis club. Often, he would wave and call me to join them for a cup of tea claiming, “Come on, we have won. It’s on the house”. On one such occasion he noticed me wearing my unit tracksuit and asked if we had one large enough to fit him. He especially liked the unit monogram on the chest on the left which somewhat resembled the star on the green shirts of the national hockey team. These tracksuits were specially designed and prepared by a famous firm at Sialkot for the unit sports teams and officers. Of course, officers paid the cost price through their mess bills.
Next morning, I discussed it with the Second-in-Command, Maj (Lt Col Late Wali Ahmed Khan) and asked him to select a large size suit. I asked him to have it packed properly with an inscription, “with compliments from all ranks” on the packet cover. I further asked him to send it with the junior most officer, 2nd Lt Akbar Mohmand, to the General’s residence. Akbar was firmly briefed that the General would insist on paying its price and that he should politely decline to accept any payment saying that it was a present from the unit. Akbar was told that if he accepted any money from the General he should rather return to his home in the Tribal Area instead of the unit. An hour or so later, Major Wali entered my office with a broad smile on his face. Akbar had called while sitting in the General’s lawn to narrate his woeful tale. As expected, the General was insisting on payment and declined to accept it gratis. He left an envelope with some money inside and had now gone inside the house. Maj Wali asked Akbar to leave the packet on the table and slip out quietly. Akbar replied that he had already tried a couple of times. “Sir, every time I make a slight move to get up from my chair, his huge dog sitting right in front, frowns and nearly jumps at me. Sir, please help me.” I asked Major Wali to bail Akbar out.
The General would only visit the unit on invitation on some special occasion like a special durbar, the Independence Day Parade etc. Indeed, he was always our guest of honour, regardless of who the chief guest was. At the unit’s National Standard and Regimental Colours Presentation Parade on March 27, 1979, he was visibly impressed and felt proud of the excellent standard of the parade. On this occasion, the unit formally installed him as the Colonel of the Battalion in a special durbar (See picture above). Earlier, all serving and retired officers of the unit had unanimously elected him for it. In my letter to him, written from AK in 1978, requesting his gracious acceptance, I had recounted the unit’s association with him as our GOC at Peshawar, later as our Corps Commander at Lahore and, above all, being “the Pifferest of us all” – a tribute befittingly paid to him by another great Piffer, General A. I. Akram, in his foreword to General Attiq’s treatise on the history of the Piffers since 1947, ‘Wardens of the Marches’. In his reply to my letter, the General laid down one pre-condition, i.e, his unit 6 FF (CHARWANJA) had no objection to it. He demanded that I, not he, shall have to seek concurrence from 6 FF. As per the GHQ policy at the time, a dignitary could be Col of a maximum of two bns simultaneously. Mercifully, CO 6 FF, a friend, graciously accepted my request. With the recommendation of FF Centre, the request was formally approved by GHQ.
During our stay in Lahore, never did he seek any assistance from the unit whatsoever. On the contrary, my wife and I were often invited to his residence at dinners in honour of dignitaries. Since he had been the last Governor of West Pakistan and, after the dissolution of One Unit, the first Governor of Punjab, and was presently the Chairman of Federal Public Service Commission, such functions at his residence were almost a routine. To our embarrassment, we were treated as VIPs and specially introduced to the guests. On one such occasion in mid-1979, he was pleased to learn of my posting as an instructor to Command and Staff College, Quetta. He was gracious enough to attend my farewell Bara Khana by the unit and enjoyed my jeep being pushed out of the unit by the unit officers and JCOs.
In Quetta, one pleasant evening in October 1980, I returned home from my game of squash. My colleague and immediate neighbour, Lt Col Saleem Khan, called. He had been recently posted in. The previous occupant of the house, Lt Col Abbasi, had been posted out. Saleem asked if I knew General Attiqur Rahman. Fully knowing the General’s spotless integrity, I never dared make a recommendation to him. I frankly told Saleem that I would not even think of making a recommendation to him. Indeed, I added, it might harm the candidate. Saleem clarified that someone had visited his house earlier in the evening. When told that Col Saleem was away, he asked if Begum Sahiba was at home. His wife went out. The visitor asked if he could see Mrs. Saleem. The lady replied that she was Mrs. Saleem. He paused for a while and added, “When Col Saleem comes back please tell him that Attiqur Rahman had come. I am staying in Staff College Mess and am in Quetta for a couple of days.” Saleem added, “I don't know him at all. May be you know him.” I told him not to worry and that I would take care of it. I called the Mess staff who confirmed that the General was staying in the VIP room but was presently out visiting the Circuit House. The General was fond of the Staff College, having served there as a Senior Instructor in mid-50s and usually stayed at College Mess during his visits to Quetta. I gave the Mess staff my residence telephone number. A couple of hours later, the General called, “Hello Salim, have you changed the house or the wife?” The next evening, he came to the right place. As usual, he exchanged notes with my wife about her painting, their common hobby. She showed him her latest work – my portrait which she was working on. He advised her to make a lighter shade here and a little darker one there. Then, suddenly looking at me from the corner of his eye, he remarked, “It’s smarter than the original.”
There was a considerable time gap before I could meet him again. It was at the FF Centre in Abbottabad during the Piffers Week in early 90s. In the evening reception in the Mess lawns, I saw him talking to Brig Mian Taskin Uddin (R), a respected veteran and the General's old friend. I went up to him to pay my respects. Looking towards my receding hairline, he remarked, “Hello Salim. What have you done to your hair?” I replied, “Sir, I have changed my hairstyle.” He burst out laughing. I paid respects to Brig Taskin who was dressed in a black sherwani with miniature medals. Introducing him, the General remarked, “Meet your new Mess JCO.” The Brig obligingly came to attention. I smiled and said, “Sir, I know Brig Taskin quite well.” Brig Taskin also added that he had recently visited me in NDC.
Some time in early 1996, while serving as DG ISPR, I learnt that the General had been admitted in CMH Rawalpindi for medical check up and treatment. He had been transferred from CMH Lahore. I rushed to the CMH where I was told that he had been advised to remain in Rawalpindi for a week or so for periodic observation and that he was living in the AAD Mess. I visited him in the Mess. His elder daughter, Ms. Shaheen was attending him. It was a modest room but neither of them made any complaint. I tried to arrange a VIP room in the Armour Mess but unfortunately all were occupied. I briefed the Army Chief, General Jehangir Karamat, and we both visited the General in the Mess the next morning. A day later, at the Army Chief’s request, President Leghari allotted the Punjab House in Rawalpindi for the General and his family as he was duly entitled to it being the former Governor of Punjab. The General and family returned to Lahore after about a fortnight’s stay and treatment.
The General’s health wasn't the same again. He would be in and out of indisposition. Around mid-April I learnt that he had been admitted in CMH Lahore. When contacted, the CO CMH informed me that the General’s condition was deteriorating and that shifting him to Rawalpindi would be risky. The next morning, my wife and I drove down to Lahore. I found the General to have grown much weaker physically but not in spirit. Begum Attiqur Rahman was sitting by his bedside. We spent some time with him. While leaving, I held his hand and said, “Sir, I am sure you will fight it out, like the Pifferest of us all”. He smiled, pressed my hand and couldn't hold back a tear. On June 1, 1996, he departed for his eternal abode. Inna Lillahe wa Inna Ilaihe Rajeoon. May Allah SWT bless his noble soul with maghfirah and a place of high honour in Jannah. Aameen. I have no doubt that he is keeping himself pretty busy up there. In the words of Iqbal,
“Farigh To Na Baithe Ga Mehshar Mein Junoon Mera Ya Apna Girebaan Chaak Ya Daman-e-Yazdaan Chaak.”
The writer is a former CI, NDC, DG ISPR and former ambassador to the UAE for over three years. He was honoured with High Order of Independence by His Highness the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
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