Brigadier FB Ali; the Man Who Removed Yahya Khan

From Dr Hamid Hussain. Brigadier FB Ali had an important role in two big events: the coup against Yahya Khan in Dec 1971 and a planned/imagined coup against Bhutto in 1973.. Details below..

Obituary of an officer & gentleman of a bygone era.

Brigadier Furrukh Bakht Ali

Hamid Hussain

Brigadier F. B. Ali (February 1929 – February 2021) passed away in Canada.  He was one of the last of the generation of Pakistan army officers commissioned right after the independence in 1947.  He was a highly respected officer of Pakistan army.

His family was from Patiala. His maternal grandfather Safdar Jung Khan was Lodi Pathan and served with police department.  He was kotwal (city police chief) of Amritsar city.  His maternal grandmother was from Turkmenistan who had migrated to India as a young girl.  His father Bakht Yawar Ali was orphaned at young age but with hard work graduated from Government College Lahore and joined Indian Police Service (IPS).  F.B. Ali was born in Delhi where his father was posted at that time.  In view of frequent posting of Ali’s father to different locations (Karnal, Hoshiarpur, Muzzafargarh), it was decided to enroll Ali in Convent of Jesus and Mary in Mussoorie. He then joined his father’s alma mater Government College Lahore. In 1945, demand for a separate Muslim homeland had gained momentum.  Students of Government College were from middle class families of government service and not involved in any political activity.  Ali organized Muslim League student political activities where he met Khurshid Anwar.  Anwar was organizing armed struggle in Kashmir after partition in August 1947 and asked Ali to join him.  Ali wanted to join but his father vetoed the idea.  He joined the first Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) course in January 1948.  Due to war, course was shortened to ten months and cadets passed out in November 1948.

He joined first PMA course and commissioned in November 1948.  He won Norman Gold Medal and could opt for his regiment.  He wanted to join Armored Corps where one vacancy was open that he was entitled to but some background maneuvers for another favorite candidate (Fazle Haq) deprived Ali of this opportunity.  He was commissioned in Artillery Regiment.  He was attached with 1st Mountain Regiment commanded by Lieutenant Colonel W. P. B. Milne.  It was originally 21st Mountain Regiment stationed in Waziristan with four Jacob’s, Kohat, Peshawar and Lahore batteries.  This regiment was still deployed in Kashmir after the ceasefire.  Milne would visit his batteries dressed as Pathan as British officers were not allowed to serve in Kashmir. After this attachment, he joined 7th Field Regiment and later served with 9th Medium Regiment and commanded 44th (SP) Field Regiment.

He attended instructor course at School of Artillery and after completion, he was kept at school as instructor.  In 1955, he was selected for foreign course at School of Artillery at Larkhill in England.  Pakistan had joined American military alliances and receiving new American equipment.  Ali was brought to Artillery School to develop new doctrine and procedures for induction of American equipment.  He was selected for a foreign staff course and attended Canadian Staff Course.

He served in new Research and Development Directorate at General Head Quarters (GHQ) and then served as Chief of Staff of 18th Division then commanded by Major General (later General) Rahim Uddin Khan.  In May1971, he was promoted Brigadier and appointed Deputy Commandant of PMA.  When 1971 war was imminent he was given command of 6th Armored Division artillery that later become command of Army Reserve North (a formation consisting of 6th Armored Division & 17th Infantry Division) and I Corps artillery.  After the events of December 1971, he was removed from command and appointed Commandant of School of Artillery.  In August 1972, he was retired from the army.

Army Reserve North (ARN) was commanded by Major General Bashir Ahmad. Bashir’s Chief of Staff was Colonel Aleem Afridi and Lieutenant Colonel Abad was GSO-1.  6th Armored Division was commanded by a Bengali officer Major General Iskandar ul Karim nick named ‘Bacchu Karim’ and his Colonel Staff was Colonel Aga Javed Iqbal (5th Probyn’s Horse).  Division’s signal battalion was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Khurshid.  17th Infantry division was commanded by Major General R. D. Shamim.  ARN was hastily put together with no operational plans.  Bashir showed no interest about his own formation and openly told his staff officers that he was simply put there to keep an eye on Bacchu Karim.

Surrender on 16 December 1971, shocked West Pakistan.  On 17 December, Ali wrote his resignation letter accepting his own responsibility expecting that General Yahya Khan and his close advisors will accept responsibility and resign.  Next day, when he heard that Yahya Khan was planning a new constitution, he was livid.  He went to his Division Commander ‘Bacchu Karim’ and asked him to send a message to GHQ and convey feelings of officers that ruling regime had lost the confidence of officers.  Bacchu Karim was a Bengali officer who was in a completely hopeless situation of commanding a division in West Pakistan while his compatriots had won their freedom in eastern wing.  He was not sure about his future.  On 19 December, Ali confined Bacchu Karim in his caravan and took command of the division.  He ordered commander of signal battalion to cut all communications out of headquarters and all calls to GOC routed to him.  Bashir came to visit Bacchu Karim and when told about the events shouted at Ali “You are under arrest.  Go and sit in my jeep and I will take you to Corps headquarter”.  Ali simply said no Sir and when three young armed officers showed up, Bashir deflated quickly.  Soon Major General Shamim and commander of armored brigade Brigadier Iqbal Mehdi Shah also showed up.

They decided to invite Chief of General Staff (CGS) Lieutenant General Gul Hassan to come to division Head Quarters (HQ).  When he refused to come, it was decided to send Colonel Aga Javed Iqbal and Colonel Aleem Afridi to meet him at GHQ.  Iqbal had served as Adjutant of Gul Hassan when later was commanding 5th Probyn’s Horse.  When both officers entered Gul Hassan’s office, he was in a despondent mood and told them that he planned to leave the army.  When the two officers told him about the ultimatum for the regime, he brightened up.  He called Air Force Chief Rahim Khan to his office.  Gul Hassan admired the stance and courage of the officers and told them to sit in his staff officer Major (later Lieutenant General) Javed Nasir’s office.  Gul Hassan and Rahim went to see Chief of Staff (COS) General Abdul Hamid ‘Ham’ and later went to see General Yahya Khan. While senior officers huddle was going on, Ali had not heard from Iqbal and Aleem and got concerned whether GHQ was planning to neutralize them.  He ordered an infantry company to deploy to defend division HQ. 

Regime tried to salvage the situation and approached some commanders.  Several calls were also made to Division HQ.  Lieutenant General Tikka Khan called and when told that generals were not available and Brigadier Ali will take the call, he hung up.  Quarter Master General (QMG) Major General A. O. Mitha who had raised Special Services Group (SSG), saw SSG Commander Brigadier (later Lieutenant General) Ghulam Muhammad nick named GM to see if he could send some SSG to take control of division headquarters. GM told Mitha that he had no troops to spare and went to his boss Gul Hassan and informed him. 

Governors of all four provinces were also military men.  Governor of Punjab was Lieutenant General Atiq ur Rahman ‘Turk’, Lieutenant General Rakhman Gul governor of Sindh, Lieutenant General K. M. Azhar governor of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Lieutenant General Riaz Hussain Shah governor of Baluchistan.  Yahya probably called all of them, but I know only of his conversation with Governor of Punjab Lieutenant General Atiq ur Rahman ‘Turk’.  A large crowd had gathered outside Governor House and Turk allowed few in small groups to try to explain the debacle in East Pakistan.  Yahya Khan called and asked him about the situation, Turk told him that large a crowd was outside.  Yahya asked what they want, and Turk bluntly said, ‘They want your head’.  Yahya did not grasp it first time, so Turk repeated the sentence.  Yahya said, ‘even you have turned against me’ and hung up the phone.  Seeing no response from several quarters in the army, Yahya decided to quit and announced his resignation. 

There was internal struggle among senior officers.   Gul Hassan riding on the backs of disgruntled officers hoped that with removal of Yahya and Hamid, he would be natural choice for top post.  A happy Gul Hassan came back to office and gave the good news that Yahya had resigned and spoke to Bacchu Karim and Bashir and told them that he will come to division HQ next morning to thank officers and men.  Mitha part of the inner clique, thought that with Yahya out, there may be room for elevation of Hamid to top slot.  Mitha called and talked to Ali suggesting to him that General Abdul Hamid should take over from Yahya Khan.  Hamid was too close to Yahya and was blamed for the disaster and not acceptable.  Director General Inter-Services Intelligence (DGISI) Brigadier (later Lieutenant General) Ghulam Jilani and Director General Military Intelligence (DGMI) Brigadier (later General) Iqbal Khan were dispatched by Hamid to visit the Div. HQ without informing Gul Hassan.  Iqbal tried to convince Brigadier Iqbal Mehdi Shah to send the infantry company guarding Div. HQ back and went to another infantry battalion commander to convince him to send troops to take over Div. HQ, but he declined.  When Gul Hassan called Div. HQ and told that DGISI and DGMI were visiting the HQ, he was furious.  Seeing the changing winds, Iqbal went back to Rawalpindi but reported to Gul Hassan rather than Hamid.  In the morning, Hamid’s military secretary called Div. HQ asking for whereabouts of DGMI.  Hamid decided to address officers at GHQ auditorium where his fate was sealed when he was hooted out by Majors, Colonels and Brigadiers.  In a strange twist, Brigadier (later General and COAS) Zia ul Haq also showed up at Div. HQ while he was posted hundred miles away.  Zia was Gul Hassan’s protégé and Gul Hassan had saved his career and it is likely that Gul Hassan sent him to Div. HQ to give firsthand report about what was happening.

Power was handed to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto after the departure of Yahya Khan.  Gul Hassan and Bhutto were fully aware of the danger posed by officers who had forced their own brass to resign after the disastrous conduct of war.  Gul Hassan in hubris made the mistake of trying to settle personal scores by retiring three generals with good reputation in the army (Major Generals Ehsan ul Haq Malik, Shaukat Raza and Khadim Hussain Raja). This caused some resentment as many with direct responsibility of disaster were not touched.  Ali drove to Governor House without any appointment asking to see Governor Ghulam Mustafa Khar; a close confidant of Bhutto.  Ali told Khar that Gul Hassan was misleading the government and leaving incompetent generals in place.  Bhutto was visiting Lahore and staying at Governor House.  Khar’s military secretary took Ali to his office and took away his pistol.  A little while later, Bhutto came to office with Khar and Ali narrated the whole story to him.

Gul Hassan started the inquiry against officers involved in the incident.  In the meantime, Gul Hassan was unceremoniously removed by Bhutto and inquiry was completed during General Tikka Khan’s time. Tikka called Ali and told him that he will be retired from the army and Ali hung his boots in August 1972.

Many bright and decorated young officers brashly talked about their disappointments and this led to talk about changing the government by force.  They were all junior officers and they approached Ali to try to rope in some senior officers in their plan.  Ali attended some meetings but in last meeting told them that they were too emotional, and they should forget about everything.  In early 1973, several officers including Ali were arrested and charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government.  A Field General Court Martial headed by Major General (later General & Chief of Army Staff) Zia ul Haq was convened at Attock Fort.  Court convicted several officers and Ali was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Bhutto had a bug in his bonnet about Ali.  Bhutto had not forgotten the day when Ali walked into governor house with his side arm.  He took personal interest in proceedings and Zia frequently traveled to Rawalpindi to brief Bhutto on the progress of the case.  Now, there is evidence from several sources that Bhutto wanted a death sentence for Ali.  GHQ sent back the judgement to Field General Court Martial for enhancement of sentences. Ali had the life sentence and enhancement of sentence meant death penalty.  Junior members of the court prevailed and Field General Court Martial did not reconsider the sentences. The junior most member of the court Major (later Lieutenant General) Muzaffar Usmani was instrumental in this decision.

Bhutto even promulgated constitutional amendments specifically targeting Ali.  Life sentence normally means fourteen years imprisonment but with constitutional amendment, it was changed to whole life in prison.  Law was also changed to specify that military prisoners would not be entitled to any remission in their sentence.  Ali was kept in solitary confinement in prison far away from home. After 1977 Martial Law, Zia allowed his transfer to Lahore.  When Bhutto was convicted for ordering the assassination of a political opponent he was put in death cell of the same jail only hundred yards away from Ali’s cell.  Ali was released in May 1978.  He moved to Canada and help set up disaster management department of Ontario government.

He had a sharp mind and of intellectual bent.  GHQ had an annual essay competition and for several years, Ali won the competition.  Others only got a chance when Ali was stopped to participate in the contest. His essays during his professional career and papers for staff college were first rate and won praise from his superiors. He also wrote short stories and poetry.

Several years ago, Ali contacted me after someone forwarded to him some of my writings on Pakistan army.  We kept in touch and he was kind enough to always correct, add and offer critique of my own work. He was kind enough to share with me details of the tumultuous days of 1971 war and his role in these events.  He would always take time to answer many follow up questions and comments on views of my other sources of that era. He also shared many aspects of his family and personal life with me.  He was constantly broadening his horizons till the very end of his life.  His personal journey went through cultural Islam, personal piety, political Islam, in-depth study and translation of Quran to the valleys of atheism. In this long journey a simple code of ethics and the moral compass was his guide. This was the reason that he impressed everyone who met him even those who strongly disagreed with him. Lieutenant General Jahan Dad who was deputy of the court martial that tried Ali had great respect for him and told me that Ali was a fine officer and head and shoulder above his peers.  He considered him a thinking officer.  Ali’s course mate Colonel EAS Bukhari viewed him as gunner with considerable repute and acumen and even in young age, he was viewed as intellectual and thinker.

It is irony that the senior most member of the Field General Court Martial Major General Zia ul Haq who sentenced Ali, overthrew the government in a successful coup d’état  in 1977 and the junior most member of the court Major Muzaffar Usmani was involved in the coup of General Pervez Musharraf in 1999.

In Attock prison in 1973, Ali wrote following poem “I am not Christ”

I am not Christ

Yet, there are these many hills

Up each one of which

I have wound my weary war

 I am no Christ

Yet, there are these many hills

Upon each one of which

I am crucified.

Note:  Details of events of 1973 trial are based on my interviews with direct participants and firsthand witnesses including Brigadier F. B. Ali, Colonel Aga Javed Iqbal, Lieutenant General Jahan Dad Khan and others who wish to remain anonymous.

Correction & more musings

In obituary of Brigadier F.B. Ali there were some errors pointed to me by respected officers.  This also resulted in exchanges and more information.

 First PMA Course – I mentioned that Brigadier Ali was from First PMA.  This is incorrect.  The first course commissioned from PMA Kakul is called IMA/PMA & Ist Graduate Course. The confusion is because Pakistan had to establish military academy from scratch and cadets under training at IMA Dehra Dun who came to Pakistan had already done some of their training.  The first batch of cadets consisted of 66 cadets who came from IMA, 63 university graduates for Ist Graduate Course and 78 cadets of Ist PMA Long course. Training started in January 1948 but due to 1947-48 Indo-Pakistan war in Kashmir, course was shortened and commissioned in November 1948. Battalion Senior Under Officer (BSUO) Sadiq ur Rasheed Muhammad Abbasi was the best cadet and won sword of honor.

 Ist PMA course commissioned on 04 February 1950.  Major Raja Aziz Bhatti was winner of sword of honor of this course.  He was killed in action in 1965 war and awarded with highest gallantry award Nishan-e-Haider.  However, there was some controversy about this award.

 Two General Rahims – I mentioned that F.B. Ali was GSO-1 of Major General Rahimuddin Khan which is incorrect.  It was a different Major General Rahim Khan.

 Rahim 1 – Major General Rahim Khan was a Kashmiri of Sudhan tribe from Rawlakot.  He was commissioned in 1943 and belonged to 4 Baloch Regiment. He was graduate of Staff College Camberley in United Kingdom.  He commanded 18 Division where F.B. Ali was his GSO-1.  In 1972, he was Brigadier Martial Law duties in East Pakistan.  He commanded 39 Ad Hoc Division in East Pakistan.  He was wounded while withdrawing his headquarters from Chandpur and evacuated to West Pakistan just before surrender on 16 December 1971.  He served as Chief of General Staff (CGS).  After retirement, he served as secretary of Defence and Chairman of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). He was involved in education of post children in Kashmir. In army circles, it was alleged that he was not severely wounded and got out on one of the last helicopter flights to Burma just before surrender. His sympathizers suggest that he was severely wounded and that is why evacuated.

 Rahim 2 – Rahimuddin Khan was a Rohilla Pathan of United Province (UP). In 1947, he was at IMA Dehra Dun.  In October 1947, Muslim cadets were taken to Saharanpur airfield and flown to Pakistan but Rahimuddin was not among them.  He went to Delhi to check on his family.  He was accompanied by two fellow cadets with families in Delhi Shafat Ahmad and Wahid Qadir & IMA Platoon commander Captain (later Colonel) S. G. M. Mehdi whose family was in Karnal near Delhi. Platoon commander at IMA Prithipal Singh also joined them as his family had migrated from western Punjab and was in a refugee camp in Delhi.  Major (later General) Tikka Khan took all these fellows to Delhi.

 He was commissioned in 12 Baloch Regiment and later commanded 6 Baloch.  He attended command and staff college at Fort Leavenworth in United States.  He did not participate in 1965 war as he had sprained/broken his ankle.  In 1971, he was commanding 111 Brigade of 23 Division.  He was appointed head of court martial to try Shaikh Mujib ur Rahman at Montgomery (now Sahiwal) jail. He did not participate in 1971 war and 111 Brigade was commanded by Brigadier (later Major General) Naseerullah Khan Babar.  One story suggests that he wanted to re-join his brigade, but Yahya Khan wanted him to complete the trial and sentence Mujib.  His GOC Major General Iftikhar Khan was furious with him and threatened to court martial him but died in a helicopter crash during operation.

 He was appointed Corps Commander of II Corps in Multan in 1978.  He holds the record of longest tenure for a Corps Commander of five and a half years.  He insisted on holding his Corps Command despite appointed as Governor of Baluchistan.  He served Baluchistan governor for six hears (1978-84).  He was given fourth star and appointed Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff (1984-87).  After retiring in 1987, he was appointed governor of Sindh in May 1988 when civilian government was dismissed.  He served until the death of general Zia ul Haq in a plane crash in August 1988.

 Two General Ghulam Muhammads (GM) – The confusion was since both were nick named GM.

 GM – 1 – Major General Ghulam Muhammad was from 17/10 Baloch Regiment (later re-designated 19 Baloch) that was designated to be converted to Special Services Group (SSG). He served with SSG for long time and in 1971 war was commander of SSG.  In 1977, he was commanding 35 Division.  He witnessed election rigging and when agitation started against Bhutto, in formation commander conference, he was of the view that government had lost the legitimacy and army should not support Bhutto.  When agitation against Bhutto increased, he advocated army take over at formation commander conferences held between March and July 1977. After Martial law, he was sent to command 33 Division in Quetta and in this capacity he became Martial Law Administrator of Baluchistan. When Zia delayed elections, now at formation commanders conference GM advocated for elections and handing over power to civilians.  Zia was not comfortable keeping him as Martial law administrator of Baluchistan and brought him to command 17 Division.  In the next formation commander conference, when GM repeated his views then he was removed from command and appointed Director General National Guards (DGNG).

 GM – 2 – Lieutenant General Ghulam Muhammad Malik is alumni of prestigious Pakistan Air Force (PAF) College Sargodha.  He joined 21st Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) Long Course.  He was the best cadet and selected to attend British Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst in 1960.  He was the first foreign cadet to win Queen’s Gold Medal.  He was commissioned in 12th Baloch Regiment. He had an illustrious career.  He commanded Murree based 12th Infantry Division and served at commandant of PMA at Major General rank. He was promoted Lieutenant General and served as Commander of Rawalpindi based X Corps.  He has the distinction of being the longest serving Corps Commander of X Corps (June 1991 – October 1995).  He retired in 1995 and was involved with a charity organization Al Mustafa Trust.

 His son Asim Malik followed his father’s footsteps.  He was declared best cadet of 80th PMA Long Course and awarded the coveted Sword of Honor.   He was commissioned in his father’s 12th Baloch Regiment.  He has done his command and instructional tenures and currently Vice Chief of General Staff.  In the next promotion cycle to Lieutenant General rank, he is among the top contenders. 

 Major General Bashir Ahmad – He was a Qaim Khani from Jaipur that provided best cavalry men for Indian army. He joined in the ranks and later commissioned.  He was from 19 Lancers.  He had a good reputation and commanded 6 Armored division and raised and commanded 23 and 37 Divisions.  His two sons Major Zafar Bashir and Brigadier Hamid Bashir also joined 19 Lancers.

 Acknowledgements: Author thanks several respected officers for corrections and providing additional details.

 Hamid Hussain

[email protected]

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