Obituary: Brigadier Malik Mohammed Aslam, 1938-2023

Brigadier Malik Mohammed Aslam was born in August 1938 in the village of Choi in the Salt Range (Northern Punjab). He passed away after a long and eventful life on June 30 2023. I wanted to write a few words for a couple of different reasons: one, he was my father’s closest friend and one of the most extraordinary human beings I have ever met; but second (and perhaps more important for the historical record) he played an important role in the defense of Lahore in 1965 and yet this role is not recorded anywhere. I wanted to correct that oversight.

Brigadier Aslam attended Military school Sarai Alamgir and passed out from PMA with the 17th long course with the Norman Medal and other honors. He was commissioned in the artillery and was serving in Lahore in 1965 as a young captain. In August 1965 Pakistan had sent armed raiders into Kashmir (operation Gibraltar) to spark an uprising there. That operation failed miserably and instead the Indian army captured Haji Pir pass and threatened Neelam valley and Muzaffarabad, so the Pakistan army invaded Chamb (operation Grand Slam) to relieve pressure and perhaps get a breakthrough from that direction. While all this was going on in Kashmir, the high command in Pakistan remained confident that India will not expand the war to any other theater (this moronic confidence came about because Bhutto and friends had sold the Gibraltar idea to Ayub (who was a bit of a coward) with the assurance that India will never dare to extend the war to the “regular border” and it will remain confined to Kashmir). Indian PM Shastri was thought to be a weakling and Indian performance in Rann of Katch had been unimpressive, so the army high command bought this dumb idea. But on the night of 5-6th September the Indian army launched an attack on Lahore and the Pakistani army was caught off guard. The local GOC had started moving some troops forward, but most of the troops were still in Lahore cantonment when the Indians attacked. Captain Aslam, commanding a field battery, was woken up by the sound of gunfire. He tried to call his superiors to find out what was going on but nobody in corps HQ in Lahore had any orders for him and he was told to wait till they got in touch with superior officers. On his own initiative and without wasting any further time, Captain Aslam opened fire with all guns and was the first and only artillery battery to do so. This fact can be confirmed with other participants in that night’s events. He kept firing for the next 17 days and two of his barrels melted in the process. Several small and large decisions that night helped to save Lahore, but this was definitely one of them. (though to be fair if the Indian army had been better led, they could have taken Lahore that morning; that they failed is also due to the incompetence and cowardice of their commanding officer, general Niranjan Prasad (whom Harbaksh Singh wanted court martialed for cowardice).

Captain Aslam moved on to better things, doing his staff course and the national defense course and reaching the rank of brigadier with an absolutely outstanding service record. In the late 80s he was director studies in the National Defense College and was up for promotion to Major General. General Zia was ruling the country and had happened to visit NDC a few months earlier and when the floor was opened for questions, Brigadier Aslam asked him what his plan was for ending martial law and restoring civilian rule. Zia, who never forgot such things, opened the promotion board with the comment “aah, Aslam, he talks too much”. That was enough. All the other members of the board (including two generals who had been Brigadier Aslam’s direct superiors and valued him highly and said so repeatedly) immediately shut their files and moved on to the next candidate. Brigadier Aslam resigned from the army and never looked back.

But he was not just an outstanding officer (among other things, I have seen him personally playing hockey and attending physical training with his troops as a brigadier; unremarkable till you realize how uncommon that is; by the say, he weighed almost the same as Brigadier as he did as a cadet; no pot belly for him), he was a true philosopher who lived by his philosophy, no matter what the cost. A student of history in general and military history in particular, he was remarkably well read, but it is the “living by it” part where he stood out from others. Nobody could ever doubt his integrity and he never compromised his principles no matter what the odds. A fan of Martin Heidegger, Mirza Ghalib and classical Punjabi poetry, he always had books on his table and he did not just read them, he discussed them, argued about them and tried to live by them. When he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer, he opted for no treatment and spent his last weeks joyously reading Ghalib, meeting friends and making sure all practical details of his passing were worked out and no loose ends were left anywhere. He spent his last day on earth sitting up all day long, talking to friends and family, discussing philosophy, poetry and history. Then he passed away quietly in the night and was buried in his ancestral village of Choi. His memory will not die as long as people who have met him are still alive.

He was not a fan of the so-called “ideology of Pakistan” but he also believed that a soldier’s duty is to fight for his country and to fight well and he said he did not believe in divided loyalties. He was prepared for that job and he did it well in two wars and in nearly 30 years of peacetime service. We will not see another like him.

PS: our last conversation: he said life is beautiful and he has no regrets, but in his old age he realized that life in the village of Choi was as meaningful and good as life in any “advanced” city and it would truly have been fine if he had never left Choi. So he asked me to seriously think about coming back home. And he insisted that he be buried in Choi, not in Lahore. Politics maybe 99% bullshit and ideology is 99.9% bullshit, but we are a people, we have a land, it would be great if we could live in it.

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Omar Ali

I am a physician interested in obesity and insulin resistance, and in particular in the genetics and epigenetics of obesity As a blogger, I am more interested in history, Islam, India, the ideology of Pakistan, and whatever catches my fancy. My opinions can change.

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8 months ago

OmerAli,I am delighted at the same time sad to read his obituary. I thank you for sharing his brief biography.I will ever cherish his memory as an exceptional human being.Thanks

Raja Adnan
Raja Adnan
8 months ago

Although he has gone, we will always be together, and his spirit will live on in each one of us forever. He admired you a lot and talk about you every day. Thank you for sharing this. It means a lot

Zachary L. Zavidé
Zachary L. Zavidé
8 months ago

what a lovely write-up; seemed truly like a great man. an intellectual warrior if you will. RIP

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