No. 2436392 Sepoy Azam Ali

Published: July 25, 2014
The writer is a columnist, a former major of the Pakistan Army and served as press secretary to Benazir Bhutto

The writer is a columnist, a former major of the Pakistan Army and served as press secretary to Benazir Bhutto

I was commissioned into the 4th Battalion (The Prince of Wale’s Own) The Baluch (as it was then spelt) Regiment on the May 6, 1966, from 36th PMA, the last Long Course to pass out of the Pakistan Military Academy before the several short courses also known as ‘Dhol Sipaya’ courses after one of Madam Nur Jehan’s great and inspiring songs that she sang for our soldiers during the ’65 war with India.

The battalion was still in the FDLs in Sialkot, in the Philora Wada and Philora Nikka villages, a few miles, and due North from the cantonment, and I arrived there on the May 16 after ten days joining time, in the Duty Dodge, picked up by the Senior Subaltern, Lieutenant Khurshid Akhtar Sabri, now passed on (RIP).

My first introduction to Azam Ali who was to be my batman for the next six years took place as I was conducted to my 180-Pounder tent which contained a chair, a table, and one charpoy. He came to attention as only Azam Ali could do, gave me a vast smile and executed the worst salute I had ever seen! I asked him his name and he answered ‘Saab, No 2436392, Sipahi Ajam Ali’. Yes, ‘Ajam’ Ali.

I was soon to find out that Azam Ali came from the people called Rangars of the Rajput tribe generally, and were classified in the army as SBs or Sindhi-Balochis. There were precious few Sindhi-Balochis in the Army then so 99 per cent of SBs were these Rajputs, migrated to Pakistan at partition from the areas around Delhi: Gurgaon; Rohtak and Hissar mainly. Incidentally, 4 Baloch was made up of 50 per cent PMs (Punjabi Mussalmans) and 50 per cent SBs.

They are related by Rajput blood to the famous tribe of Qaim-Khanis, great soldiers particularly cavalrymen, from Rajasthan, many of whose number rose to high ranks in the Pakistan Army, to name a few: General Yusuf Khan former VCOAS; Maj. Gen. Bashir Khan; and my senior friend, the peerless, now Late and lamented Maj. Khurshid Ali Khan’s younger brother, Maj. Gen. Sikandar Hayat a fine gentleman himself.

A word or two, though I digress from the subject of this piece, about Khurshid, or Khrusch, who I first met in Wah with my older cousin, his course-mate in the 18th PMA, later Lt. Col., and now Late too, the great officer and winner of the Sword of Honour and the Norman Gold Medal, Saeed Afzal Durrani. Khrusch was always a rebel and spoke his mind no matter where he was. He got dispirited after the East Pakistan fiasco and resigned his commission with just a few months to go for his pension to be granted to him. When asked to stay by his well-meaning friends, even commanders, he refused and demanded immediate release losing in the bargain what little pension was to come his way.

His father had left him six acres of land on which he subsisted, travelling by bus and third-class train. He did try to run a bus, but being a soldier of the old school (and not a businessman!) lost all of the borrowed money, every penny of which he returned over the years! Khrusch later became a writer and researcher on Sindh and its indigenous peoples like the Kohlis and Bheels and contributed to The Star, then edited by my good friend, the courageous Zohra Yusuf, now Chairperson of HRCP. ‘Dawn’ had this to say of this remarkable man.

But back to my buddy Azam Ali. Loyal to a T he was/is a lovely man, but a Rangar down to his toenails, still speaking the old language particularly with me. There are many anecdotes of the six years we spent together. What showed his mettle most was his impeccable keeping up of my uniform; making sure I was never late; and being always there when needed. But most of all his raw courage and care.

A year after joining the battalion, I was sent to command a Platoon at Kheri right at the head of the Phukliyan Sector across the Chenab and Tavi Rivers, and about 15 miles straight into Indian territory which ran on both sides of this sector. And bang straight ran into a problem. During the rainy season, crossing the Chenab used to take 30 to 40 minutes (I kid you not) by the fascinating but rickety old pole-driven ferry. Add to that the 40 minutes from Sialkot; the wait for the ferry if it was on the other side; and the 40 minute ride on slippery, rain-soaked foot deep mud tracks to the Platoon HQs and you came up with something like four to five hours that the fresh rations had been in the burning July/August heat.

Result: while the vegetables survived; the meat almost always spoiled on the way, to be fed to the many dogs in the area. So I took to hunting hares for the pot during night-time with my .22, a spot un-sportingly, for the poor things caught in the headlights were easy pickings. But I was doing this for our food, not collecting trophies.

It so happened one night that I shot one and Azam’s ‘Numberi’ — meaning they were recruits together: 2436365 Sepoy Mohammad Ashraf leapt of the Dodge and ran to collect the hare. He stumbled and his M-1 rifle’s scabbard got stuck in his belt and his bayonet cut him deeply in the calf. So deep that the bone showed.

We got him back and while the Nursing Orderly was dressing his deep wound both Azam and Ashraf looked at me in the gas-light. As one they said, ‘Saab aap ja kay lait jao’. I had barely reached my tent when it hit me: the sight of so much blood made me swoon, young chap that I was, but these two looked out for me. What men.

Another: When I got married and came to the dining table for breakfast, I saw my wife in tears. Azam had apparently told her there were only two eggs and Saab eats two, “Sir, aap kay liyae anda nahin hai”, he told her. She told me: “It’s him or me!” He was told off before she walked out on me!

There’s more on this good man, but later.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (26)

  • Jul 25, 2014 - 4:43AM

    They will leave you alone this time.. Looks normal.


  • Ali
    Jul 25, 2014 - 6:50AM

    What? No PTI today?


  • asim
    Jul 25, 2014 - 9:57AM

    wow, you can spell the days of PML-N are numbered now cant you?
    Time to change the boat ? (i.e from PPP to PML-N and now where) ?


  • Abid P. Khan
    Jul 25, 2014 - 11:44AM

    “They will leave you alone this time.. Looks normal.”

    Be sure, the Commando will certainly turn up in narrative, soon.


  • Brig.Harwant Singh(Retd)
    Jul 25, 2014 - 11:55AM

    Ranghars and Qaim-Khanis are excellent soldiers of the Indian Army also .


  • Fellow Rocket
    Jul 25, 2014 - 12:11PM

    Wastage of ink and space, like always.


  • TooTrue
    Jul 25, 2014 - 3:42PM

    Let me interrupt my summer vacation and correct you on style. If you’re going to use a “the” before a date then make sure the day comes before the month, i.e., the 16th of June. The June 16th is just illiteracy.


  • Sadia
    Jul 25, 2014 - 4:03PM

    @Fellow Rocket: why do you ‘always’ read him then?


  • Malveros
    Jul 25, 2014 - 4:26PM

    Do share more of your memories Sir.


  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Jul 25, 2014 - 4:31PM

    The bravery and loyalty of these illiterate “Rangars and Jats’ is the only positive point in our army..


  • Blithe
    Jul 25, 2014 - 4:32PM

    “…being a soldier of the old school (and not a businessman!)” – love it !

    If only we could get those professional officers again


  • Jaweed Niaz
    Jul 25, 2014 - 4:44PM

    A very nice and moving piece with useful detail of the area and the people.Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jul 25, 2014 - 7:34PM

    It is sad to read the narratives of this former military man who was commissioned into the Kings Punjabi regiment, and drilled to learn of the glorious days when his regiment suppressed Indian subjects to facilitate colonial rule. This is what puts him at par with the now retired Brigadier Singh of the Indian army. What a sordid affair, to serve in a Paki army and be made proud of Prince of Wales?

    Rex Minor


  • Rashid Khan
    Jul 25, 2014 - 8:56PM

    @Rex Minor
    You’re sick!
    You’re an odd one, who always find some excuse to whinge about. You’ve chosen to comment in English whereas you could’ve opted to use another language,preferably Urdu. Does’t the use of English put you ‘at par’ with the now retired Brigadier Singh and retired major.


  • Rex Minor
    Jul 25, 2014 - 9:45PM

    @Rashid Khan:
    I am not a Pakistani, English is not my language nor Urdu eather! The author is an intellectual journalist but be it as it is he got landed in Pakistani army which is even today proud of the atrocities their units committed in their history against Indians from north to deep into south. Pakistani soldiers and for that matter Indian soldiers as well should be made aware and proud if necessary of how they have performed after 1947 independence? Not very much I am afraid in my opinion other than shooting at each other and this should become the beginning of the Nations army which needs a cultural revolution which the Chinese experienced and the south vietnamese went though as well after the exit of the French and the Americans. Knowledge is a virtue, it does not require emotions, research it and you will be an enlightened person.

    Rex Minor
    PS The author is breathing fresh air since he is out of his outfit, living the life of a soldier who has not question but to do and die for the King!


  • Jul 26, 2014 - 12:55AM

    @Rex Minor:
    OK, fine, Hindi is your first language, not Urdu.. Then comes English.
    Which you learned in some Colonial institution. Before getting the
    ‘Green Card’…er…residency papers, asylum papers in whichever
    country you pitch your tent in. So now you are a second class citizen


  • someone
    Jul 26, 2014 - 2:33AM

    @Rex Minor:
    Wow…when did Pakistani army penetrated India from north to south???? Not sure which history books you are reading.


  • Jul 26, 2014 - 3:25AM

    Well, very awkward story. Pointless to be specific.


  • Bashir
    Jul 26, 2014 - 9:26AM

    The courses that passed out later than 38th PMA were equally good soldiers.


  • Np
    Jul 26, 2014 - 11:07AM

    @Rashid Khan:
    @Golnath Agarwal:
    He is a Waziristani Pashtun Muslim settled in Germany. He hates India much more than Pakistan. His recent angst against Pakistan is due to the NWA operation.


  • Ullo Bata
    Jul 26, 2014 - 12:24PM

    What was that?


  • Ahmed Saeed
    Jul 26, 2014 - 1:16PM

    Truly nostalgic.


  • Moiz Omar
    Jul 26, 2014 - 1:37PM

    @Fellow Rocket:
    Why do you read his articles and pieces of writing then?Recommend

  • Jul 26, 2014 - 1:41PM

    Cut the Major some slack -guys.” Mickey” (to his friends) is of a vanishing breed. He is not only a proud veteran but has served with merit in sensitive civilian posts as well. I do not know him personally…but both of us have shared some very fine mutual friends …and a man is known by the company he keeps. I enjoy his anecdotal columns…although being the son of an Army officer myself -I cringe when he is being irreverent about some of his seniors in the army that he so diligently served under. Given his proclivity to Army traditions and being cognizant of Army protocol…perhaps he might sometimes reconsider not breaking out in print against a former COAS…and a President …no less. An Officer and a Gentleman does not -in or out of uniform – denigrate his fellow officers -especially his seniors. Whatever his political persuasion and or affiliation. That is my personal opinion for whatever it is worth. I might add here that I do not know the erstwhile “General and President” either…and I hold no brief for him. As we are on the subject of Generals…allow me to quote from another General from another time- as he bid farewell to his beloved Army: ” I did my duty as God gave me the light to do that duty”. Douglas Macarthur. General of the Army. There is a message here Major sahib…heed it. We are all fallible human beings…and any one of us can fall from grace.

    Other than that” “Major sahib”…Recommend

  • Zeeshan Ahmed
    Aug 5, 2014 - 8:03AM

    While I enjoy reading your nostalgic trips down memory lane as I find them refreshing, how about some good old opinionated journalism on world events.


  • Dr Tony Walsh
    Sep 5, 2014 - 3:56AM

    What a wonderful piece Sir


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