This article was written in memory of Late Major General Nasir Ullah Khan Babar and was printed in the March issue of the Defence Journal which is as yet not online….
People like late Major General Nasir Ullah Khan Babar are not born every day. He was twice awarded Sitara-e-Juraat in his military career i.e. in the 1965 and 1971 war and once a Hilal e Shujaat in his civilian career i.e. when he was the Interior Minister and had got released, single handedly, a bus load of students who had been hijacked by some Afghans.
Hailing from a modest village in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa called Pir Pai he went on to hold appointments like Inspector General Frontier Corps, General Officer Commanding (GOC) 14 Division, Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (then NWFP), Special Assistant to the Prime Minister, directly elected Member of the National Assembly and Interior Minister(1993-96). While writing this I suddenly realized how unfortunate this beautiful country of ours is that it did not have any reason to utilize a man like Major General Nasir Ullah Khan Babar in his last useful years of life i.e. all the way from 1996 to 2008 when he fell sick and was disabled due to a serious stroke that paralysed him. Any other country ruled by true patriots would have been looking for die hard patriots like Gen Babar. Alas this cannot be said about Pakistan where all the rulers only look for court jesters.
Thinking about Gen Babar’s nerves I am reminded of a time when I and my wife Farzana, whom he always took as a daughter, were with Gen Babar and his wife in his hospital room at the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology, Rawalpindi. Begum Nasir Ullah Khan Babar was telling my wife that he cannot now move his arm and some other details about his illness thinking the grand old man was asleep and not listening. The General opened his eyes and true to his reputation lifted his left arm to a reasonable height and mumbled the words “see I can lift my arm and what she is saying is not true”. At this point I was standing by his side and I was so moved I could not help kiss his hand with the affection of a son. It is for the reader to assess from this happening how determined and strong nerved a man must Gen Babar have been in his life time when he acted like this lying listless in his hospital bed after having suffered a massive stroke of paralysis.
It was at Okara Cantonment, in 1977, when I first met Major General Nasir Ullah Khan Babar who was then the GOC 14 Division and I, a young captain, was Adjutant 16 Baluch. One fine day I was surprised when my office orderly came rushing into my office and said ‘Sir, the GOC is here”. I said “What? Are you sure?” and started moving towards the door as fast as I could but before I could step out there was this very handsome man in a Major General’s uniform stepping into my office and taking a seat saying “so, how is 16 Baluch today?” I had a quick peep outside to see that his staff etc were also following but I saw no one in the verandah. In moments my Commanding Officer and the other available officers joined us in the Adjutant’s office. What a pleasant day that was. Sitting in an unannounced meeting in my office with the GOC having stormed it all alone with no jazz, no staff officers accompanying him and sitting at ease with the Battalion Commander of 16 Baluch and his officers discussing matters of operational and administrative interests in a tensionless atmosphere. Not only did he give decisions on all outstanding matters but also told the Battalion Commander 16 Baluch to convey all his decisions to the Colonel Staff at his Divisional Headquarters and let him know personally, in two weeks time, if any of the decision by then remains unimplemented. All of us then saw off the GOC, Maj Gen Nasir Ullah Khan Babar. He moved into the driving seat of his green Mercedes Benz numbered Rawalpindi 8 and drove himself off to his next un announced but pleasant visit to yet another unit of his command.
All of this informality in his exercise of the command of an infantry Division endeared him to officers and men alike and that is why when he resigned from the Army and was moving out of Okara garrison (1977) to take up his then new assignment of Governor NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) at Peshawar his jeep was pulled by ropes attached to it from his residence all the way to the extent of the Cantonment by the officers and men of that Division as he himself stood on the deck of that open jeep waving to the people whom he had commanded. Such was the love he earned from those he commanded. It was so moving then and it has been so moving recollecting that day, now that the grand old man is no more with us, that my eyes went wet as I wrote those lines. Little did I know then that I will have the honour and privilege to work very closely with him on matters of great national interest while in government on high positions.
In 1988, when Maj Gen Nasir Ullah Khan Babar was the Special Assistant to the then Prime Minister Shaheed (martyred) Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and I was the Joint Director General (Internal) at the Intelligence Bureau (IB). Besides many other important matters that I had the opportunity of handling while in direct liaison with him we handled the vote of no confidence against the then Prime Minister in 1989. He took upon himself to do whatever he could do to save the government of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. I can say here today that had it not been for Major General Nasir Ullah Khan Babar and the small but efficient team that he put together Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s would have lost her government in 1989.
Then came an evening in early June,1995, when I found myself on a dinner table at the Prime Minister’s House, Islamabad, with the then Prime Minister Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and then Interior Minister late Major General Nasir Ullah Khan Babar. We discussed a one point agenda i.e. “how to restore peace to the then terror stricken city of Karachi?”. In this discussion the modalities for restoring peace to Karachi were finalised. Thereafter, in 1995-96, peace was entirely restored to Karachi through an intelligence led operation.
One day, at the beginning of the operation, he said to me lets go and jumped into his car, an ordinary Datsun Sunny 1200 cc provided by the Coast Guards. With his driver driving and me talking to him in the back seat we drove all around Karachi i.e. through all the Districts of Karachi including the most disturbed areas. All this while the Pakistan flag fluttered on that small simple car as if proud of who it represented – Gen Babar. Many a times I noticed ladies on motorcycles tapping their husbands on the shoulders to tell them to look into our car which had no tinted glasses and Gen Babar was an easily recognizable personality. Their respect and pride in him clearly showed in their wave and the glowing smile on their faces on seeing him amongst them without any sirens or vehicles loaded with armed guards. At one point he said to me “Masood, I know the risk involved in all this but the people have to be given confidence that the State is there to look after them”.
On 05 July, 1977, when Gen Zia Ul Haq imposed Martial Law Maj Gen Babar was approached by Gen Fazle Haq on behalf of Gen Zia Ul Haq to ditch Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and continue as Governor NWFP. Gen Nasir Ullah Khan Babar’s response was to resign as Governor and join Pakistan Peoples Party within half an hour of resigning from the position of Governor NWFP. Such was the character of this legend forever.
Major General Nasir Ullah Khan Babar was a man of exceptional courage, impeccable integrity and possessed the highest degree of patriotism. He will be missed by all right thinking patriotic Pakistanis for a long time to come. He and I were to gain the maximum had Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto become the Prime Minister again but when the PPP broke away from its own legacy and agreed on a political arrangement with General Musharraf it was Gen Nasir Ullah Khan Babar and I who were the only two who stepped aside from that arrangement. Gen Babar will never ever be forgotten as he is, indeed, a legend forever and will always be remembered for his sterling qualities.
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