Brig Jafar Khan
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Ikram Sehgal |

The words of one of late Brig Jafar Khan’s closest friends Brig (Retd) Asmat Beg Humayun best describes one of Pakistan Army’s outstanding soldiers.

“I first met Jafar Khan, a Gheba Malik from Surag a village near Pindi Gheb, District of Attock when I joined Prep School Lawrence College Ghora Gali (GG) in class in 1949 at the age of ten. Our friendship lasted till his death. “Jeff”, as we were popularly nick-named by all Gallians (as GG boys were called), was tough and highly intelligent. Jeff, Sabir Kamal Shaheed, Waheed and myself became friends for the rest of our lives.

While I joined 13 Lancers in 1960, he was commissioned into Guides Cavalry, both the cavalry regiments located in Kharian. A polo player with a handicap of 4, Jeff became Commandant of the prestigious President Bodyguard (PBG), where he had earlier served as Adjutant.

Always first in class, he was good in games and with absolutely clean habits.  Out of thirty-eight who appeared in senior Cambridge together in November 1956, only eight passed with two second divisions (Jeff one of them) and six third divisions. Both of us joined 21st PMA Long Course PMA together in Nov 1957. As the Battalion Senior Under Officer (SUO), Jeff was awarded the coveted Sword of Honour. Because his elder brother was in the Frontier Force Regiment, he wanted to opt for infantry but I persuaded him to join the Armoured Corps.

While I joined 13 Lancers in 1960, he was commissioned into Guides Cavalry, both the cavalry regiments located in Kharian. A polo player with a handicap of 4, Jeff became Commandant of the prestigious President Bodyguard (PBG), where he had earlier served as Adjutant. During the 1971 war in East Pakistan, he was BM 57 Brigade and remained a POW in India for two years. According to his fellow POWs, his conduct as POW was inspirational. A Command and Staff College graduate, he later went to the UK to do a Course in the Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS).

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After retirement, we both settled in Rawalpindi and would meet every month at least once together with some other friends. While the Army lost a thorough professional, an outstanding officer and a scholar, in Jeff’s passing away I have lost my best friend. A man with an analytical mind who could defeat anyone in an argument, logically and convincingly. Jeff was a person of great character,” unquote.

Undertaking a sortie to Comilla at about 11 am on the morning of March 1, 1971, I deliberately flew low over the Dhaka Stadium where a cricket match between the Commonwealth Cricket Team and Pakistan was being played. Thousands of spectators in a holiday mood waved back from the Stadium. Three hours or so later as I landed back, I could see Brig (later (Lt Gen) Jahanzeb Arbab, Comd 57 Brigade and his Brigade Maj (BM) Maj (later Brig) Jafar Khan (Jeff to me) at the helipad in Dhaka Cantonment. Jeff belonged to Lawrence College, Ghora Gali (GG) where I was the youngest in the House of which he was the Head (Peake House) in 1957.

On my way back from Comilla I had approached the helipad from the east to avoid the birds over the city during the afternoon. Within a minute I was crossing the center of the city, all around one could see fires and roadblocks coming up with masses of people gathering.

In a few months along with Brig Asmat Beg, he left for PMA. My heroes and role models also included Brig Rao Abid Hameed, Maj Sabir Kamal Shaheed, Maj Farooq Adam Khan (who succeeded Jeff as Head of the House) and late Brig Mahmud Nawaz. Coming under the influence of another Gallian colleague of his in NAB, a confirmed scoundrel and drunkard, my boyhood hero Farooq Adam Khan turned into a severe disappointment.

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Maj (later Lt Col) Patrick Tierney instructed me to take Brig Arbab and Jeff immediately on an aerial reconnaissance of Dhaka and Narayanganj after refueling. With Jeff sitting next to me and the Brigade Commander on his left, I took off from the helipad with a full load of fuel. Ominously the Alouette-3 sank a bit in the depression beyond the barbed wire.   Brig Arbab ordered me to head towards Narayanganj.

On my way back from Comilla I had approached the helipad from the east to avoid the birds over the city during the afternoon. Within a minute I was crossing the center of the city, all around one could see fires and roadblocks coming up with masses of people gathering. The Shamianas in the Dhaka Stadium was on fire, my sister Shahnaz’s house, 3 A Purana Paltan, close to Baital Mokarram and the Stadium was a marker for me. The scene of the bliss of a few hours earlier was now totally different, instinctively I gained height. Totally bewildered I asked Jeff what had happened, I still remember his reply, “hell has broken loose, the President has postponed the National Assembly Session.”

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The situation in the industrial river port town of Narayanganj was the same as in Dhaka, vehicles and tyres were being torched at numerous roadblocks. Circling back low over Dhaka to get a good idea of the trouble spots all over the city. The entire city seemed engulfed in columns of smoke. On some roof tops around Dhaka Stadium, I could see some people had taken refuge. While I leaving Brig Arbab and Jeff at the helipad, Jeff leaned over to me, patted me on the shoulder and said: “Ikram, go get them”.

Seeing the Alouette-3 falling out of the sky, the crowd stampeded outwards. Landing on the road my crew chief helped all the 5 soldiers included those injured (they were not dead) into the helicopter. I flew the injured straight to the CMH Dhaka before returning to our own helipad.   

Without waiting for permission from my Flight Commander, I headed back to Dhaka City with only my Crew Chief. Some people were heli-lifted from the center of the pitch in the Stadium where they had been hiding. Some I evacuated from adjacent roof tops like the DIT Building, Purbani Hotel, etc. Ferrying them to the Governor’s House in batches of 3 and 4, one even lifted from atop Gulistan Cinema. How my rotors did not hit any wire, any other obstacle etc, I do not know. Now really low on fuel, I then flew back to towards the Dhaka Airport (Kurmitola).

What I saw at Farm Gate near the (old) Airport was shocking. A Dodge truck of the Pakistan Army was besieged by a crowd. One could see that at least two of the occupants wise injured or dead but the rest were keeping the mob at bay by firing into them. Very deliberately I auto-rotated downwards on the crowd. Seeing the Alouette-3 falling out of the sky, the crowd stampeded outwards. Landing on the road my crew chief helped all the 5 soldiers included those injured (they were not dead) into the helicopter. I flew the injured straight to the CMH Dhaka before returning to our own helipad.

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Along with the Commander Eastern Command, Lt Gen Sahibzada Yaqub, and Maj Gen Khadim Hussain Raja, GOC 14 DIV, and many other officers, Jeff was still waiting for me at the helipad with a hot mug of tea when I came back drenched with sweat. His approving smile, an embrace and another pat on the back,” good boy, proud of you”! I have never forgotten. For me, Jeff was always very special.

Late Maj (Retd) Saeed Kamal Meyer (nicknamed Tuggy meaning Tough Guy), one of Jeff’s close Gallian companions was a company commander when I was Adjutant 2 E Bengal in Lahore. Jeff was in Lahore with PBG’s polo team during the Horse & Cattle Show in February 1968, I was “detailed” by the GG “hierarchy” assembled in Lahore to deliver red roses on his behalf to his to-be fiancee (and wife later), Shahnaz Hamid in Rawalpindi.  That was the easy part, the really difficult part came a year or so later when Tuggy’s logic decided that since I had delivered flowers for Jeff, I could do the same for his fiancee (and later his wife) Saeeda by air from an L-19 to her house in Jhelum! We could get away with such antics then.

Today Lawrence College is extremely lucky that another really outstanding soldier Brig (Retd) Mujahid Alam, is the Principal. He has restored GG to the caliber and prestige that it once was in the 50s and early 60s.

When one is growing up, especially in a tough public school like Lawrence College, it is very important to have mentors one can look up to. I was really lucky to be blessed with some persons of real consequence. As an outstanding individual of extraordinary significance, Jeff stood out among giants of similar stature. His character and integrity throughout his life remained constant, he remained upright throughout his life. A proud soldier who never succumbed to the temptations that proliferate today and to which most of his are susceptible. A humble, God fearing person, his knowledge of Islamic teachings and history was tremendous. Jeff was truly an outstanding Gallian.

Today Lawrence College is extremely lucky that another really outstanding soldier Brig (Retd) Mujahid Alam, is the Principal. He has restored GG to the caliber and prestige that it once was in the 50s and early 60s.

Gallians have a right to be always proud of the likes of Jafar Khan, Tuggy, Sabir Kamal Shaheed, Asmat Beg, Rao Abid Hameed, Mahmood Nawaz, etc. You do not make them like them anymore!

Ikram Sehgal, author of “Escape from Oblivion”, is Pakistani defense analyst and security expert. He is a regular contributor of articles in newspapers that include: The News and the Urdu daily Jang. This article was first published in Business Recorder. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

Ikram Sehgal, author of “Escape from Oblivion”, is Pakistani defense analyst and security expert. He is a regular contributor of articles in newspapers that include: The News and the Urdu daily Jang. He appears regularly on current affairs programs on television as a ‘defense and security analyst. He is a retired Pakistan Army officer.

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