Part – XXXIV
This is in continuation of my previous columns about my talented, patriotic colleagues at KRL who provided Pakistan with an impregnable defence by producing nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles.
You may well imagine that such a large organisation – almost 10,000 staff members – required a lot of administration, not even considering the gigantic technical challenge faced. Kahuta is located at about 50km from Rawalpindi and 60km from Islamabad. To arrange a perfect transport system was a difficult task. The senior-most officers were provided with 1300 cc cars and air-conditioned coasters and buses were arranged for the rest of the staff.
Top priority was given to providing facilities as only content workers will give their best. It was Gen George Washington who said that you cannot demand patriotism from an empty-stomached soldier. Something I had read long ago but always kept in mind. Kitchen facilities, pick-and-drop for school and college-going students, medical facilities, housing, etc had all been taken care of. Thanks to Ghulam Ishaq Khan, I managed to get almost 65 percent of basic pay as special, tax-free ‘project allowance’ for my colleagues. They were happy and ready to get down to work, literally on a war footing, to make Pakistan a nuclear power.
Thanks to the vision of Bhutto, Gen Zia and Ghulam Ishaq Khan and the tireless efforts of my dedicated team, this impoverished, backward country managed to do just that in the short span of about seven years, against all expectations of the west.
For the Transport Division, I looked for an experienced, retired EME officer and requested a dear friend, Brig Iftikhar Ahmad Chowdhry, for assistance. I had known him since 1967 when he was a colonel in EME as an electrical engineer. His sister is married to a long-time friend and fellow student from my Berlin days in 1962, Akhtar Ali. Akhtar was senior to me, studying electronics while I studied metallurgy. We used to cook Pakistani dishes together on weekends. We are friends till today. When I brought my wife to Karachi for the first time in 1967 to meet my family, I also called Brig Iftikhar.
My wife and I toured the country and when we came to Rawalpindi we went to see Brig Iftikhar and his charming wife, Dr Col Azra. We became good friends and to me he was ‘Iftikhar Bhai’, even after he joined KRL after retiring from the army. He had been head at the Army Office (PATLO) in London for a few years with an office in the Pakistan high commission building. Whenever my travels took me to London for official work I always dropped in to see him and enjoyed many pleasant dinners at their residence in Preston Road where Azra bhabi was an excellent hostess.
Iftikhar Bhai was in charge of the Giraffe Radar Project for the army. After his retirement I requested him to join me to set up the division for producing the famous Baktar Shikai anti-tank, wire-guided missiles. It was a treat to see the facilities set up by him. Within a short span of time we were delivering large numbers of these missiles to the army. At the most crucial stage of the Bosnian War, we dispatched a plane load of these missiles to Bosnia – thanks to Mian Nawaz Sharif – and this proved to be a turning point against the Serbs and Sarajevo was saved from a long, choking siege.
After my retirement from KRL, Iftikhar Bhai also retired and peacefully passed away a few years ago. I felt his passing as a great loss – as if I had lost a brother. Besides being a very competent, faithful colleague, he was also helpful to me in many social welfare projects. I still often think of him with fond memories.
The military secretary to PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was Gen Imtiaz Ali at the time. He was Iftikhar Bhai’s cousin and this connection proved to be of invaluable importance as it provided easy access to the PM – a simple call to Imtiaz Bhai. After Gen Zia staged the coup, Gen Imtiaz was sidelined. He was posted to Sialkot as GOC and then retired. After that he went to Abu Dhabi as defence advisor to the UAE and we used to meet at Tahir’s flat whenever I was there. Gen Imtiaz and Dr Niazi were on friendly terms with Tahir and he used to help them with visas, etc. Gen Imtiaz, a tall, slim, handsome man and a good athlete, unfortunately became UV ray-sensitive and expired soon after. Had Bhutto lived and continued to serve as PM, Imtiaz Bhai would definitely have been made COAS.
A few days ago I attended the wedding of the daughter of my dear friend, Dr Saeed Akhtar of Shifa International Hospital. There I enjoyed the good company of old acquaintances, Raja Zafarul Haq, Admiral Zaka and Admiral Mirza. While having tea I was approached by a young man who introduced himself as the grandson of Imtiaz Bhai. He looked just like him – tall, handsome, slim. We talked about Akhtar, Nasim and their children, about Gen Imtiaz and his charming wife, his brother, etc.
Now, after a long digression, back to the Transport Division. Iftikhar Bhai found an experienced EME officer for me to serve as director transport – Maj Anwar. He was a hard taskmaster who wouldn’t tolerate any nonsense. He established good facilities and kept our fleet of vehicles in good running condition. Nobody ever had any complaints, but it was a heavy task – transporting around 10,000 staff members and their families with shift duties at Kahuta 24/7. A fine officer of the Corps of Engineers, Brig Mazhar Fariddin, was retiring and so was Maj Anwar.
I posted Brig Mazhar as DG Transport Division where he proved to be an efficient, humorous and hard working officer. He set up an excellent workshop for the servicing and repair of all vehicles, the machines for which were imported from Holland. Unfortunately he developed cancer and, despite the best medical facilities available, it proved fatal. He was sadly missed by many. When Brig Mazhar passed away, Col Zia, also a competent officer, took over. This was after I had retired in 2001. Since he had been working with Brig Mazhar, the transition passed smoothly.
At that time, true to our culture, there were reports of pilferage of petrol and diesel in collusion with pump owners. To avoid anything untoward, I set up our own petrol and diesel pumps at the Pindi Office and Kahuta, for which we bought the products directly from the companies at subsidised rates. Log books were kept in all the vehicles and the use of fuel per kilometre was strictly monitored.
May Allah Almighty award Iftikhar Bhai, Imtiaz Bhai and Brig Mazhar a nice place in Jannah forever – Ameen.
To be continued
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