For those graduating from the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA), the country’s primary military institution is “hallowed ground”. I entered its steel gates on 14 May 1964 as one of the 110 Gentlemen Cadets (GCs) selected for the 34th PMA Long Course. As an Army Aviation helicopter pilot I flew to PMA several times in 1969/1970, I physically re-entered the PMA’s gates to celebrate our Golden Jubilee Re-Union the first time in 50 years after our Passing-Out Parade on Oct 30, 1965.
The concrete parade ground brings back different memories in a rush, the shouted commands of our drill staff still ringing in our ears and the band playing “Mard-e-Mujahid Jaag Zarra, Waqt-i-Shahadat Aaya Hai” (wake up brave soldier, your honourable death is nigh) or words to that effect.
We had only four companies in the 1st Pakistan Battalion (the Quaid-e-Azam’s Own), Khalid, Qasim, Tariq and Salahuddin, two more battalions have come up, plans for a fourth are in the offing. Most modern PMA buildings were strange to us, we looked for our Spartan wooden barracks in vain. The one “hut” kept as display brought a flood of nostalgia, sweeping through us.
We had not met some of our Coursemates for decades, our lost youth came rushing back with all its pristine intensity, if only for a short time. We reminisced together as young men pursuing common goals fueled by ideals that now seem extinct. All the emotions cannot wash away one hard fact, the character of a man almost never changes even over five decades. Appearances may change, he may become more suave, more knowledgeable and able, certainly more professional, etc, one’s personality can be camouflaged but it cannot change the basic traits of any person. Our beloved Term Commander Maj (later Col) Aziz (who came to my book launch in a wheelchair and Platoon Commanders, Capt (later Lt Gen) Imtiazullah Warriach, Capt (later Lt Gen) Afzaal Khan, Maj (later Col) Mohd Afzal and Capt (later Col) Asghar Khan mostly judged us right. Destiny had other designs, the first few cadets were easily “general” material, Khizar Hayat, Ahsan ul Haq, Shah Alam, late Farhatullah and Masood Anwar should have become general officers but did not, as should have Brigs Sher Afghan and Ahmad Salim. A couple of underserving triple personalities rose to general’s rank, not surprising they retain even today their original mean and corrupt self five decades later.
One can never forget INGALL HALL, named after PMA’s first Commandant Brig Ingall, and the words therein, “it is not what happens to you that matters but how behave while it is happening” remaining inscribed in our hearts and etched in our soul, captured for us in the 34th PMA 50th Re-Union Shield designed for us by Col Khalid, Maj Ahsan, Col Saghir Bokhari and Brig Ahmad Salim. Khalid indeed deserves most credit for organising the Re-Union.
Fully 24 of our team mates have since died, among them were two major generals, Salim Khan and Khalid Bashir. Maj Mohammad Yusuf expired less than a week ago, to his credit Col Iftikhar looked after him till the very end. Mostly for ill health, 33 of our coursemates could not join us in Kakul. Despite being very sick Brigs Gul Alam (from Peshawar) and Humayun Rasheed (from Lahore) did make it. Maj Gen Khurshid Alam, who deservedly beat me to get the Sword of Honour (one is grateful to GOD that for being the “Runner-up” for the Sword and the “Norman’s Gold Medal”, winning the “Tactics Plaque”) went through an Angiography only the week before but did make it to the Course Dinner on Oct 31.
My first term roommate, Brig Gen (Retd) T D Rajapaksa, formerly of the Sri Lankan Army came all the way from New Zealand even though his daughter was going through a difficult pregnancy. Of the six Sri Lankan cadets, Maj Gen “Lucky” Vijayratne died in combat, Maj Gen Siri Pieris only a couple of months ago, Lt Col Ratnayaka is very sick and Maj Gen Ananda Weerasekeera became a Buddhist monk after his wife died and he retired. Hamid emigrated to Canada long time ago. Of the dozen or so naval cadets with us in the first term, Commodore Gondal, Capts Mohsin and Kaifee (who along with Col AJ Babar is even today my close colleague) participated in the Kakul visit enthusiastically. Col (Retd) Zillul Bari from Bangladesh was too sick to travel. Despite being quite sick, Shah Alam travelled all the way from Canada, barely surviving the four hour PIA delay at Lahore. Salam ul Haq Ansari, who was selected over me (Standby) for RMA Sandhurst from our Course, must be commended for journeying from UK where he now lives. , Mrs Ahsan ul Haq and Mrs Jamshed Feroze must be “mentioned in dispatches” for braving the road trip to PMA.
With the Academy having a term break, the Commandant PMA was not in the station, but we were superbly hosted. PMA’s arrangements were impeccable and tremendous. Patiently answering all our questions, the conducting field officers from 3rd Pak Battalion and from the Academics Staff (along with a lady NUST professor) and very thoughtfully given our age, a doctor, were nothing short of magnificent. The changes in PMA were awesome, emphasis now being on brain equally with brawn, in our time brawn was given order of preference. Really impressive was the modern electronic techniques being employed to augment the military potential of the future officer corps. From being an all-male bastion, the PMA now has female GCs trained to standards as tough as their male counterparts. No concession is given to them (or I believe asked for) because of their gender.
Our Course being shortened from 5 terms to 4. April 1965 to Oct 1965 went by in a blur. We had to cover the entire curricula of the 3rd and 4th terms on a war footing, completing not only our academics but all our military Exercises. Cheering 32nd and 33rd PMA Long Course on their way to become “cannon fodder” on 11 Sep 1965, our romantic notions the glory of war depressed us at being left behind and not seeing the action. The bloody reality of “war is hell” did not hit us until we read the casualty lists of officers killed and wounded. 81 of us (not counting the 6 Sri Lankan GCs) graduated from Kakul on Oct 30, 1965.
We left the Academy physically, fully 50 years later the aura of PMA’s “hallowed ground” still remains firmly imbedded in us. Professional soldiers never really leave the Academy spiritually.
The writer is a leading defense and political analyst of Pakistan. He can be contacted at email@example.com