Lt. General Mohammad Yousuf

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By

Tariq Afridi[1]

Lt. General Mohammad Yousuf was my father. In writing about him I have tried to remain objective, although I do not doubt that my admiration and affection will be evident. I make no apologies for this. There are two ways of writing about a person, one in which the writer feels that he possesses the key to that person’s character, and lays out the narrative accordingly. The other, in which he pens all that he knows about his subject and allows the reader to decide for himself what kind of person he was. I have decided to choose the second course and include some comments on him by those who knew him well.

He was born in Quetta on October 15th 1908, the son of Khan Bahadur Sharbat Khan CIE, a member of the Balochistan provincial service, where he served as Political Agent in Loralai, Fort Sandeman, Sibi and as Prime Minister of Kalat State.

He studied first at the Islamia High School in Peshawar, and later at the Prince of Wales, Royal Indian Military College, Dehra Dun, where he did well excelling both in sports and academics. His contemporaries there, though much younger, were ‘Tommy’ Masud and Atta Mohammd Daha, later both Brigadiers.

R.I.M.C. was followed by the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. Fellow Cadets from the sub-continent, future Generals of the Pakistan and Indian Armies included – General Iftikhar Ali Khan (died in the Pak Airways Crash 1949), Azam Khan, Wadiala & Verma. With the exception of Azam Khan, all were destined for the Cavalry. On passing out, and after the obligatory attachment with a British Unit, he joined the 7th Light Cavalry, one of two new Indianised Cavalry Regiments. The second was the 16th Light Cavalry, Gen. Iftikhar’s Regiment. Other officers of the Pakistan Army originally from the 7th Light include Col. Mohammad Ali Noon, Gen. Sher Ali Pataudi, Brigadiers ‘Tommy’ Masud, ‘Hesky’ Baig, Col ‘Sikku’ Baig, Major ‘Arthur’ Askari the Nawab of Dacca and Capt. Rehmat Ali Khan. All of whom served with the Regiment in Burma during World War – II.

In the age of the horse, my father was a superb rider, the first Indian to be awarded a ‘D’ i.e. Distinction at the Army Equitation School in Saugor in the Central Provinces. He won the open Jumping competition at the Imperial Delhi Horse Show and at Bombay, and attained a 4 goal handicap at polo, the advent of war curtailing further progress in this sport. He was a close friend of the Coochbehar & Jaipur families. The Maharajah of Coochbehar’s younger brother was a member of the Regiment. Uncle ‘Sikku’ Baig told me a story that throws some light on father’s approach to life. On one occasion apparently, in order to pass a week-end with the Coochbehar family in Ootacumund, he spent 8 days in a train – 4 outward & 4 on return – to manage a two day break. The life of Cavalry officers in the British Indian Army has been well documented and needs no further elaboration. Father lived it to the full.

My own earliest memories of him date to about 1946-47 when he was 2-IC of 18 K.E.O Cavalry in Risalpur. This was also Gen. Sahibzada Yaqub’s Regiment.  We lived in a nice bungalow, with stables in which there were always horses. From time to time he would disappear for a week or two, returning with trophies won at polo, played in Kashmir, Jaipur, Delhi. On one occasion, I recall him returning home after a ride, and to amuse us, jumped the hedges around the lawn. Other memories include eating jelly for pudding every day, while mother was away visiting her parents. This was enough to win our undying love. It was also the period where we were taught to ride, to shoot and handle with care a .22 rifle.

Soon after partition, he very briefly commanded Probyn’s Horse – later becoming the Col Commandant of the Regiment (He was also the 1st Col. Cmdt. of the Armoured Corps), with which he is associated. The 7th light Cavalry having been left behind in India.  His portrait by Hal Bevan Petman was presented to the Regiment by
Col. Nasarullah Khan and still hangs in the Mess. It is the Regiment which several Afridis’ have served in – Capt. Omar K. Afridi – later moving to the C.S.P., Capt. Asif Afridi (also Sandhurst) my brother, whose leaving the army greatly saddened my father, Major Aurangzeb Afridi and last, but hopefully not least Lt. Col. Taimur Afridi, who had the distinction of twice commanding the Regiment.

During the early operations in Kashmir he commanded a Brigade in the field. In 1948 he took over as Commander 102 Brigade in Bannu. The highlight of this period was a visit to Banuu by the Quaid-e-Azam accompanied Ms. Fatima Jinnah, when they stayed with us in Flag Staff House. On promotion he moved to Peshawar, where he raised 12 Division. A few years before she passed away, talking about Peshawar, my mother recalled that F.M. Ayub, then G.O.C. in Dacca, came to stay, en-route to his village on leave. Asked what he was taking with him, he replied ‘A bag of flour and a tin of ghee.’ Life for all was simpler and more down to earth then.

The next move was as G.O.C. 14 Div, Dacca, taking over from Gen. Ayub. As I recall this was a happy period. He liked being there and in return gained the affection and respect of those he came in contact with. The events of 1971 greatly saddened him. Much time was spent on tour – by boat – motor launch and country boats, where the launch could not go. At that time from Dacca the only metalled road of a few miles only extended to Narayanganj in one direction and Coormitola, past the airport at Taejgaon, in the other. While in Dacca in March 1951 he was nominated to head the Pakistan Military Goodwill Mission to Iran. Just before departure, came news of the Rawalpindi conspiracy led by the CGS – Gen Akbar Khan. This is what Ibnul Hassan, then the PR man for the Mission, writing in the Pakistan & Gulf Economist of August – September 1991 said. I happened to be the youngest member of the Misssion which was being led by the good old General Mohammad Yousuf. They called him ‘Joe’ in the Pakistan Army. Alas ! he is no more. His admirers still miss him. And I do not know anyone who had ever met him and did not admire him.”

As the PR man accompanying the Mission he was worried about the adverse implications of the event for the image of the armed forces. He asked the General how they should react in Iran – as by the time they arrived, the news of the conspiracy led by the CGS as well as the appointment of the leader of the Mission as the new CGS would be common knowledge. He goes on to say, “General Yousuf was not very expansive. He was a great mixer but not a talker. He liked to listen with a faint kindly smile on his face and would always respond crisply and precisely. He was exceptionally gentle and known to be a very generous person. Though he did not inspire fear, yet even in the most informal atmosphere one could not take liberties with him. He looked too distinguished and classy to be taken lightly. He was an excellent horseman, one of the best polo players of his time. Riding with the international set of the polo world, with the Maharajas, the Princes and the Battle–Honoured cavaliers. This was one of the rare occasions that I did not see Gen Yousuf smiling. He looked grim, an expression which did not fit his usual bearing, nor his disposition. Then he said, “well, we are not expected to react. We shall not react. We do not know what has happened; do we?”

“And indeed we did not react. Those were the days of a young Shahinshah and his very pretty consort Queen Soraya. Everyone in Iran looked beautiful and happy. They all liked us. Gen Yousuf was almost a ‘box office’ hit. All the elite of Iran adored him for his style and demeanour.”

“Later, when he was Ambassador in London, it was the same. He was very popular. I often visited him there and sat as his guest at the tail end of a table surrounded by Titled luminaries.”

As CGS, the family moved in to a house, initially in Chaklala for a year or so, then to one on Peshawar Road, Rawalpindi – which was more convenient for polo.  I believe this continues to be the residence for the CGS. Pindi was very small then and everyone knew each other. We went to school at St. Mary’s on Murree road, alongwith Akthar and Gohar Ayub, Jamshed and Javed Burki, Asif Nawaz Janjua (later COAS). Cricket was the preferred sport and we spent many hours on the field at Rawalpindi Club and on the GHQ ground opposite the Blue Lagoon pool. Father’s close friends included the Chief, Gen. Ayub, Gen Wajid Burki, Gen Sher Ali. Gen Shahid Hamid was our neighbour and we saw much of him, and his charming wife Aunty Tahira, and of course the children Hassan, Shanaz, Shama, and Ali (later Maj Gen Ali Hamid). The curious thing was that even as CGS, father did not have a staff car. At the time, if memory serves, there were only three officers in GHQ who had official transport: the Chief, Ayub Khan, the Military Adviser, Lt. Gen. Mckay and the Chief of Staff Lt. Gen Nasir Ali. This period also saw an increase of tension with India, defined for ever by the photograph of the Prime Minister Mr. Liaqat Ali Khan’s raised hand with a clenched fist. Father was made Corps Commander. Gen Aslam Beg, recalls as a young subaltern seeing the General visiting troops on horseback.

In his book ‘Back to the Pavilion’ Lt. Gen. Atiqur Rehman then Commanding 101 Brigade at the time, had this to say, “We were now directly under Corps HQ and I was told that the Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Mohammad Yousuf was coming to see me. ‘Joe’ was, and in my mind still is one of my favourite Generals. His professional capacities were not fully evaluated behind his easy going outward appearance. He was well-read and always ran a good team under him. His ideas were practical and he could think big. Perhaps he was too kind and did not have enough bite. He was a wonderful man and we will not see the likes of him again.”

After his stint at GHQ father was moved to Abbottabad, as GOC of the famous 7th Division. Gen. Ali Kuli told me that his father, Lt. Gen. Habibullah Khattak, who served as a Brigade Commander in the Division, described his time with my father as one of the best periods of his service. For us boys, it was a period of learning to play polo. Along with Capts. – later Brigadiers – Ijaz ‘Tony’ Mahmood and Iqbal Shafi – then posted in PMA Kakul, we developed a passion for the game which never left us. We could not have had a better teacher, both in the technicalities of the game and it’s spirit. On one occasion, after a briefing on the game, with particular emphasis on safety, we rode out to start the chukker. ‘Tony’ who was doing a last bit of stick and ball behind the GOC let fly with a powerful shot which hit the latter full in the back. It is measure of father’s forbearance, that he completely ignored the assault and without looking back continued on his way to the centre, much to the relief of a terrified young Captain.

In 1953, father led the 250 strong Pakistan Armed Forces Coronation Contingent to Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation  on 2nd June 1953. During their stay, amongst other events, they mounted guard at Buckingham Palace, provided a mounted escort for the Queen, by Ahmed (19th Lancers), Azmat (PAVO), Hamid Noon (6-Lancers) and Iqbal Mehdi Shah (Probyn’s) wearing the full dress uniform of the Governor General’s Bodyguard. Four NCO’s of the Bodyguard provided the escort for the carriage of Prime Minister Mr. Mohd Ali Bogra. The band (1st Punjab) made its mark wherever it played and was much sought after. The Contingent drew great applause and appreciation.

From Abbottabad we moved to Quetta, where father took over command of 9 Div from General Latif who moved on as Commandant of the Staff college. It was rumoured that the move, far from Pindi, was engineered by some to create distance between him and the Chief, whose term was coming to an end, and who at one time had been heard to say “I would like ‘Joe’ to succeed me”. As we know Gen. Ayub did not retire – my father did.  Gen Wajahat Hussain in his book ‘Memories of a Soldier-1947-Before During After’ has described this episode. “During this time the army circles were full of rumours about General Ayub’s term ending in January 1955, and about him being granted an extension in tenure. At this juncture, General Ayub placed on premature retirement, rather unceremoniously. “Joe” Yousuf, a gentleman of fine repute, known for his characteristic attitude of kindness toward junior officers. We were shocked to learn about his retirement, more so because of the shabby manner, contrary to the Army Protocol and traditions. His retirement orders were signed by a Staff Capt of G.H.Q and sent by ordinary mail, to be received by the formation HQ duty clerk. The entire garrison learnt about it before General Yousuf.” Wajahat continues ….. “Later I learnt, from the stories going around, that General ‘Joe’ had tactlessly in a jovial mood, at a reception in India, for the polo team he had taken there, made remarks that when he became C-in-C he would improve India – Pakistan relations with more visits. This was reported and Ayub found it a good excuse to retire him”. Wajahat through no fault of his own has got it wrong. Firstly, it was completely out of character for father, a very self – effacing person to make such a statement publicly, and that too in India. However it is a fact that at a small party in Abbottabad much earlier, in the course of the evening, a guest suddenly proposed a toast to the next C-in-C, Gen Yousuf. Amazingly, the matter was reported, as confirmed by the then M.S. Col later Major General Qazi Rahim, who was present at the party. He was asked point blank by the Chief of Staff whether this had happened. It is a fact of history however, that following his retirement, and promotion of Gen. Musa a few years later led to the resignation of Senior Generals such as Sher Ali Pataudi, Latif, Adam Khan. It is also correct that father took an army polo team comprising Gen Sher Ali, Brigadier ‘Hesky’ Baig, and Capt Nawabzada Azmat Ali Khan to India in March 1955. They beat an Indian Army side at a match where P.M. Nehru was the Chief Guest. Obviously annoyed by the Indian side’s poor performance, Nehru turned to the Indian C.G.S (Gen. Choudhri – later C-in-C during the 65 war) and asked “General, what’s wrong with the Indian Army?” quick as a flash, Choudhri replied “Let’s ask the Chief” passing the buck to General Kumarmanglam the Indian C-in-C sitting on Nehru’s left!

Probably, the first time after his retirement, that father and Ayub met was on the polo field in Lahore in Feb / March 1956. The occasion was the final of the National Championship, and father was a member of the winning team. There is a photograph of the event with a visibly uncomfortable Ayub standing for a group photograph with the winners. It was probably made worse for him when the Captain of the team called on the crowd for three cheers for the Chief ! Thus came to an end one phase of my father’s life, one that was closest to his heart. He never lost his love for the Army, nor indeed it for him and continued the association right upto to the end. He showed remarkably little bitterness towards Gen. Ayub, and served as High Commissioner / Ambassador to London and Kabul during the Ayub years and respected the positive contributions made by the latter.

It may be of some interest to recount here an episode, not linked to my father but to my mother in the family relationship with the C-in-C. Sometime in 1956, whilst in Pindi with my mother, she decided to drop in to see an old friend, Brigadier Ata Mohd Daha, then Sub-Area Comdr. Walking in unannounced, we found the Brigadier, and Ayub Khan sitting together, having a quiet drink. On seeing Ayub, my mother said “You did not behave well”, after which she left the room to get into the car. Ayub followed saying “Bhabi, please wait” but we drove off – with the Chief running behind the car for a few paces asking her to stop.

The year after was difficult. Suddenly jobless as well as homeless (except for the family residence in Babri Banda). The Army at that time did not have a parachute for a soft landing for retired officers. The saddest and most shocking for father was the attitude of a few senior colleagues, very close life – long “friends” who distanced themselves from him, thinking it would please the Chief. However life went on, a commuted pension was used to buy a plot in Abbottabad, (no plot purchased while G.O.C). Indeed it was unknown, certainly rare, for Army Officers of that time to buy plots or build houses whilst in service. Construction started. At this point Father was appointed as High Commissioner to Australia, starting a diplomatic career which lasted for twenty years, serving in Canberra , London (twice) Kabul, Switzerland and Portugal. The house in Abbotabad, built on her own by mother, was sold in 1973 to cover expenses incurred as Ambassador, as was a plot acquired in Lahore – “gifted” to my brother Asif and my self for the same reason.

By all accounts his career as a diplomat was considered successful. In particular his stints in London and Kabul. Mr. Ayub Awan PSP, wrote after father’s passing, “But it was really in London that his full talent as a diplomat came into play and in this he was helped considerably by his Army background, but more than anything else, by his hail well met attitude towards all and sundry. His ‘horsiness’ took him right in to the Royal presence, and his hospitality not only created a place for him in the hearts of the stiff-necked and tight-lipped British, but also into perpetual debt! ”. The only time the Queen has dined at the Pakistan residence was during this period.

Foreign Secretary, later Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas Home, with whom he used to shoot, was a friend. He paid his tribute in the Obituary he wrote on father in the Times of London. The Queen sent a letter of condolence to mother.

In Kabul, where he went to open the Embassy after a rupture of several years, he met with success. This is what Gen Atiqur Rehman has to say “…. I was invited by General ‘Joe’ Yousuf to Kabul where he was serving as Ambassador. ‘Joe’ was kindness itself and I noticed how very popular he was. There was a party almost every night at his house and members of the Royal Family normally attended, but however late or good the party was, Joe would leave for the Embassy at 7 a.m sharp!!” Afghan Ambassadors – Tarzi (Pakistan 2002 – 2004) and Yaya Maroofi (Tehran) who were young officers at the time spoke nostalgically to me about father’s time in Kabul and his open house there. Ambassador Jamshed ‘Jumbo’ Kharas, told me that when father used to visit Rome from Switzerland, he would make a particular point in calling on King Zahir Shah, then in exile in Rome, and entertaining his family at the best restaurants there.

Regarding the mission in Kabul, this is what Mr. Ayub Awan had to say, “In Afghanistan Gen. Yousuf established an unprecedented, prestigious equation with the King and with members of the Royal family. He conversed easily and fluently in Persian with King Zahir Shah, who was hesitant in Pushto. On visits to Pakistan, he brought a car-load or two Royal of cousins and took them to numerous social functions in Rawalpindi, breaking all barriers of protocol…. when we were going to Tashkent, it was he who persuaded Ayub Khan to break journey at Kabul, much to the satisfaction of King Zahir Shah.”

Years later, when passing through Rome, we were taken by my wife Cristina’s cousin to dinner with Princess India of Afghanistan – King Amanullah’s daughter. So named because she was born in Bombay, from where the king embarked en-route to exile in Rome. I was introduced as a Pakistani Ambassador, but when they learnt who my father was – the Princess announced to the company – this is ‘Joe’s’ Son. I was surrounded by his friends and regaled with stories about him. A marvellous feeling.

In fact, throughout, life became easier when it was learnt who my father was. Doors opened and people went out of their way to be nice. On a posting to Paris, I was keen to start playing Polo. Father spoke to a friend, the Baroness ‘Gaby’ Bentinck. She invited us to dinner with Baron Elie de Rotshild, who among other things was the President of the Polo de Bagatelle, Paris. He immediately invited me to play at the Club and made me an Honorary member. An unimaginable privilege for a young 1st Secretary.

I have really and truly reaped a lot of the good that father sowed. He was at home in a Palace or a Hujra – it was all the same to him – the moment mattered. He knew and was close to a wide variety of people, not just in the army, but amongst the great and powerful, abroad and in Pakistan. The latter were friends, not stepping stones, which was probably misunderstood and perhaps led to an early exit from the Army.

Describing his funeral Ayub Awan writes “An old General said to me “Well, everybody is here. The only man missing is Joe”. The mourners had collected by the dozens, Governors and ex-Governors, Politicians, Diplomats, Army Brass weighed down by their medals, distinguished administrators and civilians from all walks of life. But the most numerous were the common folk, young and old, humble, simple people wrapped up in blankets or in tattered old coats, some bearded, most with a wet eye.”

For me, he was much loved figure, very affectionate, and deserving of huge admiration. A great family man, an anchor, above all a gentleman, and although now gone 32 years – still missed everyday.


The author is a former Ambassador of Pakistan.