In this sixth installment of our ‘Crazy Diamonds’ series, we continue our tributary look at those promising Pakistanis who experienced the flip side of genius – an awkward state of being that some describe as being a kind of madness.
___________________________________Brigadier Saadullah Khan
Not only did Pakistan lose the war, it lost its entire east wing that eventually became the independent Bengali-majority republic of Bangladesh.
Shocked by the debacle, Pakistanis in the west wing (West Pakistan) demanded that the military’s high command be punished for not only losing the war but also lying about the way it was conducted.
There was still more anger within the junior officers, who now openly criticised their superiors for being more interested in playing politics than fighting wars and for trying to defend their positions and perks instead of the country’s borders.
But there were some exceptions. Like Brigadier Saadullah Khan. He was one of the very few commanders of the Pakistan Army who came out of the disastrous war relatively untainted.
He had fought gallantly, so much so, that some of his superiors began labelling him as ‘a nut’ for wanting to continue fighting to the very last man even when it had become obvious that there was no way the Indian troops could be defeated.
Saadullah was well aware of how certain senior Army officers (mainly General Yahya Khan) had manipulated the Pakistani dictator, Field Martial Ayub Khan, and dented Pakistan’s war effort against India in the 1965 war.
So when Saadullah decided to fight on in 1971 in a losing battle, he was simply trying to go down fighting a war that he believed was once again being bungled by the incompetent Yahya Khan and his circle of sycophants.
Saadullah was always considered to be an oddball of sorts, even when he had passed out from the military academy with honours and was seen as a brave, sharp and learned officer.
He had risen to the rank of Brigadier when he was sent to East Pakistan in 1970 – the year serious trouble began brewing there between the Pakistani state and Bengali nationalists.
A practising Sufi who was well versed in the writings, poetry and philosophy of ancient Sufi saints, Saadullah was largely a quiet and private man.
However, he was prone to explode and take direct action against anything or anyone he thought was bringing the Pakistan Army disrepute or disregarding the Sufi code of ethics he had weaved for himself.
Maybe it was this code that also elevated his reputation of being perhaps the only Pakistani military officer in East Pakistan who actually managed to gain respect from Bengali civilians.
This is saying a lot because from the late 1970 till December 1971, the Pakistan Army was continuously being accused of committing heinous crimes and acts of violence and even genocide against East Pakistan’s Bengali civilians.
As his military contemporaries in East Pakistan were busy organising death squads against the Bengalis and openly tolerating the soldiers’ atrocities like murder, torture and rape, Saadullah decided to do the opposite.
He laid down a strict, zero-tolerance policy for the men under his command and immediately admonished and punished any soldier under him who was found guilty of being involved in any atrocity against the Bengali civilians.
Once, while complaining against the conduct of the Pakistan Army against Bengali civilians in East Pakistan to a senior officer, he was told: ‘Brigadier, animals need to be treated like animals. They (the Bengalis) are traitors!’
To this, Saadullah is reported to have replied: ‘With all due respect, sir, had we not treated them like animals, they would never have risen up the way they have now.’
It is thus ironic that a soldier, who was seen as being an oddball and ‘soft on Bengalis,’ fought the hardest in the war.
As heads of most senior officers and commanders began to roll after the war, Saadullah stood out to become one of the few army men who actually managed to receive one of Pakistan’s highest gallantry awards for his conduct and show of bravery.
Saadullah accepted the award, but he never displayed it with much fanfare.