Major General Naseerullah Babar, Sitara-i-Jurat (Bar) first achieved national acclaim during the war with India in September, 1965. On an operational mission in Kashmir, he landed his helicopter in a fortified position which turned out to be an Indian camp seventy soldiers strong. Rather than being intimidated his steel nerves turned the tables on the adversary. Told that they were surrounded the contingent meekly raised their arms, handed over their weapons and surrendered. Facts indeed are stranger than fiction. How many times has this happened in war! He won his second Sitara-i-Jurat during the 1971 war again for courage bordering on the suicidal.
It was in the Tribal Areas that Gen Babar was most in his elements. Appointed Inspector General Frontier Corps, he along with Mr. Nasruminallah, the Chief Secretary, NWFP, shaped the new Forward Policy to open and develop the area. The Prime Minister Mr. Bhutto fervently wanted the tribesmen brought into the main stream of the society and spared no expense to construct roads, expand the network of schools and hospitals, build small dams and industries. Such development in the area was unmatched before or since.
The actual groundwork was the responsibility of the two Frontier Paladins — the Chief Secretary Mr. Nasruminallah and the IGFC General Naseerullah Babar. The former provided the intellectual underpinning to the forward thrust while the latter was responsible for its daring implementation. They understood the tribesmen and more important had affection for them unlike most others who followed them. This chemistry produced amazing results in a relatively short period of three years and has left their names etched in the minds of the people.
The Mohmand and Bajaur Agencies got their attention early. The road from Yusafkhel was extended to the Safi Plains and beyond to Nawaghai and Khar in Bajaur. Side valleys such as Chamarkund, Mamund and Salarzai were opened. In the Orakzai Agency the area up to Daburi was linked by roads while in Kurram Agency the Frontier Regions of Mussazai and Ali Sherzai saw major developments take place. In Waziristan Razmak was reactivated, a cadet college established and developmental thrust for bettering the lives of the common people initiated. This was the period when there were more schools available than were takers for them.
Gen Babar was always on the move and it was usual for him to visit one Tribal Agency or other two or three times a week. As the Political Agent Mohmand once learnt to his amazement Gen. Babar, then the Governor NWFP, had arrived alone with a driver at the Agency Headquarters Ghallanai unannounced, unheralded and unescorted. On being requested not to visit the Tribal Areas without escort, he pointing to the assembled tribesmen and said they were his escort.
There are very few people — one in a million may be — who do not carry the fear gene. If so Gen Naseerullah Babar was one of them. Informed one day that the huge high-explosive gas tank in an industry at Nowshera was about to explode as the gauge has crossed the red mark, he hurried there by car taking Shamsher Ali Khan, the Deputy Commissioner with him. By then the people in the surrounding areas were cleared by the Administration with thousands fleeing from the fear of the impending blast that was to flatten the whole town. The Governor nonchalantly drove to the gas tank and to the horror of the few onlookers, ascended the steps, fidgeted with the gauge, got it back to normal and berated the industry engineer for needlessly harassing the people. The gauge had malfunctioned!
As the IGFC in the mid seventies, a serious security situation occurred in Wana in South Waziristan. A local cleric due to his differences with the Administration, blockaded the roads to Wana for months and refused to reason or compromise. A short and firm riposte from the Scouts re-aligned him correctly and in the years that followed, he and his group became the most friendly and dedicated citizens of the land.
Nothing depicts the honour and character of Gen. Babar more than his decision to join the People’s Party a day after Martial Law was imposed in 1977. He said then that this was the only way he could express his solidarity with Mr. Bhutto who he said had forever shown him kindness. Gen. Babar will be remembered for his courage and boldness for long, whether it was in two wars that he fought, the numerous skirmishes in Waziristan, Khyber and Mohmand and his daring exploits in other parts of Pakistan. He always led from the front; that alone defines leadership.
A week before his death someone complimented him for his courage and boldness; the old general robust of mind in a weakened body replied that he was rash rather than bold. To achieve your objective, you need “nobility of purpose coupled with rashness in execution”.
There was a softer side to him as well. In the last three decades of his life when except for a brief stint he remained a private citizen, his home would swarm with people, mostly tribesmen, asking for his intercession. How many dozens of requests in his immaculate hand would he forwarded to the officialdom to alleviate some pain or provide little comfort. He also was an avid reader and had perhaps the finest Gandhara Stone collection in private hands some of which he had willed to the State. He was a keen golfer too and was given handicap strokes by his flight. Once when the opponents contested his demand for strokes, he matter-of-factly told them that to be evenly placed on the course he would have to shoot the opponents three times each in the shoulder because that was the number of bullets he was carrying from the war. May the Almighty bless his soul and may he provide the inspiration our dear land dearly requires.
The writer is Chairman Wapda