Sahabzada Muhammad Yaqub Khan
Looking back some forty or more years, I count my three years as Commandant among the happiest and most fruitful of my military career. My wife shares this judgment and recalls the friendly atmosphere which the wives and children of the Directing Staff, the College staff and the students collectively created. The recreations covered a wide variety of sports including riding, ‘arena polo’, hiking and tennis. One incident during a ‘gala’ at the swimming pool stands out vividly in our memories of those golden days. An enterprising “Engineers Directing Staff” had designed a raft for the ladies to float around the pool, but it did not make an allowance for the tendency of ladies to gather together closely to gossip without giving thought to the precarious balance of the raft which started tilting to one side and created a panic. The ladies fully dressed were soon paddling for their lives in the pool. Many of them were non-swimmers and some of us had to jump in to rescue them. This unforgettable incident was the talk of the community and is still remembered with mirth and laughter.
The total number of students on the staff course in those days varied between seventy and eighty, about a dozen of whom were from ‘allied countries’. Most of them were accompanied by their wives and this added a cosmopolitan dimension to the many social functions and fancy dress balls.
The professional side of the staff course was in many ways similar to the prevailing system of syndicates of 10-12 students. The aim was to train these officers to take over assignments in formations as Grade-II or equivalent in various formations. Towards the end of the course, tours were arranged to Karachi for liaison with the Navy and the Air Force.
The old Staff College building which carried the memories of Montgomery, Auchinleck, Slim and others were revived when several of these distinguished personalities visited the College. I particularly recollect a visit by FM Auchinleck during the period I was Commandant. I had the honour of having known him well when he was C-in-C India. He had very kindly flown me back to Delhi from London in June 1945 when I had been “liberated” from a POW camp in Germany. The FM was visiting Indian troops in Europe on his way back from a conference in London. He had been a DS at Quetta before the Second World War, when the duration of the course at Staff College, Quetta and Camberley was two years. FM Auchinleck mentioned that one of the important exercises he had initiated was a continuous series of operations in a war against “Red Land” lasting for several months, to be followed by a planned retreat after a successful accomplishment of the strategic mission. All aspects of operations of war and of logistics had been covered in this exercise, which had created a lively interest among the students and had widened their professional perspective.
I recall a visit by FM Slim (as CIGS) when I was a student in 1949. Slim had started his talk by saying that on entering the Commandant's office a few minutes earlier, he had recalled with trepidation, the occasion when “Captain Slim was sent for by the Commandant to be warned of his unsatisfactory performance at the course”. The Commandant had initialled the paper Slim had produced with a bowler hat drawn under it in green ink! Let me change the subject to say a few words about the “Command Course”. One of my major preoccupations on arrival in January 1962 was the launching of this course for Brigadiers and senior Lieutenant Colonels. It later became known as the ‘War Course’ and is now called ‘Armed Forces War Course’ at the National Defence College.
In those early days it consisted of about twelve officers including one each from the other two Services. The duration of the course was to be one year. GHQ instructions for the syllabus of this course were not very definite or clear, so I had a great deal of latitude in working out its structure and general orientation. The aim was to train promising officers, who were already Pscs, to take over appointments as senior staff officers and later commanders of Divisions and Corps. I had studied the continental approach to “operational strategy” in the higher military training institution of the French, German and Russian armies and also their system of training before the World War. My knowledge of German and Russian in addition to French was an advantage in these studies. The problem of transforming professional thinking to understand the essential elements of operational strategy and the logistics and other staff work connected with it, meant opening new vistas and a re-orientation of the mind to grasp higher aspects of professional thought.
This meant writing a new précis almost weekly and keeping just ahead of the students and the D.S. who were also new to the course. The same sequence applied to the writing of strategic exercises. I was lucky in having one or two able instructors who picked up the fresh ideas of the course rapidly but they had to leave in the first year. Only one of them continued to the end, Lieutenant Colonel (later Major General Rao Farman Ali) who was worth his weight in gold. He had one of the finest strategic brains, and I had the good fortune of having his assistance and advice for several years afterwards as a staff officer and a loyal friend. The Chief Instructor at the Staff Course was another capable officer the late Lieutenant General A I Akram who took much of the weight on his shoulders in the running of the Staff Course under my general guidance, thus enabling me to concentrate on the War Course.
I could go on to say a great deal about the three years in which the War Course reached a high pitch which has since been maintained and improved upon by a succession of distinguished officers as students, DS and Chief Instructors, but I must resist the temptation to exceed the space allotted for encapsulating some nostalgic glimpses of the halcyon days one spent at Quetta. There used to be a fable - probably still current - that officers always had three important postings to Quetta. This was certainly true in my Case: 1949 as student, 1956 as Deputy Commandant and 1962-65 as Commandant. I wish the Staff College continued success and a triumphant celebration of its centenary in 2005.
Should you ever hear rumours in future years of a mounted phantom haunting the grounds off the Staff College, polo stick in hand, on his fourth posting, you could make a good guess as to who that might be….