In Search of Khawaja Wasiuddin

A few days back I received this message from my childhood friend Mujataba, now in Bangladesh: “Hey Tughral I want some information about late Lt Gen Khawaja Wasiuddin. He was a corps commander in the Pakistan Army in 1968 and was a colonel commandant of the Corps of Artillery in 1969.”

Mujtaba and I had spent our childhood together in Peshawar when our parents  both air force officers were posted in Peshawar. After the 1971 War, Mujtaba’s family was repatriated to Bangladesh. I had remembered Mujtaba as a nice young boy and was most happy to reconnect with him via linkedin. The message took me by surprise because I was invited to deliver a motivational talk to the recruits of Artillery Centre in Attock formerly Campbellpur. I then did what anybody would do in the digital age. Isearched about Gen Wasiuddin on the Internet. A blog titled Khawaja Wasiuddin Diplomat and Soldier provided me the following salient about Wasi Sahaab:

KHWAJA WASIUDDIN, second son of Khwaja Shahabuddin and Begum Farhat Bano, was born in Ahsan Manzil, Dhaka, on 20th March 1921. He had his early schooling at the Muslim Government High School, and in the year 1932, when he was only eleven years old, he was sent to the Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College (R. I. M. C.), in Dehra Dun. Six years later, in 1938, he joined the Indian Military Academy Dehra Dun, and was commissioned as an officer in the Indian Army in 1940. He chose to be a Gunner, and was the first Indian Muslim to join the Royal Indian Artillery. He was posted with the 24th Mountain Regiment and served in various parts of Northern India, including Waziristan.

During the Second World War he saw active service in Burma, and when the Japanese Forces came into Burma and the British started retreating, Wasi, along with his fellow soldiers had to swim across the Sitang River to escape being caught by the Japanese. Later, when he was stationed in Imphal he met with an accident when the jeep he was driving up hill, overturned, and he broke his pelvis bones. He was moved to a hospital and, after recovery, sometime in 1945, he was appointed President of the Inter Services Selection Board in Bangalore with the acting rank of Lieut. Colonel. At the end of the war he re-joined his regiment, reverting to the rank of a Major and was posted at various stations. At the time of the partition of the Indian Sub-Continent in 1947, he opted to serve in Pakistan.

In November 1945 he married his cousin, Zafar Bano, daughter of Khwaja Nazimuddin, and had two children – Safi and Umbereen. Unfortunately, this union lasted for about ten years and they parted company. Later, he married Waheeda, daughter of Mir Karim Bakhsh and Begum Umtool Hafeez. They had four children – Lena, Adnan, Shahab and Omer.

He rose to the rank of Lieutenant General in the Pakistan Army, having held various senior appointments including that of Director of Artillery and Corps Commander, Multan.

At the time of the breakup of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh, he opted to serve in Bangladesh, where, his seniority, vast experience and reputation were gainfully utilized in the Diplomatic service of the country. He served as Bangladesh Ambassador in Kuwait and France and later, as his country’s representative to the United Nations in New York.

Khwaja Wasiuddin was an all-round sportsman and an excellent swimmer having been a member of the swimming team of R. I. M. C. Later, he took up golf and was responsible for organizing the laying down of the Golf courses in Lahore and Rawalpindi.

He was happily leading a life of retirement with his family in Dhaka; playing golf, mixing socially and swimming with his grandchildren when, on the night of 22nd September 1992, while attending a dinner party, along with his wife, at the home of a friend of theirs, he was called upon by the Lord Almighty to return to his eternal heavenly home, to rest therein, in peace!

Condolence messages on the passing away of Khwaja Wasiuddin, courtesy of Major Khwaja Safi Wasiuddin:

‘Your father was in fact a member of our family, because he commanded this great unit in 1952-53. Indeed it is a very big loss to you and our regiment also.’  Commanding Officer, The First Light Air Defence Regiment.

‘We have lost a great gunner. We the Gunners are proud of his glorious past and splendid achievements. His name will always be remembered as a professional gunner in the history of Pakistan Artillery.’  Commandant Artillery Centre, Attock.

‘He was a renowned gunner and all gunners are rightly proud of his valuable contribution towards the sound foundation of the arm after partition.’ – Brigadier, Headquarters 12 Corps.

‘We in Artillery 15 Division are specially sad to learn this news, as the late General was the first Commander Artillery 15 division.’ Headquarters Artillery 15 Division.

‘Your father had spent a glorious career in the Army and earned great admiration from his subordinates, seniors and colleagues. I remember that I had invited him to attend the Artillery Reunion in Attock in 1988 when I was Director General Artillery. His prompt acceptance and subsequent attendance along with Mrs. Wasiuddin was indeed a matter of great pride for us.’ Major General A. K. M. Khalil-ur-Rahman (Retd.)

Source: [Khwaja Sayeed Shahabuddin]

Armed with this knowledge I asked my young conducting officer who had called me on the telephone to tie up the details about my visit to check up about Gen Wasiuddin before I reached Attock. So when I reached my destination I very eagerly asked the major if he had been able to dig up any information about Khawaja Wasiuddin. I was told that there was nothing in the records about a Colonel Commandant by the name of Gen Wasiuddin. A little disappointed I went into the officers’ mess in the Artillery Centre for a cup of tea and there lo and behold was hanging the portrait of a dapper Colonel Wasiuddin, Centre Commandant 1953-54.

The motivation talk to the recruits went very well. I spoke from the heart to 4000 recruits assembled in Hameedi stadium, who roared in approval and shouted slogans that warmed the cockles of my heart. In keeping with the spirit of times they took selfies with me after the talk and gave me their email addresses so that I could send them their photographs. What a change from our times, when the soldier was illiterate and had to be taught the cardinal directions in Urdu before an elementary lecture in map reading. The soldier of the 21st century uses GPS and owns not only a smartphone but also has a laptop. Almost all of them were on the Facebook.

Later on over a cup of coffee in the Commandant’s office, I once again broached the subject of Khawaja Wasiuddin and pointed towards the commandants’ board, which carried his name but wait a second, wasn’t there something amiss. There were only two stars in front of his name and one of the star had been rubbed out. There should have been three stars because Khawaja Wasiuddin retired as a lieutenant general. The commandant had no idea about the history of Khawaja Wasiuddin and didn’t have a clue why there was only one legible star in front of him. I was most intrigued and asked the brigadier about the likely story behind the enigma. I’ll certainly check up and let you know Sir, replied the brigadier and on that note I departed from the Artillery Centre.