- Jan 29, 2018
Major General Aboobaker Osman Mitha
Major General Aboobaker Osman Mitha remains a legend in the Pakistan Army. His aptly named memoir Unlikely Beginnings A soldier's life begins with a childhood spent in the lap of luxury, as far removed from the rigours of the military as could be. Kismet, however took him to the epitome of military enterprise through the raising of the famed Special Services Group (SSG) of the Pakistan Army.
Major GeneralAboobaker Osman Mitha, usually shortened to AO Mitha, (1923–1999), HJ, SPk, SQA, was a legendary two-star rankgeneral who was the pioneer of the "stay behind" concept and founder of Pakistan's Special Service Group (SSG), an independent CommandoBrigade of the Pakistan Army. He was to the SSG what David Stirlingwas to Britain's Special Air Service.
Aboobaker Osman Mitha
Born Bombay, British Indian Empire
Died Islamabad, Pakistan
Years of service 1941–1971
Service number PA-649
Unit 4th Bombay Grenadiers
Parachute Regiment (British Indian Army)
9th Battalion 8th Punjab Regiment
19th Battalion The Baluch Regiment (SSG)
Commands held 19 Baluch (SSG)
Baluch Regimental Centre
Pakistan Military Academy
1 Armoured Division
Quartermaster General (QMG)
World War II
- Burma Campaign
Indo-Pakistani War of 1965
Indo-Pakistani War of 1971
Early Life and Military Career:
Maj Gen Mitha gives a very animated account of life in Malabar Hill — his family home which housed about 100 people in all, including the domestic help. His description of life as the grandson of Sir Suleman Cassim Mitha, a politically active business tycoon who was the leader of the influential Bombay Muslims, including his own Memon community, is a fascinating read.
The affluent Muslim family whose men hosted dinners for the governor and moved in exalted circles but married barely literate women, was rife with political intrigues, insular thoughts and myopic worldviews. The husbands and fathers were thus distant in their relations with other members of the household.
Career in the British Indian Army
Mitha, as a young man, rejected both a career in business and the bride chosen for him by his grandfather, deciding instead to embark upon a career in the army.
After finishing high school he joined a pre-cadet academy, and was selected for a commission in the British Indian Army. He passed out of the Indian military academy, Dehradun, in 1942 and was commissioned in the 4th Bombay Grenadiers. After volunteering for the Parachute Regiment, he served in Burma during World War II and was dropped behind Japanese lines for high-risk operations.
Maj Gen Mitha refers to the blatant racism that British officers practised against their Indian colleagues in his posthumously published book, Unlikely Beginnings. He wrote, "If there were ten officers in a mess, two of them British, they would see to it that they had little, if anything, to do with their Indian counterparts".
When India divided into the Republic of India and the Dominion of Pakistan in August 1947, Mitha opted for Pakistan. He qualified for the Staff College, Quetta and served as GSO 1 in GHQ Pakistan. He fell in love with Indu Chatterji, daughter of Prof. Gyanesh C. Chatterji of Lahore Government College, who had grown up in Lahore but had since moved to Delhi. That it was not just puppy love but something more lasting was proved by Mitha's perseverance, and four years after the young lovers' separation, Indu, against the wishes of her family, came over to Karachi and they were married. The couple had three daughters, two of whom turned out to be very talented classical dancers.
Mitha describes the GHQ in Rawalpindi of the early days of Pakistan in graphic detail, with junior officers using wooden packing cases for desks and chairs and bringing their own pencils to work. Toilet paper, called "bog paper" by the British, was used to write on, as ordinary paper was just not available.
In 1954, Mitha was selected to raise an elite commando unit for Pakistan Army. Cherat, a hill station near Peshawar was chosen as the highly restricted site where the commandos were to be trained and based. Mitha's sole instruction to his handpicked Pakistani officers was, "Be proud of your poverty." He remained head of the SSG for 6 years.
Special Services Group (SSG):
Lt Col (later Maj Gen) Aboobaker Osman Mitha came to prominence, when appointed to raise the Special Service Group (SSG). He became a legend within the SSG, a fact attested to by SSG officers who came after he had moved on from the SSG. He was extremely hands on and leading from the front type of an officer. This made him a legend not only in the Army, but also with the Navy and Air Force. He left his mark on hundreds of young cadets when he commanded the Pakistan Military Academy from 1966-1968. In 1965 he commanded an Infantry Brigade in East Pakistan and was also active there in early 1971 as Deputy Corps Commander. He also commanded the 1 Armoured Division from 1968-1970.
Since then SSG has come a long way. According to Indian Defence Analyst & Military Historian, Mandeep Singh Bajwa, the SSG "are formidable opponents and easily rank as one of the finest special forces in the world."
The former president of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, was an SSG-trained commando.
"Be proud of your poverty." ~ Aboobaker Osman Mitha
Mitha in East Pakistan
Maj Gen Mitha was particularly active in East Pakistan in the days preceding the military action of 25 March 1971. Other generals were present in Dhaka along with Yahya Khan, and secretly departed on the evening of 25 March 1971, that fateful day after fixing the deadline for the military action. Maj Gen Mitha is said to have remained behind. Lt Gen Tikka Khan, Maj Gen Rao Farman Ali and Maj Gen Khadim Hussain Raja were associated with the planning of the military action. Eventually their action bloodied the capital city Dhaka with the blood of thousands of residents including students, military and police personnel, politician and the general mass. Later documents regarding their action on the early hours of 26 March 1971 known as Operation Searchlight was revealed to the world.
Maj Gen Mitha's account of his role during the ill-fated 1971 war is extremely educational. In 1970 he was appointed QMG (Quarter Master General) which involved the responsibility of logistics, later including wartime logistics. He was briefly involved in the army operation in East Pakistan without being appointed to any official position.
He arrived in March 1971 to assist Gen Tikka Khan — when the latter took over Eastern Command after the previous commander Lt Gen Sahabzada Yaqub Khan resigned — and stayed on for a few weeks in East Pakistan. He helped to quell the atrocities being meted out by the increasingly disenchanted Bengalis.
Mitha's official responsibilities as QMG were restricted to logistical support. He asserts fulfilling his duty by pointing out to GHQ the inadequacy of man and materials in the advent of war in a report submitted as early as June 1971. His meritorious wartime conduct is supported by the award of Hilal-i-Jurrat conferred upon him for services in East Pakistan, an award that was later rescinded.
He claims that Pakistani intelligence reports of an impending attack by India were overlooked by those who later implicated him in the 1971 debacle, thereby exploiting the opportunity to further their personal quest for power.
Betrayal by Lt Gen Gul Hassan
Maj Gen Mitha was Quartermaster General at GHQ when prematurely retired by the civilian Chief Martial Law Administrator,Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in December 1971. He was just over 48 years old. Lt General Gul Hasan added his name to a list of officers whose retirements were announced by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in his first speech as president on 20 December 1971. This came as a surprise as Maj Gen Mitha had no hand in the Officer's Revolt at Gujranwala and the hooting down of General Abdul Hamid Khan (Chief of Staff) at a GHQ meeting.
According to Maj Gen Mitha, it was Gul Hasan who also saved then-Brigadier Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq from being sacked. Brigadier Zia was in Jordan. The year was 1971. Gen Yahya Khan received a signal from Maj Gen Nawazish, the head of the Pakistan military mission in Amman, asking that Zia be court martialled for disobeying GHQ orders by commanding a Jordanian armoured division against the Palestinians, as part of actions in which thousands were killed. That ignominious event is known as Operation Black September. It was Gul Hasan who interceded for Zia and Yahya Khan let Zia off the hook.
Retirement and death
In the course of his military career, he was awarded the Hilal-i-Jur'at, Sitara-i-Pakistan, and Sitara-i-Quaid-i-Azam. After retirement he was stripped of his medals and pensions without due cause, and that was quite a surprise to the public as he was never court-martialed. But Maj Gen Mitha gained more popularity by this due to which he was kept under surveillance by the Bhutto Administration as he was also a hero for his juniors in the SSG. He remained under surveillance through the Bhutto years.
He had a hard time finding any kind of employment. Had it not been for the generosity of a friend living in Britain, who asked Mitha to manage his farm for him, he would have been on the street.
Maj Gen AO Mitha died in December 1999. After he died, one of his friends wrote to his wife, "At the end of a tumultuous life, all he wanted was a room to sleep in, one to write and eat in – a space to walk, reflect and gaze across the fields to the distant hills."
Unlikely Beginnings A soldier's life
By Major General A. O. Mitha
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