This is a remarkable book, least because the author wrote it in his nineties (He is 96 and fully alert mentally). This is a life well-documented and fondly told, spanning almost a century. His rise from a sepoy to a general, ambassador, minister; and his election to the National Assembly five times make it a singular account.
Though his nearly forty years in the army (1939–1976) and twenty years in politics are enough of a life story, the heart of the book lies in his love for the native land. The narrative pulsates when he describes his village and home in district Chakwal and he seems a true son of the soil.
A bright student and scholarship-holder in school, he joined the British Indian Army as a sepoy/clerk after his matriculation. He was commissioned as an officer in 1943. He saw action both as a soldier and as an officer on the Burma Front.
In the Pakistan army, his first assignment was as an instructor at Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) Kakul. He was a member of the team who laid the foundation of the great institution that is PMA. Of the thirty odd students that he trained, five became generals and two brigadiers of the army. That will be an unusual score even for a batch of a hundred.
He did well in the entrance examination of the Staff College, where the top four or five were sent for staff course abroad to UK, Australia, Canada, and USA. He went to Canada and did staff duties with distinction in Peshawar and Murree.
He was especially selected for an assignment at Military Operations Directorate in GHQ. After 1958, he remained an intimate witness to history, since it was at the GHQ that the plan for the first martial law was made. President Iskandar Mirza, who was responsible for General Ayub’s appointment as Commander in Chief declared the martial law. According to this book, Gen. Ayub got Iskandar Mirza to resign because the latter was conspiring to fire the martial law team of Ayub. This is not really how it could have happened if the plan was secretly made at GHQ of which President Mirza was not a part.
There was also a counter-coup that the author chose not to narrate here. He narrated it thus to some of us in 1962 (I knew the general in his prime, having served under him in Commandos (Special Services Group) in 1962). The resignation of the president was typed by Majeed Malik and Ayub Khan chose Gen. Azam to get it signed by President Iskandar Mirza. Gen. Azam was chosen because he was hard of hearing.
The counter-coup, that the author does not divulge here, happened the next day. Gen. Yahya and then Major Majeed Malik went to the President House as Gen. Ayub’s staff after his taking over as president of Pakistan. They were ushered into the office of Aziz Ahmed, the senior most ICS officer of Pakistan who was secretary to the president.
“What can I do for you?” asked this outsider from the insiders of the coup. “Who are you?” asked an angry Gen. Yahya. Aziz said “Whatever business you have, you have to tell me first!” Gen. Yahya turned around and said, “Malik, let us go. We have been ditched!” The bureaucracy, the eternal rulers of Pakistan, had taken over. Altaf Gauhar, Qudratullah Shahab and others ruled and not the army, he said. I was posted in Karachi in 1958. It was Aziz Ahmed and not an army officer who lectured the officers of Karachi and Malir Cantonments at Rex Cinema about the necessity of a martial law and the good that it would do. “Angrez Raj ki barkaten!” is how we used to describe the situation.
Martial law destroyed democracy in Pakistan, the author tellingly observes. He writes that dictators in turn were taken over by gangs of flatterers who destroyed everything. He had seen all the four martial law administrators quite closely.
On promotion as lieutenant colonel, he went to the Staff College as instructor in 1962. That is a great distinction in the army and is considered a stepping stone to generalship. With the onset of the war in 1965, he came back to command a Commando Battalion. Before 1971, he was promoted as a brigadier and then a major general. In the 1971 war, he was the commander who, on his own, planned and carried out the only significant success on the Western Front, the recapture of Hussainiwala Enclave and Qaiser-e-Hind Fort from the Indian Army. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) visited the site in 1971 and expressed a great liking for General Majeed Malik.
On promotion as lieutenant general, he went to command the Corp at Peshawar and thereafter started another significant chapter in the author’s career. ZAB had expressed his plan to appoint Gen. Majeed as the Chief of the Army Staff after Gen. Tikka’s retirement. Gen. Ziaul Haq was junior to seven generals, among whom were the best generals of the Pakistan Army including Gen. Majeed who was sixth in line, a place above Gen. Zia. But Zia earned the favour of ZAB while Majeed Malik fell out of favour, probably for being close to Ghulam Mustafa Khar. After Ziaul Haq’s elevation, Gen Akbar, the seniormost and one of the best, and Gen Majeed resigned from their posts.
After retirement, Gen. Majeed was offered various ambassadorships. He chose Morocco where the second language was French and he was quite fluent in it. He wrote several letters to Gen. Ziaul Haq from Morocco, by now the president, making suggestions on the affairs of state (attached as annexures to the book). Of these, the most significant was his advice that Bhutto should not be executed.
Thereafter started his political career to which he took like a fish to water. The entrenched entities in his constituency were the Sardars who traditionally represented Chakwal. In the 1985 election, his success came on account of his rapport with the common voter, a good team of workers and an organised campaign on the map of the area. Five successive victories followed. He did two tenures as a minister too.
The career wound up on the requirement of graduation put in place by the Musharraf regime. His nephew Late Maj. Tahir Iqbal succeeded him on his seat who also became chairman of newly created Chakwal District Council. By now many of his family — his son, nephews and grand nephews — have got elected to the provincial and National Assembly elections.
He has retired to run the large and successful Majeed Malik Education and Health Foundations.
The book is an integrated narrative. Being an insider, his observations are educative and informative. The summing up is rather prosaic. But this is general’s own life where he describes the work of all the welfare foundations that he has established. He takes great pride in the progress of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. The four generations treat the “pater familias” with affection and respect.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Majeed Malik was posted in Karachi in 1958. The error is regretted.