CHAPTER FROM HISTORY: Why Musa was made C-in-C
By Aslam Minhas
In October 1958, Ayub appointed General Mohammed Musa (who rose from the ranks) as the next C-in-C with Lt-Gen Muhammed Habibullah Khan as his Chief of Staff.
In doing so, Ayub overlooked Lt-Gen Habibullah Khan, an officer technically and professionally more qualified than Gen Musa. It was an appointment that clearly sent a wave of resentment throughout the senior ranks in the GHQ.
“I vividly remember my father who was a Lt-Col serving in GHQ at that time being acutely distressed at Ayub’s preference of Gen Musa over Ali’s (later Lt-Gen Ali Kuli Khan) father, Lt-Gen Habibullah Khan Khattak to command the Army. Till his death my father, who had a strong belief in merit over nepotism, maintained that was the precise moment from where necessity and nepotism started to matter far more than merit in the primary selections of the Armed Forces. Not to say that from time to time people with merit would not slip through.” (Ikram ul-Majeed Sehgal Defence Journal, December 2001, p.7).
In words of late Aslam Khattak, elder brother of late Lt-Gen Habibullah and a respected name and a political heavyweight of Pakistan, Ayub rang up Lt-Gen Habibullah Khan (CoS) and said: “Biboo (General Habibullah’s nickname in the family), I am fed up with Musa (the then C-in-C) and want to get rid of the stupid chap. You please rush to Rawalpindi immediately to take over command. A formal notification will be delivered to you at the GHQ tomorrow morning.” The next day he did receive the letter but only to be told that he stood relieved with immediate effect. (Murtaza Malik The Curtain Rises: Uncovered Conspiracies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Royal Book Company, 2002, p.16).
After a few months, Gen Musa asked Ayub to relieve Habibullah from the army. One of the charges put up by Gen Musa against his CoS, Lt-Gen Habibullah, was that while in London on a trip, he had misbehaved with the maid of his host. Lt-Gen Altaf Qadir had the retirement order for Gen Habibullah with him. The order had to be served at the general’s home. He didn’t have the courage to deliver the letter. Gen Habibullah was capable of shooting the messenger. He asked Maj-Gen (later Lt-Gen) Abrar Hussein, the then military secretary to the GHQ to deliver the news. It would have been embarrassing for a junior officer to deliver the bad news to his senior. In spite of Maj-Gen Abrar’s protestations, he was forced to become the reluctant messenger. When Maj-Gen Abrar Hussein went to the residence of Lt-Gen Habibullah and handed the letter to him, the latter said: “So here it is.” It seemed Gen Habibullah knew what was coming. (Interview with Brig Noor Ahmed Hussein (younger brother of late Lt-Gen Abrar Hussein) on Aug5, 2002, in Rawalpindi).
Gen Habibullah was then 46.
In a memo of the US State Department from the US Embassy, quotes its informant in Pakistan, saying that Musa (as C-in-C) neither controlled nor enjoyed any respect in the military (The American Papers 1965-1973 compiled by Roedad Khan OUP p. 120 Dispatch of 18 January, 1966, 12.05am).
“Musa’s appointment to the top military job over the head of senior and perhaps better generals was Ayub’s idea of a strong army under a weak command ultimately responsible to him. He (Musa) was often scornfully (though uncharitably) referred to as the ‘mess waiter’.” (Brig A.R. Siddiqi The Military in Pakistan: Image and Reality, Vanguard Books Pvt Ltd, 1996, p. 55).
“Musa ran the Army. The most important of Musa’s traits was one of loyalty — straight and simple. If Ayub had mentioned 10,000 yards of front, then the front had to be 10,000 yards, and so on. The framework of defence became more and more mathematical. The importance of imponderables of war was not catered for.” (M. Attiqur Rehman Back to the Pavilion, Ardeshir Cowasjee, Karachi, 1990 p. 133-134).
Musa, though described as honourable and honest, “is hardly the stuff of which great generalship is made.” (Brian Cloughley A History of Pakistan Army, Wars and Insurrections, OUP, 2002, p.127).
MUSA’S VERSION: On Dec 30, 1985, when Ziaul Haq lifted martial law, General Musa was appointed Gov Balochistan. Brig Noor Ahmed Hussein (Golf buddy of Musa) visited Quetta during Musa’s governorship. Musa invited Brig Noor for a dinner. It turned out to be a dinner for two.
On a full stomach, Brig Hussein asked Musa: “Sir, you were sixth in line. How did you become the C-in-C?”
Musa: “I will tell you the whole story and I have never told it to anyone before. I was a major posted at Quetta in August 1947 when I was transferred as Assistant Adjutant and Quarter Master General, (AA&QMG) Headquarters, 8th Division, Malir, Karachi. The train reached Rohri station at 2 O’ clock. Suddenly, I heard the Station Master shouting on the platform: ‘Maj Musa, telegram for you’. I waved at him from out of the window, and got hold of the telegram. According to the message, my previous Karachi assignment had been cancelled and I was promoted to the rank of Lt-Col and posted as General Staff Officer First Grade (G1) at Lahore 10 Division. I immediately shifted my baggage to the Lahore-bound train. I was to work under an English GOC, Gen Briggs, who said: “I know you lost your appointment at Karachi, but I am sure you will find this one as exciting.” Lo and behold, first day, the first pending file on my table, I open and the title reads: Court of enquiry in respect of temporary Brigadier, Substantive Colonel M. Ayub Khan, Punjab Regiment.
Musa chuckled: “The way I handled that file, the day I became the C-in-C.”
Brig Noor’s words were: “Ayub was accused of accepting cash and jewellery from fleeing Hindus during the days he was in the Boundary Force that lasted for five months in the later half of 1947. The charges were serious enough to warrant a court of enquiry against Ayub.” (Interview with Brig Noor Ahmed Hussein).