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Opinion
Wednesday Oct 07 2020
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Remembering two former corps commanders of Karachi

Pakistan Army logo. Photo: file

Last week, two former corps commanders of Karachi died on the same day, both of natural causes.

Lt Gen Muzaffar Usmani, 76, was found lifeless in his car near Sea View in Karachi. He died due to a fatal heart attack, doctors confirmed. More than a thousand kilometres away, Lt Gen Naseer Akhtar breathed his last in Lahore, where he was under treatment at a local hospital.

Both men will be remembered for the role they played in two major events in Pakistan’s history — the 1992 Karachi operation and the 1999 military coup.

Retired Lt Gen Amjad Shoaib had a long association with the two officers. I spoke to him recently to piece together a profile of the late generals.

“I have known Usmani for almost 40 years,” Shoaib told me over the phone. “He broke because of the ailment of his children. His son died, while his daughter is still under medical treatment.”

For the last few years, Shoaib added, the general was also under severe financial stress.

Usmani, along with Lt Gen Mahmud Ahmed and Lt Gen Aziz, were among the men taken into confidence by retired Gen Pervez Musharraf prior to his departure to Sri Lanka in October 1999 — days before then prime minister Nawaz Sharif sacked him and appointed Gen Ziauddin Butt as new chief of the military.

In fact, Usmani was given the charge of supervising the entire operation in Karachi when the army took over Jinnah International Airport to ensure the safe landing of Musharraf on October 12.

Prior to 1999, Usmani had commanded two corps in Bahawalpur and Karachi.

Shoaib told me that, during a reshuffle initiated by Gen Musharraf upon becoming army chief, he had sent Usmani to Karachi for two reasons: first, he was Urdu-speaking and second, his son was under treatment in the city.

“Usmani lived a very simple life,” Shoaib recalled. “He was an upright officer, but he broke due to personal problems. When I used to visit him, I often found him in a mosque.”

As for Lt Gen Naseer Akhtar, he was considered a favorite of the late Gen Asif Nawaz, the fourth chief of army staff in Pakistan.

Shoaib said Akhtar, who served as corps commander Karachi, was known as a “tough general”, but later became controversial due to Brig Imtiaz, also known as Imtiaz ‘Bila’.

While Lt Gen Akhtar enjoyed the full backing of Gen Asif Nawaz as he led the Karachi operation in 1992, he developed differences with Musharraf, who in those days was the General Officer Commanding Okara.

The two disagreed over the minutiae of the 1992 operation since officers working under Musharraf were also deployed in Karachi, Shoaib explained.

After retirement, Akhtar kept a low profile as he continued to receive death threats from MQM militants. However, his era will be remembered for the way he handled the Tando Bahawal incident, where an army officer — Maj Arshad — killed nine innocent villagers over a land dispute and later attempted to cover up the crime by claiming they were terrorists.

Akhtar had taken on the investigation and found the officer guilty. Maj Arshad was sentenced to death and later executed.

Both Lt Gen Usmani and Lt Gen Akhtar were connected in life by Karachi, the city by the sea. And now, both will remain connected by death, having left this world for the great beyond on the same day.

Abbas is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang. He tweets @Mazhar.AbbasGEO