Two Niazis


What is common between the most honoured sports personality in Pakistan and the most disgraced General?

They both have Niazi as the last name.

The Niazis are Pashtuns living in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. They claim they are descendants of one of the lost tribes of Israel, moving eastward from the Middle East. In Pakistan they settled mostly in Mianwali, and if you delve deeply into genealogy, you will probably discover Mianwali roots for all Niazis. However, Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi and Imran Khan Niazi were both born in Lahore.

Bani-Israels were astute businessmen wherever they went. But in Pakistan, even before its creation, an army career was more honourable. AAK Niazi joined the army before his degree, completed a BSc in Military Science and was commissioned. During the Second World War he served the British Raj so well that he was one of only two non-English officers who were honoured by the Viceroy for their role in the Imphal War against the Japanese. The other man was Sam Manekshaw, later made Field Marshall for his role in the 1971 War against Pakistan. Niazi also fought with success in the 1965 war against India and gradually rose to the position of Lieutenant General. When the Liberation War began in East Pakistan, after Tikka Khan’s reign of terror no Pakistani general was willing to take charge of the eastern wing. Niazi volunteered and was made the Commander of the Eastern Front in September 1971 and the Governor of the province on 14 December 1971. He was the man reputed to have created the Razaakars to quell the activities of the freedom fighters.

I was in Italy during most of the Liberation War and did not witness the atrocities against Bangalis, especially the minority communities, by Niazi’s men. But history says that he did eventually foresee the loss to India and the freedom fighters, with virtually the entire population, barring his Razaakars, made hostile to the Pakistani forces, early enough to surrender quickly and save further losses. This decision was derided as cowardice when he finally went back to Pakistan. He was dismissed by Bhutto and all the awards he had won earlier were taken back. He tried to re-instate himself using legal means and wrote a book where he called the leaders in the western wing betrayers who did not give him support.


Imran Khan Niazi was the son of an affluent engineer and had a privileged education in Lahore and in England, culminating in a BA from Oxford. He played for the Oxford cricket team and also in the county league. This sports career began in 1973. As I was returning from Italy to a free Bangladesh at that time, I never saw him in any Oxford-Cambridge match. I was mildly interested in cricket, being the vice-captain (ex-officio – for being a ‘good boy’, not a good cricketer) of my class team in school.  My captain Shafiqul Huq Heera later became the national captain. At Cambridge I did occasionally go to Fenners, the Cambridge cricket ground, and had the good fortune of once watching a Cambridge vs. West Indies match, where, to the great amusement of the spectators, Gary Sobers, the WI captain took only a few minutes to score a century. Neither Oxford nor Cambridge had a team comparable to the professional county teams, but being a blue was a great honour, and Imran must have deserved it.

During the early ’80s Imran rose to the pinnacle of his bowling and batting career and was one of the most respected all-rounders in the world. Then he broke his shin and had to retire. But the government of Pakistan had him treated by state of the art techniques, and he came back to lead his team to win the World Cup in 1992, the only time so far Pakistan has won it. He retired finally this time, at the age of 39, and using the huge popularity he had grabbed by winning the cup, despite the faux pas at the interview after winning the World Cup when he “forgot” to give any credit to his team-mates, who batted far better than he did. He had the tendency of becoming too engrossed in himself, and the Oxford degree might have added to more indifference to less privileged colleagues. However, it is also true that he admitted to the first ever ball-tampering, which later became a Pakistani specialty, adopted still later by other fast bowlers. Scratching rough one side of the ball made it move in a curve. It can be understood easily by a physicist with some knowledge of aerodynamics. Imran did not know physics, and hence may be called its accidental inventor. The rules strictly forbid modifying the condition of the ball in any way. But cricket was no longer a gentleman’s game. Betting scams came to light later, after Imran had left.

Though the Bangladeshi cricket lovers naturally wanted their team to beat Pakistan whenever the two teams played, many Pakistani players had admirers in Bangladesh and saw it when Bangali national interest was not on the way.  The hypnotic bowling run of Shoaib Akhtar, the brute force of Inzamam, the impatient brilliance of Afridi, the wily craftsmanship of Wasim, attracted many Bangladeshi cricket fans, like the skill of Sachin,  Sourav or Dhoni. When Pakistan lost to Bangladesh and facilitated this country’s entry as a Test nation, there were rumours among the sceptics that they had done so willingly under instruction from their government. That may be an unfair accusation, as our players occasionally, though not consistently, do play wonderfully well.


On a live TV show in Pakistan before broadcasting a Paki-WI match at Mirpur stadium, Imran Khan stunned everyone by saying that previously he was of the opinion that Army operation in Bangladesh was a good thing, because the government-controlled media had made him believe so. But when he went to England in 1971, his Bengali friends told him the reality of the operation. He said that the Army operations always created hatred in Pakistan and Pakistanis must apologise to Bangladeshis.

Imran Khan was the first ever Pakistani celebrity who had demanded an apology from Pakistan to Bangladesh on a live TV show in Pakistan. So, what made him speak in favour of Quader Mollah recently? It is true that despite all possible care, circumstances lead to conviction and execution of the wrong person, and that is one of the principal reasons most socially advanced countries have abandoned the irreversible death penalty. Imran has later tried to explain that his sources told him that the wrong man was executed on this occasion, and his comment referred only to that mistaken identity, not to the atrocities of the Pakistanis and the true culprits. If Imran could give some concrete proof or explain why Bangladesh would be interested in condemning an innocent person, one might have given him the benefit of the doubt in return. Tehrik-e-Insaf, the justice party, is not making any great strides politically satisfactory to its founder. He may now have to use the traditional cheap populist tactics, among which hate-mongering ranks at the top.

In a couple of decades virtually all war criminals will be dead, punished or not. In Europe there was a hundred-year war. We hope in the subcontinent we will learn earlier to live in peace, without interference from religion, socio-cultural or ethnic differences, and with mutual co-operation that will change the present concepts of nationalism entertained by people like Modi or Mamata.

One Niazi made the mistake of standing apart from the rest of the generals and volunteer to go where no other Pakistani general would go, and lost all he had achieved earlier. Another Niazi has made the mistake of following others thoughtlessly, and probably has lost all his friends in this part of the world.

Source: Bd news24



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