Capt Azhar Ali, a Legend of Pakistan Polo

By Lt Col (R) Rashid Zia Cheema (2nd SSC)

Rashid Zia Cheema, pic for articles

RZ Cheema

When the first time I saw that handsome lanky lad in a corridor in Government College Lahore, he was very conspicuous in the crowd of Ravians. He was not my class fellow, may be a year junior. We neither knew each other nor I knew his name, though I happened to see him very frequently in the main college building, Lodgia, Oval Ground, Canteen, Bukhari Auditorium, etc.

Then I saw him again in November 1971 in PMA, he in Haider Coy and I in Abdali Coy in 3rd Pak Bn at Tobe Camp. I then got to know his name, Azhar Ali. He was in Haider-4 Platoon and his platoon mates affectionately called him Azhar “Mona”. He got this nickname because his father Col Inayat Ullah was Comdt of Mona Remount Depot, Sargodha.

Azhar before joining PMA and as GC

 Azhar in PMA, 1971-72

Azhar in PMA, 1971-72

Azhar in PMA 1972

Haider Coy GCs, Photo by Maj Fida, Arty

We didn’t have much interaction in PMA too. He was quite prominent looking. He happily joined the PMA “Saddle Club” (Riding Club) and played a few Polo matches too. He was the guide (or was called Stick Orderly?) with Mussarat Ullah Khan (later Brig) during our Passing Out Parade. You can see Azhar in the following photo which is the final Rehearsal of our Passing Out Parade in July 1972. He is a guide immediately in front of Qaisar Rashid, our BSUO.

Passing Out Parade Rehearsal Pic

Azhar in PBG

PSS-14490 Capt Azhar Ali in ceremonial uniform of PBG (President’s Body Guard).

Azhar was posted to 15 Lancers. The Polo was in his blood. He played first class polo since 1969. He was later posted to PBG (President’s Body Guard) in 1975. He captained various Polo Teams during his short Army career. He was declared the Best Polo Player of Pakistan for the year 1978. He left Army and joined PIA in 1983. He raised PIA’s Polo team and was its first Captain. In the world of Polo his nickname was “Capi” but our Course mates still called him Azhar “Mona”.

Just have a glance towards right at Azhar’s picture in ceremonial uniform of PBG (President’s Body Guard). Doesn’t he look like a Prince?

He won many laurels in Polo. He added many feathers not only to 2nd SSC’s cap but also to Army and Pakistan. Maj Farooq Rana has sent me an article titled “Capt Azhar Remained a Big Name in Pakistan Polo”, published in the Sports page of The News of 1 Aug 2013. It amply covers Azhar’s achievements in the field of Polo. I have added that article at the end of this post.

If my memory serves me right, Azhar had a short stint in WAPDA as well. But I am not sure about the exact period. His platoon mates and his friends from Armored Corps may be able to throw some light.

In November 2009, I started collecting data for the Course website. I rang Azhar at Lahore and got the required details from him and requested him to send some good pictures. He was very enthusiastic about the Course website. He was very polite and sent the photos via email. His email of 16 November 2009 is shown here.

Azhar Ali's Email

How right was Azhar ‘Mona’ terming the task of gathering data about our Course mates (we were 522 at the Passing Out Parade) a ‘colossal one’.  Today (3 Aug 2013) almost 4 years have passed and I am still collecting the photographs and data of Course mates.

Azhar’s last appointment, at the time of his death, with PIA was as Deputy General Manager (Security) at Lahore.

Capt Azhar expired on 25 January 2013 and was buried in Lahore إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ. May Allah grant him a prominent place in Junnah and provide strength to the family to bear this irreparable loss,  آمین. Please pray for his maghfirat.

Due to some security reason, there was no mobile phone service available at Lahore on that day therefore majority of the Course mates living in Lahore could not be informed about his death. Only three could attend the Janaza.

A few months before his death, Azhar didn’t encourage Course mates to meet him at his residence. In the heart of his heart he knew that the time has come to bid farewell to this temporary abode. Probably he wanted his friends to remember him as an energetic and thriving person as he always was. He didn’t want us to see his feeble self. He was slipping away pretty fast.

Rest in peace my dear Azhar ‘Mona’ , the real “Prince’ of 2nd SSC. Sooner or later we will also join you. I am sure you must be pretty happy up there. Stay blessed “Capi’ of Pakistan Polo team.

Mirza Ghalib : Khaak mein kya suratein hongi k pinhan ho gain

Azhar in 1983. Photo courtesy Lahore Polo Club.

Azhar in 1983

Another Photo of Azhar AliPhoto courtesy Lahore Polo Club.

Another Photo of Azhar Ali

Azhar with President of Pakistan gen Zia-ul-Haq and Jordanian Crown Prince. Photo courtesy Lahore Polo Club.

Azhar with Gen Zia and Jordanian Crown Prince

Azhar with Jordanian Crown Prince Hasan Bin TalalPhoto courtesy Lahore Polo Club.

Capt Azhar Ali with Jordanian Crown Prince Hasan Bin Talal

Article by Ishaq Khan Khakwani, The Nation. Ishaq Khan Khakwani, Ambassador of Federation of International Polo and Former President Lahore Polo Club, wrote an article about Capt Azhar on 30 January 30, 2013, just five days after Azhar’s death. Please read it here: Capt (retd) Azhar Ali – a Distinguished Polo Player.

Sports Page of The News, 1 Aug 2013. This article has been inspired by the above article of Ishaq Khan Khakwani.

Capt Azhar, The News article page 1Capt Azhar, The News, 01 Aug 2013, article page 2

Related Pages
Remembering Our Comrades
Army Blog (Retired Officers)

Editor’s Note: Please do write a very brief comment at the end of this page under the heading “Leave a Reply here”.  
Course mates from his platoon and those from Armour are requested to add those aspects of Capt Azhar’s life which have been missed out by me and in the above mentioned articles.

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  1. Ahmad Asif says:

    May his soul rest in peace.Ameen.

  2. Lt Col (r) Arif Mahmud says:

    Azhar was one of those cadets who stood out and were distinguishably identified. I had some interaction with him in PMA and remember his horsemanship during a show riding in PMA. It was, thus, a pleasant surprise to find him in one of the Bde units, 15 Lancers, when I landed in 16 SP in Lahore. Serving in 3 Armd Bde, in those days was a unique treat with a streak of legendary Commanders like Brig Z.A and Shah Rafi Alam. Azhar, in that setting , was like a jewel in the crown, loved, respected and liked by everyone. Brig Shah Rafi Alam was an avid die hard Polo Player and what else he could desire in a young officer. To him and other officers, Azhar was an epitome of a Cavalry officer.
    I remained in touch with Azhar off and on, first in Rawalpindi when he was posted in PBG and later on in Lahore when he was in PIA.
    I came to know of the sad demise from one of his cousins who happened to be a colleague here. I think it was unfortunate that Azhar had to leave Army rather early in his career and did not achieve his full potential. He will always be remembered for his pleasant mild manners and a very charming personality. May Allah rest his soul in peace. Ameen.

  3. Lt Col Zahid Shah, AC (46 PMA) says:

    A very well documented obituary on Azhar, a gentleman, an officer and a fine polo player who set ablaze the polo fields and then just faded away. May Allah Bless him. Thanks for making him live by his memories.

  4. Lt Col (R) Aqeel Ahmed (Capt Azhar's Regt officer) says:

    I remember Capt Azhar as a pleasant and forthcoming officer when I joined the regiment (15 Lancers). He kept his smiles intact and wits ever sharp even under adverse situations. Though he left the regiment at early stage but we could not keep him away from our hearts. I am still shocked to have read this sad news. It is unbelievable that we have lost Capt Azhar. May Allah bless his soul and grant him eternal peace. Amen!!

  5. I have the honor to meet him, while he was serving in PBG. May God bless his soul!

  6. Lt Col Masood Alam (2nd SSC) says:

    Dear Cheema, you again deserve a shabash for writing such an excellent write up. Regards.

    Azhar was an excellent person with whom I last had conversation in 2011 when he was D GM security in PIA. When my security company got the contract for providing security services to PIA, I found out that our Course mate Azhar was looking after the security affairs of PIA at Lahore. Since then we used to talk on telephone quite often and had a close inter action with him on telephone. The news of his demise so early was too sad. May Allah keep his soul in Jannat-ul-Firdous and grant strength to the family to bear this irreparable great loss, Ameen.

  7. Col (R) Qaisar Rashid (2nd SSC) says:

    Azhar, you will always be remembered. Rest in peace and stay blessed.

  8. Maj (R) Muhammad Ajmal Khan (2nd SSC) says:

    There are occasions in one’s life when one don’t find words to express true feelings. Azhar’s loss was one of that. The news of his death was shocking and I remained in an un-settled state of mind for days. Reason, we joined the Regiment (15 Lancers) together and remained together till he was posted out as Adjutant PBG. I used to be his guest whenever I visited Pindi.
    Azhar was neat and clean in his habits, dignified and mature in his dealings, smart well dressed and very well behaved in his conduct. A very good friend, a disciplined soldier and a pleasant personality who was equally popular and dear to all seniors and subordinates.
    Last he visited my home at Pindi was when he was training Mr. Zardari (Azhar used to come probably twice in a week from Lahore to play Polo with Zardari) at PM’s House. He told me that Zardari wants him to stay at PM’s House and be his Polo/Riding partner. Azhar said that he is dealing with him (Zardari) tactfully.
    Azhar had many qualities for which he will always be remembered by all those who happen to know him. May Allah rest his soul in eternal peace.

  9. Brig (R) Khawaja Alam Zeb (2nd SSC) says:

    May his soul rest in eternal peace. Ameen.

  10. Major (R) Munir Ahmed (2nd SSC) says:

    Dear Cheema, thank you for a heart touching contribution. You have taken me 41 years back. I know Azhar very intimately as for quite some time we were platoon mates but our friendship lasted even after we were shifted to other platoons from Haider-5.
    He was a Prince by every mean. I kept meeting him in Course get-togethers at Lahore. He has been quite disturbed because of his illness & had gone into complete isolation. I was devoid of attending his burial as his death news came to me after quite some time. His departure is a personal loss to me & great loss to our Course. He was quiet & shy by nature & bid farewell to this temporary abode in the same manner.
    May Allah bless the departed soul in eternal peace & give courage & patience to the bereaved family to bear this irreparable loss (Aameen).
    A word of appreciation for Cheema Gee, please carry on with this SADQA-I-JARIA.

  11. Zahid Abbas (2nd SSC), Canada says:

    May his soul rest in eternal peace, Ameen.

  12. Maj (R) Khalid Saeed Shah (2nd SSC) says:

    Indeed Azhar remains a legend for his exploits in the game of Polo. He made us feel proud with his international fame in Polo. He was gem of a person. With kind courtesy of Maj. Rasheed, I happen to meet him in his PIA office at Lahore, the 30 minutes we spent together are unforgettable. May his soul rest in peace, Aameen.

  13. Brig (R) Riaz Toor (2nd SSC) says:

    Thank you for giving Azhar the due. I had met Azhar on most of our get togethers at Lahore. Quiet, calm and collected he was always the most well dressed follow. A number of us were there at his Residence on the day of his departure from this world. Let us once again pray for the eternal peace of his soul. God bless him.

  14. Cheema, this is a very finely worded article on a very fine gentleman. I happened to meet him quite often when he was in PBG. I remember him telling me to join the ‘Saddle Club’ in PMA as it would help me in the Armoured Corps, but my occupation as CSM was too busy to go into any other errands. Stay blessed, Azhar.

  15. Lt Col Nasir Ali Siddiqi (2nd SSC) says:

    Rashid, good to read the details about Azhar (late). No doubt he was a wonderful man & loving,& was always very receptive once he was holding the DIRIVING SEAT(PBG). May Allah rest his soul in eternal peace & give strength to his family to bear this irreparable loss (Aameen). Rashid, keep it up!!

  16. Maj (R) Rehmat Elahi (2nd SSC) says:

    God Almighty to give peace & his blessing to late Capt Azhar, Ameen.

  17. Azam Gill (2nd SSC), France says:

    I have a distinct, sharp and clear memory of this well groomed soldier with excellent, natural bearing at PMA, his charming smile and cheerfulness. I am proud to learn of his accomplishments in one of the few sports I follow when I can, along with kabaddi and amateur boxing. I used to enjoy watching matches at the Lahore Polo Grounds in GOR-I. Polo players are a class in themselves, and Azhar, I now learn that you towered head and shoulders above the rest. May you Rest in Peace, and may the Almighty grant your family the strength to come to terms with your departure.

    Cheema Jee, you do much sawaab ka kaam, for which my thanks are worthless.

  18. Brig (R) Khalid Hassan (2nd SSC), USA says:

    Cheema, you have again done an excellent job. It is an excellent addition to your collection. It appears that Azhar in his last mail knew that he was going and was bidding farewell to all of us. May Allah rest his soul in peace. His family must be sent a copy of this article. They would treasure it.
    Azhar looks like a real prince in his picture.

  19. Lt Col (R) Zafar Mustafa (6 OTS) Coy Comd with 2nd SSC says:

    I did not have the good fortune of inter-acting with late Azhar Ali in PMA or afterwards. However on reading that he was the son of Col Inayat Ullah, I remember meeting the Col in Remount Depot Sargodha in 1964. He was a senior Maj of RVFC visiting Sargodha Depot while I was attending a short course there.
    On the Bridge table after dinner, one RVFC officer remarked to the Major “Sir you have such a good memory. Why don’t you play Bridge more often?”
    I still remember his reply, “I don’t want to prostitute my memory by playing Bridge”.
    Later I learnt from RVFC officers that he had the reputation of having the best memory in RVFC.
    I was familiar with the Polo exploits of Capt Azhar Ali without knowing that he was from 2nd SSC or was the son of Col Inayat Ullah. Indeed he was a shining star of Polo.
    May his soul rest in eternal peace. Aameen!

  20. Maj (R) Farooq Rana (2nd SSC) says:

    Rashid, your prelude is excellent. Azhar achieved in Pakistan’s Polo such heights that only a very few would be able to ever match his accomplishments. He was irrefutably a most respected giant of the game and later a very well respected and upright referee.
    In Mughal days the game was known as the game of the kings and the king of the games and he too was a prince once he would make his entry into the Polo arena. Many used to say in his days “Victory is where Azhar is”. Either Polo was made for him or he was tailored for Polo. On his day he would alone snatch the victory and bring home a trophy for his team.
    May his soul live in eternal peace, Amen.

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