“Capt Chiragh Shah and the Stubborn American Senator”

By Lt Col Rashid Zia Cheema, Retd (2nd SSC)

Lt Col (R) rashid Zia CheemaEditor’s Note:  Lt Col (R) Rashid Zia Cheema, the Editor of this website (Native Pakistan), is from Air Def/Avn. After the retirement, he has settled in DHA Phase 2, Islamabad.

The extremely handsome Lt Col Chiragh Shah, 1 FF, ex 2nd PMA Long Course, was my neighbour in Askari 7, Adyala Road, Rawalpindi. He expired in 2002. He once narrated an interesting anecdote about an American Senator who wanted to visit Northern Areas (Now Gilgit-Baltistan Province).

Lt Col Chiragh Shah, 1 FF, 2nd PMA Long Course

In 1956, young Capt Chiragh Shah was posted in GHQ. Lt Col Riaz Hussain (uncle of former Information Minister Syed Mushahid Hussain) was his boss. In those days all foreigners desirous of visiting Northern Areas (NAs) were required to get permission from GHQ. An American Senator, who was staying in Flashman’s Hotel, wanted to visit NAs along with his movie camera. He requested for the Permit. Capt Chiragh Shah wrote on the file, “The applicant is a well-linked US Senator. He may be issued with a Permit to visit NAs.”

The Col put down his remarks, “He should not take us for granted. He should have sought the permission before undertaking the journey to Pakistan. Please refuse him politely.”

The young Capt persuaded his boss to grant the permission being a routine matter but he did not budge an inch. Capt Chiragh Shah rang up the Senator and informed him accordingly. There was a silence for a few seconds at the other end and then the Senator spoke in a coarse voice, “Young man, just remember one thing, you will come to my hotel and deliver the Permit personally within one week” and hung up abruptly.

The Senator was a close friend of US President, Eisenhower. He telephoned Eisenhower and informed him about his ordeal. A telegram was immediately sent to President Ayub Khan from the White House requesting for giving the permission to the Senator to visit NAs.

The next day the telegram was put up to C-in-C, Gen Ayub Khan. He summoned Col Riaz, who sensing the gravity of the situation, rushed to the Capt’s office and tore up the original Office Note and asked him to draft another one saying, “Due to the acute shortage of staff, it is not possible to arrange surveillance and security clearance of the applicant. He may not be issued a Permit”.

Capt Chiragh Shah wrote the new Office Note. Then his boss put his remark in a single sentence, “Please refuse him politely.”

Then the Col took the file to Gen Ayub Khan’s office. Capt Chiragh Shah had no idea what all had been discussed between his boss and the C-in-C, but when Col Riaz returned after ten minutes the beads of sweat were dripping down his forehead. He said wearily, “Chiragh Shah, issue the Permit and make sure that you deliver it personally to the Senator in his hotel in the evening.”

He went out of the Capt’s office but returned immediately and uttered with a grin, “Well, I have to give you a bit of my mind, which I have done.”

The young officer grinned back and it was crystal clear to him that what all could have transpired between his boss and Gen Ayub Khan. The blame was put on an “inexperienced” and “untactful” Capt. After admonishing Col Riaz, the C-in-C must have said, “Give a piece of my mind to the bloody Capt as well”.

That evening Capt Chiragh Shah went to the Flashman’s Hotel and delivered the Permit to the American. The Senator ordered a cup of tea for the Capt and laughed over the matter saying, “Young man, the dead line of one week is not over yet. Do you remember what did I challenge?”

Capt Chiragh Shah grimaced, “Yes, I do.” What else the poor Capt would have said.

The above narrated event took place in mid 50s when the world was bi-polar. In the present uni-polar world, are the American Senators still haughty and stubborn?

Flashman's Hotel, Rawalpindi

Lt Col Chiragh Shah (1FF, 2nd PMA) with Chinese leader Chairman Mao Tse-tung

Related Post:
Pakistan Army Blog (Retired Officers)

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  1. Muhammad Farooq, Avn (19th War Course) says:

    That was a beautiful narration of an event, which must be taken as an example by all.
    Thank you Cheema sahib.

  2. Syed Waleed Shah Banoori says:

    Col Chiragh Shah was my uncle. He belonged to Banoori family (Syeds) from Kohat.

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

    Dear Rashid Cheema,
    Thank you for sharing an interesting anecdote. During our service, we all have undergone such bad experiences but there have been number of instances where our worthy seniors stood like a rock. We must share the pleasant experiences also.

  4. Maj (R) Khalid Saeed Shah, Arty says:

    Ghulam qaumoun ko azad honay mein saddiyaan lagti hain. Laikin azab-e-Ilahi jub aa jaae tou chhutkara nahien hota. Allah hum sub ko muaaf farmaey, Aameen.

  5. Maj (R) Rauf Shad, Arty says:

    Dear Cheema,
    Life is like that. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Lt Col (R) Qadeer A Ch, 24/29 Punjab says:

    Such incidents will keep on happening but there is no dearth of good examples as well in the history of Pakistan Army.

  7. Maj (R) Hasan Jawaid, USA (1st SSC) says:

    Speaking of leadership and audacity, here is somewhat a similar incident that happened back in 1972 when Indians were to pull out of Cholistan (Islam Garh, Azam Wala) area by 7pm in the evening while we were to begin moving in the area early next morning and GOC Jehanzeb Arbab’s (known as Bobby) was expected to be present as well.
    Being young and restless, we (my Company Commander, myself, driver & a signal havaldar) decided to follow Indians during their retreat. After an hour into chase we were spotted because we were just too close to hide. Not sure what they took us for but they hurriedly retreated leaving behind huge piles of telephone cable, some wireless equipment, and personal belongings.
    Their entire retreat completed by 2pm and we returned with few goodies with us.
    Hardly an hour had went by when Div HQ called us and dropped the bombshell that GOC wanted to see my Company Commander and myself before Brigade was to begin its move the next day. We both knew our adventurism had landed us in trouble big time and it would be anything but miracle if our punishment remained just to demotion. The two of us discussed all kinds of punishments that could merit the violation between ours and Indian formation commanders.
    To cut the story short, we both were there the next day with rest of the Brigade officers waiting for GOC. Finally came the GOC, and we all lined up. After meeting with everyone, we were introduced as the two officers who he had asked to be present. As always he wore dark glasses, looked sharp, and gave us a soft smile; all he said was:
    “Young men, keep it up, I expect this from young officers”.
    He sure was a breed apart.

  8. Lt Col (R) Muhammad Munir, Arty says:

    Very good article, thanks for sharing.

  9. Maj (R) M.Ejaz Baig says:

    There is no dearth of characters like Col Riaz Hussain even to this day and will continue in future as well. Sharam tum ko magar nahi aati.

  10. Azam Gill, France says:

    Colonel Chiragh Shah, whom I never had the privilege of knowing personally, was intelligent and courageous. His CO lacked the moral courage to shoulder the blame and passed it down to his junior – so much for integrity.
    Thank you for the story, Cheema Jee. As for your last question, the former bi-polar world has not been replaced by a uni-polar world but a multi-polar world with a different set of hierarchies. I’m sure the Charlie Wilsons are live and flourishing and Pakistan is not yet aid-independent

  11. Lt Col ( r ) Ejaz Nazim (15th PMA) says:

    Had I been in Captain Chiragh Shah’s shoes, I too would be forced to do what my superiors demanded from me to do. But, it is a disgraceful incident. Nothing to smile about. I personally suffered from such disloyalty from my superiors, where I took a stand and they chickened out. I’m from 15th PMA Long Course and retired in 1982. Such was the Army then; I’m shocked to know that such character failings still persist in the Army. May Allah help and guide us.

  12. Brig (R) Banaras Khan Jadoon says:

    When commanding my unit along the LOC in early 90s I was asked by the Brigade Commander to help a Mujahid Battalion which had ventured across LOC and occupied vacant area in front of their forward post. On finding out their presence on their side of LOC, the Indians pushed them back and started attacking their forward post with fresh troops supported by entire Divisional Artillery. I took my depth company to the battered Mujahid Battalion, relieved their forward post under attack and went for the Indians with 21 men. They took it as a counter attack by a company of regulars and asked for immediate cease fire through DGMO’s hot line.
    Then COAS, Gen Asif Nawaz Janjua became furious over the episode for keeping the GHQ in dark and the number of lives we lost. He visited the Mujahid Battalion and after giving hell to the Brigade Commander, asked me as to why I had not sought permission from the Division/Corps HQ. I looked back at my GOC, who went pale as he had brought me for the operation in his helicopter. I replied to the COAS, “No sir, I did not ring up any HQ because that would have amounted to cowardice” and continued with the briefing. Rest, I leave to your imagination.

  13. Brig (R) Yasub Dogar, FF/SSG says:

    Straight forward soldiers of a bygone age.

  14. Maj (R) Rehmat Elahi says:

    Fantastic anecdote, I really enjoyed it.

  15. I think the Captain did not know how to make a ‘Super Fledermaus’ of the issue!!!

    Editor’s Note: Please click the following link to understand the “Super Fledermaus” analogy referred by Brig Jalal Hameed Bhatti:-

  16. Maj (R) Amjid Quamber, AC says:

    Many a stories lie unsaid in many heads.
    I will write soon about one episode, again with a US two-star, during Exercise Zarb-e-Momin.

  17. Lt Col (R) Waseem Rashid Hashmi (53 PMA) says:

    Very spontaneous and penetrating narration of bitter facts about our patched history of Military Leadership. Such incidents and occurrences are numerous and one only feels small to think about such like character failings.

  18. Brig (R) Waqar Gull, ASC (52 PMA) says:

    Nothing has changed. May Allah bless the soul of Col Chiragh Shah.

  19. Lt Col Masood Alam (Retd) says:

    This is how the Army life goes on, nothing much has changed over the years. But remembering such events does bring smile on one’s face. It makes you remember own similar events, as every officer does have such kind of stories up his sleeve.

  20. Lt Col (R) Ilyas Mirza, Avn (1st SSC) says:

    This was indeed very stupid on part of Col Riaz Hussain. He intentionally wanted to create a scene. Baad mein unko sharam tou nahi aye hogi.

  21. Lt Col (R) Rashid Zia Cheema, Air Def/Avn (2nd SSC) says:

    May the soul of Col Chiragh Shah rest in peace, Aameen.

  22. Maj (R) Hasan Jawaid, USA (1st SSC) says:

    Not at all surprised over Gen Ayub’s Khan & Col Riaz’s knee jerk action. Looks like we haven’t changed much, knee jerk legacy to our master’s call seems to continue to this date. This time Shareef brothers have honored us by adding Arabs as our new masters to the list.
    I am sure we all have read Iqbaliat, this is what Allama Iqbal said long ago:
    “Kisay nahee hai tamannai-e-sarwari laikin,
    Khoodi key maut ho jismay woh sarwari kia hai”
    Thanks for the recount of the event Col Rashid Cheema.

    • Munir Ranjha says:

      Co. Chiragh Shah (may Alllah Almightly keep his soul in peace in Heaven) was not at fault. But, we as a-whole-nation guilty of such silly things, particularly our rulers and diplomats. God award us with strength, self-confidence and honesty to get out from vulnerable state-of-mind and mood. Aameen.

      • Niaz Ahmad Khan says:

        I agree with you Munir Ranjha Sb. Exceptions apart, it has unfortunately been our national malaise as a third world country.

  23. Lt Col Naeem Ahmed Khan (Retd) says:

    May your soul rest in eternal peace.

  24. Col (R) Shah Alam, Avn (34 PMA) Canada says:

    Forever true, “when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers”. Poor Chiragh Shah, may Allah Bless his soul, paid the price.

    Thanks for sharing this, Rashid. I guess the likes of this episode is a recurring feature in our military life though most go undocumented.

    PS. I had met Col Chiragh Shah once while accompanying one of his good friends, namely Dr. Mufti, who has also passed away since.

    • Rear Admiral (R) Tanveer Ahmed says:

      Dear Col Shah Alam,
      Can I take the liberty to modify your “when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers” to read ” when elephants fight or make love, it is the grass that suffers”?

      • Col Shah Alam (R), Canada says:

        I stand corrected. Thanks.
        It’s a pleasure to read comments from PN officers. PN is close to my heart because I spent five prime-and-best years of my life there, and the memories of which I’ll cherish forever. Long live PNS Mehran.

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