‘My Comrade in Arms – Capt Syed Hassan Zaheer Shaheed, Sitara-e-Jurat’

A tribute to Capt Syed Hassan Zaheer Shaheed, 26 Cavalry.

By Maj Gen Syed Ali Hamid, 39th PMA Long Course

Picture of Capt Syed Hassan Zaheer Shaheed, SJ (26 Cavalry) Picture of Maj Gen Syed Ali Hamid, 39th PMA Long CourseEditor’s Note: Maj Gen Syed Ali Hamid (retd) is from Armoured Corps. After the retirement, he has settled in Rawalpindi.

In 1968 three of us were commissioned into 26 Cavalry which was in the process of being raised for 23 Division in Jhelum. Apart from myself there was Pervez Khan from Abbottabad and Syed Hassan Zaheer, from Karachi. I came to know of him early in our course at the academy when his uncle Air Cmdr. Masroor Hussain, the Base Commander at Mauripur was killed by a bird hit in May 1967 while bringing his B-57 into land. The news spread through the academy and Zaheer (for some reason he was not called by his first name), was sent to attend his funeral. Masroor’s death was a major loss to the PAF because he had distinguished himself in the recent war with India but it must have also been a great loss to Zaheer as his mother had been widowed many years earlier. Zaheer had followed in the footsteps of his uncle by joining the academy at Risalpur prior to the 1965 War but could not make the flying grade and transferred to PMA

Along with some more lieutenants posted to the regiment, we shared a large common bedroom in an old building that was our mess. We were the only ‘armour boys’ in Jhelum and we stuck together whether it was cycling to the regiment and back or going to spend an evening in the club or seeing a movie in town and I grew close to Zaheer. He had a very attractive personality. He was tall and slim with rakish features, an endearing smile and a large mop of hair that he carefully. He was a heavy smoker and since he could not fit his cigarettes into the pockets of the tight ‘teddy’ trousers, he used to unbutton his shirt and tuck the packet next to his waist. He was ‘Urdu speaking’ to the core and a cricket fan to boot. Much of his childhood had been spent playing ‘street cricket’ and he was one of the most energetic member of the regiment’s cricket team that our enterprising commanding officer, Akram Hussain Sayed had formed. 

Officers of 26 Cavalry at Jhelum in 1969Syed Hassan Zaheer Shaheed is on extreme right in the Standing Row.

Officers of 26 Cavalry with Capt Syed Hassan Zaheer Shaheed at Jhelum in 1969

Syed Hassan Zaheer Shaheed with Subalterns of 26 Cavalry at Jhelum Club in 1969. The officer in SD is Maj Muhammad Amin Mughal 2IC ex Probyn’s.

Subalterns of 26 Cavalry with Capt Syed Hassan Zaheer Shaheed at Jhelum Club in 1969

In between attending courses, Zaheer and I shared a room in the mess and before falling off to sleep, I occasionally enjoyed one of his cigarettes. I was not a regular smoker and Zaheer used to warn me against acquiring the habit. As I came to know him better, I found that he was honest to a fault. One night as we were dozing off, I asked him “Zaheer. Why is it that you never lie?” With a whimsical smile he told me that while playing street cricket as a young boy, his bat broke. It was an important match and he went home, opened his mother’s trunk where she kept the pension and took out enough to buy a new bat. When later in the day he returned home his mother asked about the money and when Zaheer feigned ignorance, she started beating him with her slipper. With tears streaming down her eyes she repeated again and again, “Never tell a lie. Never tell a lie”. I realized that this incident was a life-changer for Zaheer and the reason for his very upright nature. However the downside was that he could not stomach nonsense and had a quick temper that got him into scraps from which he had to be rescued. One day four of us lieutenants crowded into my 2-seater Sunbeam Alpine and went to the movies. While I was finding parking in the narrow alleyway, Zaheer offered to buy the tickets. It was a mistake that we would not repeat again. The theater had new movie showing with an unruly crowd at the ticket booth. Within minutes Zaheer was into a scuffle and before it developed into a free for all, the rest of us elbowed our way in and dragged him away. 

Since Zaheer was too far from his family in Karachi, I used to often take him to Rawalpindi to spend a weekend at home. My parents and sisters enjoyed his simplicity and gentle humor and grew very fond of him. Someone else who also grew fond of him was a little plump but very pretty lady doctor who was serving in the Military Hospital at Jhelum. Within a few months they were engaged and one evening Zaheer and she went to call on our commanding officer and his lovely wife Sameena Apa. The next morning Col Akram walked into my office and with a little smile said “Zaheer brought his fiancé to meet us yesterday.” “I know sir,” I replied. “They borrowed my car.” Then with a little twinkle in his eyes he continued “Very nice girl but I wish she wasn’t chewing gum all through the time they spent with us”. When I mentioned this to Zaheer, he threw up his hands in exasperation and said “I told her to throw it away before we drove into the CO’s gate but she wouldn’t listen to me”. 

Within a couple of years I was adjutant of the regiment and Zaheer the quartermaster. “I don’t like the job” he complained to me. “While you deal with important issues in the regiment, I have to deal with the sweepers, cooks, the barber, canteen contractor and washer man”. It was not something he was cut out for and to his relief when war clouds started gathering in 1971, and we moved out to our operational area, he was temporarily given command of Bravo Squadron. For us young officers it was an exciting time as we could sense that war was imminent. A major arrived from the Armoured Corps School to command Bravo Squadron and Zaheer was told to revert to the RHQ. “I didn’t join the Army to fight a war as a quartermaster” Zaheer pleaded and the commanding officer relented. He wasn’t even ready to be the squadron second-in-command. “I remained in the squadron not to fight the war from a jeep”, he told the squadron commander who granted him his wish and assigned him to lead a tank troop. 

In the war account of the regiment ‘Forged in the Furnace of Battle’, I have written in detail about the attack on the Indian post at Jhanda during which Zaheer met his Shahadat. Over three days of continuous fighting and moving, the squadron had been reduced to only four tired Shermans. The capture of Jhanda was extremely important to secure the right flank of the 2nd Armoured Brigade assaulting the Indian defences on Phagla Ridge on 6 Dec 1971. The tanks were supporting 14th Punjab and when the attack stalled on a minefield, Zaheer’s tank drew the Indian’s attention while the remaining tanks attempted to force a gap through the minefield a thousand meters to the left. The terrain was flat and open and for two hours alone and exposed to the enemy, he resolutely kept the post and its surroundings under fire. Capt. Tanveer Shah, a company commander of 14 Punjab was close to Zaheer’s tank and advised the officer to pull back. Zaheer in half jest replied “If I pull back, you infantry guys will say that the amour has withdrawn from the heat of battle.” Ultimately his luck ran out and he was killed by an artillery round that landed close to his tank. That evening, Zaheer’s body was taken to a graveyard at Karianwala where he was buried as ‘Amanat’. He was lowered into the grave in the uniform he wore in combat and a jacket that I had given him.

Sherman Tank of Capt Syed Hassan Zaheer Shaheed engaging Jhanda Post on 6 Dec 1971. This sketch of Syed Hassan Zaheer Shaheed has been made by Fasih, a local artist of Rawalpindi.

Sketch of Sherman tank of Capt Syed Hassan Zaheer Shaheed engaging Jhanda Post on 6 Dec 1971

Shortly before the war, when Zaheer returned from leave, he had given an inspiring talk to the squadron telling them that the time for honoring their debt to the nation was approaching. He also informed them that he had told his mother that he might never return. Prior to the war, Zaheer’s squadron was attached to an infantry brigade and an hours’ drive from the regiment headquarter. A few days before hostilities broke out, I received an unexpected letter from him. “Dear Ali” it began. “This is the last letter I am writing to you. There is a war coming and I know that I am going to die. You have been like a brother to me and your parents have given me great love”. Zaheer was prophesying his own death and to my everlasting regret I tore up the letter because I thought it was just an emotional outburst. Somehow, I remember the last line so well. “If there is one thing I regret” the letter said, “I gave you the habit of smoking”. 

I cannot blame anyone for my bad habits specially Zaheer whom I remember with great fondness. In fact every time I light a cigarette, I think of him.

6 December 1971, the day of martyrdom of Capt Syed Hassan Zaheer Shaheed, 26 Cavalry

Editor: It is a wonderful tribute to Capt Syed Hassan Zaheer Shaheed. Please recite Surah Fatiha for Syed Hassan Zaheer Shaheed.

Related Posts:
“Remembering Our Heroes” action of 25 Cav in 1965 War (by Maj Gen Syed Ali Hamid)
Remembering Our Comrades 
Pakistan Army Blog (Retired Officers)

Editor’s Note: 
If you’ve liked this Post about the life of Capt Syed Hassan Zaheer Shaheed, then please share it on FacebookTwitter, etc.
If it’s not inconvenient, please do write your brief comment in the Comment Box.
You are also welcome to contribute your article about your Shaheed or deceased comrades by sending it on Email of the Editor: nativepakistan@gmail.com

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Comments

  1. I salute the Shaheed Syed and the Author Syed. Ex Capt. Taimur Hyat-Khan 6 Lt. Col. Sahibzad Gul (SJ) Shaheed’s Own Lancers & 52 Cavalry Hoo wal Mustaan. May I also salute Maj General Faisal Alvi Shaheed (26 Cavalry).

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

    Sir,
    What a fine tribute to a colleague. Thanks for sharing a beautiful & absorbing write up. Salute to all the Heroes of Pak Army who sacrificed their lives for the motherland. May Allah bless all these souls with His infinite mercy (Aameen).

  3. History and geography (both National and International) should have been made compulsory subjects from early primary classes till Masters. I believe all of us as decision makers in life needed that and will always do.

    These subjects keep the memories of Shaheeds (civil or military) like Captain Hassan Zaheer alive and give us the perspectives so vital to preserve our values.

    Another “Son of the Soil” is mentioned. I believe we enjoy all benefits of our lives 24/7 because of the sacrifices of these special and precious jewels and gems. They remind and refresh the meanings of sacrifice, sincerity, loyalty and courage.

    Without the knowledge of history and geography we face what is called “Out of sight; out of mind.”

    May Allah give Capt Zaheer Jannatul Firdous and increase his darajaat. May Allah protect Pakistan and all Muslims the world over.

  4. Col Sohail Qureshi, EME/Avn (VA, USA) says:

    In early 1971, after PMA and before the War, I was stationed for six months at Jhelum in 9 Special Wksp EME on GT Road in support of Corp Artillery Units. I remember Captain Hasan Zaheer Shaheed and Pervez Khan so well from 26 Cavalry. They made their presence felt in the Club and specially during Tambola. Both tall and very smart officers.

    The CO Col Akram Sayed was a handsome man and I met him when he was commanding 12 Cav in Sahiwal after the 1971 War. Ishtiaq from my school was also in 26 Cav at the time and died in an accident after the War.

    14 Punjab was my father’s Regiment and I know Capt Tanveer Shah (later SSG, brother of Tahira Syed) also. To the best of my recollection Ishtiaq was also related to Capt Tanveer Shah.

    We also lived in a old “Bhooth Bangla” a little away from GT Road from the roundabout before the Jhelum Bridge in the manner described and frequented the Club quite often. Bicycles were king then.

  5. Brig Khalid Hassan, USA says:

    May Allah bless Zaheer’s soul and grant him the best place in Jannah, Aameen.

  6. Beautifully written. Best friends are always alive in your memory …rest in peace Capt Zaheer.

  7. Drenched in sincerity and very well written.

  8. Editor: Lt Col Rashid Zia Cheema says:

    It is a very absorbing and well written tribute to a Shaheed comrade. May the soul of Capt Hassan Zaheer (Shaheed) rest in eternal peace in Jannat ul Firdous, Aameen.

    • Syed Hasan Zaheer says:

      Thank you for a wonderful article about my namesake, which filled in the details of his life in the army leading to his shahadat. We went to the same primary school Greenwood at Jamshed Road, Karachi (near Hyderabad Colony), a period described as Chuddies Buddies. While he went to Airforce / Army I went to Karachi University and NED Engineering College. Our standing joke was that once he gets out of Army he can use my degrees to get a nice job as we shared the same name. It is hard to describe my feelings having read the whole intimate article except to reiterate what a wonderful friend he was and how I still miss him. God bless you Hassan with higher darajats in Jannat-ul-Firdous, for Shaheed are not dead. Amen.

      • Col Shah Alam, Canada says:

        What an amazing coincidence! You aren’t just his namesake but shared so much more in common. God bless you and thank you for sharing your own experience with your late buddy.

  9. Col Shah Alam (34th PMA), Canada says:

    Gen! I knew Capt Zaheer (Shaheed) well but thanks to your nostalgic article above that I know him better now — albeit half a century later. And it isn’t just him, I also know you a bit better now. I never knew that you smoked 🙂

    Yes, I remember the old bungalow (I think it was 21 Mall Road, Jhelum) which we all shared. The three of you, Mujib, Naeem Amjad, Noni, and Naqib’s rooms faced the Mall Road, Shamshad lived with his wife facing the North while Asif and my room faced the riverside. At that time Maj Ashraf A Sqn lived in the Mess and Maj Rashid C Sqn lived on the Lahore-Jhelum Road. It was perhaps a while later that you shifted to living in the Mess.

    Alas! We lost Zaheer much too early. Only now I learn that you two had established a much greater bond later. Ever so sincere and Jazbati جزباتی, as he was, I can see how deep and close your friendship must have been. While I can appreciate how much of a loss he was to you, the sheer thought of his mother’s devastation and grief is unimaginable. And it must have been worse for her since he wrote those prophetic lines “There is a war coming and I know that I am going to die.” to her too.

    Zaheer used to wear a silver ring which was given to him by his mother. For some odd reason, I fancied that simple ring. Hassan — gracious as he was — took no time to take the ring off and handed it over to me. I wore it for a long time. Regrettably, I lost it later though I wore it until the late 80s.

    May Allah bless Zaheer’s soul.

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