Syed Mohammad Ahsan
Vice-Admiral Syed Mohammad Ahsan HQA, SPk, DSO, (Urdu: ﺴﻴﺩ ﻣﺤﻣﺪ ﺍﺣﺴﻦ) (b. 1921 – d. 1989) was a senior three-star admiral who was the 4th Chief of Naval Staff of Pakistan Navy from October 20, 1966 to August 31, 1969. A naval intelligence officer by profession, Vice-Admiral Ahsan was integral to the establishment and expansion of the capabilities of Naval Intelligence and the elite Naval Special Service Group, and took initiatives to modernize the navy. As director-general of Naval Intelligence, Vice-Admiral S.M. Ahsan participated actively in the war and led the Naval intelligence operations during Indo-Pak 1965 September war.
He was the most trusted companion of President and Chief Martial Law Administrator Field Marshal Ayub Khan and was present at every meeting chaired by Khan. Vice-Admiral Syed Mohammad Ahsan rose to be country's second most influential and powerful man during the Ayub Khan's military dictatorship, playing an influential role in Ayub Khan's military and strategic policies in Pakistan. In 1969, after his tenure as Chief of Naval Staff, Chief Martial Law Administrator General Yahya Khan appointed Vice-Admiral Ahsan as Martial Law Administrator of East Pakistan at the request of the former President.
On 1 September 1969, Vice-Admiral Ahsan assumed the command of East Pakistan as Martial Law Administrator with absolute and authoritative gubernatorial and political power and military power in East Pakistan. Admiral Syed Mohammad Ahsan was the supreme commander of the Pakistan Combatant Forces in the Eastern contingent, and served as the Commander of the Pakistan Eastern Military High Command until his resignation, in protest, on 7 March 1971.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Staff Appointments
- 3 East Pakistan crisis
- 4 Legacy
- 5 Honors
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Admiral Ahsan was born and bred in Hyderabad Deccan, India (then known as British Indian Empire), to an educated Urdu-speaking family. Ahsan was the first cousin of Royal Indian Merchant Navy Captain Muhammad Syed. Together with his cousin, Ahsan graduated from the Britannia Royal Naval College gaining a B.S. in Military science. Later, he passed the university entrance exam, and attended the Osmania University as the Royal Navy funded his education. There, he graduated with a B.Sc. in statistics and physics in 1943. He joined the Royal Indian Navy in 1940 and began his active duty with Royal Indian Navy as Sub-Lieutenant (Lieutenant Junior Grade) in 1943. After he left Osmania University, Lieutenant Ahsan was posted to Royal Navy's Naval Operations Branch, and traveled to United Kingdom. He initially worked as a Weapon Engineer Officer (WEO) at the Royal Naval Engineers. In 1945, he became a Lieutenant and actively participated in World War II, fighting against Nazi Germany. As a Lieutenant, he was Executive officer at the Royal Naval Engineers where he played a major role in improving the British Naval electrical and radar systems that were providing key information to the Royal Navy to counter German Navy operations in the English channel. For his services to the Royal Navy, he was conferred with the Distinguished Service Order. He returned to British Indian Empire and continued his services with Royal Navy. Following his return in 1946, Lieutenant Ahsan was made ADC to Lord Mountbatten of Burma as Supreme Commander of the British Indian Armed Forces and assisted him in meetings to resolve crises in the British Indian Empire. At the independence of Pakistan in 14 August 1947, Lieutenant Ahsan chose to join the Pakistan Navy and accepted citizenship of Pakistan. He was subsequently promoted to Lieutenant-Commander and was assigned the position of military adviser to the founder and first Governor-General M.A. Jinnah. Lieutenant-Commander Ahsan was the first person at Jinnah Terminal to receive Mountabattens when they first arrived to Karachi to meet Jinnah.
On 30 September 1949, the PNS Tippu Sultan was commissioned under the command of Commander PS Evans, with Lieutenant-Commander Ahsan her First Lieutenant. In 1950, he was promoted to Commander and commanded PNS Tariq and made first goodwill visit to Malta, along with Tippu Sultan, commanded by Commander Afzal Rahman Khan. Later in 1951, he also commanded HMS Tughril for a short time.
In 1952, he was promoted to Commander and was made the Deputy Director of the Naval Intelligence, and played an integral and major role in formulating the policies and institutional set up of the Naval Intelligence and the directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). At the end of December 1952, Major-General Robert Cawthome, Director-General of Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), sent a priority report to Commander Ahsan, and asked for detailed discussions with Pakistan Armed Forces personnel on the basic principles of the ISI. During this meeting with ISI officials, Ahsan concluded that East Pakistan mustn't be ignored and should be given equal status with West Pakistan. Ahsan feared that not carrying our such actions might result in the division of East and West Pakistan. In 1958, he was made Captain, and was made staff officer and also served as the principal military secretary to Ra'ana Liaquat Ali Khan, wife of former Prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan. In 1960, he was promoted to one-star rank as commodore, and was situated in the Naval Combatant Headquarters (NHQ) in Karachi. Ahsan established the Logistics Command as Pakistan Navy had suffered logistics problems in both East and West Pakistan. He established the Karachi Naval Logistic base, known as COMLOG, and served as its first commander. In 1957, he was made Commander of Pakistan Fleet (COMPAK). As commander of COMLOG, he also supervised other navy-led projects and the construction of Naval Operation Headquarters in Karachi. However in 1961, Ahsan was made Director-General of the Naval Intelligence and established the naval intelligence unit within the navy. In 1964, Ahsan was promoted to the two-star rank of rear admiral and was situated in Ayub Khan's Presidential office. He was the principal military secretary to Ayub Khan, Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Army and President at the same time. In a short time, Rear-Admiral Ahsan gained influence on President Ayub Khan and advised him on important military issues. Ahsan attended every meeting chaired by President Ayub Khan and played a major role in Ayub Khan's decisions on military affairs. Ahsan also played an influential role in the establishment of Pakistan's Eastern Military High Command. Ahsan was opposed to any military action against East Pakistan and prevented Khan taking military actions in East Pakistan despite calls for them.
Indo-Pakistan 1965 War
Following the failure of airborne operation, codename Operation Gibraltar, in Kashmir, India attacked Pakistan and a second war was fought between India and Pakistan. As Director-General of Naval Intelligence, Ahsan planned the naval operation Operation Somnath at Dwarka and selected the combatant fleet for the operation. The operation met with mixed results but it stopped the Indian Air Force raiding Karachi. and Pakistan's coastal areas. As director-general of Naval Intelligence, Ahsan collated intelligence reports on the Indian Navy's strategic western naval positions, and orchestrated naval operations against the Indian Navy. In 1965, after the war ended, Ayub Khan awarded him the highest award Star of Pakistan, making him the only naval officer to win the award. He was promoted to three-star-officer rank, a vice-admiral. Ayub Khan personally appointed him as the 4th Chief of Naval of Pakistan Navy on October 20, 1966, nearly a year after the war with India in September 1965.
His tenure in command saw the induction of Hangor in the Naval Submarine Service Branch (SSB). As Chief of Naval Staff, he modernized the Pakistan Navy and created an Intelligence circle in the Pakistan Navy. He also expanded the navy's operations throughout the country, and established a well-maintained Naval Intelligence Directorate, directly reporting to him. In 1966, he accepted the recommendation from United States Navy and established the Naval Special Service Group, an equivalent organization to that of U.S. Navy SEALs. He also established the Naval Academy in Karachi. As Chief of Naval Staff, he also served as the as Board of Governors of Cadet College Petaro from 1966–1968.
Vice-Admiral Ahsan is also credited with founding Port Qasim – Pakistan's second port – after exploring the coast around Phitti Creek, when he was Chief of Naval Staff. He immediately met with then Energy Minister and Foreign Minister Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto where he convinced Bhutto in 1972 to locate the port there. After convincing Bhutto, he supervised the construction and establishment of the port where he set up the main industries and machineries at the Port. The main channel of this port bears his name.
East Pakistan crisis
Eastern Military High Command
After he was relieved as Chief of Naval Staff at the end of August 1969, Chief Martial Law Administrator and Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Army General Yahya Khan appointed him to become the Governor and Martial Law Administrator of East-Pakistan on 1 September 1969, as Ayub Khan had asked his brother to make this appointment. The assignment was considered very difficult by the Pakistan High Military Command, and many senior officers from the Pakistan Armed Forces were reluctant to accept appointments in East Pakistan. The crises in East Pakistan was at its peak and situation was deteriorated under the Military administration of Major-General Muzaffaruddin. By tradition, the Chiefs of the respective Armed services were expected to retire from their services once they had completed their tenure, but in this case Syed Mohammad Ahsan was appointed to the province as a serving uniformed admiral. However, the situation in East Pakistan was at a critical point, and the military gGovernment wanted an administrator with a good reputation in the province. Therefore, Vice-Admiral Syed Mohammad Ahsan's service was extended and he was given a command assignment that was considered very difficult. On 1 September 1969, Admiral Ahsan arrived, in his uniform, in East Pakistan and assumed the control of the East. He was also unified commander of the Pakistan Combatant Forces with both political and military powers. As military administrator of East Pakistan, Admiral S.M. Ahsan tried to solve the East Pakistan crisis politically, often meeting General Yahya Khan, and the political leadership of both East and West Pakistan. While he was military administrator, the country had been in turmoil with riots and disturbances in East and West Pakistan against the rule of former President Field Marshal Ayub Khan.
Reasoning with East-Pakistan disaster
It was in this charged atmosphere that parliamentary elections were held in the country in December 1970. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s People's League was the clear victor having secured more than 39.2% of the seats in the Parliament. The outcomes were a shock to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who ended up with around 18.6% of the seats — all from West Pakistan. Therefore, Bhutto refused to accept a coalition government led by Prime minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman which led to the disastrous action by Pakistan Armed Forces in East Pakistan, and the eventual independence of Bangladesh after the Indian invasion in December 1971. Mujib put pressure on the Pakistan Armed Forces, and was aided by an anti-Yahya Khan movement in both contingents. The high military commanders advocated armed action in East Pakistan.
In February 1971, Admiral Ahsan attended the high-level government meeting chaired by Chief Martial Law Administrator General Yahya Khan. There was another meeting, which Admiral Ahsan described as "tense", where the atmosphere was highly "anti-bengali", with no representation from East Pakistan in the policy and decision-making. Admiral Ahsan opposed any military armed action in East Pakistan, when he was asked on the situation. Admiral Ahsan was the only naval officer in the meeting which was full of Army and Air Force's generals. Because of his continuous objections to the planned military plan, Admiral Ahsan became highly unpopular and his counterparts and colleagues called him "difficult" at best and "sold to the Bengalis" at worst. On February 22, 1971, Admiral Ahsan attended the last meeting over the issue of the East Pakistan. And, Chief Martial Law Administrator General Yahya Khan ordered his commanders in Pakistan Army, Air Force and Navy, to launch an extreme military action to curb the resistance, despite repeated calls made by Admiral Ahsan to prevent any military operation. Disheartened and isolated by his colleagues, Admiral Ahsan returned to East Pakistan to pick up his personal belongings. On March 7, Admiral Ahsan resigned, in protest, from his position as Martial Law Administrator, and also resigned from his position as the Unified Commander of Pakistan Armed Forces in East Pakistan. He immediately returned to Karachi where he took honorary early retirement from Pakistan Navy, and permanently settled in Karachi. In an article titled A nation's shame published in the Newsline magazine of September 2000, the Admiral Ahsan concluded:
"But who was responsible for creating this hostile atmosphere and hatred among the people? The situation deteriorated further after General Yahya Khan postponed the first session of the newly elected constituent assembly. It became very clear immediately after the election results that the generals were not prepared to transfer power to the Awami League. First the delay in summoning the National Assembly session and later its postponement confirmed the Bengalis' worst fears, that the election results were not acceptable both to the generals and to the majority of West Pakistani politicians. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto publicly called for a boycott of the assembly session. Such a transgression was bound to further fuel public resentment".
After returning to East-Pakistan, the Pakistan Armed Forces were already preparing to conduct a military operation to curb the movement. Admiral Ahsan learned that the Central Military government had decided to undertake an operation in East-Pakistan, despite what Admiral Ahsan had recommended in the meeting. When it became apparent and inevitable that an armed operation would take place, Admiral Ahsan resigned, in protest, from his position as Martial Law Administrator and Unified commander of Pakistan Armed Forces in East Pakistan on 7 March 1971, less than three weeks before the military action. Admiral Ahsan did not waste a moment to stay in Eastern Military High Command's Headquarter in Dacca, and immediately flew to Karachi, West-Pakistan. Upon Ahsan's return to Karachi, he reported to Naval Combatant Headquarters, NHQ, in Karachi. Therefore, he received honorary retirement from the navy. He permanently settled in Karachi, and did not speak a word during the 1971 Indo-Pakistani Winter war.
Hamoodur Rehman Commission
After the disastrous war, Admiral Ahsan attended a Government Commission, headed by Chief Justice Hamoodur Rahman. There, Admiral Ahsan famously made a statement and aptly described the hostile mood of the military leadership when they decided to postpone the assembly session and launch a military operation in the eastern province. Admiral Ahsan publicly stated:
On arrival in Rawalpindi I was alarmed to notice the high tide of militarism flowing turbulently.... There was open talk of a military solution according to plan , maintained Admiral Ahsan. I was caught quite unaware in this atmosphere for I know of no military solution which could possibly solve whatever crisis was supposed to be impending in the minds of the authorities. It was evident from the statement that the decision to launch a military operation was taken without consulting the governor of East Pakistan who was the only sane voice in the government. Ahsan went on to describe the atmosphere at a crucial high-level meeting in Rawalpindi on February 22, 1971. The president presided over the meeting of the governors and martial law administrators attended as usual by the military and the civilian officers of the intelligence agencies. It is relevant to record that among the tribe of governors and MLAs I was the only non-army governor and the only active naval officer in the midst of active service men. I was the only person, though a non-Bengali, who had to represent the sentiments of seventy million Bengalis to a completely West Pakistani high command. During the past 17 months, in meetings and conferences, my brief ran counter to the cut-and-dried solutions of West Pakistan representatives and civil servants. The president invariably gave decisions which accommodated East Pakistan's viewpoint, at least partially. This made me unpopular with my colleagues who probably thought I was 'difficult' at best and 'sold' to the Bengalis at worst.
After his retirement from Navy, Admiral Ahsan remained one of the notable Chief of Naval Staff of Pakistan Navy, with introducing more war programmes and educational programmes for the naval cadets. Because of his respected public image, Prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made him the Chairman of the National Shipping Corporation in 1975 which he kept his position in 1976. During the military reign of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, Admiral Ahsan played a major and influential role in Ayub Khan's decision on both political and military affairs. Served as the ADC to Jinnah and Mountbatten, Admiral Ahsan strongly believed in state secularism, unity of cultures and race, non-discrimination policies, therefore, he advised Khan to promote his policies toward the secularism and progressive aspect. Admiral Ahsan rose to be country's second powerful man, with influencing Ayub Khan's major military decisions. Admiral Ahsan also played an influential and major role in Ayub Khan's policy that sidelined hardline Islamist, and diminished their political role in the public society.
However, Admiral Ahsan is most credited for founding Port Qasim - Pakistan's second port after exploring the coast around Phitti Creek in the 1966 and convincing Mr. Bhutto, President that time, in 1972 to locate the port there. Admiral Ahsan's years immediately preceding his death were quiet ones, and was put out of public eye during his last years. During his last years, Admiral Ahsan learned French and played bridge. On December 4, 1989, Admiral Ahsan peacefully died at home during the midnight. He was given an honorary Guard of honor, and burial with Prime minister Benazir Bhutto, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Admiral Iftikhar Ahmed Sirohey, and Chiefs of Staff of Army, Navy, and Air Force, and among others attended his funeral, and is buried at Karachi Military Graveyard.
For his services and honors, Pakistan Navy, in the honor and recognition of Vice-Admiral Syed Mohammad Ahsan, commissioned an intelligence and naval base on 30 October 1991, known as Ahsan Naval Base. The base was given commissioned by Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Yastur-ul-Haq Malik. On 4 August 1989, the main channel of the Port Muhammad Bin Qasim bears his name, as it known as Ahsan Industrial Terminal. While inaugurating the channel, former Prime minister Benazir Bhutto acknowledged Admiral Ahsan's as the founder of Port Qasim at a speech on the occasion of the opening of a new terminal at Port Qasim on 4 August 1989.
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Afzal Rahman Khan
|Commander-in-Chief, Pakistan Navy
20 October 1966 – 31 August 1969
Sahabzada Yaqub Khan
|Martial Law Administrator
1 September 1969 – 7 March 1971
Sahabzada Yaqub Khan
|Unified Commander of Eastern Military High Command
1 September 1969 – 7 March 1971
Air Cdre Mitty Masud
Sahabzada Yaqub Khan
|Governor of East Pakistan
Sahabzada Yaqub Khan
N M Uqaili
|Finance Minister of Pakistan
Muzaffar Ali Khan Qizilbash