Within the multitude of problems faced by Pakistan’s civil and military leadership at Independence, one of the most pressing was the near absence of accurate and actionable intelligence about the movement of the Indian military and its intentions. The first contingent of Indian troops had landed in Srinagar on 27 October 1947 and by early summer of 1948, Indian forces were launching full-scale attacks on key features and population centers that had been taken by the Azad Kashmir fighters.
Amongst the 384 British officers who were seconded to the Pakistan Army, we were fortunate to have one who had probably the most experience in Intelligence Planning and Operations in the entire British India Army during the Second World War. Maj Gen Walter Cawthorn (Bill to his friends), had initially enrolled in the Australian Army and was subsequently awarded a commission. During the First World War, he fought at Gallipoli and France and with 4/16th Punjab in Palestine after being commissioned into the British India Army. During the interwar years, he saw active service in the north-western Frontier and Balochistan and three years on staff in the War Office in London. At the start of the Second World War, Brigadier Cawthorn first took charge of the Middle East Intelligence Centre, and in 1941 he was posted as Director of Military Intelligence at the General Headquarters in Delhi. Here he worked with Peter Fleming, the elder brother of Ian Fleming who created the spy, James Bond. From 1942 to the end of the war, Peter Fleming was based in New Delhi as head of D Division, in charge of military deception and the ultra-secret double agent network in Burma and Southeast Asia.
Promoted major general, Cawthorn opted to transfer to the Pakistan Army and was Deputy Chief of Staff from 1948 to 1951, under the Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Ross McCay. In this capacity he was also the Secretary of the Joint Services Commanders Committee (JSCC), a forerunner of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC) that was established by Prime Minister Bhutto many years later. Around the time that the Indians geared up to launch their summer offensive of 1948 in Kashmir, a decision was taken most probably on the recommendation of McCay and his deputy to establish a Directorate of Forces Intelligence, the forerunner of an Inter-Services Intelligence organization (ISI).
It would have certainly been approved by the Defence Council, which was headed by Liaquat Ali Khan. Col Syed Shahid Hamid was informed by Iskander Mirza, the Defence Secretary and an old friend from his days in Delhi, that he would be the first Director of Forces Intelligence, as he was good with raising organisations. This was in context to his previous assignment which was raising 56 battalions of the Pakistan National Guard (PNG) on the wishes of the Quaid under an Ordinance promulgated by him only three months after Independence. Unfortunately, Shahid Hamid was replaced by Col Musa as its director – it was a poor choice. The Quaid had passed away and Liaquat Ali asked Musa to carry out an assessment of the viability of the PNG – and on his recommendations within two months the entire organization was disbanded!
One of the early stars of the organization was Major Muhammad Zaheeruddin who was posted from Kuldana where he was commanding the Army School of Military Intelligence
Shahid Hamid was to work under Bill Cawthorn whom he came to know well while serving as Private Secretary to General Auchinleck in Delhi. Bill and his wife Mary were very close to the Chief. After being informed of his new assignment, Shahid Hamid met Cawthorn and admitted to him that he had neither worked in an intelligence organization nor had any experience of raising one. Cawthorn was most sympathetic and helped Shahid in drawing up an organization and staffing it – some had served under Cawthorn during the World War.
The directorate was housed in Karachi with military staff from all three services and the civilian staff (including women) recruited through the Public Services Commission. Some of the civilian staff had earlier worked in Intelligence offices in Delhi. By 1950 it had 22 military and 17 civilian members. The Kashmir conflict was at its height and the infant directorate had to hit the ground running. A number of appreciations were produced which according to Shahid Hamid, were ably handled by his GSO-1, Maj Sahabzada Yaqub Khan. Now Sahabzada Yaqub had only nine years of commissioned service (three-and-a-half years of which he had spent in a POW camp), but his intellectual capabilities were already well developed and productive.
One of the early stars of the organization was Major Muhammad Zaheeruddin who was posted from Kuldana where he was commanding the Army School of Military Intelligence. Zaheer had worked under Cawthorn and Peter Fleming for three years in Burma behind Japanese lines where he had infiltrated the Japan-backed Indian National Army INA. Finally he was captured and sentenced to be shot, but was one of the first to be rescued from the jail in Rangoon when it fell to the Allied Forces and flown back to India. Shahid Hamid admits that he was initially not impressed by Zaheer, who was an introvert, very sensitive and morose. But when they started working together, Shahid found that the officer had an analytical mind and his appreciations were faultless.
Smoking one cigarette after another, the PM listened patiently and at the end had just one question: “Are you sure of your facts?”
“Sir!” replied Shahid Hamid, “I would not have come to you if I was not convinced of the Indian intentions!”
The C-in-Cs of the three services often visited the ISI in Karachi to spell out their requirements and a request by the army for an important appreciation was assigned to Zaheer. The officer was asked to take notes while the Director did some initial loud thinking but after a while Zaheer looked half asleep with no notes. He requested the Director to continue as he was taking mental notes and when Shahid Hamid finished, he instructed the officer to submit an outline of the appreciation in two days. By the following morning Zaheer placed on the Director’s table 15 typed pages of a flawless appreciation. Unfortunately Zaheer’s subsequent career came to a tragic end because he was posted as the Director of Military Intelligence at GHQ and fell into disgrace as he was unaware of the involvement of some officers in what came to be known and as the 1951 Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. Zaheer committed suicide because he could not take the shame of being removed from his post and being demoted.
Following the birth of Pakistan, Karachi was a busy capital and the ISI was involved with numerous foreign visitors including journalists, an Indian military delegation for talks on Kashmir, a Soviet trade delegation and the Shah of Iran, to name a few. The Shah was the first foreign head of state to visit Pakistan and everyone wanted the visit to be a success. During his tour of Pakistan, the Shah visited many military installations and for the information of the forces the Directorate prepared a brochure on Iran. In between, the Director was invited by the British Government to study the organization and working of their Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), commonly known as MI6. Back in Pakistan, Shahid Hamid made numerous tours of the border with India from the Rann of Kutch till Kashmir to establish cross-border contacts.
Shahid had only been with the ISI for a year when he was informed by Lt Gen McCay that he had been selected to replace Brig Haya-ud-Din as the Defence Attaché in London. It was a prime posting but Shahid’s desire was to put the nascent organization on a firm footing before being posted out. The working of the directorate had been handicapped by the continuous changing of officers and the absence of two full colonels that were to be posted from the British Army. He, therefore, asked for the posting to be delayed by a minimum of six months.
In December 1948, Pakistan and India arrived at an agreement for a ceasefire in Kashmir but the tension between the two nations did not abate. In early 1950, violent communal riots broke out in Calcutta and spilled over into East Pakistan. There was a large scale exodus of Hindus and the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS demanded a forcible seizure of East Pakistan and the repudiation of Partition. The Indians were already buoyed with their success in the forcible seizure of the Hyderabad State and Nehru threatened Pakistan. The Indian Army started deploying on the borders of both the wings of Pakistan.
For many weeks, the ISI laboured hard to fathom India’s military intentions and of particular concern was the movement of their armored division located at Meerut. However the organization had quickly developed an effective network and the not only knew the very day it entrained from its peacetime location but also its destination. Confident now of the knowledge of the entire Indian military design, and on the advice of Iskander Mirza, the Defence Secretary, the Director directly briefed Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. Smoking one cigarette after another, the PM listened patiently and at the end had just one question: “Are you sure of your facts?”
“Sir!” replied Shahid Hamid, “I would not have come to you if I was not convinced of the Indian intentions.”
That same evening the PM addressed a public rally in which he made his famous gesture of showing his fist to India. The following day addressing the nation on Radio Pakistan, he exposed the entire Indian military plan. His clenched fist (“mukka”) galvanized the nation and became a symbol of its defiance. Nehru was compelled to back down, claiming that India never had any war-like intentions and he also offered to sign a ‘No War’ pact with Pakistan. In those early years of Pakistan, it was probably the ISI’s finest hour.
Having spent two years in placing the organization on a firm footing, in the middle of 1950, Shahid was rewarded with the command of the famous Peshawar Brigade. He was replaced by a friend and senior, PA-13 Brig Mirza Hamid Hussain. In 1951, Maj Gen Cawthorn migrated to Australia where he was appointed as the Director of the Joint Intelligence Bureau. In 1954, he came back to Pakistan as Australia’s High Commissioner and both he and his wife Mary remained good friends of the Shahid Hamids.
Author’s Note: This article is based on the information contained in the book Early Years of Pakistan by Maj Gen Syed Shahid Hamid as well as the general’s private papers. I have also extracted information from an article titled “Early Days of Intelligence in Pakistan” by Hamid Hussain.