In July 1940, while in his final year of M. A. in Geography, Muhammad Ataul Ghani Osmani was selected by Inter Service Selection Board (ISSB) and joined the Indian Military Academy (IMA) at Dehradun in the state of Uttarakhand (north of Delhi) to become a proud commissioned officer in the British-Indian Army. When the recruiting officer questioned Osmani's 5 feet 6 inches "short stature", he had an interesting reply.
At some point in the [selection] interview the recruiting officer reminded him "Mr Osmani, are you aware of your short stature?", Osmani replied "Affirmative Sir". Then again he was asked "How can you command the physically well built Punjabi, Sindhi, and Pathan soldiers?". Graceful Osmani replied with a smiling face, "Sir, indeed I am familiar with my figure but at the same time I also know that I am exactly two inches taller than the great Napoleon Bonaparte".
MAG Osmani, a no-nonsense man
There were 300 'Gentleman Cadet' selected for the 'war course' in IMA. Out of this 270 were British and only 30 were selected from the Indian sub-continent. Muhammad Ataul Ghani Osmani was the one and only Bengali Gentleman Cadet. The new GCs received holistic training encompassing military, academic and character building. These were vital in a crisis situation.
Upon completion Osmani joined the Royal Army as a commissioned officer on 5 October 1940. Few months later, on 17 February 1941 Osmani was elevated to the rank of Captain for his outstanding performance on ground service. A year later, on 23 February 1942, at the tender age of 23 Osmani was promoted to Major – making him the youngest Major in the British Indian Army for some time.
Major Osmani commanded a Mechanical Transport (MT) Training Battalion.
There is no written account of such facts in military history to lead a battalion at this early age.
Lt. Col. Dewan Mohammad Tasawwar Raja
Between 1941 and 1945, he successively held the post of Platoon Commander, Battalion Adjutant, Company Second-in-Command (2IC) and finally Battalion Commander of his unit. Immediately after he was commissioned into the army Osmani was assigned to fight in the Second World War at the Burma sector as a commander of the British Army. His unit supported all plans of the Allied services as part of the Army Service Corps (ASC). It was while fighting in this theater that he was promoted as youngest Major in the army.
He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the British-Indian Army as an artillery officer in 5 October 1940. He was initially attached to the 2nd Battalion, Duke of Wellington's Regiment, posted in New Delhi in charge of a depot. After completion of Short Mechanical Transport Course (November 1940 - February 1941) and Junior Tactical Course (February 1941 - April 1941), Lt. Osmani was attached to a Mechanical Transport Battalion, part of the XV Corps (British India) and was posted in Burma during World War II.
From November 1944 to February 1945 Major Osmani served as General Staff Officer Grade-2 (GSO-2) in his formation HQ and in 1947 completed the Senior Officers Course after the Second World War ended. Being a career experienced officer and having served in World War II, he was immediately assigned to the General Staff Headquarters as GSO-1, Coordination, Planning and Personnel.
In 1947 Osmani was selected for Long Term Staff Course at the Quetta Staff College, among many other British and Indian officers. He served alongside the then Major Yahya Khan, Major Tikka Khan, and Major A. A. K. Niazi, all of whom ironically were destined to lead the Pakistan army against the Bangladesh Forces commanded by Osmani in 1971. At the same time, he excelled in the Special Senior Officer's course. He was considered for promotion to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the British army, but it was not implemented as the partition of India had been declared while it was pending.
Major Osmani was attached to British Indian Army HQ Bihar and Orissa Area as DAG-GSO-2 from May 1946 to July 1946 before he was sent to attend the Special Senior Officer's course, passing out in February 1947 and was selected as a candidate for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. His next posting was at Simla and New Delhi in the British Indian Army GHQ in Simla in the Quarter Master General Branch and Ordnance Branch until August 1947 as GSO-2 (General Staff Office, Second Grade). From August to 6 October 1947 as GSO-2 in the HQ of Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck in New Delhi. Osmani had taken the Indian Civil Service examination as per his father's wishes and passed, but turned down an opportunity for serving in the Indian Foreign service in 1947, opting to stay in the Pakistan Army.
But these were critical times in history of Indian subcontinent. There were big political upheavals with the country trying to free themselves from the shackles of colonial rule and resolve communal disputes. Tension in the subcontinent had finally reached boiling point and in August 1947 the 200-year rule of the British Empire had come to an end and India was partitioned into two independent nation – India and Pakistan.
On 7 October 1947 Osmani opted to join the newly formed Pakistan Army and the next day was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel (Lt. Col). His elevation created a new record of being promoted to this coveted rank with the service of only seven years and bypassing senior officers.
After completing his P. S. C. degree in 1948, Lt. Col. Osmani joined the staff of Major General Reginald Hutton (Chief of Staff of the Pakistan Army from 1947-51) as General Staff Officer Grade-1 (GSO-1) in January 1949, and as a Committee Chairman tasked by General Douglas Gracey to evaluate the basic standard for Army enlistment, recommended the establishment of Cadet Colleges in East Pakistan. Osmani later took on the responsibility of Assistant Adjutant General as well and introduced an examination system on three different subjects to determine the soldiers' educational qualification before they appear before Inter Services Selection Board (ISSB).
Lt. Col. Osmani was also given the important assignment of overseeing division of assets between Indian and Pakistani armies.
While supervising asset distribution he met with [Indian] Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Jawaharlal Nehru urged him to stay in India and offered him an assignment in diplomatic service. But Osmani did not accept the offer.
Mufleh R. Osmany, first cousin of General Osmani
1951 was a turning point for Osmani from a career perspective. After serving as a staff officer for eight years, he decided to join the infantry arm of the army. Osmani was demoted to the rank of Major and, after induction training, joined the 5th Battalion of 14th Punjab Regiment, which was then part of a brigade commanded by a certain Brigadier (later Field Marshal) Ayub Khan in Azad Kashmir. Osmani was posted as Second-in-Command and Company Commander and in January 1951 became Commander of 105th Brigade Training Team.
He was a die-hard soldier. Many people do not know that he was initially posted to the Army Supply Corps (ASC). He realised that the core of an army was the infantry, so he decided to be an infantryman. In 1948, Osmani was selected for the Quetta Staff College. He was already a Lt. Colonel then. When he passed out from Quetta Staff College, Osmani opted for the infantry. Since he had no experience of infantry, Osmani was demoted to a major, which he accepted happily and willingly.
On 17 January 1951 Ayub Khan was promoted to Chief of Army Staff after the first Chief, Major-General Iftikhar Khan had died in an airplane crash en route to his senior officers training in the United Kingdom. Ayub Khan had been controversially promoted to the position ahead of three senior general officers who were in-line for promotions. They were Major-General Akbar Khan, Major-General N. A. M. Raza and Major-General Ishfakul Majid, the seniormost Bengali officer in the Pakistan Army.
Defence Secretary Iskander Mirza played an instrumental role in Ayub's promotion, and convinced Prime Minister Ali Khan to appoint Ayub Khan to four-star rank. His papers of promotion were approved and Ayub Khan landed a four-star appointment on 17 January 1951. With Ayub becoming the Chief of Staff, it marked the indigenization of the military and ending the transitional role of British Army officers.
Few weeks after taking over, Commander-in-Chief Ayub Khan had his former senior officer Major-General Akbar Khan and others arrested after they attempted a Soviet backed coup d’etat against the government of Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan. Major-General Akbar Khan, Chief of General Staff of the Pakistani army, was accused of leading the plot from the army headquarters in Rawalpindi after frustration and division had gripped the Pakistani military following the government’s decision on a ceasefire with neighbouring India over the Himalayan kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir. This ceasefire resulted in Pakistan’s failure to occupy the entire territory – much to the dissatisfaction of Pakistani commanders.
On 9 March 1951 Prime Minister Liaquat Khan announced a coup had been been foiled and 15 prominent people had been arrested in conjunction with the conspiracy. Amongst these 15 were 11 military officers and 4 civilians – including leading Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who was notably active in left-wing politics and sympathetic to the Communist Party of Pakistan. Faiz Ahmed Faiz also later expressed grief regarding the Liberation of Bangladesh in 1971.
The case was popularly referred to as the ‘Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case’ and after an 18-month trial conducted in secrecy, Major-General Akbar Khan and Faiz Ahmed Faiz were both convicted and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. Their defence lawyer was the notable Bengali Muslim politician Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy. When Suhrawardy became the Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1957, he obtained a reprieve for most of the conspirators.
In the meantime, Major-General Ishfakul Majid was also falsely implicated in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy and forced to resign – much to the disgust of Lieutenant Colonel Osmani. Osmani had a heated argument with the Commander-in-Chief Ayub Khan over the treatment of Major-General Ishfakul Majid, especially since such treatment and attitude was common practice.
This incident may have impacted his career.
In May 1951, Osmani became the Officer Commanding (OC) of the 5th Battalion and later did a tour of duty in Kashmir and Wazirstan for four months. However, in August 1951 he left the Battalion.
Two months later PM Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated in Rawalpindi, in an unrelated attack. Khwaja Nazimuddin, a Bengali, took over the premiership but did not last long. From 1951 to 1957 Pakistan had 7 different prime ministers. Finally in 1958 General Ayub Khan launched the first successful military coup against the government of President Iskander Mirza – the man who had helped him to the Commander-in-Chief role. Ayub replaced the 1956 parliamentary constitution with 1962 Presidential system, completely dissolving the Prime minister Secretariat, and assumed the reins of the presidency until 1969.
Two years later, Major Akbar Khan was appointed as Chief of National Security when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came into power in 1971 following the Liberation of Bangladesh, whilst Faiz Ahmed Faiz was appointed to the National Council for Arts by the Bhutto government.
The same month Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was murdered Lieutenant Colonel Osmani was transferred from West Pakistan to East Bengal.
In October 1951 Lieutenant Colonel Osmani was posted as the third Commanding Officer (CO) of 1st East Bengal Regiment (EBR), an infantry regiment created in 1948 immediately after Partition and the first one formed completely by Bengalis after 1858. Osmani became the first Bengali to hold this post.
He arrived in East Bengal by sea and on 8 November 1951 joined the 1st EBR, then stationed in Jessore as part of the 107th Brigade.
Osmani was a hard taskmaster as CO of 1 EBR, setting up a tough training regime for the battalion, aiming to get the soldiers in top physical shape and the highest level of skill possible. He implemented some fundamental changes that were to have a far-reaching effect on the character of the regiment and on his career path.
The sacrifice Osmani made, changing from ASC to Infantry, started paying dividends. He was made CO 1st East Bengal Regiment in Jessore around 1950. That opened the door for him to cultivate his talent, devotion, dexterity, and excellence, inculcating physical fitness, morale, tactics, Bengali nationalism, a sense of pride and superiority among the rank and file of the 1st East Bengal Regiment.
Osmani also commanded the 107th Brigade in Jessore from April 1953 to October 1953, when he received the permanent rank of Major, and rejoined 1 EBR as CO and remained in that post until February 1954. He also served as Commandant of East Bengal Regimental Center (EBRC) in Chittagong from February 1953 to January 1955. After completion of the GHQ Law course and leaving EBRC, he was temporarily posted as Additional Commandant (later Deputy Director) of East Pakistan Rifles (EPR) in March 1955, serving under the Provincial Government of East Bengal.
While in the EPR (East Pakistan Rifles), he played a crucial role in opening up EPR recruitment for non-Bengali minority people (Chakma, Mogh, Tripura peoples, etc.) and stopped the recruitment people from West Pakistan in EPR.