An Unsung Hero of Modern History: Gen Akhtar Abdur Rehman
PKKH Exclusive | by Mariam Shah
“General Akhtar was the architect of the Afghan Jihad. It was he who advocated Pakistani participation, it was he who devised the overall military strategy, and it was he who supervised its implementation so skillfully that the Mujahedeen defeated a superpower” (Brig Retd Muhammad Yusaf)
Buried in the Army graveyard in Rawalpindi, this unsung brave man is one of the true heroes of this land, who defeated a world super power in the Afghan jihad. He was a silent soldier who crafted the destruction plan of the Soviet Union at the hands of the Mujahedeen. He showed passion, commitment, intelligence and the warrior spirit of the great Islamic conquerors. He gave a spark to and ignited the lifeless intelligence agency of Pakistan and made it one of the finest and a dynamic spy agency of the world. Through his tireless and tacit efforts, ISI played an important part in the destruction of the Soviet Union. He was the real architect of the Soviet defeat and worked as a mason, building day and night, to turn the tables on the enemies of Islam. With his foresight, commitment and dedication he increased the power and effect of the ISI as an intelligence agency. He was a background player and executed his plans from behind the curtain.
The anecdote of General Akhtar Abdul Rahman’s life, who is one of the finest generals of Pakistan army, is that being a child he would never have know that he will become a mastermind for the devastation of a world super power. He was born on 11 June 1924 and his father, Dr. Abdul Rehman died when he was three and a half years old. He completed his high school education from the Ajnala High school and after that he entered the Islamia College Amritsar. Then he joined Government College Lahore and did his masters in economics in 1945. Soon after completing his education he joined the Army and was commissioned in 1946. He led the journey of his life without a father, not knowing that he is going to even the scores with a super power in the near future; he was raised and educated by his mother.
He joined the Indian army in 1945 and was commissioned in 1946. Akhtar was a very junior artillery officer at the time of the partition of India and the birth of Pakistan. He witnessed the unspeakable horrors of the partition and was dismayed by the brutalities committed by Hindus and Sikhs against Muslims during the course. The whole traumatic episode left a deep mark inside him and it was never forgotten nor forgiven by him. After this, for the rest of his life he considered India as a relentless enemy both for his country and his religion. He fought in three wars (1948, 1965, and 1971) with India and defended the beloved land. He had several appointments before he was offered the position of DG ISI.
In 1979, General Akhtar was offered a very important and coveted position of Director General Inter Services Intelligence. He headed the intelligence agency and built it as a very effective military institution which impacted both national and international affairs. Within the span off seven years he, along with his potential and loyal team, gave life to ISI and made it one of the most vibrant and effective institution. He conceived and crafted the plans to deal with the Soviet Union through the Afghan Mujahedeen and covert guerilla fighters from Pakistan.
In the wake of Soviet invasion in Afghanistan there were apprehensions that they might attack Pakistan too, so there were many potential threats to the security of Pakistan at that time. After the initial years of Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, the military leadership under General Zia decided to fight with soviets and to teach them a lesson, even before the American assistance initiated through CIA. At that time US President Jimmy Carter was entangled in the internal dilemmas and threats which emerged after the hostage crisis in Iran, so no considerable assistance was provided. In the beginning Gen Akhtar was alone in considering that he can force the Soviet forces out of Afghanistan, he was way too optimistic. He was of the view that Pakistan should support the Jihad covertly.
America followed the “wait and see” policy as they believed that Soviet troops would take over Afghanistan in few weeks. So they did not offer any support as they thought of Afghanistan as a lost case; so why throw good money and provoke the Soviets by supporting the Mujahedeen. The US also thought that Afghan resistance cannot go more than six months, so they didn’t bothered to assist, but once they witnessed the slaughter of soviet troops at the hands of Afghan Mujahedeen, they changed their plan and fueled the money inside. It should be very clear that when USA sensed the victory in Afghanistan at the hands of Mujahedeen then they initiated the aid and assistance. When Reagan came in the White House he announced an aid package for Pakistan, which Gen Zia accepted. Although the covert operations by ISI were funded by CIA but Pakistan became a frontline state and Afghanistan a battle ground. In making Afghanistan a “graveyard of a super power”, ISI in general and General Akhtar played a central role and made the Soviet pullout inevitable. To come face to face with a super power like Russia was not a joke nor it was that simple, but Gen Akhtar was determined to wipe them out, and he never looked back once he had come to his decision.
When Gen Akhtar took the command of ISI as DG, he started each and every task from the scratch. It was a very major task to provide assistance to Afghan Mujahedeen at every front. But there was no such strategy and plan to deal with all the emerging scenes, never dealt with by the Pak forces before. Gen Akhtar was solely responsible for devising and executing plans and organizing massive covert military operations against the Soviets. He established training centers and many army officials were made responsible to train the Afghan Mujahedeen, equipping them with warfare strategies and necessity skills so that they would be able to defend their homeland against the Soviet invasion. ISI trained the guerilla fighters and even a few army soldiers were trained to assist, guide and fight with the Mujahedeens in Afghanistan in the covert operations. Gen Akhtar established a very close relation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Pakistan, and with the State Department, especially the branch that interacted constantly with the CIA. Gen Zia managed the diplomatic affairs and Gen Akhtar directed and led the troops in the ground. The constant nine years of training, guidance and military assistance to guerilla fighters in Afghanistan by ISI, demolished the base of the Soviets and claimed around 13000 lives of soviet troops. The world stood in surprise and shock as less trained, less equipped and sometimes illiterate guerilla fighters defeated the well trained and highly equipped army of thousands.
Gen Akhtar was on the hit list of KGB and huge prize-money was put on his head, but he fearlessly involved himself in the planning and execution of the jihad, and never bothered about the personal threats which emerged against him. He not only countered the communist threat but pushed them back in the hell. He was an inborn strategist, as the way he articulated the guerilla warfare against a conventional army is still unparalleled. He was sharp at the diplomatic end as well and dealt at all fronts with intelligence and open mindedness. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan owe a lot to him, as he fought for the cause of the Ummah. He died in a fatal plane crash on 17th August 1988 near Bahawalpur and was never able to see the dawn of the Afghan Mujahedeen and fall of the Soviet Union.
He had a complex personality, as he never showed his emotions nor ever revealed himself outside his family. As an individual he was too honest and upright as he always reported what was going on, never overlooking anybody including his own staff, but Zia never reacted. He was very straight and never accepted corruption on the other hand Zia seemed to accept corruption as a way of life in Pakistan, and would not sack individuals for this offence. He never encouraged nor was he an admirer of favors and popularity. He was very crucial for the Afghan Jihad and he worked closely with Gen Zia on national and international matters. Based on his competence, integrity, and loyalty Zia developed a great trust and confidence in Gen Akhtar and at last promoted him to the rank of a general.
History repeats itself, first it was Ghauri and Ghaznavi and now a soldier from the green land. One interesting thing which is very rarely mentioned about Gen Akhtar is that his ancestors were from Afghanistan and were Kakazai (a tribe from the Laghman province of Afghanistan who came to South Asia during the Afghan invasion made by Mahmud of Ghazni). If we create a link between his ancestral place, love for Pakistan and Islam, it is true to say that a “son of Afghanistan fought from the soil of Pakistan, for the cause of Islam and stood for Jihad till the last”.
What ISI is today can be very much attributed to the efforts and commitment shown by General Akhtar Abdul Rahman. He very tactfully maneuvered the annihilation plan of the Soviet Union and through the ISI, gave a serious blow to it, which demolished communism as such. This role of Pakistan was acknowledged by the Germans and the ISI was presented with a piece of Berlin Wall marked with the inscription “those who struck the first blow” in appreciation to its efforts which eventuated in the demolition of the Soviet Empire. This piece of stone is one of the most valued possessions of the ISI. Gen Akhtar was the person who was very optimistic about the covert operations by Pakistan and supportive of the Afghan jihad from the start. He was the architect of the intelligence warfare in Pakistan as he molded the fragile structure into a forceful one, which ultimately proved its worth. He wrote the history with a message of hope, courage and consistent commitment to a cause. He did his job with modesty and humility, that’s why he never came into limelight and remained an unsung hero and died as a “silent soldier” with his boots on.
One year before the Bahawalpur incident, a young Pakistani man met an American journalist carrying photographs of injured Afghan children with General Akhtar Abdul Rehman. The Pakistani asked the journalist the reason for keeping these photographs and he answered that whenever he was disappointed he looked at the photographs of the general and the children, to get courage. Today, the US and Western analysts and experts admit that the DG ISI, CJCOSC and right hand of General Zia ul Haq, General Akhtar Abdul Rehman was the man who forced the superpower ‘Soviet Union’ to be torn into pieces. For the first time in history the mason of a great victory was known by the world after his death. We owe him a lot on this day and all days to come. Rest in peace Sir and May Allah Almighty raise your levels in Janna’t, amen.
Mariam Shah is a regular contributor at PKKH and a ( Columnist @ The Fortress Magazine), She is a Human Rights, Youth and Peace Activist and doing MPhil in ”Peace and Conflict Studies”