Obituary: Maj-Gen Syed Shahid Hamid
Monday 15 March 1993
SYED SHAHID HAMID was one of the most important military and political figures in the early years of Pakistan. As private secretary to Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, the last Commander- in-Chief of the British-Indian army before India was partitioned in 1947, Shahid Hamid was an inside player in the crucial months during partition - a period which he later researched and on which he wrote several books.
Shahid Hamid was a man of wide interests: a soldier, writer, explorer, sportsman, educationalist and a devout Muslim. As a 'Syed' his lineage stretched back to the family of the Prophet Mohamed and he established that one of his ancestors was a close adviser to Tamerlane, the conqueror of the world in the 14th century.
Born in Lucknow, Shahid Hamid was educated at the Colvin Taluqdar school and at the Aligarh Muslim University, before going to Sandhurst in England. When he was commissioned in 1933 he joined the Guides cavalry. During the Second World War he saw extensive service on the Burma front and was a senior instructor at the Staff College, Quetta, before Auchinleck took him on to his staff. In 1940 he met and married Tahira Butt, then one of the most renowned beauties in India, after a whirlwind romance that was the talk of Delhi.
Shahid Hamid was at the centre of the political storm during partition when Auchinleck attempted to keep the army united and was then forced to divide it between India and Pakistan, while the Viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, went ahead and divided the subcontinent. A few months ago Shahid Hamid told me he was finishing a book on the drawing-up of the Radcliffe Award which delineated the border between India and Pakistan. Hamid said he could prove conclusively that Mountbatten fiddled the boundary in Punjab in favour of India.
Shahid Hamid opted for Pakistan and, as a Lieutenant-Colonel in 1948, he set up the now famous Inter Services Intelligence from a small office in Karachi. The ISI is Pakistan's premier intelligence agency and virtually ran the Afghan war against the Soviet invaders. In 1951, at the age of 41, he became the youngest general in the Pakistan army - a record that is still unbeaten. During the 1958 martial law imposed by General Ayub Khan, Shahid Hamid was the adjutant-general of the army. Retiring in 1964, he went into business but was summoned back to public life in 1978 by President Zia ul-Haq, under whom he served as a federal cabinet minister for three years.
Shahid Hamid was deeply interested in education and he helped found, and was then patron for 20 years of, the Sir Sayed College, which today educates 3,500 students. He was one of the earliest travellers in Pakistan's mountainous Northern Areas and opened up the region for local people and tourism by pushing through road projects and writing books and articles which publicised the beauty of the area.
For the last 20 years he spent his days writing and researching books. He wrote six books on the Northern Areas, the politics of partition and the Pakistan army, and an autobiography. His last book - the first volume of an intended three-volume work, Pakistan and its Early Years - was published only last week. Shahid Hamid had numerous friends in England, where he invariably spent the summer, while a visit to 'Shaigan', his home in Rawalpindi, became essential for any foreign diplomat, journalist, scholar or military man. British cabinet ministers, US secretaries of state and Russian scholars were frequent visitors. In recent months he had been thrilled by the opening up of central Asia to Pakistanis for the first time and he was planning a trip there to discover more about his forefathers.
Although a professional soldier, thoroughly methodical and a man who lived the day by a clockwork timetable, the general was famous for his overwhelming hospitality, his generosity to everyone and his intense curiosity about every aspect of life and letters. At heart he was a romantic who still believed in the essential good faith of people, although Pakistan's elite society has become increasingly corrupt and uncaring. His death signifies the end of an era when public service did not mean personal enrichment, but the highest regard for the nation and its people.
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