THE ZAKIS: ELEVEN GENERATIONS OF UNBROKEN SOLDIERING
OG to the blood
THOSE acquainted with the Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun would instantly recall these words inscribed on the Chetwood Hall. With the olive green being in the news, courtesy the Kargil conflict, one is reminded of the duty of the soldier as enumerated in the famous words way back in the early thirties. Not much has changed ever since in the conduct of the officer whether in OGs, sky-blue, or the whites. These words have been the guiding light for many commanders in the line of fire. And these are the words that have formed the backdrop of a family dedicated to the service of the nation for the past eleven generations--the Zaki family--which has produced many illustrious officers who have devoted their life in the service of the nation.
The descendants of Kazi Sheikh Abdul Kader (1691 a.d.), the Zaki family tree can be traced back to the 17th Century. "My grandfather, Major Mohammad Abdul Rasool, was a medical officer during World War I and my father, Brig. Mohammad Ali Ahmed (Oct 13, 1905-Feb 9, 1962), was an officer with the Hyderabad state forces," elaborates Lt. Gen. (retd.) Mohammad Ahmed Zaki, Vir Chakra, PVSM, AVSM, on his military heritage. "He was one of the first batches of Indian officers who graduated from the Staff College at Queta, Baluchistan. For generations, the family had been in the service of the Qutubshahs of the Baridshahi Dynasty. We were conferred with vast lands in Usmanabad by the Mughals in recognition of our services."
Eleven generations of military heritagewith a generous garnering of accolades, awards, and recognition is no mean achievement for the family which stands true to its traditions of providing the nation with the finest soldiers. The brothers of Brigadier Mohd Ali Ahmed, the patriarch of the tenth generation of the Zaki family, Col. Mohd. Moinuddin Ahmed, Maj. Qutubuddin Ahmed, and Lt Ibrahim Ahmed, died in January 1987, January 1981 and 1995, respectively.
"Abbai pesha hai sepahgiri," which means the family tradition is soldiering, is how Lt. Gen. Zaki, presently the Vice-Chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia University, explains his family's contribution to the armed forces.
Belonging to the tenth generation of the family, the Zakis are eight children in all, with five sisters three of whom have married into the Army and three brothers all in the armed forces. Lt Gen Zaki, the eldest and the most decorated soldier of his family, was commissioned in the Army in December 1955, from IMA after having passed out from the Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College in 1951, when it was rechristened Prince of Wales Military College (later renamed Rashtriya Indian Military College). What followed was an illustrious career spanning four decades of dedicated service to the nation in different capacities at different places.
"Ever since childhood, we had been hearing tales of valour, dedication, and devotion. We were constantly fed the story of the siege of Golconda where Qutub Shah King withheld the Mughal Emperor for eight months. Thus, right from the beginning, we were inclined towards the military," says the retired officer of their childhood passion for the olive green. The trauma of Partition where rather than two pieces of land, two hearts were separated, never touched the Zaki family. Their father's decision to continue living in India made sure that the country did not lose yet another strength on the altar of geographical reconfiguration. "I was the only Muslim at the Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College after Partition. My friends welcomed me with open arms. I have never felt any discrimination in the armed forces. In fact, we are one big religion under one aegis," says the gentleman officer of his experiences in the armed forces.
After his commission, Zaki joined the 19 Maratha Light Infantry because, he says, "I was inspired by the bravery of Naik Yashwant Ghatge of 3 Maratha LI, who single-handedly captured a German post in Italy during World War II and was awarded the Victoria Cross."
Though his dreams of joining the same battalion as Ghatge's never materialized (it was a para battalion) and at that time one had to join the parent regiment and later apply to the para battalion. Lt. Gen. Zaki, however, says he has no regrets about continuing in 19 Maratha LI because "being under fire with the troops, I developed a deep love for my unit and my men."
It was in the 1965 Indo-Pak War that the brave company commander won the Vir Chakra. Leading the company of 19 Maratha LI in three attacks in five days, the first successful attack was on Manihala just short of Lahore, the second on Jhaman between Khemkaran and Barki, but it was during the third that the Major brought laurels to his company.
Entrusted with the command of the leading assault company of his battalion near Thatti Jaimal Singh in the Lahore sector, Maj. Zaki demonstrated dynamic leadership, courage under fire, and dedication to duty. On September 20, 1965, his company came under heavy medium machine gun, rifle and Browning fire from his front and right flank. Wounded, yet keeping his wits about him, he organized an assault on the enemy entrenched to his right and in front of him. Despite being injured and bleeding profusely, he managed to evict the enemy in almost hand-to-hand combat. He himself blew a bunker containing a medium machine gun with just a hand grenade. It was at this point that the determined soldier fell exhausted. But by now, the enemy was annihilated and the target achieved. "At that moment when you are in the battlefield, you don't have the time for fear or remorse. All that you know is your goal has to be achieved," he says. The self-effacing General, however, refuses to take all the credit. "My magnificent Marathas were the ones who helped the unit
to capture the objective. In fact, I would say my troops distinguished themselves and they were the ones who deserved all the laurels because the company as a whole had excelled in the battle."
After a two-month convalescence, the Major returned to the action, this time off the field (the battle was over by now) promoted in rank and stature. During the 1971 War, he was commanding the 2nd Maratha LI (Kali Panchvin), but to his chagrin, he was not employed in action in the war. From here on, he was transferred to the Defense Services Staff College where he was an instructor of combat for two years, the first and the only time he was in a peace station for two years at a stretch. "My wife was really relieved that for the first time after marriage we were staying at one place for two years at a stretch," he recalls.
Peace time, however, didn't mean leisure time. It was in March 1976, that he set up the 18 MLI which is presently his son, Major Ali Ahmed's battalion. In 1984-85, he became the DIG, Mizoram Range, Assam Rifles, where his battalion was engaged in Operation Battle Axe. He single-handedly set about the task of improving the operational administrative functioning of his command. For someone grown up on "soldiering is all about comradeship and togetherness," the innings was not over as yet. He was promoted to a Major General in August 1985, when he commanded the Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, and Goa area.
He was elevated to the rank of Lieutenant General and assumed the charge of Director General, Infantry. In November 1988, he became the DG, Military Training, where he tried and succeeded in bringing considerable improvement in the training of the Army. Next challenge was being a commander of an operationally important corps in the Northern Sector, which incidentally, was his last posting, thus ending a well-played innings of four decades on June, 1995.
But the Zaki family has not bid adieu to the olive green as yet. With his two brothers and his son still serving, the Zaki family has a long way to go. "My son was commissioned in June 1987, into 18 MLI. He also won the Field Marshal Manekshaw Award for the best young officer in the YO's course," says Lt. Gen. Zaki glowingly of his son, Major Ali Ahmed Zaki (born July 27, 1966).
Having served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka, he took part in Operation Rhino in Assam, insurgency operations in Tripura and has been ADC to former President Shankar Dayal Sharma following in his father's footsteps who was the ADC to both Dr. Rajendra Prasad and S. Radhakrishnan. Currently on a study leave, he has already acquired a Masters in International Studies from Cambridge and a Masters in War Studies from King's College, London.
As for his brothers, Brig. Mohd. Mohiuddin Zaki, and Group Captain Mohd. Moosa Haroon Zaki, they followed the family calling and accomplished their father's dream and joined the armed forces.Brig. Zaki was commissioned in February 1964, and joined Ist Garhwal Rifles which was later merged into Mechanized Infantry. He himself was instrumental in raising the first battalion of 15 Mechanized Infantry and now his son is serving in the same battalion. Brig. Zaki saw action during the 1965 War in the Rajasthan sector. The youngest of the brothers--Group Captain Zaki--became a pilot officer in 1970, and was a forward Air-Controller during the 1971 War.
If the Zaki family continues to produce exemplary officers, the Indian armed forces can be sure of constantly replenishing its source of duty, dedication and valour. As Lt. Gen. Zaki puts it: "We are proud of our military heritage and it has been a tremendous honor to serve the country. I was very fortunate to have a career as a soldier and feel the family is blessed to have such a wonderful lineage. Army now has changed in terms of attitudes, weaponry, knowledge, and nature of warfare, but what will not change is the man behind the gun."
[ Brig NBS's foot note : Late Lt Gen Jameel Mohammed was married into the Zaki family. His brother-in-law Col Zaki was his MS, when Lt Gen Jameel was the Army Cdr, Eastern Command. Unfortunately, Col Zaki was also killed along with Lt Gen Jameel in the ill fated chopper accident. }