The Renowned Personalities of Pakistan Army – Lieutenant General Shah Rafi Alam

By Hamid Hussain
Lieutenant General Shah Rafi Alam (1932-2004)
6_4_2004_pic06Lieutenant General Shah Rafi Alam was a well respected officer and gentleman of Pakistan army. He was son of Shah Nazir Alam of Sehswani Sayed family and Irene. Nazir joined Indian Police Service (IPS) and was one of few senior police officers inherited by newly independent Pakistan. Nazir was Inspector General of Police of West Punjab and in 1950s was the founder and head of anti-corruption unit. In 1957, newly independent Federation of Malaya (now Malaysia) requested his services and he was instrumental in establishing the Special Crime Unit against corruption of the newly independent nation.
Rafi attended Atchison College before heading to military academy at Kakul to join 5th PMA course. He was commissioned in 1951 in 5th Probyn’s Horse. In 1955, 12th Sam Brown Cavalry was re-raised by Pakistan army. This regiment had a long history dating back to 1849. 2nd and 5th Punjab Cavalry Regiments were renamed 22nd and 25th Cavalry respectively in 1903 reorganization. In 1921 reorganization 22nd and 25th Cavalry were amalgamated to form 12th Sam Brown Cavalry. The class composition of the regiment was Dogra, Sikh and Punjabi Muslim squadrons. In 1937, it was converted to training regiment of 2nd Cavalry Group based at Ferozpur. In 1940, armored regiments of Indian army were further reduced. 12th Cavalry was absorbed into a training center along with 15th Lancers and 20th Lancers and ceased to exist. In 1955, the regiment was re-raised by Pakistan army. Shah Rafi transferred to 12th Cavalry which became his new home.
In 1965 war, 12th Cavalry fought on different fronts under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Bashir Ullah Khan Babar. Shah Rafi commanded B Squadron of his own regiment and won gallantry award of Sitara-e-Jurat (SJ). Later, he served as Brigade Major of 4th Armored Brigade then commanded by Brigadier Muhammad Nisar of 25th Cavalry (Brigade commander and his Brigade Major were both winners of SJ). Shah Rafi commanded 12th Cavalry in 1971 war. After promotion to the rank of Brigadier, he commanded 3rd Armored Brigade and commanded a division in Sialkot at Major General rank.
In 1955, MGM studio embarked on a big movie project named Bhawani Junction. Original plan was to film on location in India but when Indian government hesitated and put many conditions, the venue was changed to Lahore. Film’s stars Ava Gardner and Stewart Ganger and other crew members spent several months in Pakistan and stayed at Flatties Hotel. Pakistan government supported the venture and a battalion of 13 Frontier Force Rifles provided some of its officers and soldiers for the film. Shah Rafi was member of Lahore Polo Club and some of the cast members visited the club. Ava Gardner made acquaintance with Shah Rafi that ticked off British born Hollywood actor Stewart Granger. Rafi and Granger ended up in a scuffle.
Shah Rafi married Tameez Begum; daughter of Brigadier Mirza Masud Ali Baig nick named Hesky Baig of 5th Probyn’s Horse. Hesky Baig was from an aristocratic family of Hyderabad Deccan and had married Nawabzadi Salima Begum from the family of Nawab of Surat. Rafi’s one son married a girl from the family of Nawab of Chitral. Rafi was an excellent polo player and introduced many officers to the game. It is not clear whether Rafi had some Taimurid blood in him or it was his passion for horses that he had special affection for Tartars. He gave his children Tartar names; Changez, Qublai, Taimur and Shamyl. His children carried the torch of polo and two of his sons were members of Pakistan’s national polo team.
There is some controversy about why Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Muhammad Zia ul Haq didn’t promote Rafi. Some are of the view that many officers like Rafi did not ascend to higher ranks because of their social habits as Zia promoted more conservative officers who were from humbler backgrounds. My view is that in view of several years of direct military rule under General Zia, many officers openly questioned continued direct military rule and these officers were not promoted further. Most of these officers were professional soldiers and expressed their views candidly and were not obsessed only with their own career. I disagree with the notion that officers like Rafi were not promoted solely because of their social habits. Many officers like Lieutenant General Jahanzeb ‘Bobby’ Arbab and Lieutenant General Fazle Haq had similar social habits. However, they agreed with Zia’s policies therefore they became close confidants of Zia. Bobby and Fazle Haq served as Corps Commanders and remained in charge of Sindh and North West Frontier Province respectively for several years during Zia’s rule.
Shah Rafi Alam was the representative of a generation of officers of Indian and Pakistan army who joined the armies of newly independent countries. This group was from the traditional aristocratic and educated elite who joined army out of passion and not as a good job opportunity. The outlook and manners of these officers were different and they were not submissive. They earned the respect of their fellow officers by professional code of conduct.
Lieutenant General Shah Rafi Alam was from 5th PMA course. In 1951, relations between India and Pakistan deteriorated and both countries moved troops to borders. This was later known as ‘1951 Flap’. It was decided to shorten 5th PMA course by one term and pass them out with 4th PMA course. In August 1951, 4th & 5th PMA courses passed out together. 5th PMA earned the nick name of ‘Nehru Commissioned Officers’. Gentleman Cadet (later Lieutenant General) Khusdil Khan Afridi of 4th PMA course was the winner of sword of honor. The course supervisor of 5th PMA later commented that if 5th PMA had passed out in normal course after completion of fourth term, Rafi would have been the top candidate for the coveted sword of honor.
Rafi was a young and restless soul fully enjoying life. Such young lads are like wild stallions. Sometimes, lucky ones get a life partner that brings stability to their lives. Rafi was lucky to get married to Tameez Begum; an educated and confidant lady from an aristocratic and military family. She brought the best out of him. She acted like an anchor and Rafi’s personal and professional life shined. There was now no looking back.
Rafi was a confident man and expressed his views candidly but also sometimes clashed with authority. Even as a young Lieutenant at the Armored Corps Center in Nowshehra, he got in trouble with then Lieutenant Colonel (later Lieutenant General & C-in-C) Gul Hassan. He was banished from the mess for two weeks. This trend continued throughout his career but probably polo provided a good catharsis for some of the mercurial tendencies.
In 1981, Rafi was serving as GOC of 15th Infantry Division in Sialkot at Major General rank. When Lieutenant General Ejaz Azim moved out of I Mangla Corps, Rafi was appointed officiating Corps Commander of Mangla Corps as army Chief general Muhammad Zia ul Haq deliberated about his promotion. There was a fairly strong lobby, consisting of some close advisers to Zia who favored Rafi’s promotion. It was expected that he will be promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General and given permanent command of the Corps. Rafi ruffled Zia’s feathers by candidly expressing his views in Corps Commanders conference.
The final straw came when during his division’s exercise, he marched all his officers and men on foot to Tilla firing ranges; a distance of some eighty miles. According to Major General ® Rizwan Qureshi then serving with the division, Rafi marched with his division during the day and every evening he drove to Kharian and played polo. On day four of the march he was limping but still marching on. When officer asked him about the cause of the limp, Rafi replied that the day before he had fallen off a horse and hurt his knee. However, he wanted to march with his troops otherwise ‘you fellows are going to say that our GOC ‘ham ko paidal chala ke khud gari mien baith gaya‘ (ordered us to march on foot while himself moving in his car). On the last lap, he joined the leading battalion on the last mile and ran with the troops till the finishing point. He boarded his jeep, drove back and did the same with some other units of his division. In an earlier exercise, he had marched back with his troops on foot from Chawinda. In Sialkot, he took the salute at the centre of the city from his troops marching back to their barracks that caused quite a sensation in the city. It was these qualities of head and heart that endeared him to his troops.
Many senior officers who had earlier given favorable opinion about his promotion now had second thoughts after the division’s exercise at Tilla ranges. The incident was interpreted by some senior officers as a naked display of bravado by a ‘maverick’ division commander and they changed their mind. Rafi’s candid and at times critical views at Corps Commanders meetings and his division exercise went against him and Zia decided not to promote him. Shah Rafi Alam’s course mate and buddy was Shams ur Rahman Kallue. Both had same initials; S R Alam and S R Kallue and both joined 5th Probyn’s Horse; however Alam (PA- 3873) was senior to Kallue (PA- 3903). Zia promoted S R Kallue to Lieutenant General rank and appointed him Mangla Corps commander. Rafi was superseded and retired. Rafi had officiated as Corps Commander on Lieutenant General’s pay scale for more than six months and as per Army rules; he had earned the right to the honorary rank of Lieutenant General, which was granted to him.


– Brigadier ® Z A Khan. The Way It Was (Karachi: Ahbab Printers, 1998)
– Lee Server. Ava Gardner: Love Is Nothing (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2006)
Hamid Hussain
March 17, 2013
Defence Journal, March 2013
Acknowledgement: Author thanks many, especially Colonel ® A.J. Iqbal and Major General ® Rizwan Qureshi for valuable information and corrections.
March 25, 2013

5 thoughts on “The Renowned Personalities of Pakistan Army – Lieutenant General Shah Rafi Alam

  1. Saeed Mirza

    I think he commanded 8 Div. I was a junior capt, started learning polo, sometimes being most junior was left out because no horse, he would then see and make gesture toward his own spare horse and I would ride. He was a leader, would not bother for protocols, he was often seen sitting behind ADCs motor cycle. I was part of marching men for 80 kms. Allah maghfrat krey, ajab mard e azaad tha.

  2. Arifnaeemg

    Late Gen Shah Rafi Alam was the ‘Pride ‘of Pakistan Armoured Corps..! Though he commanded 6Armd Div as well but after commanding 15Div, he proved his worth manifold….!

  3. S

    My father Brig Iftikhar Ahmed Khan was from 5th PMA long course and recollects his fondest memories with his course mates..thank you for sharing this article..

  4. khan

    I wish some officers particularly Maj Gen M Rahim khan should have been court martial-ed for desertion from East Pakistan and for spending huge amount of public funds on very unfeasible unsuitable airports when he was secretary defense in dead shark Zia regime

  5. Bakhtiar ahmad khan

    My father ch&col iftikhar ahmad khan always mention him with love,he says he used to walk in rain in sailkot and love horses on his dining out many genrals were present


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