May 29, this year marks the seventeenth death anniversary of one of the most celebrated soldiers of Pakistan Army – Brigadier Tariq Mehmood.
Popularly known by the initials TM, Brig Tariq Mehmood made a name for himself as special operations man. During his military career, spanning nearly three decades, TM was always involved in action. Decorated multiple times for gallantry, TM had to his credit two Sitara-i- Juurat (SJ), a Sitara-i-Basalat (SBt) and a Sitara-i-Imtiaz Military (SI M). To honour his memory, Pakistan Army has created a special memorial for him at one of the entrance gates of the Army Headquarters in Rawalpindi – a unique distinction bestowed upon a man, who always led from the front.
TM was serving as Commander of the Special Service Group (SSG), when he died in 1989 due to malfunctioning of his parachute during a free fall display at Army Aviation School Rahwali, near Gujranwala. The display marked the graduation of army aviation pilots, who had just won their flying brevets. The SSG men were jumping from Mi-17 helicopter and not from a C130. After his main chute failed to deploy, his legs got entangled in the ropes and he couldn’t activate the reserves. A friend Lieutenant Colonel Waseem ur Rehman Qureshi saw TM jump to his death. Waseem was part of the SSG free fall team and was the first one to rush to see his commander and was dismayed to find that he had not survived the fall. The reminiscences of the sad incident brings back painful memories. To Waseem, TM symbolises the best qualities of a soldier and a commander.
TM was born on October 8, 1938 at Multan. His father was a professor and taught at Government College, Asghar Mall Rawalpindi. After completing his intermediate education from Gordon Christian College, Rawalpindi in 1956, he went to Lahore and graduated from Government College in 1959. He was also a member of Government College cricket team captained by Javed Burki. After graduation he went to Peshawar to study Law at University of Peshawar, but left to join the Pakistan Military Academy in 1960. He graduated from PMA in 1963 and was commissioned into the 2nd Battalion of the Baloch Regiment in 1960. As a young officer he opted for the newly raised Special Service Group (SSG). After completing the rigorous special operations training, he was posted to the 1st Commando Battalion (Yaldram), where he served with Shaheen Company.
In 1965, TM opted out of the advance course with US Army Special Forces to become part of the covert operations in occupied Kashmir. He won his first SJ for his acts of bravery during Indo-Pak War of 1965. TM was promoted to the rank of Major in 1970 and was stationed in Peshawar as the commandant of the famous Parachute Training School. In 1971, Mehmood volunteered to go to East Pakistan to participate in the war there. In one memorable operation TM led his men to evict the insurgents holed up in Dhaka Airport. After 34 hours of intense fighting, TM’s men were able to clear the airport and the surrounding area.
TM saw action during the insurgency in Balochistan in the 1970s. In 1979, he was promoted to Colonel, and in 1982, he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier and made the Commander of the Special Service Group. In 1984, he was involves in leading a riposte against the Indians, who had surreptitiously occupied the Siachen glacier. Throughout the 1980s, the SSG and ISI were closely collaborating to support the Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
On September 5, 1986, Pan Am Flight 73 was hijacked in Karachi. In a bold action TM led an SSG team to free the Airline from terrorists. The hijackers opened fire, killing and injuring some passengers but eventually all of them were apprehended and many lives were saved. The Pan Am incident brought TM to public prominence. During 1987–88, he led operations against criminals in Sindh.
Stocky and gruff TM was a man of few words. He believed in action and literally died with his boots on. TM is admired and idolised by the men who served under him. They still are awestruck by his personality and vouch that they could have gone to the very gates of hell under his command. Waseem, his platoon mate and friend, chokes back tears when he talks about him. He praises his wife Iffat for her fortitude and perseverance. She brought up her children in the best traditions of a military wife after the untimely departure of her great soldier husband.
TM lives in the hearts of his men and will always be remembered as a soldiers’ soldier. He occupies the place of prominence in the pantheon of Pakistani martyrs. His memory will not be dimmed by time and age.
The writer is a retired Brigadier and PhD. Presently he is Associate Dean Centre of International Peace & Stability (CIPS) at the National University of Sciences & Technology (NUST) Islamabad.