Tikka Khan (b. 1915 d. March 28, 2002) was Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff from March 1972–March 1976).
Raja Tikka Khan was born in the village of Jochha Mamdot in Kahuta Tehsil near Rawalpindi, in 1915 (in what was then British India). He was a graduate of the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun, and was commissioned in 1939.
He fought in World War II as part of the Indian Army, and was injured on multiple occasions during the fighting. He was in action in numerous battles on both the Burmese and Italian fronts. He was also a prisoner of war for more than two years during the war, before he and his fellow troops escaped.
After his return from World War II, Khan was an instructor at the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun for some time. During the independence, Major Tikka Khan remained in what is now Pakistan, and became an officer in the Pakistan Army.
After Independence, he served in only one Artillery Regiment of Royal Pakistan Artillery, where he raised and commanded the first post partition Medium Regiment of Royal Pakistan Artillery, i.e., 12 Medium Regiment Artillery.
He was promoted to the rank of Major General in 1962.
Between the wars
Tikka Khan was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General in 1969. He was also the commander IV Corps at Lahore during the same time, a time when he earned a reputation of being a tough administrator and strict disciplinarian. Lahore’s Fortess Stadium was constructed under General Tikka Khan’s tenure as corps commander.
The 1970 elections in East Pakistan and West Pakistan resulted in a situation where Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s Awami League won most of the seats (160 out of 300) whereas Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) won 81 seats. In the crisis that followed he was sent out by General Yahya Khan of Pakistan to put down unrest swelling in East Pakistan. Tikka took over Eastern Command (equivalent to a Corps) on 7 March 1971 after the previous commander Lt Gen Sahabzada Yaqub Khan resigned. Because of his role in the ensuing Operation Searchlight and Bangladesh Liberation War that began on 25 March 1971, Tikka is referred to as the “Butcher of Bengal” by Bangladeshis. He was the leading commander of the II Corps responsible for the defence on the Western front of the War in 1971. After a brief but notable stay at East Pakistan, he was then posted as the first commander II Corps at Multan and commanded through the actual Indo-Pakistan conflict in December.
Tikka was later superseded by Lt Gen Gul Hassan Khan, when he was selected as the Commander-in-Chief in December 1971.
Tikka Khan’s tenure ended in March 1976, and he was later appointed Defence Minister by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s July 1977 coup led to the arrest of both Bhutto and General Tikka Khan. Bhutto was executed in 1979, after which General Tikka Khan emerged as one of the leaders of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), becoming its Secretary General, during a time when many party stalwarts abandoned it. General Tikka was imprisoned numerous times for his political activities during the late 1970s and 1980s, until Zia-ul-Haq died in August 1988 in an airplane explosion over Bahawalpur. General Tikka Khan was appointed the Governor of Pakistan’s largest province, the Punjab, in December 1988. His tenure as the Governor was cut short by the dismissal of the Benazir Bhutto government in August 1990, after which he retired from active politics. During his tenure as Chief he directly influenced an entire generation of military personnel, imbuing in them qualities of professionalism and military duty.
Later life and death
General Tikka Khan died on March 28, 2002 after several years of illness. He received a state burial with full military honors and his funeral was attended by thousands of people, including the entire top brass of the Pakistan Army. In a message to the General’s son, Col. Khalid M. Khan, Benazir Bhutto, who had spent many years campaigning with the General, remembered him as a person who, “rose to the highest offices of this country due to his hard work and respect for the rule of law.”