Written by Capt. Syed Ahmed Mortada (Retd)
World is moved on not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the tiny aggregates of works of its honest workers-Helen Keller. Maj. Gen. Mohammad Abdul Matin (Engr.) was a mighty general as well as an honest soldier... ...
Larger than life both in height and in caliber Matin was a combination of intelligence and martial excellence. As tall as 6 ft. 2 in., he was a giant not only in military strategy but also in sculpting the national policies. Engineer in Chief as well as Chairman of ICB, he excelled as a parliamentarian. Very few people could make a dent in civil service, fewer still could change the course of history in army,and hardly anybody could be credited with becoming a successful politician. Gen. Matin did all the three.
Pablo Picasso once said: When I was a child my mother said to me “If you start as a soldier, you will become a general. If you begin as a monk, you will wound up as a pope. Instead I became a painter and ended up as Picasso-Pablo Picasso.” I don’t know exactly what mother of Matin had forecast for her son but I know that the depiction of Picasso’s mother on her son truly reflected on M. A. Matin. A son of Magura, Matin was born in 1927 in the days of British imperialism. He showed all the signs of light and wit at a very early age.His father, nana, uncle all were jailors. Breaking the family traditions after a brilliant schooling, he joined Ahsanullah Engineering College Dhaka (Now BUET) which was the seat of learning even in those days. That was possibly to appease his family as he jettisoned the college just after one year. Though not in blood, army was in his heart. Commissioned in 1955, he graduated as an engineer from Risalpur, W. Pakistan. He served in Pakistan navy on secondment and was posted in Chittagong. As a front line combat soldier in 1940 at Burma front, Matin was injured seriously. Whole body of Matin was afflicted with splinters which almost cost him two eyes. He was blind for six months but finally could see the light of the day to make history.
In dress and style or in accent, he was a perfect match of a Briton. The baritone and command on English became a culture code for young officers. His cohorts and colleagues in army in those days used to call him ‘Martin’ sportingly. He was a formidable figure in squash. Hiking was another passion. Before marriage he was always the toast of the mess or club. Matin was a paratrooper. After his marriage in 1963 Matin became a changed man. The legend goes that the number of his suits was more than the number of sarees of his wife. The list of shoes was difficult to maintain. None the less he was a loving husband, affectionate father and a kind familyman. Charity begins at home. He supported his four brothers, a sister and a host of relatives with all his means.
In 1965 Indo-Pak war 1 East Bengal Regiment (manned completely by Bengalis) was awarded 17 gallantry awards and created history being the only battalion to receive as many gallantry awards in the whole Pakistan army. The sacrifice and gallantry of 1Bengal while defending Ayub’s motherland in Bedian sector reverberates with buoyancy in the contemporary military history. During 1965 war General Matin was in Sialkot sector (birth place of Dr. Allama Iqbal) deployed in front line he was about to be ambushed by two Sikh soldiers,when he shot them dead by overtaking them on the spur of the moment for which he was awarded TQA (Togma-e-Quaide Azam). The story goes that he was recommended for Sitara-e-Jurot. One of his greatest achievements was the participation in the construction of Karakoram Highways (KKH), highest paved international road in the world, as a 2ic of the construction battalion of Pakistan Engineer Crops based in Besas. KKH was a joint venture between Pakistan and China measuring 800 miles long and 10 metres wide 16000 Ft. above sea level considered as one of the wonders of the world connecting Xinjiang (Tibet) and the rough terrain of Gilgit-Balistan-Abbottabad region (where Osama Bin Laden was nabbed) through Khunjerab pass. Another famous pass of history in the region linking Pakistan and Afganistan ‘The Khyber Pass” was used by Alexander the great according to legend. It traces the ancient Silk Road.It is here in KKH the three greatest majestic mountains of our planet Himalaya, Hindukush, Karakoram meet where the Gilgit river flows into the Indus river. It’s true Matin didn’t build the KKH but he remained one of the founding architects of this wonder of the world.
There are some people who show their talent and creativity wherever you put them. Matin stands his shoulder and head above his peers. In army as commandant, as Engineer in Chief, as chairman ICB (Investment Corporation of Bangladesh), as a politician (MP from Magura for 8 years), Matin made his mark by galvanising all these sectors. While commanding SI & T (School of Infantry & Ta1ctics) in Sylhet, Combined School in Jessore and all the portfolios in army he was holding, Matin turned them into a finest fighting machinery.
As Engineer-in-Chief of Bangladesh army, he was responsible for the total planning of the country where water development, road communication and agriculture were his top priority the fruit of which we are possibly enjoying today. After his retirement from army in 1981, he was made Chairman of ICB by Gen. Hossain Mohammad Ershad where he continued for eight years so successfully that an economist or a chartered accountant would be dwarfed. He was a student of science, an engineer or at best an army general hardly having any experience in investment or stock exchange. It was a formidable task. But Matin believed in what Nobel Laureate Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill had articulated “success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that is important.” He became a student of economics now. It took six months to master the functions and modalities of ICB. After that he composed and sent a proposal to President Ershad to uplift and modify the modus operandii to turn it into a unique institution. Pleased the President asked him to present the proposal at Gonobhaban. He did present it at Gonobhaban where all the ministers, secretaries of the cabinet, economists, teachers, intelligentsia were present. A deliberation for more than three hours mesmerised the entire house including the President. The speech was likened to the oratory skill of Dr. Alimul Razi the best known parliamentarian the country had produced. His write ups on Saving, Investment, Protection which used to be featured in “The Bangladesh Observer” in Nineties were still sought by students of business. When asked what influenced his life, Charles de Gaulle replied “ A lion is made up of lambs it has digested. All my life I have been reading.” Matin was an avid reader. This great soldier breathed his last on 9th Feb 2015 the month of International Mother Language Day. We take our hats off.
Capt Syed Ahmed Mortada (Retd) was commissioned on 23 November 1970. Being an officer of Medical Corps he served at various cantonments of Pakistan and Bangladesh. He also served in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Botsowana under Ministry of Health. Capt Mortada retired from armed force in 1977. He is a freelance contributor to The Daily Star, New Age, Guardian, Mirror and many other dailies and weeklies. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org