Tan Sri Zaman Khan fated to join the police

If you treat people nicely, they will be good to you also, says former top cop Zaman Khan

Monday, June 27th, 2011 12:20:00


'Everyone can see that they are doing their best to carry out their duties. I think with the support of the people, the police can do better' ó Tan Sri Zaman Khan Rahim Khan

HE was, arguably, one of the most recognisable faces of the 80s. During his long tenure in the police force, especially, Tan Sri Zaman Khan Rahim Khan was at the centre of many a high-profile case, ranging from the wickedly interesting manhunts for hardcore criminals Botak Chin and Bentong Kali to that poignant moment at Highland Towers as he held on to a baby dug out from the rubble on that fateful day that shook the nation. He was a colourful character, and known for being tenacious.

The Malay Mail senior writer MARHALIM ABAS catches up with the man, who now spearheads the Malaysian AIDS Council, for this two-part interview. The second half of the interview will run tomorrow.

MM: Your background, Tan Sri?

ZAMAN KHAN: I was born in a village called Serendah (on June 18, 1942). Some people call it Serendah Si Kebun Bunga Cik Siti Wan Kembang, and it is in Chetok, Pasir Mas, Kelantan. My father, who was a Pashtun (from Southwest Asia) was a textile trader. We later moved to Sungai Golok, now located in Thailand. In the past, it was normal for people living in Golok to work or study in what was Malaya then.

Although my father was illiterate, he wanted my brother and I to go to school. I believe he was probably influenced by another Pakistani man ... I remember his name, Abdul Razak Hamid, who went to study at a religious school in Kota Baru.

When he came back to Sungai Golok, he was smartly-dressed and confident. Mind you, not many people in Sungai Golok were educated or even literate at that time. My brother and I stayed at our uncles' house in Serendah, so we could go to school in the nearby Pekan Uban.

After taking a test, I was told by the headmaster, Nik Mustafa, that I should go to Standard 2 straight away. After that, I was "promoted" twice. First, to Standard 4 and then to Standard Six.

MM: How did you end up in the police force then?

ZAMAN KHAN: After completing my HSC at the Victoria Institution, I returned to Kelantan and met up with my friend (Datuk) Abdul Rahim Abdul Rahman, who was then a temporary teacher (Rahim went on to set up Rahim & Co). I was also supposed to become a temporary teacher but the job was given to someone else.

One day, Abdul Rahim told me the police were looking for cadet ASPs. He said the pay was good, 400 dollars a month. So we went to see the Kota Baru OCPD, Chief Inspector Tan Bian Hwa, to get the application forms.

Tan looked at our certificates and asked us why we wanted to join the police force when we could go to university. We told him we could not get scholarships, Rahim also could not get a scholarship.

When we got the interview letters, we went to Kuala Lumpur. We were among the handful who had the HSC. I remember there was another candidate who had a degree. He was (Tan Sri) Kamil Jaafar, who later went on to become the Foreign Ministry secretary-general.

My interview was a short one ... they just asked one question. The interview board was chaired by the Commissioner of Police, Claude Fenner. After the session ended, a superintendent, Yahaya Jamaluddin, who was also the secretary of the board, told five or six us to stay back while the others were told to go home. After they left, Yahaya told us we had been selected, gave us a vetting form and told us to meet the State SB chief. I didnít know the meaning of SB then.

So when I got back to Kelantan I asked around and was told that SB stood for Special Branch. I went to see the SB chief, Inspector Yazid Baba (now Datuk). He told me I should not join the police as he himself had not been promoted!

I was then told to see an elderly officer of Burmese descent who told me I should go to university with my qualifications. He told me it was hard to get a promotion but I had no other choice. You see, if I did not join the police, I would have to be a clerk somewhere. For the trip to Kuala Lumpur to start police training, I received a First Class warrant. It was the first time I had travelled in a grand manner on a train.

When I was studying at the Victoria Institution, I usually took the train to Kuala Lipis and continued the journey to Kuala Lumpur by bus as it was cheaper. The trains then were packed to the brim with students going back to their schools, the VI, St John's, Malay College and others. We figured that the train was too packed for them to check whether we had tickets or not.

So, a couple of times, we did not buy tickets and when the conductor came, we just said Malay College group or something like that. Anyhow, if they did find out that you do not have tickets, they will kick them out at Kuala Lipis ... So, we always get out at Kuala Lipis! (laughs)

So, maybe, it was fated that I joined the police. I was rapidly promoted until I was Senior Assistant Commissioner 1 when I was heading Penang police.

MM: What happened then?

ZAMAN KHAN: I believe I did very well as the CPO, so much so that when I got my transfer order out of the State, the Chief Minister protested to the then Inspector-General of Police (Tun Haniff Omar). A week before the transfer was official, I received a letter stating that I was to be awarded a Datukship by the Penang government on the Governorís birthday.

One Friday morning, I went down to the Governorís official residence for a rehearsal of the investiture ceremony. After that, I went back for prayers and I received a call from a State official that my Datukship had been withdrawn following the objection of the-then Home Minister.

It was a big blow to me. Everybody in Penang already knew about it as I had gone for the rehearsal. I felt so "malu". You see, here I was always respected by the community. My good friend, Jen (Tun) Hashim Ali, the division commander there, advised me not to turn up for the ceremony. He tried to help and I also spoke to (Tun) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who was the deputy home minister then. He told me he could not do anything as it was the ministerís decision. I also met with Tun (Dr) Mahathir Mohamad, who was then the deputy prime minister, when he returned to Alor Star.

I also met with Hanif to demand an explanation. You know as the CPO, you are supposed to socialise. It was one way to be aware of things on the ground but some took advantage of this and made claims against me.

There was an investigation but after three months, I was offered to go to Salzburg for training. When I was there, I received a call from my wife that Penang was awarding a Datukship to me.

After that, the Sultan of Pahang also awarded me a Datukship when he became the King. I had never met the Sultan before but I believe he was grateful I had ensured that his visit to Penang when I was the CPO there was a grand affair. Then the King, in his capacity as the Sultan of Pahang, also awarded me another Datukship. So you see within one year, I had received three Datukships after the original one was withdrawn! (laughs)

MM: In your time, what the police say was "king". Now, people are more critical of the police force. Your thoughts?

ZAMAN KHAN: I will say on record that the new IGP, Tan Sri Ismail Omar, is trying his best to boost the image of the force. I have seen good response from the public and the policemen on the streets. Even I noticed the change. Recently, I was driving to the Concorde Hotel and took Jalan Yap Kwan Seng. I drove through a red light and a pedestrian crossing without realising as I was distracted by a lady who was making a U-turn at that particular junction. Sure enough, two policemen, one Malay and one Indian, came on motorcycles and stopped me. I asked them what I had done wrong and they politely said that I ran through a red light. I told them there was no traffic light.

They told me this: ďEncik boleh tengok belakang ...Ē So, I looked back and saw a pedestrian crossing. I said sorry and they let me off without a ticket but cautioned me to "jaga-jaga sikit". I wrote to the IGP about the incident to commend the men for their good discretion. Everyone can see that they are doing their best to carry out their duties. I think with the support of the people, the police can do better.

MM: During your time, the police were never questioned about shooting incidents, including Bentong Kaliís shooting. It is not the situation now. What happened?

ZAMAN KHAN: Bentong Kali was very different. I think that was the first time in my police career that I witnessed reporters applauding when I confirmed that he had been shot. They asked me whether it was really Bentong Kali who was gunned down and when I said yes, the reporters clapped. Even members of the public who were at the scene clapped.

I think there should not be any extra-judicial killings. You donít simply go out and boom-boom. It happened during my time (shootings) as well but we did not go out with the intention of killing people. Even with Bentong Kali. Look at Botak Chin, he was so notorious (yet) we did not kill him although on several occasions we did shoot at him but missed.

I remember one operation in Jalan Kovil Hilir when Chin escaped but his accomplice was shot dead. They were on their extortion rounds that day and a police team led by me went to the scene. Chin escaped when he realised there was a policeman outside the shop he was extorting but his accomplice got stuck in the building and hid inside.

I was opening a drawer when the accomplice came out from hiding and pointed a gun at me. My men shot him and he fell just beside me. I asked my men why they shot him. They told me he was going to shoot me so they had no choice.

You see, if you treat people nicely, they will be good to you also. I remember a case when I was the OCPD of Klang. A factory there, CCM, had its chemicals stolen. They were very expensive, so we investigated and arrested the chief of security. After he was arrested and taken to the balai, his family, wife and children came to see him. I told my men to remove the handcuffs as I felt it would not be nice for his family to see him in them.

So they met him and later that night he told the guard on duty he wanted to see me and only me. So I had to go to the lock-up Ė thankfully my quarters was nearby. He then told me that since I was nice to him, he wanted to cut short everything and confess to the crime. He told me he had a van and it was easy for him to drive in and out with the chemicals which he then sold off to another company. This company was the supplier to the factory.

Another incident also comes to mind. After I retired, I went looking for a lawn mower at a shop in Jalan Sungai Besi. This was during the 1998 recession, and no one was accepting cheques from strangers and I had no cash with me. So I had to leave the shop without buying the lawn mower. As I was walking out, a man asked me what had happened, and so I told him. He then went back into the shop and shortly after called out to me.

Not only I got to pay with a personal cheque, I also got a RM100 discount. When I asked him why, he told me he was once arrested by me.

V.I. Lower Sixth Arts Social 1960

Zaman Khan is in the back row, extreme right

V.I. Prefects Board 1961

Zaman Khan is seated second from right

VI The V.I. Web Page