Major General Mian Ghulam Jilani was born in 1914 in Sibi, Balochistan, when the British ruled the Indo-Pak subcontinent. He was educated at Forman Christian College in Lahore and later finished Law at Aligarh University in India. He completed his officer’s training at the Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College (RIMC) in Dehra Dun in India and was commissioned as second lieutenant in the Royal Scots Regiment by King Edward VIII in 1936 and later transferred to the 19th Hyderabad Kumaon Regiment in the British Indian Army.
During the Second World War he was transferred to Singapore with the British Indian Army and was captured and taken prisoner by the Japanese in 1942. He was a prisoner of war for nearly forty months. He was tortured and kept in solitary confinement for seven months during this period. Shortly after World War II, the movement for independence from the British resulted in the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Jilani threw his energy and enthusiasm behind it.
He joined the newly formed Pakistan Army and was the 42nd senior most officer, commanding a unit of the Frontier Force Regiment. A few weeks later he took a leave of absence from the army to volunteer as a fighter in Kashmir, fighting for its independence and right to join Pakistan. In April 1948, he was appointed Commanding Officer at Gilgit where he remained until the cease fire. His troops played a major role in establishing what became the line of control between India and Pakistan, which has become a sort of international border for the last half-century. He fought a guerrilla war in northern Kashmir, engaged two divisions of the Indian Army and conquered the whole of Baltistan and was about to attack Leh, when the government of Pakistan agreed to a cease fire. at the behest of the United Nations.
On retirement from the army, he was General Manager with the Valika group in Karachi.
Brig. Jilani was later posted as Defense Attaché in the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington. He was also Military Attaché for Canada and Mexico. He brought about the military aid treaty between the United States and Pakistan, for which in 1955 he was awarded the Legion of Merit by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Pakistan awarded him the Sitara-i-Quaid-i-Azam, or Star of the Quaid, named after the founder of Pakistan. In 1952, as a Brigadier he went to Washington as Pakistan’s first Military Attaché to the USA.
On promotion to Major General, he served as GOC East Pakistan commanding 14th Infantry Division (Dhaka), Commandant of the Command and Staff College (Quetta), Master General of Ordnance (GHQ) and GOC 15th Infantry Division (Sialkot).
As GOC 15th Div he along with (then) Brig Rakhman Gul MC Inspector General Frontier Corps served under (then) Maj Gen Attiqur Rahman MC GOC 7th Infantry Division who was the Force Commander for the Dir-Bajaur operation of October 1960. After Nawab Sir Shah Jehan Khan and his son Khan Shahabud Din Khan of Jandol were captured on 28 October, Maj Gen Attiqur Rahman MC moved back to Peshawar and Maj Gen Mian Ghulam Jilani took over as Force Commander.