By S M Hali
SMH: When did the action commence?
The same day that Lt. Zulfiqar had a narrow brush with death and escaped being torn to pieces by the leopard, at about 10 am on 22 August, the CO came to the C-company and asked me to conduct the recce of Neel Kanth Gali. The reconnaissance party comprised 2 x officers, 2 x JCOs and platoon strength protection party with one Light Machine Gun (LMG). Neel Kanth Gali is a table top and flat ground having width of 4-500 yards at an altitude of 14500 feet. The reconnaissance party had barely reached the top, when it was greeted by a few rounds of Mortar and intense small arms fire by the Indians. This was no “Battle Inoculation” but my first exposure to actual hostile fire by the enemy and became my “Battle Orientation” with artillery fire from both sides. All the lessons taught at the PMA and School of Infantry and Tactics came to my mind; the various mock battles, war games and exercises. But this was the real thing. Real bullets were flying over our heads and the enemy meant business. My heart was pumping adrenaline and I had to take decisions and take action instantly and instinctively. There was no time to look for “DS-solutions”.
At that time, I was on the reverse slope of the pass and rushed immediately to my men who had by then reached the top. I immediately deployed the protection party and ordered them to take position but hold their fire until they saw the enemy within range. I was conscious of the fact that we were short of ammunition and if we did not utilize it properly it could lead to disaster. The enemy was firing from both the shoulders of the pass and could observe our movement. The CO, radioed to me to fall back to the reverse slope, while as soon as the firing started, base started moving up to rescue us. I requested permission to stay with the protection party on the top, since I had a plan. When night fell, the enemy assumed that we had retreated since we neither fired a single shot, nor did we make any noise to give away our presence. By that time the Indians started to line up and climb up from the Neel Kanth Gali towards our protection party. As the Indians entered within our small arms range, I ordered my men to commence fire. Our patience had paid and the Indians were taken completely by surprise and were routed. Our men were exuberant and highly motivated by the initial success though we also suffered our first casualties. Not a single bullet was wasted. After last light, the recce party moved back and the entire Bn joined us at Dogi forest.
The next night on 23 August, Alpha Company was tasked to occupy the shoulders of Neel Kanth Gali to secure it and open it for free movement to Sri Nagar Valley via Gulmarg. We achieved the task with ease because of our success the previous day. All preparations had been completed and the battalion was now ready to ingress deeper into IHK. The logistic aid provided to infiltrate into IHK and conduct operations was insufficient. The meager amount of Rs. 5000 Indian and Pakistani currency, the limited quantity of ammunition and equipment was not enough to sustain the force for long. Moreover none of us was familiar with the area on the other side. The civilian population was also non cooperative because of the fear of Indian retaliation. Even the logistic supplies reportedly dumped for use by the Gibraltar Force was not available to us. We saw signs where perhaps the dumping had been placed but was either pilfered or removed before we got there. Yet with limited ammo and our humble rations of gur chana we had secured the two important ridges of Pir Panjal Range.
Meanwhile our tasking was suddenly changed on 26nd August because the Indians had made swift progress towards Haji Pir pass and the battalion was asked to abandon this mission and fall back to help defend own positions. The troops, who were in a high state of motivation, wanted to stay on and give their lives there or in Srinagar. We had to follow military discipline and withdraw; it took us three days and we learnt that Haji Pir Pass had been taken by the enemy. Now we were back in AK.
Charlie and Delta companies led by Zulfiqar Shah and myself were rushed towards Haji Pir Pass. As soon as we had reached close to Hillan Shumali, we received a message to climb Lunda feature and intercept enemy convoys which were supporting its force in occupation of Haji Pir pass. On reaching Lunda feature, we could see the enemy movements but could not interfere as the enemy was far away. We tried contacting the Bn HQ but failed to get a response so we sent a runner with a message informing the Bn that we were moving to Haji Pir sector as there was no use being perched on Lunda Feature. The men were exhausted by that time but their morale was high despite surviving on chana and gur for the last four days. On 28th August both companies reached Kailer, from where we moved to Chanjal/Forward Kahuta. Here we were informed by the civilians that the Indians have already occupied Aliabad. We were disappointed but desperate to move ahead and stop the Indian advance. Charlie and Delta companies managed to occupy Ziarat Ridge north of the Chanjal-Aliabad road.
The next day on 31 August, I met Lieutenant Naeem of 20 Punjab Regiment who was on his way to visit Captain Nawaz’s company at Sar. Lieutenant Naeem told me that he had not taken any food for last three days. I offered him chana and gur. Both of us enjoyed our “fast food” and then moved to company HQs of 20 Punjab Regiment near Sar feature commanded by Captain Nawaz. When I returned to my company, an Artillery Shell landed on the bunker of Captain Nawaz, Lieutenant Naeem was fatally injured and later embraced shahadat. On the same night 31 August/1st September rest of the battalion also joined Charlie and Delta Companies which was between Ghoremar and Forward Kahuta south of Betar Nullah.
A message was sent by Commanding Officer that all companies will deploy astride Betar Nullah between Kahuta and Aliabad. Zulfiqar Ali Shah and I were given the task to cross Chanjal and deploy north of Betar Nullah in Ziarat Area. The rest of the Bn was on the southern side with the Bn HQ at Kulali. Zulfiqar Ali Shah’s company was facing Bedori whereas my Company was facing Chanjal. Indians were trying to link up from Chand Tekri with Haji Pir Pass and secure Uri–Poonch route. One platoon was given to coy ex 8 Baloch placed under 10 AK and deployed at Darna Shahbaz. Till 7 September 1965 the battalion stayed in this position; two coys across the Betar Nullah and two coys on the home bank.
SMH: It is ironic, you were already engaged in battles once you stepped foot in the Valley but when did you find out about the outbreak of the War?
GLK: We had small transistor radios. The address of President Ayub Khan on 6th September 1965 was a real motivating factor for the
whole nation but it had special impact on the morale of troops and young officers. Despite the fact that now we had to fight a regular war and we were not equipped for it, we gave our best. The war was terrible for us since we were nearly unarmed but we held on. On 7 September 1965, Ziarat Area came under pressure from Bedori side. On night 7/8 September 1965 the left forward coy commander Zulfiqar Ali Shah repulsed one attack of Indians which came from Bedori side. On the same day, Darna Shahbaz was also attacked and captured by the Indians. The remnants of the platoon deployed there later joined my company, on night 7/8 September the left forward commander Zulfiqar Ali Shah repulsed one attack of Indians which came from Bedori side. Next day 8 September 1965, Indians captured Chand Tekri. After capturing Chand Tekri now Indians were exerting pressure against Chanjal Bridge. On 9 September 1965 during day time Delta Coy came under attack and forward platoon had been overrun by the enemy. Zulfiqar Ali Shah contacted me and informed me of the latest situation. I recommended regrouping for redeployment in the same area. In the meanwhile my Coy came under fire from across Chanjal Bridge. Taking a platoon with me, I moved towards Chanjal Bridge to reinforce that area. Now I could engage the enemy from there. Sepoy Cook Sadiq, who was manning Light Machine Gun, during exchange of fire, got hit by a bullet in his jaw. I received a message from Zulfiqar Ali Shah that Commanding Officer had ordered both the companies to fall back at night and occupy the southern bank of Betar Nullah. Sepoy Cook Sadiq was immediately evacuated and exchange of fire continued till last light. At night C and D Coys crossed the Betar Nullah along with wounded and by early morning reached the home bank of Betar Nullah. Rest of the battalion was already there which provided safe passage to the coys.
On 10 September, the battalion received orders from HQ 2 AK Bde to deploy on Ghoremar/Gitlan in coordination with 20 Punjab Regiment and hold it at all cost. The remnants of Frontier Constabulary troops of Chand Tekri also fell back to Forward Kahuta on the same day and they went back to Bagh area. Forward Kahuta was now the forward position not the main position because it was down near the Betar Nullah. It was not possible to hold it while leaving the high features around Kahuta vacant. The Bn now deployed on Ghoremar/Gitlan ridge in line with 20 Punjab Regiment with Sar feature included to 20 Punjab Regiment. Bravo Company, commanded by Major Zafar, was left forward company, deployed next to Sar on Gitlan main feature. A coy was on Ghoremar feature commanded by Captain Aslam. Zulfiqar Ali Shah’s coy was also deployed at Ghoremar. The right forward coy commanded by me was facing Poonch and deployed on main feature, behind Chaprian. Bn HQ was in the centre behind all the coys near village Sangar. The coys were told to defend these positions at all cost. For the first time I saw people digging with their sticks, bayonets and whatever material was available because there were no digging tools with the force. Preparation of defences continued for next three days till 14/15 September and now the Bn was for the first time in a compact form deployed on important features to face the Indian thrust. The task was demanding but the motivation was also at its peak. Men of all the coys were ready to measure up to the challenge. On 17/18 September 1965 Indians reached Forward Kahuta and had complete control over the area. Indian 3/11 Gorkha Battalion and 19 Punjab Regiment were facing our unit and 20 Punjab regiment respectively.
On the night of 19/20th September Alpha Coy of 20th Punjab Regt. came under attack from Aliabad side. It was a worrying situation for our Bn commander as the threat was developing from Sar feature. He tasked me to prepare to launch a counter attack in case the enemy captures Gitlan since I was the right forward company commander and the enemy was probing on the left forward company on Gitlan. On 20th Sept at about 1930 hours Indian 19th Punjab Regiment launched a probing attack on Alpha Company of 20th Punjab along the northern slopes of Gitlan towards Aliabad. Some movement was also observed in Forward Kahuta area. My CO ordered me to position Charlie Coy on the reverse slopes of Gitlan behind Bravo Coy to reinforce Gitlan if required. I reached my position with my coy and positioned my men to carry out the counter attack when ordered. I received an urgent message from Bn HQs that a similar threat was developing from the Poonch side against our area. Despite the fact that my men were under artillery fire, I moved back to the company location on the same night. On the night 20/21 Sept, Indians attacked Gitlan and Ghoremar simultaneously. Gitlan was captured by the enemy but the Ghoremar attack was repulsed. Subedar Ismail’s platoon at Gitlan was surrounded by the enemy and most of the Jawans embraced shahadat while fighting courageously. Major Zafar, along with the remnants of the company fell back towards Bn headquarters. At the same time Indian 3/11 Gorkha battalion started advancing towards Ghoremar from lower ridges along Betar Nullah between Kahuta and Palangi. On 21st Sept at 0600 hrs I was ordered to launch a counter attack towards Gitlan position with my company and a Lashkar of 60 Diris (volunteer Pathans from Dir) to recapture Gitlan. I moved my coy and reached behind Alpha Coy’s position from where we had to launch counter attack. At 7 AM, the Lashkar of 60 Diris also joined me behind Alpha Coy at Ghoremar. At about 08:30 hours when I ordered my coy to move for the counter attack, no one responded to my command. Not a soul stirred; even the Diris were hesitant because we had to move in broad daylight, uphill directly in the line of enemy fire. I then addressed my coy and told them that “I had received orders for attack on Gitlan and I would proceed to attain the objective in spite of certain death. Those of you who wish to follow me should make up your mind without loss of any more time otherwise I would attack by myself.” Indian artillery was pounding the entire objective area and adjacent A Coy position. Then Zulfiqar Ali Shah, who had also joined the coy as volunteer to go for the counter attack, announced that he will also accompany me in the attack. Thus the duo set off by themselves. By the time both of us reached near Alpha Coy from where we had to launch the attack, half of the coy had already overtaken us (I was encumbered by the communication equipment on my back). The men realized that they were being led by commanders, who were leading from the front. With renewed trust and confidence, the Coy led by us was moving towards Gitlan. I am proud to say that the brave sons of Zinda Dil recaptured Gitlan although we had to pay a heavy price in terms of fight and casualties. 27 x persons embraced shahadat including 6 Diris. Zulfiqar Ali Shah evacuated Sepoy Bagh, who received a burst on his chest, carrying him on his shoulders. Today I recount with pride that in a rare and inspiring example of comradeship, another company commander joined his colleague voluntarily in a most crucial moment to share all dimension of danger in a most critical situation. Together, we managed to achieve our task but also retrieve all dead bodies except 4 including 1 Diri. These dead bodies were later returned after the cease fire with due respect by commanding officer 19 Punjab Regiment of Indian Army. To this day I remember one particular Diri, who got so motivated that he stood up and asked Zulfiqar Shah, where is the enemy and just then there was a fire from one of the clumps and the Diri charged towards it shouting Allah-o-Akbar and pounced upon it with his sword in hand, killing a number of Indians but himself embraced shahadat in the bargain. All these men fought with courage and died with honour.
SMH: Do you feel any remorse at the number of lives lost under your command?
GLK: Yes I feel remorse but as a soldier I had to follow the orders of my superiors.
This was war and although it was suicidal to attack during day; with hindsight I can say we could have waited till the cover of darkness then the casualties would not have been that high but I am proud of my brave men and visit their graves regularly in the area to offer fateha and pay homage to those valiant sons of the soil. I even visit Dir sometimes to meet some of the survivors of the Diri Lashkar or call upon the families of the shaheeds. They extend to me the utmost love and respect. That is my battle honour.
SMH: Such are the vagaries of war! Didn’t the Indians attempt to capture Ghoremar again?
GLK: They most certainly did. By this time Zulfiqar Shah and I had both been promoted to the rank of Captain, but were unable to wear our ranks since we were wearing Militia shalwar kameez. Anyway both Captain Zulfiqar Ali Shah and I moved back to our company locations after last light on 21/22 September 1965. Same night 3/11 Gorkha again attacked Ghoremar and Chaprian Ziarat features but it was successfully repulsed by Charlie and Delta companies, which proved their worth at Ghoremar and Ziarat and did not lose even an inch of territory. On 22 September 1965, it was decided that Cease Fire will come into effect at 0300 hours on 23 September 1965. I was given 40x rounds of artillery which I had not utilized yet. This was the first ever artillery support made available to 10 AK. On the same night, a few hours before cease fire, Indians 3/11 Gorkha resumed attack towards C Coy position. I held my nerves and decided to deal with them. I had deployed one of my platoons ahead at Ziarat area ahead of Ghoremar ridge while keeping two platoons on this main ridge. I ordered my Ziarat platoon to stay there and only withdraw in case the Indian come in close proximity of hand to hand combat. They acted upon the order. When the enemy reached near Ziarat, I called for artillery fire and also started small arms fire. Enemy was taken by surprise and suffered heavy losses. At 0300 hours cease fire came into effect and firing stopped immediately. After cease fire I asked my forward platoon to creep forward and reoccupy the Chaprian, the position vacated in the early part of the night 22/23 September. This was done very stealthily. Since we had no implements, we dug in trenches with sticks and bayonets, but secured our positions before sunrise,
SMH: That was remarkable, a timely action and very audacious and bold. But did that not put you in trouble?
GLK: Indeed it did when the Indians came next morning with their spades and picks to dig trenches and stake their claim; they were shocked to see my men occupying the position. We told them to get lost. They raised a hue and cry with the UN. After the cease fire, on 29 September, a Canadian Officer Major Blanche who was a United Nations Observer came from Indian side and stood in between Indian positions and Charlie Company of Zinda Dil. He asked to meet the Company Commander, so with approval of the commanding officer I went out to see him. He ordered me to vacate my forward platoon position because that belonged to the Indian forces as the CFL runs behind this according to the agreement. I gave a response on the spur of the moment: “the position which Indians could not capture during war how can I vacate after the cease fire.” I refused to vacate that position and the Canadian officer went back with a long face. The matter was raised at the highest level by the Indians and Commander 6 Azad Kashmir Brigade ordered to record summary of evidence for my Court Martial for disobeying orders. I explained my position to the CO but could not convince him. Meanwhile, I received a message that Commander 6 Azad Kashmir Brigade along with my CO will be visiting my company to see the disputed area regarding demarcation of the cease fire line. On their arrival, I briefed them in detail and also how we managed to occupy the position and hold on to it. The Brigade Commander was highly impressed by the timely action taken and subsequent forays and realizing the strategic importance of the position, he ordered the status quo. The cease fire had come in place and now the forces had to stay where they were deployed.
SMH: So the summary of evidence and court martial charges were dropped and I believe you were recommended for the gallantry award Sitara-e-Jurat?
GLK: Yes, thank God, good sense prevailed and the charges were dropped but I did not get the SJ.
SMH: But your decorations include the coveted SJ.
GLK: I was awarded the SJ during the 1971 War, when I was deployed in East Pakistan. But leave that for some other time.
SMH: I believe your opposite number on the Indian side was none other than the legendary Sikh Commander Major General Shabeg Singh, Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM), Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM), who was later killed after joining the Akali Dal, becoming frustrated with the discrimination of Sikhs. He joined the leader of the Akali Dal, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and died defending the sanctity of the holiest of Sikh shrines, the Akali Takht at the Golden Temple Amritsar when it was stormed by Indian Army during Operation Blue Star in 1984.
GLK: Yes, he was a Lieutenant Colonel then and was commanding the 3/11 Gorkha Rifles.
SMH: Indian army history of 1965 Pak-India War mentions that he served with distinction and was mentioned in dispatches for the capture of important enemy positions on the Haji Pir front. However, I believe you became his tormentor.
GLK: Yes he was very upset with our occupying the Ghoremar-Ziarat feature and despite his efforts, including raising the UN Military Observer Group; our obduracy in continuing with the occupation cheesed him off. We indulged in other activities too; much to his chagrin. One day I was approached by two AK personnel, who begged me to rescue 13 Kashmiri families stranded at Forward Kahuta, which was under Indian occupation and the families were facing torture and torment because some locals had extended some support to the Gibraltar Force earlier. I took the initiative of sending a rescue mission in the dead of the night through Lt Col Shabeg Singh’s territory and evacuated all thirteen families successfully. The next morning the evacuees came to me with the Holy Quran on their head and wanted to thank me profusely but I told them that anyone else in my place would have done the same. When Lt Col Shabeg Singh discovered the escape of the Kashmiri families, he was furious. He was screaming from the Indian side at the top of his voice, addressing my men that your Captain will be torn into smithereens. I later learnt that he had fixed “head money” for me; a reward for any of his soldiers capturing me dead or alive.
Another time I ignited his fuse, when some of my men in the dead of the night infiltrated in his camp to steal oranges from the only orange grove in the area. My men, who were surviving on limited rations even after the cease fire, would longingly look at this orange grove, which was laden with ripe juicy oranges. The Indians were perhaps waiting for the oranges to ripen fully. The Charlie Company infiltrators plucked every single orange and when the Indians woke up the next morning to find all their oranges gone, they were infuriated and their Battalion Commander Lt Col Shabeg Singh was even madder.
SMH: You must have met him in peaceful conditions too.
GLK: Actually we used to meet during UN sponsored flag meetings and when I found out that he originated from my own home town Rawalpindi and was a resident of Arya Mohalla and his wife was from a village near Kasur, I invited him to visit Pakistan once conditions were better.
I later found out that despite his show of anger, he respected me and my friend Zulfiqar Shah. Two of our Engineer officers had gone to the Indian side to pin point the locations of the mines so that they could be removed to avoid casualties, stayed the night in Lt. Col Shabeg’s camp. He was very hospitable to them so during the course of the dinner they asked him that with all the might, weaponry and superiority of arms of the 3/11 Battalion, how come it was unable to capture Chaprian and a strategic point like Ghoremar? Lt. Col Shabeg’s response was the ultimate compliment. He said “By God if I had even one company commander like Captain Lehrasab or Zulfiqar Shah, I would have captured Ghoremar-Ziarat feature and never let go.”[i]
SMH: What a remarkable compliment, to be honoured and acknowledged by your own enemy; a genuine battle honour. It is a glorious tribute to you and to officers and men of the Zinda Dil Paltan who deserved much more than this.
I believe you crossed sword with him in the 1971 War too?
GLK: Not directly, but indirectly Shabeg exacted his revenge from Pakistan. The Indian Army Chief, Field Marshal Manekshaw specially selected Shabeg Singh, then a Brigadier, putting him in-charge of Delta Sector with headquarters at Agartala. He was given the responsibility of planning, organizing and directing insurgency operations in the whole of East Pakistan. Under his command were placed all the Bengali officers who had deserted from the Pakistan Army. These included Col Osmani, as adviser, Maj Zia-Ur-Rehman and Mohammad Mushtaq. Zia Ur Rehman later became the President of Bangladesh while Mushtaq Mohammed became Bangladesh army chief. Starting from about January to October 1971, the insurgency operations gradually grew to such intensity and the Mukti Bahini got bolder that the Pak Army in the East began to grow demoralized due to the onslaught. It got so widely dispersed and stretched in trying to contain the 'Mukti Bahini' that when the Indian Army launched its operations in Nov. 1971 their operations were highly facilitated.
The Indian government promoted Shabeg Singh to the post of Major General and awarded him the Param Vashist Sewa Medal in recognition of his services.
SMH: What difficulties did you face during the operations in 1965?
GLK: I will enumerate the main problems:
No familiarization of even officers with the area or ground realities
Whatsoever no local support so question of mounting insurgency did not arise
Unique logistic bungling; all the dumps were taken away, nothing remained only signs of gunny sacks, inside logistic support was nil resultantly deep penetration suffered serious problems
Means of Communication, weapon system, equipment, clothing, boots/shoes issued were not designed to fight a war of this kind. Porters and Mujahid were given rubber PT shoes which could not last even a day in the rugged mountainous terrain. The blankets issued had army markings. For the Gibraltar Force, we could have bought lois or quilt to preserve the identity of the infiltrators
Lack of training except SSG personnel, who were only three in number
Operations not correctly placed in time and space dimensions
In a nutshell, it was an ambitious plan with improper execution.
SMH: What in your opinion was the impact of the operation on the Kashmir struggle?
GLK: In my reckoning, the freedom struggle of the Kashmiris received a major setback and was pushed behind by at least 15 years. I give you the example of a Captain, who had taken troops of the Gibraltar Force in Mandi area, where the locals showed some sympathy towards them. The Indians eliminated every Kashmiri suspected of local support and the simmering support was extinguished.
To be continued……
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