LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

The Battle of Chawinda

I refer to Agha Humayun Amin’s article on the Battle of Chawinda, and also being “direct participant, would like to share with your readers, some of my knowledge on the subject. Since I am writing from memory, I will touch only upon those incidents and aspects of the battle, of which I am certain.

About a week before the war started, an A. K officer from the Gibraltar Force, exfiltrated, and brought to HQ 24 Brigade, certain Indian Army documents. These purported to show the presence of the 1st Indian Armoured Division opposite us. Brig Abdul Ali Malik accordingly informed the higher HQ, and GHQ detailed Maj. Mahmud of the Army Aviation to physically carry these documents to GHQ for evaluation. GHQ’s assessment was that these documents were part of an Indian deception plan. Brig Malik disagreed with this assessment. So it is incorrect to say that he had no idea what he had against him, though it is correct that when the attack came, he had no way of knowing that this was the main effort of the enemy. But neither did anyone else.

When the Jassar fiasco took place, Brig Malik advised 15 Div. not to move him, because he expected a strong attack against his positions. HQ 15 Div. did not agree.

HQ 15 Div. ordered 24 Brigade to clear the imaginary enemy bridgehead at Jassar. Brig Malik tasked 2 Punjab Regiment (my unit) to do the needful. The Commanding Officer, Lt Col Jamshed MC Bar, SJ, suggested an attack at first light, instead of a night attack, because we had no idea about the enemy location, terrain etc etc. But 15 Div. orders were clear and inflexible, and so Col Jamshed, decided to lead the attack in person. But before this could be done, the actual situation in Jassar became clear, and the attack was called off.

At about first light on 08 September, an NCO of the Engineers came into our positions. He told of a heavy Indian attack that had severely mauled 3 F.F Regiment which was deployed as screen. He was immediately taken to the Brigade HQ, where Brig Malik questioned him in the presence of Col Jamshed and Major Aslam Shah, who was the B.M.

If Brig Malik had any doubt about a serious enemy thrust in his sector, that was now removed. It took him about a minute to take, what many consider, the most important decision of the war i.e. to advance on a broad front and engage the attacking enemy forces. This decision was entirely Brig Malik’s, and it saved Pakistan. Had it gone wrong, he would have been court martialled. Since he suspected that HQ 15 Div. was prone to panic, he ordered Maj. Aslam Shah to break wireless contact with the Div. HQ (which was re-established when the enemy had been engaged, and Tikka Khan had taken over 15 Div). Brig Malik then gave the operation orders to his unit commanders, including Lt Col Nisar, CO 25 Cavalry. It is, therefore, absolutely incorrect to say that Brig Malik “abdicated” his command to a unit commander. Indeed, after that first day, 25 Cavalry was not involved in operations as regiment, because the situation warranted squadron actions in support of infantry. And this support these squadrons unstintingly and heroically provided. But this by no stretch of the imagination can be taken to mean the de facto command of the Chawinda Battle was at any time exercised by Co 25 Cavalry. This remained firmly in Brig Malik’s hands who remained unswerving and steadfast and central to the battle, right till the very end.

After the first three days of almost continuous battle we had suffered serious depletion in numbers, and had suffered extreme exhaustion both physically and mentally. And so we were withdrawn from the FDLs to recover, but that same evening the situation at the front became so alarming that  we were thrust right back into the battle. It is a fair comment on the morale of 24 Brigade group that despite our bedraggled state and the mauling we had received, there was no hesitation on the part of anyone to rejoin battle. From then, to the end of the war, 24 Brigade held its position and survived — but barely. It is difficult to explain what extreme weariness really is.

There is mention in the article under reference, of Brig Malik’s request to be moved to the “rear”, which was refused by Gen Abrar. If a Brigade Commander is to make such a suggestion, he cannot just say “rear”. He has to give an alternate plan of operations which he must work out with his staff. Gen Aslam Shah (then B.M) denies that any such suggestion was ever made, and this fits into the experience of people like me, who were quite clearly told that for 24 Brigade, this was to be a “last man last round battle”. Therefore, if such a suggestion is recorded, either its context is missing, or it is the result of a misunderstanding. When we were suddenly pulled out of recuperation and sent back into battle (refer sub-para above) we were told that we will be pulled back for refitment at the first possible opportunity. Perhaps this could be the context.

2. And now I would like to make few general comments as under:-

Anyone reading the article under reference is bound to come away with the impression that the Battle of Chawinda was fought exclusively by Brig Amjad Chaudhry, Lt Col Nisar, Maj. Muhammad Ahmed, and the “direct participant” Maj. Shamshad. The infantry, it seems was just not there. As authentic history, therefore, this article will be seen as trifle lop-sided. The truth is that by sheer coincidence some very brave and steadfast men got thrown into what was 24 Brigade. With the courage of these men, came a good deal of luck by providence — and the combination made for quite a number of gallant actions by all arms, and all ranks.

Brig Muhammad Ahmed was heroic, and so was Lt Col Nisar, but how can the rest of 25 Cavalry be put into the dustbin of anonymity? Indeed I can’t think of one officer or tank commander who did not perform.

Yes, General Abrar was a good commander. He was calm and poised and did not foist needless interference on 24 Brigade. Brig Amjad Chaudhry too had a reputation of a good artillery officer, though I would have to be a very brave man to declare him the best gunner officer in the sub-continent. These officers held their nerve, and did not panic. And nor did they need to. They were never within the sights of the enemy. But people like Lt Col Shinwari, Lt Col Jamshed and Maj. Aslam Shah constantly were, and yet they kept their calm. And last but not the least the composure of Brig Abdul Ali Malik deserves to be saluted. Throughout the battle his HQ was either in the FDLs or not more than 400 yds in the rear. He kept his cool in the face of direct enemy fire for days at end — comparison between him and the others is like comparing a fighter in the ring with the audience. When Lt Gen (Retd) Tariq, S. J came on PTV two years ago on the occasion of Defence Day, he talked of his experiences of the Battle of Chawinda. He was generous in his praise of many gallant actions. But he singled out Brig Malik beyond all the rest as the man whose battle it really was, while all the rest of us revolved around him. Having seen him at close quarters, I cannot disagree with this assessment.

3. Lastly, to call a respected senior officer “a VCO type” General, was not in very good taste.

Farouk Adam Khan S. J
27 June 001

I refer to Ex Major Farouk Adam Khan’s S.J letter on my article “ Battle of Chawinda” .

I have only touched “incidents and aspects” of the battle about which “I could be certain” based on the “authority of  tangible concrete and precise” records in the form of “ official sources of the Pakistan Army” like Major General  Shaukat Riza’s “The Pakistan Army-War 1965” sponsored and published by the Pakistan Army and printed by the Pakistan Army Press in 1984 , The Pakistan Army Green Book-1992  the official yearbook of the Pakistan Army published by the Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters and accounts of direct participants like Major Shamshad. I had the opportunity of meeting other participants like Brigadier Ahmad in 1982 , Lieutenant Colonel Raza in 1993 and Major Shamshad in 2000. In addition, I met a large number of participants while serving in 11 Cavalry from 27th March 1983 till 9th April 1985.

l  Firstly the assertion by the worthy critic that the Indian mailbag was captured by an exfiltrating element of Gibraltar Force. The Gibraltar Force was a fiasco of magnanimous proportions and very few exfiltrated in good shape what to talk of capturing a mail bag. The mail bag was captured by a deliberate ambush launched under the direction of Headquarter 15 Division under direction of Col S.G Mehdi. The official account on this episode is clear. Thus Shaukat Riza states “Lt Col Sher Zaman (MI Directorate) ordered Col S.G Mehdi (15 Division) to lay an ambush on the road (Samba-Kathua), and get some prisoners. At 0100 hours night 3rd/4th September, Zaman had a call from an excited Mehdi. An Indian despatch rider had been captured. His message bag contained mail for HQ Squadron 1 Indian Armoured Division. The bag was immediately flown to Rawalpindi.” (Refers-Pages-133 & 134-The Pakistan Army-War 1965-Shaukat Riza-Army Education Press-1984).

l What happened after this at least on paper was a mystery till Gen N.U.K Babar cleared this point on paper in an interview conducted by this scribe and published in DJ April 2000 issue by stating that the mail box was dismissed as an Indian deception by the then DMI Brigadier Irshad.

l  In paragraph 1 the worthy critic states about Brigadier Malik  i.e “It took him about a minute to take the most important decision of the war i.e to advance on a broad front and engage the attacking enemy forces”. Now this is a figment of the worthy critics imagination. In “Summer 1997“ issue of “Pakistan Army Journal“ Brigadier Nisar the Commanding Officer of 25 Cavalry gave his version of the Battle of Gadgor-Chawinda. Nowhere in the article did Nisar state that Brigadier Malik gave him any order on the decisive 8th of September “to advance on a broad front and engage the enemy”.  On the other hand this point has been treated very clearly by Shaukat Riza in the Pakistani GHQ’s officially sponsored account. Shaukat describes the initial situation on the crucial morning of 8th September 1965 in the following words “At about 0600 hours 24 Brigade received the news that 3 FF had been overrun. Brigadier Ali Malik got on to Col Nisar and ordered 25 Cavalry to do something”. (Refers Page - 148-Shaukat Riza-Op Cit) That was the only order Malik gave. All the subsequent deployment was done by Nisar and the brunt of the Indian attack was borne by “Bravo Squadron” of 25 Cavalry commanded by Major Ahmad. It was Col Nisar and Nisar alone who did the broad front deployment without any orders to resort to any broad front deployment from Brigadier Malik.

l In paragraph 1 the worthy critic states that Brigadier Malik never made a request for a withdrawal on 16th September. My source for stating that Brigadier Malik made a request for withdrawing from Chawinda position is none other than a major direct participant staff officer of the battle i.e Major K.M Arif the then GSO-2 (Operations) 6th Armoured Division at Chawinda. It was 6th Armoured Division Headquarters which controlled the battle after 9th September. It is very strange that the critic finds my narration odd rather than contesting the authority which I quoted to support my assertion. In an article published in Pakistan Army Green Book-1992-Year of the Senior Field Commanders, General K.M Arif (Retired) made the following assertion i.e “The battle raged with considerable intensity on September 16. After its failure to capture Chawinda the enemy failed to envelop it by a two pronged attack. In the process the villages of Sodreke fell and Buttur Dograndi came under attack. The severe fighting resulted in many casualties. The situation was confused and the outcome uncertain .So fluid the situation became  that at 1630 hours 24 Brigade Commander requested permission to take up a position in the rear.Abrar told the brigade commander on telephone, “You know what is there in the kitty. There is no question of falling back.We shall fight till the bitter end from our present positions.” His words proved a timely tonic. 24 Brigade fought gallantly. Soon the danger subsided.” (Refers -Page -6-” Abrar’s Battlefield Decisions”-Pakistan Army Green Book-Year of Senior Commanders-Pakistan Army-General Headquarters-Rawalpindi-1992). This assertion was made by one of the principal staff officers of the 6th Armoured Division who was present on the scene and not a figment of my imagination.

l  Even 6th Armoured Division’s War Diary contains a record of the above mentioned telephone call.

l  As to the worthy critic’s assertion in paragraph 1 about de facto command of Chawinda Battle remaining in Brigadier Malik till the end. All that I stated was that during the most decisive encounter of the whole battle at Gadgor on 8th September it was Nisar and Nisar alone who exercised coup d oeil deploying his regiment entirely on his own without any orders from 24 Brigade about “any broad front deployment” or any “specific orders to deploy in any particular disposition”. After this decisive encounter at Gadgor the Indians did not do anything till 11th September. From 10th September 6th Armoured Division entered the scene and controlled the Chawinda battle, 24 Brigade being one of the many brigades that it commanded.

l  Refers the criticism in paragraph 2 that “the battle was fought exclusively by Amjad Chaudhry,

Lt Col Nisar, Major Mohammad Ahmad and the direct participant Major Shamshad” all I can say is that the critic did not read my article but only scanned through it.On map opposite Page-40 it is written that C squadron i.e Shamshad’s squadron  arrived opposite Gadgor area at 1130 hours after the situation had been stabilised. On various pages I have stated eg “ 25 Cavalry was to Pakistan Army’s good luck, a newly raised but extremely fine tank regiment” (Refers-Page-43). The same point is repeated on various pages.

l About Abdul Ali Malik’s command qualities Gen Fazal Muqeem notes in his “Pakistan’s Crisis in Leadership” “The few counterattacks which 8 Division tried during the war were most noticeable by their lack of planning.The units were hurled into battle without having been given enough time for planning and preparations .The worst example of this attack was on December 17 when against all protestations of its very gallant commanding officer , 35 FF was sent into battle for almost certain massacre” (Refers-Page-215 and 216-Pakistan’s Crisis in Leadership-Major General Fazal Muqeem Khan (Retired)-National Book Foundation-Lahore-1973).

l  Chawinda was an armour battle and this is proved by casualties suffered by tank and infantry units. How many infantry units except 3 FF could match the casualties of 11 Cavalry in 1965 i.e 34 killed. As a matter of fact the direct  participant Major Shamshad has referred to one counter attack in which an infantry company of 2 Punjab had Nil killed and two officers got the SJ. Even in Chamb during Grand Slam 11 Cavalry lost 19 killed on 1st September 1965 alone while 14 Punjab lost a total of  3 killed in the entire Grand Slam. (Refers-Page-108 1 & 109-Pak Bharat Jang-Colonel Mukhtar Gillani -Rawalpindi-April -1998). As a matter of fact 11 Cavalry suffered more casualties in Grand Slam than all ten infantry units except one i.e 13 Punjab which had lost 24 killed as against 11 Cavalry’s 19 killed.But then the strength of an armoured regiment is around 400 vis-a-vis 800 of infantry.

l  Lastly the reference to VCO. This was purely symbolic and had nothing to do with rank or status in the literal sense. Sher Bahadur’s efforts to divide and distribute the 4 Corps Artillery Headquarter before the 1965 War have been discussed by an authority no less eminent than Pakistan Army’s last C in C, Gul Hassan.This if done would have seriously compromised chances of Pakistani success in Grand Slam and Chawinda.Without concentrated artillery at Grand Slam or in Chawinda none including Abrar or Malik could have defeated the Indians.

Kind Regards
A.H Amin (pavocavalry@hotmail.com)
 
Brig (r) Muhammad Akhtar Khan
No. 127, Street No. 12 Lane - 4,
Chaklala-III, Rawalpindi.
 
To:       Ikram Ul Majeed Sehgal,                               22nd July 2001
            Publisher and Managing Editor,
            Defence Journal,
            KARACHI.

My Dear Ikram

I had written an article regarding my experiences with Army batmen based on my Recollections from Memory which you have kindly published in the July 2001 issue of the Defence Journal. Being encouraged by your kind gesture, I propose to send you some more articles in future based on my recollections. I hope you will find them interesting and worthy of space in your journal.

I would like to take this opportunity to point out a minor error that has inadvertently occurred. In the short write up ‘ABOUT THE AUTHOR’ at the end of the article it has been mentioned that I rose to the rank of Federal Secretary in 1993. This is factually not correct. After my retirement from the Army I was employed on contract with the Federal Government as Joint Secretary and remained as such till my superannuation. In 1993 I was posted as Secretary, Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources - which was a BPS-20 job. The impression that I was promoted Federal Secretary has probably occurred due to this. I shall be grateful if an appropriate clarification can be issued.

With best wishes and regards
Yours Sincerely,
Brig (r) M. Akhtar Khan

We inadvertently promoted Brigadier (Retd) M Akhter to the rank of Federal Secretary. The error is regretted.

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