|It was at Sialkot in the year 1971 while I was a Captain, that war again
broke out between Pakistan and India and so on the evening of perhaps fourth December I
found myself dug in my Observation Post (OP) with my observer party consisting of the
wireless operator, the technical assistant (TA) and the driver of my jeep awaiting for the
Indian attack across the border. The war on the eastern front, East Pakistan, however had
already been going on since long and our armed forces were fighting on two fronts there.
One front was the Indian Army across the border and the other front was inside East
Pakistan against the Mukhti Bahini, the insurgents from amongst the local Bengali
population who were demanding independence for East Pakistan from West Pakistan.
At Sialkot I was deployed as the forward-most artillery observer (OP) of a medium battery supporting a Baluch Battalion to defend the Pukhlian sector which also consisted of a Punjab and Frontier Force unit. This Brigade was deployed three Battalions up from Chumbia to Eik Nullah. The general pattern of fighting in this area was mainly harassing fire and occasional raids. The Pukhlian sector was on the left flank to where the Baluch Battalion and my OP was deployed. The salient was being defended by one wing of the Ranger Force called Saleem Force' . It was here at Sialkot that except for one or two major offensive in the initial stages of war, there was not much action.
In the words of Maj. General R Shaukat Riza, Ò In Sialkot it seemed that neither side intended to launch a major offensive battle. In engagements that did take place our troops fought with their usual clan. These actions perhaps convinced the Indians that Pakistan Army in the western front would by no means be a walk over.
It was during one of the first major offensive that I had first true taste of war. The enemy launched their attack on our defences somewhere after dusk with whatever firepower they could shower on us. And so while I crouched in my dug out trench resembling more like a dug out grave with my OP party, the distant boom of heavy enemy artillery guns, mortars and tanks followed by the shells fell on our forward most defences with deafening noise all over the place. I would not be telling the truth if I said that I was not at all terrified and afraid. In those moments while the earth around my OP shook with dust, mud and the nausatic odour of burning gun powder going up my nostrils while my eyes pained with burning sensation, I thought that my end had come and that this dug out OP would perhaps become my grave. It is at times like these that even the most courageous and brave person is bound to be afraid. But then someone did say that basically man is afraid and a born coward and only those become brave who are able to hide their fear and control their cowardice. I was then a very frightened soul but somehow I did manage not to show it to my men and putting up a brave front, came out of my trench and from a vantage point nearby I passed orders on the wireless to fire on the advancing enemy to my medium battery. with so much accuracy and intensity of firepower that the leading enemy Brigade Plus advance soon stopped dead in its tracks and within minutes retreated leaving behind a number of damaged tanks and dead soldiers all over the place. They attacked a number of times again but met very tough resistance and so perhaps they finally gave up but did continue sending harassing parties now and then which kept us busy but with almost no casualties on either side. It was hide and seek from then onwards until cease-fire was announced few days later. Both sides had in the end achieved nothing but very few casualties not worth mentioning.
However the news and stories pouring in from the different foreign press, radio , TV etc. regarding East Pakistan were not very encouraging. East Pakistan, where some pockets of our valiant forces were still fighting at odd places despite the ceasefire, was expected to fall any day. What happened in East Pakistan, what were the circumstances of its surrender, who are at be blamed for the emergence of Bangladesh is another story altogether. I am in no position or authority to write about it. I only know that for Pakistan it was the blackest period in its history. When the war was finally over , East Pakistan had fallen to the Indian Army and 90,000 Pakistanis including the army, civilians and Generals had been made prisoners of war (POWs ) and soon after transferred to concentration camps in India. To sum up this war in the words of Major General (Retd) Shoukat Riza in his book The Pakistan Army 1966 -1971 The year of 1971 was sad for Pakistan. The Pakistan Army was trapped by its unqualified acceptance of CLAUZEWITZ maxim that War is a continuation of policy by other means' We blundered into the military action in East Pakistan on the wrong premise that the bulk of East Pakistanis were on our side. We failed to understand the people, the geography and the effect of continued use of violence on the people and on the troops. We squandered the flowers of our Army, and we set them on a course which ended in our military humiliation. Finally we failed to appreciate the Indian reaction in all its dimensions. If there is anything to be learnt from the events of 1971, it is that war is a continuation of policy only for the victor. For the loser there is no policy only MILITARY HUMILIATION'. And so Pakistan lost its Eastern sector. Our Bengali brothers opted to have an independent country of their own and parted ways. It was a sad and traumatic experience especially for those who had intermarried and many a families broke because of the events that took place.
This war like the 1965 war was short in its duration but left a deep impact on my mind. In my opinion war is a curse, no country powerful or weak can afford and those who speak of war should in my mind be termed simply as lunatics. I of course had undergone an experience that left many unanswered questions. What are we fighting for? Why can't we live like good neighbours and solve our problems across the table ? What can be achieved by fighting except destruction, misery, tragedy and poverty which both our under-nourished and underdeveloped nations cannot afford? I hoped then that sanity would prevail on politicians from both the sides and prayed that both Pakistan and India would in future live in harmony and friendship for the betterment of our countries for times to come.
Soon after the war I was promoted to the rank of Major and as a battery commander was given the command of an artillery battery. We were however still camped on the borders on the western front awaiting orders to go back to the cantonment area. Our Army chief Gen Yahya Khan had been sacked and arrested while Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto took over the reins of the country as the supreme commander. In the next few months the process of repatriation of our prisoners of war (POWs) started from India. Being a defeated country we were subjected to humiliation by the massive Indian press propaganda and they started announcing the names and messages of our prisoners of war over the radio. It was pathetic hearing the voices of our people over the radio while their kin folks at home glued their ears to it day and night in anticipation of hearing about their lost ones. India spared no stone unturned to portray that it was the victor and did whatever it was possible through its Hindu mentality to humiliate and disgrace Pakistan and its people. Repatriation was very slow and took many months to complete. Stories of excesses, rapes, killings + murders etc. committed in East Pakistan during the war also came pouring in along and it took more than a year for things to calm down but things were never the same as before the war. Pakistan now had broken into two. The other part now Bangladesh under Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rahman became independent although still under the occupation of the Indian Army. The next few years Pakistan tried to stabilise itself after the tragedy of the 1971 war.
A lot of changes took place in the Armed Forces soon after the war. Many high ranking armed forces officers either resigned or were retired. Things were not the same as before the war and the process of raising the morale of a defeated army and the nation became top priority. The tragedy of 1971 war also changed my thinking and perception but a greater personal tragedy was soon to follow for which I was not prepared and left me so much disturbed that it began to affect my career. I lost my father who died at a young age of 52 years and the burden of supporting a large family consisting of my mother, four brothers and two sisters, all students and younger to me fell on my shoulders.
In the years to come I tried to do my best to cope with both my army career and the many domestic problems at home but in the end I succumbed to the pressures of my family and I therefore decided to stay and look after them, I finally took voluntary release from the army after having served honourably for sixteen years.
I would like to say that even today I have never regretted the life I spent as an officer in the army. Those were one of the best times I had and relish them with sweet and everlasting memories. And if there are institutions in our country that deserve praise, honour and recognition, these are our well disciplined armed forces, academies from where I at least learnt a lot especially as how to conduct myself in life and from where I gained confidence and the art of facing it with fortitude, determination and tolerance. It is said that soldiers never die, they just fade away. I too would fade away one day but I hope my sons and grandchildren would make me proud by following in my steps and serve this great country with honour, dignity, honesty and to the best of their abilities.