OPINION

THE WAY IT WAS

za-khan

DJ continues publishing extracts from

Brig (Retd) ZA KHAN’s very readable

forthcoming book

In the last week of February 1972 I and my family moved to Kharian and I reported at the 6 Armoured Division headquarters which was located in a canal department rest house at Satrah. Major General M. I. Karim, a Bengali, who had opted to be expatriated had just left and Brigadier Syed Wajahat Hussain was the officiating division commander.

In the division headquarters just before my arrival, the colonel staff, Colonel Agha Javed Iqbal, the commanding officer of the Signal Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Khurshid, the commander 9 Armoured Brigade, Brigadier Iqbal Mehdi Shah, the commanding officer 9 FF, commander I Corps Artillery Brigadier F.B. Ali and Colonel Alim Afridi, Artillery, had been posted out from their posts. At the division headquarters the story was that after the ceasefire there was a telephonic conversation between Colonel Javed Iqbal and the Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Gul Hasan Khan, then Brigadier F. B. Ali, Colonel Javed Iqbal and Colonel Alim Afridi drafted a letter asking President Yahya to resign and hand over power or else 6 Armoured Division would march on Rawalpindi and enforce his removal. Major General M. I. Karim the then GOC was asked to sign the letter and did so. Colonel Javed Iqbal and Colonel Alim Afridi flew to Rawalpindi and delivered the letter to the CGS who conveyed the contents to President Yahya.

It was further said that General Hamid, the COAS, asked Major General A. O. Mitha, the Quartermaster General to deal with the problem. Major General Mitha was supposed to have asked Brigadier Ghulam Mohammad, the Commander SSG for a commando company to be dropped on the 6 Armoured Division headquarters. When Brigadier F. B. Ali and his associates learnt that commandos may be used to seize the division headquarters, they made the commanding officer of the Signal Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Khurshid organise the defence of the headquarters and asked Brigadier Iqbal Mehdi Shah to provide infantry and 9 FF was ordered to take over the defence of the division headquarters.

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After Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became the President and Lieutenant General Gul Hassan was appointed the Commander-in-Chief all the officers, directly and indirectly involved, were posted out from their posts. About a week after I joined the division headquarters, Lieutenant General Gul Hassan was forced to resign from the post of C-in-C of the army and Air Marshal Rahim Khan from the post of the C-in-C of the PAF, Lieutenant General Tikka Khan was promoted general and appointed C-in-C of the army. Soon after this an inquiry was held into the writing of the letter asking for the resignation of General Yahya and all the officers connected were compulsorily retired from service.

Before my posting as the colonel staff, I had worked as the Deputy Quartermaster General (DQ) of 6 Armoured Division in 1965. Lieutenant Colonel Mir Abad Hussain who was then GSO 2 (Intelligence) was now the GSO 1, and Lieutenant Colonel Anwar Wajih was the AA&QMG. My main dealings were with the brigade majors of the two armoured brigades and the artillery brigade, with the Chief of Staff, I Corps, Brigadier N. A. Hussain who had asked for more 'sweepers' in East Pakistan and got sacked, the GSO 1 (Operations) I Corps, was Lieutenant Colonel Musheer Muhammad Khan from 13 Lancers, later brigadier.

As the colonel staff of the division I reconnoitered the whole of the division's operational area. One of the areas I went to was the Barrapind battlefield where 13 Lancers had counter attacked and suffered heavy casualties. Lieutenant Colonel Syed Masood Ahmad, who had been a squadron officer with me in 'A' Squadron, 13 Lancers, and had commanded the regiment during the battle took me around the battlefield, and described the battle. Looking at the terrain I estimated that the Indians would have had six squadrons of tanks but Lieutenant Colonel Masood told me that after the ceasefire they had found that there were nine squadrons. There were a lot of reasons for the 13 Lancers disaster, I Corps commander launched a counter attack without sealing the breach in his front, Brigadier Mohammad Ahmad, commander 8 Armoured Brigade made no effort to find out the extent of the breach in the Corps front or the strength of the enemy he was counter attacking. The counter attack was launched on the information received at about ten o'clock at night that about six tanks had crossed the defensive minefield, the attack was launched at about seven o'clock in the morning and three tank regiments had moved across the minefield by then.

13 Lancers was trained to charge an objective, they used their tracks and not their guns, one tank was knocked out about fifty yards from the Indian position. One squadron at a time was fed into the Indian horseshoe shaped field of fire held by nine squadrons, the regiment suffered heavy losses in tanks with about thirty men killed and about forty wounded. Amongst the five officers killed was my brother Captain Aijaz Alam.

After the 8 Armoured Brigade disaster, a FF battalion which had arrived in the area that evening was launched in a silent night attack on Barrapind, the correct battle procedure was not followed, the units on both flanks were not informed that a silent attack was being launched, a 13 Lancers squadron was deployed adjacent to the area from where the battalion attacked. When the battalion was close to the objective the enemy opened fire, the commanding officer got killed and the men started running back. 13 Lancers squadron hearing the sound of fire and not knowing that own troops had attacked and were running back,

opened fire and caused very heavy casualties in the attacking battalion. The commanding officer of the battalion was awarded the Hilal-e-Jurrat and the lapse was swept under the carpet.

The 6 Armoured Division peace station was Kharian, about sixty miles from the area where it was deployed, soldiers who had left their families in Kharian used to go there on casual leave by the local buses. Almost every day there were reports that soldiers were taunted for losing the war, that they were not allowed to get into buses which resulted in fights while boarding buses. After considering the problem I requisitioned a bus and ran a bus service free of charge from the concentration area to Kharian.

I Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General Abdul Ali Malik, revised plans to deal with eventualities in case hostilities were resumed and 6 Armoured Division was required to counter attack several areas. In one of the plans the division was required to cross a defensive minefield, re-cross it and then cross it again. As colonel staff of the division I pointed out this crossing and re-crossing of the minefield to Major General Wajahat Hussain but he did not allow me to question the Corps headquarters, so when the Corps commander visited the division headquarters and I had to present the divisional plans, I pointed out the crossing and re-crossing much to the anxiety of the division commander but the Corps Commander did not take any note of it.

General Tikka Khan, the C-in-C of the Army and Major General M. Rahim Khan, the Chief of the General Staff visited the division headquarters. Major General M. Rahim Khan was evacuated from East Pakistan in a helicopter that was supposed to bring out the nurses from the Military Hospital, he became known in the Army as “Bungal se bhagora” and was generally referred to as “bhagora Rahim”. 'Bhagora' is a soldier's term for a person who has run away, a deserter. Both the visits were routine, we stood in line and were introduced, the situation map was seen and the visitors departed.

The 6 Armoured Division Artillery was commanded by Brigadier Wahid, 2nd PMA Course, in the division headquarters, at the Satrah Rest House, he had parked the caravan in which he slept, under a big tree. In the compound of the Rest House there was mosque with a maulvi, someone from the Signal Battalion of the division rigged up a loudspeaker on the tree under which Brigadier Wahid's caravan was parked, ran the wires to a microphone in the mosque and the maulvi sounded the 'aazaan' five times a day with the brigadier getting the full blast of the call to prayers. He ordered the speaker removed but it was not, he had the wires cut but they were repaired, he fought the maulvi and the Signal Battalion for two or three days, then quietly retreated with his headquarters to the Pasrur airfield.

One day my youngest brother Second Lieutenant Javed Alam Khan, who was then battery officer in a field artillery regiment in the 15 Division artillery, telephoned and told me that he was in trouble because he had some trees cut down and a report had been made against him and his senior JCO. He implied that I should do something, though his commanding officer was Lieutenant Colonel Hanan Yasin, a coursemate of mine. I told him that if he had the trees cut to say so and give his reason, as long as he had not done it for personal use, there would be no problem. I did not hear anything about it again but years later my brother told me that the senior JCO using his influence got them both out of the trouble. A little later my brother applied for a transfer to the Armoured Corps and with a little help from the Director Armoured Corps, Brigadier S. R. C. Daniels, he was transferred and opted for 24 Cavalry.

My old friend Lieutenant Colonel Majeed who had been the commanding officer of the EME battalion in 1 Armoured Division was the commanding officer of the EME battalion of the 6 Armoured Division. The division headquarters started receiving copies of 'unfair wear and tear' reports about the vehicles and equipment of an artillery regiment. I called the commanding officer and asked him what the problem was, he told me that he and commanding officer of the EME battalion had fallen out over some repair problem and the EME battalion commander was raising 'unfair wear and tear' reports and victimizing his unit. I arranged an inspection of the EME Battalion by the GOC and accompanied him. I pointed out a number of items in which there was 'unfair wear and tear' and equipment was not properly maintained, the battalion commander was then asked how many 'unfair wear and tear reports' had been raised about his equipment which he was not maintaining properly.

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Since the ceasefire there had been no training activity, the training of the division was started. An exercise was held for putting out a written operation order by the division headquarters. With the then typing and duplicating facilities, it was found that after the division commander had given his orders, it took nearly six to eight hours to produce the required number of copies of the order with its traces and attachments, which certainly required improvement. The training of the administrative units was carried out and brigades were exercised in planning, command and control. Telephone battles were set to make the commanders react to unforeseen situations and some commanders failed badly in this respect.

Brigadier Habib Akbar, while he was colonel staff 1 Armoured Division had initiated and supervised the making of mine lifting ploughs copied from the Russians. When 6 Armoured Division received sets of this mine lifting equipment, I told the GOC that tank commanders and drivers must see the plough working to avoid inhibitions in their use. I arranged a presentation on the ploughs and a demonstration, a minefield was laid and a tank with the plough fitted tried to clear a path, the first anti-tank mine exploded blowing the plough away, a second one was tried with the same result, that ended the mine lifting plough.

In June 1972 I was posted to command the 3rd (Independent) Armoured Brigade in IV Corps, Lieutenant General Abdul Hamid Khan was the corps commander. When the posting order was received I asked Major General Wajahat if the posting could be changed to the command of an armoured brigade in an armoured division but he told me that it could not be done.

I took over the command of 3rd Armoured Brigade from Brigadier Fazl-e-Haq, later lieutenant general. The 3rd Armoured Brigade, minus armoured regiments, was taken from 1 Armoured Division, it consisted of the armoured infantry battalion 1 FF, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Rana, later brigadier, 16 (SP) Field Regiment, Artillery, the services elements came from the armoured division, 4 Cavalry, equipped with M 48 tanks, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Khawar Rashid Peerzada, taken from 11 Division and 15 Lancers, equipped with T- 34 Russian tanks, the IV Corps reconnaissance regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel M. Khurshid Afridi, who had been a platoon commander in 'J' Company, SSG, when I raised it, composed the armour element but 15 Lancers was deployed to cover the Sutlej river from Hussieniwala to Sulemanki, 52 Punjab, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Shafiq, later lieutenant general, a newly raised infantry battalion made up its order of battle.

The brigade major of the brigade was Major Hamid Gul, later lieutenant general and the DQ was Major Allah Baksh Tiwana, the brigade headquarters was located in the Changa Manga Forest Rest House. Although 3rd Armoured Brigade was supposed to be an 'Independent' brigade, its organisation had not been decided and powers of an independent brigade commander were not delegated, therefore the Corps commander held the administrative and disciplinary powers. The role of the brigade was to counter attack any lodgement by the Indians between the Ravi River and Sulemanki headwork.

Brigadier Fazl-e-Haq while handing over the charge, apart from explaining the plans of the brigade and giving me other relevant information, told me that there had been a theft from the second line ammunition kept in the Army Service Corps vehicles and disciplinary action was taken against the officer concerned. He had also said that some charges had been levelled against the commanding officer of 4 Cavalry, Lieutenant Colonel Khawar Rashid Peerzada, by an officer who had been placed on an 'adverse report' which had been investigated and there had been nothing in the charges.

The first month was spent in going over the operational plans of the brigade, in the plans there was the same shortcoming as in the attack of 8 Armoured Brigade at Barrapind, the enemy penetration was not contained before the counter attack.

As is customary, I visited all the units under my command, one major problem we faced was that the gauges of the transport vehicles of the American Aid vintage vehicles were not working with the result that vehicle engines seized. The officer commanding the workshop, a very capable major who had been superseded for slapping a soldier, when faced with the problem said he was aware of the problem but the necessary parts were not available in Ordnance stores. I told him to check the motor spare parts market but there also they were not available, the OC workshop then asked for permission to make the parts in the workshop, I gave the permission and he bought the items required and made the gauges in the workshop. If the EME and the Ordnance had utilised the local manufacturing capability at the cottage industry level, probably we would not have such a big problem about spare parts.

About two months after I assumed the command of the brigade, Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Rashid Khan, SJ, took over the command of 16 (SP) Field Regiment, Artillery, he was a major in the 1965 war with India and had been decorated for engaging enemy tanks over 'open sights' with his guns, he had been superseded and had been posted to 16 (SP) for a review report for promotion. After he had settled down in command I visited the unit and a few days later received an album of photographs of the visit.

In the Changa Manga village there was resentment against the presence of the brigade, the ceasefire with the loss of East Pakistan was one reason for the resentment against the army, the newspapers published articles against officers and further fanned the resentment. Sometime after I assumed the command of the brigade I was told that the maulvi of Changa Manga village mosque was speaking against the army in his 'khutba' every Friday, I sent for the maulvi and the village headman and told the maulvi in front of the headman what I would do to him if I heard that he had uttered another word against the army. I was told later that the maulvi left the village and went away.

In November I was informed that the brigade was to return to its peace station Lahore and minefields were to be lifted. 15 Lancers was deployed along the Sutlej River and certain areas were mined. When the mine lifting started 15 Lancers was required to provide a medical officer to be present when the mines were being lifted, the medical officer of 15 Lancers was a conscript, he refused to go to the minefield. The second in command, officiating as the commanding officer reported this to me, I told him to tell the officer to go or I would take disciplinary action, the second in command came back and told me that the doctor said that he had been a student leader in the medical college and had very good connections with the Pakistan Peoples Party, he would have me and the second in command black listed if he was sent to the minefield. I sent a message back saying that if he did not go where he was ordered to go he would be court martialled, the doctor reported sick and was placed 'sick in quarters' and I was informed, I sent an order that a medical officer could only 'advise rest in quarters', it was up to the officer in command to accept the advice or disregard it, in this case it was disregarded, finally the doctor went. The second in command also had to get a review report, I inspected 15 Lancers while he was officiating as the commanding officer, he had been commissioned in 15 Lancers and had about 16 years of service, when I asked him the organisation of the headquarters squadron of the regiment he did know it.

From Changa Manga I used to go on weekends to Lahore where my family resided. At a certain place on the highway a beggar used to stand by the roadside, after some time he changed his dress to a green shirt of a holy man, later he marked a rectangle by the roadside with stones, after a while a mound appeared in the rectangle. All the while the man stood and begged at the same point. Finally a tomb was constructed and the man now sat inside, a fine example of an idea developed into a lucrative business.

Once when I was going to Lahore, little beyond Bhai Pheru, a small town, reputed to have been named after a Christian priest Brother Turner, which translated into 'Bhai Pheru', a man on a bicycle, going in the same direction as my staff car but on the wrong side of the road, suddenly crossed to the correct side of the road, in doing this his cycle came in front of my staff car and was hit by it. The man flew in the air and landed on the flag pole on the bonnet of the car; the brass flag pole went through his groin, the staff car stopped, we took him down from the bonnet. I notice that he was bleeding profusely, I had a tourniquet tied on his thigh and had him put in a vehicle. I went to brief the driver of the vehicle to take him to the Bhai Pheru Civil Dispensary, when I went to the rear of the vehicle I found that the tourniquet had been removed and the body of the truck was full of blood, I asked who had removed the tourniquet and a man was pointed out, he was the local choudhry. I had the tourniquet put back, took the man to the dispensary where I found that apart from a chowkidar there was no staff, then I gave directions for the man to be taken to the civil hospital in Lahore and a report to be lodged with the police. The man was admitted in the hospital but he died during the night.

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