OPINION
When I heard that there were no troops ahead of where we were standing I called my Technical Officer Captain Muhammad Nawaz Saqi Gujar and ordered him to recover one tank of ours which was left between Gabbar and Masitwari Bhit. Captain Nawaz and a recovery team left immediately, a little while later news came that the vehicle that Captain Nawaz had gone in had run over a mine and he and the EME recovery crew were injured. I took a vehicle and about two miles ahead found one of our Dodges smashed and Captain Nawaz with a broken leg, I brought him back, borrowed the helicopter that had come to take Major General Mustafa back and sent Captain Nawaz to the Main dressing station at Sadiqabad. The divisional engineers had been ordered to lay a minefield ten miles ahead of Gabbar on the Masitwari track. But they had thrown the mines across the track about two miles ahead of Gabbar. The tank was later recovered.

While we were waiting for the helicopter to return, on the divisional command net information came from 51 Brigade that an enemy armoured brigade was advancing. An Army Aviation L-19, flown by some Naval officers, was there. I asked Major Zia Ud Din Javed, who was an Army Aviation pilot, to take the plane and check where the enemy tanks were located and which way they were heading. After about half an hour Major Zia Ud Din Javed returned and told us that there were no tanks, a lot of camels were hobbled behind a hill and that he was lucky to get back as he had come under heavy anti-aircraft fire.

That night I pulled back to Khenju, all my recovered tanks were collected there and the replacement of the engines was started. I drove to the 18 Division headquarters and reported my tank state and told the new GOC that in a day or two I would have them all running again. I also offered the hull machine guns of the tanks mounted on a tripod with a gunner and .50 machine guns in the anti-aircraft role. The general studied his battle map and approved the location of the tanks at Khenju. He then told me that he was deploying a brigade at Gabbar and that if I was the enemy commander and had an armoured brigade what would I do. I told him that I would screen the Gabbar position and cut the National Highway and the main railway line between Dharki and Sukkur. I could see the shock on the GOC when I said this. The GOC then gave me an area of responsibility and told me to reconnoitre it which I did the next day.

When I was returning from reconnaissance in the evening I saw Indian transport aircraft flying in formation, I had a jeep with .50 machine gun but unfortunately the formation was well out of range. That evening I received a message that Dharki and Reti railway stations were constantly being attacked by Indian aircraft and to provide anti-aircraft defence, I sent .50 machine guns which were sited in the anti-aircraft role and fired once and the Indian aircraft did not return.

16 December 1971 was the day of the ‘jackal’. The radio announced that Lieutenant General ‘Tiger’ Niazi had surrendered to the Indians in Dacca. It was unbelievable, the shock of the defeat was intense. Months later we were to see on the television ‘tiger’ Niazi trying to hug Lieutenant General Aurora, getting pushed away and then signing the surrender and lowering of the Pakistan Flag. Also we were to read that he asked for a copy of the photograph of himself signing the surrender and autographed it for Aurora, who has the autographed photograph hanging in the study in his house in Delhi. A jackal had masqueraded as a tiger.

On the night of 16/17 December, General Yahya, the President of Pakistan, announced that Niazi had surrendered but the war in West Pakistan would go on. Two days later, to everyone’s surprise there was ceasefire, everyone was stunned, we were defeated and lost half the country.

On 19 December I received a message saying that my brother Captain Aijaz Alam had been killed in a tank battle that had taken place in the Zafarwal area. This message was passed on to Corps of Signal channels by Lieutenant Colonel Zaka Khan Afridi, who had served in the SSG with me.

In the war, we, eight brothers, were all serving with troops and had fought, Lieutenant Colonel Firoz Alam had commanded 36 FF, Squadron Leader Shuaib Alam, declared medically unfit for flying due to a heart condition, had volunteered to fly and had flown eight bombing missions, Major Shamim Alam Khan was a squadron commander in 29 Cavalry, Lieutenant Commander Shamoon Alam was on a Naval ship, Flight Lieutenant Aftab Alam had led the raid on Pathankot on 03 December, Captain Aijaz Alam was commanding a troop in 13 Lancers and 2nd Lieutenant Javed Alam was a battery officer in an artillery regiment.

 

I asked the GOC for a L-19 aircraft to go to Kharian for my brother’s funeral and on the 20th December flew to Sahiwal where we stopped for the night. I stayed with Lieutenant Colonel Saghir Hussain Syed, later lieutenant general, and there on the evening news heard that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had become the president, Lieutenant General Gul Hassan the Commander in Chief and that twelve generals had been sacked. The next day we flew to Kharian where I stayed one night and flew back the next day.

My mother was staying with Shuaib’s wife at the PAF base at Badabher, Peshawar, when she was informed that Aijaz had been killed in action. The PAF very kindly flew my mother to Chaklala, from there she went to Kharian to Shamim’s house. Aijaz, with his head bandaged, was brought to Shamim’s house, my mother held his hand and sat there all night, she had not shed a single tear since hearing the news, she said ‘ Aijaz was not dead, he was a ‘shaheed’. The next morning Aijaz was buried in the military graveyard of Kharian.

After I returned from Kharian, I was told to shift my regimental headquarters to Manthar where it was originally located. At Gabbar, before we pulled back to Khenju, I court martialled all the reconnaissance troop NCOs who had hidden their jeeps when they were ordered to advance on the night 4/5 December and reduced them to sowars. After arriving at Manthar I ordered the natures of all the tank breakdowns to be investigated, one tank was found to have been set on fire by its crew and disciplinary action was taken. One man had deserted and walked across the desert but was apprehended and returned to the regiment, he was also court martialled and sent to jail.

A few days after my headquarters moved to Manthar, Risaldar Major Mazhar Ali informed me that there were allegations of cowardice against Major Ghulam Mujtaba ‘A’ Squadron commander, whose squadron had been placed under command of 55 Brigade at Chhor. Knowing our infantry commanders, I was convinced that someone had given an outlandish order to the squadron commander, which he had refused to obey it and was charged with cowardice. I spoke to the GOC, got permission to visit the squadron and went to Chhor. There I went around the squadron and met the 55 Brigade commander, Brigadier Anwar ul Haq, the brigade had done well, the ‘A’ Squadron had also done well except for Major Mujtaba.

‘A’ Squadron was initially placed in the brigade reserve with 26 Baluch, on 5 December No 1 Troop was moved to Suruna Oudha on the left flank of the brigade and another troop was moved to New Chhor where the enemy was pressing hard. On 11 December one tank of 3 Troop was hit by a rocket and three of the crew members were seriously wounded. On 13 December, 2 Troop while moving to a new position was attacked by Indian aircraft and three crew members were killed. On 15 December all the tanks of the squadron with a company of 39 FF attacked BP 405 and it was occupied without opposition, later another attack by 45 Punjab was supported. There were two black marks against the squadron, the first one was that enemy tanks had come within their range and they had not engaged them, one T-55 tank was standing in the minefield laid by the brigade. The second black mark was that Major Mujtaba had gone into a bunker as soon as the fighting started and had not come out till the ceasefire, leaving his squadron to the devices of the troop leaders. After investigating I was convinced that the charge of cowardice against the officer was justified and told the brigade commander so. Major Ghulam Mujtaba was court martialled and dismissed from service.

A few days after the ceasefire it was decided that all the Bengalis would be separated and sent to camps to await repatriation to Bangladesh. I interviewed all the Bengalis individually, everyone of them wanted to go back and all of them were dispatched.

A few days after the announcement that Lieutenant General Gul Hassan was to take over as the Commander-in-Chief, Lieutenant Colonel Akram Syed left 22 Cavalry to take over the charge of Personal Secretary to the Commander-in-Chief and Lieutenant Colonel Humayun Malik, later brigadier, who had served with me in the SSG took over the command of 22 Cavalry, Lieutenant Colonel A. G. Abid, later brigadier, who had been with me in 13 Lancers, replaced the GSO 1 in 18 Division.

Lieutenant General Gul Hassan visited 18 Division after assuming the charge of C-in-C, Colonel Mohammad Riaz, Artillery, later major general, the Deputy Director Military Operations, accompanied him. He and I had been in the same dormitory in Lawrence College where he was a year senior to me. I asked him about the 18 Division air support fiasco, he evaded the issue and refused to give a straight answer.

GHQ sent an inquiry team to investigate the 18 Division debacle, Major General Awan headed the team and Brigadier Aijaz Azim was one of the members. For the inquiry the GOC 18 Division formulated a peculiar rule, I was given a seat at the back and told that I was not to speak. Before the committee Colonel Wajid Ali Shah explained how the orders for the operation had been received, how the plan had been developed, what resources in transport, air support etc the GHQ had promised and did not provide. This was followed by Brigadier Tariq Mir who explained his difficulty and how fiercely the Indians had resisted at Loganewala, at this point I stood up and said what the Brigadier Tariq Mir was saying was not true, that I was there and there had been no artillery fire or any serious small arms fire. Brigadier Tariq Mir addressed Major General Abdul Hamid Khan and said that I was not supposed to speak, but Brigadier Jehanzeb Arbab then spoke up and a verbal battle and recriminations followed. It became obvious that an effort was being made to cover up the shortcomings of Brigadier Tariq Mir and Major General Abdul Hamid Khan’s order for a ‘general withdrawal’ which led to the ‘Gabbar Gallop’.

Sometime after Lieutenant Colonel Humayun Malik took over the command of 22 Cavalry he told me that Major General Abdul Hamid Khan had come to visit 22 Cavalry and he accompanied the general showing him the tanks which were dispersed as a protection against air attack. He was walking along side the general when suddenly he found that the general had hit the ground and was lying there. He was puzzled for a while and then realised that the tank they were walking towards had an oil cooker burning and it was making a noise similar to a jet aircraft. Lieutenant Colonel A. G. Abid also told me a similar tale, the general had a deep trench dug outside the operations room tent in the division headquarters, one day a jet fighter flew over the headquarters and he promptly jumped into the trench, the trench was nearly six feet deep and two men had to be sent into it to get the general out.

In January there were rumours that something serious had happened in 6 Armoured Division but no one knew what exactly had happened, word also spread that Major General Jehanzeb who was commanding 1 Armoured Division had been retired and Brigadier Zia ul Haq had taken over the division.

Major General Abdul Hamid Khan left 18 Division to take over the command of 4 Corps where Lieutenant General Bahadur Sher had asked for retirement on the appointment of Lieutenant General Gul Hassan as the C- in-C. I went on a few days’ leave and shifted my family to Hyderabad. While on leave I received a message that I had been awarded ‘Tamgha- e- Pakistan’, I have yet to find out what it was for.

In the middle of February I was promoted colonel and posted as colonel staff 6 Armoured Division. I handed over the command of 38 Cavalry to Major Zia ud Din Javed and left for Kharian.

At my dining out Second Lieutenant Shahadat Sher Lodi asked me why I had not informed the general about the condition of the tanks, I could only say that we should have managed and done the job with what we had.

There has been a lot of controversy about the ‘71 war with India, the way it was fought and particularly the operations of 18 Division. At the outset it must be said that the war was fought under very trying conditions, the Bengali element could neither be trusted nor removed from their posts, plans had to be kept secret from them.

Almost everybody condemns the 18 Division operations, code named Labbaik, as an exercise in futility. The mission assigned to 18 Division was to ‘Defend the area of responsibility in order to ensure the security of the main lines of communications Karachi - Multan and be prepared to carry out the war into the enemy territory under favourable conditions.’ This implied the guarding of the 600 miles of road and rail communications which came precariously close to the border from Dharki to Rahim Yar Khan, the 18 Division attack surprised the Indians, it was a successful spoiling attack, the Indians never recovered their balance. The division’s mission was accomplished both on the Chhor front and the Sadiqabad-Rahim Yar Khan area.

Why was the 18 Division operation a fiasco? The plan, very bold in concept, was the brainchild of General Abdul Hamid Khan. Major General B. M. Mustafa who was to execute the plan, his divisional staff and brigade commanders had no knowledge of desert operations and how to move a division across the country. The general instead of making the necessary arrangements, ensuring that he had the right type of equipment for the desert, not fancy Tatra road bound vehicles and planning the logistics in detail, developed impractical ideas like using the hundreds of tractor drawn trolleys requisitioned from the local land owners. This in itself, could not be done till an emergency had been declared. The secrecy maintained by the division commander worked to defeat him. Colonel Wajid Ali Shah lacked an understanding of the nature of the operation and how it should have been executed, the plan was only in the minds of the GOC and the colonel staff. It was top secret, no details had been worked out, even after it became obvious from the news from East Pakistan that war was imminent, the division headquarters sat complacently. They had submitted a demand for hundreds of vehicles and innumerable other things and just waited for them to arrive and did not bother GHQ and GHQ did not bother. They did not innovate, a lot could have been done within the division. Risaldar Major Mazhar Ali showed more initiative than the divisional staff did in this respect when he commandeered the vehicles in the workshop to supply petrol to the 38 Cavalry. The GSO 1 and the AA&QMG did not know how to move a large body of troops, there was no traffic control, routes had not been reconnoitered by the staff and the commanders of the troops that were to make the march.

After the operations ended in a fiasco the brigade commanders claimed that they were not privy to the 18 Division plan to make a thrust to seize Ramgarh and Jaisalmir. There is evidence that Major General B. M. Mustafa had informed his brigade commanders because Brigadier Syed Mohammad Zaidi, 2nd PMA Course, who was commanding 206 Brigade, very strongly objected and stated that the divisional plans would end in fiasco. He was removed from his command and retired from service. We, the armoured regiment commanders, Lieutenant Colonel Akram Syed and I were briefed on 16 October and had carried out the necessary reconnaissance. The divisional artillery commander definitely knew about the proposed operation, yet 51 Brigade artillery did not have proper maps giving the terrain details on the other side of the border. Both 22 and 38 Cavalry had the required maps.

The brigade commanders on hearing that the promised air support would not be available, adopted a negative attitude towards operation. The key was the neutralization of the enemy air, the divisional commander had correctly appreciated this and earmarked a strong force for this. Brigadier Jehanzeb Arbab argued against it and had the composition of the force earmarked to neutralise the Jaisalmir airfield changed and later on it was done away with completely.

In the conduct of the tactical battle, 22 Cavalry and 38 Baluch, after arriving at Loganewala did not put in a night attack, they had about three hours of darkness. Brigadier Tariq Mir’s conduct from the time he held his first ‘O’ Group before the commencement of the operation to the end of the operation was disgraceful. He called off the attack on Loganewala and refused to cooperate with Brigadier Jehanzeb Arbab in the plan to attack Loganewala on the night of 5/6 December. Whenever he held the front in the withdrawal he reported an armoured brigade outflanking him, his brigade remained out of communication with the division throughout. After the ceasefire a Signal Corps NCO was charged with an offence, he threatened the brigade major that if disciplinary action was taken against him he would disclose the fact that the brigade major had kept his rear link set off and did not communicate with the division. There was a Mir Jaffar at Plassey and a Tariq Mir at Loganewala.

The commanding officer of 28 Baluch, the Reconnaissance and Support battalion of 18 Division when called upon to capture Ghotaru, pulled his battalion completely out of the operational area, which was a very irresponsible act by an officer in a very responsible position. All this happened because units and formations do not maintain a battle log, this allow people to lie and justify their actions.

After the war the Indian descriptions of the Loganewala battle admitted that the Indian 12 Division was deployed to attack and capture Sakhirewala, Islamgarh and Rahim Yar Khan with its main supply base at Ramgarh, Jaisalmir had almost no troops. At the Jaisalmir airbase there were six Hawker Hunter aircraft, including two 2-seater trainers. The Indian division commander was completely surprised, he did not believe the company commander at Loganewala that an armoured column had appeared at Loganewala and was threatening his supply base, our withdrawal was attributed to logistic failure.

The PAF was blamed for not providing the promised air support and jeopardising the whole operation. My younger brother, Squadron Leader Shuaib Alam was posted at the Air Headquarters, after the ceasefire I asked him why the air force had not provided the air support. He told me that the only airfield from which the air support could be provided was the Jacobabad airfield which was manned and equipped to receive aircraft. Aircraft from a squadron were earmarked but the necessary orders for them to move to Jacobabad were not issued by the C-in-C of the Air Force. The C-in-C, PAF is on record to have said that he met Lieutenant General Gul Hassan on 4 December and told him that he was not informed about the 18 Division plans and therefore air support could not be provided, with Jacobabad ready to receive aircraft the support could have been provided on 4 December or later from bases other than Jacobabad but no effort was made. When the Indian missile boats approached Karachi and were spotted by a PIA Fokker, the Navy asked for an air attack, the PAF Base commander got the aircraft ready and asked Air Marshal Rahim Khan for approval, he told the Base Commander to tell the Navy to fight its own battle, in the desert, too, he left the army to fight its own battle.

The 18 Division operation has also been criticised as an operation that did not fit in the army plan and was not necessary. The Pakistan Army plan in East Pakistan was to conduct fortress type defence for forty five days for which all logistic requirements had been made. In West Pakistan, the army launched attacks in Azad Kashmir and Chamb to tie down the Indian reserves, we gave ground in the Shakargarh area to draw in the Indian armour. The Indian armoured brigade located in Dera Baba Nanak area was fixed by positioning 6 Armoured Division at Gujranwala, the front between the Ravi and Sutlej was stable due to the BRB canal, the Indian 1 Armoured Division was located at Faridkot, the 18 Division attack was launched to draw the Indian 1 Armoured Division or part of it to Jaisalmir. Air photographs showed that it had started entraining but stopped when it became obvious that the 18 Division operation had failed.

The army plan was to create a gap by drawing away the Indian 1 Armoured Division to Jaisalmer. When the gap sought was not achieved due to the failure of 18 Division, the army plan was revised. 3rd Armoured Brigade from IV Corps was made the flank protection force for the II Corps offensive. On 16 December II Corps, consisting of 1 Armoured Division, 7 Division, 36 Division and 3rd Armoured Brigade was ordered to launch an offensive in the Bahawalnagar - Fort Abbas area. 1 Armoured Division was to move from its concentration area astride the Lodhran - Multan - Khanewal railway on the night of 16/17 December. A captain of 1 FF, commanding a train of his unit, drove the locomotive himself and derailed the train blocking the railway line. 3rd Armoured Brigade moved from Changa Manga to its concentration area with lights blacked out and had forty accidents in the approach march. The launching of the offensive was delayed by twenty four hours, the next night 1 Armoured Division could not move again, there seemed to be built-in hindrance to the execution of the army plans. On 18 December we asked for a ceasefire.

Lieutenant Colonel S. S. Islam, Corps of Signal, was the 1 Armoured Division Signal Battalion commander during the war. He was sacked by Major General Zia-ul-Haq and was posted as a GSO 1, Lahore Logistic Area, he met me just after he was posted to Lahore in 1973 and told me ‘your Armoured Division chickened out in the war’. He did not elaborate but probably would have done so later, a few days later he died of a heart attack.

In 1979 I had gone to Lahore, I with my younger brother, Lieutenant Colonel Firoz Alam, went to the airport to reserve a seat for my return to Karachi. When we were returning from the airport, my brother showed me a small house without a boundary wall and said that it was General Hamid’s house, I asked him to turn around and go to the house. It was two o’clock in the afternoon, we rang the bell and General Abdul Hamid Khan, the former Chief of Army Staff, came out and we sat and talked for about two hours about the war plans of the 1971 war, the disaster of 18 Division and the ceasefire. General Hamid held Major General Mustafa responsible for the disaster of 18 Division, he said that Major General Mustafa was a bad choice as the commander of 18 Division, he lost all sense of reality, he and his headquarters started fighting a telephone battle, giving exaggerated reports about the enemy and own casualties and asking for all sorts of assistance. I asked him why, after announcing on the 16th that the war in West Pakistan would continue, a ceasefire was announced two days later, his answer was that the generals were not obeying orders.

A system must be evolved to make officers accountable for their inactions and actions, rank should not absolve anyone from accountability.

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