Valour: On the day of Ceasefire
There is this “Akram Raja Conference Room” at Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul. It’s a place of significance as it’s here the assessment abilities of a Platoon Commander (one prestigious and pivotal appointment at the Academy) get questioned and judged twice in every training term (that would be every three months on the calendar). Academy follows a typical grading system and a Platoon Commander has to prove his objectivity and impartiality in the assessment of his cadets (and I assure you it’s one huge task). Coming back to Akram Raja Conference Room, it was named after Lieutenant Colonel Akram Raja Shaheed, Hilal e Jurrat (the second highest award for gallantry in Armed Forces, succeeding only Nishan e Haider). The officer was bestowed upon the award to honor his shahadat while leading his battalion in attack during 1971 Indo-Pak war. He led the unit in the battlefield, he had raised as Commanding Officer the same year, 35th Battalion The Frontier Force Regiment, “The Charging Bulls”.
To my good luck, during my days as Platoon Commander, 35 FF Regiment was the training battalion of Pakistan Military Academy stationed at Tobe Camp, Abbottabad. I visited the unit to pay homage to their brave son. There was a warm welcome and post tea, I was shown around the snapshots from Unit History in the Tea Bar. I learnt about a brave counter attack by the unit on Indian Defences at Jarpal (a village near Zafarwal, Sialkot) and laying down 60 lives for the honor of the motherland. I remember taking a few snaps back then, a portrait of Lieutenant Colonel Akram Raja Shaheed and a picture of the body of the brave Colonel with a tribute inscribed below it by the Indian Commander. I had shared both the pictures on flickr back then.
It was recently that I was browsing through the Indo-Pak War History and while reading about the events on Sialkot front during 1971 war, I came across the account of a brave attack by 35 FF on Indian Defences at Jarpal – Bara Pind. Captivating was the account, and it tempted me to visit the place of attack that lies on the outskirts of Zafarwal, a border town at Sialkot.
Setting course out of Lahore on a Sunday morning, I was alone this time and had plans to cover a couple of locations. As I was having breakfast at a way-side restaurant, a third location got printed on my boarding card through a tweet from one of the acquaintances to which I gratefully obliged. It eventually turned out to be a long drive (of which I shall not be covering the details) less three precise lessons I learnt that day, and the same are presented herewith for the benefit of my readers;
First: In Punjab any route interconnecting two cities will definitely be under ‘expansion’ and ‘expansion’, dear reader is a slow and laborious task once it comes to the Highway Department. Second: All roads connecting the small towns in Punjab need a status update as “kacha fair – weather tracks”. These were built sometimes back (definitely much before I was born) as a ‘one time measure’ thus leaving no legal provision for subsequent development with local administrative bodies. The third is somewhat more national in approach as it crosses the provincial boundaries of Punjab. Road sanity (in measurable units), dear reader, is directly proportional to the distance (in kms) of your car from Lahore.
Coming back to the main account of events, Bara Pind – Jarpal was the second stop on my route for which I plied on Shakar Garh – Zafarwal Road. The area is the north – western part of the Shakar Garh Bulge that saw Indian Offensive in both 1965 and 1971 wars (owing to its sensitive proximity to the Jammu – Kathua road link). For the ease of comprehension I shall cover a brief overview of the situation that subsequently lead to the counter attack of 35 FF on Jarpal.
A Brief Overview
In 1971, Shakar Garh Bulge was defended by an Infantry Division (12 infantry battalions) supported by an Armoured Brigade facing an Indian Offensive Corps (27 Infantry Battalions) with supporting armour and artillery. Pakistani Plan envisaged simulating offensive activity South-West of Shakar Garh Bulge to invite Indian Offensive into the Shakar Garh Area and containing the enemy north of Road Zafarwal – Shakar Garh. In this North – Western side of the bulge, an Indian Infantry Division supported by an Armoured Brigade was to advance and capture area upto Zafarwal – Dhamtal.
Indian 54 Infantry Division supported by 16 Armoured Brigade commenced advance and by night 15/16 Dec had secured area along line Ghazipur – Jarpal. Jarpal saw some tough resistance by Pakistani Infantry. There were number of dashing attempts to restore the situation by two Armour Regiments of Pakistan Army from the side of Bara Pind, but with no success. By the night 15/16 Dec, in village Jarpal, Indian 3 Grenadiers had taken up defensive positions supported by a Squadron of 17 Poona Horse. This battlefield was to witness an unparalleled account of valour on the subsequent night.
The Daring Counter Attack
On night 16/17 Dec, 35 FF, a newly raised but highly motivated unit was ordered by the Brigade Headquarters to launch a day attack on Jarpal at 0530 hours without any support from Armour or Artillery. In fact initially a night attack with a Tank Regiment and 35 FF was planned at 0430 hours but later called off. The task given to 35 FF was almost suicidal, as the same attempts earlier by two Armoured Regiments had been unsuccessful and there was no Artillery Support. It meant a direct exposure to the killing ground in front of heavy defensive forces of enemy Infantry, Armour and Artillery in broad daylight. The unit did not hesitate and commenced the attack as per plan with the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Akram Raja leading from front. Under the heavy enemy fire, such was the ferocity of the attack that the leading elements kept pushing forward and were reported to have reached within 50 yards of the enemy defences. The unit faced the brunt of enemy accurate fire in the daylight and suffered heavy casualties including 60 soldiers embracing shahadat. Lieutenant Colonel Akram Raja displayed unmatched valour and dashed with the paltan leading from front and as a result of an accurate volley of enemy fire fell to the ground within 150 yards of enemy defences. His body was found, though fallen on ground but still in an agressive posture with both hands firmly holding his weapon pointed towards enemy. The Indian’s were all praises for the fighting spirit of the battalion and the Indian Commander in person mentioned the bravery of the Commanding Officer of 35 FF. He was awarded Hilal e Jurrat, the second highest award for gallantry in Armed Forces for the valour displayed. It’s ironic that a ceasefire was accepted by Pakistan the same day i.e. 17 Dec 1971, hours after a sher dil battalion fearlessly dashed right into the heart of enemy. Dear reader, with great respect and a feeling of honor, I visited the monument at Jarpal that bears the testimony to the great sacrifice by 35 FF, the Charging Bulls for the defence of the motherland and paid my homage to the great warriors.
It would be unjust to wind up the topic without a mention of two gallant Indian Officers, Major Hoshiar Singh and 2nd Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal, both recipients of Param Vir Chakra (PVC), India’s highest award for gallantry in Armed Forces. Major Hoshiar Singh of 3rd Battalion The Grenadiers Regiment was honoured for leading the assault on village Jarpal amidst fierce resistance by Pakistan Forces on Ni 15/16 Dec 1971. 2nd Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal of 17 Poona Horse was honoured posthumously for fearless contribution in repulsing the 13 Lancers counterattacks on Indian Bridgehead from the direction of Bara Pind.