The story of gallant Dogras From the Diary of an Pakistani
Infantry officer


By Raghav
Gakhar


From
the diary of an infantry officer who participated in the war on the Eastern
Front as a Captain.


Indeed,
the greatest fantasy a soldier may have is to face the enemy in battle and
pitch his skills against him. The soldiers with no practical experience of a
real battlefield, often wonder what it would be like to be in actual combat.
Likewise, ever since my induction in the army, I was also curious about the
real feel of war. And more importantly, to know where we stood as an Army, as
far as professionalism, dedication, and courage were concerned. My father had
the bitter experience of being part of a war which was ultimately lost. He and
his comrades in the field were not responsible for the political and diplomatic
reasons which ultimately pushed East Pakistan towards separation and brought about
the defeat of Pakistani forces in the Eastern Theatre. Yet, they were destined
to experience the agony of a defeat and the humility of a surrender. Pakistan
Army was, however, made up of courageous, devoted officers and men, who despite
being aware of the situation on the ground, did not hesitate to sacrifice their
lives for the motherland. History will not judge them by the yardstick of
victory or defeat but by that of their devotion, selflessness and sacrifice.
All these sons of the soil deserve recognition and our gratitude.


My
father, Major (retired) Muhammadi Shah, was part of 15 FF Regiment during the
war on Eastern Front, as a Captain, with hardly two years of service. Despite
having a rural background, he somehow adopted the habit of maintaining a diary,
which he regularly updated with his day-to-day observations and experiences.
Being very young, whereas it would not be realistic to expect a mature analysis
of the war as a whole or the national policy thereof, his observations,
feelings, and experiences as a subaltern, could be of value and interest to our
young officers.


15 FF
Regiment was employed in Khulna/Jessore area in East Pakistan. The unit had the
honour of having continued operating even after the bulk of the army
surrendered under the instructions from the General Headquarters, on December
16, 1971. The regiment did not make part of the surrender ceremony and
subsequently handed itself over on December 18, 1971, after having
destroyed/disposed of its weapons and equipment at will. In succeeding
paragraphs, I have tried to reproduce few of the experiences of my father
during the said war. These have been extracted from his personal diary which he
maintained from the beginning of the war until the final days.


Events
of 1971 War-


September
19, 1971:

We moved to Karachi from Lahore, by train, as part of the Advance Party.


September
26, 1971:

We moved from Dhaka to Khulna, by Steamer, at 1130 hours.


September
27, 1971:

Reached Khulna at 1600 hours local time and boarded a train for Jessore which
dropped us at Jessore at 1800 hours.


September
29, 1971 (Jessore):

Went for reconnaissance of the area where we had to take up defensive
positions. Returned from the reconnaissance on the same day.


October
7, 1971 (Jessore):

Additional troops started reaching Jessore from West Pakistan by C-130.


October
16, 1971:

After completing handing/taking over of stores with 25 Baloch, moved to
Satkhira, where our B Echelon was located.


November
19, 1971:

Curfew imposed in Satkhira.


November
22, 1971:

One of our soldiers, Sepoy Isra Khan and an East Pakistani volunteer, embraced
shahadat due to enemy fire. We had our first contact with Muktis, and killed 5
Muktis in the encounter. Could not sleep the whole night due to cold weather.


November
23, 1971:

We are improving our defensive positions on daily basis. Remained busy in
liaising with the neighbouring

commanders.


November
26, 1971:

Killed one Mukti through sniping.


November
30, 1971:

Killed four Muktis across the river.


December
4, 1971:

Indian fighter planes crossed the international border. We could see them
flying above our area.


December
8, 1971:

Jessore falls to the enemy. All troops deployed ahead of us thus fell back. We
kept waiting for the enemy’s arrival at night. At 0030 hours, enemy reached our
location. As per the instructions, we moved back to a new position in order to
be able to take up defences at a more defensible ground and to be in a position
to attrite the enemy.


December
9, 1971:

At around 0200 hours, reached at a new position in front of Khulna. Took some
rest at the new defensive position. In the morning, sited some riflemen
trenches and digging started. Occasionally the enemy fighter aircraft kept
visiting our position. We observed that they were closely followed by our
aircraft, but they were probably informed of the arrival of PAF fighters by
their radars, and thus before the arrival of PAF jets, they used to make an
escape towards their side of the international border. In any case, we carried
on with the preparation of our defences uninterrupted as the enemy was still
far away. The next night those deployed ahead of us came back. One of our
companies was deployed ahead of us as a screen.


December
10, 1971:

Lieutenant Tariq from our unit, along with two sepoys, got injured and were
sent back. Our troops deployed ahead of us were continuously repulsing enemy
attacks and were raising the slogans of “Naara-e-Takbeer – Allah-o-Akbar” and
“Pakistan Zindabad”. These slogans raised our morale and filled us with
excitement and enthusiasm to confront the enemy. We asked for volunteers to
place mines under enemy tanks and fire rockets at them from close ranges. These
were to be suicidal missions. A number of soldiers volunteered themselves for
the task. Everyone decided that this would be the last line, beyond which the
enemy will not be allowed to advance. Although we had been ordered to move to
this position as part of an overall plan, yet, the fighting soldiers were not
satisfied with the arrangement, as they were not privy to the overall strategic
thought-process going on at the Eastern Command level. When these troops were
offered an opportunity to sacrifice their lives, while preventing enemy tanks
from advancing, smiles came to their faces spontaneously. The enemy planes
attacked our positions five times during the day, but by the grace of Almighty
Allah none of our soldiers were injured. At around 1100 hours, we heard
explosions and shelling behind us in the direction of Khulna. In the evening we
came to know that two enemy boats, with Pakistani flags fixed over them (as
deception), entered our area. Meanwhile, enemy aircraft also arrived and then
the boats and the aircraft jointly attacked our positions. In the engagement,
the enemy lost one of its aircraft and one out of the two boats. Our troops captured
the other boat and made two officers and forty eight other Indian Navy
personnel Prisoners of War (POWs). At around 1700 hours, the enemy came into
contact with our company deployed in front of us. Artillery shelling started
along with intense automatic fire. Till morning, the enemy had launched four
attacks, all of which had been repulsed. Captain Ahmad Bilal, who volunteered
to go to the front, engaged a tank with a rocket launcher while standing out of
his trench. He received three bullets in his chest and embraced shahadat.


December
11, 1971:

We had made contact with the enemy on December 10. We destroyed three enemy
tanks on the same day. Intense enemy artillery shelling and small arms fire
commenced early in the morning. By now we had become indifferent to the enemy
shelling. We only had a paddy field in front of us. It was an open area. Just
about 2000 yards ahead of us, our troops were engaged with the enemy. We could
see the smoke rising from the destroyed enemy tanks and could also hear the
“Naara-e-Takbeer” and “Pakistan Zindabad” slogans of our colleagues. We were
eager to find out what was going on at the front and were watching through
binoculars, but owing to thick vegetation, we could see nothing. The shelling
continued throughout the day and night.


December
12, 1971:

In the morning, we could hear the sounds of automatic fire and artillery
shelling from all directions. But despite this, everyone was in high spirits.
Everyone was ready to sacrifice. We were all determined to fight till the last
man, last bullet. We all wished to make history on this front. The shelling
continued in intervals and enemy fighter aircraft were also flying over our
positions four to five times a day. In the evening, intense enemy shelling
commenced, followed by an attack, which was successfully repulsed. Our troops
kept raising the slogans of “Naara-e-Takbeer” and “Pakistan Zindabad”. Around
0030 hours, the same night, the enemy launched another attack under the cover
of intense artillery shelling. The attack was repulsed. The enemy attacked
again at 0430 hours, but could not dare to advance in our area. During this
night, the enemy shelled the area so much that in the morning the whole ground
in front of us was dotted with shell craters. A number of local civilians and
cattle died due to the shelling. A number of houses were also destroyed.
Two of our men got minor injuries. We found a Bihari whose throat had been
slit, surely by Muktis.


December
13, 1971:

Sporadic shelling continued. Enemy fighter aircraft often flew over our
defences, but being unable to identify our positions, returned without any
engagement. At 1230 hours, enemy aircraft attacked our position with rockets
and machine guns but could not cause any damage or casualties. The enemy
aircraft rocketed their own positions also (probably by mistake), after which
smoke could be seen rising from the area. The enemy kept engaging our positions
with artillery, but at a very slow fire rate. In the evening, however, the
shelling commenced with such intensity that one felt as if the rounds were
being fired from a machine gun. The enemy tried to launch an attack under the
cover of this intense bombardment. We opened artillery and mortar fire in
response. One could hear the sounds of shelling and automatic fire in all
directions. The enemy attack was repulsed. Intense enemy shelling continued for
15 minutes. At night, the enemy kept firing one odd round, which had a sedative
effect on us and we fell asleep. The enemy used air, artillery and armour in
succession. When artillery would pause, tank fire would commence and when tanks
would take a break, air would start engagement. Despite all this, somehow we
managed to have a sound sleep and were in high spirits. At around 1130 hours,
five Gnat fighter aircraft of the enemy attacked our positions with rockets,
machine gun fire and bombing. They attacked our position five times, but failed
to cause any casualty. At around 2100 hours, enemy attacked again under the
cover of heavy artillery shelling but the attack was repulsed. During the
attack, our artillery fired star shells which illuminated the whole area in
front of us and we were able to engage the enemy with accurate fire. The enemy
would turn on the tank engines, move them forward a bit and then pull them
back, just to demoralize our troops. But our troops, despite knowing that they
were surrounded by the enemy, were in unbelievably high spirits. The area where
the enemy wished to make a dent, was so heavily shelled that it appeared as if
the land over there had been turned upside down. Had the enemy troops been
exposed to such a volume of fire, they would probably have even doffed their
uniforms, considering them heavy, and fled away. Mysteriously, despite this
intense artillery shelling, we did not suffer any significant damage. After
having failed to make any breakthrough, the enemy attacked the unit on our
flank at around 0730 hours (December 15) but the enemy did not achieve anything
there either except failure and disappointment.


December
15, 1971:

On this front, the enemy had so far lost around 500 men and hundreds must have
been wounded (the communication through wireless sets indicate these losses).
Today again at 0715 hours, the enemy started shelling our positions with
artillery as well as mortars. The enemy guns took a break at 0900 hours.
Mortars continued engaging our positions at a very slow rate. Enemy aircraft
flew over our positions ten times, but except for sporadic rocket and machine
gun fire, did not cause much damage. SU-7 aircraft also flew over our positions
for the first time. At 1740 hours the enemy artillery started engaging our
positions and the fire continued through the night.


Note:

Captain Arjumand Yar Khand, 15 FF Regiment mentioned later in this article,
embraced shahadat on this day (December 15, 1971). Here’s a narration of his
brave fight and ultimate martyrdom, by Brigadier Mehboob Qadir:


“Captain
Arjumand Yar Khand was a young and very handsome, rather feminish, officer from
an infantry unit. He was known as the ‘baby of the battalion’. He was assigned
the task of setting up a strong delaying position2 ahead of this defensive
position to cause as much attrition and loss of time on the advancing enemy as
possible. This officer, along with a handful of men, held his ground against
repeated Indian armor and infantry assaults, hours of air bombing and straffing
for nearly three days just as Headquarters Eastern Command was negotiating
terms of surrender with Calcutta. On the third day, Arjumand’s delaying
position was overrun after a pitched battle; not a soul returned. That day
probably on December 15th, we received orders from Eastern Command to surrender.
Brigadier ‘Makhmad’ Hayat refused to obey this order and we fought on for the
next three days till literally the last bullet was left in our rifle chambers.
We were facing 9 Indian Mountain Division whose officers told us the story of
the incomparable bravery of Arjumand and his men after the war was over. During
three days of pitched battle his men were being killed and seriously wounded,
machine guns and anti-tank guns were being knocked out one after the other but
Arjumand and his small force stood fast. On the last day, Arjumand was the only
one left in the delaying position. His men were either all killed or seriously
wounded. Attacking Sikh infantry surrounded his trench and asked him to
surrender as he was profusely bleeding from his shattered legs that had
probably absorbed a direct Mortar shell hit. In dire need of medical aid, he
refused. After a lot of persuasion, he finally agreed. With one hand he lifted
his weapon and with the other, he was about to lob a hand grenade when they
spotted him and had to kill him. This fearless young officer died fighting
extremely bravely; so much so that even the enemy was full of praises for him.
They had buried him with honor.”


December
16, 1971:




The
enemy shelling continued till morning. The battalion on our right withdrew
after having caused significant damage to the enemy. After the withdrawal of
the said battalion, the enemy encircled us and cut our route of withdrawal from
behind. Around 1115 hours, while I was in D Company, busy in liaison, an order
was received to move a platoon from D Company to the depth location. After
about five minutes another order was received that the whole of D Company was
to be moved to another location. I started moving towards my own company which
was about 600 yards from D Company’s location. After having moved for about 400
yards, I saw my buddy approaching me from the direction of my platoon location.
He told me that my platoon had been ordered to move to the location of the
Company Headquarters. I reached my platoon Headquarters, and found my platoon
ready to move. When I reached at the location of the Company Headquarters, the
Company Headquarters had already left the place. I enquired about further
orders on wireless and was asked to move backwards, staying away from the road.
I was not aware of the situation at that moment. On the route which I adopted
during my move back, I could hear some artillery shelling and automatic fire. I
therefore adjusted my route a bit. I could, however, make out from this fire
that the enemy had cut our route of withdrawal. The shells were landing at a
distance of about 400-500 yards away from us. I increased my speed. There were
two routes available. One passed through a forest, which was being engaged by
the enemy with artillery and the other one passed through a marshy area, with
paddy fields. We adopted the route passing through the paddy fields. While
moving through the marshes, an artillery shell landed in the middle of my
troops but no one got hurt. I got worried considering that probably the enemy
Observation Post had located our movement. I was also concerned about my
troops, as there was neither any cover available from air observation, nor
could we run for safety in case of an air attack. It was difficult even to
carry our equipment and luggage in these marshes, carrying a casualty would
have been an uphill task.


Initially,
everyone tried to move as fast as possible and clear this open, coverless patch
as quickly as possible, but very soon everyone got exhausted and the pace
became slower. Meanwhile, enemy fired four more rounds on the field which we
were crossing but luckily no one got hurt. By around 1230 hours, we were able
to reach the forest, after having crossed the marshy patch. I gathered my men,
took some rest and asked for further instructions from the Company
Headquarters. We were asked to report at a certain location on the road. On my
way back, I came across my Commanding Officer and 2nd-in-Command. They asked me
to give my troops some rest in the Khulna High School. In the meantime, I
accompanied Commanding Officer and the 2nd-in-Command to reconnoiter my new
company position. It was around 1300 hours. After having chosen my new
defensive position, I deployed my company there. The trenches were already
available in the position. Then I went to the Battalion Headquarters. There I
had conversation with other officers of the battalion and we discussed the
overall situation. I stayed at the Battalion Headquarters till the evening. Our
men kept getting out of the enemy encirclement. At around 1500 hours, we
received the news of ceasefire. We were ordered not to fire unless the enemy attacked
us. At 1730 hours, we reorganized A and C Companies and took stock of the
injured and missing personnel. Four of our officers were inside the
enemy’s encirclement. Owing to the deficiency of officers, I was appointed as
Company Commander of C Company at 1800 hours. And I shifted from my company to
C Company. We had given enemy a tough resistance and caused them numerous
casualties, but after the fall of Dhaka, the Eastern Command appeared to be
left with no option but to surrender.


December
17, 1971:

Around 2355 hours in the night, we received orders to leave our company
position and move back to Battalion Headquarters. We prepared to surrender the
next day (December 18) as per the instructions (but did not fail to destroy all
weapon and equipment that we thought should not fall in to enemy hands).


December
18, 1973:

I came from India to Pakistan. I was the Luggage Officer and was travelling in
an open truck, but due to excitement and happiness, I did not feel any cold. We
were warmly received and were taken to the Reception Camp. There we had some
tea, sweets and meat. I was having meat for the first time in two years (that
too in abundance). We then moved to Lahore “A” Mess. There we were treated with
love and care. After filling some forms we went to Captain Arjumand Yar Khand
Shaheed’s house. I could not face his mother. Because, while leaving for East
Pakistan, she had kissed the forehead of her son and myself, being his friend.
I still remember how she had kissed her son. Probably her sixth sense had told
her that her son will not return. I had seen this on her face. I shed tears in
their house because I could not control myself. From her attitude and the way
she talked, I am convinced of her greatness. She is indeed a great mother of a
great son and a great nation.


Diplomatic
chatter and political rhetoric do not interest soldiers as much as the dribble
of artillery shells or the rumbling of air strikes. During wars, field soldiers
seldom, if ever, bother themselves with what is going on at the strategic
level. They are neither judgmental about the planning process nor comment on
the orders. They struggle on the battlefield with whatever they have at their
disposal to accomplish the assigned tasks. A host of circumstances, influencing
the overall battlefield environment, may then ultimately bring about either the
victory or defeat of an army. Even the most splendid armies in the history of
mankind suffered reverses on the battlefield. British, Germans and Japanese, to
name just a few, all have had their share of defeat at some stage of their
histories. Armies learn from their and others’ mistakes and build on their
strengths through a process of evolution. In the battle of Al-Jisr (Persian
Campaign – October 634 AD), for example, during the era of Caliph Umar bin
Khattab (R.A.), Muslims suffered a setback and were routed from the
battlefield. The Muslim fighters, who had thus fled the battlefield, were
concerned as to how Hazrat Umar (R.A.) would deal with them. But to their
surprise and against all the expectations, to the contrary, he protected them,
solaced them and honoured them, because he understood the circumstances at
the battlefield in that particular war. The same army got refitted and
continued the tide of Muslim conquests.


In
1971, our armed force fought a desperate war under impossible circumstances; in
a battlefield entered with insufficient resources and an unreliable supply line
from the outset. At several places, individual units fought isolated battles,
despite having been encircled and cut off from their bases. Neither the
incessant bombing, however, nor the poor supply conditions, nor the political
and diplomatic failings, could affect their morale or waiver their resolve.
They remained committed and steadfast till the last moment. With enemy in front
and enemy at the back, they fought with honour, courage, dignity and
professionalism; bearing the brunt of intense shelling and bombardment.