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Together we fought

By Brig (R) Farooq Afzal

Hardly the company was settled on captured Indian positions without any F-echelon and heavy anti tank weapons when we heard enemy tanks approaching from the flanks along the bund heading for the bridge. At this time, there were no anti tank weapons except for 3.5” Rocket Launcher and Energa Grenade. Maj Shabir ordered to knock down the Indian tanks and not to allow their move towards the bridge. Two T-54 enemy tanks were coming from the left along the bund and one singular formation from the Gurmukhera village along the right bund.
Hav Adalat was spirited, holding strong nerves and a bold man. He got hold of the Rocket Launcher and knocked the rear tank coming along the left flank. The first tank had stopped right in front of my half dug trench and firing in the dir of the bridge. I loaded the rifle of my runner with Energa Grenade, went down and fired at point blank range.
The tank was hit and soon went into flames. The crew was Muslim as later we could identify from their document. The tank on the left was also knocked down and all three burnt till dawn. These were the first causalities of 2nd Armoured Squadron ex 18 Cavalry. The first Indian counter attack came around 8:30 p.m. and was repulsed. The second counter attack came before the first light and repulsed with heavy causalities. The enemy artillery was remarkably firing very accurately on our linear defensive position, but our brave soldiers were not impressed to leave even an inch of the captured Indian territory. Pakistan’s and 6 FF sons were at their best!
Memoirs of then 2 Lieutenant Farooq Afzal who fought alongwith Major Shabir Sharif Shaheed (Nishan-e-Haider) at Sabuna Distributary, Suleimanki-Fazilka Sector, 1971Throughout the day, Indian Artillery was carrying out ranging in addition to the air attacks. The enemy tanks hidden in hull down position were hitting our position on the Bund but could cause only little damage. On night 4/5, Indian launched counter attack supported by heavy artillery shelling. In the process, Maj Narian Singh, from 4 Jat Regiment encountered with Maj Shabir Sharif and were standing face to face. He lobbed phosphorus grenade which burned the left side of Maj Shabir face. However, before the Indian officer could fire, Maj Shabir fired a burst and killed him. Next morning it was revealed that the dead body was of attacking Indian Company Commander. After the cease fire his dead body was handed over to Indian authorities and later learnt he was awarded ‘Veer Chakar,’ an Indian Award.
By first light December 6, 1971, the Company had repulsed several counter attacks and kept the enemy at bay, whose two Battalions, 3 Assam and 4 Jat supported by a squadron of 18 Cavalry, were rendered ineffective. The same morning enemy launched another counter attack preceded by air strikes and heavy artillery shelling, Maj Shabir Sharif took over the duty of the gunner from the 106 mm Recoilless Rifle crew and started firing on the enemy tanks.
While he was firing, one of the enemy tanks fired with its main and secondary guns which proved fatal for Maj Shabir Sharif and hence, 6 FF, Pakistan Army and I personally, lost one of the best and daring officers. This was the most shocking news for me to lose a brave commander and most favourite combat leader in the battlefield. I was never able to see him off from the battle front and prayed for the departed soul as he alongwith three other dead bodies were being evacuated. I was broken to lose a bright and bold soldier like him who are born very seldom. We had built very strong bonds during the three days battle on Sabuna Bund.
The situation in (then) East Pakistan was deteriorating and the entire 105 Brigade Group moved towards Sulaimanke Head Works (HW). 6 Frontier Force Regiment (6 FF) was ordered to move and occupy its defensive position.   On September 19, 1971, I passed out from Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) and joined 6 FF in the concentration area near Haveli Lakha.
I was fortunate to get the unit on claim as my uncle, Honorary / Captain Mir Badshah (first Muslim Subedar Major after partition), my father (then as a “Y” cadet, later Brigadier) Mir Afzal had served in ‘CHARWANJA’ (6 FF) much before the partition. So it was a matter of great pride and honour to be a part of the ‘6th Battalion The Frontier Force Regiment.’  To my great good luck and surprise, I was placed as a Company Officer under Major Shabir Sharif in ‘B Company.’
He was earlier seen and watched as a dashing and a decorated Platoon Commander in PMA. I had the same fear prevailing even after commissioned to serve under Maj Shabir in the regiment. Anyway, we met very warmly; Maj Shabir welcomed and guided me to the company which was under preparation to move forward towards the HWs area. Much after last light, the company embussed and reached in the vicinity of the irrigation rest house. The company bivouacked for the night and Sepoy Noor Rehman was detailed as first buddy (batman) in my army service. A tall well build soldier, whom later I found as an ‘LMG number.’ His stay was short with me being more needed for his operational role.
Sulaimanke HW lies on River Sutlej and regulates water to few major canals in the area. Pakpattan, Ford Wah and Sadiqia are the three major outlets irrigating the land in the surroundings. By virtue of its locality, it’s an important tactical target for the Indians to hold and capture. The distance is not more than 3 km from the Indian Sadiqia Post-6RD, located west of the HWs. The international boundary runs parallel to the river line in the north making into a big “V” shape and then runs south towards Amruka – Sadiq Ganj – Bahawalnagar.
The home side is all marshy, water logged with dense undergrowth. At places the pondage areas are deep up to 15-20 feet. The only dry and high ground available is the Left Marginal Bund which originates from the mouth of the HWs and extends north and north-east along the international border. The width and height varies but generally a truck can comfortably be driven on it.
Across the border, the area was partially covered with elephant grass and some undergrowth while all remaining area was cultivated with local crops. Pakka, Beriwala, Jhangar, Ghurmukhera, Nirmal, Mambake, Jhok Mambake and Khokhar are the important villages in the area.
There was no barbed wire or any obstacle in the area. Ground visibility was clear except for where built up areas, or thick growth, or trees were planted. Interestingly, we often watched the Blue Bulls grazing in the Indian fields just few hundred yards away. Fish and wild ducks were available on own side in the pond areas.
Early next morning, probably September 28/29, 1971, the Company Reconnainance (R) Group left for the reconnainance (recce) of the operational area for the deployment of the B Company. Maj Shabir and I drove in white M-38 jeep and debussed on the far bank of the river where few other members of the R Group were waiting in Rangers’ uniform (malatia shirt with khaki trouser). The march started on the left marginal bund with Maj Shabir in the leading role.
Both sides of the bund were inundated and swamped with flood water from River Sutlej with lots of water birds, peacock, wild bores and tall shisham trees. Humidity was intense and the weather was hot. Having walked for few kilometres, we hit the bund connecting Sadiqia Tower Post on the right. This is where the international boundary runs parallel to the Left Marginal Bund (LMB). We continued to walk on the bund till the growth on ground provided cover from observation. Thereafter, we walked along the lower track of the bund and occasionally popped up to take the view of the enemy area. Rangers post then called as “Jhangar” was visited and the post commander was briefed of the purpose. Continued with the recce till all deployment was completed  Fazilka Drain was the last point. It was almost late afternoon and the sun was hot, we returned on foot back to the Hws.
It was a tiring and hectic but otherwise a useful day. The platoon deployment was marked, company HQ was identified and similarly the B echelon and cook houses were located. Battalion Mortar location was also identified as it was placed under command B Company. The move started much after last light with the company commander in lead. It was pitch dark night and the company walked all the way to Jhangar Post in full Field Service Marching Order (FSMO) regardless of any fear and danger to life.
B Company deployed along the Jhangar Post bund for the night. Thereafter, the company would move overnight for operational deployment and fall back to Forward Assembly Area (FAA) / concentration area after the morning ‘stand to.’ Night hours were used to carry out full time preparation of defences/bunkers, field of fire etc. The area was infested with all sorts of snakes, wild animals, insects and mosquitoes. Many precautions were taken to avoid snake bites or catch malaria. Luckily no casualties occurred.
I was fully inducted and trained by my Company Commander to go through the drills and procedures of a Sepoy, then as section 2nd-in-Command (2IC), Section Commander, Platoon Havildar, Platoon Commander and then as a Company Officer. I carried out night patrolling, sentry duties and even link patrolling with the neighbouring company having gap of few kilometer. In the process, I was able to know and understand the basic duties of the soldiers and exactly identify the strength of the Company in field. This all helped me to ‘know my men’ and they also got a chance to know their new officer.
In November, the situation in East Pakistan started deteriorating. So the Company remained permanently located on the forward positions. Overhead protection and overhead covers for trenches, weapons and pits were prepared, crawl trenches dug, field of fire cleared, and targets registered. Similarly, the area under observation was properly known and targets identified.
Coordination with C Company on the right flank and D Company on the left flank was carried out and all Company Commanders were ready with their limited offensive actions. B Company mission was to capture enemy Jhangar, Beriwala and village Noor Mohammad (in ruins).
All these positions were held by strong section (plus)/ Platoon size force. Protective / defensive mine fields were also laid in front of all these locations. By the third week of November 1971, Indian regular troops started showing their presence by carrying out route marches in the full battle dress all along the border starting in morning till evening. To counter, our troops were also allowed to appear in full battle dress on the LMB wherever required.
A huge and old shisham tree existed along the LMB near the Fazilka Drain. It was selected and decided by Maj Shabir to build a machan (Observation Post) for better observation. It was an approximately 30 feet high tree with huge branches and fairly difficult to climb. It was November 22/23, 1971 and had rained the previous night. The weather had become cool and chilly, foggy in early hours but visibility cleared as the sun became hot and shiny. I was then occupying the machan post.
As I started viewing the enemy area in front, I happened to identify a raised ground running north-east to south-west. Later, I saw some slit / port holes on the same locality. By mid-day as the sun became warm, I noticed troops started basking in the sun in group of 2s and 3s on their respective bunkers. I was really amazed and excited to locate new defensive position of the enemy which was neither known nor ever visualized in our plans. Some smoke behind the bund was also observed believed to be a built up area or a village.
Following the line of bund southwards, a crossing place was identified with the help of dust kicked off by the cattle and subsequently the upper railings of the bridge were also identified. Having noticed all this, I immediately sent a message for Maj Shabir with all the latest information. He immediately returned and climbed to machan and briefed on the battle front. He was much excited and pleased with the latest information about the enemy. As soon as we pulled back, Maj Shabir decided and ordered me to plan for the capture of the bridge / crossing place without informing anybody outside the company.
A fighting patrol of 14 men (best men were picked) was planned to lead the Company attack 30 minutes before the H hour on receiving code word “Tauheed“. A strong fighting patrol was organized and all men were selected personally by me. A model of the area was prepared, plan rehearsed physically on ground and actions/ counter actions fully visualised to make it a successful attempt. I was the leader for the operation. L/Nk Usman along with Sepoy Mir Badshah were the scouts, followed immediately by the patrol leader, and remaining section deployed in Diamond formation all facing outward.
A Light Machine Gun (LMG) on flanks, Rocket Launcher (RL) with Section Commander at the tail and wireless silence was observed. Pre-selected butt knocks signals were assigned. Maj Shabir approved of the plan and decided to follow-in-zone with remaining 4 and 5 platoon elements. N/Sub Arif, No 6 Platoon Commander (who was an Army wrestler) was tasked to attack and capture Village Noor Mohammad (in ruins on raised ground) expected to be occupied by section plus enemy strength.
He had to wade through the water channel of Fazilka Drain in order to capture his target. A strong fire base, commanded by Sub Atta, SJCO B Company located on the LMB opposite Indian Jhangar Post was ordered to fire on call. Battalion Mortars located behind own Jhangar Post were also ordered to fire on call.  Complete wireless silence was observed by all call signs to achieve ‘secrecy and surprise.’
The operation started on receipt of code word Tauheed which was personally delivered by Lt Col Imam Ali Malik , Commanding Officer, 6 FF by mid-day, December 3, 1971. The H hour was 1800 hours. We had approximately 2-3 hours to prepare, pack up/close non-essentials and dump in Platoon / Company HQ locality. The fighting patrol was collected, final briefing was done, and, weapons and ammunition were checked before proceeding to Company HQ. A dua was offered for the success of the operation and all embraced each other before leaving for the attack.Interaction
It was exactly 1730 hours, the leading man, Sepoy Usman went down the bund and remaining followed to form up in diamond formation. When all was done, I ordered them to advance. Indian Jhangar Post was by-passed unnoticed and soon we encountered minefield. Formation of the patrol was changed to file and the minefield was negotiated without any mishap. Beriwala village was on the right flank and by-passed without any detection by the enemy. The patrol was few hundred yards away from the objective when it came under direct fire from right flank probably Machine Gun laid on fixed line.
In order to avoid any causality the patrol was ordered to deploy. After a few moments, I decided to move and resume advance but to my surprise the elements of my patrol were reluctant to rise. I had to reach every individual to pat and order to move which happened instantly. The bright full moon was up in the sky illuminating the area, and visibility was clear up to 30-50 feet. The patrol was still short by few minutes to the bridge, when our guns on the brigade front opened up with the Defensive Fire. Silence and secrecy broke out but still the enemy had not known our locations. The Dragon Teeth on the home side of the bridge depicted bivouac on which few rounds were fired and received no return fire.
On reaching the bridge, as planned, the patrol was to assault in four waves consisting four persons in each file and I leading the first wave. As soon as the ‘Nara-e-Takbir’ was shouted on the bridge, the enemy across the distributary and the bund opened up with volley of intense fire.
The fire was intense and very effective resulting three causalities from the first wave. I dropped down on the bridge pretending to be casualty but kept crawling. At the end of the bridge, enemy Machine Gun bunker watched my move and lobbed a grenade which luckily bounced and exploded down in the canal. By this time I had crossed the bridge and waited for my colleagues to join. Shortly five jawans joined and ordered to split into two groups of three each.
The enemy was still firing on the bridge and I could hear the cries of my wounded soldiers yelling in pains and asking for water. Anyhow close quarter battle was fought by these brave men and initial bunkers were cleared off the enemy occupation.
At this time, Maj Shabir Sharif was shouting at me to find if I was alive and captured the bridge intact. I replied in positive and requested to reach for immediate support. In no time he reached with 4 and 5 Platoon elements. He ordered me to exploit with 4 Platoon on the right shoulder whereas he would take on the left portion with 5 Platoon. I was also to control all crossing and move on the bridge. N/Sub Sadiq was the 4 Platoon Commander and I briefed him to continue clearing bunkers and trenches as he deployed his men. The enemy was on the rout. Meanwhile I was also attending to the injured on the bridge.
Sepoy Usman had breathed his last, Sepoy Mir Badshah was still in pain seeking water and first aid. To some, we could attend but unfortunately all were severely and badly wounded. In less than 30 minutes there were dead bodies of nine men on the bridge. It was extremely touching moments but then they had embraced Shahadat.
Many Indian civilians, including farmers, women and children, old and young pleaded for mercy. They were allowed to go with whatever little they could carry on their heads and shoulders. However, men in uniform were made Prisoners of War (PoWs). Meanwhile N/Sub Arif, 6 Platoon Commander had captured his objective and was ordered to report on the bridge. They were wet above waist level and Maj Shabir ordered to occupy position further left of 4 Platoon. N/Sub Arif accompanied me alongwith his runner and operator. We were passing through the deployed elements of the 4 Platoon on the top of the bund. Occasional enemy artillery and some stray Small Arms fire was coming on our position.
The bund was densely covered with bushes and undergrowth and move was restricted. I handed over the area beyond 4 Platoon to N/Sub Arif for occupation and deployment of 6 Platoon. As soon as I returned back to the bridge, a shell landed near N/Sub Arif and he embraced Shahadat instantly. His death news was a big shock to Maj Shabir and, also for me.
Hardly the company was settled on captured Indian positions without any F echelon and heavy anti tank weapons when we heard enemy tanks approaching from the flanks along the bund heading for the bridge. At this time, there were no anti tank weapons except for 3.5” Rocket Launcher and Energa Grenade.  Maj Shabir ordered to knock down the Indian tanks and not to allow their move towards the bridge. Two T-54 enemy tanks were coming from the left along the bund and one singular formation from the Gurmukhera village along the right bund.
Hav Adalat was spirited, holding strong nerves and a bold man. He got hold of the Rocket Launcher and knocked the rear tank coming along the left flank. The first tank had stopped right in front of my half dug trench and firing in the direction of the bridge. I loaded the rifle of my runner with Energa Grenade, went down and fired at point blank range. The tank was hit and soon went into flames. The crew was Muslim as later we could identify from their document.
The tank on the left was also knocked down and all three burnt till dawn. These were the first causalities of 2nd Armoured Squadron ex 18 Cavalry.  The first Indian counter attack came around 8:30 p.m. and was repulsed. The second counter attack came before the first light and repulsed with heavy causalities. The enemy artillery was remarkably firing very accurately on our linear defensive position, but our brave soldiers were not impressed to leave even an inch of the captured Indian territory. Pakistan’s and 6 FF sons were at their best!
Throughout the day, Indian Artillery was carrying out ranging in addition to the air attacks. The enemy tanks hidden in hull down position were hitting our position on the Bund but could cause only little damage. On night 4/5, Indian launched counter attack supported by heavy artillery shelling. In the process, Maj Narian Singh, from 4 Jat Regiment encountered with Maj Shabir Sharif and were standing face to face. He lobbed phosphorus grenade which burned the left side of Maj Shabir face. However, before the Indian officer could fire, Maj Shabir fired a burst and killed him. Next morning it was revealed that the dead body was of attacking Indian Company Commander. After the cease fire his dead body was handed over to Indian authorities and later learnt he was awarded ‘Veer Chakar,’  Indian gallantry award. In the morning I requested Maj Shabir to go back to Regiment Aid Post (RAP) for the dressing and first aid but he refused to do so. He was looking strong and motivated and instead dispatched many recommendations of his subordinates for operational awards.
By first light December 6, 1971, the Company had repulsed several counter attacks and kept the enemy at bay, whose two Battalions, 3 Assam and 4 Jat supported by a squadron of 18 Cavalry, were rendered ineffective. The same morning enemy launched another counter attack preceded by air strikes and heavy artillery shelling, Maj Shabir Sharif took over the duty of the gunner from the 106 mm Recoilless Rifle crew and started firing on the enemy tanks.
While he was firing, one of the enemy tanks fired with its main and secondary guns which proved fatal for Maj Shabir Sharif and hence, 6 FF, Pakistan Army and I personally, lost one of the best and daring officers. This was the most shocking news for me to lose a brave commander and most favourite combat leader in the battlefield.
I was never able to see him off from the battle front and prayed for the departed soul as he alongwith three other dead bodies were being evacuated. I was broken to lose a bright and bold soldier like him who are born very seldom. We had built very strong bonds during the three days battle on Sabuna Bund.
The Company remained on the Sabuna Bund till December 17, 1971, the day when ceasefire was enforced. During the 15 days war, B Company encountered 14 counter attacks support by heavy artillery, tanks and air support.
The causalities were enormous; one officer, three Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) and 56 soldiers embraced Shahadat. 134 individuals including six JCOs were wounded, mostly in severe condition. Indians suffered heavily; 3 Assam and 4 Jat were completely wiped out, over 60 persons were taken PoWs including officers and JCOs. 9 tanks of 2 Armoured Squadron ex 18 Cavalry (T-54) were destroyed. A large quantity of equipment, weapons and ammunition including two vehicles were captured.
Glorious achievements of 6 FF are today well known throughout the army. No amount of description and homage can justly depict what they did and there are many soldiers whose deeds remain unnoticed, unsung and unrecognized; such is the fog of the battle.
What I have narrated about the proud performance of 6 FF is the objective account of facts and sublime human courage, devotion and steadfastness. They achieved the impossible but I sincerely believe that such outstanding feats can be performed by any other battalion of Pakistan Army if it can display the requisite degree of faith, devotion, valour, exemplary leadership qualities by the officers and that infinite urge of personal “Ghairat” and pride in their battalion.
Inspiring leadership, particularly junior leadership, is the major contributing factor for success in any operations of war.

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