Sunday, September 6, 2015

Remembering 6 September 1965: An Eye Witness Account

6 September 1965 was an ordinary day fifty years ago today for many school going children like I, who after the summer vacation were going to the school on the first day with mixed emotions. Yes mixed emotions: nostalgia of the two months’ vacation that just passed by so quickly and happiness of joining the new class, 5th in my case.
Pakistan soldiers see taking positions on the home bank of BRB Link Canal

The day was a bright sunny day in Lahore and there was lot of joy as we moved to the next class with a new teacher till it was about 11 0'clock when two deafening bangs one after the other were heard, followed by the roar of aircraft. Everyone got scared but no one knew exactly what had happened. But soon the dust cleared and we were told to go home as the school had been closed ‘indefinitely.’ But why, some asked – and we were told that India has attacked Pakistan and a war was on.

Unknown to many in Lahore that day, a war between India and Pakistan had already broken out since very early in the morning but news took long to travel as there weren’t any mobile phones or media channels except the lone good old PTV, hardly a year old since its inauguration in November 1964. While Pakistan Army reacted to this sudden Indian move, a handful of soldiers under Major Shafqat Baloch held the enemy's divisional offensive at the Hudiara Drain (a mention of its later in my post) for nine long hours before falling back to main defences. Major Shafqat was later awarded Sitar-e-Jurrat for his bravery and bold resistance to enemy's main offensive. But the real reward came from a widow from Karachi sent her family gold necklace gifted to her by her mother-in-law to Major Shafqat Baloch for defending Lahore.
Major Shafqat Baloch being pinned Sitara-e-Jurrat by C-in-C General Musa

By the time we got home, not knowing what exactly a war is, the president Muhammad Ayub Khan was already on the radio Pakistan delivering his most impressive, heart-warming and motivating speech. Listen to the radio broadcast of the speech made by the president on 6th of September (in Urdu).

Next day, the newspapers were full of the event and made headlines:
And from here on for next seventeen days, Lahore heard roars of jets above and gun fires with night blackouts and siren roaring many times a day.
Pakistan Army's 'O Group' with President Ayub Khan and Pakistan Air Force chief Nur Khan 

Soon my father also came home and my three elder brothers studying in a different school. And from then on the war started to make sense and people in streets and roads gathering around roadside eateries and listening to news related to the war – late Shakil Ahmed’s voice roared every hour to update on the war and telling that the massive Indian offensive has been stalled on the bank of BRB Link Canal (Bambanwala Ravi-Bedian). 

Meanwhile all film songs were stopped from being aired from the Radio Pakistan and national songs came on the air to boost the morale of the fighting soldiers and the nation. Famous singer Noor Jahan's emotional national songs, followed by others were on air 24 hours a day interrupted by war updates on the radio and TV.

In a park nearby our house, zig zag trenches were dug by the hurriedly assembled civil defence force of the area for people to take shelter during the air raids. And we got busy taping the glass windows with tapes to avoid personal injuries from flying of sharp glass 'splinters' in case of air attack and pasting of black papers so as not to avoid lights sneak out during the blackouts. I too joined the civil defence as a young recruit and roamed in the streets at night and ask people to adhere to blackout, specially when the air raid sirens roared.

The Indian attack on three fronts, i.e. Lahore, Sialkot and Kasur was effectively stalled and checked by Pakistan Army. In the coming days, in general area Sialkot, a tank battle was fought near the village of Chawinda, which was then considered to be the biggest tank battle after the WW-II. The Indian tank onslaught was not only halted but badly mauled. Chawinda became the graveyard of Indian Indian 1st Armoured and 6th Mountain divisions.
Thus each day was a day of news of enemy being halted and reports of fierce Indian attacks to break our defences and reach Lahore and equally fierce resistance by us to stall Indian moves. Meanwhile news of capture of many Indian forts and cities poured in and Pakistani flag shown being flown over Indian forts.
Despite being member of US led CENTO and SEATO, the US continued to supply arms and ammunition to India during the war. The box above is a practical manifestation of this betrayal by USA. I came across many such boxes littered in the fields near the Ghawindi village. Even one of the box had a marking: Shipment for Pakistan - but then crossed and converted to Shipment to India. I brought one such packing which kept lying in our house for long - till it withered away with time.

The war continued - it became a stalemate as the offensive form Indians was halted on all three fronts and on Lahore front at BRB Link Canal and the enemy was not allowed to breach it and dash towards Lahore to have drinks at Lahore Gymkhana. 
Ack Ack guns defending Ravi Bridges

Lahore continued to listen to roar of distant heavy guns and ack ack guns at Ravi bridge whenever the Indian aircraft came to destroy the bridge over Ravi. The gunfire kept the Indian aircraft at bay and the bridge remained intact.
And Lahorites would never forget the air battle over Lahore on 20th September when four F-86 Sabres of Pakistan Air Force intercepted Indian three Hunters and two Gnats over the city of Lahore. The entire Lahore disregarded the air raid sirens and went on rooftops or in the open to witness an impressive dog fight between the the Indians and Pakistani fighters. I too was on the rooftop of my house and saw the impressive chase. The Indians called off a day when two of their Hunters were lost. The painting above depicts a roaring Sabre with a Hunter falling down.
 Widow of Major Bhatti receives Nishan-e-Haider from President Ayub Khan
Squadron Leader (later AVM) M M Alam (top left) received Sitare-Jurrat and Bar

The war finally came to an end amid tales of glory and heroism. Major Raja Aziz Bhatti who stood on guard at the BRB Link Canal and laid down his life while repulsing many counter attacks was awarded Nishan-e-Haider (the highest gallantry award), while Squadron Leader MM Alam was awarded Sitara-e-Jurat and Bar for shooting down 11 Indian aircraft, that included five just in a matter of thirty seconds.  
 Jeep, with the stars and flag, left by Major General Naringan Parsad, GOC 15th Indian Army Division

During the war, Pakistan also used the supersonic F-104 Starfighters (Photo above right) in the war, that were received in 1964 - the first supersonic aircraft to be used in the region by any country. It was these aircraft that broke the sound barriers early morning of 6 September as I mentioned earlier. One of the F-104 Starfighters was flown by one of my uncles Flight Lieutenant Amjad Hussain who was awarded Sitara-e-Jurrat after the war.

While the ground forces stood ground, Navy and Air Force secured the airspace and the seas against the aggression. The destruction Dawarka Radar by Pakistan NAvy and destruction of countless Indian fighter aircraft both in air and on ground inside India was a testimony of a fine coordination and effort to beat back the aggression.

There were blood banks hurriedly established in makeshift tents and people flocked in great numbers to donate bloods for the wounded soldiers. There were also drums with a '5 Paisa Tank' - as it was thought that if every Pakistani contributed 5 paisa, it could buy a tank. We contributed 5 paisas everyday and were happy that more tanks would be bought.
The bullet ridden milestone Lahore 14.2 Blood Miles

After the war, my family accompanied one of our uncles who had a land in the Ghawindi village, which was right next to the zero line of Pakistan-India border. En route we stopped at the BRB Link Canal where we were offered 'sherbet' made of sugar and water by the soldiers. We saw the place where Major Bhatti was martyred when an Indian tank shell hit a tree and hit Major Bhatti after getting ricochet. We also saw the famous 'Lahore 14.2 blood miles' milestone placed on the home bank of the canal. It was told by the soldiers that the milestone was actually located ahead of the canal and was brought back at this location as a souvenir. 

The story behind this blood mile goes like this:
The Indian advance towards Lahore was met with faced severe resistance from the Pakistani armed forces. In order to boost the morale, the Indian commander told the troops on the wireless communication that Lahore was only 2 - 3 miles away. The communication was intercepted by the Pakistani side and and officer added "Lahore - 14.2 Bloody Miles ", some say with his blood as he was seriously wounded in his effort. When we saw this the blood word was in red.
The bridge on BRB Link Canal was blown to halt the Indian offensive and after the war a makeshift bridge was made by the engineers. En route to the village Ghawindi, we moved over the half blown bridge on Hudiara Drain near the town of Burki, which could not blow off properly. And it was fun for us children when the vehicle 'went down' and then came up.
Partially blown Hudiara Drain bridge near town of Burki (Photo)

The above photo was shared by Maj H S Sarao of the Indian Army wen the crossed the half blown bridge over the Hudiara Drain. 

Village Ghawindi was all in debris and we also saw the burnt mark of the charpoy inside the village mosque where the preacher of the mosque was tied and burnt alive by Indian soldiers.

The war has left many impressions on the minds of the younger generation like I and it was the motivation and unity infused in our young minds with a sense of patriotism that led me join the armed forces ten years later.
The Indian captured arms, ammunition and equipment besides tanks, as can be seen in above photo, were displayed in Lahore after the war which drew large gatherings. I too as a 10 years old went to one such exhibition and entered the Indian tank.
Many monuments stand erected near the Wagah border signifying the sacrifices made by the soldiers to save the country from aggression. And every 6 September, people flock these monuments and offer prayers for those fallen soldiers of their country. The flag-lowering ceremony at the Wagah border witnesses a jam packed audience and makes the day end with heartwarming slogans and resolve to defend Pakistan at all costs.

After the war many photographs of soldiers being decorated by gallantry awards appeared in the newspapers and one such photo was as under:
The soldier being decorated with coveted Sitar-e-Jurrat was Lieutenant Colonel (later Brigadier Muhammad Siddique Khan being decorated by Gen Musa in Chaamb - Jurian sector. He was CO 8 Baloch Regt - this Unit is famously known as 5 star Bn. The regiment was just few hundred yards away from the historic Akhnur bridge when the ceasefire came into effect on 23 September. I must have seen this photo in the newspapers but was honoured to meet the soldier's son, Muhammad Mujeeb Khan,  ten years later when I joined Pakistan Military Academy, who not only became one of my good friends but also rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and commanded his father's regiment.

Today Pakistan is still at war with terrorists threatening its sovereignty and its valiant armed forces are rooting out the menace of terrorism, which spilled over to our side after the US led forces came to Afghanistan. Many beautiful young men and officers have laid down their lives along with countless civilians. 

One day we all hope to, God willing, eradicate these miscreants, mercenaries and terrorists from our country and move on the path to progress and peace. But in the meantime, we all need to stand united and not lose an inch to the Indians and anyone else trying to break our ranks - we have stood firm before and are standing firm despite many attempts to bow down.

Long live Pakistan - Long live Pakistan - Long live Pakistan Armed Forces. 

Photos credit: All photos above are taken from internet - no attributions could be done as these do not carry any source

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Jamil said...

Jalal I am really impressed by your naration of 1965 War between Pakistan and India. As I know the area being from Lahore, felt like accompanying you during the visit, well done and keep writing. You must write a book compiling all your analysis/articles and experience. Good luck.

DS SARAO said...

Hello Jalal, your post made interesting reading.Incidentally the Hudiara Bridge picture was taken by my father in 1965 . It is not from the Indian Army archives. You may also like to go through--

Jalal HB said...

Thank you Jamil and DS SARAO for your valuable comments.

For DS SARAO: Thank you for referring me to your blog and providing me the origin of the photo I shared of Hudiara Drain bridge. I Have changed the attributes accordingly.

Mazhar Iqbal said...

Very away all of a virtual presence in the scene.the wonder part is that you have narrated exactly the way a lad could perceive...and even depicted decades later with same thrill..warmth....and passion. Which did contributed to make you a soldier.

Muhammad Athar said...

Dear Jalal it is treat to read your narration thrilling with motivation

Jalal HB said...

Very many thanks Athar for appreciating the effort and leaving footprints

S A J Shirazi said...

As if I was there. Narration also shows your love for the land sir.

Jamil said...

یہ غازی یہ تیرے پر اسرار بندے
Jalal i am proud to be your course mate and Brother in Arms. Every time i read your blog about 1965 war it takes me to childhood memories of war.
You have covered every event of war especially Lahore Borders.
Feel proud you visited the front lines like a Baby Journalist n brought back some war trophies n souvinures.
Highly impressed by every word you write.
1965 war was an event in our history which brought the Whole nation under one flag of Pakistan 🇵🇰.
Thanks and please continue writing.
Good Luck.
Love my Pakistan Armed Forces.
اللہ شہداء کے درجات بلند فرمائے۔
Pakistan Zindabaad

Qizilbash said...

Jalal, Congratulations for such a factual and motivating write up of the 1965 war. I too was in Lahore and have been eye witness to your accounts. It was for me the reason to join armed forces. Today things are different as are the means of waging war. It calls for greater unity and greater faith in our valiant armed forces. They are the ones who have kept Pakistan safe and will do so in the future Inshallah. Pakistan Zindabad, Pak fauj paindabad.

S A J Shirazi said...

Putting together history showing our national jaho Jalal.