IRRESPECTIVE of who shows guts and bravery in battle, it deserves respect and honour. The recent report of renovation of thegrave of a fallen Pakistani officer in Jammu and Kashmir is in this spirit, and is in consort with the ethos of the Indian Army to respect all those killed in battle. I was a part of 9 Sikh during the Indo-Pak war in 1971 when this outstanding battalion captured 42 square km of PoK in Lipa valley, a record unmatched by any other Infantry battalion during the war. The enemy’s resistance collapsed as the Sikhs emerged out of thin air, accompanied by the resounding ‘jaikaras’ of ‘Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal’.
Of the many surprise attacks was the capture of the area (referred to here as Three Heights) where the grave is located. Three Heights, at the outbreak of war, was located well to the rear of the enemy defences where they least expected an attack, but was to witness many acts of gallantry. After the capture of the initial objectives, two companies of 9 Sikh took a wide hook by night to launch an attack by infiltration on Three Heights. After one company had established firm base for the attack to the north-east of Three Heights, further infiltration was resumed with a recce in strength under Major ‘Hardy’ Hardul Singh, Lt Taneja and an additional platoon under Lt Pushpinder as immediate reinforcements. It being daylight, stealth was paramount; around 2 pm, this force had creeped close to Three Heights. The enemy was totally unaware and even the six mortars deployed there were unguarded.
The opportunity could not be missed. The troops following up were whistled forward hurriedly, but suddenly a sentry spotted the lurking Sikhs. ‘Hardy’, true to the adage that ‘boldest measures are the safest’, took the initiative and launched the attack. This daylight rush totally surprised the Pakistanis. They defended well, especially the mortar handlers, but the Sikh resilience was overbearing. The follow-up troops, along with the platoon under Lt Pushpinder, had joined up; soon the entire Three Heights, along with four mortars with 280 high explosive bombs and other weapons, was captured. The counter-attack was also beaten back. The enemy casualties were nearly 30 killed and two captured; due to the surprise, our casualties were low: five killed, one officer (Lt Taneja) and six other ranks wounded.
Fast forward to May 1972, Three Heights again witnessed extremely severe fighting. On May 5, Pakistan launched a surprise attack with over two battalions supported by helicopter-based SSGs and heavy artillery support — a ratio of nine attackers to one defender. Some peacetime activities had started; thus the 9 Sikh company was pretty under-strength, but egged on by Major Pancholy, they fought it out till most were killed or wounded. Pancholy, critically wounded, was evacuated along with only a handful of men. 9 Sikh launched a counter-attack soon with four officers leading and three of them were wounded; in an intense fire-fight, Capt Sen killed Maj Sabir Khan, but was himself badly wounded. It was an extremely high-intensity battle. The casualty figure on our side was 20 and 28 were wounded, Pakistan lost many more, including the Commanding Officer (Lt Col Haq Kiyani), and it awarded five Sitara-e-Jurat and two Tamgha-e-Jurat, their third and fourth highest gallantry awards, for this operation.
Some 15 years later, I was back there as the Company Commander. Maj Khan’s grave was a short distance from my bunker. The grave reminded me of the famous poem by Rupert Brooke: ‘If I should die, think this only of me. That there is some corner of a foreign field that is forever (me)…’ But lest the gallantry of many others be forgotten, the poem continues, ‘There shall be in that rich earth richer (gallantry acts) concealed.’ How true! The original epitaph that read ‘Here lies Maj Khan killed by Capt AS Sen of 9 Sikh’ needs to be known and preserved.