On Defence of Pakistan Day it is opportune to apprise the nation of the psychology and sociology of soldiers whose heroics became legends in 1965. Public folklore about soldiers fastening anti-tank mines on their chests in the Battle of Sialkot is mythical. It reflects the expectation of the society and nation from its armies that perform. World over, soldiers are glorified in folklore and country songs. This construct is an exclusive domain of soldiering that glorifies soldiers who go unrecognised. All countries have their own Unknown Soldier. Soldiers are indeed less understood. An engineer may leave a legacy, a doctor may save many lives and a teacher may spread light. But it is only a soldier who scarifies his today for tomorrow of others. In soldiering, the sense of sacrifice fosters romanticism. Soldiers take it as a vocation while the masses create heroes and myths for their valour.

Soldiering is an experience punctuated with strong emotive factors, comradery, a sense of belonging to a strongly bonded group with an exclusive identity and always putting others ahead of self. This training, dormitory living and bonding forge a collective identity to create a spirit de corps in peace, war and retirement. This hardens soldiers to dare where others don’t.  They spend half their lives without families, children and neighbourhoods. This strange form of exclusivity from the outside forges an inclusive sociology within. Enlisted in teens, all sacrifice a part of the youthful evolution to integrate into an organization that demands a code of honour. Even after they retire, good soldiers continue to live in their skin. 

A do-or-die approach in soldiering is crucial towards an efficient fighting machine, but not brawn over brains. Soldiering warrants raw guts, but also the ability to think critically with composure, and like an artist, evolve on the canvas of the battlefield. It involves the ability of looking into the mind of the enemy. Reason and logic remain crucial to positive decision making in absence of orders.

These traits of soldiering are painstakingly built in training, sports competitions, endurance runs and celebrations; the bugle calls at reveille, the retreat and the last post have a meaning and significance. The hoisting and lowering of flags, the change of guards or the clatter of helicopter wings bringing back last remains of a soldier are beyond symbolic. They inject a flow of adrenaline in the blood stream with a sudden surge of harnessed hyper energy. It conquers fear and pushes a soldier charging into the unknown.  “The honour of the country is paramount; that of the men one commands the next; and self, the last”. As General Douglas McArthur said, “a professional soldier must lie in wait all his life for a moment that may never come, yet be ready when it does even to the peril of his life”.

In contemporary sociology, militaries world over have indeed become more educated. Yet the notion to brand soldiering as a profession at par with others is misleading. Within the context of the art of modern warfare, this dexterity in professionalism is a foregone conclusion. A soldier in course of duty may study history, geography, management, economics, computers and other sciences. Yet he remains a soldier first. However, unlike the past, higher education also makes good professionals in civil life. Majority of Presidents of United States of America have been soldiers in the earlier part of their lives.

Pakistani soldiers wrote new tales of battlefield brilliance at sub-unit and unit level. The battle of Chawinda in 1965 is a brilliant account of sub-unit actions and military initiatives in which heavily outnumbered Pakistani troops beat back a massive Indian army offensive.

On 6 September, the Indian secondary attack at Lahore, in support of its main attack in Sialkot was halted by protective detachments ahead of the BRB Canal. Its flanking diversion at Jassar created confusion and opened a 27 KM stretch in Sialkot to unchecked invasion Indians failed to exploit. Contrary to teaching, thinly deployed Pakistani protective detachments fought a positional defence.  On September 7, army aviators reported seeing a long column of Indian armoured vehicles and infantry moving astride axis Gadgor-Charwa-Chobara-Phillarauh. This was the Indian main offensive. Soon a flight of four F-86 Sabres led by Flight Lieutenant Cecil Chaudhry wreaked hell over the advancing Indians. At a crucial time, India was forced to halt its offensive for two hours ceding initiative to outnumbered Pakistani troops. Advancing Indian tanks hit by PAF mistook C Squadron of 25 Cavalry with 14 tanks moving in an extended formation for a frontal engagement as an armoured division. They retreated. The remaining regiment moving back to Chowinda hit the Indians from the flanks of Gadgor. A fierce battle ensued for the next seven days and came to be called the biggest battle of tanks. Indians had massed three Infantry Divisions, and more than an armoured division to secure a firm base by September 8. By September 17, they could only make limited penetrations of no military consequence. Actual troop’s ratio that beat back the Indian offensive on 7-8 September was Infantry 1:20, Tanks 1:10. Pakistan’s force multipliers were the early warning by aviators, accurate artillery fire and a single sortie of four F-86 Sabres.  These were the men with a suicidal mission akin to explosives tied to the chests. Denial of victory to India meant Pakistan’s victory.

Remembering our soldiers of 1965, 1971 and other skirmishes with India is a national duty. Besides, the armed forces have been at the ‘beck and call’ of the nation in internal situations, natural calamities and national development. Most recently, Zarb e Azb reflects a resolve of the armed forces to rid Pakistan of all forms and manifestations of militancy. Reversing the trends of armed violence that have afflicted our society for the past three decades is the priority. With the sacrifice of thousands of lives and physical impairment of many more, the armed forces are reinforcing the basic template of Pakistan, Qaid-e-Azam Muhamad Ali Jinnah painstakingly elucidated repeatedly. With its changed sociology, this is the biggest battle poised to make Pakistan one of the strongest nations of the world. Like the outnumbered and isolated detachment of 25 cavalry, 11 Cavalry, 13FF, 14 Baloch and 3FF, Pakistanis must synergise to fight and win their biggest battle despite adversities and hiccups.