Lt Col Syed Shahid Abbas

It was midnight 5/6 September 1965 when our unforgiving neighbor not comfortable with the cessation of this new found Muslim state ventured to mow it down under the spell of its formidable quantitative superiority. Taking cover of the pitch dark night it intruded into our sacred land like a serpent in paradise. Lahore, the historic city and then the capital of West Pakistan was only 14.2 miles (22.72 km) from the border. Pakistan’s vital GT road and rail arteries were hardly within 40 minutes tank ride from Indian jump off point. Quantitatively speaking Pakistan with less than one third of the Indian force who had the advantage of time and place of their choosing was no match.

In case of a breakthrough the Indian assault could prove disastrous for Pakistan’s communication network. Hence, threatening its defensive posture in totality. India mounted thirteen major attacks on Lahore and Kasur fronts. Despite the odds, Pakistani forces held their ground due to unparalleled gallantry, tenacity and strength of indomitable motivation they drew from the relentless support of dauntless and united people of Pakistan. The initial nine hours resistance offered to an Indian brigade size force at Hudiara drain by just a handful of Pakistan Army Jawans was the most crucial of the battles. It is remembered to this day as the most glorious chapters of our national history. The metamorphosis of this 6th September, 1965 action generated a patriotic upsurge in the whole nation and converted them into an indestructible edifice of national solidarity. It was during the wee hours of 6th September when the Pakistan Army high command received secret information pertaining to nefarious enemy designs of an assault on Lahore City without formal declaration of war. After assessment of the situation, Delta Company of 17 Punjab Regiment under Major Shafqat Hussain Baloch was ordered to reach Gowindi Border along Hudiara drain. The area was devoid of cover. The rest of the brigade had just moved on the same night to occupy the main positions.

The enemy consisted of a brigade supported by an armour regiment, having ambitions to get a free run to Lahore. The enemy attack supported by heavy artillery commenced at 0530 hours. The Indian 7th Infantry division tasked its 48th Infantry brigade to capture Burki and secure the bridge over BRB Canal by last light 6th September it simultaneously tasked 17 Rajput supported by elements of armour and artillery to capture Bedian by morning. While in phase – 2, 65th Infantry group was to carry out mopping up operations along the East bank of BRB Canal including destruction of all bridges within their area of responsibility.  The main Indian force, in a preliminary operation crossed the international border around 0430 hours. The enemy reached Hudiara drain around 0530 hours. The 48th Infantry Brigade commenced the advance with 6/8 Gorkha Rifles on the lead. The enemy reached Hudiara drain around 0500 hours. The Pakistani troops had already got alerted once the enemy engaged Sutlej Rangers and Customs Check Post near Bedian along the international border. The enemy took a number of civilians from bordering towns and villages as POW. Major Shafqat Baloch a young officer remained unmoved despite sensing the quantitative enemy strength and waited eagerly for the advancing troops to come further closer only to pounce upon his prey. The Delta Company, 17 Punjab Regiment fought on gallantly with unswerving resolve for nine hours. All seemed to have been lost in the face of heavy fire and the impetus of enemy attacks.

Though baptized in the initial encounter by receiving a bullet in his left arm he displayed extraordinary leadership qualities and stood resolutely with utter disregard of his personal safety. He moved about in a fully exposed position in an open field guiding artillery fire onto advancing enemy. Standing his ground amidst battle frenzy he exhorted his men to continue the determined stand as it was for the safety of their motherland. This invigorated the morale of his foot soldiers who pledged to fight till the last man and the last bullet. Inspired by the bravery of their company commander, the men continued repelling enemy assaults. They confused the enemy by destroying their three invading tanks in a go and pinning down innumerable hostile troops. This sapped the enemy ambition to advance any further. The fighting spirit coupled with valour and determination of his company broke the enemies might only to make it realize that violation of territorial integrity of Pakistan was never a smooth sailing.

These proud sons of the soil not only wrested away the tide of battle in their country’s favour but by stalling the advance gave ample time to rest of their brigade to occupy defensive positions. The enemy got a bloody nose, forcing it to rethink its hegemonic strategy. Though many a major battles were fought during the ensuing days, these initial nine hours played an instrumental role in setting the future pace and precedence of 17 days war.  Major Shafqat Baloch was awarded the coveted “Sitara-e-Jurrat” for his epic action. The last lines of his citation read, “But for this officer’s gallant, bold and inspiring leadership the whole defence of Lahore would have been jeopardized”.

In the back drop of enemy designs the Pakistani nation in general and the Lahorites in particular owe much of their freedom to this great hero. Lieutenant General Harbakhsh Singh the Indian Commander in his book “The War Dispatches – Indo Pak Conflict 1965” gives his account of the battle at Hudiara drain as follows. “General Officer Commanding 7th Infantry Division appreciating that 48th Infantry Brigade had suffered fairly heavy causalities in the battle for Hudiara drain switched 65th Infantry Brigade Group into the lead with the task of securing the Ichhogil (BRB) Canal at Burki”. This account by an Indian Corps Commander responsible for Lahore sector bears testimony to the fact that how, one company strength of Pakistan Army under the dynamic leadership of Major Shafqat Baloch blunted the initial Indian assault. On reporting back to the Battalion Headquarters after successful accomplishment of the assigned task, the Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Ibrahim hugged him and said, “we are proud of you Major Baloch you save the day’. To the utter surprise of his Divisional Commander Major General Sarfaraz, Major Baloch said we have only two martyrs and a few injured. The General Officer Commanding not believing him said, “you must be in a shell shock Baloch, take some rest we will talk again”. Major Baloch insisted “you can count my men sir!”. Ultimately it was revealed that Major Baloch was right. After the declaration of ceasefire on 23 September as per the information received from across the border the Indians had suffered 400 causalities. Thanks to the accurately guided artillery fire by this daring soldier. Later, Major Baloch who was a dreaded figure in the Indian ranks was tasked by his superiors to settle the ceasefire line. He dared to cross over BRB Canal into the Indian positions. The enemy was shocked and dismayed as to what Major Baloch was upto. Major Puri, the enemy Company Commander and Major Hira Singh an armour officer after recovering from shock and awe, embraced Major Baloch and congratulated him for putting a strong front. The psychological impact of Major Baloch’s presence amidst demoralized enemy was such that it agreed to his terms and conditions without offering a single argument regarding ceasefire line. Major Baloch was recommended for gallantry medal and awarded Sitar-e-Jurrat for his daring action.

‘War Citation of Major Shafqat Baloch’

Major Shafqat Hussain Baloch was Commanding a company of Punjab Regiment in the advance positions on the Hudiara drain on the morning of 6 Sep 1965, when the Indians launched a sudden attack on the Lahore front. His company had moved in on the same night and had very little time to dig in. The rest of the Brigade had just moved on the same night to occupy the main positions and the bridge on Hudiara had not been fully prepared for the demolition. There was a grave apprehension of the enemy, which consisted of a brigade supported by an Armour Regiment, getting a free run to Lahore. The enemy attack which commenced at 0530 hours was supported by heavy artillery fire. The company fought on gallantly for three hours but all seemed to be lost in the face of heavy fire and momentum of enemy attacks. At this juncture, inspite of the fact that he had received a bullet wound, Major Baloch with utter disregard of his personal safety moved about the fully exposed position and exhorted his men to continue the determined stand and at times directed the artillery fire himself. Inspired by his personal courage and  bold leadership, his men continued repelling continual assaults for nine hours and thus enabled the remainder of the Brigade to dig down. Only after he was given the order to do so, Major Baloch extricated his company and that too, with remarkable skill. But for this officers gallant, bold and inspiring leadership the whole defence of Lahore would have been jeopardized.n

Bibliography: Personal interaction/interview of Lt Col (retd) Shafqat Baloch (late).

The war dispatches – Indo-Pak Conflict ’65 – by Lt Gen (retd) Harbakhsh Singh.