War on Terror

The Unyielding Resolve in the Face of Overwhelming Odds

A personal narration of events from 1971 War, highlighting the unyielding efforts of 31 Baloch in fortifying and protecting their posts under siege at Kamalpur for 21 days without any reinforcements.

In April 1967, I was commissioned and posted to 31 Baloch Regiment at Kharian Cantt. During the end of March 1971, our battalion, which was part of 9 division, was ordered to move to East Pakistan. On April 4, 1971, the battalion moved to Karachi by train and on April 7, it was airlifted and safely landed in Dhaka. The very next day we were ordered to move to Tangail District to relieve 8 Baloch Regiment. 
On April 10, two companies were moved to Kalihati which is about 9.8 km north of Tangail. I was commanding C Company whereas A Company was commanded by Maj. Rafiq Malik. We reached Kalihati by afternoon and while in the process of disembarkation from the vehicles, a jeep came rushing from the side of Madhupur forest. The driver was confused and in a state of shock. Maj. Rafiq asked him what had happened; after considerable time he was able to explain that one platoon, ex-B Company, under the command of Capt. Javed Khan, was patrolling towards Madhupur forest when it got ambushed. It was past afternoon. Maj. Rafiq was indecisive or perhaps still assessing the situation when I told him, “Sir, I think I must go to Madhupur forest without any further delay.” He immediately agreed and I prepared to proceed towards Madhupur forest, which was nearly 30 miles from our location. During the move, I was able to extract further information from the driver who narrated that when the platoon had reached the outskirts of Madhupur forest, it was ambushed. The troops had abandoned the vehicles and taken up positions on a high ground towards the north-east side of the road. Once I reached near the location that the driver had mentioned, with the help of binoculars, I was able to see that the miscreants were forming up to attack the platoon’s location. I immediately positioned some troops there with instructions to open fire on my signal while I, along with a platoon, moved towards the north-western side to encircle the miscreants. Once in position, we opened fire on the miscreants from both sides. At the same time, the ambushed platoon located at the high ground also opened extensive fire on the miscreants. During this brisk operation we were able to inflict heavy casualties on the enemy and were able to safely extract our troops. Capt. Javed was very upset since one of his sepoys was martyred and another one was wounded. He insisted on following the rebels, but I convinced him against this as it was getting dark. After the last light, we reached Kalihati where our Commanding Officer had also arrived. The whole situation was explained to him which was very well appreciated. This was my first combat experience and I was recommended for a gallantry award. On August 14, 1971, I was awarded Commander Eastern Command’s Certificate in a ceremony held at Mymensingh. 
During the first week of May, I occupied the Kamalpur post near the border north of Dhaka. It was a border outpost manned by East Pakistan Rifles before the hostility started. There were only two approaches in this area, from the north or south, which the enemy could exploit to descend on Dhaka. There was the Haluaghat-Mymensingh in the east and the Kamalpur-Jamalpur axis in the west. 33 Punjab was deployed on the Eastern and 31 Baloch on the Western approach. They were both part of 93 Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Qadir Niazi, located at Mymensingh. Opposite our 93 Brigade, the enemy had 101 communication zone, which was a misnomer. It was as good as a fighting formation commanded by a Major General. Before the war, the enemy had reinforced it with 95 Brigade. It had the usual compliment of field and medium artillery, whereas we only had a battery of 120 mm mortars to cover both axes. 
Of the two axes mentioned above, the main enemy thrust was expected on the Kamalpur-Jamalpur approach, which could open its way to Dhaka via Tangail. The Eastern approach, Haluaghat-Mymensingh, was relatively underdeveloped, hence less likely of an option. Kamalpur, which does not appear to be more than a dot on the map, was the main stumbling block for the enemy on the western axis. The enemy could not roll down to Bakshiganj (Company Headquarter), Sherpur and Jamalpur (BM HQ) without first neutralizing this border outpost (BOP). Therefore, they paid it far more attention than it would, at first, appear to deserve. This was also appreciated by Lt. General Gul Hassan, CGS, during his visit to the post.  
In view of the above-mentioned situation, we immediately started converting the post into a strong point. Trenches were converted into concrete bunkers reinforced by earth work literally creating strong mounds so that it could withstand heavy artillery fire. This was also proved right during the war. It was against the concept of camouflage concealment, but as the Indians were aware of our position/layout, courtesy of our Bengali brothers, this aspect was ignored. Secondly, we interconnected the bunkers with the help of trenches and mudwalls so that movement could be concealed during daytime. But what really made our defenses strong was the punjis (The punji stick/punji stake, a simple spike made from bamboo whose tip is sharpened. They are usually deployed in substantial numbers. This was effectively used by the Vietnamese against the Americans). These were deployed in a very large number with a depth of 30 to 40 yards around the post, but special preference was towards the west, north and eastern side of the post from where the enemy was likely to advance. 
The post was further infested with booby traps and jumping grenades to give early warnings. Anti-personnel mines in a limited quantity were also laid as well as anti-tank mines on a road going towards Bakshiganj from the border. 
I had the following resources available:
  ▪  Platoon 31 Baloch.
  ▪  Platoon of Pakistan Rangers.
  ▪  Platoon of Razakars.
  ▪  One section of 31 mm mortars.
Activities at the Post
To keep the morale high, the troops were kept busy with patrolling and playing volleyball. This helped neutralize the demoralizing effect, which was faced at a later stage, due to being surrounded by the enemy. 
The place had seen action much before the actual war. Mukti Bahini attempted to capture it with the support of Indian Artillery a couple of times but failed. On July 31, the Kamalpur post was attacked with the support of Indian Artillery. The attacked was foiled by Capt. Ali, who was commanding the post. The rebel force, which included the defecting East Bengal Regiment/East Pakistan Rifles personnel, left behind a heavy machine gun, 8 light machine guns, 4 sten guns, 30 rifles and a rocket launcher, while retreating they also left behind a number of dead bodies.  This bitter experience silenced the so-called freedom fighters for over 2 months. 

On the night of November 27/28, the Indians launched another determined attack to neutralize the isolated border outpost. The attack was spearheaded by C Company of the Indian 13 Guards but were beaten back with heavy losses including an officer with the rank of Captain.

On October 2, Capt. Tauqir Qamar, 39 PMA, was commanding the post when the Mukti Bahini attacked. They suffered heavy casualties again and retreated, leaving behind several dead bodies. During this attack, Capt. Tauqir Qamar was seriously wounded and was evacuated to West Pakistan.
On November 15, 1971, our patrolling party was ambushed near the zero line. Another patrol party was sent in a different direction in the afternoon which met the same fate. The situation alerted me so in the evening I went out myself to the south of the post and was met with heavy enemy fire. The next day, two parties were sent out again which met the same fate. This made me realize that the enemy had resorted to laying siege to the post. I immediately informed the Battalion Headquarter of the situation.
The Battle of Kamalpur
On November 21, Indian Army attacked the Kamalpur border outpost after subjecting it to 96 hours of intermittent shelling. As the assaulting troops approached the well-defended post, they faced well-coordinated and heavy fire, forcing them to retreat. Another effort was made a little later which met the same fate. In the morning, about 28 dead bodies were counted including a fire observation officer with the rank of a Captain. The 13 Guards led this attack while the rebels followed it. Keeping the border outpost frontally occupied, they infiltrated to the sides and established a blocking position on the Bakshiganj-Kamalpur road. The Indians had failed to make any impression on the defenders of Kamalpur and were getting wary because of the casualties, successive failures and demoralization amongst the attacking troops. The Indian Commander decided to force the post into submission by surrounding it and cutting off its supply line. At the same time, one of its battalions infiltrated the post’s rear area and ambushed a troop of 120 mm mortars which had moved out to support from Bakshiganj (Company Headquarter) to Kamalpur. The Commanding Officer decided to dislodge the enemy from his position between Kamalpur and Bakshiganj. A force of about 300 troops was distributed into three companies under Maj. Ayub (later shaheed), Capt. Javed Jalaluddin and Lt. Abdul Quddus. Unfortunately, none of the companies were able to break through/penetrate the enemy positions. Capt. Javed Jalaluddin was seriously wounded but refused to be evacuated. By now, the post was running out of ammunition and rations. 
On the night of November 27/28, the Indians launched another determined attack to neutralize the isolated border outpost. The attack was spearheaded by C Company of the Indian 13 Guards but were beaten back with heavy losses including an officer with the rank of Captain. The dead bodies left behind by the Indians started decomposing, therefore they had to be buried in bulk at night to avoid the spread of disease. 

The General Officer Commanding (GOC), Inderjit Singh Gill along with Brigade Commander Brig. Hardev Singh Kler, came to the post. The GOC asked where were the rest of the troops, as the Indians could count only 60 with 9 additional wounded. I replied we were under siege for the last 21 days and nobody had left the post. This clearly surprised the Indians as they had estimated a company plus. 

On November 29, General Niazi, Commander Eastern Command, along with a few Generals and media personnel, came to Bakshiganj (Company HQ). Mr. Dan Southerland of the American daily, acting as a spokesperson for the Christian Science Monitor, asked where were the dead bodies of the Indian soldiers who had attacked the Kamalpur post. He was told by the CO that the post was 7 miles to the north and he could only see the bodies there. Southerland insisted on seeing the corpses. Mr. Southerland stayed behind and at night accompanied Maj. Ayub to see the Indian dead bodies. At the same time, Gen. Niazi spoke to me in person on the wireless radio and praised my actions against the Indians. I requested the General that my post was extremely low on ammunition and should be replenished immediately, which he promised. At night, Company Commander Maj. Ayub, along with Mr. Southerland, undertook a replenishment mission. He took some regular soldiers and Razakars with him who carried crates of ammunition and ration bags. He had to fight his way to reach the outpost and had to do the same while getting out. Due to heavy enemy fire short of Kamalpur, the Razakars threw off their loads and ran back to Bakshiganj. In the process, Southerland was lost. In the morning, search was carried out but he was not traceable. Southerland kept lying in the fields throughout the day and was able to reach Bakshiganj under the cover of darkness. He was a seasoned war journalist as he had covered the Vietnam War, Saigon and the Cambodian conflict before the 1971 Indo-Pak War. 
Three days later, another Indian attack was launched which met the same fate, leaving behind dead bodies. After failing to capture the post, the Indians decided to bypass and advance towards the south, leaving behind a regular battalion reinforced with Mukti Bahinis. At 0900 hours on December 4, they carried out airstrikes with four MiG-21 aircraft. This was followed by a note to surrender through a courier and a warning of dire consequences. Failing to elicit any response, another airstrike was carried out followed by yet another one in the afternoon. 
The Fall of Kamalpur
Having exhausted our ammunition, which the Indians had realized since no effective fire was returned, the enemy closed in during the afternoon. Early next morning the post had no option except to lay down their arms, having fought for 21 days without any reinforcements from the battalion since Bakshiganj was under attack.
The General Officer Commanding (GOC), Inderjit Singh Gill along with Brigade Commander Brig. Hardev Singh Kler, came to the post. The GOC asked where were the rest of the troops, as the Indians could count only 60 with 9 additional wounded. I replied we were under siege for the last 21 days and nobody had left the post. This clearly surprised the Indians as they had estimated a company plus. 
GOC Indarjit Singh Gill was very keen to see the bunkers/pill boxes. As we approached one of the bunkers, he asked me to enter first as he was apprehensive that it might have been mined. I could make out from his expression that he was astonished by the way the bunkers had been built. After seeing a couple of the bunkers, he, along with Brig. Hardev Singh, left for Bakshiganj (Company HQ). Their convoy had hardly covered a few hundred yards when the jeep, driven by the Brig. CO, blew up on an anti-tank mine. The GOC lost his leg while the Brig. CO was unhurt. Soon afterwards, a helicopter flew in to evacuate the wounded. 

Excerpts from the book, Stolen Victory, written by Brig. Sultan Ahmed, SJ & BAR, ex CO 31st Baloch regiment during war (p. 129, 130)
The Sword of 31 Baloch

“It was planned that 31 Baloch company position at Kamalpur be cleared as a prelude to the main advance. The operation was mounted in late November. Two attacks were repulsed by the enemy and the post was then surrounded by and then subjected to heavy artillery shelling and air attacks, but to no avail. A third silent attack was launched thereafter, but with the same negative results. This continued till 4 December, when the official hostilities had started. This enemy post had held one brigade at bay for 21 days, there was no resort to patrolling to find out information which left them blind with no basis for planning. There seemed to be no overall plan for the defense of the country, except for bombastic boasting and rhetorical talk that amount to nothing."
(Top Brass, Brig H. S. Sodhi, Indian Army)
“At 0930 hours on 4 December, he hammered the post (Kamalpur) with seven sorties of MIG-21s, firing rockets and cannon, and this was repeated twice during the day. Then Gurbux Singh sent a note to the Commander to surrender. There was no response except in terms of renewed intensity of machine gun fire. There was no response to the next note also except defiance shown by more fire from the post bunkers.
Another note (after third air strike) and in cold contempt the post opened fire with all its weapons with renewed vigor. He, Capt. Ahsan Malik, had put up a courageous stand throughout the siege. The air attacks had not even made a dent upon the pillboxes."
(India's Wars Since Independence: The Liberation of Bangladesh, Maj Gen Sukhwant Singh, DDMO Indian Army). 
“The bravery and tenacity of the young Pakistani commander at Kamalpur, Capt. Ahsan Malik, was handsomely acknowledged by the Indian Army Chief, Gen Manekshaw."
(Pakistan Cut to Size, D. R. Mankekar)

Excerpt from the Interview of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Indian Army, to BBC
[BBC]: To what extent did you win because the Pakistan military leadership proved to be incompetent; for instance, they had no fall back strategy to defend Dacca?
[FM Manekshaw]: No, it is not true. The Pakistan Army in East Pakistan fought very gallantly but they had no chance; they were a thousand miles away from their base. I had 8-9 months to make my preparations. I had got a superiority of almost 15:1; they just had no chance, but they fought very gallantly.
[BBC]: Is it true that there was a young Pakistani, Capt. Ahsan Malik, who defended his garrison so stoutly at Kamalpur that you sent him a personal letter?
[FM Manekshaw]: That's quite true; we tried to capture a place, which he was defending. We tried very hard, but we didn't succeed until about the third attempt. He fought gallantly. I did send him a personal letter. And when I went to Pakistan after the conflict (I went twice), I mentioned it to their Chief that I think the boy should be given a gallantry award. He fought magnificently and gallantly.

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