War & Heroes

Major Ziauddin Abbasi (SJ): The Unsung Hero of Battle of Chawinda

Some soldiers fight the battle to victory, but some completely change the course of history. Major Ziauddin Abbasi shaheed was one such officer who through his gallantry and valor, changed the course of history.

History of Pakistan Army boasts numerous martyrs and veterans, applauded for their acts of gallantry, some of them go down in the annals of history into oblivion as unsung heroes to such an extent that the cruelty of time blurred their names, what to talk about their heroic deeds. A few of them are remembered for some time but forgotton with time and their memory is not more than pictures hanging in some mess or regimental recreation rooms. It is sad and ironic, but that is a stark reality of life. This is the reason I keep picking up heroes from the past to enlighten our current and future generations to help them remember our past heroes.  
The hero that I have picked up for this discourse is Major Ziauddin Ahmad Abbasi shaheed, a recipient of Sitara-e-Jurat during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, who was decorated for valor when he embraced shahadat, while leading his squadron bravely, as a part of the celebrated Guides Cavalry Regiment in the Sialkot Sector. I have endeavored to cover very briefly this braveheart’s legendary tale of valor.
Ziauddin Ahmed Abbasi was born on April 15, 1932 at Allahabad (UP, India) and like many Muslims migrated to Pakistan from India. His family also migrated and settled in Karachi and that’s where he grew up. Very little is known about his early life, but one thing is for sure–he wanted to join the Pakistan Army. A God-given opportunity was offered to him, when the gates were opened for short service commission through the 1st OTS Course, that was to be run at the newly raised Officer Training School (OTS) at Kohat, to make up for the acute shortage of army officers for the newly raised Pakistan Army. Zia-ud-din Ahmed Abbasi was not only selected, but during his training, he drew the attention of his instructors who found him to be highly talented and exceptional and therefore, recommended him for transfer to Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) for getting commission as a regular officer. This is how he landed up in PMA and joined the 4th PMA Long Course. 
When he passed out from PMA on August 25, 1951, he was granted a Pakistan Army number (PA 3812), and assigned to Guides Cavalry Regiment. As per tradition in vogue those days, all newly commissioned officers were first required to attend the basic armor course at the Pakistan Armoured Corps School and Centre at Nowshera before joining their assigned regiments. 
After completing his basic Young Officers Course, he joined his Regiment on February 25, 1952. Guides Cavalry is the renowned regiment about which Ms. M. M. Kaye wrote the epic book, The Far Pavilions, the contents of which were later adapted for making a film with the same caption as the book. The Regiment was raised in 1846 and is known for its legendary traditions and history. 
Right from his younger days, Ziauddin Ahmed Abbasi was a popular regimental officer. Coupled with his debonair looks and gait, he had a great sense of humor and a gift of the gab, where he didn’t even spare his seniors. My findings about him from his old comrades helped me conclude that he was a very likeable and professional officer. One of his comrades in Guides Cavalry and someone who fought alongside him during the battle, is Colonel Afzal Cheema. He spoke about him as an outstanding officer and a great leader of men, who possessed a very likeable demeanour.   
After joining his Regiment, he served as a troop leader, signal officer, squadron second-in-command and adjutant. He was posted as the General Staff Officer (GSO-3, Operations) in Headquarters 3 Independent Armoured Brigade on April 20, 1957. On completion of his tenure, he was posted back to Guides Cavalry, where he was appointed as the Adjutant on May 30, 1960. He was later on appointed as Squadron Commander of B Squadron.
Towards the end of December 1961, he was selected for the Command and Staff Course at the Command and Staff College, Quetta for the 1962 Staff Course. On completion of his Staff Course, he was posted as the Brigade Major at Headquarters 4 Armoured Brigade on February 21, 1963. Barely a year down the road, he was selected for the 6th Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Staff Course at Karachi, which commenced on January 7, 1964. 
He excelled both in his writing skills and verbal expressions that enabled him to get good grades and eventually get posted as the Armor Directing Staff (Instructor) at the School of Infantry and Tactics, where he reported on November 30, 1964. What a fine representative of the Black Berets he was, not only popular as an individual, but he also stood out for his professionalism. While he was posted there, he decided to get married and tied the knot with Ms. Shakira Abbasi on April 9, 1965 and planned to start a happy married life. Like the saying goes, ‘fate is the hunter’, while he had plans of settling down, the war clouds were gathering at a rapid pace. It was just around the corner of Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, when he was posted back to his Regiment on July 2, 1965.
Guides Cavalry had just been taken over by a legendary Cavalry/SSG officer, Lieutenant Colonel (later Brig), Ameer Gulistan Janjua, who was an epitome of the term, an officer and a gentleman. The Regiment was deployed in Sialkot Sector and had received orders to reinforce the ongoing battle at Chawinda. On September 11, around 1000 hours, the Regiment received orders that there had been a serious Pakistani reverse at Phillora, and that Guides Cavalry should take immediate action to release the pressure. The Indians wanted to advance towards Bhagowal and Khakanwali in the west.
On receipt of the mission, the commandant of Guides Cavalry decided to attack with two squadrons up with the task of capturing Libbe on track Phillora-Bhagowal and issued orders from the march column (orders on the wireless), wherein the attack was to be launched with two squadrons up: A Squadron, commanded by Major Lateef Malik, on the left; while B Squadron commanded by Major Ziauddin Abbasi, was to be on the right. The left flank of the Regiment was to be protected by the reconnaissance troop, commanded by Captain (later Colonel) Afzal Cheema. Guides Cavalry was equipped with the M-48 Tanks, the best tank on both sides. 
The Indians had thrown in a full tank division, with complete complements of armored vehicles and wheeled infantry. They wanted to make an immediate breakthrough in the Sialkot Sector and eventually go for the strategic city of Wazirabad. While advancing towards the objective, Guides Cavalry inflicted heavy casualties on the Indian tanks. 
Since this discourse is about Major Abbasi, having given you the outline Regimental plan, I will confine my discourse on his squadron operations. He gave the orders to his squadron, “Today my squadron will advance with such speed and impact that no squadron in the history of warfare had advanced before”. Having said that he rushed forward in his tank, leading the way, the Indians failed to stop his onslaught.  

Major Abbasi, who was leading the attack, made the first contact with Indian tanks. He was moving fearlessly in the battlefield with the cupola of his tank open, and at the same time guiding his squadron accurately, but exposed himself perilously to the enemy in the process. He had not waited for air support or for reinforcement, regardless of his personal safety, showing dauntless courage and carried out the attack with maximum speed. Despite an incessant rain of shells, Major Abbasi stood tall, leading his squadron. When he was at a distance of approximately 2000 yards from the enemy, he felt that the frontal attack was not making a headway as his column was coming under heavy artillery and anti-tank fire from the enemy. He made a quick assessment of the situation and prepared a quick attack plan, wherein he left the enemy engaged frontally and he himself decided to carry out a manoeuvre from the left flank with a troop of tanks, supported by some infantry. By leading the column, his second tank was 150 yards behind and the third 300 yards. According to the driver of Major Abbasi’s tank (the only survivor of the tank’s crew), the movement of the tank at such a rapid speed drew heavy flak from Indian artillery, recoilless rifle and tank fire. According to him, the shells were falling like hail drops. On such occasions, the tanks usually move buttoned up; however, Major Abbasi continued standing gallantly in the cupola for better command and control. His tanks were inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy armor and troops, while he kept advancing and closed up with the enemy and when they were barely 1000 yards or so, tragedy struck when an enemy artillery shell struck on top of the tank of Major Abbasi, which proved fatal and he embraced shahadat instantly, along with two members of the crew in the fighting compartment. With the cupola still open, his tank stopped, and his driver opened the bottom hatch in order to come out of the tank. Concurrentl+y, an Indian tank took advantage of this situation and opened fire scoring a direct hit on his tank, resulting in setting the tank on fire. (I am a witness to exactly something like this because the tanks of 13 Lancers and 31 Cavalry burnt like tinder cans during the Indo-Pakistan War-1971, generally in the same area during the Battle of Barapind on December 16 and 17, 1971). 
The tragedy occurred at 3:45 pm, exploding the tank, the dead bodies of Major Abbasi and crew were thus burnt to ashes and unfortunately there was nothing left of the bodies to be recovered. The driver who was injured and in a helpless state, stayed in the battlefield till sundown and only ventured to his own lines when darkness fell and he made his way back to tell the details of the battle. 
The attack led by Major Abbasi was a huge success, causing heavy casualties to the enemy, upsetting them morally and mentally. It goes to his credit that despite being heavily outnumbered in the face of superior enemy, he frustrated every attempt by the enemy to break through. His operations imposed caution on the enemy, the advancing Indian 1st Armored Division to the extent that they did not resume their offensive till September 13, 1965. Major Abbasi indeed to-date, remains the hero of Sialkot. 
For leading a successful attack, leading from the front with devotion to duty and showing remarkable gallantry in the battlefield, Major Ziauddin Ahmad Abbasi was posthumously awarded with Sitara-e-Jurat.

The writer is a military historian and biographer.
E-mail: [email protected]

PS: My special thanks to Brig Farhan Saqib, OIC CORO, for providing information on Major Ziauddin Abbasi shaheed (including the spellings of his name). My gratitude to him for helping me obtain data on all my writings and research. I owe him tons of gratitude for his never failing and willing cooperation.
I will also like to thank Colonel Afzal Cheema (Retired) for providing me details of the action about the shaheed officer and last but not the least to Commanding Officer Guides Cavalry, Lt Col Raza Qureshi for sharing information that was available with the Regiment and pictures of Major Ziauddin Abbasi shaheed

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