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Brigadier Nasir Shafiq (R)

Brigadier Nasir Shafiq, Sitara-e-Imtiaz (Military), was commissioned into the Armoured Corps in September 1987. The officer is serving in Army Institute of Military History as Director Research.

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Hilal English

A Tale of Two Sultans: Lieutenant Colonel Raja Sultan Mahmood Shaheed (Part I)

April 2024

Leadership and soldiering are regarded as two slightly different attributes and virtues of humankind, but they produce marvelous results when combined in one person. Soldiering is a way and technique of fighting the enemy, while leadership inspires the leader to fight hard-hitting battles by leading from the front. History is replete with examples wherein ordinary, trained soldiers, with average physical capabilities and lacking high-quality war machines, but led by men of character and courage, achieved wonders on the battlefield, outcomes otherwise not expected of them.
East Pakistan War of 1971 gave birth to stories of courage, valor, patriotism, and unmatchable leadership rarely found in the history of warfare. Nowhere in the world, an army, 1000 miles away from its home base, without heavy equipment, nearly completely devoid of air and naval support, surrounded by sea on one side, and five times more vital force having full international and diplomatic support on three sides, fought so well for complete nine months against all odds, including a significant portion of the local population turned hostile. This saga of nine complete months, day and night, without any lull, is a case study for research itself by students of warfare.
Although the East Pakistan tale is full of such examples, if I talk about two at a time, let’s talk about two ‘Sultans’ who stood head and shoulders above the others to set an example of courage, loyalty, soldiering and leadership. One is Lieutenant Colonel Raja Sultan Mahmood Shaheed, an illustrious son of 22 and 32 Baloch Regiments.
The tale of Lieutenant Colonel Raja Sultan Mahmood Shaheed who lived up to his name, "King or Lord", goes back to December 7, 1971. The place is Pirganj, 65 kilometers north of Bogra, a major city in erstwhile East Pakistan. He was commanding the 32 Baloch Regiment, bitterly engaged against Indian forces advancing into the Rangpur-Bogra Sector, being led by the Indian 20th Mountain Division with all its military might, including tanks, air support and above all, Mukti Bahini. Mukti Bahini, organized and trained by India, were mainly the former Pakistan Army and civil armed forces soldiers and officers who revolted and were involved in sabotage, killings, looting and other subversive activities inside East Pakistan. At about 5 pm on December 7, 1971, 16 Divisional Headquarters informed 32 Baloch Regiment (reserve battalion) that Major General Nazar Hussain Shah, General Officer Commanding (GOC) 16 Pakistani Division, had been ambushed and abducted1 by Mukti Bahini at Pirganj, located on Bogra-Rangpur road. The unit was tasked with proceeding immediately to rescue the general. Colonel Sultan Mahmood didn’t waste a single moment and ordered the battalion to carry out the assigned task. At that time, the battalion-less company was located in Masthan on the Pirganj-Bogra road, approximately five km from Bogra. Alpha Company, led by Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Salim Raza Khan, left immediately for the reported ambush site.2 Colonel Sultan Mahmood also decided to proceed along with the leading company. The remaining two companies of 32 Baloch also moved under the command of Major Ajmal, second-in-command of the Battalion.3
The leading component of the battalion reached Palashbari, disembarked from their vehicles and started marching towards Pirganj on the Bogra-Rangpur road. It was nearly dark when they first encountered fire from Indian troops already deployed and well-dug-in on both sides of the road. The accurate enemy fire did not deter this force, and they continued fighting gallantly.2 It was difficult to dislodge the well-entrenched enemy due to prevailing darkness and the absence of prior ground reconnaissance. Around 4 am on the morning of December 8, a situation arose where the point platoon (the leading troops) under Subedar Jalal Khan was completely pinned down by firing from enemy tanks, mortars, machine guns, and all other available weapons. This was the time when Colonel Sultan Mahmood, the proud son of Pakistan, decided to exemplify the deadly combination of soldiering and leadership, leading the point platoon himself in a bitter hand-to-hand fight and bayonet charge against enemy fire, spitting machine guns and other weaponry. The whole platoon gave a good account of themselves, suffering heavy casualties in dead and wounded. Platoon Commander Subedar Jalal Khan was also seriously wounded1 and embraced Shahadat the next day. Setting the highest standards of courage and leadership, Colonel Sultan Mahmood led the charge himself and jumped into an Indian trench engaging in a hand-to-hand fight with an Indian Captain, Jatandar Nath Sood, of 2/5 Gorkha Rifles.4 Colonel Raja shot the captain with his pistol, seriously injuring him. Sensing the criticality of the moment and seeing the marvelous charging spirit of Colonel Sultan Mahmood, an Indian havildar powered up his stun gun and lunged at the Colonel, killing him on the spot in the Indian trench.1 This brave soldier of the Baloch Regiment made the ultimate sacrifice for his motherland, never wavering in the face of the enemy.
Meanwhile, the remaining 32 Baloch troops took defensive positions on the Karatoya River, blocking the enemy’s further advance towards Bogra. It is worth mentioning here that GOC 16 Division ambushed the night before and safely reached his Divisional Headquarters at Bogra. However, this information could not be passed down to 32 Baloch due to a complete absence of communication and a haze of battle. The story of the valiant charge of 32 Baloch, coupled with the leadership qualities of Colonel Sultan Mahmood, was later narrated to 32 Baloch officers by the Indian Brigade Commander, Brigadier Joginder Singh Bakhshi, with soldierly integrity after the surrender.2 This action has also been mentioned in a book, Indian Sword Strikes in East Pakistan, authored by Major General Lachhman Singh Lehal, who commanded 20 Indian Mountain Division in this battle.5 Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Itbar Singh, 2/5 Gorkha Rifles, the Indian company commander in this battle who was personally present in the forward platoon under attack by 32 Baloch led by Colonel Sultan, later wrote a letter6 in 2012 to Colonel Sultan’s son, Brigadier (now Lieutenant General) Nauman Mahmood, of Pakistan Army. He gave a first-hand account of this battle by writing, “I would like to assure you and through you your brother and sister, that your brave father, Lieutenant Colonel Raja Sultan Mahmood, died while leading his troops from the front. He died hardly five yards away from our forward trenches when shot through his chest by a burst of MMG fire. 32 Baloch did make valiant attempts to retrieve the body of their fallen Commanding Officer but in vain”. It bears testimony to this proud son of the soil’s heroic and daring soldierly and leadership qualities, who displayed unmatchable courage, in keeping with the tradition of leading from the front alive and truly living up to his name, “Sultan”.
This amazing tale of supreme sacrifice found an appropriate place in the Indian press as well, which deeply appreciated Colonel Sultan’s leadership qualities and his unmatchable courage. The famous Indian newspaper The Hindu7 wrote:


Although the East Pakistan tale is full of such examples, if I talk about two at a time, let’s talk about two ‘Sultans’ who stood head and shoulders above the others to set an example of courage, loyalty, soldiering and leadership. One is Lieutenant Colonel Raja Sultan Mahmood Shaheed, an illustrious son of 22 and 32 Baloch Regiments.


“During the Bangladesh Liberation War (1971), one intrepid Pakistani officer leading a bayonet charge into the guts of 2/5 GR (FF) was slashed with "kukri" by an equally brave officer, Captain Jatandar Nath Sood. The Pakistani officer’s body and identity were completely smeared with blood, and he was mistaken for Brigadier Tajamal Hussain Malik, commander of 205 Pakistan Infantry Brigade. It was at his funeral that the documents found with him, as well as his blood-soaked epaulettes, correctly identified him as PA-4863 Lieutenant Colonel Raja Sultan Mahmood, Commanding Officer of the Baloch Regiment. As his body was lowered into the grave, one Gorkha JCO (Junior Commissioned Officer) threw in Sultan’s rank badges, looked up towards the heaven and muttered, "Let him also know this sultan bahadur was a Lieutenant Colonel”. Raja Sultan Mahmood is called by all friends and foes “Sultan of Lieutenant Colonels”. In this action, the CO died a heroic death in a hand-to-hand fight with the enemy. Sixty other ranks were also lost in this action. The Indians also recognized his valor".
Another Indian newspaper, The Statesman8, also mentioned the incident:
"Old days’ hand-to-hand fight memories come to mind once the Commanding Officer of one of the Baluch regiments of the Pakistan Army had a hand-to-hand fight with an Indian captain. The Lieutenant Colonel was martyred on the spot, whereas the Indian captain died in the hospital, who could not bear the wounds slashed by the Colonel. The Colonel was equipped with a pistol, and the Indian captain with a sten. A JCO said, “He was sultan of kings and king of sultans”.

(To be continued…)


Brigadier Nasir Shafiq, Sitara-e-Imtiaz (Military), was commissioned into the Armoured Corps in September 1987. The officer is serving in Army Institute of Military History as Director Research.


Note: The article originally appeared in the magazine of the Army Institute of Military History Pakistan, Bugle and Trumpet Summer 2019 issue.


1.    War Diary of Major Muhammad Munir Azam, 32 Baloch Regiment, Pirganj battle, 1971 East Pakistan War. He was interviewed by the author as well.
2.    Major (later lieutenant colonel) Salim Raza Khan, OC Alpha Company 32 Baloch, Pirganj Battle, 1971 East Pakistan War. The author interviewed him on the phone.
3.    Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Yousaf, OC Bravo Company 32 Baloch, Pirganj Battle, 1971 East Pakistan War. He was interviewed by the author.
4.    Published in The Hindu, as quoted in “Indo-Pak Army Regimental History Group” blog (http://csio-ops-csio.blogspot.com/2018/10/lieutenant-colonel-raja-sultan-mahmood.html). A copy of the same was shown to 32 Baloch officers by Indian army officers during their captivity as Prisoners of War (POWs).
5.    Indian Sword Strikes in East Pakistan by Major General Lachhman Singh Lehal, 1979, Vikas Publishing House Pvt Ltd, 20/4 Industrial Area, Sahibabad, Distt Ghaziabad, U.P (India).
6.    Copy of the letter provided to the author through the kind courtesy of Lieutenant General Noman Mahmood (Lieutenant Colonel Sultan’s son), Pakistan Army.
7.    Published in The Hindu, as quoted in “Indo-Pak Army Regimental History Group” blog (http://csio-ops-csio.blogspot.com/2018/10/lieutenant-colonel-raja-sultan-mahmood.html). A copy of the same was shown to 32 Baloch officers by Indian army officers during their captivity as Prisoners of War (POWs).
8.    Published in The Statesman, as quoted in “Indo-Pak Army Regimental History Group” blog (http://csio-ops-csio.blogspot.com/2018/10/lieutenant-colonel-raja-sultan-mahmood.html). A copy of the same was shown to 32 Baloch officers by Indian army officers during their captivity as POWs..

Brigadier Nasir Shafiq (R)

Brigadier Nasir Shafiq, Sitara-e-Imtiaz (Military), was commissioned into the Armoured Corps in September 1987. The officer is serving in Army Institute of Military History as Director Research.

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