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Major General Parvez Akmal, HI (M), (R)

Major General Parvez Akmal, HI(M), retired, was commissioned in 13 Engineer Battalion in April 1970. He saw action in erstwhile East Pakistan with his parent unit, which he commanded in the mid-1980s. He has been on the faculty of Command & Staff College, Colonel Staff of an Infantry Division, Commandant Military College of Engineering, DG Housing Directorate, MD OGDCL and Deputy Engineer-in-Chief, besides serving on other command and staff appointments. He is a freelance Urdu and English columnist, writer, and editor.

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Hilal English

A Tale of Two Sultans: Brigadier Sultan Ahmed, SJ & Bar (Part II)

May 2024

The remarkable story of Brigadier Sultan Ahmed, SJ & Bar, whose fearless leadership and unwavering resolve shaped the course of history during the 1971 War, leaving an indelible mark on Pakistan's military legacy.


Brigadier Sultan Ahmed, SJ & Bar was born to Subedar Raja Abdul Rahman on January 15, 1936, in a small village near Jhelum. After studying at Military College Jhelum (MCJ), young Sultan Ahmed was commissioned from Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) Kakul with 12th PMA Long Course (LC), and joined 8th Battalion of Baloch Regiment. His military career spanned over three decades, which included two major wars with India. During his remarkable military career, the great Sultan distinguished himself as a brave, upright and gallant soldier. As a young captain during the 1965 War, Sultan had earned his first Sitara-e-Jurrat (SJ). However, the focus of this article is on the gallantry acts of Brigadier (then Lieutenant Colonel) Sultan Ahmed during the 1971 War, where he commanded
31 Baloch, which was a part of 36 ad hoc Division, responsible for the defense of Dacca and its north.
For the capture of East Pakistan, India had assembled a force of three corps consisting of eight divisions and the 101 Communications Zone (see Map 1).
Dacca was considered a lynchpin for the defense of East Pakistan. It was surrounded by three mighty rivers, i.e., the Ganges, the Meghna, and the Brahmaputra, providing a strategic triangle commonly referred to as the 'Dacca Bowl', but never converted into a fortress as such. Pakistani planners anticipated a brigade-size attack on the Kamalpur-Sherpur-Jamalpur axis and another along the Haluaghat-Mymensingh axis (see Map 3). They deemed this area impassable because of the hilly terrain on the Indian side and Modhupur Jungle and Brahmaputra River to the north of Dacca.
The 93rd Brigade (33rd Punjab and 31st Baloch, plus the 70th and 71st West Pakistan Rangers wings), supported by the two East Pakistan Civil Armed Forces (EPCAF) wings and the 83rd Independent Mortar Battery, was responsible for defending the border area between the Jamuna River and Sunamganj.
31 Baloch’s main responsibility was to look after forty miles border with four Border Outposts (BOPs), mainly Kamalpur, Naqshi and Baramari (about six platoons in all), ten miles apart, a troop of mortars supporting them (see Map 3). They were facing much stronger BOPs located on higher ground at the foot of Assam Hills and supported by very heavy artillery. Major Riaz, Major Ayub, Major Ilyas and Captain Habib Shah were commanding four companies of 31 Baloch deployed in this area.
After taking charge of his unit, Lieutenant Colonel Sultan addressed a gathering of locals in the Jamalpur Town Hall and guaranteed their safety and security. This approach really helped to build a positive image of the Pakistan Army in the local population's eyes.
Kamalpur, a border area,  was known as the gateway to Dacca from the northern sector. It was situated on the mouth of the old Brahmaputra and the road link with Mymensingh via Jamalpur. This border outpost was tactically very important for the Pakistan Army because its fall would cause the Pakistan Army to lose control over the whole northern sector. The enemy was focusing on this area long before the start of the regular war in November 1971.
The Construction of Jamalpur Fortress
Lieutenant Colonel Sultan started the construction of Jamalpur Fortress according to the defense plan (see Map 3). In a matter of days after that, not only that a number of Mukti Bahini started joining them with their arms, but hundreds of skilled and unskilled laborers also came voluntarily to help 31 Baloch build the most formidable Jamalpur fortress, which would later make headlines the world over. The locals, won over by the Sultan, also started providing intelligence to 31 Baloch.
Lieutenant Colonel Sultan would soon fully utilize a huge stock of construction material, including wooden sleepers, lying at Jamalpur railway station. Besides developing Jamalpur as a fortress, the unit also strengthened all BOPs, strong points and delaying positions. Hitherto, the Indian Army had been joining the Mukti Bahinis’ operations covertly, often in civilian clothes. Their first desperate overt attack came on November 18, the actual date when the conventional war commenced for 31 Baloch. That day, the Indians ambushed a troop of 83 Mortar Battery, who were on their way to support Kamalpur. Captain Muhammad Saddique and some troops were wounded. They tried to avoid evacuation to Dacca, pleading with the Sultan to stay at Jamalpur to join the battle after recovery in the field, which the latter politely declined.
In the ensuing days, Captain Ahsan Malik of  31 Baloch and his battle-hardened troops, who had had no respite at Kamalpur post, repulsed many attacks almost daily. The high point of the war came when the legendary    Captain    Ahsan    held an Indian brigade at bay    for 21    days before falling back to Jamalpur Fortress on December 7. Many sorties of MIG 21, intense artillery bombardment and repeated battalion-level attacks could not budge Ahsan. He was awarded Sitara-e-Jurat (SJ).
Kamalpur Bypassed
Given a bloody nose many a time before, by the brave men at Kamalpur post, during the night of November 26-27, the Indians and a battalion plus of Mukti Bahini bypassed Kamalpur, crossed the international border through a huge gap 15 miles to the west of Naqshi Post (see Map 3). Soon, the Indian aircraft commenced aerial reconnaissance. Cognizant that a full-fledged undeclared war was imminent in that sector, Sultan at once decided to nip the evil in the bud.
He quickly mustered three companies, less than 300 men in all, to attack a strong battalion plus force on the morning of November 27. Without any artillery or air support, Lieutenant Colonel Sultan led the assault. An age-old myth of having at least 3:1 superiority for attack was about to be shattered. The enemy could not withstand that onslaught for long; they panicked and bolted, leaving a large number of dead and wounded. Six of the Sultan's men gave the ultimate sacrifice, while as many were wounded. The following day, General Niazi brought two MI 8 loads of local and international media persons and senior officers who were amazed to see the Jamalpur fortress and hear from the Sultan how they had built it. Journalists also saw Indian corpses still lying in our territory.
The Last Post of the 'Sword of 31 Baloch'
The Indians had still failed to dislodge Captain Ahsan’s platoon at Kamalpur despite repeated battalion-level attacks. Then on the night of December 3-4, they bypassed both Kamalpur and Bakhshiganj (see Map-3). Hearing some shots, Major Ayub took some men to assess the situation. An enemy’s bullet pierced his heart; the ‘Sword of 31 Baloch' (as he is remembered), who withstood many enemy attacks and struck terror into their hearts, was destined to embrace martyrdom in a seemingly insignificant manner.   The Sultan and  his
men buried him under the shade of some trees, paid the last tribute and returned to avenge the most devastating loss among their comrades. Sultan had earlier recommended him for 'Nishan-e-Haider' NH, but he received SJ.
Later, the Indians would also present arms at his grave to pay homage to his gallantry. The Rangers were guarding Jaggar Char post (see Map-3). The enemy launched a strong ground air attack supported by heavy artillery and air support, but the Rangers could not resist long. Sultan would blame himself for the devastating loss of Jaggar Char. He foresaw the impending threat of piecemeal attrition and annihilation of 31 Baloch troops in the north and northeast of Jaggar Char, let alone the minimal chances of their falling back to Jamalpur Fortress across Brahma Putra River. Nevertheless, on December 7, the entire 31 Baloch group safely crossed over the river and entered their formidable fortress.
“The Belligerents’ Letters” Go Viral
Two days later, Brigadier H. S. Kler, the commander of the 95 Indian Brigade, which had besieged Jamalpur, had a letter delivered by hand to the Sultan, asking him to surrender. Sultan’s prompt legendary reply, literally carrying a bullet in the envelope, would make those letters go viral the world over. A glance at the notes given at the end of this article gives just a glimpse of the ‘Sultan’ of this tale.
The    Breakout    from    Jamalpur Fortress A Mission ‘Impossible’
Confident that the Indians would never be able to reduce the besieged fortress, the Sultan received a crypto message from the 93 Brigade ordering 31 Baloch to join the rest of the brigade at Madhupur. He took that order positively, with his brief wireless response, “Wilco; Under Protest”, assuming that finally, the Eastern Command had decided to defend a smaller perimeter, just as he had long been recommending. That was how he also motivated his shocked officers and men. ‘Joining up with 93 Brigade at Madhupur’ simply meant an unprecedented breakout operation from a brigade plus siege of the fortress, with virtually no air or artillery support.
Having clearly visualized and verified the situation on the ground, Sultan knew that the bulk of the enemy forces were poised for the attack in a semicircle south of Jamalpur to obviate any chance of withdrawal towards Dacca. Sultan chose his point for breakout astride the Jamalpur-Madhupur axis (see map-4).
They crossed the forming up place (FUP) at 2315 hours on December 10, with Lieutenant Colonel Sultan leading in the middle, Lieutenant Asad a few steps behind, a company led by Lieutenant Munir on the left, another led by Major Gustasab on the right, three companies in follow up, and the administrative echelons in the rear. By midnight on December 11, 31 Baloch group had accomplished the breakout mission, literally driving a wedge into 95 Indian Brigade, splitting it into two. Sultan then ordered trekking, in two-file formation, some 27 miles to Madhupur, with hardly any opposition ahead.
It would not be possible to narrate or enlist the tales of bravery and extreme sacrifices. As Sultan would learn later, Lieutenant Munir, who was in the last waves of breakout, was surrounded by some enemy troops who asked him to surrender; he turned around firing, preferring martyrdom. The story of the break out of 31 Baloch and its withdrawal towards Madhupur is full of unprecedented sacrifices as they were surrounded by enemies all around.
The ‘Sultan’ accomplished tasks assigned to 31 Baloch in a manner expected from a great leader. General Niazi asked Lieutenant Colonel Sultan to arrange to send citations for gallantry awards for himself and his officers and men. As Sultan had already learned about his second SJ, he politely declined any more laurels; however, he would send other citations. Decorations are never a desire of the leader.
Notes
Letter written by The Indian Brigadier, Hardev Singh Kler to Lieutenant Colonel Sultan Ahmed, SJ
To
The Commander Jamalpur Garrison
I am directed to inform you that your garrison has been cut off from all sides, and you have no escape route available to you. One brigade with a full complement of artillery has already been built up, and another will be striking by the morning. In addition you have been given a foretaste of a small element of our Air Force with lot more to come. The situation, as far as you are concerned, is hopeless. Your higher commanders have already ditched you.
I expect your reply before 1830 hours today, failing which, I will be constrained to deliver the final blow for which purpose, 40 sorties of MIGs have been allotted to me.
In this morning’s action, the prisoners captured by us have given your strength and dispositions, and are in position to let you down. They are well looked after.
The treatment I expect to be given to this civil messenger should be according to a gentlemanly code of honour and no harm should come to him.
An immediate reply is solicited.
December 9, 1971    

Commander
Brig H.S. Kler
The reply was sent a few hours later by the Pakistani Commander:
Jamalpur 
091735 Dec
Dear Brig
Hope this finds you in high spirits. Thanks for the letter.
Jamalpur 091735 Dec
We here in Jamalpur are waiting for the fight to commence. It has not started yet. So, let us not talk and start it.
40 sorties, I may point out, are inadequate. Please ask for many more.
Your remark about your messenger being given proper treatment was superfluous. Shows how you under-estimate my boys. I hope he liked his tea.
Give my love to the Muktis.
Hoping to find you with a sten in your hand next time instead of the pen, you seem to have so much mastery over.
I am, your most Sincerely
Comd Jamalpur Fortress



''It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it.''
– Douglas MacArthur


Note: The article originally appeared in the magazine of the Army Institute of Military History Pakistan, Bugle and Trumpet Summer 2019 Issue.
The previous issue included the story of our first ‘Sultan’, Lieutenant Colonel Raja Sultan Mahmood Shaheed. The story of our second ‘Sultan’, Brigadier Sultan Ahmed, SJ & Bar, is part of our current issue. A major portion of the article is based on the book, 'The Stolen Victory’ , by Brigadier Sultan Ahmed, SJ and Bar, edited by Major General Parvez Akmal, HI(M), (Retired).


Major General Parvez Akmal, HI(M), retired, was commissioned in 13 Engineer Battalion in April 1970. He saw action in erstwhile East Pakistan with his parent unit, which he commanded in the mid-1980s. He has been on the faculty of Command & Staff College, Colonel Staff of an Infantry Division, Commandant Military College of Engineering, DG Housing Directorate, MD OGDCL and Deputy Engineer-in-Chief, besides serving on other command and staff appointments. He is a freelance Urdu and English columnist, writer, and editor.

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Major General Parvez Akmal, HI (M), (R)

Major General Parvez Akmal, HI(M), retired, was commissioned in 13 Engineer Battalion in April 1970. He saw action in erstwhile East Pakistan with his parent unit, which he commanded in the mid-1980s. He has been on the faculty of Command & Staff College, Colonel Staff of an Infantry Division, Commandant Military College of Engineering, DG Housing Directorate, MD OGDCL and Deputy Engineer-in-Chief, besides serving on other command and staff appointments. He is a freelance Urdu and English columnist, writer, and editor.

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