Victory Flame: Swarnim Vijay Varsh 1971 arrives at Poonch!
By: M S Nazki
Na Jhukega Sar Watan ka Har Jawan ki Kasam (We will never allow the head of the nation to droop, every Jawan of Indian Army has taken a vow!
We won because we sought a victory that would belong equally to everyone. Our victory benefitted the people as much as it did to ourselves, or more. So, winners, now you win the chance to fight at the next level up. I hope you are ready because the count to restart has begun – so be gone, begun, be strong. That is what a soldier thinks after every battle and 1971 was a string of battles which we won and thus the war in the shortest possible time frame. When you can be strong in yourself, love yourself, and feel yourself worthy to have real validity. You will walk chin up with plenty of air about yourself and you own your own ego, nobody owns you. That’s a real victory. Victory is only sweet when it is a peace that is woven in such a way that it strengthens as it ages.
1971 was a great victory in which Pakistan was sent scrambling away as it was a defeat in totality for them. We thought that Pakistan had acknowledged its defeat and was thinking about talking peace henceforth. But it was not to be as Pakistani Army continued to back failures and flawed plans and thus peace was a distance away. Pakistan thought of avenging defeats many times and finally the strategy of bleeding India by thousand cuts too failed. It had to because on this side of the picket fences was standing the ever resilient and ever dependent Indian soldier for his own country!
Every soldier thinks it this way before embarking on towards the battlefield, God gives me the right to protect whom I love. But on the field in a face off with the enemy the scenario changes as one begins to get the palpable exciting environment full of apprehensions. The moment before the battle the dusk is approaching but the heat does not retreat. The stagnant air still hangs loosely under the lambent sun. Weak rays of sunlight ignite the clouds, and burn across the sky, turning it into a sea of flames. A vast expanse of emptiness stretches underneath the alit clouds. The land is hot and dry, no seeds are germinating; no plants are growing; no animals are living. The sunrays have penetrated deeply into the ground, leaving huge cracks, splitting the land into millions of pieces. Nothing is in sight, apart from two fronts drawn between us and the enemy. It’s about to start, the battle between the attacker and the defender. The defender was well entrenched and the attacker on the move! It’s a game of death that is on! So it was on that day when the bugle was blown for the under mentioned battle.
I The Battle of Poonch:
The Battle of Poonch was a major battle fought on the LOC and as usual the winner could be only one though Pakistan tried its best to breakthrough with its ambitious plans but that simply did not happen. In fact it could not have.
- Poonch’s political importance to Pakistan lies in its large Muslim population with ethnic affinities with dwellers across the line of control, and its economic importance in its large tracts of fertile agricultural land.
*It was once a profitable recruiting ground for the British Indian Army. Having failed to capture it in the 1947 and 1965 wars,1 Pakistan had made this a prestige issue, and this led to a third attempt to annex it in 1971.
- Its capture would give access to the gullies over the Pir Panjal range for infiltration into Kashmir Valley and enlarge the adjoining Haji Pir bulge, already in Pakistani possession, right up to the Poonch river.
*The old ceasefire line gave Pakistan the advantage of higher terrain to the extent that most of the area, including the airfield and parts of Poonch town, is overlooked from the Pakistani-held side. Most of the nullahs drain into the Poonch river, and prominent among them are Betar and Tanti-di-Tangar.
- In the peculiar no peace no war situation prevailing in Jammu and Kashmir, Indian and Pakistani troops faced each other in close confrontation, manning pickets all along the line in the form of a hard crust, with some positions in depth in the rear.
*Two main roads led to Poonch from the Indian side, one from Surankote and the other from Mendhar via Krishna Ghati. The Pakistani plan for the capture of Poonch was hatched sometime in August or September 1971.
*The Pakistani intention appeared to be to capture Poonch and subsequently to develop operations with a view to securing all the territory up to the Pir Panjal range.
*The plan conceived and rehearsed for the capture of Poonch was certainly bold and ingenious.
II. Pak attack Plan and resolute Indian defense and assault:
*The Pakistani plan for the capture of Poonch was hatched sometime in August or September 1971. To this end Akbar Khan, commanding Pakistan 12 Infantry Division in the area, assembled about two brigades and ran an operation-oriented exercise sometime in October in the Sudan valley in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, in terrain similar to that around Poonch.
- Despite the spread of this buildup over a month and a half, our troops had noticed this unusual activity and the presence of Pakistan 26 Infantry Brigade in the Kahuta bulge. But they could not grasp whether it would be used against Poonch or Uri, across the Haji Pir Pass.
*It was known that Pakistan 7 Infantry Division had moved out of Peshawar, but its destination had not yet been ascertained. Some personnel wearing 7 Div formation signs were noticed in Muzaffarabad, and this indicated that a part of it might be used in Jammu and Kashmir, and perhaps against Poonch.
*This apprehension led to the induction of 33 Infantry Brigade into the area in November to reinforce the Poorch sector, and eventually this proved a wise move. Its deployment was rather dispersed, with one battalion at Banawat near Poonch, another in the Krishna Ghati, and the third at Jarna Wali Gali, presumably as reserves in their respective subsectors.
- The Pak plan visualized establishing a corridor in the crust of the Indian defenses along the ceasefire line by capturing the defended localities on Shahpur and Danna features and at Guterian, along the Darangla nullah, about six to nine Kilometres North and Northeast of Poonch town, in the early hours of the night of 3/4 December, and later infiltrate two battalions through the corridor the same night.
*The Indian Army had not learnt to make good use of the offensive opportunities offered in war and remained a defense-oriented organization. One battalion was to occupy the heights dominating Mandi, and the other the Thanpir feature and Chandak ridge overlooking the Kalai bridge, thus severing Poonch from Sauji, Mandi and Surankote.
- Shahpur, Guterian ,Thanpir, Nangi Tekri later became fierce battle fields which India won and Pakistan had to revert back because they had no other option.
- The battles are very big and each is a story that cannot be told in a few words. So despite the best plans laid, rehearsed and practiced, Pakistan could not do much as the Indian soldiers fought with the might, valor and indomitable courage. Poonch had yet again been defended and Pakistan had to go back, sit, sulk and brood.
III. The victory flame arrives in Poonch
- The victory flame to commemorate the 50th year of stellar victory in 1971 War against Pakistan on its journey to Ace of Spade Division arrived today at Poonch- a peaceful town with rich cultural heritage, turning into a fierce battle zone in each conflict that nation faced post independence.
- It was here, in 1971, some of the fiercest and bloodiest battles were fought in the battleground of Shahpur, Gutriyan, Thanpir and Nangi Tekri wherein soldiers on both sides fought like man possessed into what turned out to be a saga of pure valour.
- The arrival of the victory flame at the sacred battle ground where thousands of soldiers bled, brought along a mixed bag of memories.
- The fact that 6 units earned 5 Battle honors in the Poonch Sector in different battles speaks of the ferocity with which operations were conducted in this sector. Battle Honors, ‘Nangi Tekri, Banwat , Thanpir , Gutrian and Defence of Poonch aren’t just names but are tales of collective valor exhibited by soldiers of 21 Punjab, 195 Mountain Regt, 13 Mahar, 11 J&K Militia, 9 Para and 6 Sikh.
- Apart from these, Three Maha Vir Chakras, 15 Veer Chakras, 13 Sena Medals, three Vishisht Seva Medals & 19 Mention-in-Despatches were awarded for individual acts of raw courage in this sector.
- The victory flame was received with full military honors at the famous Advance Landing Ground, Poonch (constructed in 1947-48 with the help of locals) with full compliance of Covid protocols.
*The Victory Flame is on its two days journey to Poonch Sector after its visit to Bhimbar Gali and Krishna Ghati Sector. As part of commemoration, other than remembering the martyrs and felicitating the veterans who participated in war, it has been planned that sacred soil from famous battlegrounds will be collected and sent to the National Capital along with the Victory Flame.
The soldiers fought hard, did not care for the wounds, underneath the shirts, their bodies were scarred with wounds acquired from countless skirmishes. The eyes were full of anger, eager to finish off the enemies. It was a bullet melee with the ferocity that was unfathomable but Poonch had to be defended. It was!