September 65 and the Nation
05 September, 2012
By Col. Riaz Jafri (Retd)
In September 1965 I was a Major in the army and undergoing Japanese language course at Transit Camp Karachi. Clouds of war were gathering ominously on the horizons but these had not burst as yet. On 5th September at about mid day a van stopped alongside my car at Elphinstone Street crossing and its driver seeing me listening to the news on my car radio, eagerly asked, "Has Pakistan declared war?". "No" I replied, and with the change of the traffic signal we moved on. Some how I could not help noticing the disappointment writ large on his face for Pakistan not having declared war.
Early hours of the next morning the Indians did that but treacherously without declaring it. Karachi Oil Refinery, the Naval Ship Yard and similar other strategically important targets were the first to be raided by the Indian Air Force in a predawn attack. Incessant air attacks one after the other in quick succession though did little damage to the targets but had some nuisance value. Our Japanese lady teacher was visibly shaken and disheveled when she came to the class room, but was simply amazed at the courage and valour of the Karachites as the city streets hummed with the normal traffic and the business was as usual as if nothing had happened. She could take the taxi without any problem from her hotel to Transit Camp and saw the normal usual life all around with her own unbelieving eyes. She was apparently in no mood to teach and started discussing the war. She openly confessed that what a pitiable and dissolute picture the city of Tokyo would have presented under similar air attacks. She was so much overwhelmed that after a while she asked me to take her to the Post Office from where she sent a telegram to the GHQ "offering her services to the Pakistan army in any capacity"!! I hope this memorable document is still there in the archives of MT Directorate GHQ.
Most of us got their posting orders the next days and moved to their battle stations. Somehow, I did not receive any orders till on the 9th of September when my patience gave away and I moved on my own to my unit which was on the Lahore front. I remained for three days at Karachi and had the proud privilege of seeing it and its men closely during the initial days of the war. The entire city seemed to welcome the war as an opportunity to teach the Indians a lesson of their life. Morale was at its zenith, if there is one. A Recruiting Office had been established at the Transit Camp and what an unforgettable sight it presented. Thousands of young men from all walks of life thronged the office and in a highly disciplined manner waited for hours in queues quite oblivious of thirst or hunger to get themselves enrolled as ordinary sepoys. Some of them dressed in jeans and jaugers – not so common in 65 and only the real sophisticated wore them then – called their Moms and Dads from the Camp telephone to apprise them of their whereabouts talking in English. They just wanted to be taken from there and then as they were to where the war was.
The scene shifts to Lahore, where around 13 or 14 of September, I came across an old man at the Cantonment Telephone Exchange, where seeing men in uniform he had mistaken it to be a Recruiting Centre. He was in his late seventies but remarkably dressed. He had a big white turban (to serve as his Kaffan – he explained me later) wore a green coloured Angrakha type kurta over Shalwar. Supported a beard which he seemed to have dyed in Henna only that day – to disguise his age. Two leather bandoliers full of 12 Bore cartridges crossed his chest passing over his shoulders, had a Double Barrel gun slung from his left shoulder and a sword in his right hand. He looked every inch an embodiment of a Mujahid personified. Waiving frantically he stopped my jeep and requested me to take him to the front where the fighting was going on. When I tried to explain him that he would not be able to do much with his DB gun and sword and that he should instead organize some thing else in the rear to help in the war effort, the old Mujahid with a stern look in his eyes admonished me strongly not to underestimate him. He said that he had had no obligation towards his family or others as his sons could look after them. He just wanted to take part in Jihad and become a Shaheed if Allah willed so.. He left me with no option but to drive him to the demolished bridge over the BRB canal near Jallo. "But where are the Kafirs?", he enquired anxiously. "About a mile away", I replied, "you cannot see them from here".
Visibly disappointed he inquired in anguish, "then how can I fight them?" "This is what I tried to explain to you at Lahore", was my only answer. On our way back the old man who had been fondly reciting Talbiah all his way to the front, now sat quietly, dejected, with bowed head in his hands as if deprived of a great chance in life. Then suddenly, he asked me to stop the jeep and jumped out of it. He had spotted a few army men digging a pit at some distance – probably for an artillery gun or so. He ran towards them waiving me to go and shouting "Beta, yeh khodana bhi to jihad hey, meri kismat men yehi hoga". (Son, this digging is also Jihad and probably ordained for me).
On September 7th or 8th BBC TV showed a Lahore Omni Bus laden with Indian soldiers, purportedly to be sight seeing in Anarkali Lahore. Actually according to the Omni Bus schedule in those days the last bus used to leave Lahore for Bata Pur – Jallo, about 4 miles from the border, at mid night and stayed there for the rest of the night, from where it used to start its journey back towards Lahore in the morning. When the Indians on the early morning of 6 September 1965 treacherously and unchivalrously crossed the border un-announced without any ultimatum, they caught hold of this bus and paraded it with the Indian soldiers onboard in the bazaars of Amritsar claiming the scene to be that of Anarkali, Lahore. Watching this on the BBC the wonderful and brave Lahoris in UK and other countries jam-packed all the flights to reach Lahore at the earliest to fight the Indians there.
Similarly the Lahoris wherever they were vacationing or visiting within Pakistan on hearing of it being attacked immediately headed towards Lahore in such a haste that it created the worst traffic jam in the history of Ravi bridge. This even impeded the movement of the troops so vitally needed to be rushed to the Lahore front from up country. Strange are the Lahoris, where others fear to tread they run headlong. Whoever heard of a people running into the war zone rather than running away from it. Only Lahoris do it. Throwing caution to winds was a common practice of the Lahoris while witnessing the dog fights in the skies. No amount of advice, persuasion and warnings could keep them away from their roof tops and shouting Bo Kata jubilantly at the downing of the Indian aircraft.
Then on the 27th September, I witnessed the strangest spectacle of all in the same Lahore. When the Pak Army was nearly being worshipped around, a few Lahori fruit hawkers were busy beating a soldier in uniform near Sabzi Mandi. On my intervention, it transpired that the fruit seller had – as a token of good will towards Fauji Bhais – declined to accept the payment for a kilo of grapes that the Fauji had purchased. On the other hand the Fauji insisted on making the payment and for doing so tactlessly reminded him that he (Lahori) could not pay for his (Fauji) saving the Lahore with any amount of grapes. "Who the hell are you to save Lahore, do you think we are wearing bangles. But haven’t you seen the Toap at Mahmood Booti Bandh (a huge130 MM Gun with a very long barrel which had caught the fancy of many a Lahori) which fires one round and stays hot for three days (ek fair kardi aye tey tin din tati rahndi aye!) that has saved Lahore and not you. An innocent argument had escalated the altercation in the blows.
Strange are the ways of proud Pakistanis. A van driver is disappointed as to why was the war not declared. Air raids or no air raids the business in the streets and the traffic on the roads goes on as usual. Jeans Jaugers dandies keen to enroll as ordinary Sepoys to be taken straight to the war front. Old Mujahids with the Kaffan tied to the head as turban, eager to lay their life for Pakistan. Lahoris rush to save Lahore in the thick of war when any where else in the world people would flee from the scene of battle. The entire nations unified – soldiers and civilians alike - to face the enemy.
If it could happen in September 1965, why can't it happen again.
"Zara nam ho to yeh mitti bari zarkhez hay Saqi"
Pakistan Painda Bad