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They rest in honoured glory

September 05, 2015

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A tribute to the ten brave recipients of the Nishan-e-Haider, Pakistan’s highest military award

WHEN a public holiday arrives, we tend to enjoy the off day without sometimes realising its significance. September 6, or what we call Defence Day, is one such day.

We know it’s got something to do with the armed forces but don’t know much else. Well, we celebrate it as a national day in memory of how Pakistan defended itself against the Indian army in the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965. It was on this day in 1965 that India attacked Pakistan across the international border.

Many soldiers bravely defend Pakistan in wars and otherwise, and countless civilians play their own role in doing something for this nation. There are many awards that are bestowed on people who show outstanding and exemplary courage, and sacrifice much in doing their duty towards Pakistan — and many such heroes go unsung and un-awarded but their contribution means no less.

However, let us learn more about those ten individuals who were awarded the Nishan-e-Haider, Pakistan’s highest award that takes precedence over all military and civil awards. It is given to the soldiers of Pakistan army who showed extraordinary bravery in war or in active duty. So far it has only been awarded posthumously and its exclusivity can be gauged from the fact that only ten people have been honoured with this.

Interestingly, this award is made of gun metal, captured from the enemy in the previous wars, with a green ribbon and a star with five points.

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Captain Muhammad Sarwar

Conflict: 1948

Indo-Pak War

Date of action: July 27, 1948

Captain Muhammad Sarwar was the first Nishan-e-Haider recipient, awarded this honour for the immense courage he showed in the very first war that Pakistan had to take part in soon after its creation.

Captain Sarwar joined the British Army in 1944 and after Independence, he moved to Pakistan Army. He had to see action soon when, in 1947, he volunteered to take part in the battalion organised by the Pakistani Army to retaking Kashmir from Indian occupation. During the First Kashmir War, he was part of the force that pushed the Indian troops out of the regions which are now known as the Northern Areas.

Later during the Kashmir Operations in July 1948, Captain Sarwar, as Company Commander of the Second Battalion of the Punjab Regiment, launched an attack against a strong enemy position in the Uri Sector of what is now Jammu and Kashmir. His battalion faced heavy machine gun, grenade and mortar fire. Advancing forward seemed impossible and they had many causalities. Then Captain Sarwar made a brave attempt that was to cost him his life.

On 27 July 1948, with six of his comrades, Captain Sarwar moved forward in a bid to cut through the enemy’s barbed wire barrier to pave way for the Pakistani forces to advance and launch an attack at close quarters. It was a desperate move in a desperate situation that proved deadly for him.

As he was cutting the barbed wires, Captain Sarwar received a direct burst of the enemy’s machine gun fire in the chest. The 38-year-old embraced martyrdom on the spot.

Major Tufail Muhammad

Conflict: 1958 Indo-Pak Border Skirmish

Date of action: August 7, 1958

Major Tufail Muhammad is the only person to win the Nishan-e-Haider for an action outside the Indo-Pakistan Wars. He was awarded this honour posthumously for gallantly engaging and eventually driving out the Indians from an illegal post erected in violation of the internationally recognised boundary between East Pakistan and India.

Major Tufail was then the commander of a company of the East Pakistan Rifles near the town of Lakshmipur. Indian troops had violated the borders by capturing a village in Lakshmipur. On August 7, 1958, Captain Tufail launched an assault to recapture the village and drive the enemy back.

In the darkness of the night, Captain Tufail advanced with his troops toward the enemy and managed to move quiet close before being detected. The battle at close quarters was fierce and bloody — but the enemy had to be driven out and at all costs!

There was heavy exchange of fire from both sides and Major Tufail, who was leading from the front like a true commander, was said to have received three bullets in his stomach. He body fluttered but not his courage. He crawled forward and engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat, killing an Indian Army commander.

The Indian forces suffered heavy loss and retreated beyond the border and Major Tufail lived just enough to taste the victory which would cost him his life but would make him immortal in the annals of Pakistan.

It is said that at the end of the action, Major Tufail had called his junior officer and said these words: “I have completed my duty; the enemy is on the run.”

Major Tufail was rushed to hospital but died the same day, at the age of 44. Born in 1914, Major Tufail was commissioned in the 16th Punjab Regiment in 1943. He joined Pakistan Army upon Independence.

Major Raja Aziz Bhatti

Conflict: Indo-Pak War 1965

Date of Action: 10 September 1965

Major Aziz Bhatti’s brilliance as a soldier was apparent as early as his training days in the first PMA Long Course where, on passing out, he was awarded the coveted Sword of Honour. He was commissioned in 1950 in the Punjab Regiment.

In the 1965 Indo-Pak war began, Pakistan’s first major war, Major Bhatti was the Company Commander in the Burki area of Lahore sector, tasked with the defence of the strategic BRB (Banmban Wali Ravian Bedian) Link Canal. His outpost was under intense enemy artillery and tank fire, and Major Bhatti stayed with his forward platoon, defending their position with bravery. They were a tired lot but undaunted in their defence.

After five days and nights of intense battle, his commanding officer offered Major Bhatti the chance to take a break and rest, and let another officer take charge. But Major Bhatti refused — he could not rest with the enemy so near and is said to have sent this reply: “Do not recall me. I don’t want to go back. I will shed the last drop of my blood in the defence of my dear homeland.”

On September 10, 1965, Major Bhatti guided his men to attack enemy positions by leaving his bunker and standing clear of the canal bank on an elevated ground, for a better view of the enemy. But this also gave the enemy a better view of this brave soldier. He was hit by an Indian tank shell in the chest, gallantly sacrificing his life in the defence of his country. He was 37 years old at the time.

Major Bhatti is the only Nishan-e-Haider recipient of the 1965 war.

Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas

Conflict: Indo-Pak War 1971

Date of Action: August 20, 1971

At just 20 years of age, Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas became the youngest and the shortest-serving officer to receive the Nishan-e-Haider in 1971. He earned this honour when he willingly gave away his life by crushing his jet trainer to stop it from being hijacked to India by a defecting flight instructor.

Minhas was commissioned on March 13, 1971, and was training to become a pilot. On August 20 that year, at around 11am, while taxiing towards the runway of PAF Base Masroor for his second solo flight, Minhas found his Bengali instructor pilot, Flight Lieutenant Matiur Rahman, signalling him to stop. Rahman then forced his way into the instructor’s seat of the two-seater jet trainer.

When the plane took off, Rahman tried to gain control of the jet through the mechanically linked flight controls and managed to turn it towards the Indian border. The two men struggled physically for the control of the craft and in the meantime Minhas was able to radio a message to the air controller at the base that the plane was being hijacked. In the struggle, Minhas was hit so hard that he lost consciousness, but when he came to his senses again, he realised that the plane was now very near the Indian border.

Young Minhas didn’t have complete control of his plane or his senses, nor was he more experience than his hijacker, but he did have undaunted determination. So just 32 miles, or 51km from the Indian border, he crashed his jet. The jet hit the ground nose first, instantly killing Minhas in the front seat. Minhas sacrificed his life to defeat the evil intentions of the traitor.

Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas is the only member of the Pakistan Air Force to receive the Nishan-e-Haider, while all the other nine awards have gone to members of the Pakistan Army.

Sawar Muhammad Hussain

Conflict: Indo-Pak War 1971

Date of Action: December 10, 1971

When Sawar Muhammad Hussain Janjua joined Pakistan Army in September 1966, he was only 17 and was taken on just as a driver. Sawar is the basic rank in the Armoured Corps, equivalent to a sepoy; but Sawar Hussain considered himself as much of a solider as any other member of the army and was yearning to prove his mettle.

The bravery and skill Sawar Hussain showed in the war of 1971 is exemplary. On December 5, Hussain fearlessly moved from one trench to another to deliver ammunition to soldiers posted in the frontline. This exposed him to heaving shelling and direct fire, but he skilfully evaded all attacks.

More outstanding feats were to come from Hussain. On December 10, he spotted the Indians trying to dig along a minefield near the village of Harar Khurd. Hussain passed this information to the second-in-command of his unit and on his own initiative he directed the Pakistani guns towards the enemy that led to the destruction of 16 Indian tanks! But in doing so, he was hit in the chest by a burst of machine gun fire.

Just 22 years of age, Sawar Muhammad Hussain became the first Jawan of the Army to be awarded the Nishan-e-Haider for his gallantry.

Major Rana Shabir Sharif

Conflict: Indo-Pak War 1971

Date of Action: December 6, 1971

In addition to being a Nishan-e-Haider recipient posthumously in 1971, Major Shabir Sharif had received the Sitara-e-Jurrat (the third highest gallantry military award) for his courage and bravery in the 1965 Indo-Pak War.

Commissioned in 1964 in the Frontier Force Regiment, Major Sharif was with the Sixth Frontier Force Regiment in December 1971 and assigned to capture the high ground near Sulemanki sector. It was not an easy task because the there were two battalions of the Indian Army defending it with the help of tanks.

On December 3, Major Sharif led his man fearlessly through landmines and crossing a waterway to reach a high bund — all the while enemy guns kept firing at them. Now face to face with the Indians, fierce fighting broke in which Major Sharif and his men managed to make the Indians to give up their fortified trenches and pull back.

The enemy launched several counter attacks to take back their position and in the afternoon of December 6, the Indians started air strikes and heavy artillery shelling. Major Sharif took over an anti-tank gun from a gunner and started firing on the enemy tanks. Soon an Indian tank aimed its gun on him and Major Sharif went down fighting. He was just 28 years old.

Major Muhammad Akram

Conflict:

Indo-Pak War 1971

Date of Action: December 5, 1971

Commissioned in the Frontier Force Regiment in 1963, Major Akram was commanding a rifle company of the Fourth FF Regiment in the Hilli district, East Pakistan. Their position prevented the advance of the Indian Army, therefore the enemy launched a fierce attack to break their way through, but with little success. Major Akram and his men courageously faced intense air, artillery and tank attacks for almost two weeks from an army that outnumbered them in terms of both men and firepower.

Major Akram displayed outstanding leadership and valour in this epic battle that led to him embracing martyrdom when he was fighting the enemy at close quarters. Major Akram was 33 at the time.

Lance Naik Muhammad Mahfooz

Conflict:

Indo-Pak

War 1971

Date of Action: December 17, 1971

Lance Naik Muhammad Mahfooz was enlisted in the 15th Punjab Regiment as a sepoy in 1962. In 1971 he was in ‘A’ Company of 15 Punjab Regiment and during the war was deployed on the Wagha-Attari Sector.

During the action, his company came under heavy frontal and crossfire from automatic weapons. When Mahfooz’s machine gun was destroyed, unarmed he advanced towards an enemy bunker from where heavy automatic fire had inflicted heavy casualties.

By the time he reached the bunker, he both his legs were wounded by shell splinters. He managed to get hold of one enemy and was overpowering him when Manzoor was bayoneted him to death. He was 27 years old.

Captain Karnal Sher Khan

Conflict: Indo-Pak Kargil Conflict 1999

Date of Action: July 7, 1999

Captain Karnal Sher Khan was destined to be a solder when he was named ‘Karnal’ after the rank of Colonel, at birth. He graduated from Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul in 1994. In January 1998 he volunteered to serve at the LoC in Kashmir, and was posted in 12 NLI from 27 Sind Regiment.

Captain Khan displayed extraordinary courage during the Kargil conflict on the Line of Control (LoC). He defended the five strategic posts, which he established with his jawans at the height of some 17,000 feet at Gultary, and successfully repulsed many Indian attacks.

On July 5, two battalions of the enemy managed to circle the post of Capt. Sher Khan and unleashed heavy mortar fire that led to the capture of some part of the Pakistani post. Undeterred, Captain Sher Khan led a counter-attack and recaptured the lost parts – but he had to give away his life in doing so when he was hit by machine-gun fire. The 29-year-old received the Nishan-e-Haider in recognition of his bravery.

Havaldar Lalak Jan

Conflict: Indo-Pak Kargil Conflict 1999

Date of Action: July 7, 1999

Havaldar Lalak Jan repulsed 17 Indian attacks in three days on his post in the jagged peak of Kargil. And he was just a junior member who showed that bravery is present in all ranks of our army.

Enlisted in the army in 1984, Lalak Jan was with the Northern Light Infantry when he volunteered for deployment on the front positions in Kargil in May 1999. In late June 1999, Lalak Jan's post was attacked one night by a battalion of the Indian Army. During the battle, Lalak Jan retaliated and fired from different positions and kept boosting the morale of his fellow soldiers. In the all-night battle, the Pakistanis put up a great effort that saw the enemy retreat in the morning after suffering considerable casualties.

The next night a reinforced enemy again attacked the post and this time too Lalak Jan and his soldiers repulsed the attack successfully.

On July 7, the Pakistani post was again attacked with heavy artillery fire. The battle continued for one whole day and night, and Lalak Jan was hit by enemy machine gun fire.

With superhuman effort, he continued to defend his post for another three hours before embracing martyrdom. Finally the Pakistan Army reinforcement reached the post and repulsed the enemy attack. Havaldar Lalak Jan’s courage and sacrifice earned him the Nishan-e-Haider.

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