They Ran in Rann

Rann in Hindi, the official language of India, means the battlefield. Kutch, in the same language, means swamps of coastal island. The Rann may have been the battlefield, in ages gone by, during the period not under water. It certainly was the battleground when in 1762 the Muslim rulers of Sind chased the army of Rao of Bhoj, which was trying to invade Sind through Rann. History repeats itself. The Indians repeated the performance in 1965 with similar results. As in 1762, so also in 1965, they ran in the Rann southwards but the army defending Sind on this later occasion was too “Rules and regulations minded” and as instructed by its Government did not wish to go beyond the 24 parallel up to which the Government of Pakistan claimed as its territory.

True to their nature, the Indians started building up forces in the area from february 1965 in complete contravention of the agreement of 1960. In April 1965, Pakistan exchanged notes with India and tried to dissuade her from having recourse to fighting but India was adamant. “Power corrupts” people. Indian leaders were no exception to this universal rule. The vastness of India, the teeming dumb millions at the beck and call and the massive foreign aid from numerous sources went to the heads of Pandits. Those not used to command get spoiled by very sight of liveried servants of palaces. A million uniformed soldiers, sailors and airmen were beyond the digestive capabilities of the leaders of Indian National Congress. They were itching to plunge their country into war, no matter what the consequences were and they did it. The Indian leaders, Nanda Chawan and Shastri fluttered their dhotis in front of the troops in the Rann of Kutch and after brief flying visits returned to Delhi and ordered the Indian Armed Forces to put exercise “Arrow Head” into operation.

Vikrant the Indian Aircraft Carrier with 7 destroyers and frigates and the fleet tanker supported the Army. The Indian Navy was used for transporting, men and material to the disputed area. Before landing the troops and equipment the naval guns were allowed to practice gunnery. This was considered to be a morale booster for the troops who were known to have suffered from nightmares since the acute winter of 1962/63.

These moves by Indian forced Pakistan to order 8 Infantry Division to move one of its brigades in the area and another a few miles away. These regular forces were in addition to a number of battalion of Indian Border Police.

To have ordered an infantry brigade into the area was the only way to deal with a nation which refuses to come to amicable decisions across the table, a nation which refuses to accept arbitration by neutral powers and is adamant that no references should be made to any international Organization or the International Court of Justice. 51 Infantry Brigade as a result, moved to Badin on 7 March 1965 and took up position a little ahead of it but still outside the likely operational area. On the following day 6 Infantry brigade was also given Warning Orders to be prepared to move.

8 FF (Frontier Force), one of the battalions of 51 Infantry Brigade moved to Kanjarkot area a couple of days later. They had a troop of Mortars and a Battery of 14 Field Regiments under command. 18 Punjab also supported by Artillery and Engineers was given the role of supporting Indus Rangers in the area. There were strict orders not to advance beyond the line already held by the Rangers but under no circumstances to permit Indians to edge forward.

On March 9 there was increased wireless traffic on the Indian side and it later transpired that Ministers and senior Military Officers from Army Headquarters Delhi had visited the area. The plans for attack were discussed and approved at the highest level. General Chaudhuri, C-in-C, Indian Army is reported to have appreciated the details of the attack and further programme.

From 13 March, onwards the Indians evacuated nearly 50 villages which had Muslim inhabitants, on their side of the border, but issued arms and ammunitions to the Hindu residents of the area. Patrolling was intensified and the Indian Air Force was noticed to be unusually active and committed a number of Air Space violations. The Indian Army build up also could be noticed. On 24 March there were more Ministerial Conferences in forwards positions. By 29 March the combined operations along the coast had reached their climax and offensive action by Indian Army could be expected to be soon in the offing. The details of the Indian activities and unusual build up was brought to the notice of the Government and the President of Pakistan.

Undoubtedly a sound decision expected of a soldier. Hesitation and “peace at all costs” would have been interpreted as weakness and no one knew how far the thirst for territories would take the Indians.

Indians crept forward on the night of 5/6 April and dug positions within 100 yards of our Ranger post. When challenged they offered to discuss matters at a flag meeting at 0830 hours the following day. This flag meeting, although proposed by them, never materialized. Similar had been the fate of the proposed meeting with regard to the area occupied by Indian a little earlier, and called by them Sardar Post.

Having reconnoitered positions, Commander 8 Division, Major General Tika Khan, ordered the recapture of Sardar Post. The attack as a result was launched on the night 8/9 April, by 51 Infantry Brigade, and two out of three camps in the area were captured. The name Sardar post was erroneous. The Indians had a whole Battalion located in well prepared bunkers with well laid out MMG and LMG posts enfolding the approaches. 51 Infantry Brigade killed over a hundred Indians and took 21 prisoners including the officiating C. O. Major Karnail Singh. The third Indian camp though not captured was also evacuated by the Indians. The troops were however, to withdraw after completing their task. As a result the Indians reoccupied the position after three days with fresh troops. Pakistan’s casualties in this action had been nine killed and sixteen wounded. Enemy had lost heavily and considering the number of prisoners they left behind the total number must have been a great deal more than claimed by our troops.

On 21 April Lieut. Nadir Pervez, with a platoon of 6 Punjab carried out a daring raid against a company of Indian CRP at a place known as Point 84 which they had occupied only recently. The raid was highly successful. The CRP men left their arms and equipment and disappeared before the raiding party could even close up with them. They left behind not only 3 dead bodies but large quantities of petrol and rations which were destroyed as such large quantities could not be carried back by the platoon. The ammunition, however, came handy and was utilized against the Indians later encounters.

Although a little out of context, one is reminded of a conversation between an Indian prisoner of war captured at Jurian and a Pakistani Sepoy. The Indian asked him, “where did you Pakistanis get all this ammunition from”. “Well”, the Pakistani sepoy said a little too seriousl, “It is a secret but as you will be safely behind the barbed wire, I do not mind telling you. We captured large number of ammunition dumps during Kutch operations which we used at Chhamb. Then we captured more ammunition at Chhamb which we used at Jurian. To-day we have captured so much ammunition that we can use it elsewhere if you attack us again”. It is not reported what the Indian replied, but that ammunition also was usefully employed.

In the meantime 6 Infantry brigade had also arrived in the area. C-in-C, General Mohammad Musa had ordered this Brigade to be located in area South of Jatrai and to eliminate any Indian encroachments up to Biar Bet.

On night 23/24 April the operation was taken in hand. 6 Punjab put in attack against point 84 which had since the last raid been reoccupied by the Indians in greater strength. The enemy was given the impression that the objective was the feature known as Chad Bet. The enemy holding this position was the crack Indian 50 Para Brigade and was supported by 17 Para Field Regiment in addition to a mortar battery. The enemy positions were well dug in, with overhead cover and complete network of communication trenches. Command posts, MMG posts and well dug in store and ammunition dumps. The Brigade Commander Brigadier Iftikhar Khan Janjua accompanied the assault battalion. The enemy opened up with every thing he had, guns, machine guns, LMGs, recoilless rifles, and 75mm Howitzers. The Indians however soon found out they were outflanked and outmaneuvered and soon withdrew in great haste, leaving behind a jeep, a number of trailers, ammunition and ration dumps and huge quantities of stores and personal belongings. The number of casualties could not be ascertained and one officer and a number of other ranks were taken prisoners.

It was then decided to attack Biar Bet on 26 April. This time it was felt that as an experiment it would be useful to try out tanks in this terrain.

A squadron of armour led the attack with 2 FF less two companies accompanying them. The enemy brought down a heavy concentration of all types of fire but in this open country every round seemed to have been aimed or pushed into an empty space. The men maintain that there was hidden hand deflecting the rounds which would, otherwise, have taken a heavy toll of advancing troops. The Indians have claimed having hit a number of tanks. Although over 200 rounds of RR were fired, the only thing they hit was a spade tied at the back of the jeep and an ammunition truck was blown up causing the only casualty of this operation. If ever devine hand protected His devoted servants it was on that day. By 0630 hours the position was completely in Pakistani hands. Here again the Indians abandoned their position in great haste, leaving behind one dead, RR mounted on a jeep, large quantities of ammunition and equipment and “Halva Puri”, the delicious breakfast which is also relished by the Indian soldiers of an unfortunately starving nation.

Daily Telegraph, London seems to have summed up the situation very ably when it said,

“Biar Bet may mark the coming of age of Pakistan, the shedding of many infant fears. The calm that had been maintained in the country over past few weeks, in the face of near hysterical statements by responsible Indians, has been remarkable.”

Rowle Knox, Daily Telegraph, London, May 5, 1965.

I led a party of Pakistani and foreign journalists to the Rann of Kutch area a few days later. After the G.O.C., Major General Tika Khan, had finished briefing the party, one of the foreign journalists got up and asked, “General you say you have killed 300 Indians, the Indians say they have killed 350 Pakistanis. Who would we believe.” The General was not perturbed. In his usual cool manner he replied. “I am placing all my helicopters at your disposal. If you see, when you go over the battle area, that the junk of war is in front of me then the Indians are telling the truth, but if the junk of the war is behind me then I alone could be in a position to count the dead.” “fair enough” replied the foreign journalist. On his return it was the same journalist who remarked “Gosh – You made them run in the Rann.”

8 Infantry Division and its troops to whom the credit goes for making the Indian soldier run in the Rann, as they had never run before, were ordered the next day, “No more offensive”. Common friends had realized the danger of these two countries fighting. The outcome had not been as expected. It was, therefore, incumbent to stop the shooting match. Except capturing a convoy of seven brand new Mercedies the division, after that, confined its activities to patrolling of the area immediately in its fornt.

Cease Fire came through the efforts of the British Prime Minister and the Indian Prime Minister Mr. Lal bahadur Shastri consoled his nation announcing, “We will attack at a place of our own choosing.” As if Rann of Kutch had been a place of somebody else’s choosing. He isno more to tell the world whose advice had resulted in this choice.