December Special

Gilgit-Baltistan: An Abode of Defenders of Pakistan

The people of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), like most Pakistanis, are imbued with unparalleled spirit and love for Pakistan and have made monumental sacrifices for the defence of the country. With the approach of December every year, sadness as well as pride engulfs our family where service and sacrifice is a legacy. It takes us back 47 years to the day when my two brothers, newly commissioned in Pakistan Army, volunteered to fight in East Pakistan. Hailing from a military family, there was no other choice except serving Pakistan where it was most needed.
I remember my parents sitting in silence in the cold winters in Gilgit with clouds of hope and gloom cast over the horizon. My two elder brothers were fighting in the erstwhile East Pakistan, despite GHQ asking my father to nominate one son to stay back in West Pakistan, as per the policy. The two officers were quite young; one, a 19-year-old who had just passed out from PMA and the second, not much older at 22 years of age. The younger brother, Second Lieutenant Salman Beg, continued the fight even after the end of war on December 16 with his unit 18 Punjab (The Desert Hawks) till December 21, 1971 and his company even captured Indian tanks. My parents were worried for their son who was as young as a school boy. However, after two years of imprisonment in India, including solitary confinement, he did return home.

My elder brother Lt Salar Beg who was posted in 22 Cavalry (then stationed in West Pakistan) had volunteered to join 3 Independent Squadron in East Pakistan, which had few old tanks in its inventory. His citation, written by the Squadron Commander, gives Lt Salar Shaheed’s account of bravery in the battle from November 21, 1971 till December 15, 1971.
In November 1971, in Jessore (East Pakistan), Lt Salar Beg was commanding a tank troop ex 3 Independent Armoured Squadron, which was carrying out advance to contact to stop the Indian armour intruding into our territory. As soon as the Squadron made contact with the Indian tanks, the Squadron Commander ordered to attack from the left. Lt Salar Beg’s troop was to lead this attack. As the troop advanced, Lt Salar Beg’s tank bogged down in the soft ground, just as it had come within the effective range of Indian tanks. The Indian tanks were of the latest version with long firing ranges and amphibious capabilities whereas Pakistan has a few vintage tanks in its repository, with short range firing capability. Lt Salar Beg’s tank was completely immobilized in open ground, and was engaged by an Indian tank. But instead of abandoning his tank, Lt Salar fired back. Even after a direct hit, he continued to fight from his tank and scored a direct hit on an Indian tank. In the meantime, his tank was hit again by another Indian tank. With smoke rising out of the tank, in complete disregard to his life and personal safety, he carried on with the battle and destroyed the second Indian tank with a direct shot. By then his tank had caught fire and the gun could not be operated anymore due to flames which engulfed the fighting compartment and excessive smoke which was blinding the gun sights. With the tank becoming unable to operate in the battle, Lt Salar ordered his crew to abandon the tank. Lt Salar’s eyes got severely damaged due to heat of the fire and smoke. Accordingly, he was brought to the hospital for medical treatment. Due to severe damage to his eyes, hospital authorities decided to shift him to West Pakistan, and even a ‘Movement Order’ was prepared, but the brave officer refused to be transferred to West Pakistan stating that he could not leave his valiant Squadron behind. Thankfully, his eyes got better. With a bandage on one eye, undeterred Salar Beg requested to rejoin his Squadron. On December 15, 1971 in Khulna, he took part in his last battle fighting the Indian armour with the last remaining tank of the Squadron. As the tank was hit by a direct shot, Lt Salar breathed his last and laid down his life for the country. He was martyred in his black uniform (traditional Armoured Corps outfit) and was laid to rest by his fellow colleagues at the same location. Lt Salar Shaheed had a passion to join the Army and had decided to even join as a Sepoy in case he was not selected as an officer. We received confirmation of his shahadat almost after one year.

The people of GB join Armed Forces with the passion to defend their motherland and have performed heroic feats in the hard-fought battles. Almost every family has officers and soldiers in the Forces. In case of my family, my father, Brig Sherullah Beg (late) joined British Indian Army and got commission in May 1943; my paternal uncle, Sub Safiullah Beg (Gilgit Scouts) took part in liberation of GB in 1947; my maternal uncle, Lt Col Hadi Hussain (Ghazi) 2FF Regiment fought the war of Rann of Kutch (1965) and East Pakistan (1971); Maj Ghulam Murtaza (late) SJ, my first cousin’s grandfather fought in the war of liberation of GB in 1947 and 1965 War; and maternal cousin, Captain Sarfaraz Ali Khan (Shaheed), SBt and Tamgha-e-Shujaat fought at Siachen in 1984. The legacy continued and my daughter Flight Lieutenant Sharista Beg joined PAF as a GD pilot in 2008 and my son-in-law Maj Talha is also serving in Pakistan Army. We are proud to be a family of war veterans, ghazis and shuhada from GB and Hunza.
The ex-servicemen of GB, who are over 63000, have fought wars from Liberation of GB in 1947/48, 1965, 1971 War, Kargil, Waziristan to the ongoing operations. Furthermore, the Gilgit Scouts and locals of GB threw out Dogra Raj in 1947/48 single-handedly and forwarded request to Pakistan for accession. It is pertinent to mention here that the high number of ex-servicemen against a population of GB, which is about 1.5 million, is bigger in ratio than any other part of our country. Such is the love and affection of the people of GB for Pakistan. They are ready to sacrifice everything for Pakistan whenever duty, honour, and love of motherland demands so. The people of GB are proud and valiant sons of Pakistan.

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