Ever since Pakistan came into being, Pakistan Army has been engaged in defending the motherland against enemy’s nefarious designs. During all the past wars, there have been so many who are not even spoken about or remembered and therefore the term “unsung heroes” holds good for them. Since the last twenty years, I have endeavored to bring to light as many as possible through books, newsprint and my favorite magazine, Hilal. I am deeply indebted to Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) for affording me the opportunity to share my stories on valiant heroes of Pakistan.
I have picked Captain Iqbal Khan, who embraced shahadat during the operations in Siachen on September 25, 1987. Although he went very young, but the life he lived can serve as a guiding light and beacon for generations to come.
Since very little information was available about the officer, especially his early life, I first went to Headquarters Special Services Group (SSG) to get the story and some pictures of him but I didn’t get anything from them. Not giving up, I obtained his home address from Central Officers Records Office (CORO). Having obtained his home address, I went to visit the family of Captain Iqbal Shaheed at Nowshera, where I met his mother, Mrs. Noor Jehan and his brother, Shams Ahmed Khan and the rest of his family members. My findings are based on first-hand knowledge about his family details.
Captain Muhammad Iqbal Khan was born on December 31, 1957 (actual date of birth) in a small village called Pashtoon Garhi, in the then District Peshawar, now District Nowshera, in the North West Frontier Province (presently Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). His date of birth on papers and officially is November 15, 1960.
At the age of seven, he had learnt to recite the Holy Quran and was a Hafiz at that young age. From his very childhood, Muhammad Iqbal Khan was known to be a very brave and daring person. He was pure by heart and mind and never bore any grudge towards anyone. He regularly offered tahajud prayers and five daily prayers. He also regularly attended tableegh congregations whenever he got time from his official obligations. He had mastered Seerat-un-Nabi and books on Tauheed.
He got his primary education from a school in Pashtoon Garhi, after which he joined Government High School Pashtoon Garhi, from where he had his schooling from 6th to 10th class.
As a child, he wanted to become a doctor, but as he grew up and by the time he reached his college life, he studied Islam and learnt more about the Muslim warriors, who inspired him by their deeds and was therefore motivated to join the army. In his time of leisure, he was fond of kabaddi (wrestling) and hunting.
While he often quoted the Holy Quran, on the other hand, he had a good grasp on the works of William Shakespeare, a happy and unusual blend of knowledge and may I dare say, praiseworthy.
After passing his Matriculation, he joined Islamia College Peshawar and was in the final year of BSC, when he got a call for selection in 65th Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) Long Course.
He passed out on March 25, 1982 and got his first posting to 82 Supply and Transport Battalion ASC (Army Services Corps). General Zia-ul-Haq was the Reviewing Officer and Chief Guest at his passing out parade. Having spent hardly three years in his battalion, he wanted to see more action in life and therefore volunteered to join SSG, which he did in 1985. On completion of his basic training, he was posted to 3rd Commando Battalion.
Recounting the deeds of Captain Iqbal that took place nearly three decades ago was revisiting Siachen, the highest battleground on earth, where the terrain and battle environment took greater toll in casualties than bullets or enemy action. It was a mesmerising experience.
Captain Iqbal was imbued with the spirit of jihad; he always wanted to embrace shahadat. His prayer was answered as he received a posting order to Siachen in mid-September 1987.
Upon his arrival at the forward headquarters, he was selected for one of the most daring and difficult tasks of attacking Indian posts/bunkers at a height of over 20,000 feet above sea level, making it the highest battlefield in the world.
Details of his Operations in Siachen
It all started in early 1987, when Indians took over the high peaks that were lying untouched since years. To find out more about Captain Iqbal, I met Lieutenant General Imran Ullah Khan, who was Commander 10 Corps and under whom the whole operation was conceived and executed. He praised Captain Iqbal and his determination to carry out the task assigned to him under the heaviest odds, most difficult battle conditions, and a treacherous terrain. Lieutenant General Imran Ullah Khan took over 10 Corps on May 23, 1987, around the time a post was taken by the Indian Army. Pakistan Army decided to counterattack and retake the post at any cost. The Indians had refused negotiations, and for this reason, it was decided to take back this territory.
The operations were planned to be the most violent ever experienced by the Indians and to establish moral ascendency over them. Pakistan Army decided to attack on the Indian positions, Rana and Akbar, sister peaks on the opposite shoulder of Bilafond-la (named after a Persian Saint, who is said to have passed through here, bringing Islam through Baltistan to Central Asia).
The idea was to seize control of Rana, one of the first of the sister peaks and then neutralise Akbar to prevent it being used as a base for a counterattack. This operation was codenamed Qiyadat (leadership). This was to be the fiercest battle in the records of Siachen.
The men who took part in this operation were handpicked from the elite SSG. Among those bravest of men were Captain Mohammad Iqbal, Captain Rashid and Captain Salik Cheema. Around 150 all ranks were chosen for this operation.
The three officers, Captain Mohammad Iqbal, Captain Rashid and Captain Salik Cheema, led the group and first climbed on to Gyari, a snow-blown camp at the base of the Bilafond Glacier, which runs up to the Bilafond-la. While he was inside his tent, with the kerosene lamp fumes and cigarette smoke, Captain Iqbal wrote his will. The will was practical and imbued with his inspiration from Islam, reflecting on his sterling qualities of a devout Muslim warrior. There was a touching naivety in the way he wrote that will, like bills to be paid to the officer’s mess, the laundryman and the regimental cobbler, and clearance of Rs. 900 loan to the university. He also left instructions that instead of an ostentatious funeral, money should be saved to spend on paving the village streets and building drains. He also left instructions about Rs. 40,000 he would receive as compensation for his death be distributed amongst the poor as atonement for prayers he did not offer and fasts that he missed. He even left a count of fasts he missed–16 in all.
His will was a testimonial to his prior knowledge that he would embrace shahadat (martyrdom).
Captain Iqbal and his colleagues who had gathered at Gyari had neither the imagination nor experience to know what they faced. Their assault started on September 18, 1987, with the artillery shelling turning the white snow to black. Little did the planners know that the effects of mountain environment, gushing winds and high trajectory resulted in wayward artillery firing, with the result that when the firing stopped, little or no damage was done to the Indian positions. In fact, the assaulting forces were fully exposed to the defensive fire combined with artillery fire of the Indians.
As the mountains exploded into intense noise and light, Captain Iqbal, with his group climbed onto Ali Branga. This was the main Pakistani camp on the approaches to Bilafond-la. From Ali Branga, they moved to a position at the foot of the hill to attack, when the weather turned for the worse, forcing them to halt until it cleared.
The next day, they crawled forward, sinking deeply in the fresh snow, covering a distance of 100 yards in three hours, whereas it would have taken three minutes in other plain areas. As soon as they moved up, they found their path blocked by crevices or vertical walls and had to retrace their steps and took another route in an effort to close up to Rana Post, till night fell and spent that night in the open. The next morning was no better, the clouds lifted up exposing them to the full view of the Indians, who used their machine guns and artillery to maximum effect. On top of that, the Indians had heli-lifted anti-aircraft guns onto the top of Bilafond-la. The assaulting troops were being picked up by weapons designed to shoot down aircraft.
At this point, Captain Iqbal was ordered to lead a detachment of SSG consisting of twelve soldiers and was tasked to capture six bunkers/posts occupied by Indians. He made an attack plan and went about attacking all the outposts one by one. While fighting the enemy, he was wounded seriously in his legs, but he kept moving forward. He kept climbing the steep mountains of Siachen with a gun in one hand and holding himself with the other. The enemy kept shooting at him, and he kept calling out Allah-o-Akbar (Allah is the greatest). He destroyed many pickets on his way until he reached the highest picket on the Siachen Glacier held by the Indians. He waged a fierce battle and while he was hardly five yards from the last post, he received a direct machine gun burst on his chest alongside the artillery shelling, as a result of which he embraced martyrdom on September 25, 1987.
Due to heavy snow and heavy enemy fire, his body could not be recovered and went missing for eleven months. Finally, an operation was launched and his body was finally recovered in action. After the recovery of his body, it was brought to his native village by his cousin who was also serving in Pakistan Army on August 6, 1988.
Captain Muhammad Iqbal Khan was recommended for Nishan-e-Haider, but was awarded with the second highest military award, Hilal-e-Jurat by the Government of Pakistan, while he was still missing in action.
“Captain Muhammad Iqbal Khan’s action during Operation Qiyadat is one of the finest examples of combat leadership, unfathomable courage, and extreme sense to duty. Imbued with the spirit of Jihad as a true momin, he did not hesitate to sacrifice his life for the defense of his country. He led his men throughout the operation. He embraced shahadat while trying to destroy the last enemy bunker on the top. He was doing all this while he was already severely wounded”.
Captain Iqbal Khan wrote a wasiat (will) before his shahadat and handed it over to his best friend, Ghias Uddin, with an instruction that in case he embraces shahadat, the will should be handed over to his mother. The will, duly translated as well as a copy of its original is attached at the end of this account as Appendix 1. A reading of this document reveals his firm faith in Allah, his ultimate motivation and the will to do his best in the cause of his national duty. I will leave the readers to get the original flavour of his own words.
What was more praiseworthy was finding about the bringing up of Captain Iqbal and getting to know about his family. Captain Iqbal came from a humble background. His father, Mir Ahmed Khan, a retired Customs Inspector, served for over 25 years. His contemporaries in Customs ended up in palatial houses and fat bank balances. As opposed to this, Captain Iqbal’s father lived in a makeshift house in his village Pashtoon Garhi, near Nowshera. He owned a bicycle. His mother too was a simple woman. Both parents and his brothers and sister were religious and practicing Muslims. After having visited and met his family, I learnt how the life of young Captain Iqbal was modeled and shaped. Keeping in line with the will of Captain Iqbal, General Imran Ullah Khan got the drains of his village cemented and the rest of his instructions carried out.
Captain Iqbal Shaheed used to tell his father that if he were successful in life, he would carry out all his unfulfilled dreams. After his retirement, he was appointed as the Finance Secretary of the Association of Retired Customs Officers. He served as long as Captain Iqbal was alive. After the shahadat of Captain Iqbal, he did not do anything, but lived a retired life and spent time in remembering Allah and recitation of Holy Quran. He passed away on May 28, 2005.
The name of his mother is Mrs. Noor Jehan who was teary-eyed when she talked about the past of Captain Iqbal Shaheed. She is a brave lady and has converted her home almost into a shrine in the memory of Captain Iqbal shaheed and lives proudly with that memory.
The writer is a military historian and biographer.
E-mail: [email protected]
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