As I pondered over what to write about this valiant hero that would be appropriate and yet reminiscent of his character, especially for the coming generation, I took a paint brush and started a portrait on him to portray his brave and exclusive life. It has been narrated as I remember him and few close to him, through anecdotes about the time spent with him.
Chamb (Palanwala)-Jaurian (Troti)
Excerpts taken from the personal account of Lt Col Mohammad Iqbal, Commanding Officer 6 FF, during the Indo-Pak War of 1965.
September 4, 1965
In spite of the enemy artillery and later the aimed fire of enemy machine guns along with other weapons, leading elements of Bravo and Delta Company pressed on and reached their objective. 2/Lt Shabir Sharif captured a portion of the hill with his platoon but his Company Commander, Subedar Karam Shah, was mortally wounded. Parvez (B Company) fainted on the objective due to the intense heat and the Company failed to press home the advantage. Our state was pathetic, the men had no sleep the two previous nights and had moved on a wide hook without vehicles. There was no water as it had been consumed in the intense heat. The men were thirsty to the extent that they could not even resist drinking water from the canal, which crossed the line of advance, in spite of the fact that Indians were firing at them and their Commanders shouting at them to move away from the aimed fire. Too few fit men were left to achieve anything and it was decided to call back the Companies; they were pulled out under tank fire and the task of removing the shuhada and wounded started while the enemy kept firing at us. Shabir Sharif excelled on that day and showed terrific dash, courage and bravery. He made three trips for the objective of bringing back all the wounded, even though he himself had been wounded in the left arm. He also drove one of the towed Indian 25 pounder guns over to the battalion position. Sepoy (Lance Naik) Lal Khan, A Company, distinguished himself by not only rescuing his Company Commander, Parvez, but also Havildar Hazrat Gul.
Shabir Sharif’s Act of Selfless Bravery
At 1430 hours, the Battalion was ordered to withdraw to the defensive position astride the track in the rear of Chak Bhagwan, and with the tanks firing in support, the Battalion was extricated. The task of removing the dead and wounded was started and 2/Lt Shabir Sharif performed a magnificent job of making at least three trips with the objective to bring back the wounded. On his last trip back, he captured one prisoner and a vehicle together with a 25 pounder gun and ammunition trailer. Total casualties suffered by the unit during this attack were 10 killed, including Company Commander Subedar Karam Shah, and 54 wounded including 2/Lt Shabir Sharif. Less one soldier all the casualties were caused by heavy shelling. Three soldiers were reported missing. Sepoy Lal Khan distinguished himself in rescuing both his Company Commander Major R. H. Parvez and Havildar Hazrat Gul from small arms fire. Several requests for medical aid, transport and water were made over the armour net but to no avail. Some of the soldiers were seriously wounded but the unit, having moved forward on foot, could not evacuate them expeditiously.
At 1800 hours, orders were received to withdraw from Chak Bhagwan area and take up a defensive position, again astride the road in area Causeway 6861. The battalion had to move back on foot and casualties were evacuated using the captured vehicle and ambulance sent forward by the 2IC, Major Liakat Ali Khan, on his own initiative. Some of the minor casualties had to sit on the 25 pounder gun and some on the ammunition trailer. As all drivers had been left in the rear, the Adjutant, Major Anwar ul Haq, drove the vehicle back. 2/Lt Shabir Sharif guided the vehicle in the dark and displayed tremendous courage and determination despite being wounded.
Recovery of the Captured Indian Truck, Shaktiman, with a Tank
During the Indo-Pak War of 1965, Shabir captured an Indian artillery gun at Jaurian, and towed it behind an Indian truck – Shaktiman. While he was driving towards the Pakistani side, it got bogged North of River Tawi. He desperately wanted to take the vehicle back to his Battalion Headquarters. To his good luck, he saw a tank of 13 Lancers nearby in hull-down position. He approached the Squadron Commander, Captain Mushir Mohammad Khan (later Brig), and requested to give him one of his tanks to recover his truck, which he initially refused but later on allowed him to take the tank. The tank that initially came to recover the truck also got bogged, so Shabir requested for another tank. Captain Mushir told me later that the tank which was sent to tow the truck did not come back till late night. When the tank got back, Captain Mushir enquired from the commander of the tank about his late return, He answered that Lt Shabir had put a gun to his head and had the Indian truck towed right up to the Battalion Headquarters of 6 FF. This was a wounded Shabir who still wanted to get his men and the captured Indian gun towed behind a truck to safety at any cost.
How Late Maj Gen Amir Hamza Remembered Shabir (Recollections of an EME Officer)
An EME officer narrated the words of Maj Gen Hamza, Commander of 105 Infantry Brigade during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971. This officer was on a visit for recovery work after the ceasefire in the Sulemanki Sector, where he had heard the late Brig (later Maj Gen) Amir Hamza, saying “Mera sher chala gya” (My lion is gone). He mentioned this while pointing towards the body of Maj Shabir that had been brought to the Brigade HQ from the front lines. Such was the impact Shabir had over the entire Brigade that his shahadat meant so much to everyone associated with him.
Lt Gen Shahid Aziz (R)
“Maj Shabir Sharif Shaheed carved the officer that I became, from the lost soul that entered Pakistan Military Academy in 1969, and all my life I bore his mark with pride. He taught me how to stand up on my own feet without crutches. He showed me that my true respect lay in my own eyes. And if ever I should fall, I should fall only at my own feet. He did all this and more, simply by his overpowering and inspiring presence, simply by being what he was – a born leader of men, a free spirit soaring in the sky”.
Mr. Irshad Ullah Khan, Rhodes Scholar
A childhood friend of Major Shabir praises and compliments his life by quoting him as a symbol of soldering. “The news of his shahadat mortified me. A man so blessed with the rare qualities of humility, leadership, and courage had gone to heaven. One could not revisit him anymore.
The colour of life that was yet to unfold was lost in an act of valour which even death must have found hard to capture without tears and utter remorse.
So Major Shabir Sharif Shaheed left family and friends with the full knowledge that he was giving away all the joys and wonders of life for his Pakistan. This is why I say that it is our soldier who takes the bullet in his chest. It is our soldier who accepts death voluntarily so that the nation of Pakistan may live, so that we may live”.
Here is something more that I was able to pick up from Pakistan Defence Forum, dated January 10, 2010.
Having suffered three defeats in their effort to retake the Gurmakhera Bridge or the Sabuna Ridge, the Indians finally launched a major attack on Shabir’s men on the night of 5th/6 December 1971. This attack had the support of 4 Jat and 3 Assam regiments and T-54 tanks amidst heavy artillery shelling. This was the biggest attack to date on the site, with around 800 men from the Indian side being involved.
A company commander from the 4 Jat Regiment, Major Narain Singh, had sworn before going on this attack that he would either retake the bridge, or would never return. Narain Singh was also interested in defeating Shabir Sharif, as for the last two days he had been hearing from his own men that the Pakistani side had a very tough commander with them (something which Singh could not afford to have if he was to keep the morale of his men high).
While the battle was going on, Narain Singh, with a few men, came very close to Shabir’s position.
"Where is Shabir Sharif?", he called out, "If he has the courage, he should come out right now and face me like a man".
Shabir Sharif, being as hot headed as Singh, left his position and jumped in front of him upon the call. Perhaps Narain Singh could not make out that it was Shabir Sharif, as it was very dark, and he lobbed a grenade in his direction [It doesn't make sense for him to call Sharif out and throw a grenade at him]. The grenade exploded a few feet away from Shabir, and his shirt caught fire. A few Pakistani soldiers also came out and tried to put out the fire, as Shabir himself was only obsessed with Narain Singh's call. Seeing the Pakistani soldiers coming out, some of the Indians accompanying Singh were about to open fire when Singh stopped them.
"No firing," he said, "This is a man-to-man fight".
Shabir too, for his part, told his men to step back. The fire on his shirt had been extinguished. Both the Indian and Pakistani soldiers stepped back, but at the same time never took their guns off each other, or their fingers off the triggers.
A hand to hand combat followed between Sharif and Singh. The soldiers in the direct vicinity were standing close by as armed spectators. The rest of the soldiers (on the ridge) were at the same time involved in the fierce battle that was taking place due to the Indian attack.
Singh had his sten gun in his hand and Shabir held his wrist to prevent him from firing. After a short struggle, Shabir managed to throw Singh on the ground and put his knee on his chest. Taking the sten gun from his hand, he emptied it in Singh's chest. While the Pakistani soldiers came to Sharif to check whether he was all right, those accompanying Singh disappeared in the darkness.
Major Shabir Sharif’s Letters to the Writer
“I just looked up and noticed that I have been writing crooked. Well my hand is such. I can’t help going astray both in writing and practical life but I assure you that the real fun lies in going away from the beaten path to something original, risky and more adventurous.” (Dated March 21, 1965).
First Letter Received from the Battlefront
I received a letter, dated December 13, 1965, written on Forces Mail Aerogram. This letter says so much as to what had happened, from the perspective of a young Shabir Sharif. He mentioned about his role, getting wounded and his ever endearing faith in Almighty Allah. I will reproduce his letter and you can read it and draw your own conclusions. I have read and re-read this letter so many times and would still love to read it as this was what Shabir really was in real life – a portrayal of his true self.
These lines in particular are so prophetic if seen in the light of the fact as to what Shabir eventually did become – legendary history.
“He is great or else what is Shabir or hundred coupled together. He saved me from enemy bullets or else you would today have heaved a sigh and said ‘one more I knew is gone’ and then with time like you forget everything, you would have forgotten me”.
Just before the Indo-Pak War of 1971, Major Shabir had conveyed to his comrades before the war: “If war breaks out this time, I will not be a witness to ceasefire”. From this, you can judge his love and patriotism for the country. Major Shabir was in the prime of his life, just 28 years old at the time he embraced Shahadat. What a life he lived in these 28 years.
Shabir has left behind an “unparalleled legacy”, a very high benchmark of professionalism and heroism for our future generations to emulate. I have made a humble effort of portraying some of these actions and at the same time bring to the fore his sterling qualities of “head and heart”, especially for our young leaders of today and those aspiring to take up soldiering as a profession.
"Think not of those who are slain in Allah's way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord. They rejoice in the Bounty provided by Allah: And with regard to those left behind, who have not yet joined them (in their bliss), the (Martyrs) glory in the fact that on them is no fear, nor have they (cause to) grieve. They glory in the Grace and Bounty from Allah, and in the fact that Allah suffereth not the reward of the faithful to be lost (in the least)."
(The Holy Quran, 3:169-171)
The writer is a military historian and biographer.
E-mail: [email protected]
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