During the recent visit of a Pakistani delegation of the India-Pakistani Soldiers’ Initiative for Peace, two Brigadiers — the warm-hearted Pathan Zahid Zaman and the slim, handsome Sikander Javed — stood out, proudly resplendent with their ‘Piffers’ regimental crests on their blazers. Their immense pride in their regiment was conspicuous.
What later became known as the Punjab Irregular Force or ‘Piffers’ was raised in 1846 from among the ex-soldiers of the defeated Khalsa armies, to protect the north-west border of British India. The term ‘irregular’ was used for them since they came under the control of the chief commissioner of Punjab and not under that of the regular armies of the three presidencies of Madras, Bombay and Bengal.
What was unique about the Piffers was that they eschewed traditional parade ground drill and instead practiced swift tactical movements in small groups, eminently suited to Frontier warfare. Initiative was encouraged and a singular unconcern was shown toward routine orders, rules and regulations.
A special type of British officer supported by Indian subordinates led the Piffers. These elements fostered the élan and flair for which the force was known. They were the victors of a thousand small and major engagements on the Frontier against the tribesmen. Owing to the nature of the Frontier tribesmen, the force was always in action, remaining constantly on the alert.
The Piffers became Britain’s bulwark against Russian ambitions and consummate players in The Great Game being played out in Central Asia.
The traditions of valour, excellence at arms and leadership shown on the Frontier were carried on by the Piffers on their withdrawal from the area and integration with the regular army.
Their performance on fronts as far-flung as France and Flanders (1914-15), Italy (1943-45) and Burma (1942-45) are testimony to their professionalism.
The bulk of the Piffers units went to Pakistan where they form an important part of that country’s army. Elements of the force in India are the 5th Gorkha Rifles and the Derajat and Hazara Batteries of the Artillery.
The most famous of the fraternity in India was undoubtedly Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw.
The second strike formation of the army, II Corps (I Corps being the first) was raised on October 6, 1971, at Krishnanagar, West Bengal, under the command of General TN Raina (later army chief) to fulfil urgent operational requirements.
A 200-year old silver sword, ‘Kharga’, presented by the Raja of Krishnanagar was adopted as the formation sign. This is a symbol of valour and strength and said to be the main weapon of Goddess Durga.
The corps had 4 and 9 Divisions under command with which it successfully liberated Western Bangladesh, including Jessore, Khulna, Goalundo Ghat and Faridpur.
The Military Police
The Corps of Military Police (CMP) which traces its history back to the first provost unit raised from personnel provided by the 7th Light Cavalry and 11th PAVO Cavalry (now in Pakistan) in August 1939 provides basic police services to the army and assists in maintenance of good order and discipline. One of its important tasks is regulation of traffic.
The CMP also handles prisoners of war and provides close protection to the army chief. Apart from basic skills as a soldier, every military policeman is a trained provost personnel, signaller, driver and maintenance man.
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