The view that it was the Indian Air Force, and not the army, that won India the Battle of Laungewala in 1971, has just got another push. And this time it comes from a former Pakistani brigadier who himself led forces into Laungewala.
Brig (Retd) Zahir Alam Khan, in his autobiography The Way It Was — Inside the Pakistan Army, said the IAF battered Pakistani tanks at Laungewala, primarily because they were not supported by their own air force.
The Laungewala battle has been in the eye of a remarkable storm of introspection in India too, with a galaxy of Indian war heroes questioning the authenticity of the official army version of the events.
The story, first broken by Hindustan Times on March 1, has stirred what could yet emerge as one of the bigger scandals in Indian military historiography.
Major General Atma Singh (retd), who won the Vir Chakra for gallantry at Laungewala, told HT that no ground battle was fought by the army.
Khan says the Laungewala operation was meticulously planned. Under “Operation Labbaik” as it was called, Pakistani forces started from Reti in Pakistan and entered India from Tanot area. They were to have taken over Laungewala and then proceeded on to capture Jaisalmer.
However, the author said, as there was no support for the Pakistani troops from their own air force, the IAF ‘Hawker Hunters’ had a field day bombing Pakistani tank formations.
“The IAF, which appeared a little after seven o'clock, flying without any opposition from the Pakistan Air Force, had four Hawker Hunters ... Anything that moved was immediately attacked, otherwise the Hunters circled for their endurance and before returning to their base, attacked the tanks that had been located.”
Khan also reveals the Pakistani army’s role in helping insurgents. He says it helped and trained Mizo insurgents in East Pakistan.
Khan further says that an unsuccessful coup attempt was made to overthrow President Yahya Khan, who handed over power to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto soon thereafter.
He said several top army officers had “drafted a letter asking President Yahya to resign and hand over power or else 6 Armoured Division would march on Rawalpindi and enforce his removal.
“Major General M.I. Karim, the then GOC, was asked to sign the letter and (he) did so. Col Javed Iqbal and Col Alim Afridi flew to Rawalpindi and delivered the letter to the CGS (Chief of General Staff) who conveyed the contents to President Yahya.”
Following this, pro-Yahya sections in the army decided to airdrop commandos on the division headquarters with plans to seize it. Thus, the coup attempt was foiled.