Even after 50 years, the words ‘Bada Emaam mar gaya’ (The elder Emaam has been killed) ring in the ears of Col GS Sidhu (retd) as he recalls the Battle of Asal Uttar and the sacrifices of his colleagues, including Quarter Master Sergeant (QMS) Abdul Hamid as they halted the advance of the famed Patton tanks of Pakistan in the Khemkaran sector during the 1965 war with Pakistan.
Sidhu, then a second lieutenant with 4 Grenadiers, heard these words over the wireless system. The message meant for senior officers of the Pakistani army deployed in the Khemkaran sector was intercepted by the Indian troops.
“At first I did not understand the message but after we decoded it there was jubilation all round as the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Pakistan’s first Armoured Division had been killed. In fact, the GOC had suffered serious injuries a day earlier when he came under fire from Indian troops and later succumbed to his injuries,” Sidhu said.
Standing before the Abdul Hamid memorial on the Bhikhiwind-Khemkaran road on Wednesday, Sidhu remembered each spot he must have stood on during the four days (September 7-10) that the Battle of Asal Uttar was fought. Pointing to a spot about 70 metres from the memorial, Col Sidhu said, “That was the spot where Abdul Hamid breathed his last on September 10 while fighting the Patton tanks from his jeep mounted with a recoilless gun from a sugarcane field. His sacrifice spurned us all to greater action during the days that followed and we succeeded in giving the enemy a befitting reply.” Sidhu remembers virtually coming face-to-face with Brig Shami Khan of the Pakistani army on September 10. The Indian troops intercepted Khan and some of his men along with their tanks along the Khemkaran road. In the firing, Khan was killed along with others.
“He was a tall handsome Pathan. We buried him a short distance from here. After the ceasefire, Pakistan requested for his body and we obliged them,” recalled the retired colonel.
Col AR Khan, who also saw action in the Khemkaran sector, recalled Abdul Hamid firing at the Pakistani Patton tanks from his recoilless gun. He hit the first tank and then destroyed two more before the advancing enemy troops located his position in a sugarcane field. For his bravery and sacrifice, Abdul Hamid was awarded the Paramvir Chakra.
Cheema village on whose agricultural fields the battle was fought was renamed Asal Uttar as the enemy got a befitting reply from the Indian army. Such was the reply that it turned the tide of the war in India’s favour and Khemkaran became the ‘graveyard of Pakistani Patton tanks’, as it was here that the enemy lost 75 tanks.
Proud of father
Ali Hassan and Junaid Alam, sons of Abdul Hamid, and Shahnawaz Alam, the martyr’s grandson, had come for the first time to see the spot where the brave soldier of 4 Grenadiers had attained martyrdom.
Harmala Kaur Gupta recalled how her father, Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh, who was commanding the Indian army in the crucial Western sector, refused to withdraw the troops beyond the Beas and instead took on the enemy at Asal Uttar.