By Ali Hassnain
The Great Rann of Kutch is a seasonal salt marsh located in the Thar Desert in the Kutch district of Gujarat, India and the Sindh Province of Pakistan. It is about 7,505.22 square kilometres (2,897.78 sq. mi) in size and is reputed to be one of the largest salt deserts in the world.
In India, the northern boundary of the Greater Rann of Kutch forms the International border between India and Pakistan. It is heavily patrolled by India’s Border Security (BSF) and Indian Army conducts exercises here to acclimatize its troops to this harsh terrain. Pakistan Rangers and Pakistan Army patrol the Pakistani side. This is one of the rare places in the world where camel cavalry is still used(by both sides).
This inhospitable salty lowland, is said to be rich in natural gas (never proved), it is more of a rumour at this stage. It was one scene of perennial border dispute between India and Pakistan that, in April 1965, contributed to the Indo-Pak war of 1965.
Only if it was that simple. In March 1965, India had the hangover of the successful Muslim massacres. After the skirmish with China, India had acquired a lot of western hardware. Pakistan was developing its economy and defence by leaps and bounds; some genius in India suggested that they should invade the undefended, empty and barren desert. It was undefended on Pakistan’s side; it is one of the harshest terrains in the world with no resources except the supposed underground reserves. So far, as of 2017 there has been no proof of any such reserves. It is an extremely hot equivalent of Siachen.
India invaded and captured it. Little did India know that every inch of Pakistan is dearer to us then our lives. Pakistan was caught with surprise but improvised very quickly, and mobilized regular and special forces.
Now it was the first eye ball to eye ball encounter between Pakistan and India. Unlike 1951 when Liaquat Ali Khan famously waved his fist at India, we did not have only 13 Tanks. Pakistan quickly adapted to the situation.
We had a strong Air Force but treason of Air Marshal Asghar Khan was discovered when he made a pact with Indian Air Chief that air forces of both the countries would not interfere in the conflict. Commander In Chief got the shock of his life when he discovered that PAF chief had made a direct pact without informing CNC, president or defence ministry. Indian C 130 showed up and PAF was called (didn’t come due to Asghar Khan’s orders) and it was engaged with light Anti air craft weapons. Indeed we lost a decisive edge. As proved in September, our air force and pilots were way superior in hardware training and strategy than their Indian counterparts.
However, the traitor was exposed and removed and replaced with Air Marshal Noor Khan who was pivotal in thwarting Indian aggression by reforming PAF policies. To cut a long story short, Allah exposed this traitor before the 65 war. Supply of water and other things from Pakistani side was relatively easier. Here is the map:
India had built huge water tanks for supplies before the invasion. One brigade of Pakistan Army was pitched against a whole division of Indian Army. They had built concrete bunkers beforehand. Pakistan Army in a desperate military manoeuvre decided to bayonet charge against the Indians. And they succeeded against all odds.
It is worth mentioning that Brig. Iftikhar Janjua was present there. Due to war time, he was not wearing his badges. A captured Indian soldier was taken to him; he was confused and asked who he was with. When he was told he was with a brigadier of Pakistan Army, he remarked, “No wonder you win, our commissioned officers don’t come close to the line of fire.”(issi liye jeet jatay ho).
Now what happened next was probably the first test of SSG. A very tough one indeed. SSG went behind enemy lines and blew up their water tanks and other supplies.
That was the end of it. India sued for peace, went to the International Court of Justice and Pakistan accepted the international arbitration. One of the best legal minds we have produced Mian Manzur Qadir led our legal team at ICJ. After a lengthy case both parties went home happy. Pakistan claimed a small part of the disputed area which was awarded to Pakistan.
After the humiliating defeat by a handful of soldiers, Indian PM Lal Bahadur Shastri said “Ab hum apni marzi ka mahaaz kholain gey” (now we will open the front of our choice.)
This is a threat that he repeated just before 1965 war. Gen. Musa Khan mentions this in his autobiography. After the Indian PM said the same thing in the Indian Parliament in September 1965, Pakistan was prepared for an imminent Indian attack at Lahore and other urban areas.
An unsung hero of Rann of Katch was Raja Nadir Pervez, who was from SSG, part of commandos that went behind enemy lines to blow up the supplies. He was one of the accused in Attock Sazish case. He was court marshalled by the JAG Branch of Pakistan Army and given death sentence (later pardoned). He went on to become a very famous politician later. Raja Nadir Pervez was involved in very attack behind enemy lines that brought India to its knees at Rann of Katch. He was awarded Sitra e Jurat in 1965 war. He was a POW in 1971, escaped from Indian prison and managed to reach Pakistan. He was commended for this action as well. Politics apart, his heroics deserve commendation, recognition and should be taught in history.
The Battle of Rann of Katch was the first dent in the Indian designs of dominance in the region. It is very unfortunate that it is rarely discussed.