By Shan Bin Zafar Abbasi, son of Lt. Col. Zafar Abbasi Ghazi
It was approximately 11 o’ clock at night. I along with my father, Lt Col Zafar Abbasi (Retd), Medal of Good Conduct (Tamgha-e-Baslalat) was sitting in a patient’s room of an officer’s ward at CMH Rawalpindi. My father had sacrificed both of his legs and hands when he was a young lieutenant while defending the highest and the most strategic post in Siachen. His other accomplishment beside Siachen story was his struggle of reaching the senior rank of lieutenant colonel from the junior rank of lieutenant. Despite having a big physical disability, he served not just his country, but his family and the people around him even better than any ordinary person.
My father’s blood haemoglobin level had dropped massively since the past one year and it had become difficult for him to walk and stand for long. So we as a family started using a wheelchair to move him wherever he wanted to go. I remember the time when I saw my father even running with his artificial legs, driving his car in difficult mountain areas, and standing firmly on his artificial legs for a long duration. After his Siachen incident, there were always some kind of medical problems that my father faced throughout his life and this haemoglobin problem since one year was from the same chain of health related issues.
My father was not a very talkative person. He was quiet by nature. But the night I am talking about, it was just 3 days before his death, when he talked more than usual. I believe God made him say those words so we would all know the real story of this brave man. Although I knew his story but I never knew it in such detail.
He started talking about his bachelor life, when he used to wait for a bus in early morning at the bus stop of his beautiful mountain village, Karore from where he had to go to Gordon College, Rawalpindi daily. His father was Warrant Officer (Subedar) in Army and belonged from EME Regiment. When my father received the joining call letter from Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) for military training, my grandfather was very happy. Of course, if a son of Subedar level soldier becomes an officer in the same army, it’s indeed an achievement.
When my grandfather visited PMA Kakul right after one week just to know how his son was doing, he didn’t recognize him due to his army haircut. My father complained about the strictness and harshness of the training to my grandfather. My grandfather wasn’t happy with my father after hearing that. But this was the initial phase. Slowly and steadily my father got used to that harshness and then finally, he started enjoying that strict discipline.
After being passed out from PMA, he joined 2 Field Artillery Regiment in Pakistan Army. Soon after that, he got a posting for Siachen Glacier, which was the new front between Pakistan and India at that time. My grandparents wanted my father to get engaged before leaving for Siachen. My father was not happy about it because he knew about the harsh weather conditions and the ruggedness of the terrain where he was going, but my grandparents wanted it done. Somehow my father agreed and then his engagement ceremony took place.
After reaching Siachen, he served at a low altitude post as an observer. The job of an observer is to establish or take charge of Observation Post (OP) in order to keep an eye on enemy movements, positions, aggressions and to respond effectively by marking targets and convoy shelling. The view of the main Siachen Glacier where enemy had taken positions was not good enough from that low altitude post. That is why an effective observation and shelling could not be done from there.
After completing the duty period on that post, my father said goodbye to his fellow soldiers, and started descending all alone, back to headquarters at Gyari sector with his gear and weapons. It took him all day to reach near Gyari sector. He was all set to go back home but then the Commanding Officer (CO) at Gyari Headquarters called him. CO informed him that they had made a post at top of the highest front peak that touches 21,000 feet near main Siachen Glacier. Siachen Glacier is of great strategic importance for Pakistan (and India) due to its location and height, but at that time they did not have any artillery observer there. Without establishing an OP, that post was incomplete. They needed an observer who could volunteer to go.
Right at that moment my father’s mind was flooded with images of his parents, his upcoming wedding and the excitement to meet his relatives and loved ones. But his nature, his upbringing and dignity didn’t allow him to put his personal happiness, joy and comfort before his country. So he said, “Sir, I volunteer to go to the Quaid post”.
The CO was happy with my father’s decision and came along to see him off. Just before leaving for Quaid Post, my father met with soldiers who were positioned at artillery guns site, which is called Battery in military language. He said to the soldiers, “Be ready all of you, I will order massive shelling from the post where I am going now”. So just like that, his journey for Quaid Post started, which was built few days back by SSG Commandos. It was located at top of a strategic peak with an elevation of 21,000 feet approx., known as Point 6260 in military language, near main Siachen Glacier. It was above the enemy lines and near the main pass to the Glacier, known as Bilafond La. Quaid Post was not only higher than all the enemy posts, but also 80% area of the Glacier could be observed from there with the naked eye.
After reaching base camp of Peak 6260, my father started climbing towards Quaid Post with the help of ropes that were fixed by SSG Commandos. But the steepness and incline level of that peak from our side was so challenging that my father described it in these words: – “There was one point before reaching the top, which was so inclined and harsh that one climbing it preferred leaving the rope and falling to die because that seemed easier in comparison. The pain and harshness one suffered while climbing up made death look easy.”
Due to less oxygen and tough incline level, it was very difficult. Anyhow, he finally reached Quaid Post just before the sunset, from where he could see the whole glacier, as well as two nearby Indian posts down below. Only SSG Commandos were stationed at Quaid Post because of its difficult reach and surviving conditions which were beyond the training of a normal military person. That’s why it was called the ‘Impossible Post’ (Namumkin Post) by Pakistanis.
Soldiers at Quaid Post were also provided oxygen cylinders in case of breathing problems because of the less oxygen in the air. One weather hardened local porter was also hired to provide nutrition and ammunition to the post on a regular basis.
Right next morning, my father chose the best location on the top ridge of the peak to establish an OP. He registered all visible targets and started shelling for the first time from that OP. Indians were surprised because previously there had not been such effective and accurate shelling carried out from Pakistani side because of the lack of clear eagle eye view of Glacier from any other OP. Their dumping gear burned and posts were damaged because of consecutive shelling and even some of their men were killed.
After every one or two days, shelling was done from Quaid OP, so Indians halted their movement during the day and started at night to avoid any detection from Quaid OP. During that same time, one day, soldiers at Quaid Post observed an Indian Lama Helicopter coming towards them, probably for marking the exact location of Quaid Post. My father related the story, “Thank God we had 12.7 Air Gun at the post, from which I started firing towards the Indian Heli. Soon, smoke started coming out of its tail and it quickly went back from where it had come”.
Indian Helicopters used to come at nearby posts including one of their strategic post known as ‘Sonam’ for dropping food supplies, equipment and men, as the same work on foot would have taken much time and strength. Indian Helicopters stopped flying above that zone because of shelling and air fire from Quaid Post. During the same time period, an Indian Army transmission was intercepted by Pakistan Army, in which they were complaining to their seniors about the shelling from Quaid Post. They also complained about the Pakistani observer who had established an OP right on their heads at Peak 6260. Of course, that was my father. All of Indian focus was now on Quaid Post. That’s why an alert was issued from headquarters to the Quaid Post to be prepared as the enemy planned to attack any time.
Along with my father, there was another officer at Quaid Post, Captain Akmal Khan from SSG, who became a very good friend of my father. Three other soldiers from SSG were present at the post along with these two officers. Captain Akmal was also engaged, so both of them used to make fun of each other in a friendly way. Before the arrival of my father at Quaid Post, only soldiers used to guard the post outside, but my father didn’t like this and he started giving guard duty himself along with the soldiers.
After spending 15 days and nights at the Quaid Post, the duty period of my father was over and he was all set to go back down. So when the porter arrived, my father said good bye to Captain Akmal and other soldiers and started descending along with the porter. It was nearly sunset and the temperature suddenly dropped to minus 25. His hands were not able to grip the rope properly because of the cold as it was the month of December. So he decided it was better to leave the next morning when sun would be up rather than risking his life at night time. So he sent the porter back down and came back up to the post. Little did he and his fellows know that it was the night when their souls and their bodies would be tested beyond their limits.
The temperature dropped massively to minus 40-50 and wind pressure rose to 50 Km/Hr., which caused the camps fly away and these 5 men were caught in a strong blizzard in a very dark night. Visibility was almost zero and wind was hitting them hard. It felt like blows from a frozen hand. My father tried a lot to connect transmission with the headquarters, but it did not connect at all due to the bad weather. Three of his men couldn’t handle the intensity of the blizzard and got martyred right in front of them. Captain Akmal also got unconscious. So by seeing all this, my father recited the Kalma (Islamic Words of Faith) and also started waiting for his death, as he had no energy left, there was no visibility and no communication.
After 24 hours, when intensity of the blizzard decreased a bit, a rescue team was sent by the headquarters from base camp to bring all the soldiers back down. After reaching to the top, the rescue team pulled all five men out of the snow. My father was conscious at that time but Akmal was in bad shape. Both were badly frost bitten. It was impossible to bring down the dead bodies of martyrs with a blizzard going on. So the rescue team decided to carry down the ones who were alive and collect martyrs bodies in the next turn.
We must salute the brave soldiers who went up for such a demanding rescue in extremely difficult conditions. After careful planning, they started descending down to the base camp along with my father and Captain Akmal very slowly and steadily.
It took them all night to bring down both of the injured officers from the top. Just before the base camp, there was a crevasse. Only one person could cross at a time. So my father said, “Go, take Akmal first. I will wait for you guys here”. So they took Captain Akmal to the base camp. My father was sitting all alone at night, while Blizzard was still going on. Suddenly he heard snow cracking and saw an avalanche coming towards him from a nearby peak. Once again, he recited Kalma and thought, this is it. But it ended before reaching him. After one hour, the rescue team came back and started helping my father to move towards the base camp. Finally they reached.
Now the big problem was to figure a way to take these officers to the main hospital! There was no treatment for such a high level of frost bite at the base camp of Peak 6260 and the blizzard was still going on outside. Than a miracle happened, a Lama Heli Pilot back in the headquarters volunteered to fly in the blizzard to bring back the injured officers. That skillful pilot flew the helicopter in the blizzard and finally came to the base camp of high altitude. Problem was that, there was no landing spot available. So he kept the heli in the air at some feet from the ground and dropped down a ladder made of ropes. My father and Captain Akmal started climbing with all the strength they had left.
There was an Indian Post at Bilafond La Pass, which was observing all this and spotted the Pakistani heli. They realized that Pakistanis had faced casualties at Quaid Post and that was why a heli had come to such height near enemy lines after a long time. So they started rocketing on the Heli.
Once again, both started reciting Kalma as these were my father words while telling the story: “One rocket passed the heli from the left, and another one from the right, but none of them had direct contact with the heli”. Finally, both of them climbed and the pilot flew them to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH), Skardu. After that, they were transported through another Heli, which brought them to CMH Rawalpindi. But as soon as they landed, Captain Akmal got martyred as his internal organs were badly frozen.
Now, my father was the only survivor left out of the five men. Next morning when my father came to consciousness, he asked about the well-being of his friend, Akmal. When he was told that his friend was no more, he was shattered. My grandparents reached the hospital to see my father as soon as they were informed, but they were unable to control themselves after seeing the condition of their young beloved son. Both of my father’s legs, one hand, and the fingers on the second were badly frost bitten. His glasses were stuck inside the skin of his nose and had to be taken off by conducting a surgery. Doctors decided to cut off both his legs to save his life as he was getting unconscious again and again, and had a very high temperature. Later on, both his hands were also operated upon.
My father’s engagement was broken off by the other party as soon as they came to know about my father’s situation. But Allah had other plans. He finally married someone who was proud to be a wife of such a gallant soldier. The truth is that God had chosen my mother to serve my father, who I think is every bit as special as my father was. She served my father all her life like nobody ever could. Of course she was the chosen one.
Once I asked my father, “Didn’t you feel bad or broken after all that happened to you?” He replied, “I tried my best not to show even one sign of unhappiness or sadness to others. On the contrary, even in such conditions I used to make other people laugh which was a part of my nature”.
One of the uncles of my father once told me that “when we went to see your father at CMH, I was the one who entered the Hospital room first to see him. When your father saw me, he asked me how I was, though I was the one who should have asked this question from him. After that your father, still with frost bitten legs and hands, said this to me in a jovial way, “Did you bring anything to eat for me or just came empty handed?”
My grandmother narrated another incident about my father. Once when she helped my father go to the washroom in the hospital, she started crying and hugged him as she couldn’t see the situation of his son who was fine and all healthy just a month ago. That was the only time when tears fell from my father eyes as well and he told his mother to close the door so no one could see him crying. Of course, it is human nature; no matter how strong you are, you cannot resist crying or getting emotional in front of your mother. Before and after that, he never showed disappointment or got upset, and the proof of that is his outstanding life after Siachen, which I am witness of.
General Zia ul Haq, Chief of Army Staff, who was also the President of Pakistan at that time, came to see my father at CMH Rawalpindi. My father requested him that he did not want to leave army but wanted to serve in the army more, if not physically, then through other means. At which point, General Zia discussed my father’s request in the Core Commanders Conference with other Generals and finally allowed him to serve in the army like just other normal officers.
Later on, my father completed his Masters Degree in Computer Sciences along with many other computer courses and started serving in C4I Directorate, General Headquarters. He also used to teach Computer Sciences to officers/cadets in Army Medical College and Signals College for a long time. Lately, he served as an in-charge of IT/Computer Section at AFIC Rawalpindi and got retired respectfully at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
After sharing this story with all the feelings and emotions that night with me, my father passed away 3 days later. He was reciting the same Kalma at the time of his death that he used to recite when he was waiting for his death at the Quaid Post. He was an army officer, but his heart was gentle like a saint. He was a very cheerful person and the kindest and the most loving soul I have ever seen. He took care of everyone around him.
I just wonder, what would have happened if my father had lost his life with his fellow soldiers at the Quaid Post. Of course, I wouldn’t be here today writing this story that I heard from him and now all of you are reading it. It is as if God delayed his martyrdom so He could show the world that everything happens with His will, and through His men.
I, Shan Bin Zafar Abbasi, son of a veteran, do not just salute veterans, martyrs and heroes of Siachen, but salute everyone from our Pak Army and nation, who sacrificed their today for our tomorrow. Verily! You people are unbreakable, chosen ones, and on HAQ.