The Commanding Officer (CO) of a Pakistan Army infantry battalion, which had infiltrated into Indian territory in Zulu Top area of Kargil, referred to the ‘izzat’ (honour) of his battalion while requesting for bodies of soldiers killed in battle, and even invoked the name of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, who had served in the regiment before Partition.
Brig M P S Bajwa (retd), Commander of 192 Mountain Brigade in Kargil War, which captured Tiger Hill, recalls that Lt Col Mustafa, CO of 19th Battalion of Frontier Force (FF) Regiment, spoke to him on wireless communication and made a request for the bodies. The handing over of soldiers’ bodies, with full military honours, was filmed, and helped prove the Indian case about Pakistan army regulars having intruded across the Line of Control (LoC).
“On July 27 or 28, 1999 the Pakistan Army battalion commander located near Zulu Top spoke to the CO of 3/3 Gorkha Rifles (GR), a battalion of my brigade deployed in the area. My CO told me that someone from Pakistan side wants to talk to me on the radio set. The Pakistani officer said, ‘Hello Sir, this is Lt Col Mustafa from Frontier Force Regiment’. He told me that Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw was part of FF before Partition,” Brig Bajwa told The Indian Express.
The officer identified himself as CO of the FF battalion. “Your boys have fought very well. My boys have been killed, and you know this is a case of ‘izzat’ of the battalion. My request is that I be handed over the bodies, as I would like to bury them myself. This is for ‘izzat’ of the paltan,” Brig Bajwa recalled the Pakistani officer as saying.
“I said, ‘Mustafa even if I hand over the bodies, what will you do for me?’ He said he will go back to Pak side of LoC (meaning his battalion will retreat) — the next fight will not happen.”
Brig Bajwa said he was still not satisfied and asked Lt Col Mustafa how could he be taken for his word. “He said, ‘I am a Pathan’. I told him that I am a Sardar (Sikh) and will hand over the bodies as promised.”
It was a spur of the moment decision, he said.
“I told Mustafa that he should send his troops with a white flag and stretchers and take the bodies. He followed these instructions and a video clip of the handing over of the bodies was made. This video went a long way to establish that Pakistan Army regulars were fighting,” he said.
Incidentally, the first Pakistan army Prisoner of War (PoW) — Sepoy Mohd Arshad — was also captured by 192 Mountain Brigade brigade. Arshad also belonged to 19 FF and had been caught by troops of 3/3 GR.
“He was lying injured and blindfolded when I saw him. He appeared quite scared and under trauma. The Gorkha soldiers who had captured him were speaking in Gorkhali and he did not understand them. I told him in Punjabi, ‘Mohd Arshad kee haal hai, kaka tagro ho (how are you? Come on boy, show some grit)’. He started weeping on hearing these words. He said, ‘now that you have spoken Punjabi, I am feeling relieved. You seem to be like a Commander. I have never met a Commander in my service’,” Brig Bajwa recalled.
Thanking Indian troops for the help, Arshad said he was told in his unit that Indian “kaafirs (infidel)” kill captured soldiers. “I told him that we will send him back to Pakistan once he recovered. He said he did not want to go back, as he would be killed. He then told me the name of his CO and battalion officers. He gave us vital information of tactical importance,” the Brigadier recalled.
Recalling his recommendation for Pakistan’s Capt Karnal Sher Khan for a gallantry award, who was later given the Nishan-e-Haider, Pakistan’s highest gallantry award, Brig Bajwa said: “He led fierce counterattacks, which almost dislodged us from Tiger Hill. Had he succeeded, it would have been impossible to get a hold on the top again. The troops of 8 Sikh battalion, located at Helmet and India Gate locations, bore the brunt of the counterattack led by Karnal Sher Khan,” he said.
Brig Bajwa said he was in direct communication with the jawans of 8 Sikh when they were under Pak counterattack and was told by an injured JCO that one person dressed in a tracksuit was rallying Pakistani troops again and again.
“I immediately realised that this was an officer conducting the battle and told the jawans that he must be killed. This was achieved when he led an attack one more time. As soon as he was killed, the rest of the Pakistani troops ran back.”
Brig Bajwa asked civilian porters to get Karnal Khan’s body down Tiger Hill.
“I placed a letter in his jacket stating that he had been killed showing great bravery and should be awarded a gallantry award, hoping that it would be noticed when his body was sent back to Pakistan. I am glad my recommendation was honoured and he was given Pakistan’s highest gallantry award posthumously,” he said.