Our military history is full of devoted sons who sacrificed their lives and set examples for others to follow. Every martyr has a special place in my heart but I would like to mention about one dauntless son of soil which is known as “Superman” among army men and his colleagues. Major Shabir Sharif Shaheed is my hero. He is the most decorated officer in the history of Pakistan Army.
Today is the 75th Birth Anniversary of Major Shabir Sharif. He was born on 28th April 1943 at Kunjah, a small town of District Gujrat. His father Late Major Muhammad Sharif retired from Pakistan Army in 1965. His youngest brother General (R) Raheel Sharif is the former Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan Army.
He was an exceptional student and while studying at Government College, Lahore; in 1961 he was selected for training at Pakistan Military Academy with 29 PMA Long Course. He was declared best sportsman of hockey and cricket during his days at St. Anthony Convent School. He was daring, courageous and the person full of life by nature. He had a good sense of humour and knew the art of smiling during facing hardships of life. He spent a charmed, enviable and exceptional life while at PMA. During his 2.5 half years stay at PMA there were anecdotes about his upright character and qualities. Being the best he passed out as the best cadet by winning Sword of Honour. He got commissioned into 6th Frontier Force Regiment. As per the PMA magazine of his days he was called “ the BULL”. As per the magazine,
“ The bull is an extremely good debater and undoubtedly the top cadet, who has been duly awarded the “Sword”. When not in one of his moods, is quite a jovial character.”
During 1965 war, his unit was part of 10 Infantry Brigade taking part in Operation Grandslam and objective of 6-FF was to cross River Tawi and advance swiftly and get around “Throat” feature and capture Jaurian. After commencement of operation, 6-FF faced tough resistance and suffer casualties resulting in the slowing of advance. 6-FF was tasked to send out a reconnaissance party to take a look at the deployment of Indians on and around that “Throti” feature. Shabir who was carrying out a reconnaissance saw an opportunity where an artillery battery was not fully alert. He changed his mind and instead of going back, he attacked Gun positions and got them into the panic, thus forcing them to withdraw. He made four POWs and destroyed two guns himself. He also brought out a field gun towed to a gun-tower(Shaktiman). He put in his own wounded men in the vehicle and came back. Early in the advance, he got injured but he leads his platoon with determination, cleared the objective and brought effective fire on the enemy to enable other platoons to get out of artillery fire. He in spite of being wounded displayed determination, personal courage and complete disregard of personal safety beyond the call of duty in bringing out dead and wounded setting the greatest example of leadership. He was awarded Sitara-e-Jurat, the third highest operational award. He was 2nd Lt. at that time and only 22.
He was posted as an Instructor at Pakistan Military Academy in October 1968 and remained there for 2 and half years. He got married in October 1969. He became Major in April 1970 and successfully completed Parachute Course in November 1970. During spring of 1971, he got posted back in his unit which was in Bahawalpur those days. The situation in East Pakistan was getting worsened day by day and war was imminent. His unit was ordered in October 1971 to take defensive positions in Sulemanki sector. Sulemanki Headworks has tactical importance and located just 1500 meters from the border. Its fall or retention could have far-reaching strategic effects for India and Pakistan. Hs unit was part of 105 Independent Brigade that had motto “Defence of Sulemanki at all cost”.
The war in East Pakistan started on 21st November 1971. Defence of East through West is the strategy of our military planners and to relieve pressure in Eastern Theatre, Pakistan Army decided to open western front on 3rd December 1971. Major Shabir was commanding B Company of 6-FF that has tasked to capture Beriwala, Nur Muhammad and secure Gurmukhera bridge on Sabina Distribitory and these were very formidable objectives, defended by a Company plus of Assam Regiment, supported by Squadron of Tanks. Major Shabir Sharif was to clear Jhangar post defended by a platoon plus, go through the minefield, swim an Indian defensive canal, 100 feet wide and 18 feet deep, overlooked by high bund of village Gurmukhera. At the beginning of hostilities i.e 1800 hours 3 December 1971, he fearlessly led his company with great courage and bravery. He cleared Jhangar post, doubled through the enemy mines under heavy fire and throwing the grenade and led his company on the high bund. Here hand to hand fight ensued and he succeeded in clearing the enemy from their fortified trenches. After 1 and the half hour of advance, he succeeded in clearing his objective. During this operation, his company casualties were 10 Shaheeds and 13 wounded while 43 Enemy soldiers were killed and 28 made prisoners of war and four tanks knocked out. He was attacked several times during the same night but he proudly beat back the enemy and stood there on high bund looking across to Fazilka. Between 3rd and 6th December he repulsed nearly 14 enemy counterattacks supported by tanks preceded by heavy artillery fire inflicting heavy losses on the enemy. On the night of 5th December, in one of the counter attacks, Indian Company Commander Major Narain Singh came very close to Major Shabir’s position. “Where is Shabir Sharif? He called out. “if he has courage he should come out and face me like a man.” Shabir Sharif angrily left his position and jumped in front of him upon the call. It was very dark and perhaps Narain Singh could not recognize Shabir he lobbed a grenade in his direction which exploded few feet away from Major Shabir Sharif and his shirt caught fire. Some of the Pakistani soldiers also come out and tried to put out the fire. Seeing them, some of the Indian soldiers accompanying Narain were about to open fire when Narain stopped them. “No firing,” he said, “This is a man-to-man fight.” Shabir too told his soldiers to step back. The fire on his shirt had been extinguished. Both Pakistani and Indian soldiers stepped back. A hand-to-hand combat ensued between Sharif and Singh. The soldiers in the direct vicinity were standing close by as armed spectators. Singh tried to fire with his Sten gun but Shabir held his wrist to prevent him from firing. After a short combat Shabir managed to overcome Narain and put his knee on Narain’s chest. Taking the gun from his hand, he emptied it in his chest. Indian Soldiers by seeing this disappeared in the darkness. By the first light of 6 December, enemy’s two battalions 3 Assam and 4 Jaat supported by the squadron of tanks were reduced to ineffectiveness. Shabir personally made 61 enemy soldiers prisoners of war and destroyed 4 enemy tanks. On the afternoon of 6 December, Indians launched another counter stack preceded by heavy artillery shelling and air strike. Major Shabir took on the enemy tanks after observer of artillery dun embraced martyrdom. He destroyed 2 tanks through artillery gun and while he was engaged, one of the enemy tanks fired with its main and secondary guns which proved costly. Major Shabir embraced martyrdom and thus Pakistan Army lost one of its finest, courageous and a gallant officer. For this act of valour, he was awarded Nishan-e-Haider, the highest gallantry award.
It was the swiftness of operation and surprise that was achieved by Major Shabir that brigade was able to achieve and conduct this operation with outstanding effects. The bravery and courage of Major Shabir by leading from the front enabled the success of Operation of 105 Infantry Brigade, which had captured over 85 square kilometres of Indian territory.
“I just look up and noticed that I had been writing crooked. Well, my hand is such. I can’t help going astray both in writing and practical life but I assure you that the real fun lies in going away from a beaten path to something original, risk and more adventurous.”
These lines are taken from letter by Major Shabir to his best friend Colonel Azam Qadri dated 21 March 1965. These lines are “the crux” of Shabir’s philosophy of life and he followed it till the last moments of his life.
During his stay as an Instructor at Pakistan Military Academy, his platoon displayed excellent results both in academics and practical life. His cadet Shahid Aziz topped the course and got “Sword of Honour.” Shahid Aziz has following words about his instructor:
“Major Shabir Sharif carved the officer I became. All my life I bore his mark with pride. He showed me that my true respect lay in my own eyes. And if ever I should fall, I should fall only on my own feet. He gave meaning to courage and boldness. He did all this and more, simply by his overpowering and inspiring presence, simply by being what he was_ a born leader of men, a free spirit soaring in the sky.”
Special thanks to Colonel Retired Azam Qadri. He is the author of the biography of Major Shabir Sharif named “ What More Can A Soldier Desire.”
Written and Composed By:
Muhammad Usama Moin