A judge’s war

Justice Salahuddin Mirza (retd.) recounts his memories of the 1965 Indo-Pak war, as narrated to Parvez Mahmood

“I was studying for Matriculation in Hyderabad Deccan in September 1948 when India took over the state through police action. I immediately migrated to Karachi and continued my studies. I did my LLB from SM Law College in 1958 and joined the West Pakistan judicial service as a civil judge in 1960.

I was in Lahore during the 1965 war and had my courtroom in the judicial complex at Lower Mall. The courts were closed for the summer vacations in August 1965. My wife and I decided to spend a few days at some cool hill station. After considering a few places, we settled on a visit to Kaghan valley – that was not a much frequented spot at that time. I had bought a Vespa scooter in 1962, which was a very respectable and much coveted mode of family transport for local travel. I gathered the courage to drive the vehicle, with my wife in the pillion seat, all the way to Abbottabad en route to Kaghan. We left Lahore for Rawalpindi on the morning of the 1st of August, covering the distance in about eight-and-a-half hours.

Justice Salahuddin Mirza

After staying in Rawalpindi for a day, we left for Kakul, where my wife’s cousin was an armaments instructor in the military academy. The road beyond this point was neither in good condition nor secure. We, therefore, left our scooter in Kakul and took a bus to get down at Balakot. The paved road ahead ran onwards to Mahendri check-post, after which only four-wheel drive vehicles were allowed. From Mahendri to Naran the road was one-way: traffic moved from morning till midday from Balakot to Naran and the other way after this time until evening. GTS ran a 5-seater jeep service from Balakot to Naran with a trailer attached for luggage. At Naran, we hired a jeep to Lake Saiful Mulook for Rs. 18. There was not a single hotel in Naran in those days except two PWD rest-houses, charging Rs. 4.75 per room.

As we got down at Naran Adda, we heard rumblings of the coming war, as the place was full of armed mujahideen. We saw jeeps carrying these fighters, some of them wounded, plying between Babusar pass and Naran, and then onward to Balakot. We saw this activity throughout our stay of over two weeks.

We concluded our tour and left Naran on or about the 27th of August, took our two-wheeler from Kakul and went to Rawalpindi. The war clouds were so thick that I decided to leave my family at Rawalpindi. I left Rawalpindi for Lahore on the 31st of August by my trusty Vespa. I was, at that time, living in Wahdat Colony quarters off Ferozepur Road.

Pakistani troops at Khem Karan

On the morning of the 6th of September, I was sitting in my courtroom when Mian Nisar advocate rushed into the courtroom and announced loudly ‘Sir, India has attacked, war is declared. Wind up the court and go home!’

Mian Nisar had a case scheduled before me that day and I thought he might be looking for an adjournment. I replied ‘Mian sahib, for God’s sake, don’t start a war for the sake of an adjournment!’

He evidently became angry and left. He subsequently became an advocate of the High Court and his son, Mian Saqib Nisar, is now the Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan.

After an hour or two, the district judge called a meeting of all the judges to confirm the news of the outbreak of war. He told us to adjourn the cases if the parties do not turn up and that we were free to gauge the developing situation. He allowed us to use our discretion to stay in the court or go home.

The next day, we the civil judges held a meeting of our own. It was decided that we should be ready at all times to evacuate from Lahore at a moment’s notice, in case the Indians walked in. I packed a large military bag with some clothes, shoes, a shaving kit and some eatables like biscuits, bread, jam, etc. and hung them on my scooter. Of course, our forces repulsed the Indian advance and Lahore remained secure. We kept the courts running throughout the war although very few litigants appeared. At lunch intervals we would gather in the chamber of a senior civil judge and discuss the military situation.

I remember the aerial battle over Lahore one evening, though I don’t remember the day (It was most likely the 20th of September). On hearing the screeching jet engine sounds, it seemed that the whole of Lahore had come out to watch the real-time action right overhead their city. I recall hearing two supersonic booms. At that time it looked amusing to watch the crisscrossing fighter aircraft but now it is clear that it was a dangerous thing to do. Later we learnt that two enemy aircraft had been shot down but I didn’t see the planes going down. I now know that one of our aircraft was also shot down in that fight.

During the night curfew, all the residents of Wahdat Colony would gather outside their houses and discuss the day’s events. We could hear the bombardment by artillery guns towards the border. In the blacked out night we could also see the glowing-red artillery shells shooting up after being fired, making a trajectory and then falling down.

One day I was returning from court around 5 pm and saw a Bengali soldier near Mozang Chowk. I talked to him and found him in distress. He said he was from Kasur sector and had come to send a money order to his family. He was anxiously waiting for a bus to reach his unit by sunset. I made him sit on my scooter and took him to Kasur. A few miles before Kasur we saw a military truck, waved it to a halt and the soldier got on board.

False rumours were also afloat that India had dropped paratroopers in the city. In a few ugly incidents, people caught hold of some stray person, beat him up and then took him to police station, only to find that the poor fellow was a local.

An uncle of a colleague of mine was DG Rangers. After the ceasefire, he offered to take us to Khem Karan. On the agreed day, we went to Ranger’s headquarters at Anand Road-Upper Mall junction near Cantonment Bridge and went in the Rangers’ land rover to Khem Karan.

My God! What a sight it was! Not a door or window was left in any house of that town. Zinda-Dilan-e-Lahore [Lahore’s residents] and people from Kasur had looted every piece of wood from its buildings. The railway station was likewise vandalised. Signal levers from their cabins had been ripped away and so was all the communication equipment from the office building.

For the first time I saw what trenches in the forward lines were like; duly connected by telephone lines to the command post with cables running through all the posts.

The road from Khem Karan to Kasur was choked with bullock carts and other vehicles taking the loot to Kasur (and maybe to Lahore as well). Someone had pulled out a wooden door panel and was determined to take it home. He had come on bicycles with his friends. He held it firmly with one hand and piloted the cycle with the other. He was trying to walk all the way from Khem Karam to Kasur. I do not know whether he succeeded in his enterprise or had to throw away his treasure.

Civil defence trenches were dug in the open spaces between the Wahdat Colony quarters and the University Road, and we would go in them whenever the air-raid siren sounded. On the night of the ceasefire, I was sleeping in the courtyard of my quarter with a pedestal fan on. I did not hear the air raid siren but my neighbours knocked at the door and took me with them to the trenches outside where we passed nearly half an hour until the ‘all-clear’ siren cleared.

The war was a period of great national fervour and patriotism. Very few people left the town and everyone wanted to contribute to the war effort. There was no fear amongst the masses. Lahore remained as active and lively as in peacetime – and returned to normal life immediately after the war.

These are some of the events of the war days which I can recollect now...”

Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from PAF and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and can be reached at parvezmahmood53@gmail.com

Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at: parvezmahmood53@gmail.com