Akram Shaheed NH — awaiting a hero’s reburial | By Sultan M Hali


Akram Shaheed NH — awaiting a hero’s reburial

MAJOR Muhammad Akram Shaheed embraced shahadat on 5 December 1971, in the epic battle of Hilli in East Pakistan.

He stood like a rock in the face of the advancing Indian Army, supported by the Indian Air Force, heavy artillery and armour but he thwarted the enemy’s every attempt to advance.

So great was his determination and grit to defend the motherland that despite his martyrdom, his Company continued to hold its position.

Inspired by Akram’s valour, the 205 Brigade of Pakistan Army led by Brigadier Tajammul Hussain Malik, whose area of responsibility was to defend Hilli, refused to lay down arms even after the instrument of surrender had been signed on 16 Dec 1971.

Born on 4 April 1938 at Nakka Kalan, District Jhelum, Muhammad Akram enlisted in the Pakistan Army in 1956 and joined the 8th Punjab Regiment.

After serving for about 8 years as an NCO, he applied for a commission in the Pakistan Army, was selected for the 28th PMA Long Course and was commissioned in October 1963 in the Frontier Force Regiment.

In 1971, he was deployed with the 4th battalion, placed in the forward area of the Hilli Municipality (under Hakimpur Upazila, Dinajpur District), East Pakistan.

As the situation in East Pakistan deteriorated, even before the war officially started, Indian forces, aiming to cut off Pakistani forces in the north from the rest of East Pakistan, attacked Bogra on 23 November 1971.

The route to Bogra led through the town of Hilli but the frontal assault on the Pakistan fortifications took a huge toll on Indian Army.

Exasperated, in a bid to launch a renewed attack, the 20th Indian Mountain Division, led by Maj Gen Lachman Singh—comprising 20,000 men, spread over 66 Brigade, 165 Brigade, 202 Brigade, and 340 Brigade (all infantry units), 3 Armoured Brigade, 471 Engineer Brigade and two artillery brigades augmented by 33 Corps Artillery—attacked Hilli sector.

In defence, Pakistan Army’s 205 Brigade deployed 4 FF, 13 FF, and 8 Baloch Regiments. Major Akram was commanding Charlie Company of the 4 FF Regiment in the forward-most localities of the Hilli Sector.

His Company came under continuous Indian attacks comprising Indian Air Force, heavy artillery and armour but Major Akram, heroically resisted for over two weeks.

The Indians on several occasions, using megaphones, asked him to surrender but the intrepid Major refused and his personal example of leading from the front motivated his men to give their very best.

By 5 December, the enemy was frantically concentrating on eliminating Charlie Company with tanks and artillery fire.

Amidst this deafening crescendo of fire and fury, which had been constantly raging for about three days, was likely to force Charlie Company to the hastily prepared defensive positions, Major Akram took the initiative of halting the advancing Indian tanks in a bold move.

Displaying the highest sense of leadership, commitment and gallantry, Major Akram emblazoned his name in the annals of valour.

Carrying a 40 mm Chinese Rocket Launcher, he crawled along with his runner right up to the clump where enemy tanks were positioned, sitting at a distance of almost 100 meters from them, he engaged the adversary.

With incredible precision, he destroyed three tanks. It created an immense dread in the armoured column of the enemy.

While adjusting the aiming sight on the fourth tank, the smoke cleared, enabling an enemy tank to spot him and open fire with its . 50 browning gun, piercing his neck. Akram’s last words were “Hold out until last”.

The bravest son of the Paltan embraced martyrdom with true grit, thus, even after the shahadat of their Company Commander, Charlie Company held on to its positions, foiling the Indian attempts to gain a foothold or maintain momentum in their attacks.

This valiant soldier was acknowledged even by the antagonist. Major General Lachman Singh whose 20 Mountain Division was pitched against 4 FF at Hilli writes in his book Victory in Bangladesh: “Throughout the early hours of November 24, 1971, the fight continued from bunker to bunker, pond to pond and from trench to trench.

At this stage, 8 Guards had suffered heavily and was running low on ammunition. As first light appeared (24 November 1971), it was clear that 8 Guards had not been able to clear Morapara (Aptor).

It was a ruthless determination to exterminate the other side. Finally, the Pakistanis managed to retain most of the objective area …

This battle showed the determination and great fighting potential of Indian and Pakistani soldiers.

In Hilli, they proved to be worthy foes”.Dr. Mankeker, a bigoted Hindu, in his book Pakistan Cut to Size, commented adversely on the performance of Pakistani troops in various sectors.

But about Hilli Sector, he observes: “Wherever the Pakistanis decided to hold out, they fought ferociously.

At Hilli, they held their ground with admirable tenacity.Battle of Hilli was the toughest of all”. Lieutenant Colonel Diljit Singh (Retired) in his article published in two parts in Indian Defence Review in July 1994 and in October – December 1994, gave graphic details of the Battle of Hilli.

Some of the excerpts are: “Hilli in Bangladesh was the fiercest battle fought in the east during the 1971 war. Major Akram was the Pakistani hero of the Hilli battle. Akram’s name rouses the soldier in you. The assaulting companies were scathed by fire.

Two company commanders, Major Rao and Major Mangraker fell in action.Their bodies were later found and recovered. Savage hand-to-hand fighting ensued. Guardsmen charged from bunker to bunker, man to man.

However, the odds were against the Guardsmen as they had come up against strong defences, vicious obstacles and tenacious 4 FF”.

At another place, he writes, “Major General Lachman Singh, knowing the debacle, decided to whistle for PT-76 tanks ex 69 Armoured Regiment.

The tanks arrived on the scene at 1130 hours on 24 November; rather late in the day when the damage had already been done”.

He further adds, “The enemy was still holding on. It was like the typical cobra-mongoose duel. It was courage against tenacity. At this juncture, CO 8 Guards, Lieutenant Colonel Shamsher Singh decided to launch his reserve companies to clear Naopara.

But it was to no avail as it turned out to be reinforcing defeat. Numerous bayonet wounds vouched for the savage hand-to-hand fighting”.

Field Marshal retired Manekshaw who was the C-in-C of the Indian Army during the 1971 war gave an interview to the BBC on 30 July 1999.

He was all praise for the way Pakistan Army fought on the eastern front and said that given the most unfavourable circumstances they were placed in, they could not have done any better.

He was particularly appreciative of ‘Battle of Hilli’ and mentioned that he had personally recommended the name of one Pakistan Army officer, fighting on that front for gallantry award.

Major Muhammad Akram was posthumously awarded the highest award for valour, the Nishan-e-Haider.

He was buried in the village of Boaldar, District-Dinajpur, now in Bangladesh. It is ironic that the mortal remains of Flight Lieutenant Matiur Rahman, the Bengali pilot, who tried to hijack the aircraft of Rashid Minhas Shaheed but perished in the attempt, were returned to Bangladesh on 24 June 2006 for a ceremonial and highly symbolic reburial in 2006 but Major Muhammad Akram Shaheed Nishan-e-Haider is still waiting to be buried in his hometown with full military honours.

—The Author is a Retired Group Captain of PAF, who has written several books on China.