The last charger

All quiet along the Potomac tonight

No sound save the rush of the river

While soft falls the dew on the face of the dead

Picket’s off duty forever

– Ethel Lynn Beers

The Last post sounded for the last charger of the famed Guide’s Cavalry, the premier armoured regiment of the Pakistan Army on February 18, when the charismatic Brigadier Amir Gulistan Janjua left the “picket” for his heavenly abode. He was the last of the veritable titans of the tribe who embodied the spirit and elan of long forgotten days of chivalry. Born in the village Gurha Rajgan of Chakwal, he came from a martial stock that boasted many a luminary in the avocation of active soldiering. He was commissioned in pre-partition India from the Indian Military Academy Deradun and had the honour of serving this country in several capacities both during service as a military officer and after doffing his uniform as a civilian. He acquitted himself honourably in all his command as well gubernatorial assignments with singular dedication and aplomb.

Always a picture of affability, he was downright humble and approachable to all and sundry. He was a protean genius, whose forte lay in connecting with his subordinates with a proclivity for pragmatism. He served with distinction as a military officer and had the interesting distinction of serving on the staff of General Ayub and Yahya Khan. He had been a roommate of General Zia ul Haq, being his fellow regimental officer, who after coming to power reposed great trust in his admirable qualities of head and heart. Brigadier Amir Gulistan Janjua was an old school renaissance man with a wide range of hobbies, interests, and skills. Soon after retirement he remained associated with the Alpine Club of Pakistan in keeping with his love of the outdoors. During service, he also had a stint in the Special Service Group (SSG), where he excelled as a commando leader, welding his outfit into a well oiled fighting machine. From the sweat and dust of tank runs to the cool morning runs in the chilly Cherat weather, his adaptability as a soldier and commander was simply astounding.

He achieved much in his long and eventful life. From the ambassadorship of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Nepal to a “Kiplingsque ” sojourn in the Governor’s mansion in the then North West Frontier Province (NWFP), he brought a unique gravitas and boundless energy to all his assignments. People remember him as a very approachable and effective ambassador whose doors were always open for Pakistani expatriates and visitors from home. He had bequeathed his love of horses and polo to his son Adnan (Bunty), who like his illustrious father was an aficionado of equestrian sports. When he passed away at a relatively young age, the old charger bore the loss stoically, seldom revealing the anguish of his bereavement. As Governor NWFP, he had endeared himself to the iconoclastic Pathans due to his untiring efforts at keeping a semblance of order in the Afghan war affected areas both in settled districts as well as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Frugal of taste and spartan in habits, Amir Gulistan Janjua had a soldier’s aversion for prevarication

His chivalry, empathy, and candor were on plentiful display while dealing with the refractory and truculent tribes of FATA, who reciprocated through an appreciation for the grand old man’s deep understanding of tribal customs and traditions. He was a popular Governor who shunned ostentation and pageantry, concentrating instead on delivering the fruits of good governance to these traditionally ungoverned badlands. Frugal of taste and spartan in habits, he had a soldier’s aversion for prevarication. His trademark chuckle added to his personal magnetism. He was a staff officer on the staff of an armoured brigade when the Kharian Cantonment was being developed through US assistance. He used to recall with his trademark chuckle the selection of the stately trees with punctilious adherence to the plantation plan. The shady verdure of the trees laid out with military precision still reminds visitors of his contribution at the entrance of Kharian Cantonment.

The crowning achievement of his illustrious career however, was the 1965 War where he led the famed Guide’s Cavalry’s debonair assault against the two fabled Indian Armour regiments, the 17 Puna Horse and the 16 Cavalry. The Guide’s Cavalry that was under 6 Armoured Division was tasked to go from Badiana to Bhagowal as per their assigned task when the chips were down for the Pakistan’s 24 Infantry Brigade and the other two valiant armour regiments i.e 25 and 11 Cavalry that had valiantly borne the brunt of the Indian 1st Armoured Division’s initial assaults. Those who know the battleground of Chawinda-Badiana-Phillorah would vouch that the natural advantage was afforded to any defender and hence the losses of Indian armour at the hands of our 25 Cavalry despite their numerical preponderance. The challenge however, lay in launching an attack without which the Indian armoured thrusts had no chance of abatement.

Providence chose Lt Colonel Amir Gulistan Janjua to lead a classic cavalry like armoured assault against the much vaunted 17 Horse and 16 Cavalry. On 11 September, under his command a troop of Guide’s Cavalry knocked out three Centurion tanks of Indian 16 Cavalry at Bhagowal. While the Indian armoured units paused in shock due to this troop action, Lt Colonel Amir Gulistan Janjua lined up his two squadrons in classic armour assault mode and attacked the enemy armour. The Alpha Squadron of the regiment captured Chahr, driving the Indian 16 Cavalry back towards Khakanwali with heavy losses. The Bravo Squadron of the regiment under the valiant command of Major Zia ud Din Abbassi shaheed, attacked form the other axis against Indian 17 Puna Horse at Gil. The lightning-fast attack with complete disregard for personal safety was reminiscent of the “Charge of the Light Brigade”. The lionhearted Major Zia ud Din Abbassi and Lieutenant Hasan Shah embraced martyrdom in that assault while the 17 Horse, the pride of Indian Army lay in tatters, forcing another of their regiments, the 62 Armour regiment, to withdraw in disarray.

History was created by the daring assault of Guide’s Cavalry on September 11 under the indomitable leadership of Lt Colonel Amir Gulistan Janjua, who was decorated with a Sitara-e-Jurat for his valorous leadership. The regiment lost six Pattons versus 21 Indian tanks, burying the Indian armour’s pride in the dust of Khakanwali and Gil in Sialkot Sector. The steam was taken out of Indian rapier like initial thrusts and the rest was mere formality. All subsequent attempts to counter-attack by the Indians were beaten back as they failed to recover the ground lost to Guide’s attack. The blood-soaked paddy fields of Chawinda-Bhagowal-Badiana bear witness to an event that altered the fate of war in the Sialkot sector. The valiant chargers of the famed attack had to wait till the balmy winter morning of February 18 to welcome in heavens their doughty CO, the “Last of the Chargers” whose like we are not likely to see again.

The writer is a PhD scholar at NUST; e mail rwjanj@hotmail.com

Published in Daily Times, February 23rd 2019.