Lalak Jan Shaahed

Published on by KHAWAJA UMER FAROOQ


Lalak Jan Shaahed (Urdu: لالک جان; 1967 – 7 July 1999) was born in Yasin, in the Ghizer District, of the Northern Areas of Pakistan (now called Gilgit-Baltistan). After school he joined the Pakistan Army, and reached the rank of Havaldar.

Northern Light Infantry deployment

As a junior officer in the Northern Light Infantry, Jan fought against India in the Kargil War of 1999.
Tiger Hill in the Kargil Sector had been occupied by around 130 men of 12th NLI (Northern Light Infantry) unit of the Pakistan Army. These men were under the command of Subedar Sikander, who was given the responsibility to capture Indian territory (which was under Indian control after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971). Havaldar Major Lalak Jan was his 2IC (second in command). The men of 12th NLI were ordered by the Subedar to change their positions while firing back at the Indian forces.

Kargil War

On 1 July 1999, the 18th Grenadiers Battalion (India) launched a fierce attack on Tiger Hill, occupied by the Pakistani Army, under cover of heavy artillery shelling around the bunkers. Subedar Sikandar sneaked across the Line of Control and placed his men in well-entrenched positions, and managed to repulse the attack without any loss of life on their own part. Exact casualty figures for the attacking Indian 18th Grenadiers Battalion, are not available.
 
On the morning of 2 July 1999, hoping to use the cover of the mist, the 18th Grenadiers launched another intense attack on Tiger Hills. Realizing the great difficulty in holding their previous positions that had been spotted and zeroed-in by the Indian artilliery deployed below, Subedar Sikandar ordered his men to retreat to secondary positions around a secret bunker. Once the men were secure, he directed Lalak Jan to descend Tiger Hill and, amidst the Indian Artillery shelling, plant the landmines in the area in front of the Indian forces. Though this was deemed a nearly impossible task by all, the Subedar and the 2IC agreed that this task was very important, if they were to make a dent in the Indian offensive. Planting the landmines was the only way for them to neutralize the Indian armor and artillery, as the men of 12th NLI did not have any heavy/armour-piercing weaponry; their light-attack unguided (RPG-7)s were inadequate for the task. They were hoping that the mist under which's cover the Indians were attacking, would help Lalak Jan as well, and that the Indians would not be expecting such an audacious and surprising move from the men holed up above.

Mountain combat

Accepting the daunting task, Lalak Jan descended Tiger Hills in the mist. He was provided as fierce a cover as possible, to keep the Indians distracted. Lalak Jan, born and raised in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountain Ranges in northern Pakistan, used his natural mountaineering abilities to the fullest, and managed to plant the landmines in such a manner that the Indians would encounter them as soon as they tried to move forward to new positions higher up towards the hill. Lalak Jan returned to 12th NLI's position, having successfully completed this mission. The trap was now set; The men had to lure the Indian forces into it. Subedar Sikandar told his men to gradually reduce the firing to a standstill.
 
About two hours after firing ceased from the Pakistan side, the Indians ventured forward, hoping that they'd managed to clear the area of the 12th NLI. The landmines planted by Lalak Jan wrought havoc to their forward movements. The Indians are believed to have suffered many casualties, suffering losses in both men and armor. This incident was not publicized by the Indian side however, due to which the exact amount of damage is not known. The damage was severe enough, in any case, that 18th Grenadiers battalion did not attack the Tiger Hills positions for around half a week, until support arrived in the form of another Indian Unit, eight Sikh.
 
On 6 July, both the 18th Grenadiers battalion and the 8th Sikh launched a combined attack on Tiger Hills, in what many consider one of the fiercest battles of the Kargil Operation. Detachments of Indian soldiers launched an attack from the very high, steep side of the hills. The 12th NLI was not expecting an attack from this side, and it took them by surprise. The NLI fought this battle at a heavy cost. Over half the 12th NLI unit's strength was lost in the fighting that ensued, suffering 80 casualties out of the unit's total strength of around 130. Casualties including Subedar Sikander, who had commanded the unit in this battle so far. In the course of the fighting that ensued, some number of bunker fortifications held by the NLI unit were completely destroyed by the Indians, launching surprise attacks and dropping grenades into them.
 
Towards the end of the engagement, only Havaldar Lalak Jan and three other men remained. The onslaught of the Indians was continuing and they were rapidly advancing towards capturing the hills. Lalak Jan, now the senior most person around, placed his three men in strategic positions, assigning two to three positions per person, and ordering them to rapidly fire from different positions. These men, pitted against an enemy vastly superior in number and weaponry, managed to repulse the Indian onslaught, in a saga of sheer courage and great determination.
 
On 7 July 1999, the 18th Grenadiers battalion and the 8th Sikh unit launched yet another combined offensive. This time they succeeded in their attack. Two of Lalak Jan's men were killed, and Lalak Jan and his only other remaining comrade in arms, Bakhmal Jan were both seriously injured. Not giving up, Lalak Jan got hold of a LMG and while Bakhmal Jan provided him with the ammunition, and the two men desperately kept trying to repulse the Indian attack. Lalak Jan's left arm had been rendered useless after receiving bullet wounds to it. Bakhmal Jan, unable to sustain his grave injuries, died while supplying the ammunition to Lalak Jan. From there on, in one of the most stunning demonstrations of determination and courage in military history.
 
After the Indian offensive had subsided, reinforcements (50 to 60 men) were sent to Tiger Hill under Captain Amer. When he saw the condition of Lalak Jan he told him to go back to the base camp on account of his severe injuries, his arm being shot and completely limp, and in no condition to be used. Lalak Jan told the captain that he did not want to die on a hospital bed, and would rather die in the battlefield. He reassured his Captain that he should not worry about the bullet wounds in Lalak's arm, that Lalak Jan could still be of some use in the battlefield.
Around this time, soon after Captain Amer's reinforcements arrived, the Indians started shelling from a secret, out-of-sight bunker in an adjacent hill. The command of the handful of troops at Tiger Hill had been taken up by Captain Amer. He realized that the fire was coming from a secret bunker and also directed fire towards it, but zeroing in and targeting the bunker proved exceedingly difficult. The exact reason for the failure of this fire by Captain Amer's forces is not confirmed. Three likely reasons come to mind however. The secret bunker might have been very well designed and protected by the mountainsides, the fire might not have been directed properly or thirdly, the bunker was not in range of the light weaponry possessed by the Pakistanis atop Tiger Hill.
There was only one way left to counter the secret Indian bunker; it had to be blown up from a closer range.
 
Lalak Jan, despite his injuries, volunteered for the mission, but his plea was rejected by the captain. Having significant experience of the mountains himself, the captain was of the opinion that he would be the best man to do it, himself. The captain relented in the end, on Lalak Jan's persistent insistence that his audacious landmine installation experience and his mountaineering skills would enable him to have a fighting chance to complete this task.

Final combat

Lalak Jan put a bag of explosives on his back, and while shouldering an AK-47 descended Tiger Hills for the second time, again amidst heavy Indian shelling. Managing to avoid being seen by the Indian forces, and utilizing his knowledge of the surrounding hills to take cover, he located the secret bunker and threw the explosives inside the bunker.
 
The bunker, which incidentally was also an ammunition dump, blew up in a very big blast. Lalak Jan managed to take cover, and the Indian Army lost 16 men inside and nearby the bunker. The other Indian soldiers saw Lalak Jan and opened fire on him. Surrounded from all sides by Indian fire, Lalak Jan made a valiant effort to resist and returned fire.
He sustained grave injuries, especially as a result of heavy mortar shelling.

Death

On 15 September 1999, the commanding officer of 12th NLI sent two Special Service Group Comando groups to Tiger Hills to recover the body of Lalak Jan. The two forces were designated 'Ababeel' and 'Uqaab'(Eagle). Ababeel provided the fire cover while Uqaab went into the destroyed enemy bunker to retrieve the body of Lalak Jan. When his body was found, Havaldar Lalak Jan had his AK-47 firmly clenched to his chest.
Pakistan awarded him the Nishan-i-Haider, Pakistan’s highest military award, for extraordinary gallantry. Only ten soldiers have ever received this honour. Jan was the first person from the Northern Areas of Pakistan to receive the award.

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