New Pakistan army chief's brother died in 1971 Battle of Majors in Fazilka

Raheel sharif

In Pakistani war folklore, it is one of the most talked about battles of the 1971 war, one of the few operations glorified in an otherwise despondent time for the nation. It was the battle of the Majors — one from each side, both hot-blooded and fierce — who wrestled for the control of a key bridge which finally ended in hand-to-hand combat while soldiers looked on, instructed not to intervene in the duel.

Pakistan Army's Major Shabbir Sharif died in the battle for Beriwala bridge in Punjab's Fazilka sector. His heroics won him the Nishan-e-Haider, the nation's highest gallantry award. Major Narain Singh, who led the Indian counter-attack on the bridge which had been captured by Sharif and his men, too died in the battle. He was awarded the Vir Chakra.

So this week, when Pakistan named Raheel Sharif as its new Army chief, bells rang on either side of the border. Because Raheel is the younger brother of Major Shabbir Sharif.

From Jammu, Major Narain Singh's wife Urmila, who was a 22-year-old during the war, recalled not just "painful memories" but also the "love and respect" her family has got from Fazilka ever since the battle.

The attack on Beriwala bridge was a crucial Pakistani move on the western front in early December to divert Indian resources from the east where General Niazi's men were facing a rout.

Major Shabbir, a company commander of the 6 Frontier Force who had already been decorated in the 1965 war, was tasked to capture a bridge on the ditch-cum-bund (DCB) near the Indian town of Fazilka which he managed to do on December 3-4 by overrunning BSF positions on the border.

Major Singh, a company commander of 4 Jat, was chosen to launch a counter-attack a day later and recapture the bridge — the bridge was key since it could have been used by the Pakistanis for a strong armour attack.

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