Lack of uncommitted reserves to meet any unforeseen developments in both sectors, as well as insufficiency of armour and connected medium artillery support, dictated that it would be prudent to go on the defensive in one sector and concentrate the maximum available resources for an offensive in the other. This was visualized by Army Headquarters in allotting tasks to Southern Command although the overall priority for offensive tasks had been assigned to Jaisalmer sector, perhaps with the aim of ensuring disruption of the Pakistani road and rail communications, Rahim Yar Khan being closer on the main communication artery.
Intelligence continued to stick to earlier estimates that Pakistan 18 Infantry Division with two armoured regiments (both Shermans) and three infantry brigades was holding the sector.
My arguments failed to convince the Chief of the advisability of changing plans at that stage. Later, I came to know that although he had sensed the necessity for change he did not want to press the issue as Bewoor might accuse him of interference in his function of command. Inder Gill, essentially a pragmatist, got down to filling the existing gaps step by step. He initially tackled Satinder Singh to verify the shortcomings. Satinder Singh felt this was tantamount to faulting their planning capability. He at once rang me up to accuse me of spying with a view to engineering a campaign against him personally. I tried to pacify him but he was not convinced. Meanwhile, Gill got things moving, despite an unpleasant exchange of words between him and the Army Commander, to remedy the shortcomings.
The following action was taken:
- In the Jaisalmer sector, an independent armoured squadron (T-55) was inducted to enhance the punch of our armour, track material was provided to reach up to the Abai-Hiyat distributary, and sufficient water containers were issued to make the formation self-sufficient for the required number of days.
- Plans were modified in the Barmer sector to the extent that the firm base brigade was to operate in the Gadra City Chachro area so as to protect directly road and rail communications from Gadra Road to Munabao as well as the water supply.
- One Army engineer regiment, a few transport platoons, including one jeep platoon, and two additional BSF battalions were allotted to the command.
Barring direct orders to the Army Commander, every effort was made to carry out the necessary changes in the command operational plans, but Bewoor left them unchanged.
Although no discernible pattern of Pakistan operation emerged from the shelling thus far, the Chief directed Bewoor to put his offensive plans into effect at the earliest, and the restriction on crossing the international border by our troops was lifted immediately.
As the war clouds started gathering towards the end of November 1971 because of the gradual escalation of hostilities in the east, the army in the west waited for Pakistan to take the initiative and launch action. At last news came of Gen Yahya Khan’s announcement at a party to a foreign delegation that “for all you know I may be fighting a war with India within ten days.” The commands were alerted, but no readjustment of the dispositions mentioned earlier took place in the Southern Command. Our intelligence failed to notice any regrouping or untoward movement opposite the Rajasthan sector. Intelligence continued to stick to earlier estimates that Pakistan 18 Infantry Division with two armoured regiments (both Shermans) and three infantry brigades was holding the sector.
One armoured regiment was reported to be located in the Mirpur-Mathelo area and another in the Hyderabad sector with a squadron at Vasarbah, one infantry brigade group, less one battalion, in the area of Chor and Nayachor with one battalion at Badin, and another in the Rahim Yar Khan-Khairpur-Khanpur area. The whereabouts of the third brigade was not known, but it was expected to be in the Hyderabad area as an uncommitted reserve ready to reinforce either sector. Although a limited offensive in the Jaisalmer sector was not discounted because of the Pakistani offensive potential in the sector, such a possibility was not considered seriously.
Meanwhile, our intelligence managed to dig out air photos of the Bhagla-Islamgarh road which showed it was no more than a desert track. This information was fed in time to Southern Command, but Bewoor made no change in his original and much wargamed operational plans. But he warned his sector commanders on 1 December that a Pakistani initiative should be expected any time after 5 December and placed his formations at 48 hours notice from first light on that day to carry out their respective offensive plans. The sector commanders were permitted to carry out preliminary movements to the forward areas and make necessary adjustments in their dispositions, if applicable, after last light on 2 December so long as these preparations were completed by last light on 4 December.
About 1730 hours on 3 December, when Southern Command formations were in the process of readjustment, Yahya Khan’s force attacked Indian forward air bases at Amritsar, Pathankot and Srinagar as part of his half-hearted pre-emptive action. But to the great relief of our troops this started the much-awaited war. Artillery shelling of our forward localities all along the ceasefire line in Jammu and Kashmir and the international border in Punjab and Rajasthan followed. Although no discernible pattern of Pakistan operation emerged from the shelling thus far, the Chief directed Bewoor to put his offensive plans into effect at the earliest, and the restriction on crossing the international border by our troops was lifted immediately. Bewoor rang up later to say that he would be able to get going the next night.
A last light tactical reconnaissance sortie by the air unit reported no untoward movement along the Islamgarh-Bhagla-Rahim Yar Khan axis. The Gabbar and Longenwala area was not covered.
This was accepted, as it was hoped that by that time some pattern of Pakistani initiative would help in our reactions. Deeper into the night, Bewoor rang up to say that his offensive in Barmer sector would start at last light on 4 December, but because of insufficient preparations it would start in the Jaisalmer sector 24 hours later. In the meantime, limited operations for the capture of Islamgarh-Sakhirewala Khu and a raid on Sandh would be carried out in the night 4/5 December to give the impression of simultaneous attacks on both fronts and confuse the Pakistanis as regards our thrust lines. I later got to know that Khambata refused to be hustled by Bewoor into advancing the timing of his offensive. He stuck to a delay of 24 hours. Bewoor was visibly annoyed, little knowing that these 24 hours saved the day for him and paved the way to his becoming the next chief.
A three-pronged advance started in the Barmer sector at 1830 hours, with the camel battalion securing Ranek Dhar by midnight in the north. The leading brigade group in the central sub-sector contacted the defence in no time after the bombing of Khokhrapar and its satellite posts. Meanwhile, the firm base brigade group, having captured the peripheral Pakistan BOP, had set the manoeuvre for the capture of Gadra City.
Sukhirewala Khu, in the Jaisalmer sector, had been captured by late night while operations were in progress for the capture of Islamgarh and raids on Sandh. Preparations were also afoot for the main thrust towards Rahim Yar Khan, involving moving forward the division, less the firm base brigade, in the concentration area near Kishengarh-Tanot. A last light tactical reconnaissance sortie by the air unit reported no untoward movement along the Islamgarh-Bhagla-Rahim Yar Khan axis. The Gabbar and Longenwala area was not covered.