Obituary: Brigadier Nisar Ahmed SJ

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From Dr Hamid Hussain. Perhaps not of general interest on this site, but worth preserving in any case. See details of Col Nisar’s critical (and courageous) action in 1965 are added below this obituary.

Obituary – Brigadier ® Nisar Ahmad Khan (28 March 1920 – 30 July 2019)

Hamid Hussain

Brigadier ® Nisar Ahmad Khan passed away on 30 July 2019 in Michigan; United States.  He was nick named ‘Kaka Nisar’.  A fine officer and gentleman who was instrumental in a very important holding action of armor in 1965 Indo-Pakistan War faded away into the fog of history.  He was born on 28 March 1920 at Bassi Pathana near Sirhind in Patiala state.  This Muslim Pathan colony was established during Mughal era.  This small Muslim enclave in a Sikh state provided soldiers to the Maharaja of Patiala.  Several generations of Nisar’s ancestors proudly served Patiala state. According to Maharaja Patiala Captain ® Amarindar Singh, Kaka Nisar was sixth generation of the family to serve Patiala state.  He followed the family tradition, joined Ist Patiala (Rajindra) Lancers and commissioned on 21 March 1943.

Nisar as a young man heading to profession of soldiering.

In 1947, on partition of India, he opted for Pakistan army.  He received regrant of his commission on 28 August 1948 and assigned Pakistan Army number PA 959.  He joined Probyn’s Horse (5th Horse) of Pakistan army.  He was Officer Commandant (OC) of School of Armor in Nowshera from March 1954 to July 1955.  In June 1956, when 20th Lancers was raised under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Nasrullah Khan with Major (later Major General) Jahanzeb Khan as Second-in-Command, Nisar was posted to 20th Lancers during the raising of the regiment.  He raised 25th Cavalry on 09 June 1962 and commanded it from the day of raising to 22 September 1966.  He was promoted Brigadier and served as Commandant of Armored Corps Center and Record Wing from 02 September 1971 to 01 October 1972.  He commanded an ad hoc Changez Force in 1971 Indo-Pakistan War.

Nisar’s role in 1965 war was crucial in stopping an Indian armored threat in Chawinda.  25th Cavalry had two squadrons with M-47s and one squadron with M-48s tanks.  Regiment was integral part of 15th Division, however for operational purposes, it was put under 24th Brigade commanded by Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik.  24th Brigade had two infantry battalions (2 Punjab and 3 FF) and an armored (25th Cavalry) regiment.  On 07 September, twenty hours after Indian forces crossed the international border, Brigadier Ali met Nisar and told him, “Nisar, the enemy has come, do something”.   Opposing 25th Cavalry was Indian Ist Armored Brigade commanded by Brigadier K. K. Singh.  16th Cavalry was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Kartar Sidhu-Brar and 17th Poona Horse was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ardesher Burzorji Tarapore (nick named Adi).  Later 4th Hodson Horse commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Madan Mohan Bakhshi also joined the fray.

Nisar as CO of 25th Cavalry

Nisar handled his unit with professional calm and led in a jeep guiding his squadrons into battle.  Most Indian and Pakistani military analysts agree that 25th Cavalry was instrumental in blunting Indian armor thrust in that theatre.  History of 1965 Indo-Pakistan War by two eminent Indian military historians; Lieutenant General ® Tajindar Singh Shergill and Captain ® Amarindar Singh, Monsoon War is full of praise for calling Nisar’s actions as ‘brave and professional’ and with his ‘energetic response in leading his squadrons’ slowing down Indian thrust.  It concluded that ‘His courage and quick reactions brought him luck’.  General Shergill praising Nisar’s conduct states that ‘the quickness with which he personally deployed A Squadron followed by the other two squadrons blunted the thrusts of 16th Cavalry and Poona Horse bringing 1st Armored Brigade to a halt and then recoil. A cool and calm head and courageous, Lieutenant Colonel Nisar displayed the best qualities of a cavalry commander’.

Most battles of 1965 War were fought at company/squadron and battalion level with no finer higher direction of war on both sides.  In such a scenario, usually individual units are fighting without knowledge about the other side.  Blissful ignorance about the odds can propel an active and creative battalion commander to embark on an adventure and his energy can be rewarded.  This was the case of Nisar.  On the other hand, ignorance about opposing force can make a battalion or brigade commander edgy from an unexpected flank movement.  This exaggerated threat perception makes commander to abandon original plan and even pull back.  This was the case of brigade commander of Indian Ist Armored Brigade. After the baptism of fire in 1965 war, a newly raised 25th Cavalry could stand proud next to old cavalry regiments with hundred years old regimental histories.

In 1971 Indo-Pakistan War, Nisar was given command of an ad hoc force named ‘Changez Force’ in western theatre in the same operational area where he had ably led his regiment in 1965.  This force consisted of two tank regiments; 20th Lancers & 33rd Cavalry and an infantry battalion;13th Punjab.  The role of this force was of covering troops to fight a delaying battle at two minefield belts between the two strong points; Zafarwal on the east bank of Degh Nala and Shakargarh on the west bank of Bein Nala.  This strategy slowed Indian advance in this theatre.  1971 war was mainly fought in eastern theatre where defeat and successful secession of East Pakistan made battle on western front a side show.

Adi Tarapore of 17th Poona Horse and Kaka Nisar of 25th Cavalry were both originally from state forces and not regular Indian army.  Adi had joined Hyderabad State Forces first serving with 7th Hyderabad Infantry and later Ist Hyderabad Lancers.  After 1947, with absorption of state forces in Indian army, he joined 17th Poona Horse.  Nisar was originally from Patiala State Forces.  Adi and Nisar had served together during Second World in Aden when their respective regiments were deployed there as part of Indian Imperial Service Brigade.  Both regiments have great respect for the opposing Commanding Officer considering them outstanding and thoroughly professional officers who gave the best performance.

Dilemma of partition for individuals is highlighted by the story of another officer of 25th Cavalry.  Risaldar Major Annu Khan was the legendry Viceroy Commissioned Officer (VCO) of 17th Poona Horse. His two sons Risaldar Yunus Khan and Daffadar Mehboob Khan also served with their father’s regiment.  In 1947 when India was divided Annu Khan and Yunus Khan decided to stay in India but Mehboob Khan decided to come to Pakistan.  Mehboob’s son Shamshad Ahmad joined Pakistan army.  Shamshad’s maternal grandfather Risaldar Kale Khan served with 16th Cavalry.  In 1965 war, Shamshad was serving with 25th Cavalry of Pakistan army and his regiment fought against both his maternal and paternal family regiments; 16th Cavalry and 17th Poona Horse.  If Mehboob had decided to stay in India, it was very likely that his son Shamshad would have joined one of his family regiment and fighting against 25th Cavalry.

Those who served under Kaka Nisar remember him as a thorough professional and ‘fully devoted to the well being of all under his command’.  With Kaka Nisar’s passing, another chapter of the old generation of officers is closed.  He was one of the oldest armor officer of Pakistan army.  Rest in peace Kaka Nisar.

Lest the young soldiers be strange in heaven, God bids the old soldier they all adored

Come to Him and wait for them, clean, new-shriven,

A happy doorkeeper in the House of the Lord.

Lest it abash them, the strange new splendor,

Lest it affright them, the new robes clean;

Here’s an old face, now, long-tried, and tender,

A word and a hand-clasp as they troop in.

“My boys,” he greets them: and heaven is homely,

He their great captain in days gone o’er;

Dear is the friend’s face, honest and comely,

Waiting to welcome them by the strange door.

The Old Soldier by Katharine Tynan

Thanks to Lieutenant Colonel ® Zahid Mumtaz for biographic details of Brigadier Nisar’s career and pictures, Brigadier Asif Kamal Mirza ex 25 Cavalry; who served under Nisar and Major ® Agha H. Amin for encyclopedic details of operations of 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pakistan Wars in the theatres where Kaka Nisar operated.

Hamid Hussain

[email protected]

24 August 2019

The following excerpt is from Major Amin’s history of the 1965 war. The full story can be read here. 

“Nisar, do something!” The Battle of Gadgor

The Main Indian Attack and 25 Cavalry (24 Brigade) Counter actions 0n 8th September 1965:–We have already discussed that 25 Cavalry and 24 Brigade minus one unit in defence opposite Charwa was despatched to Jassar on 7th September and that 25 Cavalry returned to Pasrur at approximately 0500 hours on 8th September. While 25 Cavalry and 24 Brigade were moving to Jassar and moving back to Pasrur the third battalion of 24 Brigade i.e. 3 FF which was holding defences opposite Maharajke-Chrawa extended as a screen for over 10,000 yards30   was overrun by the concerted attack of the 69 and 99 Mountain Brigades on the night of 7th/8th September. This news about the overrunning of 3 FF  was received at 0600 hours at Pasrur by the 24 Brigade headquarter which  had just reached Pasrur from Jassar at 0500 hours on 8th September. The news was shocking! Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik the 24 Brigade Commander knew little about tank warfare and had no idea of the quantum of troops opposite him. However the Commanding Officer of 25 Cavalry Lieutenant Colonel Nisar, was a capable armour officer. In adition 25 Cavalry was,to Pakistan Army’s good luck, a newly raised but extremely fine tank regiment, having on its strength some very outstanding officers, not merely on paper but in terms of bravery in face of enemy and in extraordinary situations. Malik who like Nisar had no clue about the situation in his front  famously asked Nisar “Nisar, do something.”31 Thus Malik abdicated the conduct of battle to the commanding officer of a tank regiment which was under his command! The regiment was refuelling at this time  having poofed up all the fuel going to Jassar (Major Shamshad, a direct participant and later referred to, states that only Charlie Squadron went to Pasrur) and coming back. Nisar immediately ordered tank squadron (B Squadron) commanded by Major Ahmad (originally from Guides Cavalry and an extremely brave leader of men) to advance in an extended order towards Charwa the reported point of enemy breakthrough!After tasking one of the squadrons to advance towards Charwa Nisar alerted the remaining part of the regiment to move towards Chawinda. At 0730 hours Nisar sent another squadron (A Squadron) towards Tharoah on receiving reports that Indian armour was seen opposite Tharoh area. At 1130 hours Nisar sent ‘A’ Squadron to area west of Gadgor.In short by 1200 hours the whole of 25 Cavalry was deployed three squadrons in line abreast opposite the Indian 1st Armoured Brigade leading the advance of the Indian 1st Armoured Division. ‘B’ squadron of 25 Cavalry came in contact with the advancing tanks of the Indian 1st Armoured Division near Gadgor.The Indian 1st Armoured Division which had commenced its advance from the bridgehead secured by the 6 Mountain Division in Charwa-Maharajke area after crossing the international border at 0600 hours on the morning of 8th September.It was advancing  two regiments up;with an inter regiment gap of approximately 3500 to 4000 metres in between,each regiment one squadron up, 16 Light Cavalry supported by a Gurkha infantry battalion on the right,advancing towards Phillora 17   Poona Horse on the left advancing towards Tharoah cross roads.Both the tank regiments had a clean run during the first 15 kilometres of their advance inside Pakistan.According to the Indian armoured corps historian the Pakistan Airforce aircrafts attacked the leading Indian armour elements at  about 8.40 Am. at Chobara but were unable to hit any tank. The Indian 16 Light Cavalry advancing two troops up came in contact with 25 Cavalry’s tanks advancing in extended order towards Chobara without a clue that the Indian 1st Armoured Division was just a few miles away. 25 Cavalry ‘s ‘Bravo Squadron’ commanded by Major Ahmad ,suddenly at approximately   50 to 200 metres ranges   at about 0900 or 0945 hours came into contact with two leading tank troops of 16 Light Cavalry. Some of Ahmad’s tanks had taken firepositions while some were in the open .The Indians were on the move. A confused firefight followed in which both sides lost tanks, Pattons burning on being hit while Centurions getting shot through both sides! Both the Indian leading tank troop leaders were killed, thus leaving the leading squadron commander  of 16 Light Cavalry clueless.32 Major Ahmad of 25 Cavalry carried the day by fighting from the front, thus inspiring his men to fight till death, rather than withdraw an inch. It was during this firefight that Major Ahmad, who had already changed his tank once was also severely burnt after having personally destroyed four tanks.33  There is no doubt that it was Major Ahmad who saved the Pakistani position at Gadgor by fighting from the front and injecting in his men real steel. He was the only squadron commander in 25 Cavalry who led from the front and was the only major who proved himself equal to the crisis in 25 Cavalry! Major Shamshad one of the direct participant in that battle gave the same verdict.34  16 Light Cavalry CO tried to bring up another squadron, commanded by an Indian Muslim officer Major M.A.R Shiekh to outflank the Pakistani position in front from the the east. The space for manoeuvre was however extremely limited Poona Horse the left forward Indian unit being just 4000 metres away from the right forward unit. In the process of manoeuvring this second squdron exposed its broadsides to 25 Cavalry tanks of ‘ Alpha Squadron’ losing many tanks including that of Major Shiekh who received a head injury35  and died on the spot. Finally  this second squadron was held up having lost its squadron commander and unable to manoeuvre due to limited visibility and lack of space to manoeuvre. As per General Gurcharan Singh  once the second squadron was held up CO 16 Light Cavalry passed ‘exaggerated’ reports to the 1 Armoured Brigade Commander who in turn ordered 16 Light Cavalry not to advance any further36. We will not go in the details of what 25 Cavalry or 16 Light Cavalry did since this in itself would require a whole book.In brief 16 Light Cavalry’s advance was checked at Gadgor by 1000 hours 8th September. 17 Poona Horse which was advancing on the left towards Tharoah commenced its advance two squadrons up but soon changed to one squadron up because of the limited fields of fire and observation that made command and control, extremely difficult.It came in contact with 25 Cavalry at 0945 hours in Tharoh area and was also checked like 16 Light Cavalry. According to Gurcharan Singh some firing took place in between the tanks of 16 Light Cavalry and 17  Poona Horse37. This happened because the inter regiment gap between both the regiments was too less. ‘C’ Squadron 62 Cavalry which was tasked to provide left flank protection to the 1st Armoured Division’s advance was delayed as its tanks got bogged down while inside Indian territory .When half of this squadron did finally got going and crossed the border at 1000 hours it went south towards Zafarwal by some misunderstanding after crossing the Degh Nala instead of advancing parallel and north of the Degh Nala as originally ordered!This squadron crossed the Degh Nala and reached Zafarwal in Pakistani territory absolutely unopposed and later recrossed the Degh Nala to go north once it probably realised that it was supposed to stay north of Degh Nala!Once this squadron was recrossing the Degh Nala it was engaged by an Indian artillery battery providing fire support to the 1st Armoured brigade,which naturally mistook it for Pakistani tanks seeing it approach from south of Degh Nala.In turn this squadron also opened fire on the Indian battery which they thought to be a Pakistani battery destroying several guns and vehicles!38  By 1300 hours Brigadier K.K Singh Commander 1st Armoured Brigade was a mentally defeated man.He reached the conclusion that ‘He was held up by at least two Patton regiments and that there was no possibility of advancing  direct towards Phillora without suffering unacceptable losses’.He was further unnerved by reports of a ‘raid by enemy tanks on guns and soft vehicles’ (which in reality was the firing between 62 Cavalry’s tanks coming recrossing Degh Nadi!)39 Commander 1 Armoured Brigade concluded that ‘his line of communication was not secure’40    and ‘decided to adopt a defensive posture for the security of his command at 1400 hours issued orders withdrawing the brigade into a ‘box’ around Sabzpir cross roads! The 17 Poona Horse which had encountered opposition but was taking positive measures to deal with it was also withdrawn and deployed to cover the eastern flank in the area,and the 4 Hodson’s Horse was also detailed to defend the southern flank41. All this was happening at a time when there was just 25 Cavalry in front of the whole 1st Indian Armoured Division! The readers may note that the Indians were not lacking in valour as cheap propaganda conducted in Pakistan after 1965 claimed but phenomenally incompetent at unit and brigade level. Their right forward unit 17 Poona Horse could have easily outflanked 25 Cavalry’s ‘Alpha Squadron’. Major Shamshad a direct participant thus rightly observed in his article that ‘There is a big gap, about six miles wide, between Hasri Nala and Degh Nala which could have provided a safe passage to 17 Poona Horse up to Pasrur. No troops were deployed to defend this area. It appears that they did try to advance but the higher headquarters held them back. I say so because I saw trackmarks of Centurions in Seowal on 19th September.’ 42 It may be noted that the 43 Lorried Brigade advance on the other axis also went diasastorously, less due to enemy opposition and more due to poor  as well as inefficient execution.The 43 Lorried Brigade which was supposed to commence advance at 0600 hours commenced advance five hours late at 1100 hours because its leading unit 8 Garhwal reached the start line much later than planned,and got delayed as soon as it commenced advance due to poor traffic control ! No men with landmines tied to their chests were needed in face of such phenomenally incmpetent staff and battle procedures! 43  Lorried     Brigade led by 2 Lancers finally reached Sabzpir cross roads at 1530 hours where tanks of the Indian 1st Armoured Brigade opened fire on Indian Armoured Corps’s 2 Lancers  mistaking them for Pakistani tanks and in the process destroyed two Indian tanks including CO 2 Lancers tank!43  Thus 43 Lorried brigade also harboured at Sabzpir cross roads.Gurcharan Singh’s verdict on the Indian 1st Armoured Division’s performance is worth quoting and is also a tribute to 25 Cavalry, the only unit of the Pakistan Army that did on 8th September 1965 what no other unit of Pakistan Army ever did and most probably would ever do again.44 Gurcharan thus wrote; ‘The first days battle could not have got off to a  worse start. The Armoured Brigade had been blocked by two squadrons of Pattons and in the first encounter the brigade had lost more tanks than the enemy had….whole of 1 Corps had gained a few kilometres… The worst consequence of the days battle was its paralysing effect on the minds of the higher commanders. It took them another 48 hours to contemplate the next offensive move. This interval gave the Pakistanis time to move up and deploy their 6 Armoured Division with five additional armoured regiments.In fact the golden opportunity that fate had offered to the 1st Armoured division to make worthwhile gains had been irretrievably lost’.45 Harbaksh Singh also accurately summed up the Indian failure; ‘both 16 Cavalry and 17 Horse failed to determine the strength of the opposing armour and displayed little skill in outmanoeuvring it… the Brigade Commander made the unfortunate decision to withdraw 17 Horse from Tharoah for countering an alleged serious tank threat on the Left flank. This was a grave error of judgement as 4 Horse which by this time had been released to the Brigade by GOC 1 Armoured Division, could have been used to meet any flank threat posed by the enemy armour. The blunder cost us dearly.We made an advance of only four miles beyond the bridgehead when a much deeper penetration could have been achieved. The fleeting chance that could have been exploited to gain a striking success, was lost forever…. and while we were fumbling about ineffectively in a chaotic situation of our own creation, the enemy had that vital breathing space so essential for a quick rally round from the stunning impact of surprise. We courted a serious setback through faulty decision and immature handling of armour which the enemy was not slow to exploit. From now onwards,the thrust intended to keep the enemy off balance and reeling until the final blow by sheer speed of advance, turned into a slow slogging match—a series of  battering-ram actions’.46 I have not come across any finer summing up of the Battle of Chawinda than the one done by Harbaksh Singh. I have specifically quoted it to show that 8th September was the most critical day of the otherwise long series of actions around Chawinda which dragged on till cease-fire on 22 September 1965. It was on 8th September or 0n 9th when the Indians could have easily outflanked the Pakistanis at Chawinda,had their higher armour commanders not been paralysed into a state of inertia indecision and inaction because of 25 Cavalry’s memorable extended line stand in Gadgor area. Major Shamshad  states that  ‘Instead of wasting two days in planning, If Poona Horse had advanced from Dugri to Shehzada and captured Pasroor on 9th we would have been in serious trouble.Alternatively, 2 Royal Lancers could have moved unopposed from Bhagowal to Badiana and cut Sialkot-Pasrur Road’.47  After 9th September when the Pakistani  6 Armoured Division and later the 1st Armoured Division beefed up Pakistani strength it was no longer a question of valour or superior generalship but simple,unimaginative frontal battle with both sides having equal number of tanks.Keeping  this background in mind  we will not waste much stationery on the battles around Chawinda after 9th September.48  These battles like Phillora etc are good motivational topics for indoctrinating the other ranks but little else. The real issue was decided on 8th September 1965 and not by Tikka Khan 49      etc but by Nisar and his officers  and men around Gadgor!

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