Fazilka, December 1, 2013
The appointment of General Raheel Sharif as Pakistan army chief has revived memories of the 1971 Indo-Pak war with special reference to Fazilka. General Sharif perhaps may be unable to forget the bitter memories of one of the fierce man-to-man battles as he had lost his elder brother Major Shabbir Sharif at the hands of Indian Army Major Narain Singh in the Fazilka sector.
Pakistan had launched a determined attack in this sector to capture Fazilka town on December 3, 1971. Pakistani forces, led by Major Sharif, had advanced in the Indian Territory beyond the first defence line across the strategically important Beriwala bridge.
The B company of 4 Jat Regiment of the Indian Army led by Major Narain Singh was assigned the task to stall the heavy Pakistani invasion and recapture Beriwala bridge. In the ensuing battle, both Major Narain Singh and Major Sharif were killed after displaying exemplary bravery.
Pakistan honoured Major Sharif with its highest gallantry award Nishan-e-Haider while Major Narain Singh was conferred with Veer Chakra.
"Their tales of rare act of bravery continued to do rounds in the Indian and Pakistan circles for a long period," says octogenarian Mohan Lal Paruthi, the founder general secretary of 1971 Indo-Pak War Memorial at Asafawala. He had witnessed the collective cremation of 82 martyrs of 4 Jat Regiment, including Major Narain Singh. The cremation was held at Asafwala village by area veterans where the memorial was later built. "During the exchange of bodies after the ceasefire, Pakistan army personnel had saluted the mortal remains of Major Narain Singh", says Paruthi.
Significantly, Pakistan Major General Muqueen Khan in his book equated the bravery of Major Narain Singh with Major Sharif.
The memorial raised by Fazilka residents is a place of obeisance and pilgrimage, says Urmila Bhatiyal, the widow of Major Narain Singh, whose bust has been installed at the memorial. Urmila and her son Dr Narinder are frequent visitors to the place.
Dr Narinder says: "I am proud of my father Major Narain Singh whose name lives on. If I get a chance to serve the country I will not miss the opportunity."