Let’s read about the huge sacrifice of Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal.
The Indo-Pak war of 1971 is one of India’s most celebrated victories. It led to the world’s largest surrender of an army after world war 2, with almost 93000 Pakistani soldiers giving up their weapons. But it was a very difficult war to prevail in. Pakistan was fighting from two fronts. India had to attack from the eastern front in present-day Bangladesh as well as defend itself on the western front. This defending was a mammoth task. But thousands of Indian soldiers sacrificed themselves to accomplish this job. The line created by their blood was never crossed by the enemy. One such sacrifice came from Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal.
Arun Khetarpal was the Second Lieutenant of the 17th Poona Horse tank squad. During the Indo-Pak war of 1971, the 17th Poona horse was given the task to lead the 47th infantry Brigade in Shakargarh, Punjab. Punjab shared its borders with Pakistan. Hence Indian military suspected Pakistani infiltration through several weakly defended points. Arun Khetarpal and his men were ordered to make a Bridgehead and guard the bridge from incoming Pakistani troops.
But as the Brigade reached the site, they found the entire area filled with anti-tank mines. The tanks had to halt while the infantry moved ahead. In two days, the infantry had created a temporary bridgehead and was guarding it. They saw suspicious movement on the other side of the river. It was an unmistakable dust cloud created by a squad of tanks moving. At once the guards informed Arun of the enemy tanks. Arun and others had a hard decision on their hand. They decided to risk their lives by going through the minefield and backing up their infantry. Fortune favoured the brave and all the tanks made out unharmed.
Out of the pan and into the fire. After escaping the minefield, Indian tanks were up against superior American-made Pakistani Tanks, who outnumbered them 12 to 6. It was impossible to defend the bridge. So instead, Indian tanks started attacking. This surprising manoeuvre took Pakistani tanks by surprise and two of their tanks were destroyed in seconds.
The Pakistani tanks retaliated and a dog fight broke out between both parties. Both India and Pakistan suffered heavy losses. India lost 4 of its six while Pakistan lost 8 of its 12. The remaining four Pakistani tanks started retrieving. The commander of the Indian tank squad had died in the action, leaving Arun in charge. Arun led his tank and his infantry across the bridge and launched an attack on the enemy infantry.
The Pakistani tanks returned with backup tanks but till then Arun and his men had wiped out Pakistan’s entire infantry of that site. Angered by this Pakistani tanks countered. To give his infantry a chance to escape, Arun and the other tank decided to stay behind and take the enemy head-on. The Command had ordered Arun and other officers to leave behind their tank and escape with the infantry. In his last response, Arun said he would not abandon his tank.
Pakistani tanks soon outpowered Arun’s tank, killing him in action. The Pakistani officers were surprised to see his young face. By the amount of destruction he had done, they were expecting a senior commander. The Pakistanis could not cross the bridge now because of the anti-tank mines ahead. The mines could have been deactivated if they had infantry. Arun’s decisive move secured the bridge.
He was bestowed with India’s highest military honour, Param Vir Chakra for his unparalleled bravery and excellent leadership. His bravery was such that even his enemy admired him. In 2001, the father of Arun Khetarpal was visiting Pakistan on an official tour. He was hosted by Brigadier Mohammad Nasser who was the commander of the enemy tank squad of Arun. Arun’s father was given a letter depicting the whole battle and his son’s bravery. Once again, his son had made him proud. The letter read as:
“With Warmest regards and utmost sincerity, To Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal, father of Shaheed Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal, PVC, who stood like an unsurmountable rock, between the victory and failure, of the counterattack by the ‘SPEARHEADS’ 13 LANCERS on 16 December 1971 in the battle of “Bara Pind’ as we call it and the battle of “Basantar” as 17 Poona Horse remembers.