Places in the news-Punjab

The centre of attention: Dera Baba Nanak and Kartarpur Sahib:

https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/Dera+Baba+Nanak,+Punjab+143604/@32.055151,75.0252443,13z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x391bfcec21c405cd:0x358173658502513b!8m2!3d32.0321859!4d75.0304481

While the corridor is not marked yet, you can see DBN  and Kartarpur Sahib across the border. Also the station of DBN, served by local trains from Amritsar.

Dera Baba Nanak

https://erail.in/trains-between-stations/amritsar-jn-ASR/derababa-nanak-DBNK

Some of these locals start from Verka, the first station from Amritsar. Other special trains are presently running from Sultanpur Lodhi, another sacred place for the Sikhs.

On the other side of the border, there is a now disused station at Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, which lies on the line from Narowal to Chak Amru.

Darbar Sahib Kartarpur

This was served by local trains until the early 2000s, when the trains serving this station had dwindled to one pair of trains on Sunday:

Kartarpur (Pak) TT 001

In happier times (from the 1943 Bradshaw) we have these trains in the same area:

NWR around Amritsar-1943 001

 

On the top right, the local trains between Amritsar and Narowal and Sialkot via DBN and Jassar (across the border). Wartime shortages must have reduced this to one pair of trains a day.

On the bottom right, the one train a day between Lahore and Chak Amru via Narowal, Jassar and Darbar Sahib Kartarpur. Those familiar with the 1971 war would remember the battles around Shakargarh. Chak Amru station was captured by the Indian army and was returned soon after the war.

Finally, the other Kartarpur which lies between Jalandhar and Amritsar.

Kartarpur India

Footnote: there is a place called Jassur on the Kangra Valley line, although the station’s name is Nurpur Road.

 

The importance of Landi Khana-2

Here are a few other pictures of Landi Khana station when it was open in 1926-32:

Landi Khana camp

Landi Khana camp-2

Unlike now, there are some fortified compounds near the station as well as local habitation.

We also look at the Pakistan Railways timetable of  November 1972. It was still officially called the Pakistan Western Railway.

PWR 1972 001

This also shows the timetables of three of the narrow gauge lines which were all closed by the early 90s.

The line to Landi Kotal now had services only on Sunday, still with the hard-working HGS locos. Sometimes the SGS 0-6-0s were also seen there.

Now we return to the India-Pakistan war of 1971 which resulted in the liberation of Bangladesh. While most of the action took place in what was then called East Pakistan, there were also significant military operations involving the armies, navies and air forces of the two countries.

There were a significant number of POWs captured on both sides. The Indian army officers and other ranks were imprisoned at Lyallpur (now Faisalabad), while the relatively smaller number of 12 IAF officers were sent to a PAF prison at Rawalpindi.

The story of the escape has been covered in several books, such as:

“Death Wasn’t Painful”, by DS Jafa (who was one of the POWs, though not one of the three escapees)

“Four Miles to Freedom”, by Faith Johnston (a journalist who had access to the concerned persons in later years).

and an appendix in “My Years with the IAF” by Air Chief Marshal PC Lal, which is written by another escapee Harish Sinhji.

These are all available from Amazon in and other Amazons.

They are all worth reading, although the second one may be a little better written.

I am not going to recount the full details of the story, which you can read in the books mentioned above. There is also a film “The Great Indian Escape” which is being released in October 2019.

The three who escaped were :

Flight Lieutenant Dilip Parulkar

Flight Lieutenant MS Grewal, and

Flight Lieutenant Harish Sinhji

The actual escape from the prison was not too difficult. The question was how to get back to India. A basic map of the northern half of Pakistan may help:

Pakistan Punjab-map

If you are trying to get from Rawalpindi to India, you have to cross through a long stretch of relatively populated areas and then the well-guarded borders with large defensive positions on both sides. Even in August 1972 (long after the cease-fire) it would be extremely dangerous.

But reaching the Afghan border was simpler. The distance from Rawalpindi to the border crossing at Torkham (beyond Landi Kotal) was considerably less. Then, unlike now, Afghanistan was a relatively peaceful country and it would not have been a major problem to contact the Indian embassy in Kabul or other sources once beyond the border.

So the western route it was. The only problem is that no one was familiar with the exact route to the border. While the IAF had struck as far as Peshawar, no one had a clear idea of how to get to the border from there.

Help came in the form of a variety of books which were sent to them from the stocks of various Pakistani cantonments. One of them was “Murray’s Guide to India” which was probably from the 1920s or the 1930s. This used to be the standard handbook for traveling Brits in India during the Raj, and was packed with exquisite details and maps.

I could not locate the exact edition which the POWs used, but it may have had maps like this one from an earlier edition in 1903:

1903 Afghan Frontier by Murray

 

At that time the railway had ended at Jamrud.

Perhaps a good map would have been like this (an extract from the official Indian Railway map of 1933):

NW India 1933 001

In this map Landi Khana is shown as the terminus, as it was until 1932.

Thus, the escapees reasoned, they should make their way to Peshawar and then to Landi Khana which was only about a mile from the border. They were to pose as PAF officers on holiday.

From Harish’s account:

Landi Khana plan 001

The escape on the night of 12 August 1972 initially went like clockwork. They left through a tunnel to the adjacent road at about 00.30 on the 13th. In a short while they found a Peshawar-bound bus, which reached its destination by dawn. By 06.00 they had got to Jamrud, and then to the fort which is known as the gateway to the Khyber. A friendly local helped them to get on a bus to Landi Kotal, which was effectively the last town in Pakistan. It was then 09.30, nine hours after leaving the camp.

Continuing with their plan, they enquired about transport to Landi Khana which was about four miles ahead. Many of the locals were puzzled, as no one had any reason to go there. Finally they got an offer for a taxi. By then they had aroused a lot of curiosity.

The local Tehsildar’s clerk  came up and started questioning them. What followed is summarized here in an extract from Jafa’s book:

Landi Khana capture

To cut a long story short, they were taken into custody. They were soon on their way back to the prison at Rawalpindi. If only they had known better than to ask for a long-vanished place……

The IAF officers were then sent to the larger and more secure camp at Lyallpur where the 500-odd Army prisoners were already housed. Ultimately all of them were repatriated in early December 1972 after spending almost a year in captivity.

However, if they had kept quiet and somehow made their way to the lightly-guarded border 4-5 miles away, they should have been able to enter Afghanistan and ultimately return to India. Or maybe not, since the people of Landi Kotal were familiar with stranded Bangladeshis trying to leave Pakistan by the same route.

Perhaps today’s IAF pilots have been briefed better. Wing Commander Abhinandan did not have time to plan an escape, which would have been almost impossible as he was the lone Indian prisoner at the time.

 

 

The lonely line through Balochistan

Many of us in India have vaguely heard of the line from Quetta to Zahidan in Iran, which was completed about a century ago. The location can be seen here in the north-west corner:

NWR-1930 map

This map is from 1930 and only shows the line up to Nushki. This is a better map from the 1960s:

PWR in 1969

A good summary of its history up to 2007 by Owais Mughal can be seen here:

https://pakistaniat.com/2007/07/13/the-trans-baluchistan-railway/

Also see the timetables from the 1930 NWR TT:

NWTT 011

Note the distances: 68 miles (109 km) form Yakmach to Nok Kundi, a further 86 miles (138 km) to Mirjawa across the border and a further 52/84 to the terminus then called Duzdap.

And from the 1943 Bradshaw:

1943 Badshaw-Zahidan line

At that point the line was closed beyond Nok Kundi, though it was revived as part of the war effort.

Now we have something more up to date, in the form of 2 videos making a travelogue by a Pakistani blogger. These are fully in Urdu, though anyone who can understand Hindi should not have a problem.

The narrator’s style may be a little irritating, but you do see a good view of life on the Pakistan-Iran border including the last PR station at Koh-e-Taftan and the nearby road crossing along other bits like the last mosque and the last ATM in Pakistan. (This station seems to have come up after 1947).

Note the single train between Quetta and Zahidan which is a mixed train with very limited passenger space. It is interesting to see the large volume of Iranian consumer goods being imported here.

 

Footnote: we hear a lot of Gwadar and its port nowadays. Did you know that it was NOT part of British India but was an exclave of Oman until Pakistan took over in 1957, long after Independence.

A close look at Pakistan’s railways and their weak points

As armchair warriors are now having a field day, it is time to take a good look at Pakistan’s railway system and how its major routes could be fairly easily disrupted in the event of a major war.

We first take a look at this system map of the late 1960s, from Berridge’s “Couplings to the Khyber” published in 1969.

PWR in 1969

Metre gauge lines are not shown separately. At that time they existed in a corner of Sind, from Mirpur Khas to Khokhropar, the Jamrao-Pithoro loop and Mirpur Khas-Nawabshah.

This map shows a line under construction from Kot Adu through Dera Ghazi Khan and Kashmor which connected at Jacobabad to Karachi and Quetta sides. This was opened in the 1970s.

Now take a look at the bridge over the Sutlej between Lodhran and Bahawalpur. If something were to happen to that bridge, there is no way ANY train between northern Pakistan and southern Pakistan could run. Try, for example, to travel from Karachi to Lahore if that bridge near Bahawalpur was disabled. Also note the portion of the main line from Rohri to Khanpur which is relatively close to the Indian border and vulnerable to air and land-based attacks.

Now let us look at a more recent map. I am not sure exactly who created it, but it seems to be relatively accurate in showing today’s system when cross-checked with the online timetables on http://www.railpk.com/

pakistan_railways_network_map

Note how the system has shrunk. No metre gauge left, one line to the Indian border being converted and the rest abandoned. All those narrow gauge lines to exotic places like Thal and Fort Sandeman (Zhob) have been pulled up by the 90s. Many BG branch lines (particularly in Sind) have closed. The ambitious project on linking Gwadar does not seem to have made much progress. And the branch from Sibi to Khost has been immobilized by sabotage by Baloch militants a decade ago, and is probably not going to reopen.

The only significant addition is the line from Kot Adu to Jacobabad mentioned earlier, which works as an alternative link between the north and the south and further away from the border.

Thus, if that bridge near Bahawalpur was disrupted, you could still route trains by this branch. Let us consider a trip from Rawalpindi to Karachi. Under normal conditions it would run from Rawalpindi to Gujranwala, Lahore, Multan, Bahawalpur, Rohri and Hyderabad on the way to Karachi.This would be mostly on double line.

Minus the Bahawalpur bridge, you would have a long journey over single track most of the way through Kundian, Kot Adu, DG Khan, Jacobabad, Rohri and Hyderabad on the way to Karachi. The line from Kot Adu to Jacobabad happens to pass through a somewhat lawless area where express trains generally do not keep to timetables. Then the line crosses the Indus near Kot Adu on the Taunsa Barrage (not unlike our Farakka barrage) which is somewhat further from the Indian border but should not be impossible to disrupt-particularly if the intention was to disrupt river control over a significant part of central Pakistan.

So let us say there is disruption to our old friend the Sutlej bridge near Bahawalpur and our new friend the Taunsa Barrage near Kot Adu. Let us see if ANY train can travel from Peshawar/Rawalpindi/Lahore to Quetta/Karachi.

The Indian railway system, particularly with its dense network of BG lines in north-western India, are not so easy to disrupt. There are some fairly well-known choke points, but it would take a considerable effort to completely block traffic to the numerous railheads near the border.

The coming of unigauge may not be welcomed by everyone, but it has removed significant vulnerabilities in rail transport between Northern and Southern India. In 1991, it could be shown that disruption of the Krishna bridges near Vijayawada and near Raichur would result in complete blockage of BG traffic from the North, West and East to Tamil Nadu, Kerala, most of Karnataka and a good part of undivided AP. At that time there was no Konkan Railway, no Hubli-Bangalore BG line and no Secunderabad-Dronachellam-Guntakal BG line. Now there is some redundancy.

Coming back to Pakistan, you may like to know more about the bridges in question. First there is the Empress Bridge on the Sutlej, between Adamwahan and Bahawalpur stations. (BTW President Zia ran into trouble when something happened to his C-130 after it took off from Bahawalpur). Here is the location of the bridge:

https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/Sutluj+Railway+Bridge/@29.4466301,71.6509437,13z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x393b9991ae721695:0x45f2cf0c82819072!8m2!3d29.4466254!4d71.6531324

And here is a  TV report about the bridge, which dates back to the 19th century when Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress. It was in fact opened in 1878 soon after she had been proclaimed Empress.

The Taunsa barrage with its rail tracks is located here:

https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/Taunsa+Barrage,+Taunsa+Barrage+Rd,+Pakistan/@30.3649011,70.8420215,10z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x39253fb026194f83:0x16d64fce6e8c18bd!8m2!3d30.5128977!4d70.8497033

We also have a video of a train passing over it:

 

Similarities with the Farakka Barrage and its railway line and road can be seen.

Needless to say, there are probably heavy anti-aircraft defences around these bridges-but they wouldn’t help against something as basic as a land-based Prithvi missile or one of the numerous longer-range missiles in our inventory.

And remember that India does not have a suitable anti-missile system at present, unless one counts some kind of “jugaad” like using Patriot-type anti-aircraft missiles which might just work against primitive ballistic missiles such as Scuds. But those days are gone. But there are plenty of innovative things which our armed forces have done, such as using AN-12s as bombers or anti-aircraft guns to hit targets on the ground (which seems to be a common method of execution in North Korea).