During the 1971 Indo-Pak war, the 17 Poona Horse was assigned to the
command of the 47th Infantry Brigade of the Indian Army. Through the
duration of the conflict, the 47th Brigade saw action in the
Shakargarh sector in the Battle of Basantar.
Among the tasks set for the 47th Brigade was to establish a bridgehead
across the River Basantar. By 2100hr of 15 December, the brigade had
captured its objectives. However, the place was extensively mined,
which prevented the deployment of the tanks of the Poona horse, and
the engineers clearing the mines were halfway through their tasks when
Indian troops at the bridge-head reported alarming activity of the
enemy armour, asking for immediate armour support. It was at this
critical juncture that the 17 Poona Horse decided to push through the
mine-field. The regiment was able to establishe a link-up between the
armour and the infantry at the bridge-head by first light the next
At 0800hr on 16 December, Pakistani armour launched the first of their
counter-attacks under the cover of a smokescreen at the pivot of the
17th Poona Horse at Jarpal. Heavily outnumbered against Pakistani
armour and infantry, the commander of the “B” Squadron called for
urgent reinforcements. This call was taken up by 2nd Lieutenant Arun
Khetarpal, stationed close to the squadron, with his detachment of two
tanks and troops.
Khetarpal wheeled to meet the Pakistani armour and launched right into
the Pakistani attack. With his troop he was able to run over the enemy
advance with his tanks and even captured some of the enemy infantry
and weapon crews at pistol-point! However, the commander of the second
tank was killed in this attack. Alone in charge, Khetarpal continued
his attack on the enemy strongholds until he had overwhelmed the
Pakistani positions Emboldened by the success he pursued the
retreating Pakistani troops and artillery gunning down a Pakistani
tank in the process. However Pakistani forces regrouped and
counterattacked. In the ensuing tank battle ten enemy tanks were hit
and destroyed of which Khetarpal accounted for four.
The skirmish however took its toll on the Lieutenant as he was hit by
enemy fire, but instead of abandoning the tank he fought on destroying
one final tank before he was finally overwhelmed. However, his actions
had denied a vital breakthrough for Pakistani forces and instead put
the Indians in a stronger position in the Shakargarh bulge. His final
words over the radio to a superior officer who had ordered him to
abandon his burning tank were, “No Sir, I will not abandon my tank. My
gun is still working and I will get these bastards.” Then he set about
destroying the remaining enemy tanks. The last enemy tank, which he
shot, was barely 100 metres from his position. At this stage his tank
received a second hit and he was mortally injured. The officer met his
death denying the enemy the intended breakthrough. Khetarpal’s tank
“Famagusta” was restored and is on display at the Indian Army’s
Armoured Corps School in Ahmed Nagar.
For his conspicuous gallantry in the face of the enemy, Khetarpal was
honoured with the highest wartime gallantry medal, the Param Vir
1. Indian Army has produced many brave officers who have laid down
their lives in the line of duty. But the bravery of Khetarpal has
indeed been the highest point in the history of the Army. His bravery
is deeply embeded in the ethos of the Army and is evident from the
numerous buildings named after him at IMA and NDA, higher than any
other officer of the Indian Army.
2. The IMA has its auditorium named Khetarpal and the all passing out
officers take oath in front of this building.
3. The IMA also has one of the main entrance gate named Khetarpal.
4. The main ground at NDA is named Khetarpal Ground.
5. The tank of Arun Khetarpal was called Famagusta Jx 202. It was
restored after the war and is kept in the Armoured Corps School, Ahmed
6. Famagusta’s crew was Sowar Prayag Singh, the driver. Sowar Nand
Singh, the Radio Operator. Sowar Nathu Singh, the Gunner and 2/lt Arun
Khetarpal, the commander.
7. Nand Singh was first to die. This was just before the fatal
encounter with Major Nasser. Then Arun sccumbed to his injuries. Both
Prayag Singh and Nathu Singh were badly wounded but survived and
retired from the army as Hon. Captains.
8. Arun Khetarpal’s mother did not get the news of his death till the
26th of December. She had got his motorcycle serviced and his room
decked up after hearing that the war was over on the 17th December.
9. He was cremated on the 17th of December near Samba dictrict. All
his family got was his ashes in small handkerchief.
10. Mrs Indira Gandhi met Mrs Khetarpal, Arun’s mother, after the war
and told him quote ‘Aap Dhanya Hai’ with moisture in her eyes.
THE ENEMY REMEMBERS:
1. “The only occasion when a breakthrough could have occurred was
when two squadrons of 13 Lancers attacked together in the afternoon,
but a gallant last ditch lone stand by 2/Lt Arun Khetarpal of Poona
Horse averted the danger.” Maj (Retd) A. H. Amin ( Pakistan Armour
Corps – Columnist and Historian) .
2. The Commander of the Pakistan tank battalion is said to have met
the Indian battalion commander after the battle and made inquiries
about 2nd Lieutenant Khetarpal’s tank since he was very impressed with
the gallantry of this particular tank’s commander.
3. In 2001, Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal – now 81 years old – felt a
strong desire to visit his birthplace at Sargodha, now in Pakistan. At
Lahore airport, Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal was met by Brigadier Khawja
Mohammad Naser, who took it upon himself to be Brigadier M.L.
Khetarpal host and guide. Brigadier Naser really went out of way to
ensure that Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal had a satisfying and nostalgic
visit to his old house in Sargodha. Upon his return to Lahore he was
once again the guest of Brigadier Naser for three days. Brigadier M.L.
Khetarpal was overwhelmed by the extreme kindness, deference, courtesy
and respect bestowed upon him by Brigadier Naser and by all the
members of his family and his many servants. However Brigadier
Khetarpal felt that something was amiss but could not make out what it
was. Was it the long silences that punctuated their animated
conversation or was it the look of compassion in the eyes of the women
in the family? He
could not make out but was sure he was being treated as someone very special.
Finally, on the last night before Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal’s
departure, Brigadier Naser said ‘Sir, there is something that I wanted
to tell you for many years but I did not know how to get through to
you. Finally, fate has intervened and sent you to me as an honoured
guest. The last few days we have become close to one another and that
has made my task even more difficult. It is regarding your son who is,
of course, a national hero in India. However on that fateful day, your
son and I were soldiers, unknown to one another, fighting for the
respect and safety of our respective countries. I regret to tell you
that your son died in my hands. Arun’s courage was exemplary and he
moved his tank with fearless courage and daring, totally unconcerned
about his safety. Tank casualties were very high till finally there
were just two of us left facing one another. We both fired
simultaneously. It was destined that I was to live and he was to die.
“It was only later that I got to know how young he was and who he was.
I had all along thought that I would ask your forgiveness, but in
telling the story I realize that there is nothing to forgive. Instead
I salute your son for what he did at such a young age and I salute you
too, because I know how he grew into such a young man. In the end it
is character and values that matter.”
Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal was silent as he did not know how to react.
To be enjoying the hospitality of the person who had killed his son
was a confusing feeling. However being a soldier himself he genuinely
admired the chivalry of an officer whose complete squadron was
decimated by his son.
Both the Brigadiers retired for the night deep in thought. There are
never any victors in war; both sides lose and it is the families that
have to pay the price and suffer the most. As someone once said ‘Wars
are created by politicians, compounded by bureaucrats and fought by
The next day photographs were taken and Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal
returned back to Delhi. Later the photos reached Delhi along with a
note from Brigadier Naser that said:
With Warmest regards and utmost sincerity,
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
counter attack by the ‘SPEARHEADS’ 13 LANCERS on 16 December 1971 in
the battle of “Bara Pind’ as we call it and battle of “Basantar’ as 17
Poona Horse remembers)
Khawja Mohammad Naser, 13 Lancers, 02 March 2001, Lahore, Pakistan.
Do we still have such parents and such youngsters in this country?
Do we still want to remember their sacrifice?
I don’t remember any memorial for him in Pune (except the one in NDA)
or any other part of our country – it has so many for worthless
politicians and their elephants……..!