Monday 27 June 2022

The story of Lt Arun Khetarpal

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The story of Lt Arun Khetarpal

Second Lt Arun Khetarpal, PVC (P) - For his extraordinary courage he was awarded Param Vir Chakra (India’s highest military gallantry award awarded during wartime). Major (later Col.) Late Hoshiar Singh, PVC who was a witness to his courage and guts, mentioned about his bravery in his interview too. He was impressed with his dedication and raw courage.....

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Many people of the present generation ask - What did Arun Khetrapal do in the Bangladesh War to deserve a Param Vir Chakra? Second Lt Arun Khetarpal was a young Indian military officer of 17Poona Horse, which had a big reputation in Indian military history. His father was himself a Brigadier in the Engineer Corps and took part in 1965 India-Pakistan war. Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal PVC was born in Pune, Maharashtra, was an officer of the Indian Army and a posthumous recipient of the Param Vir Chakra, India's highest military decoration for valour in face of the enemy. The youngest recipient of Param Vir Chakra then, Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal, is remembered for his bravery and sacrifice during the 1971 Indo-Pak War. Born in Pune, Khetarpal had army blood running in his veins as he was the fourth generation officer from his family.

Arun Khetarpal was born in Pune, Maharashtra on 14 October 1950 into a Punjabi family. His family originally belonged to Sargodha, Pakistan, and had migrated to India after partition as refugees. His father Lt Col (later Brigadier) M. L. Khetarpal was a Corps of Engineers officer serving in the Indian Army and his family traced a long history of military service. Attending The Lawrence School, Sanawar, he distinguished himself both as an able student and sportsman and was the school prefect. Khetarpal joined the National Defence Academy in June 1967. He belonged to Foxtrot Squadron where he was the Squadron Cadet Captain of the 38th Course. His NDA No was 7498/F/38. He subsequently went on to join the Indian Military Academy. In June 1971, Khetarpal was commissioned into the 17 Poona Horse.

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The Battle of Basantar is considered to be one of the bloodiest tank battles fought in the Indian war history. It happened during the Bangladesh Liberation war in 1971 war. The war was nearing the end. But the intension of Pakistan to take revenge was always looming. And the Pakistanis planned to enter Kashmir through Shakargarh bulge to take the Indian forces by surprise and avenge their humiliating defeat in Bangladesh.

During the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, 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 21:00 hours 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 enemy armour activity, 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 link-up with the infantry at the bridge-head by first light the next day.

And then began the horrific battle. In retaliation Indian forces crossed the border and captured some strategic points and posts in Pakistan. The Pakistan forces tried to recapture it but failed, and later they launched an assault with tanks. Poona Horse was called to meet this challenge. Col (later Lt Gen) Late Hanut Singh was the commanding officer. He ordered his forces and the tanks to repulse the attack.

There was this young officer who was undergoing his YO course for tankmenship and only few weeks were remaining for the completion of his training. He was Second Lt Arun Khetarpal.  He volunteered to join the ongoing war but he was not permitted as he was still undergoing training. He requested Col Huntie (Hanutji) to allow him to join the battle. But he refused as his training was on. But the young officer was adamant to see action.

On his insistence and seeing his zest to participate in the war Hanut Singh agreed to his request but on one condition; he had to clear a test before being allowed to go for war. Arun Kethrapal completed the test successfully and he was given permission to go. He was thrilled as he was going to see real action for the first time. And he wanted to be a part of it along with others.

On reaching the battle ground, he saw the actual fighting which was fierce with deadly firing from both sides. Young Arun Ketharpal took charge and immediately started targeting the enemy tanks and destroyed around seven enemy tanks. In this firing, his tank was hit by an enemy tank and it was on fire. Khetarpal was ordered to come back. He responded – No Sir, I will not abandon my tank. My main gun is still working and I will get this bastards. These were the last words of young Arun Khetarpal.

He launched an attack and destroyed the enemy positions and hit more tanks. In the ensuing tank battle, Lt. Arun Khetarpal with his two remaining tanks fought off and destroyed ten tanks before he was killed in action. In this confusion and cross-firing, an enemy tank only a few meters from his tank hit his tank. Famagusta (Arun Khetarpal’s tank) was destroyed and up in flames, his tank crew, too were all badly injured, and Arun Ketharpal was severely wounded his body was badly burnt. He asked his buddy for water, but an officer asked him to give tea. As he returned, the brave young Arun Ketharpal succumbed to his injuries, a supreme sacrifice for his motherland.

The citation for the Param Vir Chakra awarded to him reads: On 16 December 1971, the squadron Commander of 'B' Squadron, the Poona Horse asked for reinforcements as the Pakistani armour that was superior in strength, counter attacked at Jarpal, in the Shakargarh Sector.

Brigadier Naser from the Pakistan army had met Brigadier Madanlal Khetarpal thirty years after the 1971 war and had confessed to killing his son Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal on the battlefield. This is what happened at their meeting in Pakistan.

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In 2001, Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal – then 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 his 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 at 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 confused 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.

The next day photographs were taken and Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal returned to Delhi. Later the photos reached Delhi along with a note from Brigadier Naser that said:

"With Warmest regards and utmost sincerity, To: Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal, father of Shaheed Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal, PVC, who stood like an insurmountable 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 battle of "Basantar" as 17 Poona Horse remembers.

— --Khawja Mohammad Naser, 13 Lancers, 2 March 2001, Lahore, Pakistan.

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Russia defaults on foreign-currency debt for first time in a century

Russia defaulted on its foreign-currency sovereign debt for the first time since 1918, the culmination of ever-tougher Western sanctions that shut down payment routes to overseas creditors. For months, the country found paths around the penalties imposed after the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine. But at the end of the day on Sunday, the grace period on about $100 million of snared interest payments due May 27 expired......

Russia defaulted on its foreign-currency sovereign debt for the first time in a century, the culmination of ever-tougher Western sanctions that shut down all payment routes to overseas creditors. For months, the country found paths around the penalties imposed after the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine. But at the end of the day on Sunday, the grace period on about $100 million of snared interest payments due May 27 expired, a deadline considered an event of default if missed.

It’s a grim marker in the country’s rapid transformation into an economic, financial and political outcast. The nation’s euro bonds have traded at distressed levels since the start of March, the central bank’s foreign reserves remain frozen, and all the biggest banks are severed from the global financial system.

Russia has pushed back against the default designation, saying it has the funds to cover any bills and has been forced into non-payment. As it tried to twist its way out, it announced last week that it would switch to servicing its $40 billion of outstanding sovereign debt in rubles, criticizing a “force-majeure” situation it said was artificially manufactured by the West.

“It’s a very, very rare thing, where a government that otherwise has the means is forced by an external government into default,” said Hassan Malik, senior sovereign analyst at Loomis Sayles & Company LP. “It’s going to be one of the big watershed defaults in history.”

A formal declaration would usually come from ratings firms, but European sanctions led to them withdrawing ratings on Russian entities. According to the documents for the notes whose grace period expired on Sunday, holders can call one themselves if owners of 25% of the outstanding bonds agree that an “Event of Default” has occurred.

But given the damage already done to the economy and markets, the default is also mostly symbolic for now, and matters little to Russians dealing with double-digit inflation and the worst economic contraction in years.

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