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Disaster / Relief Operations
 Role of  Army to Counter Floods as Natural Calamities

Floods in Pakistan continue to remain a national calamity, Army invariably is called upon in aid of civil power for undertaking relief rescue operations for protection of life and property during flood season. Over the period, army has developed a comprehensive organizational setup to fight any challenges resulting from floods in the country.


 Operative Structure
National Disaster Organization.

At the Federal and Provincial levels the operative structure is given at Annexure A.

Army Flood Protection and Relief Organization

 Army Flood Protection and Relief structure” comprises following:

  • General Headquarters Flood Relief Centre    
    This centre was established in 1977 and is functioning under General Staff Branch(Engineer Directorate) since then.

  • Corps Flood Control Centres
    Established in 1977, these centres work under respective Corps Headquarters.

  • Liasion with Provincial Governments 
    Commanders Corps Engineers at Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta function as the Army liaison/coordinating officers with the respective Provincial Governments.



  Conduct of Flood Relief Operation
Before onset of flood season, certain precautionary and prep-measures are initiated which are described in ensuing paras:
Precautionary Measures

 Inspection of all flood protection works is carried out by the Corps Headquarters. Necessary contingency plans are also prepared after coordination with civil authorities for any unforeseen tasks. These actions are completed by 30 May each year. Necessary liaison/coordination is carried out with civil authorities in their area of responsibility by Commanders Corps Engineers to ensure that related actions have been completed before the onset of flood season. Major activities at this stage include:

  • Allocation of deployment areas to units/formations.
  • Allocation and testing of equipment for flood relief operations.
  • Setting up of operation rooms and communications at all levels.
  • Finalization of move plans and logistic support. top
Army Pre Flood Season Coordination Conference

Army Pre Flood Season Coordination Conference is held in Engineer Directorate every year to coordinate various aspects with civil agencies at Army level. The conference is chaired by the Engineer-in-Chief and attended by all Commanders Corps Engineers, Chairman Federal Flood Commission, Secretaries of Provincial Irrigation and Power Departments and representative of other concerned departments.


 Functioning of Food Relief Center
Army flood relief centre established at Engineers Directorate General Headquarters, is functioning round the clock during flood period, The duties assigned are:
Receipt of Flood Situation Reports

Daily weather forecast/flood situation report is obtained from Meteorological Department, Federal Flood Commission and a comprehensive situation report is forward to all concerned.

Coordination with Meteorological Department

Any significant change in weather forecast/flood situation received from Meteorological Officer is further communicated to respective Corps Headquarters through Fax and signal.

Monitoring of River Discharge

Data on Historic peak floods and discharge capacity of different rivers at various hydraulic structures is kept as reckoner in flood relief centre and is monitored continuously to ensure timely action if needed.


 Flood Relief Equipment

Equipment for flood, relief operations is procured through Irrigation and Power Department according to the requirement of different formations. The equipment is repaired centrally under arrangements Headquarters Engineers 4 Corps for the formations located within Punjab, Similarly repair for remaining formations, equipment is undertaken by respective Provincial Governments.


Breaching Sections

Breaching sections at different bunds and embankments have been planned to save hydraulic structures. Explosive for these breaching sections is provided by Irrigation and Power Departments/concerned department. Explosive is further issued to formations, and is maintained by respective Army units on behalf of Provincial Governments.


Post Flood Conference

Post flood conference is held at the end of Flood Season during November/December at Engineer Directorate which is chaired by Engineer-in Chief and attended by all concerned military and civil authorities. Detailed postmortem of current year flood activities is carried out and appropriate actions are initiated to overcome shortfalls.


 National Disaster Operative Structure




From its earliest days Pakistan has had to contend with floods occurred in August 1947, but they passed unnoticed among the troubles which came in the wake of Partition. Again, in August 1948 the great river Indus overflowed its banks and threatened Sukkur Barrage. The railway line to Quetta, and the protective bunds(dykes) near Shikarpur and north of Rohri in Sindh were breached. Units of the 51st Brigade, an amphibian platoon of the Army Service Corps, and two companies of engineers were dispatched to give help.

Heavy rains had caused local flooding in the Punjab at the same time. Gujrat town was under four to six feet of water; the Grand Trunk Road was washed away between Gujrat and Jhelum; breaches occurred in the main railway line; and landslides caused a serious blockade on the Rawalpindi-Murree road. Any such damage or fear of damage caused by floods and overflowing rivers brought demands for troops and equipment from every direction: all were promptly met. Similarly, in April 1949 troops were called in to save Jahangir’s Tomb from the ravage& of the river Ravi. Engineers of the Lahore garrison assisted by some pioneer platoons succeeded in diverting the waters of the river and were able to save the tomb.

The 1950 floods in West Punjab were without precedent, and the damage and suffering they caused had to be seen to be believed. On the night of 5 September the river made four gaping breaches in the Shalamar protective bund, a Vital link in the protection of the city, and then flooded into the suburbs of Lahore. By the next morning those living on the ground floors had to abandon their homes or find refuge in the upper storeys. In a matter of hours, three-quarters of the city had been deprived of its water supply as the main power stations were submerged; rail and road communications with Lahore were disrupted; 2,000 square miles of land around Lahore was submerged and approximately 200,000 people were rendered homeless. No flood warning had been received. Road traffic was caught unawares and trucks, buses, and cars had to be abandoned in a hurry.

The 10th Division in Lahore got the SOS on the night of 5 September, and early on 6 September the troops had received their orders and moved to posts from which to give assistance to the flood victims. The 103rd Brigade (Brigadier Bakhtiar Rana) was sent to the Shahdara area over the Ravi bridge, using every available means of transport including trollies given by the railway. The 114th Brigade (Brigadier C.H.B. Rodham) fanned out.

The story of the Pakistan army towards the Shalamar bund and Badami Bagh. All the resources of the army engineers were put under the command of these brigades who, with their equipment, moved to places where their help was urgently required. The 10th Division Signals, in addition to providing local communications, quickly re-established the broken links with the remainder of the country. Soon other elements of the Lahore garrison including the Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. and medical corps detachments, were brought in to play their part.

The army worked round the clock in the rescue and relief of stranded families, and in the repairing of damaged bunds, roads and railway lines. With their determination, hard work and above all their cheerfulness, they infused a completely new spirit into the hard-pressed civil services, and raised the morale of the flood victims.

By 16 September joint civil and military efforts had almost succeeded in bringing conditions to normal and most army units had been withdrawn to their lines. The troops, however, had hardly settled down before they were called out again. It had started raining in Lahore in the early hours of 17 September, and continued for the next seventy-two hours. The Ravi was again ‘on the rampage’, as the press liked to call it, and those same people who had suffered so much a few days earlier were once again in distress.

It had also rained heavily elsewhere, and particularly in the areas of the Punjab rivers and nullahs, which over flowed their banks. The rivers Ravi and Chenab and the nullahs between them, Degh, Bhed, Aik, and Palkhu, all caused great havoc in their basins. Soon the Chenab waters had joined with the waters of the Ravi, and, later with the river Sutlej, making about 7,000 square miles one vast sheet of water. Before long the river Jhelum had added its waters, as if in competitive destruction.

This mass of water moved fast towards the south-west leaving devastation and misery in its wake: few parts of the Punjab plains escaped. Lahore,Sheikhupura, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Gujrat, Sargodha, Montgomery, Lyalipur, and Multan were engulfed and wrecked. Jhangresembledan island. Houses, roads, railway tracks, canals and protective bunds all along the route followed by the flood waters were badly damaged.

The army came in at once. A large part of its manpower and equipment was mobilized to assist the civil agencies in the rescue and relief of millions of stranded, homeless and hunger-stricken people. The way in which the army worked was described by one observer.

Along with all the vast wreckage that the great Ravi flood (greatest, so they say, in living memory) has left in its wake, is an inspiring story of superhuman heroism and courage displayed by the brave soldiers of Pakistan. They fought desperately against the wild forces of nature and overcame them.

The army gave help when, and in whatever form, it was required, setting an example of hard work, discipline, and patriotism. The work of one army engineer boat team may be taken as an illustration. This team, led by Lieutenant S. M. Idris, had volunteered to take some urgently required medical supplies from their base at Shahdara to Gujranwala, a distance of about thirty miles, most of which was under water An army folding boat was all they had to make the journey in, and the patches of dry land in between were infested with deadly snakes, driven there by the floods. The flow of water at some places was extremely fast and the team had to set off at 10 o clock at night, with only a military hand torch to light its way. Lieutenant Idris and his men braved all these hazards. They had two narrow escapes from a turbulent current and an attack of snakes. They reached their destination the next day, delivered the supplies on time, and were back at their post on the third day.

There were other matters also requiring the army’s assistance. The great damage caused by the floods to the Punjab canal system had to be repaired by 15 December, in order to supply water for the sowing of the winter crops, and especially wheat. Any delay in repairing the canals would have caused a famine. Most of the resources of the army were placed at the disposal of the civil authorities and canal reconstruction work was begun. Troops were deployed at various centres to supervise the civilian labour, organize their camps, and to provide labour where it was deficient. Above all, they had to provide the drive to sustain the effort. The army’s training in the words of the Commander-in-Chief ‘must go by the board until the emergency has been overcome.

Once the urgency of the task had been explained to the troops, nothing could prevent them from finishing it in time. They worked in relays—officers and jawans working side by side as usual—by day and sometimes at night by the light of hurricane lamps. Within a few days the civilian labour and the staff of the Irrigation Department employed in the task of reconstruction, were infused with the same spirit of enthusiasm and determination. Sweet Punjabi melodies played on the regimental surnais (wind instrument like a pipe) and the beat of the dhole (drum) kept fatigue away and spurred the workers to greater efforts. Soon the water was flowing again through the canals and distributaries into the fields, and, thanks largely to the army, the crops were sown in time. From the many lessons learnt during this calamity, there emerged a pattern of future army help during similar emergencies. It would consist of:

  • The provision of signal detachments to watch the rivers and protective bunds in the rainy season.
  • Relief and rescue measures.
  • Reconstruction of the damage done.

Since then West Pakistan has had eight major floods and East Pakistan almost as many. A few figures will give some idea of the appalling devastation and misery caused by those floods and the magnitude of the problem which the army had to face. In August 1954, 15,000 square miles, or a quarter of the whole of the area of East Pakistan, were swept by floods. Tens of thousands of people particularly in the northern districts of Rangpur and Mymensingh, were rendered homeless. Between ten and twenty per cent of all the crops of the province were destroyed. In 1955, about 1,800,000 acres of agricultural land—roughly eighty million rupees’ worth of crops—were devastated in West Pakistan. These figures do not include damage to property, industry, canals, and other works. In stricken areas the army’s help was never-failing.

Floods and the havoc they have caused have always created headlines. Behind such laconic sentences in the news as ‘Breaches in Gumti river filled’, ‘Marala marginal bund saved’, or ‘Gigantic Panjnad Headworks saved’, there has always been the stirring story of a grim fight against the forces of nature. Troops have worked round the clock and faced extreme dangers. No praise, and there has been plenty, has pleased them more than the sense of a job well done. This duty has not yet ended.



‘OPERATION SERVICE FIRST’: Another serious crisis then occurred in East Pakistan. This was the threat of famine, and again the army was called in to help. The food position in the province had started deteriorating rapidly during the last months of 1955. This was mainly brought about by the politicians’ deliberate mishandling of food stocks to gain popularity for the party and the provincial cabinet. The Chief Minister readily agreed with his advisors to sell Government stocks of rice, including the reserves, at ten rupees a maund to bring down the price. At that time rice was selling in the open market at fourteen to sixteen rupees a maund, which, not be considered unduly high.

The sale of Government stocks was not confined to authorized persons. Indeed, anyone could buy it in any quantity whatsoever. All that was necessary was a letter from a member of the legislative assembly and, if possible, from a member of the party in power. As a consequence, most of the rice-stocks fell into the hands of unauthorized persons. With the disappearance of Government stocks, which might have been used to overcome false shortages and create a balanced market, hoarding became common. Unnatural scarcities were created by interested parties; prices soared and soon rice was selling at forty to sixty rupees a maund. By May 1956 the food position had become a matter of grave concern. Effective and energetic steps could still have been taken to prevent a crisis, but the provincial government did not take them.

­Popular clamour demanded the army’s help, and by the end of June, the Government was so thoroughly alarmed that they re quested the army to take over control immediately. No time was given to study this new problem. The situation was so desperate and the politicians so keen to wash their hands of it, that without consulting the army, the governor of the province announced in his broadcast from Dacca Radio on 30 June 1956, that food distribution would at once be handled by the army. This was followed immediately by an official communique to the same effect.

The army, however, had to carry out an entirely new responsibility which the officers and jawans had not previously handled. Their only food problems had been the supply of food from their quartermaster’s stores or unit Ian gars (kitchens). The food problem in East Pakistan entailed supervision of Government stocks, the procurement, movement and allotment of food, and also the regulation of private trade. It also entailed the enforcement of the existing, exceedingly complex, food laws. The officers had to study and learn all these laws and regulations in order to work them correctly. There was also the question of utilizing the available civil resources in the most efficient way possible.

The army named this task of food distribution ‘Operation Service First’, which underlined the spirit in which it intended to carry it out. On 10 July 1956, the G.O.C. 14th Division, Major General M.G. Jilani, announced that the army was taking over the responsibility of all food matters in the province and said, ‘My intention is to ensure that adequate food is available in adequate quantities for all, at reasonable prices.

This could only be achieved by arresting the upward trend of food prices; by ensuring equitable distribution of Government stocks; and by presuading the private stockist to bring his stocks back into the market. Most difficult of all, the confidence of a disillusioned public had to be restored, by making food available at the prices it could afford. None of these objectives could be achieved unless proper anti-smuggling measures were taken at the same time.

On 7 July a new command and control was set up in Dacca. Under the Headquarters Army Food Control were three sector headquarters: Comilla (Brigadier, now Major-General, M. Attiqur Rehman), Jessore (Brigadier Mohammad Hayat) and Dacca (Colonel Ghulam Mohammad). Each sector had an army division sector headquarters conforming to the civil divisional boundaries. Similarly, there were army districts and army sub- divisional sector headquarters. These headquarters included civil and military personnel who were allotted certain specified duties. Army officers were also appointed as additional district magistrates (Food) and sub-divisional officers (Food) whenever required.

The operation was a success from the start. Unfortunately, however, the army’s efficiency in tackling this task created political jealousies, and on 13 August, exactly a month after the start of the operation, the army was abruptly withdrawn. In that one month it had achieved commendable results. All the rice from the Government stocks reached the genuine consumers, and hoarded food came out into the open market. Approximately 90,000 maunds of rice in the process of being smuggled out was seized during the first week of the operation. 300,000 false ration cards: involving 75,000 maunds of rice per month, were unearthed by rigorous checks in ration shops. Public confidence was re established and, with the improved stock position, the ration quota was increased by one pound of rice.

Naturally the public was disappointed at the army’s premature withdrawal, and particularly at a time when they were still showing their gratitude to the Government for taking such firm measures. The Dawn in its issue of 22 August, hinted at this reaction in these words:-To the Operation Service First, the public reaction was one of continued astonished support. For the first time in many areas the little people were receiving justice and fair play. They knew that their army was free of patronage and politics. The army food officers visiting the small villages gave the people of these remote areas a hope of having their basic problems solved. Faith in the army’s capability to assess and reform the malpractices obvious in the food situation was unwavering.

Soon after the army’s withdrawal, the black marketeers, hoarders, smugglers and other anti-social elements, returned to continue their activities and fully justified the public’s fears.



 Anti Smuggling

Ever since Partition jute had been smuggled regularly from East Pakistan into India, and the quantity had increased steadily year. According to the President of the Pakistan Jute Association, Narayanganj, no less than seven to eight hundred thousand bales of the 1951-52 jute crop, were smuggled across the border into India. As a result of this, India had refused to include jute as an item of trade in the trade agreement with Pakistan, negotiated in July-August of 1952. India made the excuse that Pakistan had imposed a duty of Rs. 2.50 per maund on the export of jute.

Pakistan was thus losing a considerable source of revenue, and the exchange value of her rupee was being adversely affected. This constituted a severe strain on the country’s economy, as well as affecting public morale.     

The problem of smuggling had defied solution for the past five years. As a last resort the Government decided that the army should take over the anti-smuggling operations, and General Ayub Khan, then Commander-in-Chief, was consulted. He ordered General Mohammad Musa, then General Officer Commanding 14th Division, ‘to take charge. The East Pakistan Rifles were placed under the command of the army for this operation, and they were empowered by a special ordinance to arrest, detain or take into custody, any person engaged in smuggling. They were also authorized to seize any notified commodities being smuggled out of East Pakistan. Officers and junior commissioned officers were authorized by the same ordinance to use whatever force they considered necessary to make their mission successful. Any inquiries on the conduct of personnel engaged in the operation were to be held by a commissioned officer. The general control of the anti- smuggling operation remained in the hands of district magistrates. Civil liaison officers were appointed to all the army/E.P.R. detachments, and all searches and arrests were made in the presence of these officers, who later conducted all legal proceedings.

The province was divided into two sectors to facilitate the execution of the operation. Sector ‘A’ consisted of Khulna, Jessoie. Kushtia, Rajshahi, and Dinajpur Districts, and was the responsibility of the Commander of the Jessore Garrison (Brigadier Wahid Haider); Sector ‘B’ comprised the Districts of Rangpur, Mymensingh, Syihet, and Tipperah (now Comilla), and was con trolled by the Commander of the Comilla Garrison (Brigadier Fateh Khan).

The army started operating all along the 1,000 mile border on 12 September 1952. The operation involved extensive patrolling by day and night on either side of pre-selected nodal points, which acted as firm vases for these patrols, A strict watch was kept on the main routes along which the bulk of the smuggling was done. A search was made of all country boats plying on the rivers and rivulets flowing into India, and of bullock carts and other means of conveyance moving towards the border. The searching of rail way trains and steamers was left to the combined efforts of the police and civil officials. An eye-witness of the operations said:

The soldiers are on a twenty-four hour duty, patrolling and watching the border in the hot sun and torrential rain. They are often seen patrolling on foot in knee-deep water and muddy fields with a modest morsel of food in their bags and rifles on their shoulders.Discipline, duty, a sense of patriotism, enthusiasm, and a real appreciation of the dangers that Pakistan has to face at the hands of the smugglers, have contributed to the undying spirit of these watchers of the borders.

Years later General Mohammad Musa summed up the army’s task in the following words:

t meant working almost neck-deep in water-logged areas to prevent the smuggling of jute into Calcutta. It meant going on hard-scale rations, working day and night in darkness in monsoon rains, moving in boats in the jungles and swamps and so on. We were given a blank cheque by the Government to shoot smugglers at sight. Not a single round was fired. Of course we stopped the smuggling.

The reaction of press and public to the army’s assumption of tic pr reporting, in fact, was responsible for a minor alarm in the General Officer Commanding family. Soon after taking over, in a talk to the press in Dacca, he remarked, ‘This army treats the smugglers as our enemies and we are going to deal with them as such.’ Next day some papers headlined the news, ‘General Officer Commanding. declares war on the enemy. His brother in Quetta, reading this became extremely perturbed, and was only reassured by speaking on the telephone to the general himself, who informed him that it was only against the smugglers that war had been declared.

The public helped the soldiers in their work, and treated any smugglers they caught in their own way. On 17 September, one army patrol came across an interesting sight in the Jamalpur sub division of District Mymensingh. A few smugglers with their heads shaved and the words ‘Black Marketeers’ painted on their backs were being paraded through the village with the local people shouting insults at them. There were also, however, a few attempts to malign the army work by those people, many of them influential, who stood to lose by anti-smuggling measures.

As soon as the army appeared on the scene, smuggling activities declined noticeably and eventually stopped altogether. About five hundred smugglers were caught in the first month. Most of them had either not known about the army’s take-over or hope-fully thought that it could be bribed. Within the first three weeks of ‘Operation Jute’, significant results were apparent. The prices of Pakistani jute began to show an upward trend and India re entered the jute market by the front door. In addition, numerous imported articles like crockery, fountain pens, watches, medicines, gold and silver bullion were seized. A number of currency frauds were also unearthed. The value of the Pakistani rupee started rising.

‘Operation Jute’ officially ended on 31 January 1953. The army had succeeded in another unusual and difficult task. It had learnt many lessons, including healthy co-operation with civil agencies, which were to prove extremely useful later on.





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