Saturday, May 02, 2009

Pakistani invasion of J&K State

It is an enduring myth that the Pakistani invasion of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) princely state in 1947, began with the "tribal raid" into the Kashmir region. Prior to this fighting between the Pakistani and the J&K army had already broken out along the long Jammu border, while the groundwork for the invasion had been laid with an economic blockade which deprived the State Forces of essential supplies of fuel, food, and munitions.

As per the recently declassified British government documents from that period, the UK had decided that the J&K State, or at least a part of it, would have to go with Pakistan for strategic reasons. And this decision was made before the formal creation of Pakistan through Partition!

On 16 May 1946, the commander-in-chief of British forces in India, Field Marshall Claude Auchinleck prepared a report on the possible repercussions of the proposed creation of Pakistan, and its inclusion into the British commonwealth. Auchinleck wrote: "Assuming that it [Pakistan] will absorb or at any rate dominate Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan cannot be seriously threatened from the north, protected as it is by the Himalayas.....Pakistan would however be open to attack from the northwest [Afghanistan] and the southeast [India]."

Jammu border

And the reasons the British hoped that the future Pakistan would capture J&K were entirely strategic, as explained by General Douglas Gracey, the British C-in-C of the Pakistan army. In his view the accession of the entire J&K state to India would give the latter, "the strategic advantage of sitting on our doorsteps, threatening the Jhelum bridge, which is so vital to us. It will also give them control of the Mangla Headworks placing the irrigation in Jhelum and other districts at their mercy...."

Mangla Dam Jhelumcirca 1950: The Mangla Dam under construction over the Jhelum River. The 375 feet high dam will extend for two miles with a volume of 75 million cubic yards when it is completed. It will extend across the river's valley from the Mangla Fort (left). (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

Construction of the Mangla Dam enabled Pakistan to extend water and power supply in its Punjab province, but flooded the lands of people in the Mirpur district of occupied J&K. Many of these persons (called Mirpuris; Hindu and Sikh Mirpuris were either massacred by the Pakistani invaders or escaped to Jammu) were provided with work permits by the Pakistanis and their British masters, and sent off to settle in the UK. Illustrates that the Pakistani claims on J&K have always been strategic and have little to do with its inhabitants.

The creation of Pakistan by the British was also a strategic act; given the revolutionary changes to the global landscape in the 1940s. The Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany, and its rapid advance through Central Asia, pressing south into Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan, was a threat to the Middle Eastern oil wells owned by western oil companies. Airfields in northwestern India provided the closest bases from which strategic bombers could reach Russian military and industrial targets. On the east, the Japanese blitz through southeast Asia had torn apart many western colonial empires; hence secure bases were also needed in eastern India (East Pakistan now known as Bangladesh) to restore the position after the Japanese surrender.

Dividing the British Indian Army and the Pakistani invasion plan

One consequence of the Second World War was the enormous increase in the Indian almost two million soldiers, many of whom fought in Europe, Africa, Middle-East, and Asia. Even after the war Indian forces were a major part of the South East Asia Command (SEAC) and of the allied forces in the Middle-East.
Wavell with Dogra troops5th January 1942: General Archibald Percival Wavell (1883 - 1950) inspects a trench mortar section of a Dogra regiment during his visit to Singapore. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images) Wavell later became Viceroy of India and prepared the blueprint for the Partition.

Part of the Partition process was dividing the British Indian Army; the assets were divided by a formula of 1/3rd for Pakistan and 2/3rd for India, even though India was much bigger in area and population than Pakistan. The Muslim elements in the British Indian Army, recruited from the areas which were to go to Pakistan, were assigned to the army of that country. Under this formula Muslim army recruits from western parts of Jammu, even though culturally and linguistically similar to the Hindus of that region, were assigned to Pakistan.

While the Hindu soldiers from Jammu, coming under the Dogra class, were assigned to India. Thus as far as the British were concerned the J&K State was already partitioned between India and Pakistan! And this despite these two classes of Jammu soldiers having served together in the J&K State Forces for years without any problem.

While the post-Partition riots raged, the Army Headquarters of Pakistan was busy planning the invasion of J&K State. Code-named Operation Gulmarg the plan required every Pashtun tribe to enlist at least one Lashkar of 1,000 tribesmen, which would be led by a Major, a Captain and ten JCOs of the regular Pakistan Army. The entire force was under the command of Colonel Akbar Khan, Director of Weapons and Equipment at the Pakistan Army Headquarters, and using the code name of 'General Tariq'.

Other officers involved in planning Op Gulmarg were Brigadier Sher Khan, Director of Intelligence, Colonel Azam Khanzada of the Ordnance Corps, Lt Colonel Masud of the Cavalry, and Air Commodore Janjua of the Royal Pakistan Air Force. This is so far as the Pashtun tribes being utilized for capturing Kashmir, but as pointed out earlier fighting had already broken out along the Jammu border.

The J&K army and resistance to the Pakistani invaders

The army of the Jammu and Kashmir Princely State originated in the force raised by the Maharaja Gulab Singh from among the warrior clans of Jammu (collectively known as Dogras). This army conquered Ladakh and Baltistan in 1841-42 and invaded Tibet under the legendary General Zorawar Singh. To this force, units of Sikh, Gorkha, and Jammu Muslims were added later, even though its composition remained mainly Dogra.

Army units of many princely states were absorbed into the Indian Army after Independence, but Jammu and Kashmir was one state, where by virtue of fighting side-by-side with the Indian Army against the Pakistani invaders, the entire J&K army was absorbed as a whole and renamed the Jammu and Kashmir Rifles (JAK RIF) Regiment. For the purpose of continuity its units will be referred to by their modern designation as JAK RIF.

Along with the British Indian Army, the J&K army had also fought in WWII, 4 JAK RIF earning the battle honours of Kennedy Peak and Meiktila against the Japanese in Burma. However the J&K army's mountain batteries were transferred to the BIA, and at the time of the Pakistani invasion the mountainous state was defended by a mere 9 battalions of infantry and one regiment of cavalry. But they had to do more than just defend the state, for as the partition riots raged refugees came streaming in to the state, and the J&K state forces had to arrange for transporting and escorting these people between India and Pakistan.

The J&K army's Jammu Brigade was responsible for the defence and communication along the border with Punjab, while the long mountainous border along the Jhelum River on the west was defended by the Mirpur Brigade and the Punch Brigade. The Kashmir Brigade had to defend not just Kashmir, but also Gilgit, Baltistan and Ladakh; and only one battalion, the 6 JAK RIF, was available for the latter task.

Jammu and Kashmir princely state

British strategic interest in the northwestern frontier extended into northern parts of J&K State; the regions known as Chitral and Gilgit. The latter had been given on lease by Maharaja Hari Singh to the British and did not have any presence of the J&K army. Two serving British officers, Major Brown and Captain Mathieson, commanded the locally raised Gilgit Scouts and were in contact with the British officials in the neighboring NWFP province, a part of Pakistan. The broad partition plan had been discussed between Colonel Bacon, the political agent in NWFP, and Major Brown, in which the latter was instructed to refine contingency measures to bring the Gilgit agency to Pakistan if the Maharaja joined his state to India.

Brown duped the local people and chiefs in Gilgit with promises of setting up an independent hill-republic and attacked the Maharaja's governor, Brigadier Ghansara Singh, in his official residence on the night of 31st October. After two days of resistance from the governor, his orderly, and his driver, Brown forced them to surrender by threatening to massacre non-Muslims in Gilgit. Less than two companies of 6 JAK RIF, composed equally of Sikhs and Jammu Muslims, were posted 54 km away in Bunji. The Jammu Muslims, who realised that ther brethren in the BIA were placed in the new Pakistan army, and affected by the riots in the Punjab, treacherously massacred the Sikhs (see details in Fall of Gilgit).

The perfidious major then invited Pakistani officials to occupy Gilgit. Other companies and platoons of 6 JAK RIF defended Skardu and Kargil in Baltistan, and Leh in Ladakh. To overcome these the Pakistan army organised Operation Sledge to be carried out by Chitral and Gilgit scouts, Pakistani armymen, and Jammu Muslim deserters from the state army. By this time the state had acceded to India but the Indian Army could not reach the trans-Himalayan territory because it was engrossed in defending Kashmir and Jammu, while the onset of winter had blocked the passes to Baltistan and Ladakh. Therefore the fighting against the Pakistani invaders was the responsibility of the remaining companies of 6 JAK RIF now commanded by Major Sher Jung Thapa, a Gorkha officer in the J&K army.

Thapa brought re-inforcements from Kargil and Leh, and took command of the Skardu garrison in February 1948. The gruesome Pakistani invaders had by this time massacred people in Skardu town, mostly non-Muslims, while the garrison of 130 men defended the fort. Thapa's re-inforcecments increased the strength to 285 and defended Skardu fort till the middle of June. The gruesome details of the Pakistani massacre of POWs and civilians can be read in Hero of Skardu.

The details of the Kashmir operations are well known. In the Kashmir Brigade, two companies of 7 JAK RIF, and one squadron of cavalry, were in Srinagar, while 4 JAK RIF defended the approaches to the valley. Two companies with the commanding officer, Lt. Colonel Narain Singh, were at Domel, and the rest at Kohala and Keren. At Domel again the troops were about half Jammu Muslims and half Dogras, and here also the Muslims murdered their CO and their brothers-in-arms in their sleep, and joined the over 6000 invaders on 22 October 1947. The gallant defence of Kashmir, with the two companies of 7 JAK RIF, was done by the newly-appointed Chief of Staff of the J&K army Brigadier Rajinder Singh.

The Pakistani intention to invade J&K was hardly a secret, but what was unknown were the details under Operation Gulmarg. These were later accidentally discovered by an Indian officer posted in NWFP at that time Major OS Kalkat. The J&K Maharaja was aware of the Pakistani designs and had attempted to blow up bridges at Muzzafrabad, Kohala and Domel to deter the invaders, but due to the Pakistani economic blockade there wasn't sufficient dynamite in the state. Attempts to procure dynamite from Delhi came too late.

Hari Singh's advisers also tried some other innovative tactics to alter the strategic picture. These included roping in Afghanistan, which had opposed the creation of Pakistan, by transferring the Gilgit lease to that country. But the attitude of the British government, the true creators of Pakistan, blocked any such move. This perfidious government even turned a cold shoulder to direct appeals from J&K State to restrain their ally from engaging in massacres of civilians. In fact British officers in Pakistan were driectly involved in planning the invasion of J&K State. Ultimately the Maharaja had no help but to appeal for aid to Patiala, while his offer of accession to India was rejected by Prime Minister Nehru, who wanted the state to be handed on a platter to Sheikh Abdullah without the proper electoral process.

The defence of Jammu

Even though the princely states were integrated with British India in defence and communications, and they also had modern political movements, the British had until 1947 left the question of their future uncertain. Maharaja Hari Singh of J&K and Lord Mountbatten the new viceroy had served together as ADCs to the Prince of Wales during his visit to India in 1921.
Maharaja Hari Singh WWII21st April 1944: Sir Hari Singh Bahadur, the Maharajah of Jammu & Kashmir and one of India's two representatives at the British War Cabinet inspects civil defence workers in Bermondsey, London. (Photo by Horace Abrahams/Keystone/Getty Images).

Mountbatten and his chief of staff General Ismay (later became the Secy General of NATO) tried to coax Hari Singh into acceding to Pakistan, which he was unwilling to do. Not only because it would be unacceptable to his Dogra base but also because Kashmiri Muslims had nothing in common with the Punjabi Muslims of Pakistan, and he wished to prevent the communal holocaust in the Punjab from entering J&K.

Unfortunately this was already happening by August 1947. As refugees entered and passed through Jammu, on their way to India and Pakistan, they roused the communal passions of their co-religionists. Simultaneously Muslim League infiltrators worked up propaganda among the Jammu Muslims along the Jhelum River to the effect that their brethren in the British Indian Army had joined Pakistan, and they must evict non-Muslims from their villages. In this way incidents of communal violence broke out throughout Jammu, which the JAK RIF soldiers were stretched beyond their capacity to control.

By this time Pakistan had enforced a complete economic blockade of the state depriving the J&K army of fuel and munitions, and starving the common people of the state. By September cross-border raids by the Pakistanis occured with alarming frequency all along the Jammu border. On 03 September, a band of raiders, several hundred strong, attacked the village of Kotha, 27 km south-east of Jammu, and when chased by troops of State army, fled back into Pakistan. On 4 September, General Scott wired to the State Government at Srinagar, "Reliable reports state that on the 2nd and 3rd September, 1947, a band of upto 400 armed Sattis were infiltrating into the State over the river Jhelum from Pakistan in the area of Owen, eleven miles east of Kahuta. Their purpose is looting and attacking minority communities in the State".

Mehr Chand Mahajan, newly appointed PM of J&K, records that even in Jammu city Muslims had concentrated in some localities and collected arms. The situation in the city was relieved by the arrival of the 1st Patiala battalion (now known as 15 Punjab) on 3rd November. They were from the Sikh princely state of Patiala, the ruler of which was a close friend of Maharaja Hari Singh. Failure of the Indian government, under British (i.e. Mountbatten and the British commanders of the Indian Armed Forces) pressure and roadblocks, to send armed aid for J&K prompted Hari Singh to seek his brother ruler's aid. The Patiala troops helped to bring order back in Jammu city.

The nature of the cross-border raids, which had increased in intensity as early as September, is described by Mehr Chand Mahajan in a press conference held in Srinagar: "In Kotli there is some danger to the town and raids are continuing on State borders from Pakistan. They have burnt a number of Rajput and Sikh huts and they are threatening the military and some of the people have been murdered. Then we had trouble near Samba. Gorkha troops were having their meals. From the Pakistan side, whether it was a regular army or otherwise, an attack was made and they took away our guns, ammunition, cartridges, and meals."

Mahajan also remarks that while he and the Maharaja took a tour of the Jammu border, one of the ministers in the Pakistan government organized a raid on the town of Bhimber and burnt its dak bungalow. To defend this long border, and the various towns, from the Pakistanis, the cavalry regiment and 5 JAK RIF were not sufficient, but they managed to prevent this part of the state from falling into enemy hands. Jammu Brigade was commanded by Brig N.S. Rawat with HQ at Jammu. Below, an idea of the uniform and equipment of the J&K State Forces:

Colonel Raghbir Singh Pathania, (2nd J&K Rifles aka Raghu Pratap battalion), son of Sardar Bahadur, Gen Nihal Singh Pathania, OBI. C-in-C J&K State Forces. Killed in action while commanding the battalion in Jassin, Tanganyika, 1915. (Photo courtesy his grandson Vasu Pathania)
The Mirpur Brigade HQ was in Jhangar under Brig Chattar Singh; Mirpur town was defended by units of 3 JAK RIF and Naushera by units of 2 JAK RIF. The Punch Brigade under Brigadier Kishan Singh had 1 JAK RIF, 8 JAK RIF, and two companies of 7 JAK RIF to defend Punch, Bagh, and Kotli. 9 JAK RIF defended Rawalakot and Mang. In this part of Jammu along the Jhelum River, the local Muslims, whose soldiers had been placed by the British in the Pakistan army, were incited by the Pakistanis to massacre non-Muslims, and were re-inforced by Pakistani armymen in plain clothes. Fighting erupted here early in October, long before the "tribal raid" into Kashmir, forcing Hindus and Sikhs to take shelter with the J&K army garrisons, where they were all besieged by the Pakistanis. Read more in the Siege of Kotli.

Completely outnumbered and running low on munitions, the State Forces grimly held on, losing Bhimber on 28 October, Mendhar on 7 November and Rajauri, Rawalakot, Bagh by 11 November. The garrison at Mirpur held on till 25 November when this town was burnt and the civilians massacred by the savage Pakistanis. Mehr Chand Mahajan records that many of his close relatives perished in the sack of Mirpur. The J&K State Forces held on to Kotli, Jhangar, Naushera and Punch, until re-inforced by the Indian Army. The army also liberated Rajauri and Mendhar the next year.