Thursday, October 23, 2014

Role of Pashtun tribesmen in 1948's war of Kashmir

Agha Humayun Amin Major (r)

The tribesmen were brought from the NWFP tribal areas on trucks requisitioned by Government of Pakistan and concentrated in Batrasi north-east of Abbottabad. The invasion was to commence from 20th October 1947; the main northern tribal force invading Kashmir under Khurshid Anwar on Abbottabad-Garhi Habibullah-Muzaffarabad-Srinagar axis with a smaller auxiliary force advancing along Murree-Kohala-Muzaffarabad axis.

The Lashkar of tribesmen had been assembled by the efforts of Khan Khushdil Khan of Mardan. On the night of 20/21 October 2,000 tribesmen captured the bridge spanning the Neelam river on the Hazara Trunk Road linking Muzaffarabad with Abbottabad without a fight, since the all Muslim guard platoon of 4 Jammu and Kashmir Infantry joined the tribesmen.

The Muslim companies of his state forces 4 Jammu and Kashmir Battalion in Muzaffarabad area rebelled and joined the tribesmen. By morning of 21 October the 2,000 raiders assisted by the Muslim Companies of the 4 Jammu and Kashmir State Infantry Battalion had captured the first major border town Muzaffarabad. Fighting continued till 23 October since other Dogra troops of the 4 Jammu and Kashmir infantry fought on till 23 October in the localities of Domel and Kohala.The 1947-48 Kashmir War had formally started.

The entire Kashmir War of 1947-48 was fought over a large area comprising more than 89,000 square miles and over the highest mountain barriers in the world. In brief the Kashmir War was fought in four areas, one of which was most important and the centre of gravity for the other three. These four areas were the Jhelum Valley or the Muzaffarabad- Srinagar Road, the Northern Areas comprising the Gilgit-Leh axis in the Indus Valley and the Zojila Pass area, the Poonch River Valley and fourthly the area between Jammu and Mirpur.

After capturing Domel the last Dogra held locality on the main road to Srinagar on 23 October in lorries and trucks. There was practically nothing between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar to stop the tribesmen. Brigadier Rajinder Singh the chief of staff of the Kashmir State Forces rushed to Uri 63 miles west of Srinagar on the main Muzaffarabad- Srinagar road with 200 soldiers and blew a bridge spanning a nullah (water course smaller than a river) on the main road on 23 October 19476. This delayed the advance of the tribesmen and other volunteers who now numbered about 5,000 by one day. Brigadier Rajinder Singh who believed in leading from the front was killed in action on 24th October.

The tribesmen resumed advance and captured Baramula which was 35 miles west of Srinagar on 26th October 1947. According to Sardar Shaukat Hayat who was one of the Muslim League men tasked to oversee the invasion the issue was Rs 300,000 found in the Kashmir State Treasury. Khurshid Anwar foolishly argued that this money belonged to Pakistan Government while the tribesmen asserted that it belonged to them. Once this issue was settled the tribesmen who insisted that they will not move before the three day Eid festival was over. In the meantime the Indian GHQ was acting real fast. The Maharaja of Kashmir had been requesting the Indian government for military aid since 24th October and on 26th October signed the Instrument of Accession joining India. Meanwhile the Indians had already sent a staff officer from their military operations department on 25th October to study the military situation. The Indians collected 30 Dakotas for the airlift and flew two companies of 1 Sikh to Srinagar on 27th October from Willingdon airport near New Delhi.

Dewan on landing at Srinagar immediately rushed in lorries to Baramula hoping to stop the Lashkar at the mouth of the funnel which opens east of Baramula into a wide valley as one advances from Baramula towards Srinagar. 1 Sikh joined the state troops 5 kilometres east of Baramula, but could not hold the Lashkar of 5,000 men. Dewan was killed in the fighting and the remaining elements of 1 Sikh withdrew eastwards losing 24 men (killed) to take another defensive position at Patan 25 kilometres west of SrinagarlO. On 28th more Indian troops flew into Srinagar and the balance of strength started tilting in Indian favour.

The tribesmen bypassed 1 Sikh's position at Patan from the flanks but was forced to stay close to the main road since manoeuvrability in the whole area was restricted by marshes and small lakes and the lashkar Pathans were by and large non swimmers 1 1 ! By 2nd November the Indians had flown in a very strong infantry brigade (161 Brigade) consisting of approximately four battalions into Srinagar. In addition the overall command of Indian Army operations in Kashmir was entrusted to Headquarters Jammu and Kashmir Force based at Srinagar and headed by Major General Kalwant Singh. The commander of 161 Indian Infantry Brigade(from 2nd November) was Brigadier L.P Sen.

The Indian GHQ ordered 7th Light Cavalry to be ready to move into Kashmir in the end of October. Its Hindu Jat Squadron equipped with armoured cars (this was from 6 Lancers which went to Pakistan) started movement from Ambala on 1 st November and after a tough march reached Srinagar on the evening of 5th November.

The tribesmen launched an attack on the reinforced Indian position at Patan on 30th October but failed to capture it due to intense strafing by Indian Air Force and the inherent defensive strength of the Indian defensive position which was well sited and dominated the area around. The tribesmen now decided to infiltrate, bypass

the Indian position from both north and south and capture the Srinagar airfield, which was the centre of gravity of the whole battle. The tribesmen who were masters of guerrilla warfare successfully went into the rear of the Indian position from its south by infiltration (see definition) and managed to reach Badgam a village just a few kilometres away from the Srinagar airfield on 3rd November. Here they successfully raided and dispersed an Indian infantry company inflicting in the process an extremely heavy loss on the Indians in terms of men killed including the Indian Company commander Major Somnath Sharma.

The tribesmen were very close to establishing a roadblock between Srinagar airfield and town, but their paucity in numbers restrained them from doing so. At this critical juncture when no Pakistani politician ever dared to cross the River Jhelum in order to inspire and pat the indomitable tribesmen. The Indian political

leadership was more energetic and on hearing about indomitable tribesmen's action at Badgam Sardar Patel the second most important Indian leader after Nehru visited Srinagar on 4th November 19. Patel stressed the importance of holding Srinagar and assured the soldiers that reinforcements were on the way. on the night of 2/3 November the tribesmen had successfully infiltrated north of the Indian main position at Pattan and had reached Shalateng in the rear of Pattan and a little to the north of Srinagar. Sen the Indian brigade commander countered this move by ordering 1 Sikh to pull back from Patan and to take a position at milestone four astride the Srinagar- Baramula road. By 6th November a large number of tribesmen who had been slowly infiltrating since 3rd November had gathered at Shalateng.

Major Aslam and Major Khurshid Anwar the Pakistani officers in charge of these tribesmen decided to launch their main attack on Srinagar on the night of 6/7 November. The Indian Brigade Commander Brigadier Sen was also simultaneously analysing this threat and had decided to launch a deliberate attack on this force supported by 7th Light Cavalry's squadron on 7th November. Sen's plan was to launch a frontal attack supported by aircraft while one troop of 7th Light Cavalry under nLieutenant David which had already been sent towards Bandipura on a recce mission and was already in the tribesmen's positions rear was ordered by wireless to attack the tribesmen from the rear. The result was the battle of Shalateng on the morning of 7th November.

The tribesman had started their main attack by infiltration on the night of 6th November and were fighting on the northern outskirts of Srinagar when the Indians launched their main attack at first light. David's troop had already got into the rear of the tribesmen as planned; thus while the tribesmen were attacked frontally by Indian infantry supported by armoured cars and aircraft, armoured cars were attacking them from the rear. This was too much for men armed with bolt action rifles. The tribesmen were routed and it was with great difficulty

that the situation was finally stabilised at least temporarily at Rampura a narrow defile halfway between Baramula and Uri. The abandonment of the conduct of war to tribesmen armed with bolt action rifles; while the Indians attacked them with Spitfires, Tempests, Harvards and Daimler/Humber/GMC Armoured cars was without any doubt one of the most disgraceful acts in Pakistani military history. Even in the whole of 1947- 48 War in all probability no regular Pakistan Army officer beyond the rank of captain was killed! An indicator that officers were not leading from the front.

Akbar said in his book; ' They (Pashtun tribesmen) felt themselves let down by Pakistan. They had, of their own free will, agreed to come and fight in Kashmir but nonly against the State Army. In this they had done more than what was expected of them. But no one had arranged with them. But no one had arranged with them to fight also against the regular Indian Army, with artillery tanks and aircraft. It must be noted that there was one very major difference between the tribesmen and the vast majority of Muslim League leaders like Ghazanfar Ali and men like Aslam Khan, Khurshid Anwar etc, i.e.; these men and their ancestors since 1 849 had been serving the British and even the Dogras (as far as Aslam Khan was concerned) and suddenly in 1940 or 1947 these men had become leaders of Pakistan or officers of the Pakistan Army; in contrast the tribesmen and their ancestors had been fighting the British with unequal intervals since 1849!

Baramula was recaptured by Indians on 8th November and the Indians aided by their airforce which was attacking the entire tract of road between Baramula andMuzaffarabad continued their advance towards Uri. The Indian Prime Minister Nehru visited Kashmir on 1 1th November and travelled in an armoured car of 7th Light Cavalry till Baramula.While Nehru boldly visited frontlines in Kashmir during the war ,Pakistans prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan dared not visit Kashmir till after cease fire.Extreme left Brigadier Akbar Khan ,the only Pakistani observer who noted this fact in his monumental book "Raiders in Kashmir" . What kept the Pakistani political leadership from visiting the tribesmen who had won a territory that to this day has been ruled by Pakistan is hard to explain. Akbar Khan was not wrong once he said that fear prevented these leaders from visiting Kashmir while the war was on! Liaquat eventually fell victim of an assassin in 1951.

According to General Akbar Khan the tribesmen were so demoralised and disappointed by lack of Pakistan Army support that they withdrew from the frontline opposite Baramula on 3 1st October and 10th November. the initial shock of the tribal onslaught on Srinagar was so traumatic that it imposed a 'once bitten twice shy approach' on the mind of the Indian Commanders. This ensured that the Indians despite the absence of any tribals in front of them; were in no mood to advance hurriedly towards Muzaffarabad after having captured Baramula. After 10th November according to Akbar Khan the Mehsud and other tribesmen returned and played a major role in stabilising the front between Uri and Muzaffarabad.

As one advances westwards from Baramula to Uri the Jhelum Gorge becomes narrower and the defenders task becomes easier while the attackers task becomes more difficult. The Indian Army although supported by aircraft artillery and armoured cars was too psychologically shattered to advance rapidly westwards, despite the fact that most tribesmen were not fighting the battle, at least temporarily few demolitions and a few snipers who were too motivated to withdraw stopped the Indian advance approximately 3 miles west of Uri. The start of snowfall from first week of December ensured that no major fighting took place between December 1947 and April 1948.

By 13th November when the Indians captured Uri the remotest chance of any future threat developing ever again to Srinagar was removed. The Srinagar Valley was the heartland of Kashmir. Possession of it meant that the Indians could reinforce and relieve its besieged garrisons at Leh, Skardu, Poonch. Attack Muzaffarabad, Tithwal, Kargil and mount air attacks on all supply routes on Murree-Muzaffarabad-Uri Road, Kaghan-Babusar-Chilas track, all tracks and roads around Poonch etc. Since September-October various Kashmir State Forces garrisons consisting of Hindu Dogra troops were besieged all over the state by the tribals who had entered various parts of Kashmir and by local Kashmiri Muslim militias of ex-World War II veterans.

The besieged garrisons were defended by numerically small forces and started surrendering one by one; Bhimbhar and Mendhar on 3rd November, Bagh was abandoned by its non-Muslim garrison on 9th November which broke out to join Poonch Garrison. Rajauri was captured by the Militia/Tribals on 12th November and Rawalakot whose defenders managed to breakout and join Poonch around the same time40. In various Pakistani and Indian accounts both sides accuse each other of atrocities against prisoner women and other non- combatants.

In mid-November the Indians brought another regular army brigade i.e. 268 Infantry Brigade in Kashmir. This brigade relieved 50 Para Brigade which had been earlier located in Gurdaspur area and had entered Kashmir in end October of the defence of Jammu Akhnur area. The Indians now planned a relief operation aimed at relieving Mirpur Poonch and Kotli garrisons, two battalion size force (from 161 Brigade) was to move from Uri southwards to Poonch while a brigade size force (50 Para Brigade) supported by a squadron of armoured cars of 7th Light Cavalry which had joined it at Jammu on 9th November41, was to move from Jammu northwards on axis Jammu-Akhnur-Nowshera-Jhangar-Kotli-Mirpur relieving Mirpur right on the Kashmir Pakistan border by 20th November 1947.

The Indians were not wholly successful in executing this plan. Tribal/Militia resistance was tough and the terrain difficult, and the Uri force could not relieve Poonch but managed to breakthrough to it and reinforcing it with one battalion.The force attacking northwards from Jammu i.e. Para Brigade succeeded in capturing

Nowshera Jhangar and relieving Kotli garrison on 26th November. However, news of fall of Mirpur which had been captured by the tribals/militia on 25th November forced the Indians to abandon Kotli, which could not be defended, while Mirpur was in hostile hands. Around the end of December the Indians inducted another regular army brigade in Kashmir i.e. the 80 Infantry Brigade in area Chamb-Akhnur. This brigade captured Chamb on 10th December and had been captured by the militia soon after the rebellion started in October. It may be noted that the 50 Para Brigade was commanded since end of November by Brigadier Usman an Indian Muslim officer who had decided to opt for the Indian Army42. Intense fighting involving small size forces took place in area Bhimbhar-Jhangar- Mirpur etc

Most important of these actions but of limited tactical consequence wasrecapture of Jhangar by the Militia/Tribals on 24 December. In mid-February 1948 the Indians inducted 19 Brigade (three infantry battalions) in Nowshera area.