The forgotten war that gave us J&K
The 50th anniversary of the 1965 India-Pakistan war was observed in a befitting manner by the defence forces this year. Six years from now it will be the 50th anniversary of the 1971 war which most likely will be celebrated on a much bigger scale as it was the country’s greatest military victory ever. Unfortunately, however, the war which gave us the state of Jammu and Kashmir, though truncated, is all but forgotten.
The day India became free on August 15, 1947, the state, like Hyderabad and Junagadh, and unlike over 500 other princely states, had not acceded to either India or Pakistan. Its maharaja, Hari Singh, was reluctant to join either of the dominions and wished to keep his state independent. Anticipating a threat from Pakistan, prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote to Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in September to prevail upon Hari Singh to release Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah who, as leader of a popular rising against the maharaja, had been imprisoned by him. Nehru felt that without the cooperation of Abdullah, who had the full support of the people, the state administration would not be able to meet Pakistan’s imminent threat. It will also facilitate Kashmir’s accession to India.
On October 22, 1947, over 5,000 tribesmen, with weapons and transport supplied by the Pakistani Army, entered Kashmir and seized Muzaffarabad, Domel and Uri and surged towards Srinagar. Two days later, the maharaja offered to accede to India and asked for immediate military assistance. V.P. Menon, secretary in the ministry of states, flew to Jammu and got the instrument of succession signed by the maharaja on October 26. The emergency meeting of the Defence Committee comprising Nehru, Patel and defence minister Baldev Singh, despite initial resistance from Lord Mountbatten, its chairman, ordered troops in the Valley to evict the invaders.
Operation J&K commenced at first light on the morning of October 27. One after another more than a hundred planes, both civilian (BOAC) and military (RIAF), flew out of Safdarjung Airport, ferrying weapons, rations and troops of the Sikh regiment led by Lt Col Ranjit Rai who was one of the first soldiers to sacrifice his life, but not before his unit had succeeded in establishing a bridgehead on the Baramula-Srinagar road which halted the invasion and saved Srinagar.
On hearing that Indian troops had landed in Srinagar Pakistani governor general Mohammad Ali Jinnah ordered General Douglas Gracy, acting chief of the Pakistan Army (both India and Pakistan had British officers in top echelons) to move his troops into Kashmir on the Rawalpindi-Srinagar road towards the Banihal pass and cut off Kashmir from Jammu and the rest of India. Fortunately for India, Gracy refused. He did so at the behest of Mountbatten and Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck (the Supreme Commander of both Indian and Pakistani armies).
Mountbatten and his chief of staff, General Hastings Ismay, flew to Lahore on November 1. They spent over three hours with Jinnah discussing Junagadh, Hyderabad, and Kashmir. When Mountbatten suggested impartial plebiscites the Quaid-e-Azam spurned the proposal.
On November 8, Nehru wrote to his Pakistani counterpart, Liaquat Ali, enumerating India’s proposals: Pakistan should publicly compel the raiders to withdraw; India would withdraw its troops as soon as the raiders withdrew and law and order was restored; both governments should make a joint request to the UN to hold a plebiscite at the earliest.
By mid-November Indian forces had retaken Uri and secured the Valley. The invaders had, however, continued their advance in the Poonch and Mirpur areas. With the assistance of the local rebels they had captured Bhimbar, Rajouri and Rawalakot. They now posed a serious threat to the state forces’ garrisons in Mirpur, Kotli, Poonch and Naushera. In Gilgit the Scouts, led by a British officer, staged a coup and declared their allegiance to Pakistan. On December 24, Indian forces at Jhangar were evicted by a determined attack. The raiders now had a free run of the road connecting Mirpur-Jhangar-Kotli-Poonch.
Nehru and his senior colleagues decided that if Uri fell, Indian forces would have to enter Pakistan. Nehru directed the army chief to be prepared for every contingency and to be prepared soon. He intended to adopt two parallel courses of action: reference to the UN, and “complete military preparations to meet any possible contingency”. Over the next couple of days, Naushera held and there was no imminent danger to Uri. By the end of December there was no pressing need for an attack into Pakistan.
Later India’s military position had improved. Jhangar was captured in March 1948 and Rajouri taken next. By early March the threat to the lines of communication from Jammu to Naushera was neutralized. Indian forces were now poised for the “spring offensive”.
On May 18, India launched a two-pronged offensive: one along the Uri-Domel road, the other towards Tithwal and thence to Muzaffarbad and Domel. The presence of Pakistani forces blunted the offensive by early June. The only significant success was the capture of Tithwal.
Having closely examined the situation Nehru concluded that the only practical solution was a compromise “on the basis of the … existing military situation” (meaning thereby the partition of the state). Patel concurred.
The army concentrated on limited offensives in the Ladakh and Jammu sectors. By the end of November 1948 Indian forces recaptured Dras and Kargil, securing the route from the valley to Ladakh. Simultaneously they took Mendhar and linked up with the Poonch garrison, so lifting the year-long siege. Having fully secured Ladakh and Rajouri Poonch India accepted ceasefire for which international pressure had been building up and could not be resisted any longer. The guns fell silent on the last night of 1948 and ceasefire became effective from January 1, 1949.
India agreed to a plebiscite subject to certain very specific conditions, the most important of which was that Pakistan should withdraw all its troops and vacate the entire territory of the former princely state of Jammu & Kashmir. This Pakistan refused to do and still refuses to do.
To sum up, the partition of J&K proposed by Nehru in 1948, and again put forward by Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his premiership half a century later, remains the only lasting solution for durable peace in the subcontinent.