Ajay K Raina
Come 22 October and we gear up to observe it as the Black Day. It would, in no uncertain terms, an apposite way of revisiting that day in 1947 when invaders who were being led, armed and supported by the Pakistan army, strolled into the territory of the princely State of Jammu & Kashmir. I say ‘strolled’ into our space because they had been welcome and were now being aided and guided by their co-religionists who formed half of the strength of a renowned and well-reputed infantry battalion, 4 JAK Infantry, of the State forces. Had 4 JAK Infantry not disintegrated due to the treason by their own, Jinnah’s Operation Gulmarg (the code name given to the conspiracy by the British and Pakistan hierarchy in Pakistan) to annex Kashmir by force, would have fallen flat on its ugly face on that day itself. A battle-hardened battalion, fresh from the World War II, would have made minced meat of those unruly, frenzied men in the carefully selected killing area sandwiched between Lohara Gali and Ramkot to the West of Muzaffarabad, had some of its officers and half its men not fallen for the trap shrewdly laid by Pakistan, using religion as a bait!
What followed in Muzaffarabad, Domel, Uri, and later in Baramulla and the countryside across the Valley, remains a splotch on humanity and the chronological sequence is well-documented as well as generally well-known. But for the ‘last man- last round’ stand taken by a handful of braves under their unflinching and intrepid Chief of Staff Brigadier Rajendra Singh, MVC (P), wherein they had kept the maniacs at bay for four days and as many nights, Kashmir would have met a fate that would have not only changed the course of history but would have mortified the human ethics yet again.
The history, however, needs to be read in its correct perspective. There is no doubt that Kashmir was invaded on 22 October 1947 (and freed of any unholy presence on 13 November) and mayhem had followed over the next few days, the point to be noted and taken note of is the fact that the invasion on 22 October, by any no stretch of the imagination, was the first invasion of the State in 1947. While many in the literary circles tend to give a broad brush to the cross-border raids in the Jammu region, all those acts of raiding, looting, abduction of women and theft of livestock had commenced much before the fateful date of 15 August. Certainly, raids are more of intrusions and may not fit the classical description of an invasion where the intruder intends to come in, capture territory and then consolidate before expanding further.
The first instance of a conventional invasion had happened in the Jammu region when the post-Monsoons weatherwas yielding to the autumn chill. A platoon (24 men) of Gorkha soldiers under Subedar Dhan Bahadur Singh (2 JAK Infantry) at Owen Pattan was the first to face the brunt of brutal enemy assault on the night of 08/09 October 1947. Based on the intelligence inputs about a huge build-up across the international boundary between J&K and Pakistan’s Punjab, the orders for the platoon to withdraw to the Company HQ base at Sensa had already been issued on 08 October but before the withdrawal could commence, a huge horde of the enemy had encircled the post. Gorkhas fought back bravely but were heavily outnumbered. The post, itself, was designed to police the border and didn’t have much defence potential. By the morning of 9 October, the post had been captured by the enemy with most of the Gorkha warrior killed/ maimed or taken prisoners. The very first happenstance of a military invasion of the State had,thus, been completed by 9 October 1947!
Sensa company base, under Lieutenant Raghubir Singh, had only the elements of the Company HQ and one platoon (total 32 men). The enemy contacted Sensa on the morning of 9 October itself. At that time, one relief platoon (25 men) under Captain Mohd Hussain from Kotli was on its way to Sensa to coordinate with Lieutenant Raghubir Singh before proceeding further West to Owen Pattan. The reinforcements had been sent after receipt of information about the critical situation at Owen Pattan. The force, on approaching Sensa, found the base surrounded by hundreds of enemy personnel from all sides. Captain Hussain fought his way in and entered the camp at Sensa after some intense fighting. Now reinforced, the garrison fought on for a few hours but soon the tides started to turn against the men inside the camp. Before the ammunition finished and strength fell below critical levels, a decision was taken to abandon the post. Fighting their way out, the troops vacated the post by late evening on 10 October and fell to Tharochi Fort while a jubilant mob of reckless, frantic men got busy with ransacking and looting whatever had been left behind by the residents and the soldiers.
Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Hamid Khan, CO, 2 JAK Infantry, having learnt about the enemy action, gathered two companies’ worth of men and marched off for Sensa on 12 October, with the aim to recapture Sensa and then push forward to reclaim Owen Pattan. The refugees from Sensa too went along with the hope of retrieving their properties and livestock. The column, having brushed aside opposition at a few places, reached Sensa evening on 12 October itself.
A Pakistani flag was seen fluttering on top of the Government rest house building, confirming the nature of the operation; they were now occupying our territory. Without wasting any time and without allowing the enemy any reaction time, the CO ordered an attack on the rest house and forced the enemy to flee, leaving behind Gorkha soldiers (from Owen Pattan) who had been kept in the captivity. There was a sense of jubilation as civilians rushed to their homes and the relief column went chasing the enemy towards Owen Pattan. The worst seemed to have been prevented through timely intervention.
However, to the dismay of Lieutenant Colonel Khan, a huge contingent of the enemy, including the fresh reinforcements in form of regulars of Pakistan army, had been waiting for them between Sensa and Owen Pattan. In a classical progression of an invasion, the Pakistani planners had not only occupied the State’s territory, they were now executing the expansion post-consolidation. The next two days saw repeated attempts by the column to push back the enemy while the enemy kept on bringing in more and more men and tried to encircle the column. With ammunition and supplies now running low, even the defence of Sensa became unviable and the CO decided to pull back and ordered the column to fall back to Tharochi on 14 October.
What followed those actions- another treachery at Tharochi or siege of Kotli- is well-known. Interestingly, while a joint force composed of the remnant of State forces and Indian Army troops was fighting the invaders near Pattan on 28 October, a new development was unfolding in the South of Pir Panjal. On that night, Bhimbar was attacked by a large throng of invaders. 11th Prince Albert Victor’s Own Cavalry (Frontier Force) or PAVO CAV (now 11 CAV (FF) of Pakistan) had been tasked to lead the attack but in disguise. Colonel “Tommy” Masud was the CO and the regiment attacked the border town with armoured cars during the night. Armoured cars actually gave their identity away. In isolation, the incident may simply appear to be reinforcing the Indian claims about the role of Pakistan army (denied vehemently by Pakistan at that time) but the incident had a linkage with another incident that happened on 7 November 1947 at Shalateng, on the outskirts of Srinagar. That, in any case, is a different story wherein Indian Army’s armoured cars had been welcome by the invaders before getting sorted out by our men in those cars.
Having established the date of the first invasion as the night of 8/9 October, lets try and see why 22 October and why not 7/8 October is considered as the date of invasion of the State. The first reason, of course, would be Kashmir centricity that continues even today. The second reason given by many was the comparative volume of thrust, especially, the number of lorries (between 300 and 1000 as per various accounts) along Muzaffarabad-Uri-Srinagar road as against foot-based operations in Poonch region. Such arguments ignore two facts. The first fact relates to the terrain and infrastructure. Poonch had no road that could match the dimensions and reach of the main Muzaffarabad-Uri-Srinagar road. Had a similar axis been available, there would have been a similar concentration by the enemy even along that non-existent road. Secondly, a mere glance at the sketch of Operation Gulmarg (now in public domain) would throw up a fact or two. As against six lashkars (6,000 men) sent into the Valley, ten lashkars (10,000 men) had been sent into Poonch-Mirpur area. In addition, 7 Division of Pakistan army had moved up opposite Poonch while another brigade was posturing around Sialkot opposite Jammu!
Many commentators also feel comfortable calling 22 October as the day of invasion because they see the following actions, i.e., request to India for help by the Maharaja and signing of the Instrument of Accession a bit later, as meaningful consequences of the invasion. Here again, we tend to ignore that Maharaja Hari Singh had toured Poonch-Mirpur after loss of Owen Pattan and Sensa and had requested the Indian government to help. The fact that a battalion from Patiala Forces did land up in Jammu around 15 October and an artillery battery too landed (without sights though) in Srinagar on 17 October only because of request by the Maharaja to the central leadership. Unfortunately, it was because of an unwarranted hard stand taken by Pandit Nehru that had actually delayed the signing of the instrument right till 26 October. State’s Deputy PM, RL Batra had been sent by Maharaja Hari Singh to Delhi to open the talks for accession well before the 22 October and soon after the invasion on 08 October. Had it not been due to the delays because of Pandit Nehru insisting on obtaining concurrence of Sheikh Abdullah, the State would have possibly acceded to the Union much before 22 October. That is another story by itself. Another reason for giving priority to 22 October over 08 October was the narrative and convenience as it related to certain quarters in the literary circles.
The expected question, then, is why so much against Poonch and not Kashmir? While, Kashmir had its own significance and lure (the latter more important to the invaders), Poonch had far-reaching implications when it came to survival of the baby called Pakistan that had been born out of a virtual miscarriage. Their new capital lay less than 50 miles from Jhelum along which ran the international boundary. Further, their connectivity to North was via the road that ran just across Jhelum. And of course, Mangla headworks (later converted into a huge dam) were central to Pakistan’s insecurity regarding water. Not known to many, turbulence in Poonch had been started earlier as part of the British plan to use influence over the previous British Chief of Staff of the State forces, Major General HL Scott who, in turn, used that as an excuse to move the only reserve battalion available in the Valley, 9 JAK Infantry from Kashmir to Poonch, thereby, rendering the Valley defenceless post treachery by soldiers of 4 JAK Infantry when that happened on 22 October. The British, by planning and executing the plan through Pakistan establishment, had kept their part of commitment to save Pakistan. It was a big game, probably more gigantic than the famed Great Game of that era but unfortunately, we failed to see the macro situation in its correct perspective.
And yet, another way of looking at the issue is, as we say in the defence forces, accepting the fact that all the developments in Poonch region were preparatory in nature and were aimed at facilitating the action on 22 October (move of 9 JAK Infantry being one such act). The fact that the date of 22 October (D Day for Operation Gulmarg) had been fixed much in advance (keeping in mind upcoming snowing season that would have closed the passes and isolated the Valley from three sides) and the aim of the invaders was to rush to Srinagar and capture Maharaja Hari Singh so as to force him to sign the accession papers, does add weight to the argument in the favour of 22 October.
The bottom line, however, is that it doesn’t really matter as long as we observe the Black Day both to remind Pakistan in particular and international community in general about the breach of international protocol, games played by the British, unreasonable attitude of certain political biggies and of course, to our own people about the supreme sacrifices that were made to defend the State. We will do well to remember that the invaders could get in only over the dead body of the Chief of Staff of the State. Be it 08 or 22 Oct, the bigger picture needs to be understood, remembered and kept alive in the institutional memory of a great institution called India.
Lets, therefore, do our bit and observe 22 October as the Black Day in the history of our State.
(The author is a Military Historian and a founding member of Military History Research Society of India)
Ajay K Raina