LoC: where Army meets Awam

K.D. Maini

Major General Akbar Khan of Pakistan Army who had conceived and implemented ‘Operation Gulmerg’ to capture J&K during 1947 wrote in his book ‘The Raiders in Kashmir’ that the loss of area from Nowshera upto Sawjian Poonch in the south of Pir Panchal was the biggest defeat of Pakistan during 1947-48 war of Kashmir when Indian forces moved from Nowshera towards Rajouri on 10th April 1948 and reached Chingus on the same day and then with the active help of Choudhary Dina and his supporters, the Jat and Kumao Battalion stormed Rajouri town on 30th of April and de-thrown the administration of Mirza Mohd Hussain which was supported by Pakistan Army and captured Rajouri town. Then the Indian Army started planning to link besieged Poonch town with rest of Country.

During September 1947 two Battalions of State forces were active in Poonch Principality which were scattered in the villages and due to desertion of Muslim Jawans, the morale of state forces was very low, when Poonch rebels alongwith Lashkar under the supervision of Pakistan regular forces started revolt in Poonch Principality. The State Forces could not face this aggression and withdrew towards Poonch town and ultimately the whole Poonch Principality except Poonch town with 2000 State Forces and 40,000 refugees became hostage in the besieged Poonch town from all the sides by Pakistan sponsored forces. This was the situation when Indian Army under the command of Brigadier L.P. Sen had left Uri on 19th November 1947 for the relief of besieged Poonch town and further movement towards Kotli. However, due to burning of an important bridge at Changal, Uri Column could not reach Poonch, only Brigadier L.P. Sen and Lt. Col. Pritam Singh alongwith his battalion crossed the river and reached Poonch on 21st of November 1947.
After assessing the situation of Poonch where the State Forces under the command of Brigadier Krishan Singh were holding Poonch town with only 10 square Km area while the whole Principality had already gone under the occupation of Pakistan sponsored forces. Then Brigadier L.P. Sen appointed Lt. Col. Pritam Singh, the Commander of Poonch Garrison to defend the town and put the State Forces under his command and left back to Uri on the same day. Immediately after taking the charge, Pritam Singh started working to defend besieged Poonch town. He announced Defense Council for the administration of the city under the Chairmanship of Gyani Jeevan Singh, appointed Capt. Narinder as town Major and started establishing pickets around Poonch city to face the enemy. He also decided to construct air field in the west of Poonch town through public cooperation on 30th November 1947 in a meeting with the citizens of Poonch. Accordingly 6000 citizens of Poonch started working during day and night and constructed the air strip within six days. On 8th October 1947 Air Marshal Mukherjee and Air Commodore Mehar Singh landed the first Beech Craft on the air strip and opened the air link of Poonch with the rest of the country. This had happened due to full cooperation of the people of hostage Poonch town which was the first solid Army cum public joint venture in besieged Poonch city. After that air link of Poonch with rest of country could become possible. The air supply of eatable items, weapons and ammunition started regularly while refugees were also airlifted to Jammu.
After that the first land link was established with Rajouri on 16th of June 1948 at Potha Surankote where Rajouri Column and Poonch Column had met. However, after few days Rajouri Column left back and the area from Poonch to Rajouri again came under the occupation of Pakistan. In these circumstances during November 1948 two Brigade forces moved from Rajouri towards Poonch for link up under the command of Brigadier Yadav Nath Singh. On 8th November Bimber Gali and Ramgarh Fort in Rajouri were snatched from the enemy, on 16th November Pir Topa was captured while on 20th November Brigadier Pritam Singh started from Poonch with his forces and stormed Pir Margote Gazi on the top of Kanuyian and captured this important point after killing of 300 enemies. On 21st November Brigadier Yadav Nath Singh moved from Pir Topa and Brigadier Pritam Singh from Margote Gazi and both the forces met at Dhanay Na Pir and completed the link of Poonch with rest of the country. On 22nd of November 1948 Brigadier Pritam Singh and Brigadier Yadav Nath Singh moved from Dhanay Na Pir towards Poonch city and entered the city where almost all the citizens had come on the streets to welcome the Indian forces with the slogan of ‘Jai Hind’. Every year this event is celebrated as Poonch Link-Up Day. This year also a number of events are being conducted in connection with the Poonch Link-Up Day including Wreath Ceremony at Naman Sthal, Ex-Servicemen Rally, meeting with the people of Poonch by the VIP, conduct of a drama ‘Dastan-e-Poonch 1947’ on 21st November 2023.
From 1947 onward, 93 Infantry Brigade Poonch have become the identity of Poonch. The relation between Army and Awam always remain cordial and congenial. During the Indo-Pak War of 1965, 1971 and militancy days these relations got further strengthened when with the help of natives of this sector the Indian Army not only defended the territory but also secured an important ridge Nanga Tekri during 1971 and 528 Sq Km area of Uri Poonch bulge was snatched from Pakistan during 1965 War which was returned back due to Tashkent Pact.
During peace time the Commanders and Jawans of 93 Infantry Brigade always try best to help the natives of Poonch town and residents of villages located near the LoC for their overall development, and social upliftment. During last two years a number of innovative schemes as per the wishes and aspirations of the people have been implemented. The visionary and people friendly Brigade Commander and his officers in the field have maintained close relation with the public and implementing the programmes, schemes and works for the overall development of the natives of border area.
13 students of border villages like Sawjian, Khari, Arigam, Bandi Kamakhan and Kossallian have been sponsored to Mewar University for their higher education. The Sarpanch Mohd Ismail resident of Khari told that one student Mohd Yasar S/o Haji Mohd Ishfaq of his village has been got admitted in Mewar University with the help of Army. In Gagrian-Sawjian village touching the LoC, a Goodwill School is run by the Army. Presently 196 students are undergoing education in the school. The Sarpanch Abdul Qayoom of Sawjian told that two girls students of this School have undergone online interview and selected for CBSE. While appreciating the efforts of Army, he desires that the level of School may be upgraded upto 10th Class.
During Link Up Day celebrations every year some innovative events are also organized to create employment opportunities for the youth of border area apart from their amusement. This year on 3rd November, 93 Infantry Brigade and District Administration Poonch jointly organized a thrilling paragliding adventure in the border village Gulpur and Ajote in collaboration with the expert Pilots from Dhuladhar Sky Explore Sport in Bir Billing Himachal Pradesh. 34 paragliding flights from Morekote top of Ajote took place in two days programme out of which 28 paragliders successfully landed at Gulpur helipad while 06 paragliders were landed at Poonch Air field. Large number of local people including that of border villages like Khari, Karmara, Ajote and Gulpur witnessed this event and enjoyed. Said Mohd S/o Mir Hussain resident of Panchayat Kossallian while appreciating the efforts of Civil Administration and Army for organizing such a wonderful show that this adventure may be continued due to which the employment shall be generated for the local people of border area. The District Development Commissioner Poonch, Choudhary M. Yasin, IAS, said that more innovative events like rafting in Poonch river, cycling on Mughal Road and snow games shall be started as a joint venture with Army to generate employment opportunities for the youth.
On the direction of Commander 93 Infantry Brigade Poonch, 07 Medical cum Veterinary Camps have been organized by the local Army Units at Gagrian, Gali Maidan, Nerian Dhok, VTC Mandi, PHC Nangali and Kossallian. 1721 patients were treated on spots and provided medicines and life-saving drugs besides 2394 animals were also checked up by the veterinary doctors and provided medicines for ailing animals. Mohd Azam, Panch Chool and Mohd Bashir, Sarpanch Gagrian told that these camps organized at Gali Maidan, Gagrian and Nerian Dhok were very beneficial for the public of this far flung area. The tribal people of nearby Dhoks alongwith Cattle and flocks also participated and got medicines for ailing persons and animals.
Apart from the above, the other schemes like tailoring classes at Sawjian, distribution of books to students living below poverty line, conduct of tournament of youth, mushroom farming, musical events and provision of water storage tanks to needy families have also been implemented by 93 Infantry Brigade Poonch. This has happened under the able guidance of Brigade Commander and implemented by his Jawans.
The above facts reveal that apart from defending the Nation on the LOC, recovery of narcotics of huge quantity, killing of infiltrators while crossing of LOC and looking after the interest of the natives of border area by 93 Infantry Brigade is exemplary. The saviours of Poonch are always engaged to help the border people and to improve their life for better. The attitude of patriotic people of this sector towards Army and Nation is also appreciable. These goodwill gestures are in the interest of Nation. In this manner, the cooperation between Army and Awam in Poonch sector which started from the construction of Air Field in six days by 6000 civilians of besieged Poonch town continues further and gets strengthened with the passage of time.