The capture and return of Haji Pir
Operation Gibraltar was the Pakistan army’s grandiose plan to take over Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), in 1965. Pakistan’s first tin-pot dictator Field Marshal Ayub Khan was convinced by his then foreign minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto that India’s response to its incursions in “India-occupied” Kashmir would not cross the international boundary. Bhutto argued that such an incursion would be confined to Kashmir. The other delusion that the Pakistani army suffered from was that local Kashmiris would welcome them with open arms. Moreover, according to Khan, the Indian Army of “Hindus” having lost against the Chinese in 1962 was rather weak at the time.
However, as a retaliation to Operation Gibraltar, the Indian Army decided to capture the strategic Haji Pir Pass. The mountain pass served as a vital link between saboteurs operating in Poonch and their bases in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). The pass, however, was dominated by three hill features - <g data-gr-id="60">Bedori</g>, <g data-gr-id="61">Lediwali</g> Gali and Sank. Capturing these features was essential for the capture of Haji Pir.
The Indian Army’s 19 Infantry Division along with 68 Infantry Brigade launched a pincer movement (two sides of simultaneous troop movement closing together behind enemy forward positions) to annihilate the enemy.
Operation Bakshi, the Northern pincer, consisted of 1 PARA advancing from Uri to Sank and further to <g data-gr-id="58">Lediwali</g> Gali to reach Hajipir Pass. The 19 Punjab was to take the <g data-gr-id="59">Bedori</g> approach to the pass.
Operation <g data-gr-id="55">Faulad</g>, the southern pincer, was to be undertaken by 93 Infantry Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division. It was essential to capture these intermittent features, as it opened the axis to Haji Pir Pass.
The task was daunting. Even though soldiers of the Indian Army were coming under heavy enemy fire, they had to climb steep mountains devoid of any vegetation. The assault carried out in pitch darkness, was made worse by the non-stop rain, accompanying slush and slippery rocks. At times, the men were forced to move on all four limbs. Undaunted, they advanced, and the crucial pass on August 28, 1965, was captured and consolidation was completed by August 30, 1965.
Major Ranjit Singh Dayal of 1 PARA led his men very boldly and ingeniously during the operation of reducing the vital feature of Sank, which ultimately paved the way for the capture of Haji Pir Pass. In the final assault on the Pass, Dayal advanced from an unexpected direction catching the enemy completely by surprise. He was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra for displaying outstanding courage and leadership.
Maj Gen SS Kallan, GOC 19 Infantry Division, who contributed significantly by his professional acumen, flawless planning and leading the men from the front disregarding his personal safety, was also awarded the Maha Vir Chakra.
The helicopter sorties by the Indian Air Force Task Force based in Srinagar had a huge psychological impact on the infiltrators. The invaluable support provided by the helicopters for the much needed administrative backup and evacuation of causalities also played a vital role in the victory.
More than three months after the ceasefire, India’s then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and Pakistani President Field Marshal Ayub Khan met at Tashkent for the signing of a peace declaration. According to the Tashkent Declaration, “The Prime Minister of India and the President of Pakistan have agreed that all armed personnel of the two countries shall be withdrawn not later than 25 February 1966 to the positions they held prior to 5 August 1965. Both sides shall observe the cease-fire terms on the cease-fire line”. And so, Haji Pir went back to Pakistan. The Tashkent Declaration, signed by Prime Minister of India and President of Pakistan, came into force on January 10, 1966. A few hours later, however, Shastri died. On the 109th birth anniversary of Lal Bahadur Shastri, Russian writer Anton Vereshchagin wrote, “Lalita, the wife of Shastri, pointing to strange bluish marks on his body and claiming that he never had any heart problems in the past, said that her husband was indeed poisoned.”
Vereshchagin further wrote, “However, much of this story remains unclear. Why wasn’t an autopsy performed on the body of the Prime Minister? Why are the Indian authorities afraid to publish the details of his death? Why did Shastri’s son Sunil stubbornly refuse to believe that his father died of a heart attack? Whether we learn the answers to these questions, only time will tell”. Shastri was a leader, who held a high regard for India’s armed forces. He would visit them often during his short tenure as Prime Minister and coin the popular phrase “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan”.
Haji Pir was militarily most vital of India’s gains during the second war perpetrated by Pakistan. And none of the clauses of the Tashkent Declaration, for peace between the two countries, has been adhered to by Pakistan. In 1971, it waged a third war against India and since then it has been engaging in a proxy war. The fourth war against India has been via the export of terror, subterfuge, propaganda and often outright lies.
(The views expressed are personal.)