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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 40, New Delhi, September 26, 2015

Liberation of Haji Pir

Monday 28 September 2015

by Javed Malick

The operation in Uri sector across the Cease Fire Line will remain a golden chapter in India’s military history for a very long time to come. The story is marked with the indefatigable valour and unflinching determination of our officers and jawans.

Advance towards Haji Pir was, however, an uphill task both figuratively and literally. It required a well-planned strategy and careful tactics.

As you go westwards from the border village, Lagama (Uri sector), you have to tread a difficult ascending pathway with its snakelike curves. On either side there are endless ranges of high mountains covered with thick forests, and you have to walk along a silvery, ice-cold stream whose soft murmuring sounds inconsistent with the din of the twenty-five pounders which pound and punish the enemy positions 10 miles away. The stream is the notorious Hathlanga Nullah, which was made the Cease Fire Line, all to our disadvantage. On this side of the Nullah was our last picket, Silikot, and on the other was the Pakistani picket, Sankh. It is only when you go beyond the wooden bridge across the stream that you feel the exciting experience of entering the so-called Azad Kashmir of the other day. From here started the memorable advance of our forces towards Haji Pir.

Haji Pir’s importance for an adequate and effective defence of the Valley lies in the fact that most of Ayub’s armed hirelings, whom Pakistani war-lords still ridiculously and stubbornly choose to call ‘mujahids’, had entered the Valley from this side. The Uri-Poonch bulge, which was the most vulnerable part of the 475-mile long CFL, could be defended effectively only from the Uri-Poonch road which has fallen in disuse since it came under Pakistani occupation. The road, in its own turn, could be defended adequately by occupying the Haji Pir peak, which also overlooks the Tithwal, Uri, Poonch sectors, and facilitates timely detection and forestalling of the ememy’s movements in this area.

These facts reveal the strategic importance of Haji Pir for India. Most of the Pakistani adventures against the Valley during the last sixteen years were launched from this part of the Pak-occupied Kashmir. The recent infiltrators also made use of the Masheri-Mirpur road and Haji Pir pass. By denying them the use of this road and the pass, our jawans have now sealed their routes, and any further entry or supply from this side is not possible.

The attacks organised by our defence forces were mainly two: one was from the Silikot picket in the Uri sector where we pushed the enemy backwards to the Ladywali Gali, and the other in the Gulmarg sector from Burji pushing towards Bedori. The two columns combined near Haji Pir and a mighty attack was launched. The enemy beat a hasty retreat and we captured the vital Haji Pir.

A visit to Haji Pir, however, arouses a mixed feeling of pity and pride. The pride is felt at the determination and gallantry of our jawans, and the pity for those innocent, poverty-stricken and sick people who inhabited the hell-holes which formed part of Azad Kashmir.

By occupying Haji Pir, we have also recovered some fourteen villages, which altogether have a population of more than 5000 people. As our army advanced towards Haji Pir, these villagers hailed it as the liberation force. As sixty-eight-year old Ata Muhammad of a village called Bedore told me, these poor people had looked forward to this day all the time during the last sixteen years. ‘Thank God, it has come at last,’ he said with a sigh of relief.

These people had a pathetic story to tell. It is a story of military tyranny, barbarism and treachery. And it is a story of the people who have been regarded as no better than dogs.

There is no school in there fourteen villages. There is only one man, in the whole population, who can read and write Urdu and he too was educated in India before Pakistan occupied these villages. Almost the entire population suffers from malnutrition. There is no dispensary or hospital anywhere around. Besides diseases like trachoma, cataract and pneumonia, starvation and fatigue take a heavy toll.

The people there had no contact with any civil or governmental authority except, of course, the Pakistani troops which tortured them, forced them to carry their loads to Bagh without any wages (as begar) and, at the slightest grumble, shot them down. And thus five thousand human beings lived under the perennial shadow of fear and death for sixteen long years. They lived on crumbs and in rags. If a person died, he was buried without a shroud. Therefore, when the Kashmir Chief Minister, Sri Sadiq, recently sent 2500 yards of cloth for distribution among them, the scantily covered women wept with joy. A young woman, Amana, told me that she had not worn a new piece of cloth since the last seven years.

But this is not all; the painful story of tyranny and brutality goes even further. As reported by the people in those fourteen villages, the Pak armymen never let the young women live in peace. They used to carry them away to Peshawar and sell them there. Once, when the people of Bedore village complained against this, their village was burnt to ashes.

The behaviour of our jawans is, however, quite different. By not interfering with normal village life and with the help of the courageous social workers, who have already reached there and have undertaken several projects of relief and uplift, our jawans inspire in the people confidence and faith. And it is due to this that the feeling of pride overcomes that lurking feeling of the pity and pain, and finally one feels happy and hopeful about the future.

(Mainstream, October 2, 1965)

The author, who was working in the India Press Agency (IPA) in the sixties, visited Kashmir and witnessed the liberation of Haji Pir in the 1965 war. This article he wrote for Mainstream. Subsequently he taught English as an Associate Professor in the Khalsa College, University of Delhi from which post he has now retired.

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