Cap­ture of Haji Pir – Crown­ing Glory of 1965 War

The cap­ture of Haji Pir by 1 Para (now Spe­cial Forces) dur­ing the 1965 Indo-Pak War was a great set­back to Pak­istan’s morale, par­tic­u­larly her army

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THOUGH MANY HEROIC BAT­TLES were fought by In­dian troops dur­ing 1947-48 Indo-Pak War hastily in­ducted into Jammu & Kash­mir, no other ac­tion by Pak­istan hurt In­dia so much strate­gi­cally and eco­nom­i­cally than the cap­ture of the Haji Pir. The fact that Pak­istan was able to hold on to 78,114 sq km of the state of J&K with her sub­con­ven­tional experiment set the course for fu­ture blue­print against In­dia. In 1964 Chi­nese Premier Zhou En­lai, vis­ited Pak­istan and sug­gest to Pres­i­dent Ayub Khan that Pak­istan should pre­pare for pro­longed con­flict with In­dia in­stead of short-term wars, and raise a mili­tia force to act be­hind en­emy In­dian lines. In such back­drop, the cap­ture of the Haji Pir by 1 PARA (now 1 PARA (Spe­cial Forces)) dur­ing the 1965 Indo-Pak War was great set­back to Pak­istan’s morale, par­tic­u­larly her army. The Golden Ju­bilee of cap­ture of Haji Pir was on Au­gust 28, 2015.

Strate­gic Im­por­tance of Haji Pir

Haji Pir Pass, at a height of 2,637 me­tres, is lo­cated on the western fringe of the Pir Pan­jal Range, which di­vides the Sri­na­gar Val­ley from Jammu re­gion. Through this Pass a wide, met­alled high­way con­nected Sri­na­gar to Jammu via Uri-Ponch–Ra­jouri, over which bulk of pas­sen­ger and trade traf­fic used to ply to and fro. This road is of strate­gic im­por­tance as it con­nects Uri with Ponch but since ma­jor por­tion of road is in Pak­istanoc­cu­pied Kash­mir (PoK), it can­not be used. Trained Pak­istani mil­i­tants have been sneak­ing into Kash­mir Val­ley, Ponch and Ra­jouri dis­tricts through this av­enue. One of the most press­ing op­er­a­tional ob­jec­tives of the North­ern Com­mand, if In­dia were to en­ter into a con­ven­tional bat­tle with Pak­istan, would be the strate­gic pass of Haji Pir which severes the Ponch-Uri route and can pro­vide ac­cess to much of PoK.

Pak­istan’s Gi­bral­tar Force and Op ‘Grand Slam’

History re­peated it­self in J&K in 1965 when Pak­istani reg­u­lars along with Lashkars and Mu­jahids again in­fil­trated into the state. Ayub Khan had cre­ated a cli­mate of over­con­fi­dence that In­dia could be dis­lodged from J&K through guer­rilla oper­a­tions. Zul­fikar Ali Bhutto, For­eign Min­is­ter, as­sessed that once trained Pak­istani sol­diers en­tered Kash­mir, peo­ple of the Val­ley would rise in re­volt while fear of China would pre­vent In­dia from pro­vok­ing all out war. So the plan was drawn up for Op­er­a­tion ‘Gi­bral­tar’. In­ter­est­ingly, Ayub Khan while ap­prov­ing Op ‘Gi­bral­tar’ wrote, “As a gen­eral rule Hindu morale would not stand more than a cou­ple of blows de­liv­ered at the right time and place. Such op­por­tu­ni­ties should, there­fore, be sought and ex­ploited.” The task as­signed to Gi­bral­tar force was war­fare in en­emy’s rear with a view to cre­ate con­di­tions of armed in­sur­rec­tion lead­ing to lib­er­a­tion of Kash­mir or at least parts of it. Ad­di­tion­ally, Ayub wanted 12 Di­vi­sion to cap­ture Akhnur un­der co­de­name Op ‘Grand Slam’ be­cause Akhnur had a sin­gle Class 18 bridge on the fast flow­ing Chenab River which was the key to In­dian com­mu­ni­ca­tions from Jammu and a group of val­leys ly­ing south of the Pir Pan­jal Range and West of Chenab River, the bridge be­ing the life­line of In­dian forces de­fend­ing Ponch, Ra­jouri, Jhangar, Naushera and Ch­hamb-Dewa.

War Breaks Out

Gi­bral­tor Force com­menced in­fil­tra­tion in early Au­gust 1965 with five sub­di­vi­sions tasked for spe­cific ar­eas; Sri­na­gar Val­ley; Mendhar-Ra­jouri area; Dras-Kargil area; Naushera-Sun­dar­bani and; Bandipura-Sonar­wain. The Salahud­din Force for Kash­mir Val­ley had sep­a­rate task forces specif­i­cally tasked for Qaz­i­nag-Naugam, Tith­wal-Tangdhar, Gu­rais and Kel-Min­i­marg. Each of these task forces was com­manded by Cap­tain level of­fi­cers of the SSG or Pak­istani Army. Ch­hamb, Naushera and Ra­jouri were sub­jected to ar­tillery fire to sup­port in­fil­tra­tion. On Au­gust 19, Pak­istani guns moved close to the ceasefire line (CFL) and be­gan shelling In­dian po­si­tions near Tith­wal, Uri and Ponch. In­dia’s re­sponse was quick cap­tur­ing ar­eas up to Kishen­ganga River in Tith­wal Sec­tor; Rish­mar Ridge, Pir Sahiba fea­ture, Sun­joi fea­ture, Ring Con­tour over­look­ing Mir­pur bridge and then Point 9013 giv­ing our troops com­plete dom­i­na­tion of the Mir­pur area right up to the bridge at Jura on River Kishen­ganga cut­ing off the routes for fur­ther in­fil­tra­tion into the Gurez Val­ley and Tith­wal Sec­tor. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, Point 13620 was cap­tured in Kargil Sec­tor. Next was the cap­ture of Haji Pir Pass.

Bat­tle of Haji Pir

Haji Pir Pass was dom­i­nated by three neigh­bour­ing hill fea­tures; on the East by Be­dori (3,760 m), on the West by Sank (2,895 me­tres) and Led­wali Gali (3,140 m) to the South-West. It was con­sid­ered es­sen­tial to seize these posts be­fore pro­ceed­ing to the Haji Pir Pass (2,673 m). Be­dori was si­t­u­ated 14 km south-east of the CFL and Haji Pir Pass 10 km south-west of Be­dori. It was ap­par­ent that cap­ture of the Haji Pir Pass would ne­ces­si­tate large-scale pin­cer move­ment cap­tur­ing these fea­tures with­out giv­ing time to the en­emy to re­group and bring re­in­force­ments; one thrust along gen­eral axis Uri-Haji Pir Pass, in com­bi­na­tion with sec­ond thrust from the South via the Ponch-Kahuta ap­proach. It was ap­pre­ci­ated that the link-up be­tween these forces would cut off all routes of ap­proach into the cru­cial area of the Haji Pir Bulge. The re­spon­si­bil­ity for the north­ern thrust along axis Uri-Haji Pir Pass was given to 19 In­fantry Di­vi­sion with 68 In­fantry Brigade un­der com­mand for this task, lat­ter built up to five in­fantry bat­tal­ions; 1 Para, 19 Punjab, 4 Ra­jput, 6 Jak Rif and 4 Sikh Li. The Brigade had five ar­tillery fire units. 68 In­fantry Brigade op­er­a­tion was co­de­named Op ‘Bak­shi’ af­ter the name of the Brigade Com­man­der, Brig (later Lt Gen­eral) Z.C. Bak­shi. The south­ern thrust along axis Ponch-Kahuta ap­proach was as­signed to 25 In­fantry Di­vi­sion with 93 In­fantry Brigade to un­der­take the op­er­a­tion un­der co­de­name Op ‘Faulad’.

Bri­gadier Bak­shi as­sessed en­emy op­po­si­tion to­talling some three-and-a-half bat­tal­ions in well pre­pared de­fences hav­ing co­or­di­nated MMGs and LMGs. He de­cided on a two-pronged si­mul­ta­ne­ous at­tack; left prong along Uri-Sank-Led­wali Gali-Haji Pir Pass and right prong along Uri-Be­dori-Kuth­nar Di Gali-Ki­ran-Haji Pir Pass. The oper­a­tions of the left and right prongs were en­trusted to 1 Para and 19 Punjab re­spec­tively. The en­tire op­er­a­tion was planned in three phases with H Hour as 2200 hours on Au­gust 24. In Phase 1, 19 Punjab was to cap­ture Ring Con­tour and Pathra by 0100 hours on Au­gust 25, while 1 Para was to cap­ture Sank Ridge upto Led­wali Gali and Sawan Pathri by 0500 hours on Au­gust 25. In Phase 2, 19 Punjab was to cap­ture Be­dori and Kuth­nar Di Gali by 0600 hours on Au­gust 25, while se­cur­ing the ring con­tours and cap­tur­ing Haji Pir Pass was to be un­der­taken by 4 Ra­jput by 1200 hours on Au­gust 25. Phase 3 re­quired mop­ping up of the area by 19 Punjab with un­der com­mand one com­pany of 4 Ra­jput. 4 Sikh Li and 6 Jak Rif were to pro­vide troops for the fire bases for the op­er­a­tion and 6 Jak Rif was also tasked to hold cap­tured ter­ri­tory.

The time sched­ule for Op ‘Bak­shi’ was de­layed by 24 hours due to bad weather and re­lief of at­tack­ing troops. Task­ing 4 Ra­jput was changed to move be­hind 19 Punjab along the right prong in­stead of the orig­i­nal plan to move be­hind 1 Para in the left prong. 1 Para un­der Lt Colonel Prab­hjin­der Singh, was to at­tack along the left prong to cap­ture three in­ter­me­di­ate fea­tures namely Sank (also known as Point 9591), Sar and Led­wali Gali, while 19 Punjab was to ad­vance along the left flank and cap­ture Be­dori, the prom­i­nent fea­ture east of Haji Pir Pass. Once the lat­ter was taken, 4 Ra­jput was to pass through and make for the fi­nal ob­jec­tive, of Haji Pir Pass while 6 Jak Rif was to hold cap­tured ter­ri­tory. The op­er­a­tion com­menced at 2150 hours on Au­gust 25 on sched­ule as per the new plan pre­ceded by shelling en­emy po­si­tions. 1 Para launched the pre-dawn at­tack on Sank Ridge with two com­pany strength reach­ing the base of Sank but the ap­proach to the ridge was very dif­fi­cult and the heavy rains of the pre­vi­ous night had made it very slip­pery. The progress be­came very slow be­cause of which the at­tack got day­lighted. Sank stood on the en­emy’s axis of com­mu­ni­ca­tions from Bagh to Be­dori and was held by a Com­pany of Rangers sup­ported by mor­tars. The en­emy held fire till the lead­ing troops reached within 45 me­tres of the perime­ter fenc­ing and then opened up with all his weapons. The bat­tle con­tin­ued close to the fenced trenches of the en­emy till 0930 hours when the ef­fort was called off.

The sec­ond at­tack by 1 Para was pressed home at 2230 hours on Au­gust 26. ‘B’ Com­pany led by Ma­jor (later Lt Gen­eral) Ran­jit Singh Dyal charged up the slopes of Sank fol­lowed by ‘D’ Com­pany, sup­ported by ar­tillery fire. En­emy troops rushed for­ward from their trenches and opened fire with MMGs, LMGs and other small arms but ef­fec­tive fire from the at­tack­ers forced the en­emy to fall back to his trenches. By 0430 hours on Au­gust 27, ‘B’ Com­pany had reached within 450 me­tres of the en­emy po­si­tions, where they formed up in front of the en­emy po­si­tions at Sank and charged frontally. In a dar­ing pla­toon at­tack, en­emy MMGs and LMGs were si­lenced as clos­ing up troops show­ered en­emy em­place­ments with grenades and bul­lets. The en­emy with­drew to Sar and Led­wali Gali fea­tures leav­ing 16 dead but man­aged to evac­u­ate about

The task as­signed to Gi­bral­tar force was war­fare in en­emy’s rear with a view to cre­ate con­di­tions of armed in­sur­rec­tion lead­ing to lib­er­a­tion of Kash­mir or at least parts of it

100 wounded. 1 PARA soon cap­tured Sar and ad­vanced upon Led­wali Gali where the en­emy made the last stand to fa­cil­i­tate with­drawal of his troops from sur­round­ing ar­eas by 1100 hours. ‘B’ Com­pany mean­while had se­cured Sawan Pathri and Agi­was by 1400 hours in face of mi­nor op­po­si­tion. ‘C’ Com­pany which had in the mean­time reached Sank was or­dered to clear area South of Sank in­clud­ing Point 10033, which it suc­cess­fully did by last light. 1 PARA had thus cap­tured the ob­jec­tives al­lot­ted to it by 68 Moun­tain Brigade.

The progress along the right prong (Uri-Be­dori-Kuth­nar Di Gali-Ki­ran-Haji Pir Pass) had not kept pace with the left prong, So, CO 1 PARA re­quested the Brigade Com­man­der that his bat­tal­ion be per­mit­ted to go for Haji Pir Pass. With right flank of the Pass still not se­cured, the only chance of suc­cess to cap­ture Haji Pir Pass lay in a frontal at­tack through a re-en­trant that ran North of it. The risk was that the ad­vance would be un­der ob­ser­va­tion of the en­emy but Bri­gadier Bak­shi gave the green sig­nal to 1 Para. A com­pany col­umn was quickly formed un­der Ma­jor Ran­jit Singh Dyal and tasked to cap­ture the Haji Pir Pass. The fi­nal ap­proach in­volved a climb of over 1,220 me­tres by night. The force start­ing from Led­wali Gali was to in­fil­trate through Hy­der­abad Nul­lah on night Au­gust 27/28 and cap­ture Ring Con­tours 1194 and 1094 to pro­ceed fur­ther.

De­scend­ing into Hy­der­abad Nul­lah at 1530 hours the col­umn came un­der di­rect en­emy fire but si­lenced it with quick phys­i­cal pla­toon ac­tion. The troops had been in con­tin­u­ous oper­a­tions for over two days and fur­ther move was in heavy rain and un­der ar­tillery shelling. By 1900 hours it was com­pletely dark and Ma­jor Dyal de­cided to climb di­rectly to the Pass, cap­tur­ing 10 per­son­nel of Azad Kash­mir mili­tia with weapons along the way. At 0430 hours, the com­pany hit the old Uri-Ponch Road and reached 700 me­tres short of the Pass at 0900 hours. The en­emy was sur­prised but opened up with MMG from the Western shoul­der of the Pass and with LMG and ri­fle fire from the Pass it­self. Ma­jor Dyal or­dered two pla­toons to climb up the spur, as­sault the en­emy from the western side of the Pass and then roll down to the Pass. The en­emy could not with­stand this day­light dar­ing at­tack and with­drew in con­fu­sion to a fea­ture to the west of the Pass. By 1000 hours on Au­gust 28 the for­mi­da­ble Pass fell to the col­umn and Ma­jor Dyal ra­dioed back cap­ture of Haji Pir Pass. This re­mark­able achieve­ment was pos­si­ble be­cause of ex­cel­lent lead­er­ship, the el­e­ment of sur­prise and abil­ity of the Bat­tal­ion to quickly re­group and con­tinue at­tack­ing. En­emy did re­group and launched sev­eral counter-at­tacks but 1 Para pressed on and cap­tured more ar­eas in­clud­ing NR 1092 and Point 8786. Even­tu­ally, 19 Punjab linked up on Septem­ber 1.

Af­ter­math

The cap­ture of the Haji Pir Pass re­stored the Uri-Ponch road link and the strate­gic Jammu-Ra­jouri-Sri­na­gar road, which had been in dis­use since 1947, be­came func­tional again. Un­for­tu­nately, un­der the Rus­sian bro­kered Tashkent Ac­cord signed on Jan­uary 16, 1966, In­dian and Pak­istani forces with­drew to their re­spec­tive po­si­tions as prior to Au­gust 5, 1965 and the Haji Pir Pass was re­turned to Pak­istan. Prime Min­is­ter Lal Ba­hadur Shas­tri signed the ac­cord in good faith. He was sched­uled to meet Ayub Khan next day to ex­tract lat­ter’s prom­ise never to use force again, but he trag­i­cally passed away dur­ing the night, media hint­ing pos­si­ble con­spir­acy at in­ter­na­tional level. The hero of cap­ture of Haji Pir, Lt Gen­eral Ran­jit Singh Dyal awarded Maha Vir Chakra in 1965, said in an in­ter­view dur­ing 2002, “The Pass would have given In­dia a def­i­nite strate­gic ad­van­tage…. It was a mis­take to hand it back…. our peo­ple don’t read maps.”

Lt Gen­eral P.C. Ka­toch (Retd)

The cap­ture of Haji Pir by 1 Para (now Spe­cial Forces) dur­ing the 1965 Indo-Pak War was a great set­back to Pak­istan’s morale, par­tic­u­larly her army.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: IN­DIAN ARMY

Haji Pir Pass

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