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EFSAS Commentary

22 October 1947: The darkest day in the history of Jammu & Kashmir


No single event has shaped the uncertainty of the future that the people of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) uncomfortably and hesitantly peek out towards than those that unfolded on 22 October 1947. In the din of the cacophony of voices parroting ad nauseam terms such as the Line of Control (LoC), the United Nations (UN) Resolutions on J&K, the Shimla Agreement, statehood for Gilgit Baltistan, Article 370 of India’s Constitution, and the like, the reason why these terms came into being in the first place has sadly long ceased to be a matter of interest to a vast majority of even those that deliberate publicly and vociferously on the plight of J&K. On that very day the seeds were sown for the physical tearing apart of J&K, for what we see today as the blurring of the identity of J&K and its people, for the destruction of the peaceful and inclusive way of life in the region and the crumbling of the long-held social values in J&K, and for the induction of the ugly head of terrorism into J&K by Pakistan. In essence, the roots of the hydra-headed predicament that J&K confronts today can indubitably be traced back to that one single event that commenced on that fateful autumn day.

As gripping and intriguing as the history of the region in the period leading up to, and in the aftermath of, the events of October 1947 were, for the purpose of this commentary we shall restrict it to sketching the broad outlines. When India achieved independence from British colonial rule in August 1947, the British Indian Empire was split into two dominions, the Hindu majority India and the predominantly Muslim Pakistan. The Indian Independence Act of 1947 had provided the legal basis for the departure of the British from the subcontinent. There were, at the same time, several princely states that were given the choice of joining either of the dominions. In the interest of a smooth transfer of power, the British Indian government had on 3 June 1947 formulated a standstill agreement that stipulated that “all the administrative arrangements that existed between the British crown and the princely state would continue unaltered between the signatory dominions (India and Pakistan) and the state, until new arrangements were made”.

The Princely State of J&K had been brought under British paramountcy in 1846 via the Treaty of Amritsar, signed between the East India Company and Maharaja Gulab Singh, the founder of the Dogra dynasty, who paid 7.5 million Nanakshahi rupees and bought the Kashmir Valley and the Ladakh Wizarat (comprising Baltistan, Kargil and Leh), and added it to Jammu, which was already under his rule. Gilgit Wizarat (including Gilgit and Pamiri areas) was conquered later by the Dogras from the Sikhs. Maharaja Hari Singh, the Hindu Dogra ruler of Muslim-majority J&K at the time of India’s independence, seemed inclined towards independence and did not initially appear to be keen to join either dominion. On 12 August 1947, he therefore sought a standstill agreement with both India and Pakistan. He communicated to both that the “Jammu and Kashmir government would welcome standstill agreement with Union of India/Pakistan on all matters on which there exists arrangements with the outgoing British India government”. India responded by asking Maharaja Hari Singh to send his representative to Delhi for further discussions. The Indian communication said that the “Government of India would be glad if you or some other minister duly authorized in this behalf could fly to Delhi for negotiating Standstill Agreement between Kashmir Government and India dominion. Early action desirable to maintain intact existing agreements and administrative arrangements”. J&K did not send a representative to Delhi, and no negotiations were consequently held. Pakistan, on the other hand, accepted the J&K offer of a standstill agreement and on 15 August 1947 sent a communication to Janak Singh, the then Prime Minister of J&K, confirming the same.

Pakistan, however, made its nefarious designs on J&K clear when within 12 days of agreeing to the standstill agreement, on 24 August 1947 it threatened Maharaja Hari Singh by writing to him that “The time has come for Maharaja of Kashmir that he must take his choice and choose Pakistan. Should Kashmir fail to join Pakistan, the gravest possible trouble will inevitably ensue”. These turned out to be ominous words indeed, as from that day onwards and continuing onto the present day, Pakistan’s consistent policy has actually been to incessantly and ruthlessly stir up the “gravest possible trouble” in J&K. By end-August 1947, suspecting that Maharaja Hari Singh may accede to India and apprehensive of the popular J&K leader Sheikh Abdullah’s dim view of Pakistan, Pakistan had already decided to seize J&K by force. The then Pakistani military officer in charge of Kashmir, Major General Akbar Khan, had aptly summarized the thinking in the Pakistani establishment when he wrote, “Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan was not simply a matter of desirability but of absolute necessity for its separate existence”.

On 4 September 1947, General Henry Lawrence Scott, commander of the Jammu and Kashmir State forces, complained about multiple covert incursions from Pakistan and asked the Maharaja’s government to raise this issue with Pakistan. The same day, the J&K PM Janak Singh officially complained to Pakistan and asked for “prompt actions”.  In his autobiography, Dr. Karan Singh, the son of Maharaja Hari Singh and the heir apparent of J&K, wrote, “Intelligence reports from the frontier areas of Poonch and Mirpur as well as the Sialkot sector started coming in which spoke of large scale massacre, loot and rape of our villagers by aggressive hordes from across the borders. I recall the grim atmosphere that began to engulf us as it gradually became clear that we were losing control of the outer areas”. In early October, the Maharaja again protested to the Pakistani Foreign Ministry about the infiltration by tribals hundreds of kilometers inside the J&K border in the Jammu region. Pakistan denied the allegation, but was all the while planning and preparing for Operation Gulmarg, its first armed attempt and one that relied heavily on external mercenaries, to seize J&K. It has in the 73 years since then used the same template to destroy J&K multiple times over.

Operation Gulmarg had been conceived and put into action as early as on 20 August 1947, just six days after Pakistan was carved out from British India. The plan, as openly reported since, was for Pathan (Pashtun) tribes of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to enlist at least one Lashkar (militant group) of 1000 tribesmen each. Political and strategic analyst Shuja Nawaz, who is a Distinguished Fellow of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC, has listed 22 Pashtun tribes that were involved in the invasion of Kashmir on 22 October 1947. Separate instructions for their recruitment were issued to the Deputy Commissioners and Political Agents of NWFP. After enlistment, these Lashkars were to be concentrated at Bannu, Wana, Peshawar, Kohat, Thal and Nowshera by the first week of September 1947. The Pakistan Army Brigade Commanders at these places were to issue them arms and ammunition. The Pakistani Army superimposed a Pathan Major, a Captain and ten JCOs of the regular Pakistan Army above each such armed Lashkar, and these Army regulars were required to dress and live exactly like the other Pathans in the Lashkar. The entire force was commanded by Major General Akbar Khan, code named General Tariq, who was assisted by Brigadier Sher Khan.

Among those who planned, led, and financed Operation Gulmarg, the most prominent was Sardar Shaukat Hayat Khan, a close confidant of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah and a top leader of the Muslim League. In his book ‘The Nation that Lost its Soul’, Shaukat Hayat Khan acknowledged that he had been appointed supervisor of the Kashmir operation (P.278), and that Major Khurshid Anwar was given the responsibility of contacting the chiefs of the Pathan tribes to enlist the tribal militants. He added that he himself did not physically cross over into J&K, instead opting to stay on the Pakistani side of the border near Muzaffarabad, as exposure of his presence in J&K would nullify Pakistan’s efforts to project the invasion of the Pathan tribals as a peoples’ rebellion against the Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir. He also disclosed that three hundred thousand rupees were given from the Pakistan treasury by Finance Minister Ghulam Muhammad for this operation.

Major General Akbar Khan fixed 22 October 1947 as the date on which the attack on J&K would be launched. All the Lashkars were asked to converge at Abbottabad near the border with J&K by 18 October. They were moved in civil buses and trucks that had been commandeered for this purpose, and all their movement took place under the cover of night. The tribal militants assembled in a separate area 16 km outside Abbottabad that had been prepared for them. Infantry Divisions of the Pakistani Army also descended on the Murree-Abbottabad and other key areas with instructions to move in quickly into J&K to back up the Lashkars and consolidate their hold over captured territory.

Operation Gulmarg was launched on the intervening night of 21-22 October 1947. Over 2,000 Pathan tribesmen first captured the bridge spanning the Kishanganga (Neelam) River on the Hazara Trunk Road linking Muzaffarabad with Abbottabad without a fight. The J&K troops guarding the bridge deserted and joined the attacking tribesmen. By morning, the first major J&K border town of Muzaffarabad had been captured. The horrors that then unfolded in Muzaffarabad were chronicled by Pakistani journalist Zahid Chaudhry in his 12-volume work 'Pakistan ki siyasi tarikh' (Political History of Pakistan). Chaudhry wrote that for three days the invaders indulged in killing non-Muslims, looting, plundering and burning their houses. A large number of women were raped and kidnapped. As the officer in-charge of the attack, Major Khurshid Anwar encouraged the killing, loot, arson, rape and kidnapping of non-Muslims that took place. Writers and commentators have estimated the number of the Hindus and Sikhs massacred during these three days in Muzaffarabad to be 4500 to 5000, and the number of kidnapped women to be more than 1600.

Pakistan has perpetuated the myth that the tribal raiders were liberators and came to Kashmir to fulfill their religious obligation of jihad because Muslims were being killed in Jammu in communal riots. However, the reality was that it was not as if Muslims had been spared. Thousands of Kashmiri Muslims were also killed by the marauding tribesmen. As an eyewitness account of Khawaja Abdul Samad asserted, “their attack had totally devastated Muzaffarabad, the homes of Hindus and Muslims were looted, shops were plundered, places of worships were not spared; they tore down Mandirs and desecrated Masjids”.

Zahid Chaudhry pointed out that the Afridi and Mahsud Lashkars did not participate in the invasion of J&K out of any religious consideration, and their primary aim was loot and plunder and the kidnapping of women. Gohar Rahman of Battagram, 80 km north-west of Garhi Habibullah in Pakistan, who had participated in the invasion and had returned to Garhi Habibullah along with many other tribesmen when the first winter snows came, later told the BBC that the tribal militants had “returned with war booty”. He elaborated that “Some had brought cattle, some horses. Most of them had brought arms, and many brought women. One Afridi tribesman walked back with two women in tow. They wept incessantly and just wouldn't stop”.

The Pakistan Army then directed the Lashkars to Mirpur, after capturing which they moved on to take Uri before reaching the vibrant and important town of Baramulla, about 50 kms west of Srinagar, on 26 October. The mayhem of killings, rapes and plunder was repeated at every stop along the route, while other Lashkars that had been sent through other routes with different targets in J&K did not account for themselves any better. Baramulla, however, represented another major town that bore the brunt of the ruthless ways of the tribal militants.  Quoting Lord Birdwood, Zahid Chaudhary asserted that Major Khurshid Anwar was also responsible for supervising the killings, rapes and plunder of Hindus and Sikhs in Baramulla, which fell on the morning of 27 October. Hundreds of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim women were raped and abducted, and many were carried away to Rawalpindi, Peshawar and other towns of Pakistan. For several days and nights the loot and plunder of Hindus and Sikhs continued in the entire Baramulla district.

Rev. Father Shanks of the Mill Hill Mission, who was the Principal of St. Joseph’s Degree College in Baramulla and an eye witness to the carnage, in his first hand account brought out starkly the sort of brutality that the Lashkars indulged in. He wrote, “The tribesmen - great, wild, black beasts they were - came shooting their way down from the hills on both sides of the town. They climbed over the hospital walls from all sides. The first group burst into a ward firing at the patients. A 20 year old Indian nurse, Philomena, tried to protect a Muslim patient whose baby had just been born. She was shot dead first. The Patient was next. Mother Superior Aldetude rushed into the ward, knelt over Philomena and was at once attacked and robbed. The Assistant Mother, Teresalina, saw a tribesman point a rifle at Mother Aldetrude and jumped in front of her. A bullet went through Teresalina's heart. At the moment Colonel Dykes, who had assured us we would not be attacked, raced from his room a few yards along the terrace to get the Mother Superior out of danger, shouting at the tribesmen as be ran. But the Mother Superior fell shot, and Colonel Dykes collapsed beside her with a bullet in the stomach. Mrs Dykes ran from her husband's room to help him. She too was shot dead”.

On 26 October 1947 alone, the intruders massacred about eleven thousand residents of Baramulla and destroyed the Mohra power station that supplied electricity to the capital city of Srinagar. Sheikh Abdullah, the popular leader of J&K who later went on to become the first Prime Minister of J&K after its accession to India, described the tribal invasion eloquently at the UN Security Council on 5 February 1948, when he said that “The raiders came to our land, massacred thousands of people — mostly Hindus and Sikhs, but Muslims, too — abducted thousands of girls, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims alike, looted our property and almost reached the gates of our summer capital, Srinagar”. Estimates of the total number of residents of J&K killed in the tribal invasion range between 35,000 to 40,000.

The march of the tribal Lashkars forward to Srinagar got stalled in Baramulla on 27 October for three days. Sardar Shaukat Hayat Khan revealed that the tribal Lashkars refused to listen to Major Khurshid Anwar when they arrived in Baramulla. They demanded the three hundred thousand rupees that they believed was meant for them. Major Khurshid Anwar refused, saying that the amount had been given for the whole operation. This angered the tribesmen, who started indiscriminate looting and plundering not only in the town but all over the entire district. Whatever be the reason, historians agree that the delay of three days at Baramulla decided the fate of Kashmir invasion. 

The ease with which the Lashkars overran the thin and ill-prepared troops of J&K in Uri and Baramulla, the massive massacre of 26 October 1947 in Baramulla, and with the fall of Srinagar looking imminent, the panic-stricken Maharaja Hari Singh appealed to India to come to his rescue. He wrote in a letter dated 26 October 1947, “With the conditions obtaining at present in my State and to great emergency of the situation as it exists, I have no option but to ask for help from the Indian Dominion. Naturally they cannot send the help asked for by me without my State acceding to the Domination of India. I have accordingly decided to do so and I attach the Instrument of Accession for acceptance by your Government. The other alternative is to leave my State and my people to diabolical killers and beasts. On this basis, no civilized Government can exist or be maintained. The alternative I will never allow to happen as long as I am Ruler of the State and I have life to defend my country”.

With J&K formally and legally acceding to India, Indian troops landed in Srinagar on 27 October 1947 and defended the summer capital in the decisive battle of Shalteng on the outskirts of Srinagar on 7-8 November 1947. The decorated Indian commander Brigadier L.P. Sen recaptured Baramulla on the morning of 8 November, and his troops marched down the Jhelum gorge to recapture Uri. The Indian Army then liberated the long-besieged Poonch garrison and pushed the Lashkars back, and also made substantial gains on other fronts. Over the next few months they drove out the Pakistani intruders from most parts of J&K, barring the portion that today constitutes Pakistan-Administered J&K. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru took the J&K issue to the UN Security Council on 1 January 1948, and the issue remains as, or actually even more, unresolved today as it was 73 years ago.

The invasion of J&K by Pakistan and its proxy tribal Lashkars in 1947 has left a deep, lasting, and grim mark on the fate of J&K, and indeed of the entire South Asian region. The horrors of the violence left deep scars that impacted the psyche of the people of J&K, and it marked the first and most critical step in the erosion of the Kashmiri identity with the State and its people being torn apart by a UN-drawn LoC that divides the erstwhile Princely State and its inhabitants. Had it not been for the invasion, Maharaja Hari Singh would most likely have opted for independence, something India had not appeared to be completely averse to. The territory of the Princely State would, in any event, have remained intact.

The invasion also delivered the first big blow to the Sufi-inspired way of life commonly referred to as Kashmiriyat (Kashmiri-ness) that had prevailed for centuries in J&K, and a hallmark of which was religious inclusiveness and bonding. Kashmiriyat was associated with non-violence, deep emotions, hospitality, mutual accommodation, good will and the general empathy that the people of Kashmir had for each other. A tradition of syncretism flourished due to the mutual efforts towards coexistence that were embraced by adherents of both of J&K’s major religions, Hinduism and Islam. While the invasion did not spell the death-knell of Kashmiriyat (that happened when Pakistan-sponsored extremism and terrorism took roots in J&K in the 1990s), it did begin the slide towards increased division and intolerance.

Further, as M. Ilyas Khan pointed out in BBC News, “The invasion not only traumatised a previously well-settled and peaceful Kashmiri society, it also set a disastrous pattern for India-Pakistan relations. Major-General Akbar Khan, an army officer who is widely believed to have played a pivotal role in starting the invasion, emerged as ‘the architect of the philosophy of armed insurrection by aiding non-State actors as State proxies’, writes a military historian, Major (Retd) Agha Humayun Amin, in his book, The 1947-48 Kashmir War: The War of Lost Opportunities. Pakistan repeated this strategy in Kashmir in 1965, during the Kashmir insurgency of 1988-2003, as well as in the Kargil War of 1999. It also used non-State actors in Afghanistan. But instead of liberating Kashmir or taming Afghanistan, it has led to the weakening of political processes, and has militarised society not only in Kashmir and Afghanistan, but also in Pakistan”.

For those in J&K and India, as also in the international community, that buy into the Pakistani propaganda of it being genuinely concerned about the welfare of its “Muslim brethren” in J&K, it is important to realize that the Pakistani policy first adopted in October 1947 of attempting to grab J&K by force has dealt the greatest blow possible to the existence of a unified State of J&K, to the essence of what it means to be a Kashmiri, and to the prospects for the economic progress and prosperity of the people of J&K. The planners and perpetuators of the tribal invasion were, and remain, without doubt the foremost enemies of the Kashmiri people. The day the invasion began on 22 October 1947, similarly, has to be the darkest day in the history of J&K.

It is about time that the people of J&K realized that the real tragedy is that Pakistan even today believes in the same policy and adopts the same methods that it did in 1947, no matter how acutely detrimental those may be to the interests and the well-being of the people of J&K.