Updated: May 31
“As from the fifteenth day of August, nineteen hundred and forty-seven, two independent Dominions shall be set up in India, to be known respectively as India and Pakistan.”
The Indian Independence Act of 1947 introduced by the last Secretary of States for India, Lord Listowel, aimed to bring about freedom, happiness, relief, and above all, peace, to approximately 4 million square kilometers of area. What the British Parliament and the residents of the land did not anticipate was a war that would result in approximately 1500 Military deaths on the Indian side and an estimated figure of more than 6000 casualties in Pakistan.
To be able to fully understand the significance of the deaths and the harm to property, it is essential to first be acquainted with what led the two newly formed nations, who, until a few months ago, shared the glorious legacy of a great nation, to engage in such ferocious war. The two most dominant parties pre-independence, the Congress and the Muslim League, spent most of 1947 in discussions with each other and their respective party members regarding the issue of convincing the over 500 plus princely states to join their respective nations. The aforementioned states could either accede to India or Pakistan or choose to remain independent. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, along with V. P. Menon, was given the responsibility to negotiate with the princely states, and they were hugely successful at the herculean task. However, a few princely states put forth strong resistance, including the paradisal state of Kashmir which shared borders with both India and Pakistan. Raja Hari Singh, the ruler of Kashmir, wanted to gain benefits from either nation and tried to bide time. When he sought a standstill agreement, it was accepted by Pakistan but Indian leaders were not happy with it. This act acted as a trigger for Indian authorities to secure their position with respect to Kashmir. As a result, Patel placed the Indian Army in advantageous positions, diverted planes to Delhi and Srinagar, and laid telephone lines between Pathankot, Amritsar and Jammu.
Meanwhile, the terrors of the Partition had the country on the edge of their seats- approximately a million people killed, 12 million became refugees. While the Indian Forces tried their best to suppress the violence and maintain a semblance of peace, the locals of Pakistan and their press chose to give the effort a religious touch. The countries, which till a few months ago were one, had started their regimes on severely bad terms.
It is pertinent to understand the military positions and strengths of the two nations at this point of time. The Indian Air Force, at that time, was composed of around 900 officers, 10,000 non-commissioned officers and over 820 civilian technicians and administrative staff. There was also a disproportionate division of military resources between the nations as the administrative division of the Forces put in place. The Indian Army in 1947 was composed of 88 infantry battalions, 12 armored regiments and 19 artillery regiments. Despite having a shortage in the number of officers, Pakistan compensated for it with a high number of militias composed of the tribal Pathans. Some Kashmir residents were also believed to support the bid for accession to Pakistan by providing refuge and resources.
A stark difference in the ideologies of the leaders of the two countries also contributed as a trigger to the war. The intention of the Pakistani leaders, from the beginning, had been to divide one of the oldest and most glorious nations on the basis of religion, which was only more solidified by the malafide doctrines of the British, resulting in the Partition. The Indian leaders were further compromised by the fact that Pakistan boasted of a very strong intelligence service, a stark contrast to India. As Lt. Gen. Lionel Protip Sen, commander of the 161 Infantry Brigade said,
“On 15 August, Pakistan came into being with a well - established Intelligence Service, while India had only a semblance of one”.
This can be traced back to the decision of the Director of Intelligence Bureau of undivided India to go to Pakistan, taking along with him some very important files. As became clear later, Pakistan had been planning a series of attacks for a long time, while India had been blind and unaware.
Matters went out of hand when in September, while the wounds of the Partition had not even begun to heal, Pathan groups from Pakistan initiated a series of unpredictable random attacks, causing serious harm. On being confronted, the Pakistan government pretended to be ignorant of the said attacks.
Having received weak resistance from India and little to no restraint from the Pakistan government, the Pathan groups were encouraged enough to attack in a group of over 5000 in the month of October. This Operation, which later came to be known as Operation Gulmarg, was led by the local tribal Lashkars of the bordering regions of Pakistan, with Khurshid Anwar as their leader. Many Muslim troops from the Maharaja’s state army defected to the other side. The purpose was to strengthen the two nation theory of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the first Governor-General of Pakistan, and the man responsible for convincing India to be partitioned. Jinnah and his followers believed that as Kashmir was composed of a predominantly Muslim population, it rightfully belonged in Pakistan. As a part of the Operation, the districts of Uri, Baramulla and Muzaffarabad were captured by the invaders. Further, the non-Muslim population was plundered, their houses looted and burnt, and over 1800 women raped and abducted.
Brigadier Rajinder Singh, the Chief of Staff of the Kashmir state forces, was instructed by the Maharaja to stall the invaders. Brigadier Singh and his 200 men fought ferociously for three days in Uri and Muzaffarabad. While the invaders were engaged in their internal disagreements over the loot they had captured from Muzaffarabad, while on the way to Uri, Brigadier Singh took advantage of their delay and blew up the sole bridge which passed over Uri river. This crucial bombing bought the Indian Forces invaluable time for the Raja of Kashmir to sign the Instrument of Accession. As the indecisiveness of the untrained Pathans took precedence over their ambition to fight, they wasted crucial time in swimming over the river, where Brigadier Singh and his forces were waiting in recently dug up trenches. With limited ammunition and resources, despite being heavily outnumbered against the 5000 men strong enemy, the forces fought for 4 days, but Brigadier Singh was killed in the battle on October 26. His unflinching courage helped save a thousand lives, and resisted the militia from advancing into Srinagar, which would have had adverse consequences. Brigadier Singh was among the first recipients of the Maha Vir Chakra, and had sacrificed his life obeying the Maharaja’s orders, “Kashmir must be protected with the last man and last bullet”.
As the invaders were approaching the heart of the state, and wading in deeper, a desperate and anxious Maharaja Hari Singh approached the Indian authorities and agreed to sign an Instrument of Accession with the hope that India would provide military assistance and protect the state from the invaders. On October 26, V.P. Menon delivered the agreement to the Maharaja and Kashmir was formally legally made a part of India.
Patel made quick plans to live up to his word, and called for an emergency meeting of India’s Defence Committee, consisting of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Defence Minister Baldev Singh apart from himself. India did not have a large number of troops placed in Kashmir at that time. The Maharaja’s state forces were practically negligible, and the British decided to withdraw all their army personnel and officers from both sides, which were still remaining since before the Partition. The only British remaining were the Chiefs of Army for both countries- General Sir Rob Lockhart in India, and General Sir Frank Walter Messervy in Pakistan. Patel handed over the reins to the Indian troops, and ordered them to evict the Pakistani invaders. Meanwhile, having realized that the conflict wouldn’t just be a small battle, and would be escalated, Patel displayed the forethought he is well known for and gathered resources within a fortnight to build a direct road between Jammu and Pathankot. The only existing motorable road between the two districts at the time passed through Sialkot in Pakistan, and hence, an alternative was urgently required. Within a record time of eight months, a road bearing the capacity of carrying heavy army vehicles was built on the over 100 km long stretch. The atmosphere was tense, both politically and militarily. But little did we know, that this was going to be the beginning of a rivalry that continues to rear its ugly head even today.
Kiss, Peter. (2013). The First Indo-Pakistani War 1947-48. Collins L., Lapierre D. (1975). Freedom at midnight.