Jammu and Kashmir
Lieut Gen Sartaj Singh, GM, General Officer Commanding XV Corps, was operationally responsible for Jammu and Kashmir. His area of responsibility was vast, and he faced two potential enemies, Pakistan and China. Topographically, the state could be divided into four sectors. The northen sector consisted of the district of Ladakh with its administrative seat in Leh, stretching from Chushul to Zojila. This is a region of high mountains, steep, rocky and arid, which rise to about 18,000 to 23,000 feet. Snow and rain are scanty.
Habitation is confined to the narrow valley where water is available from the melting snows. Temperatures are low and often fall below freezing points. Population is sparse. Two roads lead to Leh from the Indian hinterland, one via Zojila to Leh and the other from Kulu to Leh via Rohtang Pass. Both roads remain closed about seven months a year, from November to May. Since the second road was not in service in 1971, the main administrative support had to depend upon the other. Part of this road ran close to the ceasefire line near Kargil, a tehsil headquarters of Ladakh district. This closeness rendered it vulnerable to Pakistani actions either by the capture of the heights dominating the road or by infiltration.
There was a possibility of substantial Chinese aid to Pakistan through the Karakoram highway, which was about to be completed to connect Urumchi in Sinkiang with Gilgit”¦
From Sinkiang, the main Chinese military base, the road communications with Chushul and other points of thrust along the Indus Valley were long and tenuous because of difficult terrain and high altitudes. The maintenance requirements of offensive operations in the region included a sound infrastructure and large tonnages of war material, and this would have taken long to establish. As such it was safer to assume that China, despite its bellicose assurance to Pakistan, would prefer to confine itself to low-key actions in the event of a hot war.
There was a possibility of substantial Chinese aid to Pakistan through the Karakoram highway, which was about to be completed to connect Urumchi in Sinkiang with Gilgit, but it was considered unlikely that Yahya Khan would dare accept such active Chinese participation. It was therefore deduced that Chinese help would be mainly confined to supplying war material, which was likely to be considerably enhanced in the event of war.
The main military bases on the Pakistani side were at Gilgit and Skardu, and they were fed by the railheads at Havelian and Dargai, about 350 miles away. From Gilgit onwards, the Pakistani troops deployed opposite the Partapur and Kargil sub-sectors sectors were served by narrow, low-classification roads which could not sustain major operations.
From Gilgit onwards, the Pakistani troops deployed opposite the Partapur and Kargil sub-sectors sectors were served by narrow, low-classification roads which could not sustain major operations.
Kashmir Valley is the crucible of Kashmiri politics and was a vital objective of Pakistan’s military planners. As such, the threat to the valley both by infiltration and military invasion was strong. The routes of infiltration used in the 1965 conflict, the northern gullies and the passes in the Pir Panjal range, including Haji Pir, were vulnerable. The main axes leading from Pakistan to the valley are from Murree via Muzaffarabad-Nauseri along Kishanganga Valley, Domel-Chakothi-Uri along Jhelum Valley and Kohala-Rawalkot-Hajira-Uri.
Srinagar is connected with Pathankot on the Indian side by a national highway which negotiates the Pir Panjal range through the Jawahar Tunnel near Banihal and is open throughout the year. Srinagar is the hub of communications from where roads lead to the ceasefire line in the directon of Uri, Gulmarg, Tithwal, Kanzalwan and Zojila. Since the fortunes of war influenced the trend of political thinking of the valley’s inhabitants, the defence of the valley assumed greater importance.
The area south of the Pir Panjal range can be divided into the hilly area up to the Munawar Tawi and the plain sector thereafter up to the Ravi near Madhopur. The terrain in the northern part, particularly closer to the Pir Panjal range, consists of mountains about 12,000 to 13,000 feet high, but the altitudes diminish as they slope towards Poonch. South of the Poonch river, the area is submontane all along the ceasefire line up to the Manawar Tawi, where it emerges into the plains near Mandiala, and the plains extend from there right up to the Ravi near the Madhopur headworks. The entire plains area is covered with cultivated fields, occasionally interlaced with seasonal nullahs running north to south.
In the interim period, with war drawing closer each day, Pakistan had to contend with a substantial dilution of its regular cadre in favour of new raisings underway.
The Chenab divides the plains in two, the Chhamb sector west of it and the Shakargarh bulge east. The national highway runs from Pathankot to Jammu through the narrow segment between the international boundary and the Shivalik range running parallel to it. Pathankot was recently connected with Jammu by rail, with the track running approximately parallel to the highway. This proximity to the boundary renders it vulnerable to disruption by Pakistan at a point of its choosing. An important town in the segment is Samba, from where a few laterals connect the highway with another road in depth connecting Pathankot with Udhampur directly. A road led from Jammu, the hub of communications, to Poonch via Rajauri over a bridge at Akhnur. This bridge, of low classification, was a major constraint on transriver movement by armour and derived its strategic importance from this negative endowment.
The freedom movement which erupted in Bangladesh in March 1971 had adversely affected Pakistan in many ways. The rebellion had compelled it to divert sizable forces from the west wing to the east in the intervening months. Although intensive efforts were made to offset this depletion by new raisings, the war potential of these formations was low and would take time to be fully effective. In the interim period, with war drawing closer each day, Pakistan had to contend with a substantial dilution of its regular cadre in favour of new raisings underway. In addition, the growing erosion of loyalty of East Pakistan personnel in the west was crippling the basic structure of the Pakistani armed forces altogether.
Pakistan was preoccupied politically with preventing the secession of the eastern wing. It was conscious that in the long run the loss of East Pakistan would seriously impair the economy of the western wing. For the time being, Islamabad found it expedient to keep the Kasmir issue on a low key, but its avowed aim was to annex Jammu and Kashmir with all the means at its disposal.
Although the Pakistani forces had been considerably diluted because of new railings, it was still within their capability to undertake a preemptive strike against India in the west. Because of the severe pressures which might build up against the military Pakistani regime in the wake of reverses in the eastern wing, the Pakistan leaders hoped for meaningful collusion with China, and if this was not forthcoming they would go it alone.
Pakistan was preoccupied politically with preventing the secession of the eastern wing. It was conscious that in the long run the loss of East Pakistan would seriously impair the economy of the western wing.
In the hilly regions from the Partapur sector to Mandiala in the plains, Pakistan and India held the ceasefire line in the form of a thin picquet line consisting of linear section to platoon posts with hardly any depth in a no war-no peace confrontation. In view of the increased demands on regular troops, efforts had been made to utilize paramilitary forces to augment the army in less threatened sectors.
Because of years of confrontation, the dispositions on strength of the picquet line were fairly well known to each other. Pakistan was holding the northern sector from Partapur to Zojila with a wing or two of Frontier Scouts. No regular elements were known to be located in the area. The approaches to the vallay opposite Tithwal-Tangdhar and the Uri bulge were known to be held by Pakistan 12 Infantry Division with four brigades or so, with headquarters at Murree. The fifth brigade of this division was occupying the Haji Pir bulge opposite Poonch, and the sixth brigade was in reserve.
Starting from opposite Poonch, Pakistan 23 Infantry Division spread right up to the Chenab with some four brigades, with headquarters at Kotli. Both divisions had the capability of mustering for offensive operations a strength of about two brigades with adequate fire support at the point of the chosen line of thrust within respective divisional sectors. Pakistan was holding the Shakargarh bulge in the plains with two divisions. Pakistan 15 Infantry Division, comprising three brigades, was holding the approaches to Sialkot from the direction of Jammu and Samba while Pakistan 8 Infantry Division with four brigades was responsible for guarding the approaches across the Ravi from the south and through the tip of the Shakargarh bulge from the east. Apart from their holding role, these formations were capable of releasing up to two brigade groups for offensive tasks at the chosen point of strike between the Chenab and the Ravi.
Any armoured thrust in the hilly sector, except to a limited degree in the Jhangar-Naushera bulge, was totally discounted. So on balance there were greater chances of a Pakistani offensive in the plains. But a limited offensive with two to three brigades with a capability of developing one major and one subsidiary thrust in the hills was not discounted. The Pakistani threat had to be evaluated in relation to the sensitivity of each sector and the Pakistani capability of achieving its local aim fitting into the overall strategic plans. Thus no more than a temporary disruption of the Srinagar-Leh highway near Kargil was expected, especially in the coming winter when the Pakistani capability of inducting regular troops over the tenuous road communications in the northern sector was minimal. On this consideration alone a justifiable risk was accepted in moving one Indian brigade group from there to the Punjab sector before Zojila closed.
The Pakistani threat had to be evaluated in relation to the sensitivity of each sector and the Pakistani capability of achieving its local aim fitting into the overall strategic plans.
The approaches to Kashmir Valley are mountainous and snowbound in winter. Mountain warfare at the best of times is troop-consuming. In view of the weakness of the Pakistanis in infantry and because the concentration of about two divisions worth of strike element opposite the valley, far from the Kharian complex, would upset their overall military balance, it was unlikely that apart from a subsidiary threat worth one or two brigades they would venture into the valley in any significant strength.
But the threat of infiltration was potent and had to be guarded against. The Poonch bulge was politically attractive to Pakistan because of ethnic affiliations and the fact that repeated attempts to capture it in the past had proved abortive. Its capture had therefore become a prestige issue. Besides, militarily its capture would not only enlarge the Haji Pir bulge right up to the Poonch river but also gives access to numerous passes over the Pir Panjal range and thereby extend the scope of infiltration activities in Kashmir Valley.
An offensive in this sector would also give Pakistan the advantage of removing threats to its own sensitive areas in and around Mangla Dam and to Bhimber behind the Chhamb sector defences.
The Pakistani strike force was concentrated in Punjab near the Jhangar-Naushera bulge. Launching an attack by them in the bulge would not only be convenient in terms of time and space but also to switch troops around to meet other contingencies developing in the Sialkot sector between the Chenab and the Ravi. An offensive in this sector would also give Pakistan the advantage of removing threats to its own sensitive areas in and around Mangla Dam and to Bhimber behind the Chhamb sector defences.
A successful offensive by Pakistan in the Chhamb sector would provide the easiest access to the Akhnur bridge. Although opening an alternative route to Rajauri upstream had reduced the importance of the bridge, its capture would have been a great psychological gain for Pakistan in view of its political importance. Besides, the capture of the Chhamb-Jaurian area would provide depth to the sensitive Pakistani areas of Gujrat, Alexandra Bridge over the Chenab and the Marala headworks in the region. Militarily, its capture would help Pakistan develop operations towards Jammu from the west. So the defence of the Chhamb sector was considered significant and accordingly given higher priority.
Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir state and a Dogra stronghold, is of great political importance. Its defence was considered paramount, and to this end the highway linking Jammu with Pathankot needed added security against Pakistani efforts to disrupt it. Pathankot housed the entire base facilities for logistic support of the theatre, including Ladakh. Its security was absolutely vital for sustaining a war in Jammu and Kashmir.
Pakistans military capability capability was thus limited to developing a thrust with two or three brigades either in the valley or the Poonch bulge, and a second thrust of the same strength supported by one armoured brigade either in the Chhamb sector or against the Naushera”¦
In addition, the threat of infiltration to the valley and Rajauri and Poonch could not be discounted. As in 1965, Pakistan might endeavour to discredit the state government politically by widespread subversion, sabotage and organised armed revolt, with a view to setting up a Pakistani-sponsored administration.1 Militarily, it might aim at disrupting the lines of communication leading to the battle zone to prevent the movement of Indian reserve formations on mobilisation or the buildup of war material.
The plan of operations seemed to be to deny Pakistani penetration into the sensitive areas of Jammu and Kashmir. In view of the possibility of a preemptive Pakistani strike it was essential that the initial deployment, though dispersed, should be balanced so as to counter a possible Pakistani offensive in the Jammu-Samba-Madhopur-Pathankot sector.
Pakistan’s military capability capability was thus limited to developing a thrust with two or three brigades either in the valley or the Poonch bulge, and a second thrust of the same strength supported by one armoured brigade either in the Chhamb sector or against the Naushera and Jhangar bulge west of the Chenab. Between the Chenab and the Ravi, Pakistan could develop a major thrust with one infantry and one armoured division and would also lose a subsidiary threat of one or two infantry brigades and one or two armoured regiments either towards Jammu-Samba-Madhopur, or towards Pathankot—Amritsar, across the Ravi.
Since India had no intention of resorting to war, the initiative lay with Pakistan to start hostilities at a time and place of its choosing. The proximity of the Pakistani cantonments to the location of the Indian formations helped the Pakistanis preempt any Indian move at will. To meet this threat, Sartaj Singh had a reasonable defensive posture, with adequate regional reserves to meet unforeseen contingencies. He had 3 Infantry Division in the northern sector with some Ladakh Scout subunits facing both China and Pakistan, 19 Infantry Division in the Tithwal and Uri sectors, 25 Infantry Division in the Poonch and Jhangar-Naushera bulges with one brigade worth of reserves near Poonch, 10 Infantry Division in the Chhamb sector, 26 Infantry Division with one armoured brigade covering the approaches to Jammu and Samba, and 39 Infantry Division looking after the Pathankot base.
Since India had no intention of resorting to war, the initiative lay with Pakistan to start hostilities at a time and place of its choosing.
The defence of the sensitive areas of Samba, Madhopur and Pathankot was to be taken over by I Corps on induction to the sector from the hinterland. In that event, 39 Infantry Division was to be placed under its command. A sector had been created for anti-infiltrations operations, particularly in the valley, where paramilitary forces, adequately beefed up with regular elements, were to be used to counter infiltration. I Corps was to launch an offensive in the Shakargarh bulge at an opportune time, depending upon the Pakistani reactions at the start of hostilities. Dovetailed with the main I Corps offensive, Sartaj Singh was to launch an offensive to develop threats on both sides of the Chenab so as to divide the Pakistani strike force between the two offensives and thereby facilitate the main offensive.
XV Corps had put its defensive plans into effect as part of the overall strategy in the west by the end of October. I Corps had arrived in the area and assumed operational responsibility as envisaged in the command plan, and the inter-corps boundary had been readjusted by then and coordination achieved in matters of mutual military interest. The main features of the Indian defensive posture, so far as it could discerned, were pragmatically sound. In view of the difficult terrain in Jammu and Kashmir and the formidable defence potential developed there for over 20 years, an offensive in this theatre would be costly and much too slow in the context of a short war.
The Indian strategy was therefore essentially defensive. The security of the lines of communication with various sectors was to be adequately guarded. Such offensive actions as were to be undertaken would be strictly confined to improving the general defensive posture. Offensive actions in the plains were essentially to be counteractions to meet the Pakistani offensive, and if possible arrest the initiative and secure Pakistani territory whose loss would hurt it economically and politically and provide bargaining power in postwar political negotiations.
Apart from a short sojourn in Burma in World War II, Sartaj Singh did not have any war experience of consequence. He had gone up the ladder in his career by holding successive positions of responsibility, including that of Director of Military Operations, all in conditions of peace. He had an assertive and bulldozing personality which evoked a mixture of responses alternating between grudging admiration and outright fear. He had an intelligent grasp of essentials, the will to overcome both physical and mental hurdles, and always exuded optimism. He found details irksome and disdainfully relegated them to subordinates, which at times threw doubts on his professional soundness. But then he was made to be a commander and refused to reduce himself to the level of staff. And there the distance remained.
- Asian Recorder, Vol XI, No 37, “Massive Pakistani Infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir,” p . 6651.