The whole population ““ men, women and children ““ lined up to greet them, cheering and waving them in. The air resounded with cries of “˜Jai Hind.
On 15 June, the two columns moved out. The Rajauri column consisted of 1 (Para) Punjab, 1 Kumaon Rifles, a troop from the Central India Horse, 5 Mountain Battery, some Engineers, a platoon of Mahar machine-gunners, some lorries, mules and a porter train. The tanks and the lorries were to be used only up to Thanna Mandi. The attitude of the local Muslims had by this time undergone a remarkable change. They were disenchanted with the Pathan tribesmen and the jawans were pleasantly surprised when, at Bafliaz, the locals turned out in large numbers to greet them and brought sweets and milk. The column commander, Lieutenant Colonel K.S. Dhillon, of the Kumaon Rifles, accepted the gifts and gave them to the refugees who had joined the column on the way.40
The Punch column was commanded by Brigadier Pritam Singh, and consisted of 1 (Para) Kumaon and a few medium machine guns. It met some opposition at Potha and two companies of the Kumaonis had to go into action. After the link-up, an air-strip was constructed at Potha and casualties were evacuated. Thereafter the combined force made for Mendhar. Stiff opposition was met on the way. Though Mendhar was entered in the early hours of 20 June, fighting continued throughout that day for the control of the hills overlooking the town.
The operation was kept a closely guarded secret. Except for the formation commanders concerned and a couple of staff officers at Command Headquarters, no one knew of it. Even Army Headquarters were not told during the planning stage. When Bucher, the C-in-C, later came to know of it, he became furious and threatened to take ‘Kipper’ to the Prime Minister for mounting an operation without prior approval.
While the area was being consolidated, the jawans were able to show the local population that they were not the ogres that Pakistani propaganda had made them out to be.
The operation itself was well executed and the enemy was taken by surprise. The Kumaon Rifles, 2 Rajputana Rifles, some light tanks and a battery of mountain guns moved North from Rajauri on the night of 20/21 September, after pretending initially to go South towards Sadabad. Point 7710 (later named Kailash) was the highest hill in the Thanna Mandi-Darhal area, and the Kumaonis captured it on 22 September, a thick fog screening them from the enemy’s view while they made the final scramble to the top. With this hill in Indian hands, enemy positions at Thanna Mandi became untenable, and the town was entered on the same day. Two enemy battalions had been operating in the Riasi-Budil area in small detachments. Liquidating them was no problem now. While the area was being consolidated, the jawans were able to show the local population that they were not the ogres that Pakistani propaganda had made them out to be. Thousands of them had earlier left the Darhal Valley. Receiving sympathy and considerate treatment at the hands of Indian soldiers, most of them returned to their homes.
The permanent link-up with Punch was an elaborate affair. It was the last of the Indian Army’s offensive operations in Jammu & Kashmir and was also the biggest of the campaign. Its successful completion led to the liberation of 4,800 square kilometres of Indian territory. Some wit had codenamed it ‘Easy’. Before it could be mounted, more troops had to be inducted and, at the planning stage, alternative approaches were considered. The Uri-Haji Pir route had its advocates while others championed the Jhangar-Kotli approach. After considering all aspects, however, the Rajauri-Mendhar route was selected. While additional troops were on the way, Cariappa decided to clear his flanks.
The enemy held it in strength. Making it a base, the enemy could pose a threat to Indian lines of communication between Naoshera and Rajauri.
South-West of Rajauri stood Pir Badesar, a 1,656-metre sentinel guarding both the Seri and Naoshera Valleys. The enemy held it in strength. Making it a base, the enemy could pose a threat to Indian lines of communication between Naoshera and Rajauri. Pir Badesar dominated the Jhangar-Kotli route also. Its capture would, therefore, serve the dual purpose of securing the advance from Rajauri and, at the same time, induce the enemy into thinking that the Indian Army was making for Kotli. The task of capturing the feature was assigned to 268 Infantry Brigade. Commanded by Brigadier Harbhajan Singh, this formation had relieved 50 (Para) Brigade at Jhangar during July.