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The Siege of Poonch (1947-48)


Poonch city in Jammu and Kashmir was besieged for about 12 months in 1947-48. Indeed, the whole region surrounding Poonch city was the centre of disturbances immediately before and after the partition in August 1947. Sardar Mohammad Ibrahim the member of Praja Sabha from Bagh and Sudhnutti area, who had earlier studied in England was practicing law at Srinagar, rushed to Poonch and started underground activities against Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir in June 1947.

Initially, Sardar Ibrahim organised about 60,000 ex-servicemen of Poonch principality, who had participated in second world war. Sardar Ibrahim Khan motivated them for revolt against the scattered Maharaja’s forces operating in Poonch principality.

In August 1947 Sardar Ibrahim Khan went to Pakistan, met Raja Yaqoob Khan of Hazara, the officers of Pakistan government and finally the Chief  Minister of NWFP Sardar Abdul Qayoom Khan and sought their armed help for revolt against Maharaja’s forces in the state.

Pakistan government not only provided him arms and ammunitions, contingents of armed forces but also allowed about 30,000 tribes-men to participate in revolt against the government of Jammu and Kashmir.

At that time there were only two battalions of Dogra forces in Poonch area; one at Bagh and other was stationed at Palandri. These forces were further scattered in the whole Poonch principality. By assessing the situation that this small contingent of Dogra force can easily be eliminated, Sardar Ibrahim Khan along with the contingent of Pakistan forces, local ex-servicemen and tribes-men (Afradies) of NWFP started big offensive in Poonch area against scattered Dogra forces.

Dogra forces in Poonch region were not in a position to stop the militant attack and started retreating towards Poonch town. Upto 3rd October 1947 whole area of Poonch principality was captured by the rebels except Poonch town.

On 24th October 1947 Sardar Ibrahim Khan declared the formation of ‘Azad Kashmir Government’ at Plandri in Poonch principality. In these circumstances, Indian forces stationed at Uri were directed to move towards Poonch via Haji Peer for the relief of Poonch town. Due to the burning of an important Chanjal bridge in the base of Haji Peer, the Indian forces could not move towards Poonch.

Only a small unit of Maharaja’s forces marched on foot towards Poonch and reached the town on 20th November 1947. About 50,000 people in the city were under the siege. These included 40,000 refugees who migrated from the rural areas of Poonch region. They were facing great accommodation problem. Every nook and corner of the city was occupied by migrants. All the government and non-government buildings were fully occupied by them and thousands of people were living without shelter.

The refugees whose kiths and kin were brutally slaughtered by rebel forces were full of sorrows. Even in the city the life of the people was in danger. There was administration vacuum. The officers were either shifted to safe places in Pakistan or migrated to Indian side. There was also a danger of looting and harassing the innocent people. Fortunately there was about 6,000 qntls of food grains available in the government stocks at the time of siege, which was distributed among the people.

But after a few days the scarcity of food grains started in the city. As there was no link between Poonch town and the rest of the country, it was not possible to provide food to stranded people in Poonch.

In these circumstances, the first task before armed forces in Poonch was to establish a link with rest of the country. About 10,000 locals started construction of airstrip by working day and night, which was completed within a period of seven days near Poonch town. The first Dakota landed in Poonch in December 1947. In the first flight Sheikh Abdullah and Ayer visited Poonch. After consolidating local forces, the army offensive to recapture areas under rebels started in  April 1948. Simultaneously, the operation rescue was started to link Jammu with Poonch. The Indian forces under the leadership of  Lt. Col. Arora stormed Bhimber Gali and snatched this important pass from Pakistan.

On 21st November the Indian forces completed the Jammu-Poonch link. The 14th month siege of Poonch city was ended after the biggest loss suffered by Pakistan sponsored rebel forces in this sector. It was only due to operation link-up launched by Indian forces during when the besieged city of Poonch was finally linked up with the rest of the country by capturing small towns of Rajouri, Thanna Mandi, Budhal, Surankote, Bhimber Gali and Mendhar.

The article was first published here 

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