War Memories

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As the Line of Control became active and the warplanes started dominating the skies, Saima Bhat met the elders to understand how bad the wars have been to Jammu and Kashmir

Prime Minister Shastri’s coffin being shouldered by the erstwhile USSR Premier Alexi Kosygin and his Pakistani counterpart Ayub Khan. Shastri died on January 11, 1966, after India and Pakistan met for Tashkent Declaration that marked the end of 1965 war.

Last week, as warplanes started hovering over Kashmir skies, Kashmir elders landed in 1965 and 1971. But the memories narrated as fairy tales could not reduce the anxiety of people who had always talked of war and never seen one. Most of the young generation did not sleep for almost a week.

An Uri resident and a fiction writer, Habibullah Banday, 71, was in the eleventh standard when India and Pakistan fought the 1965 war. Then, living in Nawa Runda and studying in Baramulla, he witnessed the infiltrators entering Kashmir. Soon after, the Indian army started searches and detected them. This escalated the tension between India and Pakistan which ultimately resulted in shelling across the border, he said.

“Actually their reach to Haji Peer side resulted in the shelling. I still remember that continued for 36 hours,” Banday said. The intruders planed to get hold of Jammu and Kashmir highway. Same night BBC had broadcast the news that that ‘they were left with no option as the UN was not going to open the international borders’.

Next day, he remembers around one lakh soldiers walked up to Lahore and attacked the city. But it led to air strikes. He recalls the radio claiming the army will have their tea in Muzaffarabad at 5 pm. “After around one hour everything changed as the suicide bombers got into Indian tanks and in next one more hour the situation had changed completely,” Banday said. The army had reached Poonch via Haji Peer, and when Indira Gandhi reached the spot, she became furious to see the destructions. “The scenes were so depressing that she started a verbal brawl with the General, who refused to move ahead.”

The situation immediately led to the Tashkent agreement between Lal Bahadur Shastri and General Ayub after which both the countries decided to go back to their earlier positions on borders. This war continued for just 17 or 18 days.

In Baramulla, Banday said infiltrations were a routine. “But life was quite normal. We also used to go to schools for two days only every week. Frisking then also seemed to be normal,” he said. “Nobody knew infiltrators but their presence was not public.”

Baramulla residents had not dug-out dungeons and bunkers. “We were living in our homes because we knew they never missed their targets and civilians were not their targets,” Banday said. “But people from Haji Peer fled from their homes; I know it because my maternal cousin lived there. Many people from my area went to Haji Peer side and robbed the deserted houses.”

After the 1965 war, it brought a sigh of relief for some time for Uri as the only road connecting with Poonch became accessible. The army vehicles used to run on this road almost daily. But Pakistan took over the Haji Peer Pass after the Tashkent Agreement and the road access was lost by Uri. Though a status quo ante was enforced, Banday still remembers his desperation to locate the persons owning a radio to listen to the commentary on the war – “the suicide bombers blowing up tanks”. Then, everybody could not afford a radio set.

In 1971, Banday was a teacher at Nawa Runda. The war began when all of a sudden Pakistani warplanes attacked 13 airports including Srinagar. Unlike 1965, the army was vigilant and did not allow Pakistan to come in. But both kept each other busy in the shelling. “That time, the two armies were busy in East Pakistan, which eventually became Bangladesh,” Banday said. “I have heard Zulfikar Ali Bhutto saying they can fight for 1000 days. And next day, at least 90,000 of his soldiers surrendered.”

As the shelling was going on in 1971, Banday remembers they used to go to their workplaces and people used to visit towns as well but the only difference was they had to use the longest routes instead of shorter ones, closer to the border. “There was no civilian causality in our area and none of us even felt a desire of shifting to a safer place,” Banday said. “In 1999 and 2018, civilians became a casualty. Around 55 villages vacated from the Uri area alone.”

After the 20-days war of 1971, Banday said another agreement happened to solve the Kashmir issue. “It has been more than four decades now and nothing happened so far. Two wars have been fought already and now both countries are nuclear powers so they should think wisely,” Banday added.

Zareef Ahmad Zareef

In Srinagar, Zareef Ahmad Zareef, 76, a resident of Aali Kadal, was 22 years old in 1965. He was a college student then, preparing for various examinations in Kashmir and in Aligarh Muslim University. He remembers the war started after Pakistan pushed in Mujahids to Kashmir in civvies for a guerrilla war. “The youth Pakistan had sent here were mostly the sons of the people who were thrown out of Kashmir post-partition for having differences with Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, or were pushed back in 1947,” Zareef said. “They were here under a plan that they wanted to capture airport so that Pakistan army could land and we will be taken away from India.” He has met this guerrilla in the Central Jail where a few of them were kept and he too was arrested for some reasons.

Those intruders were working in groups and they had spread to many parts of Kashmir, and when one such group reached Bemina, they fired some shots which alerted the government. “The state knew these youth were around and they raided many places but could never arrest any. I believe that was because they were Kashmiri youth and locals sheltered them,” Zareef said. “Indian army sprinkled gun powder in the entire Batamaloo and set it on fire. That became the main reason why all those were recalled back by Pakistan.”

In September 1965, when the Indian army reached Lahore, Zareef recalls the use of suicide bombers and America-supplied Cyber jets used by Pakistan. “When these jets used to fly over the skies in Kashmir, locals would go to their rooftops and watch if these jets have dropped bombs on the airport or if smoke is there,” Zareef said. “On the other hand, the security men would hide in shelters. These jets entered Kashmir twice or thrice.”

Bashir Ahmad Zahid

The 1965 war, Zareef said, gave birth to the mythical Jameela, a female Pakistani pilot of Kashmir origin, who dived over Dal Lake and took a lotus as a souvenir.

Zareef reveals something interesting. After listening to Ayub Khan’s emotional speech, some Kashmiris turned emotional and started taking food supplies and tea to Pakistani soldiers near the border. “This was the main reason why the casualties were more – 4000 in that war,” Zareef said.

Pakistani army then had reached Munawar Tawi near Jammu. “But America and Russia chipped in and became mediators to stop the war,” Zareef said. “The two Prime Ministers signed the Tashkent declaration but same night Shahsri died and nothing much happened on Kashmir.”

Zareef said the prelude to 1971 war was an internal crisis between East and West Pakistan. This led to Delhi’s intervention and Bangladesh came into existence after 93000 Pakistani soldiers surrendered. The war started from Kashmir after Hashim Qureshi hijacked Ganga aircraft from Srinagar. “It was the ploy to cut air passage between East and West Pakistan and to abuse Pakistan at international level,” Zareef said. Shimla Agreement brought pain to Kashmir.

In its immediate follow-up, people attacked houses of Kashmiri poets for participating in a Mushaira on Radio Kashmir as part of the celebrations for the emergence of Bangladesh.

But the situation in Rajouri and Poonch was altogether different. Khawaja Bashir Ahmad Zahid, 75, a retired teacher and a resident of Thanamandi in Rajouri, has witnessed both the wars in his area. He was recruited as a teacher in 1962.

In 1965, Zahid, then 22, and was posted in Manderkoet for two months. “It first started after a firing incident by the Pakistani army. That day, they started firing from 6 pm to 4 am. Next day, the Indian army came and asked us about whatever we had witnessed,” Zahid said. “We told them honestly that the other army had come and returned after firing. But still, they searched the whole area.”

Habibullah Banday

After two months when Zahid was transferred back to his home Thanamandi town, he had heard from people that Mujahids have come from Pakistan and are hiding in upper reaches.

“Administration and the police were aware of the happening but did not do anything till the day when a bridge in our village was attacked from both the sides and another attack was done on Dak Bungalow where Indian army had a programme,” Zahid said. “They suffered huge damage but the local bore the brunt as we were harassed and beaten up for providing accommodation to Mujahids. We were taken to army camps also. As a result, the areas of Thanamandi saw a migration to an area on Mughal Road, which was around 20 km away from our village,” remembers Zahid.

A week later, Zahid recalls the army approached the local police and asked the locals to return home. “We had to follow the orders but the situation was not good at home. The atrocities did not change. They used to beat elderly, sarpanches as well,” Zahid remembers. “I am a witness how two of our leaders: one Imaam Moulana Hassan and another leader whom we used to call Malik sahib were killed in Darhal Markan area. But the killings were not limited to two in the areas of Poonch and Rajouri. There were many killings which ultimately forced people to migrate.”

The despair after migration had much more impact on the locals says Dr Shameem Banday, a local in Poonch. Born in 1975, he has not witnessed either of the two wars, but the impact was huge on his family.

“I have seen my mother in distress and how her brother died in longing to return to his home.” Dr Shameem says, “Before the bus service was started, we used to see our relatives on another side of the border from a distance. They were in front of us but we could not touch them. Once the bus was started, I still can’t get out the images of the families who could hug each other after such a long time. The despair is quite visible on their faces when they go back because they miss their blood relations.” The war of 1971 did not impact much as the Pakistani army did not enter towns.

“Wars are not good,” Zahid said. “Both nations should come to a table and solve this issue.”

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