Very few have heard of Haji Pir Pass, fewer even know where it is and why is it so important. But this wind-swept mountain pass was the site of one of the most notable battles of the 1965 War and a tale of courage and endurance.
Situated 8652 feet high in the Himalayan Ranges, Haji Pir was a vital pass in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. In the 1947-48 Kashmir War, Pakistani raiders had attacked Kashmir in the hope of capturing it militarily. Though they came to the doorstep of Srinagar, they were pushed back by the Indian Army. When the yearlong war came to a close, Pakistan still retained large swaths of Kashmiri territory which is today Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Haji Pir Pass was also held by them. This strategic pass was inside a bulge, which protruded like a dagger inside Indian Territory and could be used by them to send in raiders and launch attacks into India.
In 1965, Pakistan was emboldened by India’s defeat at the hands of China and also their victories in the border skirmishes in the Kutch desert in April. They decided to launch an ambitious plan to send raiders – military men and tribal in civilian clothing – into Kashmir valley to foment revolt, lay ambushes and launch attacks on Indian army positions. Haji Pir was one of the major areas through which the Pakistani infiltrators came in.
In August, the Indian Army decided to attack the very launch pads of these terrorist infiltrators, to cut off their entry routes. Haji Pir was the most prominent amongst them. Although War had both been declared both sides were in open confrontation with each other. The Indian plan involved a double pincer, one from the North, one from the South that would encircle the bulge and capture the crucial pass. Yet the pass would be a tough nut to crack. It was held strongly by a Brigade, reinforced by irregular troops and supported by artillery. The defences were arrayed in layers and before reaching the vital pass, the enemy defences at Bedori, Sank and Ledwali Gali had to be first cleared. The attack was to be launched on 24 August, but bad weather postponed the launch and on night of 25th, after much trepidations, the attack went in and the troops moved across the mountains in hail and sleet, moving unseen through the gaps in the Pakistani positions.
Moving along the treacherous ridges, 68 Brigade slowly approached Haji Pir from the North. As per the initial plan 1 PARA was to advance along a narrow mountain gully, capture the enemy position of Sank and provide an approach for the subsequent capture of the pass. Another battalion 19 PUNJAB was to move along an equally treacherous ridgeline, and capture Bedori, another preliminary objective guarding Haji Pir. A fresh battalion 4 RAJPUT was to then attack the Haji Pir pass and capture it.
On the night of the 25th the attacks went in and the initial objective of Sank was captured by 1 PARA after launching three successive attacks. The bad weather actually helped as the Pakistanis did not expect any Indian movement – leave alone an attack in these conditions allowing the Indian troops to come close without being detected. Yet on the other side Bedori, which was to have been captured simultaneously, held on. To make matters worse, the third battalion, 4 RAJPUT which was to have launched the attack on Haji Pir pass was delayed and could not fetch up.
The attack seemed to have ground to a halt, with only one battalion, 1 PARA even approaching the enemy position. This was one of the crucial moments that make or break a battle. At this juncture, 1 PARA volunteered to go ahead alone to capture Haji Pir, since a delay waiting for the next battalion to arrive would have nixed the plan completely. In a calculated gamble, one company under Major Ranjit Singh Dayal (later Lt Gen R S Dayal) made a gruelling approach march to the base of the pass, made a circuitous climb along the difficult western shoulder of the pass, and climbed up unseen from a flanks of the unsuspecting enemy. By the time they reached the top, it was almost daybreak, and they were detected as they approached the summit, and the enemy opened fire, Leaving just a platoon to engage the enemy, the rest of the company moved to the summit and from there rolled down on the enemy positions attacking them from the rear. The surprised defenders fled and by noon the pass was in Indian hands. The tricolour flew proudly on the pass for the first time since Independence.
With Haji Pir in our hands, the outlying positions soon fell, and the vital pass fell into Indian hands. The bulge through which Pakistani infiltrators came into Kashmir and also their escape route was now cut off. The pass remained in Indian hands throughout the war, in spite of numerous counter attacks and intensive fire. Yet, the gains made in this operation were lost on the Tashkent negotiation table when India agreed to return Haji Pir and other gains in Kashmir. The vital pass went back to Pakistan, and unfortunately is held with them even today. But the story of its capture, and of the gallant men who engineered it, is one of the hallmarks of India’s military history.
See a video of the battle at