A young Gujjar lad Mohammed Din, tending to his flock of cattle is approached by two strange looking men , and offered money for information on the deployment of Indian troops. The boy immediately reported the matter to the local police station at Tanmarg, following which an Army patrol was despatched and seven infiltrators were killed. There was a similar encounter at Galuthi in the Mendhar sector, and 3 days later on August 8, two POK officers were captured at Narian. As the Indian Army officers began to interrogate the captured POK officers, astounding facts started to come out, about massive infiltration going on in the Valley.
The code name for the operation, that involved settling large number of infiltrators in the Kashmir valley and fomenting a large scale insurgency against the Indian state. The operation was so named, as the 8th century Ummayad conquest of Hispania began from that British Overseas Territory located at the Southern most end of Spain.
India had suffered a humiliating rout in the 1962 War against China, and was still coming to terms with it. Jawaharlal Nehru had passed away, the new incumbent Lal Bahadur Shastri was still yet to be tested. In the meanwhile Pakistan, signed a border agreement with China in 1963, where it handed the Shaksgam Valley to make the alliance stronger. Pakistan felt that with India in a demoralized state following the 1962 rout, it was the best time to launch an attack. The Indian Army was still rebuilding post 1962, it was not militarily as well equipped as the Pakistani Army was, then supported by the US. The Indian and Pakistani forces had earlier clashed in the Rann of Kutch during February.
The infiltration was to be done through 10 task forces, each assigned for a particular sector in the Valley. These units were named after well known Muslim rulers, Salahaddin, Babur, Ghazni, Khilji, and they were as follows.
- Salahaddin-Sringar Valley
- Tarig- Kargil-Drass
- Babur- Nowshehra
- Qasim- Bandipura
- Khalid- Naugam
- Nusrat- Tangdhar
- Sikandar- Gurais
- Khilji- Minimarg
The units were armed on a large scale, with a huge amount of rifles, Sten carbines, LMGs, while some of the companies had 2-3″ mortars too. The personell were all asked to dress in the traditional green mazari shirt, salwar along with jungle boots to avoid suspicion. They were also given fake ID cards, Indian currency to make purchases, rations to last enough for the operation.
During the 2nd week of July, all the Force commanders assembled at Murree, where Ayub Khan addressed them. Akhtar Mallik addressed the forces on August 1, 1965, where he exhorted them to do their best, stating this was the best chance to liberate Kashmir. The plan was to ensure the infiltrators mingled with the locals, incite them to revolt. In the meanwhile Pakistan Army would launch a series of guerilla attacks to destroy bridges, tunnels that would cut off communications, target airfields as well as logistic installations. All the areas targeted were in the Valley, and that too along the LOC.
However with the Indian Army getting prior intelligence, the much touted operation ended up in a major fiasco. The major factor was that the infiltrators received no support from the locals, except in Mandi, Narian and Budhil. Also they were thinly spread across to actually achieve any meaningful outcome. On August 13, the infiltrators managed to attack a Kumaon military base at Naugam, killing the Commanding officer, however the situation was quickly retrieved. The Indian Army set up a separate HQ for dealing with the infiltration, Maj Gen Umrao Singh was put in charge of the operations, while 19 Infantry Division moved back to Baramulla to plan for offensive operations. In the meanwhile 17 Punjab, captured critical posts at Kargil on Aug 14, however the military post at Dewa was destroyed by shelling, killing most of the men in charge there including the Brigade Commander.
On August 17, the Chief of Army Staff Gen J.N.Chaudhuri, Western Comand in Charge Lt. Gen Harbaksh Singh met in Jammu, to chalk out a plan of further action. By August 21, Lt.Gen Kashmir Singh Katoch, GOC 15 Corps, assesed that six columns were operating in Jammu and Kashmir, and soon it was decided to go on an all out offensive against them. Lt.Gen Harbaksh Singh, decided that apart from eliminating the infiltrators it was necessary to capture the Haji Pir pass to counter it. He directed the 15 Corps to take Hajipir into control. The capture of Haji Pir, Kishanganga Bulge and Kargil, meant that India had a firm control now, and the infiltrators could not really break in. The Pakistani plans had been foiled, Akhtar had to postpone his much vaunted Operation Grand Slam to September 1, but by then Indian Army had fully secured the Kashmir Valley, and most of the infiltrators were killed, and all the routes choked off.
Operation Gibraltar was the biggest challenge India faced after 1962, and considering it was in a rebuilding mode, the way it countered it, should rank as one of the great miitary victories. The credit due to Lt.Gen Harbaksh Singh, who read the situation correctly, and ensured Haji Pir Pass was captured that made all the difference.