When Batamaloo was reduced to ashes


When Batamaloo was reduced to ashesAzam Inqilabi, a former militant commander whose association with separatism dates back to 1965, described Pakistan’s Operation Gibraltar as a “haphazard attempt”. Inqilabi, who has clandestinely travelled to Pakistan many times between the late part of the 1960s till the early 1990s, said Pakistan’s operation failed because the youth of Kashmir “were not groomed at all”.“I had a conversation with Major Kiyani (of the Pakistani army in 1969) and he taunted me (about the failure of Operation Gibraltar).

He said we did not help. I objected to it and questioned him whether they informed us before coming and forming cells. It was a haphazard attempt,” Inqilabi told The Tribune.The infiltrators, who were part of Operation Gibraltar and were known as Gibraltar Force, were divided into nine groups and each was to operate in pre-designated areas. Maj Gen Akhtar Hussain Malik, who was to monitor the operations of the infiltrators, addressed the force commanders on August 1 and exhorted them to do their best as “it was their last chance to liberate Kashmir”, wrote Maj Gen (retd) PK Chakravorty and Brigadier (retd) Gurmeet Kanwal. In their article in the Journal of Defence Studies, the two retired Indian Army officers noted that the infiltration plan was “methodically worked out” and the force was to infiltrate in small groups between August 1 and 5.Once inside Kashmir, members of the Gibraltar Force were to “mingle unnoticed among the crowds” celebrating a festival on August 8 and a political demonstration in Srinagar planned on August 9 to commemorate the 1953 arrest of Sheikh Abdullah. “The raiders were to mingle with the demonstrators (and) engineer an armed uprising,” wrote Maj Gen Chakravorty and Brigadier Kanwal.

Inqilabi, former militant commander who was a college student when Operation Gibraltar unfolded and was arrested for participating in a student agitation later that year, said Kashmir’s political leadership was informed by the Pakistani establishment. “But they were politicians, how could they have supported this bloodshed,” he said.Mohammad Yousuf Taing, literary assistant to whom Sheikh Abdullah dictated his autobiography ‘Aatish-e-Chinar’, said the local Kashmiri leadership played a duplicitous role. “They made some noises on the first day, but then they were jailed and so, they got no chance. They perhaps did not want a chance,” said Taing, who was working in the Academy of Art Culture And Languages in 1965.Taing, who served as a member of the state’s Legislative Council, said it was the Army which set Batamaloo ablaze to prevent Pakistani forces from getting entrenched inside Srinagar. Major General Chakravorty and Brigadier Kanwal, however, noted that it was Operation Gibraltar’s Salahuddin Force which set the area afire.They wrote that the Salahuddin Force, comprising six companies, managed to penetrate into the suburbs of Srinagar and sniped at the Police Lines.

They noted that the force did not receive local support and “losing patience, set fire to 300 houses” in Batamaloo.In Batamaloo, now a busy commercial centre with a huge inter-district bus terminal and a decrepit residential neighbourhood, retired teacher Sheikh Mohammad Ismail takes brief pauses to remember the summer of 1965.Now in his seventies and ailing, Ismail remembers the fire and says he had seen the flames “rising high into the sky” from Jawahar Nagar, 3 km from Batamaloo, where his family had taken refuge. Ismail describes Batamaloo of 1965 as a congested neighbourhood of Srinagar with small houses and narrow alleys. “I was working as teacher at that time and had already put in four or five years of service. Most of the people fled on the day after the first night of gunfire. It was a scary place,” he says.Over the next few days, Ismail kept coming home during the day on a bicycle, stayed for some time and left for safer refuge at Jawahar Nagar. He remembers that one day, a single gunshot rang somewhere and echoed through the ghostly silence of Batamaloo.“I hurriedly locked the house and left. On the way, I saw soldiers crawling and took a detour.

I looked back from some distance and saw smoke rising,” he said.It was the beginning of the fire that was to destroy Batamaloo, including Ismail’s house. “During the night, my mother woke me up and said the fire was visible from Batamaloo. Pieces of burnt paper and ash flew all the way to Jawahar Nagar,” he said.The next morning, Ismail went to see his home, he recalls. “There was not a house left standing. There was no landmark. It took me some time to find my house which was still burning,” he says. The fire of Batamaloo was the closest that Pakistan’s Operation Gibraltar affected Srinagar.As Operation Gibraltar failed to evoke a rebellion in Kashmir, Pakistan moved to its back-up plan, Operation Grand Slam, which became the precursor to the 1965 Indo-Pak war.


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