For militants trying to cross over to India from Pakistan, the treacherous terrain of the Haji Pir pass is among the most favoured routes. The pass cuts deep into Indian Kashmir and divides the Poonch-Uri route. Its capture is considered to be the foremost objective of an Indian Army commander, if hostilities break out with Pakistan as it provides access to much of the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. It would require a large number of troops to execute this plan.
However, the pass was snatched from the Pakistanis in August 1965 by a few hundred paratroopers led by the legendary Major Ranjit Singh Dyal, who was part of the 68 Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Z.C. Bakshi. “The plan was to capture the Sank ridge up to Lediwali Gali and Sawan Pathri. The first attack on Sank led by the Alpha and Charlie companies failed, but the Bravo and Delta companies, of which I was a part, launched an attack the next day and achieved the target,” said Brigadier Arvinder Singh Baicher, 74, who fought the battle as a young major.
After taking over the three features near the pass, Dyal linked up with Baicher at a location where they could see the Haji Pir pass. They decided that they could go and capture the pass on their own. “There was no meticulous planning or brainstorming behind the final attack on Haji Pir. It was our will power and josh that made the decision. Both of us moved with whatever troops we had,” said Baicher.
During the climb, the troops captured a Pakistani patrol, which had a dozen men, including a captain. “The captain was a disgruntled man. He had that very day prepared a petition to resign from the army as he was not given permission to take leave and attend to his father who was on his deathbed,” said Baicher.
During the march towards the pass, the Indian contingent was short of supplies. Major Dyal’s toothbrush was used by three officers after they realised they could smell their own foul breath. For food, they captured two mountain goats. “The officers had half-cooked mutton with salt seized from the Pakistani soldiers while the jawans had it without salt,” said Baicher. “That was the best food I have ever had.”
After capturing the pass, Baicher approached Dyal for permission to secure the heights next to the pass and made his move with just 30 men. Around 23 of them were wounded in the battle, which gave India total control over the Haji Pir pass. It gave India the edge in the Kashmir valley as it cut off Pakistan's main logistics route in the area. However, the pass was returned to Pakistan when the war was over, under the terms of the Tashkent Agreement.
A few years before his death in 2012, Dyal, who was awarded Mahavir Chakra for his gallantry in the operations, termed the return of the pass “a Himalayan Blunder”. “Our people do not read maps,” he said. “Indians did not understand the important position of the pass.”