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Small town, significant history

india Updated: Nov 22, 2008 01:09 IST
Peerzada Ashiq

After travelling 250 kilometres of ribbon-shaped roads from Jammu towards north, there was an unpleasant welcome from Poonch. It is a shantytown, with dirty lanes. In fact poorly maintained of three major districts of Akhnoor, Rajouri, Surankote, situated on the same road that leads to Poonch. From bus stop to hotel accommodation, Poonch was in sorry state of affairs.

Partitioned twice in 1947 and 1965, witness to three wars and pained by deaths and migrations, Poonch however stands as epitome of history. Moti Mahal still stands tall as repository of history. Poonch was once capital of the principality, which included four tehsils of Havelli, Meander, Bagh, Suthnutes.

What charted the history of the principality was a carpenter's son. Happy with the work of one of carpenters who engraved designs on the walls of Moti Mahal, the then king decided to award the carpenter. All the carpenter asked for was education for his son. The wish was granted by the king.

The name of the carpenter's son was Sardar Ibrahim Khan. He completed his bar-at-law law studies from England. By the time he arrived in Poonch after completing his studies, at least 60,000 people --- 55,000 Muslims and 5,000 Hindus --- were recruited by the British for World War II.

After fighting during World War II, these soldiers became a potential threat for the then Dogra rulers of the principality. "These soldiers were idle and was looking for space to exert themselves," said K D Mani, a renowned author from Poonch and former bureaucrat.

Mani said these soldiers find a leader in Sardar Ibrahim Khan. "The soldiers and Khan had revolutionary brains and wanted to free Poonch from the Dogra rulers," he added.

At the time of Partition, Poonch remained an independent state between August 15, 1947 and October 27 1947. In the meantime, Pakistan launches the Operation Gulmarg to capture Kashmir.

"The plan was three stranded. One to destroy road link between Pathankot and Mirpur. Two, to back rebellion in Poonch, three to send tribal through Jehlum Valley road," said Mani.

Mani claims that Pakistan could have wrested the whole of Jammu and Kashmir if Ibrahim Khan had not declared himself as president of Kashmir. "Pakistan too accepted the new government," said Mani, who has written many books on Poonch.

But the brigadier who was heading towards Srinagar came to know about the decision taken by Ibrahim Khan and he decided to stop at Baramulla. "He (the brigadier) told Pakistan to make him the president of Kashmir and ask Ibrahim to step down," said Mani.

In the process, the brigadier stops the raiders for three days till October 27 1947, the day Indian Air Force arrived in Kashmir. Mani claims internal bickering for power saved Kashmir from being occupied by Pakistan.