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Thursday, Nov 14, 2019

American led Valley raid

An 84-year-old US Army veteran died this year leaving behind a historical enigma, reports Neelesh Misra.

india Updated: Sep 25, 2006 03:09 IST
Neelesh Misra
Neelesh Misra

In an obscure small town in the United States, an 84-year-old US Army veteran died this year, leaving behind a historical enigma: the American was one of the leaders of the thousands of ruthless tribesmen, who raided Kashmir in 1947.

A letter brings alive his adventure and tales of valour in Kashmir, along with some “historical truths”. Months after he left home in Denver, Colorado in July 1947, Russell King Haight Jr was thrown into the Kashmir conflict, one of the highlights of a dramatic life that took him to some of the most violent war zones of the 20th century, including Korea and Vietnam. In a letter penned before his death in Norman, Oklahoma, Haight said he was acting alone in Kashmir and rejected the view that he was on an espionage mission. He cited one reason for joining the conflict: “I disliked Hari Singh, who was the ruler of Kashmir. He was a Dogra.’’ But Haight also had some other stories to tell.

“Sardar Mohammed Ibrahim Khan (founder of the Azad Kashmir government) offered me a captaincy in the Azad Kashmir forces and I agreed,’’ he wrote. The British army officers gave him an official uniform and made him a Brigadier-General “as a joke” in the Azad Kashmir army.

He also had the answer to a question that India never asked him: a January 1948 story in the New York Times quotes him saying that he was “ready to testify (at the United Nations) that Pakistan supported the Moslem tribal invaders of Kashmir.’’

Indian diplomats apparently did not reach out to him for his account. Haight died on May 13, after a “worldwide” career. He briefly joined the Canadian Army and took part in the famous World War II battle of Dieppe; went to Afghanistan to work for a construction company, and then to Kashmir. After rejoining the US Army, he fought the Korean War, followed by stints in Germany, Bolivia and the Vietnam war.

Haight, who retired in 1967 as a sergeant-major, is survived by his wife and two daughters. His letter, mistakenly sent to a wrong address, was delivered recently.

The letter documents the days that shaped Kashmir’s destiny — when thousands of attackers tore down the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar highway in buses and trucks in the autumn of 1947. The highway was the lifeline of Kashmir; the same road where a peace bus would travel after six decades and three India-Pakistan wars later. The attack was aimed at forcing the hand of King Hari Singh, who had not decided whether his province would join India or Pakistan —even two months after the Partition had been formalised and hundreds of other rulers had chosen their country.

The frenzied raiders captured towns, burnt villages, robbed and raped, pulverized the king’s army and unleashed a furious campaign that seemed set to culminate in the annexation of Kashmir by Pakistan. But in October, the Indian military joined the campaign after the king sought New Delhi’s help and agreed to accede to India. On October 27, Indian Dakotas began air operations against the raiders.

“While fighting in Jhelum, we had only two working machine-guns which we had recovered from a downed Indian Air Force plane. Three Pathan tribesmen tried to take them, so we had to kill them,’’ Haight wrote. “I escaped with a truck, a driver and the two machine guns.’’ And his fellow soldiers turned against him.

“There were two attempts on my life. The first time, two men in civilian clothes tried to shoot me in my hotel,’’ he said. “The second time, a shot fired at me in the dark punched a hole in my hat.’’

The Indian communist weekly “People’s Age” accused him of being an American spy. From a leader of Pathans, Haight suddenly became a fugitive. “I got back to India where I hid in a hotel trying to figure out how to get out of the country,” he wrote. An American journalist helped him escape.