Australian peacekeepers in Kashmir from 1950 to 1985
India and Pakistan have fought over control of Kashmir since 1947. As part of an international response, Australia became involved in peacekeeping operations in 1950. The presence of Australians in Kashmir continued for more than 30 years.
The formation of India and Pakistan
After India gained independence from British colonial rule in 1947, the territory was divided. This was known as the 'partition of India'. British India was split into:
- the Hindu-majority state of India
- the Muslim-majority state of Pakistan, which included what is now Bangladesh.
The 1947 partition led to Pakistan being divided in 2. Hindu-majority India was centrally placed and separated the Muslim sections into West Pakistan and East Pakistan. Since 1971, the former West Pakistan has been known as Pakistan and the former East Pakistan as Bangladesh.
In the lead-up to independence, between 10 and 20 million people were displaced. Up to 2 million died during the 2-way migration related to the partition.
Jammu and Kashmir was a princely state on the border of the new countries. Three-quarters of people in this region were Muslim. The Hindu ruler, called a 'maharaja', was given the choice about whether to join India or Pakistan.
The Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir staged an uprising. Tribal groups from the North-West Frontier Province invaded Kashmir, possibly with Pakistani support. The maharaja needed Indian troops to fight off these invaders. Help was granted on the condition the ruler sign an Instrument of Accession to India. This forced his hand. Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India on 26 October 1947.
War had developed between India and Pakistan. In May 1948, regular forces of the Pakistani army joined with the irregular forces against Indian attacks in the west. The fronts came together along the Cease Fire Line (CFL). This line still exists today.
The territory to the west of the CFL is known as Azad (Free) Kashmir and is administered by Pakistan.
To the east of the CFL are the Indian Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
Fighting over Kashmir
Since 1947, India and Pakistan have fought over control of the mountainous territory of Kashmir. The international community has been unable to help negotiate an agreed way forward.
India took the dispute to the United Nations (UN) Security Council on 1 January 1948. The Security Council responded by establishing the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP).
UNCIP was tasked with investigating the dispute and mediating between the 2 countries.
On 21 April 1948, the UN imposed an immediate ceasefire. It required Pakistanis who didn't live in Kashmir, or who were only there to fight, to withdraw. At the same time, the UN required the Government of India to reduce its forces to minimum strength.
The UN posted an international group of military observers along the CFL. The observers were there to prevent outbreaks of further hostilities and to make further attempts to reach agreement between the 2 countries.
In practical terms, the ceasefire was not put into effect until 1 January 1949. However, neither India nor Pakistan backed down, and no agreement could be reached.
The UNCIP failed to achieve what it set out to do.
The tension between India and Pakistan over Kashmir worsened in the 1950s. As part of an international response through the UN, Australia became involved in peacekeeping operations in 1950. The presence of Australians in Kashmir continued for more than 30 years.
Australians in Kashmir
The United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) existed for more than 35 years, from 1948 to 1985. UNMOGIP was formed to report to the UN Security Council on the conflict between India and Pakistan over the future of Jammu and Kashmir.
Australia contributed an estimated 218 military observers and air transport personnel to the UNMOGIP mission in Kashmir between 1950 to 1985. Not only was it the first involvement of a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) unit in peacekeeping, it was also the first time an Australian military unit had been deployed on a peacekeeping mission.
The RAAF's No. 38 Squadron Detachment B provided a DHC-4 Caribou from 1975 to 1979. Personnel came from Nos. 35 and 38 Squadrons. The aircraft was used for transport and to resupply the UN observers. The Caribou flew to places such as Skardu, high up the Indus valley in the Himalayas. It cut down the need for treacherous journeys by road.
Australia provided 6-person observer teams to the mission. Each team served tours of duty of 1 or 2 years. Australia drew most of its peacekeepers for Kashmir from the Reserve of Officers and the Citizen Military Forces.
During the Vietnam War, army reservists were used to staff the contingent because the army's resources were stretched serving in the war. Many of the early peacekeepers in Kashmir had seen active service in World War II. They were middle-aged by the time they became involved in Kashmir. The Reserve of Officers allowed men to continue serving even if they were older than the retirement age in the Australian Regular Army. As Kashmir Veteran John Burgess explained:
They were looking for people who could think on their feet [and] wouldn't be flustered by something unusual that would be thrown at them. At the same time they were looking for someone who could come to a logical and reasoned ... conclusion about things, which meant if they threw that thing at you they expected you to think about it and think about it quickly and come up with a quick answer for it. At the same time the answer had to be logical and they were looking for your reaction to see if this was going to throw you out, whether it was going to fluster or turn you off ... They were looking for someone who was able to be calm in a situation like that where things were coming out of the blue ...
[John Burgess, Australians at War Film Archive, UNSW]
Peacekeepers' work in Kashmir was physically tough. Observers would climb on foot through snow in highly mountainous terrain, risking falls. Travel by road was precarious.
Living conditions for peacekeepers were varied. While some lived in houseboats on Dal Lake in Kashmir's capital, Srinigar, others stayed in unheated mud or stone cottages.
John Burgess remembered the tough and dangerous conditions:
We were taken in to meet the general and he said, "Well, you won't be carrying weapons. All you will have to protect you will be a white flag or a blue flag. I expect you to try and stop the shooting."
He said, "If firing breaks out you will have to stop it some way. I will leave it up to you to decide how to do it, but do try not to get killed ... You will be going down to the south of Kashmir to a place called Jammu and from there out to the ceasefire line."
[John Burgess, Australians at War Film Archive, UNSW]
Major General R.H. Nimmo CBE
The first and longest-serving commander of UNMOGIP was Lieutenant General Robert Nimmo, CBE. He was an Australian Gallipoli veteran who had also served in World War II.
Lieutenant General Nimmo was appointed as Chief Military Observer (CMO) in October 1950. During his time serving on the India–Pakistan border, he reported on many outbreaks between the 2 sides, and a full-scale war in 1965.
Nimmo remained in command until his death from natural causes in Kashmir on 4 January 1966. His 15-year command is a UN record and one unlikely to be broken. Veteran John Burgess remembered him fondly:
His personality was one of determination and of grit. He seemed a gritty sort of a fellow. He had a good grasp of what was going on in Kashmir, he was able to talk to people in India and Pakistan at the highest levels and yet he was able to talk to the troops that he met on the way.
In all, I thought he was a good choice for the job, that he was able to explain things to us, what we were going to do and what he wanted us to do and the things that we were likely to encounter. At the same time he was the sort of bloke you thought you could approach and talk man to man which is a good sort of thing to have in a person in that position. One of the things that did strike me was if you went into headquarters at all on leave he was always there to sit with you and have a cup of tea with you and a talk. Didn't matter who he was with.
[John Burgess, Australians at War Film Archive, UNSW]
United Nations India–Pakistan Observation Mission (UNIPOM)
A small group of 3 to 4 Australians served in a related mission from 1965 to 1966. At the end of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, also known as the Second Kashmir War, the newly established United Nations India–Pakistan Observation Mission (UNIPOM) supervised a ceasefire along the India–Pakistan border.
During the ceasefire, all armed personnel were withdrawn to the positions held before 5 August 1965. This did not include Jammu and Kashmir, which remained under UNMOGIP responsibility.
Lieutenant General Nimmo was appointed acting CMO UNIPOM until a separate CMO was available. When Major General Bruce Macdonald from Canada took command in October 1965, UN Headquarters delegated Nimmo oversight of both missions due to their close relationship.
In 1985, with no end to the conflict in sight, the Australian observers were withdrawn. The Australian Government considered Australia was overcommitted to the UN at that time.
Other UN observers remain in Kashmir today. Kashmir remains 'territory in dispute' under international law.
National Peacekeepers' Day
On 14 September each year, we observe National Peacekeepers' Day. It's the anniversary of the day Australia became the world's first peacekeepers to deploy into the field, in the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia) in 1947. It's a day to recognise the important work of those who have served, and continue to serve, in the name of global peace.
Learn more about Australia's peacekeeping missions since 1947.
International Day of UN Peacekeepers
29 May is a day of commemoration and acknowledgement of all military, police and civilian personnel who have served as peacekeepers with the UN. Since UN peacekeeping began, more than 4,000 peacekeepers from many countries have lost their lives while performing their duties under the UN flag.
Australian War Memorial, 'Kashmir', Keeping the peace: stories of Australian peacekeepers, exhibited in Canberra 18 September to 2 December 2001, accessed 15 July 2022, https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/peacekeeping/observers/kashmir
Australian War Memorial (undated), 'Kashmir (UNIPOM), 1965-1966', accessed 15 July 2022, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/U60665
Australian War Memorial (undated), 'Kashmir (UNMOGIP), 1948-1985', accessed 15 July 2022,https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/U60664
Australian War Memorial (undated), 'United Nations India-Pakistan Observation Mission (UNIPOM) 1965 - 1966', accessed 15 July 2022, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/CN500126
Australian War Memorial (undated), 'United Nations Military Observer Group India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) 1948 - 1985', accessed 15 July 2022, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/CN500117
Londey, Peter; Crawley, Rhys; Horner, David (2020). The Long Search for Peace: Volume 1, The Official History of Australian Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Post-Cold War Operations. Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.
University of New South Wales, Australians at War Film Archive, Transcript of interview with John Burgess, accessed 15 July 2022, https://australiansatwarfilmarchive.unsw.edu.au/archive/htmlTranscript/1876