Muhammad Aslam Khan
Nickname(s)Colonel Pasha
Born(1918-08-27)27 August 1918
Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir, British India (now India)
Died(1994-10-12)12 October 1994
Skardu, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan
Jammu and Kashmir
British Raj British India
Pakistan Pakistan
Jammu and Kashmir State Forces
British Raj British Indian Army
Pakistan Pakistan Army
Years of service1939–1963
Battles/warsWorld War II Indo-Pakistan War of 1947
AwardsMilitary Cross
Relationsfather: Rehmatullah Khan
brother: Asghar Khan
Other workShangrila Resort

Brigadier Muhammad Aslam Khan (1918–1994[1]) was a Pakistani military officer, who led the Gilgit Scouts and Azad rebels in the First Kashmir War. Using the nom de guerre of 'Colonel Pasha', he organised a force of 1200 rebels and local recruits in Gilgit, and led an attack on the Indian Army and the State Forces from the north, conquering Skardu and Kargil and advancing within 30 miles of Leh.[2] Even though the Indian Army eventually repulsed the attack beyond Kargil, Skardu remained part of the rebel territory, coming under Pakistani control at the end of the war.

Early life

Aslam Khan was born in Jammu on 27 August 1918 into an Afridi family. His father, Brigadier Rehmatullah Khan of the Jammu and Kashmir State Forces, was instrumental in bringing Gilgit, Hunza and Skardu under the control of the Jammu and Kashmir State.[3][4]

Aslam Khan was one of eight siblings, included among whom was Air Chief Marshal Asghar Khan, who later served as the Chief of the Pakistan Air Force.[3][4]

Jammu and Kashmir State Forces

Aslam Khan was commissioned into the Jammu and Kashmir State Forces in 1939. He was part of the 4th Jammu and Kashmir Infantry battalion (also called the "Fateh Shibji" battalion) He was posted at Rattu in the Gilgit Wazarat for two years.[4]

With the outbreak of the World War II, the 4th Jammu and Kashmir Infantry, was sent to Burma to fight the Japanese as part of the British Imperial Forces. Aslam Khan distinguished himself in the attack on the Kennedy Peak and was awarded a Military Cross.[4][5] The victory celebrations were held jointly with the First Punjabis of the British Indian Army, and Aslam Khan danced with Major Daler Singh Bajwa of the State Forces and Major Gul Rehman of First Punjabis. The camaraderie between the men of all religions was taken for granted in 1945.[6]

After returning from the war, Aslam Khan was posted to Jammu with the rank of a Major. Captain Mirza Hassan Khan at Bhimber, another winner of Military Cross, mentions the formation of a 'revolutionary council' among the army officers, of which he was the chairman. Its members planned to overthrow the Maharaja's government after the departure of the British by attacking the local garrisons. Major Aslam Khan was said to have been part of the group, meant to take charge in Jammu.[7]

Soon afterwards, Aslam Khan decided to move to the British Indian Army. He was posted to Ranchi as G-II. During the Partition, he opted for Pakistan.[4]

Pakistan army and Azad Kashmir

Tribal invasion of Kashmir

Indian defence of the Kashmir Valley 27 October 1947 – 17 November 1947
Indian defence of the Kashmir Valley 27 October 1947 – 17 November 1947

While in the Pakistan Army, Aslam Khan is said to have gone on leave around 21 October 1947. On his way to Srinagar, at Lohar Gali, he ran into the Pashtun tribal invasion being led by Khurshid Anwar. He decided to join the invasion force and became the second-in-command.[8] Aslam Khan described himself as a deserter of the Pakistani Army to a reporter.[9] Scholar Andrew Whitehead remarks, "this is unlikely to be the full story",[10] and Indian sources allege that such army officers were seconded to the invasion force by the Pakistan Army.[11]

Following the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India, Indian troops were airlifted on 27 October to repel the invasion. The 1st Sikh regiment of the Indian Army, under the command of Lt. Col. Dewan Ranjit Rai, proceeded to Baramula immediately upon landing. Aslam Khan's "accurate handling of captured mortars" broke their first stand. Col. Ranjit Rai was killed.[12][13] The 1st Sikhs withdrew to Patan where they set up a defensive position. As more troops were flown in each day, the Indians renewed their attack and beat back the invading tribes beyond Uri by 7 November. The Kashmir Valley was secured.

Gilgit and Baltistan

In the Gilgit Agency at the north of Jammu and Kashmir, the Gilgit Scouts under the command of Major William Brown rebelled on 1 November 1947 and imprisoned the State's governor Brigadier Ghansara Singh. The Muslim troops of the Bunji garrison under the command of Mirza Hassan Khan joined them, and the non-Muslims were eliminated. On 16 November, Pakistan sent a Political Agent Khan Mohammad Alam Khan to take control, bringing Gilgit under the effective control of Pakistan.[14]

On 10 January 1948, Aslam Khan arrived in Gilgit to take command of the Gilgit Scouts. He presented the credentials the Azad Kashmir government.[15] Writer F. M. Khan states:

He was very shrewd and intelligent officer. He was blunt and direct in his approach. In his first meeting with the political agent at the Agency House, he had made it very clear that he [would] not tolerate any interference from the political agent in the military matters. Sardar Alam and Major Brown looked at each other; their dreams had been shattered.[15]

The British High Commission in India immediately connected the name Aslam Khan with the erstwhile second-in-command of the tribal invasion.[16]

Areas of control 25 November 1947 – 6 February 1948
Areas of control 25 November 1947 – 6 February 1948

Aslam Khan, apparently promoted to the rank of Lt. Col, used the nom de guerre 'Colonel Pasha', which kept his identity somewhat clouded. On 31 November he assembled all the officers of the 'Azad forces' (the Gilgit Scouts, the rebels from the Bunji garrison and other local recruits), and pointed out that their primary task was to capture and consolidate Skardu in Baltistan (part of the Ladakh Wazarat). He asked for volunteers to lead the expedition, but none came forward.[17] He then divided the available forces into three groups:[18][19]

Indian Spring Offensive 19 May 1948 – 14 August 1948
Indian Spring Offensive 19 May 1948 – 14 August 1948

Scholar Ahmad Hasan Dani states:

... Col. Pasha knew the significance of his strategy very well. He had deployed the Eskimo Force in this direction with the sole purpose of closing the Zojila route before summer set in and to achieve that end it was he who alone knew how best to use the soldiers fighting in different sectors.[20]

With the Zojila Pass cut off, India's link with Leh would be severed and the entire Ladakh Wazarat fall into the rebels' hands. These results were substantially achieved by 19 May 1948. India was able to save Leh only by raising a local militia, Ladakh Scouts, and constructing an emergency airstrip for receiving armaments.

Return to Pakistan

At this stage, Aslam Khan sent a wireless message to his commander in Rawalpindi. General Douglas Gracey, the Commander-in-Chief, was "bewildered" and ordered him to report back at his office. Once returned, he was appointed as the private secretary to General Gracey, away from the land of adventure.[1]

Meanwhile, his father Brigadier Rehmatullah Khan was in prison in Kashmir, regarded as an "enemy agent".[3] He was repatriated to Pakistan on 2 December 1948, as part of a prisoner exchange. Major Daler Singh Bajwa, Aslam Khan's dancing partner in the 1945 victory celebrations, gave him a send off.[21] The property of Rehmatullah Khan was seized by the State as evacuee property. The family's two cars were later used by Sheikh Abdullah and D. P. Dhar.[22]

Aslam Khan was promoted to the one-star rank of Brigadier at an age of 36. He was not promoted further, and retired in 1963.[1]

His younger brother Asghar Khan rose to be the Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Air Force, retiring in 1965.

Shangrila Resort

Shangrila Resort on Lower Kachura Lake
Shangrila Resort on Lower Kachura Lake

After retirement, Aslam Khan eschewed "politics", and worked for the development of tourism in the trans-Himalayan region of Baltistan. He founded Shangrila Resort in Skardu, taking inspiration from James Hilton's novel Lost Horizon. It is now a top tourist destination in Pakistan, and is currently managed by his son Arif Aslam Khan.[1]


Resting place of Khan
Resting place of Khan

Muhammad Aslam Khan died of natural causes in 1994.[1]



  1. ^ a b c d e Muqeet Malik, The Legend of Baltistan: Brigadier Muhammad Aslam Khan, The Nation, 21 August 2015.
  2. ^ India, 1947–50: External Affairs 1959, p. 493.
  3. ^ a b c Pathan Remembers, Kashmir Life, 28 October 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e Dani, History of Northern Areas of Pakistan 2001, p. 359.
  5. ^ Brahma Singh, History of Jammu and Kashmir Rifles 2010, pp. 189–190.
  6. ^ Bhattacharya, Brigadier Samir (2013), Nothing But!: Book Two: the Long Road to Freedom, Partridge Publishing, pp. 455–, ISBN 978-1-4828-1474-3
  7. ^ Dani, History of Northern Areas of Pakistan 2001, p. 366.
  8. ^ Dani, History of Northern Areas of Pakistan 2001, p. 359; Zaheer, The Times and Trial of the Rawalpindi Conspiracy 1998, p. 97
  9. ^ Jha, The Origins of a Dispute 2003, p. 27: "The writer also stated that according to Smith, their leader was one Khurshid Anwar, and that his second-in-command was Major Aslam Khan of the Pakistan army, whose accurate handling of 2 in mortars broke the (Patiala) Sikhs' first stand at Baramula. Aslam Khan Khan told Smith, who duly reported it in the London Daily Express of 10 November, 'you can describe me as a deserter from the Pakistan Army'."
  10. ^ Whitehead, A Mission in Kashmir 2007, Ch. 9, p. 167.
  11. ^ Whitehead, A Mission in Kashmir 2007, Ch. 10, p. 188: "Decades later, Harbakhsh Singh still chortled at the memory of Pakistan army officers in civilian clothes coming to fight in Kashmir during their holidays. Unlikely as this may seem, a scheme to give leave to any Pakistani officers deployed to assist the invaders was one of the points agreed on at the Pakistan leadership’s crisis conference on Kashmir two days after the start of the Indian airlift."
  12. ^ Government of India, White Paper on Jammu & Kashmir 1948, p. 39.
  13. ^ Suharwardy, Tragedy in Kashmir 1983, p. 120.
  14. ^ Dani, History of Northern Areas of Pakistan 2001.
  15. ^ a b F. M. Khan, The Story of Gilgit, Baltistan and Chitral 2002, p. 84.
  16. ^ Jha, The Origins of a Dispute 2003, p. 27.
  17. ^ Brown, Gilgit Rebellion 2014, p. 268.
  18. ^ Cheema, Crimson Chinar 2015, p. 85.
  19. ^ Dani, History of Northern Areas of Pakistan 2001, pp. 362, 364, 368.
  20. ^ Dani, History of Northern Areas of Pakistan 2001, p. 364.
  21. ^ Bhattacharya, NOTHING BUT!, Book Three 2013, p. 136.
  22. ^ Masood Hussain, Did Sheikh Abdullah go to office in a car seized from Air Marshall Asgar Khan’s father?, Kashmir Life, 7 January 2018.