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Northern Light Infantry Regiment

The Northern Light Infantry (NLI) Regiment is based in northern Pakistan. Today the NLI Reget consists of 15x Reg units. The unit is not dominated by major ethnic groups like the Pashtuns or Punjabs and instead is comprised by a mix of men from the small tribes of the Kashmir region. The NLI sepoys are drawn from eight major ethnic groups: the Baltees, Shins, Yashkuns, Mughals, Kashmiris, Pathans, Ladakis and Turks who speak the dialects of Balti, Shina, Brushaki, Khawer, Wakhi, Turki, Pushto, Urdu and Persian. Of the NLI sepoys, 49 per cent are Shias and 18 per cent Sunnis, while the Ismailees and Noor Bakhshis make up 23 and 10 per cent respectively.Fifty-five per cent of the sepoys come from Gilgit while 35 per cent hail from Baltistan.

The NLI is deployed extensively in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir under the Force Commander Northern Areas (FCNA) and forms the bulk of the battalions under the Minimarg-based 80 Infantry Brigade, the Skardu-based 62 Infantry Brigade and the 323 Infantry Brigade at Siachen.

The Northern Light Infantry Regiment is based in Skardu, which is a small city captured from Indian control during the 1947-48 War. The city is still close to the border. In 1993, the NLI battalions were organised into regular battalions of the Pakistan Army with the Regimental Centre at Bunji near Gilgit. The Northern Light Infantry Regiment was formed in 1971 when several Scout units -- some of which had British-era origins and others which were more recent -- were consolidated. Among these, the Gilgit Scouts fought with distinction against India during the 1947 war. In the tradition of the scout units, the NLI originally functioned as a local government-controlled militia meant to maintain order in remote areas.

In 1869, Gilgit was annexed to Kashmir State. Gilgit Agency was re-established in 1889. In 1889 a force with the name of Gilgit Levies was raised under the command of Colonel Algernon Durand in order to establish better writ of Government. The force, in 1891, fought the battle of Nilt against Hunza. In 1913 Major JC Bridges reorganized the force on company basis and the force was thus named as Gilgit scouts. When Gilgit scouts were raised, its strength was 582. The recruitment in the Gilgit scouts was based on the recommendation of Mirs and Rajas of the area. Close relatives of Mirs and Rajas were used to be given direct viceroy commission in corps of Gilgit scouts.

In 1947 Gilgit Scouts reverted to their original duties of internal security under Pakistani Political agent of Northern Areas. 582 men of Gilgit scouts were placed under the command of Major Muhammad Tufail Shaheed (Nishan-e-Haider).

On partition, Gilgit agency was handed over to Maharaja of Kashmir by the British government. Brigadier Ghansara Singh arrived at Gilgit to take over the charge as Governor. Later on Major General H L Scott the chief of military staff of Kashmir also joined. The troops of Gilgit Scouts being 100% Muslim were in favour of accession to Pakistan. On 31 October 1947, in the afternoon, Honorary Captain Muhammad Baber Khan called the meeting of the Junior Commissioned Officers of Gilgit scouts in the Junior Commissioned Officers' mess, where it was unanimously decided to over throw the dogra rule.

The governor surrendered on 1st November 1947. The Muslim company of 6 Jammu Kahmir infantry battalion coming to Gilgit from Bunji under command Captain Hassan Khan also joined the scouts. The scouts attacked and destroyed dogra check post and burnt Partab Bridge. The Sikh and dogra elements deserted and were later captured. 27000 sq miles were thus liberated from Dogra Raj. The force was then placed under command Major Muhammad Tufail Shaheed (Nishan-i-Haider), Honorary Captain Muhammad Baber Khan of 1st Northern Light Infantry Regiment who played the most vital role in the war of liberation (from Dogra Raj) in 1947.

Gilgit scouts were the first battalion in 1948 to capture Kargil and Batalik, where they were awarded the motto of Victors. Honorary Captain Muhammad Baber Khan took part in liberation war 1947/48. The remaining personnel of the expanded Corps were designated as the Corps of Northern Scouts in November 1949.

The northern scouts were bifurcated on 1st January 1964, and Karakoram scouts were raised with its Head Quarters at Skardu. For centralization of administrative and operational control, the entire force was re-organized into 10 infantry units, 3 mountain batteries and a regimental centre with effect from 1 November 1975. Gilgit scouts were converted into 1st and 2nd Northern Light Infantry Battalion.

In 1985, four battalions were raised for deployment in the Siachen Glacier. Siachen border is the world's highest battlefield. 1 Northern Light Infantry Battalion has the unique honor of being the first unit to defend Gyong and Gyari sectors. Battalion was ordered to move to Siachen in the first week of April 1984 from Gilgit under command Lieutenant Colonel Shuja Ullah Tarrar Tamgha-i- Basalat. The unit was involved in a successful combat with weather, terrain and the real enemy. 1 Northern Light Infantry Battalion did dumping of ammonition and ration and complete defence construction. 1st Northern Light Infantry Regiment remained involved in acts of gallantry while its tenure in Azad Kashmir. A number of successful fire raids were carried out on enemy.

The regiment's soldiers are drawn from small tribes in mountainous areas and are less prone to altitude sickness and cold temperatures that characterize mountain warfare. The unit was therefore chosen to fight against Indian forces in the 1999 Kargil War, which took place in the mountains of Kashmir. Small NLI infantry units slipped past Indian forces at the Line of Control and seized strategically important high points from which they later attacked the Indians. At that time the NLI was a 14-battalion-strong force. Three more battalions -- the 15, 16 and 17 NLI -- were being raised. Of these, the 3, 4, 5 and 7 battalions took part in the intrusion across the Batalik-Chorbatla-Turtuk sectors. Elements of the 12 NLI occupied Tiger Hill and the Mushkoh Valley while the 6 and 11 NLI were spread across the Drass-Tololing-Kaksar sectors.

By one account the execution of the whole operation was entrusted to 62 Infantry Brigade at Skardu with 82 Brigade at Minimarg, 32 Brigade at Kel serving as coordinators. By another account the four infantry battalions were

  • 3 NLI Battalion (ex 323 Infantry Brigade) at Dansam
  • 4 NLI Battalion (FCNA Reserve) at Gilgit
  • 5 NLI Battalion (ex 82 Infantry Brigade) at Minimarg
  • 6 NLI Battalion (ex 62 Infantry Brigade) at Skardu
Gilgit headquarters of the Forces Command Northern Area was assigned the role of supervising the entire operation. The NLI experienced intense combat, and one of its men was posthumously honored with a Nishan-e-Haider award--Pakistan's highest award for military valor. Most of the officers who led the NLI battalions in Kargil were from other regiments and included Punjabis, Mohajirs and Pathans.

After outstanding performance in the Kargil conflict of 1999, the entire Northern Light Infantry Regiment was given the status of regular infantry. The NLI Regiment was promoted from paramilitary force to regular Army regiment in recognition of its good battlefield performance.

On April 30, 2008, Lieutenant General Mohsin Kamal was made Colonel Commandant of the Northern Light Infantry Regiment.

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Page last modified: 05-08-2011 20:02:52 ZULU