1965 INDO-PAK WAR
Following their failed invasion of Kashmir in 1947-48, for which the Pakistan army blamed it on the indecisiveness of their politicians, it was decided by the Pakistan army, that in future, it would call the shots over Kashmir in particular and India in general. War was too serious a business to be left to its spineless politicians. And by 1962, after the Chinese invasion of India, Pakistani leaders – a towering General Ayub Khan along with his young and wily foreign minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – were convinced that Kashmir was ripe for the picking. So, in an unexpected departure from his successes at home – such as his model of basic democracy – Ayub decided on another invasion of Kashmir, with Bhutto prodding him on to first create an Algeria like uprising in the Kashmir valley, (later known as Operation Gibraltar) and if need be, to back it up with a military invasion of Punjab (later known as Operation Grand Slam).
Pakistan, having entered into a deep embrace with the US for strategic security and become part of US led alliances such as SEATO and CENTO- as part of a chain link of countries that the US used to surround the Soviet Unionthe US had equipped it with far superior tanks and aircrafts compared to India. Even then, some wise men like the then Governor of Pakistan’s Punjab, the Nawab of Kalabagh, had warned Ayub: “do not listen to Bhutto. His father or grandfather did not handle a sword or a gun. I warn you, that if you attack India, you will face reverse”. But Bhutto soon prevailed on Ayub to have the good Nawab removed. And with India’s large scale military modernisation – following the Chinese invasion – yet to be completed, Pakistan felt that this was their last chance to capture Kashmir and settle the problem. Ayub thus went ahead with his plans, which was initiated in two parts: the first, being operation Gibraltar that saw the infiltration of over 5,000 Pakistan soldiers (some say, there were 25,000) dressed as irregulars, who were to incite a rebellion in Kashmir with the help of Kashmiri locals. And in part two, to launch a military operation – from Punjab, and up to Akhnur north of Jammu – across the border to cut off Kashmir from India.
WHAT LED TO THE WAR?
Like most Pakistanis, Ayub had delusions about the superiority of the Muslim warrior over the meek Hindus. With Nehru’s death in May 1964, his successor Lal Bahadur Shastri was assumed to be weak, and Ayub had even once referred to him as a ‘mouse’. Also, Pakistanis had watched India’s military humiliation in 1962 with glee and felt that with China too as an adversary, they could squeeze out Kashmir from India. Moreover,
Pakistan’s assumptions were also based on the grounds that
- (a) following India’s military defeat in 1962, and its morale was low;
- (b) so, Pakistan must attack before India’s post ’62 military modernisation was complete, and that.
- (c) the defeat had shown that India’s political leadership lacked strategic vision, a coherent understanding of issues related to matters military and there was little civil military interface so essential to respond to a military attack. As Bhutto had later recalled: ‘there was a time, when militarily, we were superior to India,… that was the position up to 1965”.
However before doing so, Pakistan decided to test India’s nerves by probing India’s borders in the desolate Rann of Kutch in north Gujarat in April ’65. India’s response was measured and Pakistan interpreted it as a lack of confidence, following the drubbing India had received from the Chinese in 1962. Furthermore, the disappearance of Kashmir’s symbol of Islam, the Mo-e- Muqaddas (the Prophet’s hair) in 1964, had caused riots in the Valley. Pakistan chose to interpret this as a Kashmiri demand for secession and a reflection of a pro-Pakistani sentiment. And finally, a crisis war game carried out in Washington in February 1965 had indicated that if Pakistan was to invade J&K once again, it was “likely to gain Kashmir or large parts of it”, if it made a few modifications to its 1947-48 invasion plan. Most interestingly though, Ayub Khan’s decision to launch Operation Gibraltar, was influenced by the young Bhutto and his gang, and many military commanders, who were confident that as India was a defeated country – following its 1962 drubbing by the Chinese- it wouldn’t fight back.
However, things didn’t go as per plan. Launched around 5 August, Op- Gibraltar, met with little success, as Pakistani infiltrators – whose job was to blow up bridges and carry out commando raids- got little support from the local Kashmiris, who chose to help the local police and para-military to capture them, creating a serious reverse in Pakistan’s plans. But undeterred Pakistan launched another 10,000 soldiers (dressed as irregulars) into the Valley, to keep up the façade that Pakistani troops were not violating the cease-fire line (CFL). And even though Op-Gibraltar had failed, Ayub was informed otherwise. Assuming that Kashmir was ready to secede, Ayub followed it up with the second part of the plan, called operation Grand Slam on 1 September. This was on the assumption that Pakistan’s quasiguerrilla force that had infiltrated, will take over J&K once it was cut off by an infantry and armoured attack in the Chhamb sector, where the International Border (IB) ended and the CFL (cease fire line) began.
India responded, following some initial shock and confusion, but eventually effectively once Pakistan’s game plan became clear. The Indian defence minister, YB Chavan, took the service chief’s by surprise, when he took a few minutes to give the go ahead for an all out air-land counter offensive, without even consulting the cabinet or the Prime Minister. And then to the surprise of Pakistan, and even that of Indian generals, the mild mannered PM, Lal Bahadur Shastri surprised a boastful Ayub Khan, by ordering Indian forces to retaliate right across the Indo-Pak border. This was Pakistan’s ‘moment of truth’. It was in panic, and scrambled to save the fall of Lahore and Sialkot, even as Pakistan had the world on its side, with the US and UK fearful of its growing alliance with China. And as India hadn’t yet agreed on a treaty of friendship with the Soviets,(as that was done in 1971), they all ganged up to declare India the ‘aggressor’. But apparently Shastriji didn’t mind it.
Many in India say it was a 22 day war, fought mostly in September 1965, as India’s tanks raced towards Lahore and Sialkot, perhaps the biggest tank battle since World War- II took place in and around Khem Karan and Asal Uttar in Punjab. This lasted for 15 days, inside Pakistani territory, and had a big impact on Pakistan’s psyche, as their superior tanks and fighter jets, were given a resounding reply by India’s forces. But only by abandoning his plans to cut-off Kashmir from India, Ayub managed to divert his forces from Chhamb to prevent the fall of Lahore. And on the basis of this, Pakistan now claims, that the 1965 war was a victory! The truth is that America and the Russians had forced India to accept a ‘ceasefire’. The biggest lesson that came out of this war was that, any future conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, would be fought all across the Indo-Pak borders. The other was the decision of the then western army commander, Lt Gen Harbakhsh Singh to disagree with the army chief,Gen. Chaudhuri, when he refused to withdraw to the east of river Beas. Had he done so, India would have lost Gurdaspur district for good, and then clearly given Pakistan the edge in this war, and in later years.
The report card – based on neutral claims – when ceasefire was finally agreed upon read as follows: India lost 540 sq. km of territory (mostly in Chhamb) with 3000 casualties, whereas Pakistan lost 1840 sq. km of territory (in its precious Punjab and Kashmir) and had 3800 casualties. India lost more aircraft (60 to 75) and lesser number of tanks (150 to 190) compared to Pakistan’s losses of aircraft (20) and tanks (200-300). The figures given by both sides were higher. However historians regard this war at best a draw. Even the date when it began is still in dispute. In fact, Pakistan had gained a lot more in their first campaign for Kashmir in 1947. Ayub was even blamed by many disillusioned military commanders for having miscalculated and for having lost more during the Tashkent agreement, brokered by the Soviets. He was soon booted out of power, and replaced by General Yahya Khan, who had led the 1965 attack on Chhamb-Jaurian in Punjab. (However, Yahya also fell from grace after the 1971 war, having listened to the ambitions of Zulfikar Bhutto who pushed him towards a crackdown in East Pakistan, after the elections of 1970. This led to crisis and war in Bangladesh).
TALES OF VALOUR
But as we look back at that war, in its 50th anniversary year, there are a few ‘tales of valour’ that needs to be recalled, which are still recounted in military circles with great respect.
As Pakistan pushed its quasi guerrilla force to create an uprising in Jammu and Kashmir, Indian troops along the then cease fire line were surprised at the ferocity of the guerrilla force and its attacks. This led to an Indian decision to block their routes of ingress, like the favoured Haji Pir pass. The pass lies well inside Indian Kashmir – but was occupied by Pakistani troops following the invasion of 1947. Thus in August 1965 before the start of the full-fledged military operations in Punjab, a band of gutsy paratroopers, led by Major (later Lt. Gen) Ranjit Singh Dyal, were tasked to capture Haji Pir. Maj. Dyal and his men from 1 Para, moved over several days and nights, under rain and icy winds, in wet clothing with sheer grit and determination and with little food supplies. Living off the land, they crawled and clawed their way to the top of Haji Pir and fought hand-to-hand with the Pakistani’s before Maj. Dyal and his team captured the Pass to give India the edge in the battle for Kashmir Valley. Maj. R.S. Dyal was rightfully awarded Mahavir Chakra for exceptionally gallantry, but sadly India’s decision-makers returned Haji Pir back to Pakistan after the war!
Further south of Kashmir in the plains of Punjab, one of the biggest evertank battles was fought after World War II. But before the rout of Pakistani tanks in Khem Karan, a lonely act of valour stands out for the sheer cold courage of one man, as an inspiration to generations of Indian soldiers, in an appropriately named village, Asal Uttar. As Pakistan’s famous Patton tanks rolled towards India, they were confident that it was only a matter of time before they would cut-off Kashmir, with the capture of Punjab. But they miscalculated the grit and determination of the Indian soldiers, despite their inferior equipment. Since tanks move well through dry and hard ground, some Indian commanders decided to flood the fields and create marshy ground that would hinder the movement of Pakistani tanks, and so they opened the water dykes, canals and flooded the fields with tube wells. This led to the Pakistani tanks getting stuck in the wet water logged fields, and sensing an opportunity to do something exceptional, an unassuming Havildar (CQMH) Abdul Hamid of 4 Grenadiers jumped into action. He was in charge of the anti-tank gun detachment and thus without waiting for orders he drove his jeep within effective range of the leading Pakistani tanks and knocked out one tank after another, swiftly reversing his jeep after every shell he fired, and moving from one hiding spot to another. It took the Pakistanis completely by surprise and they were several tanks down before one of their tanks shot at Abdul Hamid as he positioned to take aim on his last target. Abdul Hamid died but rightfully earned a posthumous Param Vir Chakra. And as a reminder of his gallantry his destroyed anti-tank Jeep is displayed in the Grenadiers Centre in Jabalpur. What followed thereafter were some fierce tank-to-tank battles on the plains of Punjab where several Indian tank regiments acquitted themselves with
MANY IN INDIA SAY IT WAS A 22 DAY WAR, FOUGHT MOSTLY IN SEPTEMBER 1965, AS INDIA’S TANKS RACED TOWARDS LAHORE AND SIALKOT, PERHAPS THE BIGGEST TANK BATTLE SINCE WORLD WAR- II TOOK PLACE IN AND AROUND KHEM KARAN AND ASAL UTTAR IN PUNJABdistinction in the battles of Phillora andSialkot.
But as the war waged on, the leadership of one man is still remembered as the stuff that legends are made of. As the newly appointed commanding officer of 3 Jat, Lt Col Desmond Hayde, had initially with his battalion crossed Ichhogil canal ahead of Amritsar, and captured Dograi inside Pakistan. His action took even his own bosses by surprise in the division headquarters, and as the GOC of his division deliberated on what to do next, (the GOC was known to be an indecisive sort), the division failed to take advantage of Hayde’s initiatives.
Desmond Hayde was soon ordered to pull back and asked to cool his heels on the Indian side of the border! A few weeks later an attack was finally launched on the Amritsar-Lahore axis and Desmond Hayde with highly motivated troops of theirs Jats was in the lead again. He eventually not only recaptured Dograi but also Batapore, and by his own account, he had killed over two dozen Pakistanis, before earning for himself the Mahavir Chakra and giving his battalion a reputation that still commands respect.
Finally, no account of this war is complete without an acknowledgement of the superb performance of IAFs fighter pilots. They fought against the PAFs far superior American F-86 Sabre jets, and in a rare feat, the Keelor brothers, Denzil and Trevor both won Vir Chakras in this war, for their repeated show on gallantry in air, as they shot down Pakistani Sabres. Most importantly the IAFs pilots did everything to avoid targeting innocent civilians. To that extent, the 1965 war, was perhaps the last of the gentlemen’s war.