Whilst posted at the High Commission in London, a respected British historian remarked to me, tongue in cheek, that Pakistan and India are perhaps the only two countries in the world who commemorate and celebrate victory day for the same battle and even war! For a true professional this is an anomaly. Seen objectively, there can only be one victor in war, and at best, on rare occasions, one could in fairness of things call it a draw. The 1965 Indo-Pak war aptly fits into this category because both sides on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary, fervently celebrated victory over each other. The distortion/dilution of history is so profound that revered war heroes look like men of straw if one were to believe the account of the battle from the other side of the hill.
1965 war also has the dubious distinction of being a war where opposing sides do not even agree onwhen and where the war started. For Pakistan, the war started on 6 September, when the so called cunning and aggressive Indian Army, without any provocation or justification launched an attack across the IB in the Lahore – Sialkot sector. The lucky and spirited defence of Lahore on 6 September is celebrated with much pride as ‘Defence Day’ when Pakistan army supposedly stalled India’s advance to Lahore by unparalleled bravery. For India, the war started on 1 September, when Pakistan regulars attacked Chhamb. As the ceasefire came into effect on 23 September, it is mistakenly called the 22 day war, as UN resolution leading to ceasefire, called for forces to withdraw to the August 5 lines! Thus the ambiguity on dates and the victor.
Air Marshal Nur Khan and Gohar Ayub Khan (son of the military dictator Ayub Khan)besides Shuja Nawaz, give us an insight into the Pakistani perception and facts of the war as it unfolded in Pakistan. As per them, Operation Gibraltar, the flawed plan to annex Kashmir by sending in Pakistani soldiers disguised as infiltrators, was a closely guarded secret, divulged to just a chosen few. The Air Force and Navy were kept out out of the loop as was most of the army. So confident was Ayub Khan and his hawkish minister ZA Bhutto of success, that they had not bargained or planned for its failure. Furthermore, so poor was the strategic reading of Indian response, that they did not make any significant plans for an Indian riposte in the IB sector. Even Operation Grand Slam, the race to Akhnur, was supposed to be in support of the fall of Kashmir. It was thought that entire Kashmir/Rajauri area would revolt and secede to Pakistan and the capture of Akhnur would prevent Indian forces to move to Kashmir/Rajauri.
It therefore came as a shock to Pakistan when India unleashed its forces across the IB on 6 September. For most Pakistanis, (even till today), unaware of the earlier aggression by Pakistan in Kashmir in August, this attack was unprovoked on an innocent Pakistan. No one, even in the forces saw it as a counter offensive directly linked to Pakistani incursion in Kashmir. It is because of this disinformation that majority of Pakistanis believe they were the victims of Indian aggression.
It is another matter that the Indian forces made heavy weather of their advance, were guilty of being over cautious and missed the decisive victory which was theirs for the taking had they been bolder and not taken counsel of their fears. We too need to take a critical look at our operational planning. While courage and junior leadership in the war was of an exceptionally high order, its conduct at the operational level left much to be desired.