Is ’65 forgotten because it was a damp squib of a war?
A war often defines a nation. Long after it’s over, it continues to dominate a nation’s narrative and shape its relations with the country it went to war with. “The sense of national identity is never stronger than when countries are at war with each other, at imminent risk of war, or remembering war,” observes former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans.
Since independence in August ’47, India has fought five wars. Four were with Pakistan, mostly over Kashmir. The fifth, fought in 1962 with China, was over the disputed boundary, which till date remains unresolved.
The first war with Pakistan in ’47-48 over Jammu and Kashmir ended up dividing the state and continues to put Kashmir at the centre of Indo-Pak engagement. The ’62 war plays a key role in the suspicion many Indians have about Chinese intentions. Pakistan’s dismemberment and creation of Bangladesh in ’71 is a war still celebrated in India. Decades later, the successful attempt in evicting Pakistani intruders from Kargil in ’99 allowed the BJP-led NDA government to return to power in the Lok Sabha elections that followed that year.
They are crucial milestones in our history. But why do we gloss over the ’65 war? Is it because there were no tangible gains or losses?
In Pakistan, September 6 is celebrated as victory day for its success in the ’65 war. But Operation Gibraltar or Operation Grand Slam by Pakistan, both of which ended in failure, or the successful Indian counter-attack Asal Uttar, are talked about only in those locales.
There are, however, a number of takeaways from ’65. Besides establishing Lal Bahadur Shastri as a leader of courage and resolve, it also restored the Indian army’s confidence after the humiliating Chinese defeat. The ’65 campaign also saw the largest tank battle after World War II; it was also the first time the air force and navy of the two nations were involved.
Diplomatically, India never sought third-party intervention to deal with Pakistan post ’65. Economically, Pakistan could never regain the economic growth which at the time was much ahead of India’s. More importantly, the fallout of ’65 laid the foundation for dynastic politics in South Asia—the Nehru-Gandhis in India and the Bhuttos in Pakistan.
In its 50th year, Outlook revisits the war, hoping there’ll be many more serious studies to make us better understand this crucial chapter in contemporary Indian history.
Pakistan would never admit it, but its glorious war achieved precisely nothing
Every nation has its myths, and military mythology is particularly hard to dislodge. As far as the Pakistan army is concerned, the 1965 war with India is the one to be commemorated, its fighters venerated. As for the other wars Pakistan has been involved in (all with India), the ’47-48 war (also) over Kashmir) was inconclusive; ’71 a disaster, never cited except as enduring proof of India’s bad intentions.
The ’65 war was one in which Pakistan had its military moments and some genuine war heroes which has enabled the army to claim victory. In broad terms, it is a familiar story of a smaller but brave army holding off a much larger force. The myth is broadly:
In ’65, the people of Indian Kashmir, tired of living under Indian occupation, rose up against them; Pakistan had no option but to offer moral and limited military support to its Kashmiri brethren but it was always a local uprising;
India, unable to control the Kashmiri uprising, decided on September 6 to launch a full-scale invasion, its immediate objective being to capture Lahore;
The Pakistan army not only fought off the Indian attack on the Lahore front but carried the fight into Indian territory;
Pakistan was abandoned during the war by its supposed ally, the United States, which prevented Pakistan from fighting on while India continued to receive full support from the USSR;
The two superpowers therefore combined to prevent Pakistan from continuing the war and persuaded it to accept a ceasefire despite Pakistan holding the strategic advantage.
As with all myths, there are small elements of truth. If you ask the common man on a Lahore or Karachi street about ’65, their reply would be very likely along those six points. The fact that this is so partly demonstrates the success of Pakistan’s superior PR machine at the time. But the main reason for the enduring power of myths is that people want to believe them; they are reassuring and uplifting. Hard inconvenient facts are depressing and borderline unpatriotic.
Amongst a small but growing number of Pakistanis, however, there is increasing recognition that the war achieved precisely nothing and came close to a disaster. The Pakistani economy (which had been performing well since independence) never really recovered. Its foreign relations, particularly with the US, also did not recover till the ’80s. The physical military losses (particularly in armour) meant that six years later after this war, India scored a crushing victory which led to the creation of Bangladesh.
But this isn’t what those celebrating September 6 remember. They celebrate this day as the defence against what they view as an unjustified attack by India. The cause of the war itself is relatively straightforward—over the future of the state of Kashmir. It is almost impossible to exaggerate the degree to which Kashmir dominated the Pakistani establishment’s view not only of India but all its external relations, and in hindsight, it was predictable that if Pakistan ever felt confident enough, it would attempt a military solution to Kashmir.
Sept 16, ’65 Sialkot after the bombing
In fact, it was in ’65 that Pakistan was feeling that sense of confidence; its economy had done well for the last few years and it had had a relatively stable government since General Ayub Khan’s ’58 coup. India was facing economic problems, and Nehru, one of the giants of the independence movement, had recently died. Pakistan felt confident that, thanks to a decade of US military and economic aid, they could succeed against India in a short local war in Kashmir. Following India’s defeat by China in ’62, they had begun a major rearmament programme which would have meant that by ’70 the military gap between India and Pakistan would have been hugely in India’s favour. Hawks in the Pakistani establishment argued that if no war was fought soon, any military solution would become impossible. Pakistani foreign minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was a leading advocate of early military action and a hugely influential figure in Ayub’s cabinet.
’65 unleashed patriotic fervour. Even the regime’s political enemies swung behind it, Noor Jehan sang her best songs.
A limited series of skirmishes on the border between Sindh and Indian Gujarat in the Rann of Kutch began in early ’65. India was fighting at a logistical disadvantage as its supply lines ran through a large desert and supplying a large number of troops on the ground was near impossible. Pakistan had troops near the border and was able to mobilise quickly. Its army established a military advantage in the skirmishes and after international pressure, both sides agreed to stop fighting and agree to binding arbitration. The main conclusion Pakistan drew from the conflict was that once it had a military advantage vis-a-vis India, the international community, especially the US and UK, would persuade both sides to stop fighting and agree to some form of final arbitration.
In early August, Pakistan sent into Indian Kashmir thousands of soldiers and paramilitaries in a plan codenamed Operation Gibraltar. It managed to take India by surprise for a few days, but as time went on, the guerrillas were outgunned and did not receive the cooperation they needed from local Kashmiris.
To support the flagging operation, the Pakistan army sent regular armour and artillery into Indian Kashmir towards Akhnoor on September 1. Pakistan should have been prepared for the Indian decision to relieve the military pressure in Kashmir by an assault on Lahore across the international border on September 6. Instead Pakistan was caught off guard. Pakistan officially demanded on September 6 that the US honour its promises to defend Pakistan in the event of Indian aggression. The Pakistan government was aware that US military aid to Pakistan was to defend against Communist aggression and, at its most generous, if India launched a completely unprovoked attack on Pakistan, the US could have been asked to assist.
Unfortunately for Pakistan, what the US saw was Pakistan using American weapons against a non-Communist country and, worse, using the Chinese threat to force India to the negotiating table. This infuriated President (Lyndon) Johnson and rather than provide Pakistan any aid, he ordered an arms embargo on both India and Pakistan on September 8. This was a move far more damaging to Pakistan, given its almost complete reliance on US weapons and spare parts.
Just as damagingly for Pakistan, Johnson decided the US would not take any political initiative and left it to the UN. This was a huge blow to Pakistan as India was sure to get support from the USSR, the other Security Council biggie. Bhutto and Ayub expressed great indignation but then they knew the terms of US aid and should not have expected anything else.
After a series of blunted offensives by both sides in the next two weeks or so, the war had by September 20 reached a military stalemate. Pakistan wasn’t able to replace its military equipment and India seemed unable to press home its advantages. On September 22, both sides honoured a UN resolution for ceasefire.
Within West Pakistan, the period from September 6-22 unleashed a fervour of patriotism. Neighbourhood committees sprung up to watch out for enemy spies and to ensure blackouts were strictly observed. Even the regime’s political enemies swung behind the war, the press was unanimously supportive and Noor Jehan sang some of her best songs. Pakistanis looking back remember fondly the sense of unity and purpose the war created. So it was with a sense of bewilderment they greeted news of the ceasefire as this was a war Pakistan was meant to be winning. Ayub and Bhutto said they had agreed to the ceasefire with promise of meaningful negotiations over Kashmir; the truth was no one had made any such promise.
Both India and Pakistan agreed to the Soviet offer for peace talks in Tashkent in January ’66. With trepidation, Ayub and Bhutto went to Tashkent, hoping India would make concessions on Kashmir. Of course none were made, the Tashkent agreement simply agreed for both sides to move back to their respective positions prior to the war. Bhutto, under heavy criticism for miscalculating the international mood, reinvented himself as someone who opposed the ceasefire and the Tashkent declaration. This portrayed Ayub as the sole culprit of the miscalculations and reluctance to fight on.
Given the inconclusive outcome, both sides claimed victory. The fog which so often descends once a country is at war has still not fully lifted on the subcontinent. All countries like to rewrite or selectively remember their history. Pakistan is no exception; what it remembers above all is that it fought a fierce war with India and did not lose. That’s a victory of sorts but not why it went to war.
(Farooq Bajwa is the author of several books on Pakistan, including From Kutch to Tashkent, on the ’65 war.)
“Ayub Was A Pacifist And A Flop As A Soldier”
Former CM of Punjab Captain Amarinder Singh on his experiences in the 1965 Indo-Pak war and why we don’t remember it.
Seventy-three-year-old former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh is openly fond of the army. Son of the former maharaja of Patiala, he was commissioned as a young captain in 1963, soon after the debacle of the Sino-Indian conflict. Author of several books, Capt Singh has written about the Indian involvement in World War I and is now writing another book on the 1965 Indo-Pak war. As ADC of the Indian commander-in-chief of the western command—the main theatre of the war—he had a ringside view of the various battles. He speaks to Pranay Sharma about his experiences in the war and why we don’t remember it. Excerpts from the interview:
You had left the army just before the war and then rejoined it. Why?
My father was the then ambassador to Rome, my mother was in the Lok Sabha and me and my brother were both in the army. I resigned in August because my services were needed at home. But luckily my papers had not gone to the army HQ. When war started a few days later, I went and met the army commander and told him, ‘Sir, this is not the time to leave and I’ve decided to stay on’.
How did you come to join the army?
“Bhutto convinced Ayub Khan that India would not have the guts to cross the international border.”
I got my commission in 1963. I was passionate about the army from my school days. I graduated from the National Defence Academy and did my three years there. Luckily, at the Indian Military Academy, we did only six months and not the full one year because of the Chinese war. I stayed on at the Chinese border for two years and that is when the army commander (Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh, GOC-IN-C of the western command) asked me to join him. It was a great honour for me, so I joined him as his ADC.
What did a young officer like you feel, being commissioned in 1963, soon after the Sino-Indian war?
When you are a young officer you think about the positive things about the army. You do what you are trained for, you just go and fight. Nobody thinks of getting killed or wounded—these things never enter your mind. A regiment is your home and all its members are family. When we were in the army, we only knew who our president, prime minister and defence minister were. We did not know about anybody else in the government or what the policies of the nation were on different things. Nobody was bothered.
“PM Shastri and his defence minister Y.B. Chavan never intervened, unlike in 1962. Both left it all to the services.”
Did the fact that you came from a royal family have any effect while you were in the army?
No, it never had any effect—not when I was under training or even later. In fact, lots of people did not know till my passing out that I belonged to Patiala. And this was not only about me—there were many other royals in the army and everyone just did their jobs.
But you came from a wealthy family; did you not flaunt your wealth? You must certainly have had more money than others?
No, we were always bankrupt by the seventh of the month, because the mess bill was too much. Our salary was only Rs 320 a month and when you finished it you had to wait till the next month.
So as ADC to Gen Harbaksh Singh, you really got the chance of seeing the war at close quarters?
“For me, the hero of the ’65 war would be Gen Harbaksh Singh. The army chief J.N. Chaudhuri didn’t visit the front even once.”
For a young officer to see the war at that level was a great thing. As a company commander, you only get to see 100 yards in front of you. In those days the western command was a huge area—from Ladakh through Kashmir to UP…. The army commander had only four officers in his secretariat those days—assistant military secretary, staff captain-military secretary, military assistant and an ADC. Those three were always office-bound, but I was the only one travelling as his ADC. So I had the opportunity of seeing what was happening in every sector and every battle.
When did the war start?
September 6 was when we crossed the international border but the fight at Chamb-Jaurian started on September 1, and Operation Gibraltar, which was the infiltration in Kashmir from Pakistan, began in July. So it was really building up for some weeks.
But the Rann of Kutch confrontation began earlier?
Yes that was in April 1965. It had begun and then stopped. Basically, it was the superiority complex of the Pakistanis vis-a-vis India that began the war. Ayub Khan was convinced by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto that India will not have the guts to cross the international border and if they do, China would come in support of Pakistan. So Bhutto suggested that they start something in Kashmir through an infiltration campaign and win the war there, because Kashmiris would rise in rebellion. That never happened; the Kashmiris did not come out in their support.
What was Ayub’s own thinking?
Ayub was a pacifist and a flop as a soldier. He always had a reluctance for war. In Pakistan’s assessment—India was badly defeated in the 1962 war and had a new prime minister after Nehru who was yet to find his feet. So the chain of command was not very clear. In a way it was the right time for Pakistan to move in. Even in terms of weaponry and aircraft they had outnumbered us.
But when did the war really start?
“When you go on the offensive, you have to have a 3:1 majority, we weren’t even 1:1. For us to open Punjab was courageous.”
Let’s go sequence-wise: Pakistan planned Operation Gibraltar in May and started implementing it around the first week of July by sending in infiltrators through the passes and they were to spread out in the Valley. Then they sent in more soldiers to take control of local areas and cut off bridges etc. When that happened, we successfully checked it. It is then that they decided to launch Operation Grand Slam in Akhnoor in Jammu—cut the bridge there and the road going up to Kashmir and cut off our supplies. When they launched that, we were finding it difficult to hold them back and it is then that we decided to open up the front in Punjab.
So to ease the pressure, the decision was to open up the war?
Absolutely. If they had cut off that road, we would have been isolated in Kashmir. In those days that was the only road. So the moment we opened up another front in Punjab, they had to pull back their forces from different sectors.
How was the political leadership during the war?
Prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and his defence minister, Y.B. Chavan, never intervened. It was a total reversal from what had happened during 1962. Both left the whole thing entirely to the services. The only time there was some delay was when the brigade commander had asked for air support in Chamb around morning and the decision did not come in till the evening. Maybe initially they had thought it would escalate matters, but finally they did give the air support.
“As a company commander, you get to see just 100 yards in front of you. As ADC, I could see the war in every sector.”
What about our intelligence?
It was a total failure. It was a total failure in 1962, it was a failure in 1965 and it was a failure also in 1971. Eighteen hours before the major offensive from Pakistan—when the war really started—there was no intelligence input warning us about it. We were caught with our pants down, as in 1962.
Were there major crisis points during the war?
Not really, I don’t think there was anything serious, except in Akhnoor. And the army commander had made it clear that if you do not allow me to cross the border, Akhnoor may fall.
But why is this war not much talked about?
That is because the give-and-take was little. In the 1971 war, you got Bangladesh; in the 1962 China war, we got kicked out badly. But there was nothing comparably striking in this war. When you go on the offensive you have to have a 3:1 majority. But here we were not even 1:1. Therefore for us to open up the Punjab sector was a matter of great courage. If we had not opened it, we would have lost Akhnoor and some other areas. The balancesheet at the end was that we won—we were 200 square kilometres up. Therefore, it is a war that is not talked about much.
If there was to be a hero for you in the 1965 war, who will it be?
Without doubt, it would be General Harbaksh Singh. The army chief, General J.N. Chaudhuri, was very mediocre. He never visited the front once during the war. He only came with a battery of cameramen the day after the war ended.
Heavy metal Indian troops walk past the war dead and tanks abandoned by retreating Pakistani troops
The War We Forget
Posterity might have neglected the Indo-Pak war of 1965. But it was significant, and must be understood in the backdrop of 1962.
The war of 1965 against Pakistan occupies a penumbral position in Indian history as well as memory. Sandwiched between the wars with China in 1962 and Pakistan in 1971, the 1965 conflict evokes neither the humiliation of defeat nor the frisson of decisive victory. From scholars and historians it has elicited little more than a collective professional yawn. Indeed, there is hardly any new writing on the war that is comparable to what is now available for the other two conflicts that bookended the decade. Yet, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the war, it is important to recall its magnitude for India. In the full-scale conventional war lasting 22 days, India captured some 1,920 sq km of Pakistani territory—at the cost of nearly 11,500 casualties and the loss of almost 550 sq km of its own territory. These are not trivial numbers. The neglect of posterity is not a good measure of the significance of this war.
To understand the import of the 1965 war, it is essential to see it as a conflict waged in the shadow of the 1962 war. This was not just a matter of temporal adjacency. Rather, the defeat against China had deeply impacted on Indian politics, diplomacy and strategy. It was the unspoken background to practically every major move by India in 1965. It is the key to understanding popular reaction to the conflict and its outcome.
The 1962 war had shaken the grip of prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru both on his party and on the country. He had managed to keep discontent from bubbling over by letting go of his much-reviled defence minister, Krishna Menon, and by imposing the so-called Kamaraj Plan, which rid him of key opponents within his government as well as in the states. Although Lal Bahadur Shastri had been among those who resigned under the plan, he was soon brought back to assist the prime minister. To the extent that anyone was Nehru’s chosen heir, it was Shastri. As prime minister, Shastri was aware both of the increasing fractiousness in the Congress and of his own uncertain hold on the party. He also realised that mishandling foreign policy could prove rather costly in domestic politics.
Hostility started in April 1965 with incursions in the Rann of Kutch. But war did not break out until August that year.
The Pakistani incursion into the Rann of Kutch in April-May 1965 underscored this point. The army chief, General J.N. Chaudhuri, advised against escalating the fighting in that area as the terrain favoured Pakistan. If Pakistan continued to pour in troops, he suggested, India could consider opening another, more suitable front. Shastri accordingly refrained from widening India’s military involvement in the conflict. Eventually, on July 1, 1965, he agreed to a ceasefire brokered by British Prime Minister Harold Wilson. More importantly, Shastri assented to the border in this sector being delineated by a three-member international tribunal. This seemed to fly in the face of India’s past opposition to submitting its disputes with Pakistan for arbitration. It took all of Shastri’s calm and persuasive style to convince the Congress party that this move was not a sell-out. Shastri insisted that it would set no precedent for any other dispute: “Each dispute has a history of its own and is a separate matter.” Aware of pockets of discontent in his own party, the prime minister also made an unusually detailed public speech on this issue. Yet during the second half of 1965, the government faced a no-confidence motion in Parliament. The opposition demanded scrapping the Rann of Kutch agreement and a tougher stance towards Pakistan.
Even as the House debated these matters, Pakistan had launched a covert military operation in Kashmir. In early August 1965 Pakistani irregulars began to infiltrate across the Ceasefire Line (CFL) in Kashmir. Once Indian forces in Kashmir began responding to these moves, Shastri took the full cabinet into confidence on August 12 and sought an endorsement of the broad outlines of his policy: India would not approach the UN; Pakistan would be sternly warned against infringing on Indian sovereignty; plans would be prepared for various contingencies. Such careful political handling of the unfolding situation was characteristic of Shastri’s approach throughout the war. And it stemmed from the experience of 1962.
The prime minister’s diplomatic handling of the conflict was equally deliberate yet also sure-footed. No sooner had the war escalated in Kashmir than Shastri was faced with pressure from the great powers: the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union, all weighed in to the stop the subcontinental conflict. Even Egypt and Yugoslavia, India’s partners in the Non-Aligned Movement, joined the chorus for ceasefire—a clear indication of India’s diminished standing in the Third World after 1962. Shastri politely but firmly responded that Pakistan was the aggressor and that India could not make any unilateral moves towards peace. The UN secretary general, U Thant, not only sent several messages but eventually landed up in Delhi.
Taking control Indian troops stream into a deserted Pakistani village near Sialkot
When U Thant suggested an unconditional ceasefire by both India and Pakistan, Shastri was quick to discern the diplomatic advantages of accepting such a proposal. At the very least, it would ensure that the international community would not place India and Pakistan on the same footing. It might even create a favourable situation for India as it negotiated a post-war agreement with Pakistan. By September 13, Shastri was open to U Thant’s proposal. But convincing the Congress party was not a foregone conclusion.
The defence minister, Y.B. Chavan, noted that the Congress parliamentary party executive was “very critical of peace proposals”. This forced the Emergency Committee of the Cabinet (ECC) to reconsider the idea. Eventually, it was agreed that India should accept a ceasefire, but territory captured in Kashmir—especially Haji Pir pass—should not be given up. Even the drafting of the proposals encountered stiff challenges. When Shastri tabled a new draft on September 14, Chavan noted in his diary: “I did not like his sleight of hand.” In the event, Pakistan’s refusal to accept a ceasefire without international mediation on Kashmir ensured that the war continued until September 22.
While Shastri did navigate the shoals of domestic politics and diplomacy with some deftness, his handling of strategic matters was hamstrung by the ghost of 1962. In the wake of that conflict, there was widespread agreement that political interference in military matters had directly led to the debacle. So there was a tacit understanding among both civilian and military leaders that the former would not intrude into operational matters. This division of labour had deleterious consequences during the 1965 war.
In early August 1965, as infiltration increased in Kashmir, Gen Chaudhuri sought Shastri’s permission to take offensive action across the CFL against the infiltrators’ bases. He also requested that if this action escalated and drew in the Pakistani army, the Indian forces should be free to retaliate at any place of their choosing. The prime minister acceded to this request, knowing full well that it might lead to war with Pakistan. Yet, he took no interest in the military’s plans for waging such a war. As the then defence secretary, P.V.R. Rao, recalled, “After giving the broad directive on August 13, the prime minister did not concern himself with the details of the operations.” The defence minister, too, “never interfered in operational matters”. Throughout the war, the ECC “never discussed operational matters but only political issues.”
On September 3, when Pakistan responded to Indian moves across the ceasefire line by launching a full-scale assault on Akhnoor, aimed at sealing off Kashmir, Shastri authorised an attack across the international boundary in Punjab. But at no point did he or Chavan engage their military advisors in any discussion of strategy—of how military means were to translate into the desired political ends.
The prime minister identified the objectives as: defeating the Pakistani attempt to capture Kashmir; destroying the offensive power of Pakistan’s armed forces; and occupying only minimum necessary Pakistani territory, which would subsequently be vacated. The second of these was obviously the most ambitious. Yet, how exactly it would be achieved was never discussed. Left to himself, Chaudhuri decided to make a number of shallow advances on a wide front and then dig in, hoping to wear down the enemy.
Other side Women training in Dacca, E. Pakistan, 1965
The Indian official history of the war is severe in its assessment of this plan: “Instead of delivering a large number of inconsequential jabs, the Indian army could perhaps have gone for a few selected, powerful thrusts…. Faulty strategy lead to stalemate on all fronts.” Worse, Chaudhuri made no attempt to convey his overall operational concept to his subordinates. As the official historians note, “Field Commanders were not clear about their objectives.”
Gen Chaudhuri said we’re short of ammo and tanks. In fact only 14% of ammo had been used; we had twice Pakistan’s tanks.
Despite a string of operational setbacks and stalemates, the political leadership chose not to exercise close oversight of military operations. The defence minister was mostly content being briefed by the chiefs on the operations. Apart from a couple of occasions where he exhorted the military to press on with the attacks, there is no evidence to suggest that he probed deeply on the conduct of the operations. The military, too, kept the civilians at arm’s length. As Chavan noted with chagrin when the Indian offensives began to stall, “Morning meeting—As usual ‘nothing special’ report was given by the COAS…. I must find out why things are not moving.” The civilians’ reluctance to intervene in military matters could be carried to absurd lengths. On September 5, President Radhakrishnan called the defence minister to enquire if the Indian army was planning a counter-attack across the international border in Punjab. The commander-in-chief had been briefed only the previous day by the prime minister. Chavan too had spoken to him that morning to greet him on his birthday. It turned out Radhakrishnan had been told of the assaul plan by Aruna Asaf Ali, who in turn had heard it from a senior journalist who claimed to have been briefed by a senior officer at army HQ. Alarmed at the leak, Chavan asked Rao to immediately probe the matter. On enquiring, it was found the source was none other than Gen Chaudhuri. Although the defence minister was apprised of the matter, the army chief was not even asked for an explanation, let alone being reproved.
As the then defence secretary explained later, “In the view of the public outcry since the 1962 debacle about the relative role of politicians and the services and their chiefs”, the military leadership had been given “somewhat of a long rope.” This attitude proved detrimental in the closing stages. On September 20, as pressure for accepting a ceasefire mounted, Chavan sought Chaudhuri’s assessment. Chaudhuri asserted that the objectives of the war were achieved. “We are on top of the situation (and) if we agree to a ceasefire now, the army would support it. The respite we will get will be good to put things right as far as supplies were concerned.” At another meeting that evening, the prime minister enquired whether they could expect significant military advantage if the war continued for a few more days; if so, he would keep the UN Security Council at bay. Chaudhuri counselled for a ceasefire, claiming that most of the army’s ammunition had been used and that there had been considerable tank losses. The Indian government accordingly decided to accept the UN proposal for ceasefire. Chaudhuri should have known better. At this point the army had expended only 14 per cent of its frontline ammunition; and it had twice as many tanks as the Pakistanis. If anything, the logistical situation of the Pakistani forces was parlous. But the earlier reverses had made Chaudhuri rather circumspect, and hence he plumped for a ceasefire. And so the war ended in stalemate.
Following in the wake of the fiasco against China, this outcome was hailed as a victory by the Indian public. Shastri’s political stock soared. And it enabled him to come into his own in the post-war negotiations at Tashkent. Despite the opposition from some quarters in the Congress as well as other parties to giving up Haji Pir, Shastri managed to build consensus in favour of peace. On the afternoon of January 4, 1966, Shastri and Ayub Khan inked the agreement restoring status quo ante. It was Shastri’s finest moment. Later that night, he succumbed to a massive heart attack, leaving behind a truncated legacy of leadership in war and peace.
The Stalemate That Slipped Our Memory
Factoids from the 1965 Indo-Pak war.
Why did it start?
Pakistan had several reasons to start the war: India’s new PM, Lal Bahadur Shastri, was yet to find his feet; morale of the Indian army was low after the 1962 Sino-Indian war; Kashmiris were expected to rise in rebellion and support Pakistani infiltrators to take control of the Valley; fear of China’s involvement was expected to stop New Delhi from embarking on a full-fledged war.
Where did it start?
It began in the Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, in April but intervention by UK ended it. It restarted in Kashmir and spread to other parts. Became a full-scale war by September.
How long did it last?
Though the war started in April, the full-fledged war lasted for 22 days
Where was the scene of action?
Akhnoor in J&K and Khem Karan in Punjab, though several battles were fought in the west, particularly in the Lahore sector
How did it end?
With no chance of an outright victory and mounting global pressure the two countries agreed to end the war and the stalemate
Why do we not remember the 1965 war?
Give-and-take of the war was very low unlike other wars, before and after, where the outcome was clear and pronounced
Why did Pakistan fail?
Kashmiris did not come in support of infiltrators from across the border, Shastri proved to be a determined and strong leader and India opened the war in Punjab to successfully turn the heat on Pakistan
What was the role of key world powers?
UK: Brokered peace to end armed confrontation at Rann of Kutch in April
US: Angered with Pakistan’s decision to infiltrate in J&K, Lyndon Johnson imposed an arms embargo on both belligerents
USSR: With US busy in Vietnam, Moscow found the space to be the peacemaker with an offer for the Tashkent Conference
British PM Harold WilsonBrokered peace between India and Pakistan at Rann of Kutch in July 1965
US President Lyndon B. Johnson Imposed arms embargo on both India and Pakistan and remained neutral despite an existing war pact with Pakistan
Premier of Soviet Union Alexei Kosygin mediated to bring India-Pakistan to sign the Tashkent Declaration
Secretary-General of United Nations U Thant mediated to stop the war
GDP $5.885 billion
GDP per capita $113.72
GDP growth rate 10.4% annual change
Population 51.75 million
GDP $236.62 billion
GDP per capita $806.38
GDP growth rate 4.14% annually
Population 188 million
GDP $60.6 billion
GDP per capita $121.70
GDP growth rate -2.6% annual change
Population 498 million
GDP $1,876.80 billion
GDP per capita $1,165
GDP growth rate 7.5% (2015-16)
Population 1.28 billion
Indians exult over a captured Pakistani tank during the war. (Photograph by AFP, From Outlook 25 May 2015)
India 550 sq km
Pakistan 1920 sq km
Claims and Counter-claims
India: 5,259 Pak troops killed or taken POW
Pakistan: 8,200 Indian troops killed or taken POW
India: 75 aircraft lost
Pakistan: 19 aircraft lost
India: 471 tanks captured or destroyed
Pakistan: 500 tanks lost or destroyed
India: 73 aircraft destroyed
Pakistan: 110 aircraft destroyed
India: 1,920 sq km gained and 322 sq km lost
Pakistan: 2,602 sq km gained, no territory lost
In the sixties of the last century, India was embroiled in two major conflicts—with China in 1962 and with Pakistan in 1965. India had not really anticipated a conflict with China, and was surprised by the development, for the government was engaged in diplomatic efforts to solve the border issue. The Indo-Pak war of 1965 was of a different mould, for it occurred in the context of several earlier skirmishes in Jammu & Kashmir. The results of the two conflicts also greatly differed. India had the worst of the exchanges (and outcomes) in the conflict with China, but vis-a-vis Pakistan, India held the upper hand.
Also, in neither instance was India perceived as the aggressor. India’s history hardly records any instance of us being the aggressor. Hence, it has not been entirely possible to test the validity of Sun Zi’s pithy maxim, “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first, and then seek to win”.
The 1962 war did however provide India’s intelligence agencies with valuable lessons, including the danger of depending overly on intelligence provided by friendly western agencies, much of which seemed to confirm India’s own perceptions that China was unlikely to provoke an armed conflict. The agencies also learnt not to permit “atmospherics”—such as the perceived state of relations between any two countries—to override hard intelligence provided by field operatives. Further, how critically important it was to have strategic intelligence, and not depend excessively on tactical intelligence. Lack of information about China’s intentions brought home to India’s intelligence agencies the “blind spot” in their intelligence-gathering efforts.
Intel warnings that the Ichogil canal would slow India’s tanks weren’t heeded by the army; this delayed Lahore advance.
When the India-Pakistan war broke out in 1965, India was much better prepared to take on the combatant country. Moreover, Pakistan had all along been perceived as a hostile and irrational neighbour. The bulk of India’s armed forces were, therefore, already positioned in the west/northwest of the country to blunt any possible Pakistani offensive. On the intelligence side as well, India was well prepared to deal with Pakistan. A series of skirmishes between April and September of 1965 had alerted intelligence agencies about Pakistan’s plans. They also had time to hone their skills, taking advantage of the improvements effected in the wake of the Sino-Indian conflict.
The 1965 India-Pakistan conflict involved two major Pakistani campaigns—‘Operation Gibraltar’, designed to infiltrate its forces (as irregulars) into Jammu & Kashmir and provoke an insurgency; supplemented by ‘Operation Grand Slam’, launched subsequently, aimed at cutting the overland route to Kashmir to prevent India from bringing its tanks into Kashmir. The latter witnessed large-scale casualties, and several fierce tank battles.
India’s intelligence agencies performed well during both campaigns. Incursions by Pakistan into the Rann of Kutch earlier on had provided some excellent leads into Pakistani thinking—including its future plans to carry out large-scale incursions across the ceasefire line. Consequently, when around 30,000 Pakistani soldiers crossed the LoC in August 1965 disguised as locals and headed to various points, Indian security forces could effect several captures. This, in turn, provided additional information on Pakistan’s plans.
The agencies had another piece of valuable intelligence—that Pakistan was feeling emboldened to launch a strike across the ceasefire line based on its wrong hypothesis that following the Sino-Indian conflict India’s military was unable, or unwilling, to tackle any quick military campaign in Kashmir. Pakistan’s military thus saw this as an excellent opportunity to strike. Anticipating Pakistan’s possible gambit, India could thus checkmate Operation Grand Slam. India’s decision to enlarge the theatre of conflict away from Kashmir into Pakistan Punjab and further to the south was largely dictated by advance information of Pakistan’s plans.
Intelligence warnings that the Ichogil canal would act as a major barrier to India’s tanks were, however, not heeded by the army. This delayed the Indian army’s advance towards—and possible capture of—Lahore. It subsequently became a major point of contention—with the army contending that it had not been informed about the existence of the Ichogil canal.
Indian troops scour the Kashmir countryside looking for enemy guerrillas, Sept 6, 1965
Euphoria that Pakistan had been bested in the conflict was replaced after the war by recrimination about faulty intelligence provided by the Intelligence Bureau about the Ichogil canal. Consequently, there was a renewed demand for restructuring and revitalising the intelligence system—a demand that had already been made following the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962, and been partially met. The military sought the creation of a separate external intelligence agency—one possibly headed by a member of the armed forces—to better deal with conflicts of the 1962 and 1965 variety.
Already, following the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict, substantial changes in intelligence capabilities had been effected. The charter of the Intelligence Bureau—a legacy of British rule in India whose responsibilities were limited to domestic intelligence, internal security and border issues—had greatly expanded. Extensive discussions among experts had preceded this step. The aim was to make the IB a modern agency, better suited to deal with the evolving nature of current conflicts.
Among the changes made was the creation of a directorate-general of security which comprised the Aviation Research Centre (ARC), the Indo-Tibetan Border Force (ITB) and the Special Security of the Border Force (SSB). The directorate-general of security was to function nominally under the Intelligence Bureau, and also report to its director.
The growing clamour for bifurcating external, internal intelligence functions reached a crescendo after 1965 war.
The ARC was the game-changer, possessing as it did highly sophisticated technical intelligence-gathering capabilities, with an aviation wing for special operations. The ITB was to operate as sentinels on the Sino-Indian border, comprising both a political and a security component. The SSB was to be a “stay-behind organisation”. Not acknowledged was an extremely secretive body intended to carry out special operations across the border in Tibet.
The growing clamour for bifurcating external and internal intelligence functions reached a crescendo following the 1965 war. This coincided with a period when the general perception worldwide was to have separate organisations for external and internal intelligence. The rationale was that the basic requirements—including the nature of personnel for these agencies—differed. Also that all modern democratic nations had separate external and internal intelligence agencies.
The government conceded the demand in the face of a determined move in this direction. In 1968, the Intelligence Bureau split into the Intelligence Bureau for domestic and border intelligence; and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), exclusively intended to deal with foreign intelligence. The RAW duly incorporated the directorate-general of security set-up, and also included the external intelligence wing of the IB. R.N. Kao, an Intelligence Bureau veteran, was chosen to head and shape the new external agency.
The real benefit that came from establishing a separate agency was in the changed mindset. It included the realisation that a modern state required a state-of-the-art external intelligence agency, constantly striving to improve its technological and innovative skills to handle the evolving nature of threats.
The intelligence profession today has moved far beyond the techniques of intelligence set out in Sun Zi’s Bingfa and Kautilya’s Arthashastra. While human intelligence remains a vital component, intelligence is now heavily dependent on innovative technological methodologies. Capabilities in regard to intelligence collection, analysis and assessment have all grown exponentially. By far the biggest game-changer has been the internet. With the internet, information has become more dynamic, more interactive and more abundant, and also ubiquitously accessible.
(M.K. Narayanan, a long IB hand, is a former national security advisor and ex-governor of West Bengal)
India’s offensive across the border on September 6, 1965, saw Punjab’s border districts of Amritsar, Firozpur and Gurdaspur in the line of the fire, smoke and confusion. For ordinary people, daily privations, often destruction of home and hearth, were inextricably coupled with pride in their jawans, anguish in the reverses at Khem Karan and elation at the armour-splitting victory in Asal Uttar. Citizens who lived through those 22 days speak to Sakshi Virmani.
Anil Channana, 60
Retired judicial department employee, Firozpur
“The neighbourhood would shift to an old, big house in the evenings when the shelling was bad, using it as a bunker.”
I had come home from school in the afternoon and was playing in the street with friends when suddenly everything grew dark and hazy. A loud siren ringing through the city rent the air. Then the bombardments started. Firozpur was lucky because the town is flanked by the LoC and shells from across the border would invariably sail over the city, leaving it unharmed. However, we could hear explosions the entire night and on following days. We kids were fascinated by fighter jets that hovered over the city; we would stare at them for hours from our rooftops. In the morning, Pakistani jets would drop their bombs and leave rapidly. There was an old, huge mansion where the whole neighbourhood would shift in the evenings when the shelling was at its worst, using it as a bunker. Later, we all left for Faridkot. There was not much damage done because the base of the war was Khem Karan (then in Amritsar district) and not Firozpur. But the ’71 war wreaked havoc in the city and altered its very structure.
Photograph by Sanjay Rawat
Bachaan Kaur, 68
“Our houses burnt down, we stayed in tents. Two bowls, a glass and plate—that was all I was left with.”
I was a newly married woman from Rajoki when the war arrived one dawn in Khem Karan. Bura haal tha. We cooked for the army while preparing to leave that very night. My husband, a driver in Chandigarh, took us all to Amritsar, then Subhaspur, Patti, and thence to Chandigarh after radio announcements of our village being captured by the Pakistanis. In vain did we think we would return soon. When we did, around April ’66, we found the enemy had taken away everything, including my entire dowry—furniture, mattresses, peetal ke bhande (brass utensils)… Kuch bacheya hi nhi (nothing was left). They did not even spare the old belongings. I had brought a transistor from my father’s home—the first in the village; they took that too.
We stayed in tents as our houses were burnt down. There they gave us two bowls, a glass and a plate; that was all I was left with. The government had sanctioned around Rs 20 crore as compensation but nothing of it ever reached us. Six years later, when I had small children, we again struggled in the 1971 war. Indian troops helped us initially, but later refused after Indira Gandhi, who suspected us of being Pakistani spies, imposed ‘law and order’ strictures.
Photograph by Sanjay Rawat
Tilak Raj Channana, 74
Sells animal fodder, Khem Karan
“Our village was destroyed, the Pakistanis looted everything. We won the war, but it consumed my youth.”
Before the firing started, we knew there was some tension near the border. My parents, along with my bhaisahab, boarded the late-night train to Amritsar before the firing began. I am not sure if they were Indian or Pakistani shells, but the loud crumps woke us at 4 am. We left the village to go to Amritsar and then to Hanumangarh (Rajasthan). Barring the clothes on my back, I had nothing—Na khane ke liye kuchh, na pehenne ki liye, na jutti pehen rakhi thi(nothing to eat, to wear, not even shoes).
In ’66, when we returned, nothing was left of our home. My memories of the war have faded but I remember the extreme destruction of our village. Khem Karan was captured and occupied by the Pakistani army and they took with them everything they could find—household items, the goods in our shop, not even a nail was spared to hang clothes. Though some of my relatives never came back, nobody lost their lives. My family, which was well-off, now had to start from scratch. I had to leave my studies and help my father with a new business. My youth was consumed by the war…. My mother’s health deteriorated due to the trauma left by the war; she never recovered fully. We received Rs 500 as compensation from Shastri and the central government but the Punjab government never pitched in. India won the war eventually, but we struggled to survive. Everything went wrong.
Laxmi Kanta Chawla, 72BJP minister, Amritsar
“At war’s end captured enemy tanks were on display. Elders and children alike would get their photos clicked atop them.”
I was a Master’s student at the time; me and my friends, along with women students from other colleges, volunteered to help the troops and provided them with tea and other eatables. The people of Amritsar were not scared when war broke out; even after state orders they didn’t abandon the city for other secure places. In fact, we all were thrilled by the aerial view of the innumerable fighter jets racing about the sky. Women from Amritsar and neighbouring villages would bring home-cooked food for the military, while the menfolk on their part would volunteer their services for transporting ammunition and other military hardware.
It was the common people’s war too. The victory truly belongs to Lal Bahadur Shastri, who had the support and admiration of the whole country, and to troops from across India who sacrificed all for us. Once the war ended and the enemy’s captured tanks were put on display in the city, people were greatly enthused by those prized souvenirs. Children and elders alike would get their photos clicked atop tanks. However, the war left over a hundred dead in Chheharta, the industrial part of Amritsar. The area was badly damaged in the bombing by the Sabre jets of the Pakistan air force. This was immediately after the announcement of the ceasefire declared by both Pakistan and India at 5 pm on September 23. More than a dozen bodies lay tossed about, torn and bloody, in the marketplace. The scene was utterly terrifying.
Photograph by Sanjay Rawat
Trilok Singh Kambodh, 85Former vice-president, municipal committee, Khem Karan
“Instead of crops, the fields were full of corpses of soldiers from both the armies. They lay in heaps….”
Are you asking about the war of ‘65? Badi bhayanak jung si (It was a terrible war)! The credit for putting the pressure back on Pakistan should go to Lal Bahadur Shastri, with the public backing him…. The army did pretty badly till then and India eventually lost 14 villages. At 4.10 am on September 6, 1965, the firing began in Khem Karan. Major Gurucharan Singh and Major Pyara Singh along with their regiment started firing early morning: Dono ne aelan-e Jang kar di(The two declared war).
A night before the firing I had watered the cotton crop in our 40 acres and was resting in the farm when I heard the first bang. I was 35, unmarried and we (the committee members) supplied rations to the Indian army at the border. Not just the municipal committee, but the entire village cooked for the army and helped it before moving away to safer areas. On September 10, the army informed us that our village could fall and we fled to Patti. The September 11 battle was the worst; the entire village was burnt to ashes. In the air bombardments from both sides from early morning till 11 o’clock at night, everything was devastated. The Pakistani brigadier commanding Baloch troops died here. At the intervention of the UN and the Red Cross, the process of exchanging dead bodies started. We returned on April 22, 1966, under the orders of commissioner of Jalandhar S.S. Bedi. Nothing remained. Instead of crops all I could find was fields full of corpses from both the armies: Lashaan de abaar lage pae se (The dead lay in heaps). The enemy even dug out roots of mango trees from our orchards, took away manure and cow dung. Some villagers never returned.
We listened to those old oversized radios…Pakistan radio would often put forth fantastic claims—for example, that their army captured Pathankot with their powerful Pattons. Later, our Jalandhar Radio clarified and provided the correct information. In 50 years, nobody from the government has visited Khem Karan and asked survivors how they suffered during the war
Pakistan in the summer of 1965 claimed that an indigenous uprising in Jammu and Kashmir had taken place, the Kashmiris calling their Muslim brethren for help across the border. What had been a thin pretext for the “tribal invasion” in October 1947, 18 years later was obviously mere propaganda. Operation Gibraltar was nothing but an unprovoked external aggression by a professional army equipped with U.S. arms, and nobody was misled about it. There was, however, one exception. When Indian forces in a counterattack crossed into Pakistani territory, West German diplomats implored the U.S. State Department to intervene in favour of their ally, who allegedly did nothing but defend the Kashmiri right for self-determination, the same right the West German government claimed for those Germans who had to live under a communist dictatorship in East Germany.
The Americans, having a pretty good idea about the events in South Asia, were either irritated or amused about the naivety of their German partners. That the latter had lost their sense for realities was a rather recent phenomenon. Back in 1954 when Pakistan had become an ally of the U.S., West German diplomats unanimously had warned that there was nothing to be expected from Pakistan in terms of containing the socialist powers; it was exclusively obsessed with India. And India was the much more relevant partner of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), the top priority of the Adenauer administration being preventing the German Democratic Republic (GDR) from being recognized as a normal state with a legitimate government. It had been rather a coincidence that India in 1949 had recognized West, but not East Germany, but since Nehru kept to that line most of the newly independent countries in Asia and Africa followed suit. Against the background of an intense German-German propaganda battle in India, Bonn by all means should have done everything to maintain close and friendly relations with Delhi. Economic cooperation and aid flowing from 1957 certainly had such an effect. There even had been plans that German companies should built a tank for the Indian Army, and in Bangalore a team of German engineers was working on India’s first supersonic fighter jet, the HF 24. Regarding Indo-Pakistani tensions, the Adenauer administration was wise enough to avoid any public statements.
Times changed, however, when Ayub Khan stabilized Pakistan and in western eyes became a sort of showcase dictator. The critical assessments from 1954 were quickly forgotten and Pakistan — calculated per head — soon received more German aid than India. In 1961, Adenauer felt let down by President Kennedy, who — as Khrushchev had guaranteed U.S. rights in Berlin — had done nothing against the construction of the Berlin Wall, for the foreseeable future finalizing the division of Germany. Looking for friends in need, Bonn soon made out Pakistan as being denied legitimate rights and a victim of U.S. national egoism, too. Intensely disliking Nehru, the old chancellor never believed India having any rights in Kashmir. The fruitless Indo-Pakistani talks from 1963 seemed to prove that the FRG and Pakistan somehow were both in the same boat, although they had no parallel national interests. Nevertheless, the West Germans felt obliged to a curious alliance of the crestfallen, which soon was to threaten vital FRG interests.
After Hitler had left Europe in ruins, the FRG rules for arms exports were very strict; no lethal weapons should be exported into areas of tension. Notwithstanding the Kashmir dispute, South Asia was considered as unproblematic. From the early 1960s, the FRG had started equipping the Pakistani forces with light arms. Both countries being allied with the U.S., such a policy had some internal logic, even more as it pleased Pakistan without seriously troubling India. The export of COBRA anti-tank missiles was of a different category, particularly after those missiles proved to be efficient in the 1965 war. Massive Indian protests should have rung the alarm bells in Bonn. Unfortunately, under Adenauer’s successor Erhard German foreign policy had witnessed a rapid decline from top professional to amateurish.
Since 1964, exporting arms for a number of reasons became a new and highly problematic feature of FRG foreign policy. There was no more consistent line in external affairs. In West Germany’s first ever minor recession, the defence budget had come under criticism; therefore, the Ministry of Defence was keen to sell outdated jets and tanks whoever was the purchaser. Officials from the second-row of the German Foreign Office under guidance of Foreign Secretary Carstens believed to be capable to maximize the positive and to minimize the negative political effects of such exports . The Federal Intelligence Service pursued its own policy, a general travelling around the world offering second-hand arms without the knowledge of the Chancellery or the Foreign Office. And finally the obscure Merex Company was ready to organize such transactions. The first disaster had been created in 1965 in the Middle East, when secret arms exports to Israel undertaken in a most amateurish manner had become known to Nasser, triggering a major crisis; a number of Arab countries froze its relations with the FRG.
Surprisingly, the Erhard administration did not learn from that experience. Only a few months later, the Second Kashmir War broke out, quickly nearing a standstill because both anniversaries lacked fuel, ammunition and spare parts. The U.S. introduced an arms embargo, hitting for all Pakistan, nearly completely depending from that one supplier, whereas India with its policy of never putting all eggs in one basket could rely on Soviet support. The Federal Intelligence Service and the Carstens group in the Foreign Office immediately sensed their chance: West German support would be paid back with lasting gratitude. Therefore, both antagonists were secretly offered arms, though on a very different scale. Whereas India was meant to receive 28 Seahawk submarine hunters, Pakistan was promised 90 F-86K Sabre fighter jets and 200 M-47 Patton tanks.
As indicated above, the tilt towards Pakistan was not the outcome of a new German master plan for South Asia. But apart from chaotic decision making, it was no mere coincidence that some in Bonn turned against India. Whereas Pakistan had always kept away from the GDR, India had slowly upgraded the second German state from 1955 when a GDR trade mission had been permitted. Nehru a number of times had talked of de facto recognition, full recognition being only a question of time.
Certain circles in Bonn found that the country receiving the bulk of West German aid should show more gratitude. Apart from that, from 1963 Carstens ignoring international developments pursued a quixotic policy, no more only containing progress of the GDR in non-aligned countries, but actually attempting to drive the East Germans out. Prime Minister Shastri, considered as both rather pro-western and weak, was meant to be a partner for that policy. As Indo-Soviet relations, however, had more relevance than FRG sensitivities, Shastri when visiting Moscow in the final communiqué had paid lip-service to the Soviet standpoint that there existed a second German state.
Regarding the promised arms, the Indians proved to be more assertive. Circumventing German regulations by acting via Merex and an Italian intermediary, they imported the dismantled Seahawks before the FRG Chancellery got wind of it. On the contrary, it appears that Pakistan believed that the Germans would arrange everything and the deal would be permitted by Bonn and its allies with a twinkle in the eye. If this was the calculation, it proved to be fundamentally wrong. In spring 1966, step by step dozens of highly visible Sabre jets turned up on Pakistani airfields. When India protested, Iran came into the picture, claiming it had purchased the planes, having sent them to Pakistan for an overhaul — although the latter did not at all possess jets of that type. Parts of the Erhard administration were completely taken by surprise. As they understood the implications of alienating India, the German military attaché in Pakistan had to control the return of the jets to Iran, where they, however, were de facto kept as a backup of the PAF. Soon thereafter, news leaked that the Germans secretly were organizing the delivery of 200 tanks, asking the assistance of NATO-partners like Belgium.
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi did not mince words any more. She summoned the German ambassador telling him bluntly that the day the first German tank was spotted in Pakistan, India would recognize the GDR. This ultimatum ended all FRG manoeuvres. As soon thereafter Erhard had to step back, being replaced by Kiesinger — like the new Foreign Minister Willy Brandt a proven friend of India — West Germany returned to the line of keeping out of South Asian conflicts, behind closed doors showing more sympathies for India’s case. During the 1971 Bangladesh crisis, it would be New Delhi secretly receiving a symbolic sign of support for its armament programs.
Amit Das Gupta, is a Germany based scholar with a PhD on West Germany’s South Asia policy.
This web-exclusive column does not appear in print magazine.
Even after 50 years there’s little clarity. Both India and Pakistan claim that they won the 1965 war. Ironically, it’s not celebrated as a victory day in India, while Pakistan commemorate September 6 as the Defence Day—the day Indian troops crossed the international border and entered into Pakistan.
The Indo-Pak war of 1965 was a tank-warfare, the first after the World War II. Indian Army destroyed as many as 300 Patton tanks with their fairly outdated fleet of World-War-tanks: the M4 Sherman; the British-made Centurion Tank Mk 7, the AMX-13, PT-76 and M3 Stuart light tanks. “Pakistan was drunk with their military equipment they procured from the US,” says Colonel Anil Bhat, defence expert and author. But it was just a drunken stupor for they weren’t trained to use it.
The Pakistanis would abandon a tank soon after it was hit, fearing that it would catch fire and they would be charred in flames—not the best way to die for a Muslim. “So many Patton tanks recovered were brand new. They had just done 30 to 35 miles. Pakistani Army had far superior equipment, but weren’t trained to use them,” says Brigadier JP Singh. He was flown in as a young officer in a vintage aircraft with non-compressed cabin. When he landed in Pathankot airstrip—it was in a disarray. The damaged aircrafts which were caught on the tarmac punctuated the green landscape. “The war zone was deserted, corpses strewn here and there. It all seemed so unreal,” remembers Brigadier Singh. The myth of invincibility of Patton Tank was broken. “There is no confusion who won the war, at least not in our sector (the Punjab Border),” he adds.
Some of the war veterans have assembled in a Delhi hospital. The legendary colonel Ashok Sodhi is undergoing a surgery—the same Sodhi whose part of skull was blown away in a tank battle, he is now again in hospital after 50 years. Major Bhupinder Singh was remembered. He helped bailout fellow army men out of a burning tank before he made his way out and was badly charred in the process. This happened on the 11 September 1965, only after he caused heavy damage to the Pakistani camp. Commanding the ‘B’ squardron of the 4 Horse, he successfully led his forces into the Pakistan territory, forcing a retreat along the Gadgor-Phillora road. He succumbed to his injuries after nine days in an army hospital in Delhi. The then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri visited him in the hospital. He regretted that he couldn’t stand to salute him. Shastri was overwhelmed. He was awarded Mahavir chakra, posthumously.
One of the war veterans present in the hospital was Brigadier Ravi Malhotra, who with his commanding officer Brigadier Madan Mohan Singh Bakshi, in a solitary tank was left to confront a dozen of Pakistani tanks one morning in the Sialkot sector. This happened because of a false intelligence report. A pitched battle ensued in the sugar-cane fields. Within ten minutes, some of the Pakistani tanks were neutralised, and troops deserted the tank in a hurry, soon after it was hit. Malhotra had to disembark his tank as well, after it got engulfed in flames. A close range pistol combat took place before some of the surviving Pakistani soldier retreated. Malhotra, and some others, were stuck in the middle of no man’s land for hours before the help came. “We won the war in our sector. But there were intelligence and operational issues. We made mistakes and should be bold enough to accept them.”
According to war veterans, the doubt about who won is a political gimmick. “We had reached the outskirts of Lahore,” says Anil Bhat. It was a political decision to withdraw. Indian army has an illustrious history. They played “decisive role” in the two world wars by providing critical manpower. The Indian Army was 1.5 and 2.5 million men strong during the World War I and II, respectively. The current strength, 1.2 million, is less than half of what it was during the World War II. The Pakistan Army didn’t have that lineage and that is what went against them in this war, feels Bhat.
This web-exclusive column does not appear in print magazine.
Gen Ayub Khan gives US president Lyndon Johnson a fond ‘Pathan style slap’ on a visit stateside
Sitting at his desk in the cabinet office on what was by London standards a warm autumn day, an aide to British Prime Minister Harold Wilson shot off an urgent note to Number 10. A “ceasefire had been agreed” and was to come into effect at precisely 10 pm (GMT). It was September 22, 1965. Around the same time, at 7 in the morning in Washington, military and civilian personnel inside the situation room in the White House drafted a similar note to President Lyndon B. Johnson. The war was over. For Johnson, who cared little for South Asia, the central concern had to do with China. On September 17, premier Zhou En-Lai warned India that further escalation could result in Chinese intervention. The CIA strongly argued that such involvement was “unlikely”, but the risk made it all that more important to end the war at the earliest.
If the Chinese too chose to send forces across the border into India, the United States would be compelled to enter a war its commander-in-chief had no interest in whatsoever. Unlike his predecessor John F. Kennedy, Johnson did not mask his disinterest in South Asia. In fact, soon after the Chinese warning made headlines in the People’s Daily, the president told Robert McNamara, the US defence secretary, that he had “made up” his mind in April, following the hostilities in the Rann of Kutch, that the US was “out of business with Ayub and Shastri”.
On balance, Johnson’s apathy was understandable. His administration was involved in a war in Vietnam that would change the course of American history. Operations like Rolling Thunder—the air bombardment campaign against North Vietnam—was far more important to this Texan and 36th American president than events in a part of the world where historical disputes had proven intractable.
Unlike Kennedy, who seized upon an opportunity following the Sino-Indian border war in 1962 to broker a deal on Kashmir, Johnson’s interests were limited to China. An intelligence field report passed to his staff on September 23 provided the assurances he needed. The “first signs”, it read, “of a relaxation in Chinese Communist military alert status” was clear. During a visit by Ayub Khan in December 1965, Johnson wryly confessed that the Pakistani president “who he once admired” was “subdued, pathetic and sad”. Ayub’s misplaced faith in the willingness of Kashmiris to rebel against the Indian state—the sole purpose of what was called Operation Gibraltar launched on August 5-6, 1965—had taken him, as Johnson put it, “on an adventure” and he had “been licked”.
In fact, and far more disastrous than Ayub and foreign minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s misreading of local sentiment in Kashmir, was their utter lack of appreciation for Anglo-American interests. These were shockingly different to those held by Kennedy and British prime minister Harold Macmillan only three years before. In fact, it was a textbook case where perceptions and strategies were based upon past trends rather than taking cognisance of changing times.
Ayub’s misplaced faith in the Kashmiris had taken him, as LBJ put it, “on an adventure” and he had “been licked”.
For Bhutto, the “intellectual father”, as the historian Dennis Kux put it, of the failed Gibraltar exercise, the calculation was simple. Intervention, escalation and war over Kashmir would force the West, the Chinese, and even the Russians to force India to negotiate away the Kashmir Valley. After all, India succumbed to pressure from the Anglo-American quarter soon after the Chinese announced a unilateral ceasefire ending the 1962 war. Further, Harold Wilson’s remarks and actions in the summer of 1965 gave such fanciful thinking room to fester. It was he who offered his good offices to negotiate an end to the fighting across the Rann of Kutch in April 1965. An informal ceasefire took effect on April 30. Yet, when the Indian army crossed the international border in Punjab on September 6, “opening a second front”, Wilson pointedly told his ministers that there would be “no new initiatives in the subcontinent”. The UN, and secretary-general U Thant, would be left to “deal with this”. Britain’s approach, a foreign office memo underlined, was simply “riding out the storm”.
What Wilson failed to appreciate was that actions and words lead to expectations. Soon after the Kutch ceasefire in April, the chest-thumping PM fervently argued that “Britain’s frontiers were on the Himalayas”. As hollow as these statements might have been, they did well to support Bhutto’s view that the West would once again intervene. Such loose talk, Bhutto and others later learnt, were better suited for after-dinner huddles around a fire remembering the Raj inside the likes of the Brooks Club in Piccadilly. Britain’s feeble attempt to recover post-colonial authority died a quick death. Wilson’s frontiers disappeared when it really mattered. In turn, Johnson’s disinterest could have been excused. After all, he was charged with recovering the fortunes of American power gradually sapped by a relatively tiny country in Southeast Asia.
That Russia under Alexei Kosygin was quick to occupy the diplomatic space vacated by London and Washington was both expected and ironic. Expected because Kosygin suggested a peace conference in Tashkent well before the war ended. Ironic because for the first one-and-a-half decades following Indian and Pakistani independence, the US and Britain had done everything possible to stem the Soviet tide in what historian Robert McMahon calls the “Cold War in the periphery”. As one of Wilson’s staffers argued, the reality was that the “Russian move”, directed as it might have been against China’s growing authority, was equally “directed against western influence in the subcontinent”, and there was little to be done. A special report prepared by the CIA concurred. Further, Kashmir, it argued, was a “national issue” for both India and Pakistan. It was best to leave this “impasse” to them.
Non-involvement became the new mantra for both Britain and the US. India has done much since 1965 to limit western involvement. Pakistan has invested considerable treasure and manpower to lobbying congressional representatives in the US and the many members of parliament representing the 1.5 million diaspora in the UK to reignite Wilson’s Himalayan frontiers, but to little realisable effect. The 1965 war may not have been a watershed conflict. It was unlike the more dramatic encounter in 1971 that led to the birth of a new country. Yet, for the large part, it seriously limited Anglo-American interest in a dispute that, as the CIA pointedly put it, is one best solved between the nations involved.
(The author is senior lecturer, Department of War Studies and the India Institute, King’s College, London)
In popular imagination, the original Operation Vijay in 1971 is rightly seen as India’s greatest military victory. That campaign broke up Pakistan, helped create Bangladesh and erased the painful memories of the politico-diplomatic-military debacle India had suffered against China in ’62. But before ’71 came ’65 and the 22-day war that allowed the Indian military to regain its confidence. Looking back at that confrontation 50 years on, it’s clear Pakistan saw that time as its best chance to wrest Kashmir from India. Perhaps rightly so since India’s military was still struggling to overcome the humiliation of ’62. It was in the middle of an expansion and reorganisation. India itself was in transition after Jawaharlal Nehru’s death. A seemingly soft Lal Bahadur Shastri was at the helm.
The Pakistan army on the other hand was being equipped with latest American military hardware. The Patton tanks were far superior to India’s World War II vintage Shermans, Centurions and AMX tanks. But as history shows us half a century on, superior military equipment does not necessarily translate into guaranteed military victory.
Although Pakistan’s ultimate objective was Kashmir, it launched a diversionary gambit in faraway Kutch in March ’65, then followed it up with Op Gibraltar (sending in waves of raiders into the Kashmir Valley) in August and then threatened to cut off Akhnoor in September.
Facing a dire situation, Prime Minister Shastri authorised opening another front across Punjab, apparently catching Pakistan by surprise. As Indian forces raced towards the Ichogil canal and were on the doorsteps of Lahore, a desperate Pakistan launched its spearhead, the 1 Armoured Division equipped with the latest Pattons into the war to break through Indian defences to threaten Amritsar and Jalandhar. The M-47 and M-48 Pattons were the most modern of that period. They had good sighting systems and stabilised gun platforms that had a range of 2,000 metres. Equipped with infrared sights, they could operate by night. The Indian armoured regiments on the other hand were mostly equipped with Shermans, with a range of just 800 metres and no night sights.
As the Pakistani armour reached the vital bridges across the Beas river, it seemed only a matter of time before the tanks broke through Indian defences.
Pakistan had a bold plan to reach the bridges at Harike and Beas which would give it multiple options of threatening Amritsar, Jalandhar and onward to Delhi. It is also apparent that India’s Western Command was not certain of the location of Pakistani 1 Armoured Division, which was positioned at Kasur, ready to spearhead the offensive into India’s critical bridges on the Beas.
D-day for the operation was initially September 7, 1965. Inexplicably, Pakistan delayed the offensive by 24 hours. The delay helped the Indian troops prepare defences, lay mines and undertake flooding of the fields by breaching the Rohi Nala and the distributary canals to make the open area waterlogged. This automatically imposed restrictions on the movement of the Pakistani armour. As the unsuspecting tanks of Pakistan’s 1 Armoured Division launched the offensive at 8.30 am on September 8, they were engaged by tanks of Deccan Horse. Utilising standing crops, the tanks were engaged by Deccan Horse, medium guns and tank-hunting teams. Deccan Horse managed to destroy 11 tanks while losing four of their own. Three other Pakistani tanks were damaged by medium guns and tank-hunting parties.
On the third day of the op, the Pakistani tanks had overrun the forward trenches. CQMH Abdul Hamid got three, not the fourth.
Such heavy losses compelled the Pakistanis to retreat. Their units launched the next attack after a considerable gap at 11.30 on September 8. The attack was led by a regiment of Pattons, a squadron of Chaffees and a motorised battalion of the Pakistani 4 Armoured Brigade. They attacked 1/9 Gorkha Rifles and 4 Grenadiers. The attack was partially successful in the 1/9 Gorkha Rifles location but unable to make headway in 4 Grenadiers. The Pakistanis again attacked 4 Grenadiers at 12. Despite some of their trenches being overrun, the battalion with its anti-tank gunners comprising Subedar Mool Chand and Company Quarter Master Havildar (CQMH) Abdul Hamid knocked out four tanks. The armour tried to outflank the divisional sector from the north but the prepositioned tanks of 3 Cavalry countered this ably. Attacks were made at dawn on September 9 too along both axes. Two tanks were blown up on the minefield and another was destroyed by the recoilless gun of 4 Grenadiers. During the afternoon, the Pakistanis made an attempt to outflank from the southeast but failed as they got bogged down in the flooded area at Valtoha and were destroyed one by one.
In the battle, some Pakistani tank commanders who had their heads out of the cupola were killed. By September 10, the Pakistanis were in a desperate situation. They tried to outflank the defences from the west with two regiments of Pattons and a squadron of Chaffees with a motorised battalion only to be encountered by the tanks of 3 Cavalry and 8 Cavalry that were camouflaged in the cane fields. Then, 4 Grenadiers was attacked with a battalion of infantry and a few Patton tanks. The tanks managed to overrun the forward trenches. CQMH Hamid who had been shifted to the anti-tank platoon destroyed three tanks but was shot by the fourth. For this act of gallantry, he was awarded the Param Vir Chakra posthumously. As the attack on 4 Grenadiers failed, the Pakistani outflanking armour charged on Mahmudpura, but they were decimated by the Centurions lying in wait, crushing Pakistan’s 1 Armoured Division. The commanding officer of Pakistan’s 4 Cavalry was captured in the cane fields. Asal Uttar-Khem Karan was a great victory for the Indian army. The Pakistanis lost 97 tanks, including 72 Pattons; 32 were captured in running condition. India in contrast lost only five. India won what is now acknowledged as the biggest tank battle fought after WW-II.
It is now apparent that Pakistan had grand plans but poor execution. India on the other hand displayed keen tactical sense, resolute leadership and clever improvisation to turn the tide of the war. The battle also showed that the man behind the weapon is more important than the weapon itself. Deccan Horse and regiments of 2 Independent Armoured Brigade were adept at handling Shermans, Centurions and AMX tanks. In assaults led by armour, the infantry must move with the armour. This prevents tanks falling prey to anti-tank weapons, something CQMH Hamid exploited.
Demoralised with the setback at Khem Karan, Pakistan lost the heart to fight. Today, a memorial for those who fought and won in this sector boasts a board ‘Patton Wreckers’ on the general area of Assal Uttar and Khem Karan. It’s a reminder that no matter how good the weapon, the battle is won by those who wield it effectively.
(Former Outlook staffer Nitin Gokhale is a defence analyst. He is currently writing a book on the ’65 war.)
After Lal Bahadur Shastri succeeded the larger-than-life Nehru as prime minister, he was often regarded as a figure of fun for his diminutive stature. That changed the day he ordered Indian troops to cross the international border. Rawalpindi (where the Pakistan army HQ is located) had launched a massive attack in the Akhnoor-Jammu sector. To counter that, the Indian army mounted a many-pronged attack from Amritsar, Ferozpur and Gurdaspur and, a few days later, from the Sialkot sector. Shastri told (then army chief) General Chaudhuri, “I want to reach Lahore before they enter Kashmir”.
This was the tallest decision by the ‘shortest’ man. Nehru, a stickler for the rights and wrongs of world affairs, would have never crossed the international border. Shastri became a hero and the country united under his leadership. During the 22-day war, Shastri used RSS cadre to regulate traffic in Delhi, as most resources were diverted towards the war. This sent a wrong message to Muslims, who felt insecure. The war reinforced the idea that Kashmir is not a disputed territory, but an integral part of India.
Initially, like any sane man would be, Shastri was not in favour of war. He intensified diplomatic efforts to garner foreign opinion against Pakistani infiltration in Kashmir. On Shastri’s insistence, Washington sent a team and found that Pakistani forces in the Rann sector (Gujarat) were equipped with weaponry given by the US. The war could have been averted had America prevailed upon Pakistan not to use these arms. The then Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin did not side with India, either. He blamed both the belligerents for playing into the hands of ‘American imperialism’.
The US didn’t stop Pakistan from using weapons it gave. Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin also did not side with India.
The PMO was converted into a war room. Shastri was in control. The whole polity, even people like Morarji Desai, came out in his support. The Indian army believes that they won the war; Pakistan insists that they didn’t lose the war. Gen Chaudhuri agreed that advancement of Indian forces into Pakistani territory was slow, as the objective was to destroy armour and not to occupy territory.
Kosygin brought the two sides together across the table in Tashkent after the war to broker peace. Before that he fired Union finance minister T.T. Krishnamachari. He, with Indira Gandhi, had formed a united front within the cabinet, presumably against Shastri. Shastri had told me that Nehru wanted Indira to be his successor. Shastri’s slogan, ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’, had captured the country’s imagination. A senior Congress leader, Dinesh Singh, who was close to Indira Gandhi, told me that she even spoke of settling down in the UK.
But destiny had something else in store. Within a few hours of the Tashkent declaration being signed, Shastri died under mysterious circumstances. His family believes he was poisoned. Now, I too feel there was foul play. There was no post-mortem done. The then foreign secretary, T.N. Kaul, requested me to issue a statement that ‘Shastri died of a heart attack’. The mystery deepened because the ministry of external affairs refused access to papers relating to Shastri’s death.
I visited Shastri once, when he quit the Nehru cabinet to work for the party. All the lights in his bungalow, except in his room, were switched off. He told me that he can’t afford to pay the electricity bill. He invited me to join him for lunch: dal-chawal and roti. Shastri was simple man, but was decisive and sharp, and an able politician.
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In the Kashmir Valley, the common conceit about Operation Gibraltar is that in the summer of 1965, Pakistani soldiers and insurgents secretly infiltrated into J&K, the motive being to spark an anti-India uprising in the Valley. The operation, as it later appeared, was launched as hurriedly as it had been planned. The ‘project’ was exposed after a shepherd, Mohammad Din Gujjar, reported to the police about the presence of “some strangers” in Tangmarg near Gulmarg, 40 km north of Srinagar. (Gujjar was punished for his ‘crime’ 25 years later, in May 1990, when he was shot dead by Kashmiri militants.)
Sheikh Showkat Hussain, who teaches law at Central University of Kashmir, believes that Pakistan contemplated a rebellion in Kashmir after India had started claiming Kashmir as an “integral part” of the country, which was contrary to the UN resolutions. India’s defeat at the hands of the Chinese in the 1962 war also emboldened Pakistan in undertaking the cross-border adventure. “India had taken a host of measures to integrate Kashmir with it, brazenly eroding Article 370 in the process. These measures included changing the nomenclature of j&k’s PM to CM and ‘sadr-e- riyasat’ to governor. Kashmiris were watching the situation helplessly and anger was brewing,” says Hussain.
The people were also angry over the mysterious disappearance in December 1963 of a relic of the Prophet Mohammed from the Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar. “One can say conditions on the ground were absolutely ripe for an armed rebellion,” says Hussain.
According to one estimate, about 10,000 armed personnel crossed into the Valley between July-August ’65. “The majority of them belonged to the ‘Azad Kashmir’ army and were originally citizens of J&K state. They were equipped with automatic rifles, sten-guns and other firearms and weapons,” writes veteran Kashmiri journalist Sanaullah Butt in his book Kashmir in Flames.
On Aug 14, ’65, it was decided that as Batamaloo area was virtually under Pak control, the area should be torched….
These events were followed by a broadcast from a secret radio station, ‘Sadai Kashmir’ (Voice of Kashmir), which said that an armed rebellion had broken out. The Pakistani soldiers, who were in civvies, had virtually taken over Srinagar as they were just 1-2 km from the civil secretariat. Skirmishes between the Indian army and Pakistani armed personnel took place in many parts of north Kashmir and in Srinagar as well. On the morning of August 14, 1965, top army commanders and the state government decided that since Batamaloo area of Srinagar was virtually under the control of Pakistanis, the area should be set on fire. Accordingly, the area was torched, reducing nearly 500 houses to ashes.
Many in the Valley argue that Kashmiri separatists had full knowledge of Operation Gibraltar. This contradicts the claims of General Musa Khan, commander-in-chief of the Pakistan army at that time. In his book, My Version, Khan says the Kashmiris were not taken into confidence about the operation that had started to “liberate” them. “We had not even consulted the public leaders across the ceasefire line about our aims and intentions, let alone associating them with our planning for the clandestine war,” he writes.
But Munshi Mohammed Ishaq, a former close aide of Sheikh Abdullah, and three-time acting president of the Plebiscite Front, says that he and the organisation’s other members had full knowledge of the operation. “It had been decided that we would not remain unconcerned during this movement. The Pakistanis had talked to us and I had personally agreed to their plan, which was to undertake a sudden operation of occupying Srinagar airport, radio station, Sadar and other police stations…. We were entrusted with the responsibility of seeking public support for this action so there could be no other alternative for India except to agree to have an honourable settlement of the Kashmir issue,” Ishaq is quoted by Butt in his book.
After the operation failed, Butt says a tearful Ishaq told him, “The best opportunity (for) our freedom has been lost. Nobody listened to my advice and everybody, for the sake of individual security, sabotaged the plan.” Ishaq adds that “we, out of selfishness and temerity, did not cooperate (sic)”. This reading of events doesn’t show the full picture. According to another account, Pakistani soldiers while shopping in the Valley asked for “do seir aata (two kilos of flour)”. Neither was “seir” the unit of mass in Kashmir nor flour the staple diet of Kashmiris. It was enough for the people to smell a rat.
After the end of the 22-day war, the Operation Gibraltar planners trained their guns on the Kashmiris. It was argued that if it were not for their non-cooperation, the operation would have been successful. Mir Abdul Aziz, a Srinagar resident who had migrated to Pakistan in 1947 where he launched an English weekly Times of Kashmir from Muzaffarabad, says, “Poor Kashmiris were made the scapegoats. Those who were sent to Kashmir Valley did not even know the Kashmiri language—the whole affair was a wild goose chase” (from Bouquet: A tribute to Unsung Heroes of Kashmir by Zahir-ud-Din).
As a Sandhurst-trained military officer, Gohar Ayub Khan was aide-de-camp to his father Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s first military ruler (1958-69). Besides, he has held senior ministerial berths in several Pakistan governments and has been foreign minister and Speaker of the National Assembly. At 78, he remains articulate and forthright in his views as he talks toPranay Sharma about the ’65 war. Excerpts:
How do you see the 1965 war when you look back now?
It was a war which should not have taken place. It set Pakistan back and was also costly for India. It led from events in Kashmir which Pakistan considered would be contained there and not turn into an open conflict between the two countries. But when India attacked Lahore and other fronts, it led to a general war between India and Pakistan. Ayub Khan was not looking for a war with India.
Did the war have any clear winners or was it a draw for both sides?
Well, let me give you a few figures. Pakistan’s losses were: 3,200 soldiers killed and wounded, 132 tanks were lost (of which some were recovered) and 19 aircraft. On the other hand, India lost 200 tanks, 35 aircraft, 2,763 Indian soldiers were killed, 8,444 were wounded and 1,507 were missing. So you can see the losses India suffered in this war.
But the figures do not show a clear winner.
From my point of view, the winner was Pakistan. It was a smaller country with a smaller army which managed to hold India and inflict a terrible punishment on it. However, Pakistan would not have been able to continue this war for very long because India had the capability of attrition on Pakistan. It had a tremendous advantage to resupply and replenish its losses, whereas we could not. So the war would eventually have come—as it did—to a stalemate.
How do you see America’s role?
“Bhutto was in the wilderness post Tashkent. It was Gen Yahya Khan, not him who outmanoeuvred Ayub Khan.”
We were expecting the US to come to our assistance. We had an agreement which said if there was an attack from a Communist country, the US would come to the assistance of Pakistan. But that clause was not implemented in the war with India, and relations with America soured. On the early morning of September 6, the American ambassador met the president and said, “Mr President, the Indians have got you by the throat.” And the president said, “Not yet, we will see what happens in the next few days.”
What happened in the next few days?
In the next few days, the war started. We were looking at two major things of India. One was its 1 Armoured Division. Through ‘intelligence purchase’ we knew exactly where the Indian armoured division attack would come from. The other was its aircraft carrier Vikrant.
How did you deal with the two?
For the Indian armoured division, we had the 6 Armoured Division in position and we also had the 15 Infantry Division. So the Indian armoured division could make no headway and suffered terrible losses. The aircraft carrier Vikrant never left the port in Bombay; our submarine Ghazi was there three days before the war looking for it. Had Vikrant come out, it would have been sunk.
But India moved up to Lahore and could have taken the city…
Had the generals and the Indian army been determined, possibly they could. Because Pakistan has no depth—be it Sialkot, Lahore or other places, we are sitting at the border. On the early morning of September 6, they possibly could have. General J.N. Chaudhuri had said he will have his whisky in the Lahore Club. Now Gen Chaudhuri and my father Ayub Khan were coursemates at Sandhurst; they were in the same company and were also commissioned on the same day. Ayub Khan knew Chaudhuri very well and knew how he would act and react.
And how did he react?
“India could’ve taken Lahore but it wasn’t carrying bridging equipment for Punjab’s canals, thus slowing the army down.”
The Indians did not cross the BRB (Bambawali-Ravi-Bedian) canal. The Indian division that attacked Lahore was not carrying their bridging equipments. And knowing the Punjab and its canals and channels, you need bridges for them. They are quite broad and are like rivers in Europe. So they were sluggish, they were slow. The Pakistan army was not moved till later. The Indians were on the offensive and advancing. They had the initial advantage of surprise and speed. They could have taken Lahore; also Sialkot and other areas. But I think the Indian army faltered very heavily.
What role did the Soviet Union play?
The Soviet Union was naturally tilted towards India. All its equipment and everything else were from there and also on Kashmir it had vetoed. We had the moral support of China and after the ’65 war military assistance from China increased while our military relations with the US declined to a very large extent.
But the Soviet Union mediated to bring the two sides to Tashkent?
I think that was a tremendous breakthrough. Previously they were not interested in Kashmir or the ’65 war. But I see this as an achievement of the Soviet leadership and of Mr Shastri and Ayub Khan. Unfortunately, Mr Shastri died of a heart attack and the personal relationship between the two could not materialise.
General Ayub Khan came under a lot of criticism in Pakistan for agreeing to the ceasefire…
UN secretary-general U. Thant had visited Pakistan after Delhi. India had asked for a ceasefire. There was no TV in those days and most of the media was state-controlled. What was happening in Kashmir or at the front were really “blown up”. People in Pakistan thought they were winning. So when the ceasefire came, they thought Ayub Khan had let them down at Tashkent though they had won at the battlefront.
What role did Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the then foreign minister, play?
His role was to take Pakistan to war with India. In my view and that of many others, this was because he wanted to remove Ayub Khan and one way of doing that was to inflict a defeat on him by India through a war.
Pakistan had thought that if it went to war with India, people in Kashmir would rise in revolt against India. But that didn’t quite happen.
Bhutto and some generals gave the impression that people in Kashmir were ready to rise in revolt. But that was not the case. The Indian army had clamped down heavily on them and most Kashmiri leaders were in prison. The infiltrators who went there under Operation Gibraltar were themselves surprised that they hardly had any support.
After the war, Ayub Khan’s popularity declined and Bhutto’s rose. Did Bhutto outmanoeuvre the general?
Bhutto was out in the wilderness after Tashkent. Ayub Khan suffered a massive heart attack on February 2, 1968; he was more or less dead but the doctors revived him. So for three or four months after that he was incapacitated and could not look after affairs of the state properly. In the ensuing vacuum, the then army chief, General Yahya Khan, saw the possibility for him to take over. He started positioning himself by making necessary changes in all the important sectors by bringing in his own men. So it is he and not Bhutto who was manoeuvring to take over.
What is the takeaway from the ’65 war for Pakistan?
Pakistan should not have gone into war. Pakistan’s economy was at a takeoff point, it was much larger than India’s. Its food production was improving, its industrial policy very good. The combined exports of the Asian Tigers of the time could not match Pakistan’s. The ’65 war set back Pakistan in a major way from which it hasn’t been able to recover.