1965: The year of Asal Uttar

Partition of the subcontinent was perhaps the worst catastrophe in the history of mankind

We are celebrating the golden jubilee of the 1965 war. Pakistan celebrates Defence of Pakistan Day on September 6, claiming that it defeated India’s invasion on that date in 1965. Some people maintain that this war was a draw. A critical examination reveals that the scales of victory were tipped in India’s favour.

We need to take a historical, political, strategic and tactical overview of this war. It is a fact of history that from the beginning of the second millennia, starting with Mahmud Ghazni’s invasion to the battles of Robert Clive and his successors, Indians faced successive defeats at the hands of invaders. Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, in his History of Warfare, wrote that Indians knew how to die for their country but not to win for their country. The 1965 war was a harbinger of change.

Partition of the subcontinent was perhaps the worst catastrophe in the history of mankind. The whisky-sipping Jinnah got a motheaten Pakistan. Jammu and Kashmir, with a vast majority Muslim population, acceded to India. This became the casus belli for the 1947 and 1965 Indo-Pak wars. Pakistanis feel the key alpha-bets in Pakistan stand for Punjab, Kashmir, Sindh and NWFP and that Pakistan is incomplete without Kashmir. It is the unfinished agenda of Partition.

The people of Pakistan have misread history. They fancy themselves to be the descendants of Central Asian invaders who had repeatedly conquered India. No wonder the popular slogan among the Muslims in 1947 was “Hans ke liya hai Pakistan, Larke lenge Hindustan”. Within weeks of Partition, Pakistan invaded Kashmir on October 22, 1947 with thousands of tribesmen equipped with modern weapons supplied by the Pakistan Army and with Pakistan Army soldiers in civilian clothes. The invading force was under the command of Major General Akbar Khan.

Against all odds the Indian Army beat the Pakistani forces in a decisive battle on November 7, 1947 at Shalatang on the outskirts of Srinagar. We cleared the Valley and advanced 60 miles up to Uri, pursuing an enemy withdrawing in total disarray. We were ordered not to advance further. A golden opportunity was lost. We took the Kashmir issue to the United Nations which now began intervening. On January 1, 1949, a ceasefire was imposed after our highly successful advance across Zojila to Leh in the north and another very successful link-up operation with the then isolated garrison of Poonch in the south.

In 1962, China inflicted a most humiliating defeat on us in the Himalayas. Pakistan had developed close political and military relations with China; we were their common enemy. Both US and Soviet Russia restrained Pakistan from taking advantage of Indian forces fighting against China. In 1965, neither of the two superpowers prevented Pakistan from launching an offensive in Kashmir.

Field Marshal Ayub Khan was military dictator of Pakistan. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as foreign minister painted him a very rosy picture, saying that with Chinese support, and no restraints from the two super-powers, it was a golden opportunity to annex Kashmir. After the dismissal and detention of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953, the demand for a plebiscite was gaining strength in Kashmir.

With the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, his successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, was perceived as weak. Pakistan had a marked superiority with weapons over the Indian Army, having Second World War weapons. Ayub approved, sending thousands of infiltrators to ignite a revolution in the Valley. This was to be followed by Operation Gibraltar, a conventional offensive to secure the key communication centres of Akhnoor and Jammu. Thus, as per the Chenab Plan, Pakistan would gain the entire Muslim majority region of the state.

The strength of the Indian Army and Air Force was doubled after 1962 but this large-scale increase had not been fully assimilated. Shastri decided to launch offensives. On September 1, 1965, 11 Corps crossed the border in Punjab and 15 Division advanced from Amritsar to Lahore. The newly raised 1 Corps advanced from Samba towards Sialkot. Our thrust towards Lahore took Pakistan completely by surprise. Indian troops reached the Bata factory on the outskirts of Lahore.

The Pakistan Air Force retaliated with all its superior strength. Our forces did not have adequate air support for ground operations or even adequate anti-aircraft guns. We withdrew to Icchogil Canal. Pakistan hurriedly withdrew its forces in Akhnoor sector to defend Punjab. Our Air Force Gnats took a toll of Pakistan Sabre jets. However, the Indian Air Force suffered losses of aircraft on the ground at Pathankot, Avantipur and Kalaikunda. In the 1 Corps sector, there was much confu-sion at higher levels of command. At the unit level our battle record was very commendable but we could not break out from the minefields towards Sialkot. Thus our grand strategic plan came a cropper due to our tactical failures.

General J.N. Chaudhuri justified our withdrawal from the outskirts of Lahore, saying that we did not want to get stuck in street fighting like the Germans in Stalingrad. We should have sent a small force to Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore and declared a unilateral ceasefire. Pakistan launched a big counter-offensive through Tarn Taran towards Beas. Ayub Khan declared that he would soon have his tanks rolling down the Panipat plains to Delhi. This boast was given a fitting reply at Assal Uttar with the much- touted Patton tanks destroyed. The Pakistan offensive was called off.

The 22-day war ended with a ceasefire. Ayub and Bhutto got sacked. Shastri died at Tashkent and was succeeded by Indira Gandhi. At the end of this war India had occupied more cultivable territory than Pakistan occupying barren areas. The USSR brokered a peace at Tashkent. Status quo ante as on September 1, 1965, was restored. Hajipir Pass, won at great cost and much effort, had to be given up. Today, it is a key point of entry for infiltrators into the Valley. Pakistan had to withdraw from the strategic Chhamb-Jaurian area, removing the threat to Akhnoor.

The 1947 war was a blow to Pakistan’s belief of its martial superiority, the 1965 war a setback, and 1971 completely shattered this illusion. Pakistan now adopted the strategy of a thousand cuts, resorting to cross-border terrorism. It has built its nuclear arsenal and has started nuclear blackmail, like North Korea. Geography cannot be changed. We have no option but to continue the dialogue of the deaf with Pakistan. What Theodore Roosevelt said is still relevant: “Speak softly but carry a long stick. You will go far.”

The writer, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and J&K

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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