Military & Aerospace

Impact of 1965 War on Pakistan
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India and 19 Infantry Division Flags at Hajipir

Pakistan Army realised the vulnerability of East Pakistan, with its 4100 Km border with India and defended by a weak division with only two effective brigades – even though it was never attacked by India. At hindsight, the Indian decision not to activate the eastern front paid dividends in the 1971 War. Had India opened a front in East Pakistan, anti-India sentiments would certainly have developed. This could have been exploited by the leaders in West Pakistan to perpetuate their rule in that part of the country.

The most significant outcome of the 1965 war was that Pakistan, in the years that followed became increasingly dependent on China for its defence needs and began to get closer to the Muslim nations.

In August 1965, Pakistan’s 12 Infantry Division launched Operation Gibraltar in J&K and infiltrated between 5,000 and 7,000 ex-servicemen and volunteers led by regular army officers into Indian territory, which eventually triggered a full-scale war all along the India’s western front.

The Pakistani authorities, like in 1947, had once again plunged into the operation on the misplaced notion that the locals would rise spontaneously in favour of the infiltrators. By the end of August 1965, the infiltrators had been thrown out of Indian territory and Pakistan lost some of its key strategic features like the Haji Pir pass. In order to cut off the supply lines to troops in J&K, Major General Yahya Khan (later Army Chief and President of Pakistan) Commander of 7 Infantry Division, undertook Operation Grand Slam for the capture of the vital bridge at Akhnur, and came tantalisingly close to the target, but India responded with extensive attack all along the western front.

Punjab border region was the scene of most intense fighting. The Indian Air Force and the Navy also joined in and, by the end of the war (ceasefire on 23rd September), Pakistan lost nearly 20 aircraft and 155 tanks. In terms of personnel causalities, it suffered nearly 700 killed and approximately 3000 wounded. The Indian Army had made gains in Pakistan’s heartland, particularly in Kasur and Sialkot regions of Punjab.

Following the 1965 Indo-Pak War, the Pakistan Army embarked on major organisational and technical changes. Till then, the army was based on divisions.

Following the Tashkent Agreement in January 1966, the two countries handed over the areas across the ceasefire line and international border.

Pakistan had chosen 1965 to initiate war against India in the comforting belief that India would still be recovering from the 1962 debacle in the war waged by China. Moreover, it was emboldened by its strategic partnership with the US and substantial upgradation of its military wherewithal as a result of liberal aid from the latter. Pakistan probably had not thought that the US would stop military aid for violating the restrictions in using US equipment against India. Pakistan realised that it could not solely rely on the US for military support and needed to tap other sources.

The most significant outcome of the 1965 war was that Pakistan, in the years that followed became increasingly dependent on China for its defence needs and began to get closer to the Muslim nations. Countries like Indonesia, Jordan and Saudi Arabia had provided help to it during the war. China enabled Pakistan to raise 3 x infantry divisions. In fact, these divisions, mostly equipped with Chinese equipment were actually called ‘Chinese Divisions’. It supplied some 900 tanks and Mig-19F aircraft. The first consignment of 80 x T-59 tanks (a poor cousin of the Soviet T-55 tank) arrived in Pakistan in 1965-66. These tanks began to replace US M-47/M-48 tanks as army’s main battle tank. Subsequently, more equipment was supplied by China.

With the US embargo on military aid, Pakistan also began to tap other sources like North Korea, Germany, Italy, France and Soviet Union for defence procurement. France supplied Mirage aircraft and submarines, and in 1968, the Soviet Union offered aid worth US $ 30 million and supplied some 100 x T-55 tanks, Mi-8 helicopters, guns and vehicles, which were abruptly stopped in 1969. In 1969, Pakistan refused to renew the lease of the Peshawar airbase to the US.

In political terms, the biggest impact of the 1965 war was the decline of Ayub and ascendance of Bhutto.

Though Pakistan claims victory in 1965 war, it nevertheless resulted in Ayub losing face, ultimately to be replaced by General Yahya Khan (1969).

Following the 1965 Indo-Pak War, the Pakistan Army embarked on major organisational and technical changes. Till then, the army was based on divisions, which were operationally controlled directly by the General Headquarters (GHQ). There was only one Corps Headquarters. This organisational structure, in Pakistan Army’s assessment, had failed to deliver during the war. By the year 1968, two more corps headquarters i.e. 2-Corps Headquarter (Jhelum-Ravi corridor) and 4-Corps Headquarter (Ravi-Sutlej corridor) were raised. It was Yahya Khan, who as the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army, had initiated some of these far reaching changes in the Pakistan Army.

Pakistan Army realised the vulnerability of East Pakistan, with its 4100 Km border with India and defended by a weak division with only two effective brigades – even though it was never attacked by India.

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At hindsight, the Indian decision not to activate the eastern front paid dividends in the 1971 War. Had India opened a front in East Pakistan, anti-India sentiments would certainly have developed. This could have been exploited by the leaders in West Pakistan to perpetuate their rule in that part of the country that, in any case had been politically restive from the beginning.

A Corps HQ was raised in East Pakistan, designated as Eastern Command. Major General Sahibzada Yakub Khan, known for his professionalism and intellect was appointed Chief of General Staff after the war.

In political terms, the biggest impact of the 1965 war was the decline of Ayub and ascendance of Bhutto. He deliberately spread the impression that Pakistan had won the war, but Ayub at Tashkent had squandered the gains. The military too had been misled by the notion and consequently developed an exaggerated professional self-image.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

RSN Singh

is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW and author of books Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and The Military Factor in Pakistan. His latest book is The Unmaking of Nepal.

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