“We live in a wondrous time, in which the strong is weak because of his scruples and the weak grows strong because of his audacity.” —German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck.
Fifty years ago, Pakistan muddied the waters by initiating a spate of belligerent actions in the area of Rann of Kutch that led to a war between India and Pakistan on the former’s Western borders. India claims it was the victor. Equally vociferous is Pakistan’s claim to victory. Neutral military historians grade it as a ‘stalemate’. How is victory measured – by the political objectives achieved, or territory captured or by equipment and wherewithal destroyed and captured or by tactical and operational level military victory? One needs to dispassionately analyse these to come to a conclusion.
A limited war to wrest Kashmir was likely to bear fruit before India had completed full augmentation of its forces in the wake of the 1962 debacle…
Ever since Partition, even though Jammu and Kashmir was the main bone of contention, other border disputes existed. Early in 1965, Pakistan began by trying to resolve one of these in the Rann of Kutch. During Partition, Pakistan contested the alignment of the Southern boundary of its province of Sindh with the Northern alignment of the boundary of Kutch – two princely states prior to Independence. The contest first arose in 1956 which ended with India regaining control over the disputed area. This area is inhospitable, a salty lowland, rich in natural gas.
Pakistan’s border patrols began foraying into territory controlled by India in January 1965 which was followed by attacks by both countries on each other’s posts on April 08, 1965. Initially, these operations were conducted by the Border Police of both nations but soon escalated to intermittent skirmishes between the armed forces. In June 1965, the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson successfully persuaded both countries to end hostilities and set up an international tribunal under the aegis of the UN to resolve the dispute. A verdict was reached in 1968, much after the war, which gave Pakistan ten per cent (910 sq. km.) of its claim and 90 per cent (8,190 sq. km.) awarded to India.
Why did Pakistan initiate action in Kutch? India had suffered a major rout at the hands of the Chinese in November 1962. Consequently, there was a substantial augmentation of the armed forces undertaken in a phased manner. Increase in manpower is only one aspect; the induction of equipment, individual training, battle inoculation and collective training at formation level are essential prerequisites to formulate battle drills and procedures. These are time consuming very deliberate and necessary actions. Creating a suitable logistics infrastructure to support forward deployment and sustain forces in event of war are essential preparations in peacetime.
Pakistan wanted to exploit this vulnerability of the Indian armed forces then. It felt that a limited war to wrest Kashmir was likely to bear fruit before India had completed full augmentation of its forces in the wake of the 1962 debacle. Pakistan had a well-rested, well-armed military and saw an opportunity to take Kashmir. For India, the Kutch operation was a wrong war with the right enemy at the wrong place. For Pakistan, it was a victorious war with wrong lessons – that it could win a cakewalk in Kashmir. This false sense of victory wetted Pakistan’s appetite for Kashmir and perhaps enabled it to firm its decision to wage the war.
Pakistani operations in Jammu and Kashmir which were aimed to wrest Kashmir from the clutches of India failed miserably…
Prior to 1962, the US had attempted to maintain a regional balance of power, which meant not allowing India to influence political developments in the other neighbouring states. In 1950, Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan famously turned down an invitation to visit Moscow, choosing to visit the US instead. However, after the India-China War, the US and UK came forward to provide infantry weapons and miscellaneous military equipment to India. US – Pak relations were consistently positive since the US looked at Pakistan as an example of a moderate Muslim state and appreciated its assistance in holding the line against communist expansion.
Joining the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) in 1954, and the Baghdad Pact, later known as Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO), in 1955, Pakistan consolidated its status to receive arms from the US that viewed Pakistan as a Cold War ally. Between 1953 and 1961, US military aid worth $503 million flowed into Pakistan. Under this false guise, Pakistan received massive modern war-waging offensive weapons, aircraft and equipment which it would use against India and not against any communists as given to understand; the chief communist, China, was now in collusion against a common enemy – India. As a result, Pakistani armed forces had a qualitative edge in air power and armour over India which it sought to utilise before India completed its build-up. Seeing this equation India had turned to Soviet Union for assistance, now that Soviet-Chinese relations had soured. The Soviet aid came to be more substantive in terms of aircraft, armour and artillery than what the US and UK provided. This move by India placed strains on the India-US relations. It also put a question mark on India’s policy of Non-Alignment.
Pakistan’s designs to grab Kashmir were galvanised by the Hazratbal incident of December 1963. There was a massive uprising as also the intense Islamic fervour among the Muslims in the Valley on the disappearance of the holy relic from the shrine. Such a tumultuous situation in the Valley was ideal for a revolt. Operation Gibraltar was ripe for launch. It was designed to use covert methods to induct a large band of armed irregulars into Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and was expected to provide impetus to the anti-India sentiment and to sustain a campaign with the threat of an all-out war thereby to force a resolution on the issue of J&K.
The Indo-Pak War of 1965 was essentially a limited war as East Pakistan remained uninvolved in any ground operations…
While the original plan was prepared in the 1950s, the opportunity as perceived by Pakistan that came up after 1963 seemed appropriate to exploit. It was a plan backed by the then Foreign Minister Zulfiqur Ali Bhutto and others. The aim was an “attack by infiltration” launched by Paratroopers of the 50 Parachute Brigade of the Pakistani Army and specially trained irregular force of some 40,000 mujahideen – highly motivated and well armed. It was reasoned that the conflict could be confined to J&K. In the words of retired Pakistani General Aktar Hussain Malik, the aims were, “to defreeze the Kashmir problem, weaken India’s resolve and bring India to the conference table without provoking a general war.” Consequently, the ground work for intelligence gathering for the final execution was initiated under Operation Nusrat. Gaps in the deployment along the Cease Fire Line (CFL) were identified, actions taken to gauge the response of the Indian Army and local population.
Despite the initial reservations of President Ayub Khan, the Operation was set in motion. In the first week of August 1965, ten Forces (all named after significant Muslim rulers) were launched under the codename Operation Gibraltar – named after the place where the eighth century Umayyad conquest of Hispania was launched from. This Force was to cross the CFL and foment trouble in the Valley, Naushera-Rajouri-Poonch and Kargil. The Operation saw a quick demise due to poor coordination, poor execution and flawed presumption of an uprising by the local population. Undeterred, on September 01, 1965, the Pakistani army launched an armoured offensive across the CFL along the River Chenab directed at the capture Akhnoor and thereby isolate the Naushera-Rajouri-Poonch Sector. The United Nations Security Council intervened on September 04, 1965, calling for a ceasefire but Pakistan continued with its offensive. Although India was caught unawares, it reacted speedily and thwarted the offensive.
The launching of Operation Grand Slam towards Akhnoor was literally ‘the last straw on the camel’s back’. The Indian leadership would not bear it anymore and Shastri is said to have murmured to himself with a quiet determination, “Ab to kuchchh karna hi hoga.” On September 06, President Ayub Khan declared, “We are at war with India. India has dared to go to war with a people whose hearts are filled with the message of Kalama of Quran that says that there is no one like Prophet Mohammed: the Prophet of Allah. We will never tolerate such attacks. Our army has been sent to the border and you must be ready and form the second line of defence.” Distorting truth had evolved into a fine art in Pakistan. In earlier rumblings Ayub Khan had boastfully stated, “Hindu morale will not stand more than a couple of hard blows at the right time and place.” He was to bitterly swallow those words.