It is imperative to revisit history often to see if it was analysed correctly or the correct lessons were learnt.The interpretation of history also changes as the perspectives change with time. As we celebrate 76 years of India’s independence, it augurs well to revisit some momentous events of the past. The 1965 India Pakistan War is one such event which needs to be reappraised and revaluated for its achievements, losses and lessons learnt. In revaluating this war, first we need to define what constitutes victory in war; as war is a complex and ambiguous social phenomenon.First we need to ask what constitutes victory in a modern war? What are the matrices of victory in war?
The Matrices of Military Victory
The events of the World War II are considered as the template of victory in war by some. However, it must be remembered that defeat and surrender of an army is an exception rather than the rule of war. There is no theoretical construct of the victory in war. It will depend on the level at which the perceptions are made, the credibility of the sources used for those perceptions and also the element of narrative building. Leaving aside the political objectives of the war for a moment, there must be some indicators, some measurable matrices to arrive at a reasonable conclusion as to which side achieved victory. Some experts have suggested measuring victory on the basis of body counts, material losses, territory gained or captured, industrial capacity destroyed, balance logistic sustainability at war termination and thwarting the designs at regime change as reasonably fair matrices from a military point of view. Since war lacks order and coherence, more often than not it will be difficult to accurately measure all matrices. However, if 60-70 percent of the matrices can be measured and compared it would be fair to apportion victory to one of the sides.
Clashes in the Rann of Kutch
As India and Pakistan had followed different grand strategies for their respective nations since 1947, their political trajectories were totally divergent. While India’s belief in securing a peaceful future for itself led it to cofounding the nonaligned movement, Pakistan joined military alliances such as SEATO (1954) and CENTO (1959) to gain access to modern military equipment from Western Powers while harbouring belligerence towards India. Having acquired almost two armoured divisions worth of armoured fighting vehicles and four infantry divisions worth of other equipment, by 1965, Pakistan prided itself as a nation with a modern military and was impetuous enough to achieve its unfinished agenda of 1947-48. India’s debacle a few years earlier with the Chinese aggression further created a delusional disorder in the racist Pakistani establishment that if Chinese could defeat Indians, so could they. Pakistan also assumed that after the death of Jawahar Lal Nehru, there was a political vacuum in India. Having just fought a war with China, India’s major focus had shifted towards China.Taking advantage of India’s preoccupation with China, Pakistan as part of Operation Desert Hawk invaded the Rann of Kutch and seized the area of Kanjarkot. India retaliated strongly and there were a series of battles in the Rann between the opposing forces during March – April 1965.However, due to mediation by the UK, a ceasefire was agreed upon and status quo as on 01 January 1965 was restored.
Operation Ablaze and subsequent Operations
India had already tasted the treachery of Pakistan in 1947 and had just recovered from one by China. So, while the skirmishes in Rann of Kutch were going on, the Indian Army undertook a preventive deployment along the Punjab border under Operation Ablaze. However, after the satisfactory resolution of the Kutch dispute, the forces deployed along Indo Pak border in Punjab moved back to their peacetime locations. All this while, Pakistan was working surreptitiously to execute another invasion of Jammu and Kashmir. For it’s plan of liberating Kashmir Operation Gibraltar, a thirty thousand large force was being mustered for infiltration as armed civilians into Kashmir to incite a general uprising. The Pakistan Army intended to capture Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of this uprising.
However, the insurrection did not happen as the response of the local Kashmiris was almost tepid. Also, the timely detection of the build up of large number of infiltrators led to a firm response by India. In addition, India swiftly recaptured certain tactical high features in Kargil, launched an offensive in Tithwal and captured the famous Haji Pir Pass in a dauntless operation, thus defeating the lofty ambitions of Pakistan military by end August of 1965.
Frustrated by the dismal failure of Operation Gibraltor, Pakistan launched another desperate attempt at annexing Jammu and Kashmir from India on 01 September 1965. Operation Grand Slam, it involved isolating Punch, Rajouri, Naushera and Aknoor and followed by a plan for capture of Jammu in fast paced armoured manoeuvres. The lines of communication to Kashmir originated from Jammu and thus its capture would effectively cut off Kashmir from India. This would have allowed Pakistan to deal with Kashmir in a piecemeal manner. The plan was audacious and did make some progress but was stalled by the intrepid Indian Army. Pakistan’s gains were restricted to the control of areas upto Jaurian and by 03 September 1965, the offensive had petered out. Indian army further thwarted the attempts to capture Akhnoor and stabilized the situation by 10 September 1965.
India launched its counter offensive in the plains of Punjab and in Rajasthan sector on 06 Sep 1965 with the aim of threatening Lahore and Sialkot and forcing Pakistan to sidestep its forces from Chhamb Jaurian sector, thus relieving pressure on own forces there. Indian strategy involved capturing valuable territory in Punjab, threatening the high value targets of Lahore and Sialkot and in the process degrading enemy’s maximum combat potential.
The offensive by Indian forces opposite Amritsar surprised the enemy and made good progress. Indian forces could cross the Icchogil Canal near the village of Dograi and exploit the enemy defences upto Batapore on the outskirts of Lahore. The capture of Dograi by 3 JAT is a saga of one of the fiercest battles in the annals of the Indian military where an intrepid relentless battalion persevered against an enemy in deliberate, well coordinated defences supported by armour and was able to capture the tactically important village of Dograi. Rattled by this breach of the Icchogil canal, the enemy launched a strong counter offensive in the Harike and Jandiala Guru area. The Indian forces had occupied hastily prepared defences here but were able to repel relentless attacks by the Pakistani forces. In the fierce battle that raged on 08-09 Sep 1965, the Indian troops caused massive tank losses to the enemy forces, the count going upto 97 tanks destroyed out of which 72 were brand new Pattons. The raw courage and battle skills of the Indian troops proved once again the often repeated maxim, “the man behind the machine being more important than the machine itself”. Khemkaran, a town in this sector later came to be known as the “Graveyard of the Pattons” in the military folklores. After the war these damaged tanks were hauled up to various towns in Punjab where they are prominently displayed as war trophies.
The Indian Forces had also launched an offensive on 07-08 September 1965 with a Corps sized force in the area opposite Sialkot and had captured Phillaura and territory up to Chawinda. And forces had reached the outskirts of Sialkot. To release the pressure on its forces in Sialkot sector, Pakistan had to sidestep an armoured brigade from Harike and Jandiala sector thus weakening it there. During the ensuing days, some epic tank battles were fought in the area of Phillaura, Chawinda and Zafarwal.
The Indian offensive in this area had again achieved surprise but could not progress much after 10 September due to the fact that the units and formations were disparate and were put together just before the war. They had never trained as a cohesive force -an important lesson for the Indian Army. Despite this, the Indian forces caused massive losses including 28 tanks of the Pakistan Army destroyed in Phillaura. By 14 September Pakistan had brought in more forces in this sector.
In the desert sector, the Indian forces had launched a limited offensive to force the enemy to side step his forces from the Chhamb Jaurian Sector as also to pre-empt any offensive by the Pakistani forces. This offensive was launched by an infantry brigade in the area of Barmer–Hyderabad and had been successful in the capturing some 400 square km of Pakistani territory, while Pakistan had captured the Border Outpost at Munabao.
As far as the air battle is concerned, the Indian Air force had 460 aircraft of all types against the 260 of Pakistan Air Force. India also had the compulsion to deploy some aircraft for the Northern contingency. While Indian Air Force had numerical superiority, the Pakistani Air Force had the qualitative edge with its modern Sabre jets and Starfighters. The Indian Air Force despite its technologically older and snag prone aircraft performed admirably and was instrumental in blunting the initial Pakistani offensive in Chhamb- Jaurian sector.
Despite many protestations by the Naval Chief, no offensive role was given to the Indian Navy, perhaps due to certain misperceived apprehensions on part of the political leaders. Indian navy was certainly more potent than the Pakistani Navy and could have effectively contributed to the war effort.
The Score Card
At the close of the war Indian casualties numbered 2862 killed and 8617 wounded. Pakistan declared much less casualties as usual but as per Indian official sources 5800 Pakistani troops were killed during the war. India was in control of 1920 square km of Pakistani territory while Pakistan was in possession of 540 square km. India lost 128 tanks whereas Pakistan lost 509 tanks. India lost 59 aircraft and Pakistan lost 43 despite the vast technological superiority. AUN mandated ceasefire brought an end to the war on 22 Sep 1965. Later the territories were exchanged under the provisions of the Tashkent Accord of Jan 1966. India was on the winning streak and could have easily been a captured Lahore and Sialkot had it not suffered from poor civil military relations. Like in 1948, this time too, the Indian political establishment agreed to the UN proposal prematurely without appreciating the progress of India’s military operations. Just a couple of days more could have given the Indian military a much more decisive edge over Pakistan.
The Indian army had expanded after the war of 1962, the focus was on Northern Frontier and there was no replacement for the WW II vintage Shermans. However, the shortcomings of equipment were more than compensated by the rigorous training,skills, innovativeness, courage and valour of the Indian Army. Indian Air Force too responded magnificently and acquitted itself well despite its vintage aircraft fleet. The Indian soldier was brave, resolute and armipotent and withstood all odds in the service of the nation. The Nation too stood behind its soldiers resolutely. The outcome of the war was a tribute to this intrepid Indian soldier.
Former American diplomat Dennis Kux and British historian John Keay both have said that India clearly was the winner in all metrices of war such as key territory captured, enemy soldiers killed, tanks destroyed. Pakistan didn’t gain anything from the conflict it initiated while the Indians came perilously close to Lahore and Sialkot. In the North, India clearly defeated the Pakistan’s attempt to seize Kashmir by force. This was a significant strategic gain for India. Indian military analysts and thinkers also need to come out of the self loathing and accept the 1965 War as it was – a clear victory. Another important lesson that we can learn today when we see the coverage of the Ukraine Russia conflict and compare it with the events of 1965 India Pakistan war is to command the narrative from the beginning not only at the operational level but at the international level as well.
The 1965 War was started by Pakistan for domestic political reasons against the wish of President Ayub Khan. Mushahid Hussain, the editor of the Pakistani newspaper, ‘The Muslim’ in a piece in 1986 stated that the 1965 war was started by Pakistan to divert public attention from political turmoil then existing inside Pakistan. The other objective of this war was to wrest Kashmir from India through the force of arms- none of these objectives could be achieved by Pakistan.The dismal performance of the Pakistan military in the 1965 war led to the public humiliation and subsequent death of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, the military dictator of Pakistan during the war. Somehow a myth that one Pakistani soldier was equal to three Indian soldiers were propagated in Pakistan. The war smashed this myth. While it is incorrect to celebrate any war as it is a saga of human failures at many levels, it is also the most inspiring human effort in sacrifice to preserve the cherished values of the society and nation. Therefore, it is only fitting to commemorate the triumph of human spirit against all odds in a most solemn way and pay tribute to those magnificent men who made this victory possible.
India Pakistan War of 1965, Office of the Historian, US State Department, available on https://history.state.gov/milestones/1961-1968/india-pakistan-war
 Lt Gen Tejinder Singh Shergill, An Overview of 1965 Indo-Pak Conflict Strategic and Operational Insights, SP’s Land Forces, issue 4, 2015
 Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, Volume XXV, South Asia, available at https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v25/d138 accessed 18 Sep 2023
Op CitLt Gen Tejinder Singh Shergill
 BC Chakaravorty, History of the Indo-Pak War 1965, Pp 148-149, History Division, Ministry of Defence, Government of India,
Avijit Ghosh, The graveyard of Patton tanks, The Times of India, 30 Aug 2015, available at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/48727271.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst accessed on 18 Sep 2023
Ian Cardozo, Why the Indian Navy was kept out of the 1965 Indo-Pak war, The Mint Lounge, 22 June 2023, available at https://lifestyle.livemint.com/news/talking-point/why-the-indian-navy-was-kept-out-of-the-1971-indo-pak-war-111624268921771.html accessed 18 Sep 2023
BC Chakaravorty, Op Cit, Pp 320
BC Chakaravorty, Op Cit, Pp 270-271
India Pakistan War of 1965, Office of the Historian, US State Department, available on https://history.state.gov/milestones/1961-1968/india-pakistan-war
Raghavan S, Civil Military Relations in India: The China crisis and After, available at https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390802407616
Pakistan : A Country Study, Pp 269, Library of Congress, USA. The book talks of loss of twenty aircraft, 200 tanks, and 3,800 troops, a gross understatement but declares that Pakistani losses were more than India.
 Are India’s plans to celebrate 1965 war ‘victory’ in ‘bad taste’? BBC News 13 Aug 2015, available at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-33815204
Chakravorty BC, History of the Indo Pak War 1965, Chapter 12, Pp 327