“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.
India’s riposte was directed at Pakistan’s principal city of Lahore opposite Amritsar across the International Boundary, thus expanding the scope of the war which Pakistan initiated as a limited one in J&K. This offensive would also drive a wedge between the Pakistani forces deployed in Lahore and Sialkot. The offensive blunted the Pakistani armour thrust in Khem Karan, had successes in Dograi and Barki but failed to capture Pakistani territory up to Ichhogil Canal as planned. The operations in the Jammu-Sialkot sector captured about 500 sq. km. of Pakistani territory and took a heavy toll of Pakistani armour but it did not achieve the stated war aim to destroy the Pakistani war machine.
China’s collusive support to Pakistan existed in 1965, 1971 and in a subtle way, in 1999 as well…
Pakistani operations in J&K which were aimed to wrest Kashmir from the clutches of India failed miserably. It was the locals who gave away the locations of the infiltrators, there was no insurrection as was trumpeted, and the offensive in Chambb was halted in its tracks as the Indian forces were poised to cut them off by the offensive from Jammu. Pakistan had to recoil its forces that had ingressed beyond Chambb towards Akhnoor to save Sialkot.
The Indo-Pak War of 1965 was essentially a limited war as East Pakistan remained uninvolved in any ground operations. At that time there was only one Pakistani infantry division in East Pakistan. It is claimed by some that the Army Chief, General J.N Chaudhuri, who was also the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, did not inform the Air Chief, Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh of the ground operations. This is not possibly true as records in Defence Minister Y.B Chavan’s diary dated September 07, 1965 indicate, “I told the CAS to hold his hand in East Pakistan. We do not want any wasteful escalation there.”
It is evident that there was adequate interaction between the three Chiefs and the Defence Minister. Due to the limited resources available with the Indian Air Force (IAF) and given the superiority of the aircraft with Pakistan, the IAF could only spare limited effort in support of ground operations. It is surprising that despite the reasonably prolonged Kutch affair and subsequent unfolding of the infiltration in J&K inter-service planning and preparation for possible contingencies was not undertaken. The IAF appeared on the scene only on September 01. Also, even as the Defence Minister cautioned not to activate the Eastern front, the same day the IAF raided the Chittagong and Dacca airfields.
The misunderstanding proved costly as in retaliation the Pakistani Air Force destroyed many aircraft on the ground at Kalaikunda, Bagdogra and Kolkata airfields. Airfields at Agartala and Barrackpore too were targeted. As regards the Indian Navy (IN), during the Kutch skirmishes, INS Vikrant had been moved to the Saurashtra Coast and this had a sobering effect on Pakistan.
After the Kutch incident, how is it that the situation was misread and Pakistani action in J&K not anticipated? 1962, 1965 and 1999 were operations when India was taken by surprise. This seems to be a recurring pattern.
After the Kutch operations, the Western Fleet sailed to the Bay of Bengal as per the existing SOP for relocating the fleet during monsoons. However, to give it a strategic facade it has been recorded that “keeping in view the political developments in the region, the Fleet was despatched there.” It may be true that some Indonesian leaders had even begun calling the Indian Ocean, the Indonesian Ocean. The Indonesian Naval Chief made statements that the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago was a natural extension of Sumatra. Indonesian President Sukarno stated that an attack on Pakistan was like an attack on Indonesia and offered to provide whatever was needed by Pakistan. He despatched a submarine and missile boats to assist Pakistan and began to patrol around the islands. However, these developments notwithstanding, on persistent pleading by the Western Fleet Commander, Rear Admiral Samson, the Fleet was given orders to return to the West Coast.
Defence Minister Y.B Chavan summed up the IN’s contribution as, “I greatly appreciated the silent but efficient role which the Navy played in defence of the country. The IN protected islands, which were vital to our security, guarded our ports and the long coast-line………and achieved all that the Government desired of it within bounds and compass allotted to it.” Should India have opened a front of the Eastern flank too? It was a decision that required immense strategic foresight and strong political will. Bangladesh could have been an independent country in September 1965!
In the final balance, the outcome of a war should be whether the political aim set was achieved. Pakistan started the war with the explicit aim to wrest J&K from India by force. In that it failed miserably. Minor tactical gains and territorial gains are not sufficient to claim victory. Since India was in a reactive mode in a war that was thrust upon it, denying the belligerent achieving any of his stated objectives was, therefore, a victory by all accounts.
Physical casualties, tanks destroyed or captured, artillery pieces destroyed, enemy posts captured and counter-attacks launched, aircraft shot down or destroyed on ground, ships sunk or square kilometres of territory captured will merely be “accounting for” figures if the political objective remains out of the grasp. In the aftermath of the war the situation was back to square one.
How can the Defence Secretary be expected to do justice the requirement placed on him when he is only serving in the MoD for a limited duration with no background on affairs of military security and strategy?
There are lessons to be learnt relevant even now. We need to debate these issues:
- Though India proclaimed Non-Alignment as its strategic stance, it was compelled to seek the assistance of US, UK and USSR for weapons and equipment. Is India shy of an alliance? In a power equation alliances give a boost to national power.
- In a reactive scenario with a nuclear backdrop what are realistic political objectives?
- In a limited regional war scenario, which will predominantly be a ground war, to achieve any political objective is a CDS the panacea that remedies all? The fact is that the IN and the IAF in any sub-continental context will be subordinate to the Indian Army.
- Who will decide military objectives which will enable the defence forces to achieve the stated political aim – the Defence Minister or the Chairman Chiefs of Staff or the Army Chief or a most ridiculous option the Defence Secratary?
- Who plans the campaigns of the war commensurate to the military aim and allocation of resources for its execution?
- As per the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules 1961, the defence of the country entrusted to the Defence Secretary. In the Ministry of External Affairs, the Secretary is a professional diplomat who has risen in the stream and experienced the nuances of diplomacy to thus render professional advice and direction to the Minister. How can the Defence Secretary be expected to do justice the requirement placed on him when he is only serving in the MoD for a limited duration with no background on affairs of military security and strategy?
- After the Kutch incident, how is it that the situation was misread and Pakistani action in J&K not anticipated? 1962, 1965 and 1999 were operations when India was taken by surprise. This seems to be a recurring pattern.
- Despite the induction of more lethal weapons and technology, there has been no change in the organisation structures of the Army. Are we only replacing old weapons and equipment with new and continuing to prepare to fight as in the last war?
Is India shy of an alliance? Alliances give a boost to national power…
- Rigid tactical doctrines continue to be applicable. Manoeuvre and fire and move (skirmish order) are only given lip service. Young Platoon/Troop and Company/Squadron Commanders feel more comfortable in dwelling on the ‘higher direction of war’ rather than grapple with the myriad imponderables of leading sub-units in tactical combat situations.
- The US put pressure on forcing Pakistan not to initiate any action in J&K in 1962. China’s collusive support to Pakistan existed in 1965, 1971 and in a subtle way, in 1999 as well. It is a reality that will have to be factored in. A two front war in the classical sense may not be on the cards but strategic redeployment of forces will surely be curtailed.
- Pakistan had employed irregulars in its war with India in 1947, 1965 and 1999. Now it is mass producing more sophisticated well armed and trained ‘mujahedeen’. India has to prepare for a complicated hybrid war contingency in any future conflict with Pakistan. For this, there must be synergy between the CAPFs and the Armed Forces. Who will coordinate this planning, preparation and equipping of these forces that fall under MHA and MoD??
B.H Liddell Hart observed that – “Non-aggressive states were likely to fight to extremes compared to aggressive nations. The latter viewed war more or less as business and would back off if an opponent proved too strong. By contrast, the former, motivated by ideals, tend to press a conflict to the bitter end.” This ideal was so evident when the Indian Prime Minister said “Ab to kuchchh karna hi hoga.”