Military & Aerospace

1965 War: Op Gibraltar and How the War Started
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 16 Sep , 2015

Outside Barki Police Station ( Maj H S Sarao Second From Left )

Who started the war or to put it more palatably – how did the war start? Just as it would be naïve for the Indians to keep repeating that the ‘71 war was started by Pakistan it would be extremely myopic to continue haranguing now, almost half a century after that war, that India was the aggressor in 1965. In 1971 Indian regular troops were already making forays across the IB in what was then East Pakistan. All that happened was that Pakistan pre-empted the planned Indian offensive by commencing hostilities along the Western front on 03 December whereas the Indians had planned to launch their offensive for 04 December.

Emboldened by the rather timid and weak response of the Indian politico-military leadership during the Kutch crisis, Operation Gibraltar was conceived to get back the Indian part of Kashmir through a covert operation.

The genesis of the ’65 war can actually be traced back to the Kutch crisis. Hassan Abbas (Pakistan’s Drift Into Extremism: Allah, The Army, And America’s War On Terror) says, quote,’ When the Pakistan Army inflicted a short, sharp reverse on the Indians in the Rann of Kutch in mid-1965, Ayub’s spirits got a boost. More important, the international arbitration that followed the Kutch dispute (resulting in favor of Pakistan) put Pakistan under the assumption that if the Kashmir problem was to be solved, the Rann of Kutch route would have to be replicated – a limited clash in Kashmir leading to a threat of all-out war, and then an intervention and arbitration by the great powers’, unquote. Emboldened by the rather timid and weak response of the Indian politico-military leadership during the Kutch crisis, Operation Gibraltar was conceived to get back the Indian part of Kashmir through a covert operation. A plan which almost all Pakistani and neutral analysts have maintained was ‘a clumsy attempt’ to wrest control of ‘Indian Occupied Kashmir’ and was doomed to collapse. Not only this, what was more surprising and completely contrary to the accepted principles of war was the total lack of coordination and integrated planning for Operation Gibraltar and its followup, Operation Grand Slam. This (Grand Slam) sequel to Gibraltar envisaged an attack on the vital Akhnoor Bridge in Jammu and Kashmir, which was not only the lifeline of an entire infantry division in Jammu and Kashmir but could also be used to threaten Jammu, an important logistical point for Indian forces.

General K. M. Arif, in his biography (Khaki Shadows: Pakistan1947-97), writes,“ It is amply clear, though, that all prudent civil- military mechanisms of defense strategy and policy planning were bypassed in the pre-planning of Operation Grand Slam. The Defense Committee of the Cabinet (DCC)—the apex defense policy making body of the country—did not even meet prior to or during the war. The Defense Services Chiefs Committee (DSCC) which comprises the three services chiefs and is required to approve all military plans was never even informed about the existence of the plan. The air and naval chiefs deeply resented the fact that they were not taken into confidence.”

According to then Chief of the Pakistan Air Force, Air Marshal Nur Khan, there was little coordination amongst the military services on the impending operation. In any case the plan went completely awry in execution . The infiltrating troops and a large number of irregular and ‘volunteers’ known as the ‘Gibraltar Force’ were organized and commanded by GOC 12 Infantry Division, Major General Akhtar Malik, subsequently awarded the Hilal-i-Jurat for his role in the planning and execution of Gibraltar. In one of the biggest mysteries and blunders related to the inept Pak handling and lack of higher direction of war (not that the Indians did any better, in this war atleast), he was in-explicably replaced by Maj Gen Yahya Khan (later Chief) just when Akhnur was within the grasp of the Pak Army ! As MJ Akbar the Indian journalist says, ’’ at this point, someone’s prayers worked, an inexplicable change of command took place.”

Pak columnist Lt Col Gilani states: “…Pakistan high command had failed to foresee the strategic counter action of the Indian Army against Sialkot, Lahore and Kasur, in view of the foreign office assurance, that India would confine its retaliation to the territorial limits of Kashmir”.

Ahmad Faruqui, the well known defense analyst and economist (Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan) says that when he asked Sajjad Haider, a retired Air Commodore (author of the book, Flight of the Falcon – Demolishing myths of Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971), to name the aggressor, ’ Nosy’ Haider, a PAF fighter pilot (‘jaunty-angled cap, silk scarves, special boots, and even the way they stand’), known for his rather controversial but no holds barred comments, not mincing any words said very unequivocally, ‘Ayub perpetrated the war.’

Anyhow, be that as it may, Gibraltar was launched and India after an initial phase of setbacks, in a series of retaliatory operations, managed to eliminate the saboteurs and capture some tactically advantageous Pak posts across the Cease Fire Line. The loss of Hajipir Pass in August ’65 along with Indian successes in the Neelam Valley and opposite Uri unnerved the Pakistani GHQ which assumed that Muzaffarabad was about to be addressed next . It was under these circumstances that the Pak GHQ ordered launch of Operation Grand Slam on 01 Sep 1965 to cut off the Indian supply lines to J& K. So was Grand Slam initiated as a result of Indian aggression or was it a continuum of the already initiated but now precariously poised Pakistani plan to whip up the local Kashmiri population to a frenzy, so that the larger plan to integrate the state of J & K to Pakistan could be fructified??

Brig (retd) Shaukat Qadir, an impartial and independent analyst clearly mentions that Pakistan’s Operation Grand Slam was ‘one of a number of contingency plans that had been prepared to support Gibraltar’. Operation Grand Slam basically intended to sever the road link between India and Indian held Kashmir once the valley was up in flames. Operation Grand Slam was four phased says Shaukat Qadir (The 1965 War-A Comedy of Errors) : the capture of Chamb, the crossing of river Tawi and consolidation, followed by the capture of Akhnur, and finally severing the Indian lines of communication and capturing Rajauri. As mentioned earlier, the failure of Gibraltar resulted in the loss of some key Pak posts in Kashmir, and it was then that Operation Grand Slam was undertaken to relieve pressure on the Pak troops in Kashmir. It is interesting that the Pak columnist Lt Col (retd) Mukhtar Ahmad Gilani (Panoramic Analysis —Senior and Junior Leaders —Aug 1947 to Dec 1971) calls the Pak foray into J&K as a ‘counter-offensive’. He states that ‘’After launching the counter offensive (sic) in Chamb-Jaurian Sector the Pakistan high command (the President, the C-in-C and the CGS) had failed to foresee the strategic counter action of the Indian Army against Sialkot, Lahore and Kasur, in view of the foreign office assurance, that India would confine its retaliation to the territorial limits of Kashmir’’. It is a known fact that the Indian thrust across the IB was infact a counter offensive in retaliation to ‘Gibraltar / Grand Slam’.

To relieve forces almost cut off in their part of Kashmir, the Indian Government took the momentous decision, as advised by Gen J N Chaudhuri, to open another front across the IB. The aim was to relieve the pressure in J&K where the situation was getting uncomfortable for the Indian Army.

Maj (Retd) Agha Humayun Amin (Grand Slam-A Battle of Lost Opportunities) mentions that on being briefedby Major General Akhtar Malik (GOC 12 Infantry Division) on the Gibraltar plan, Ayub suggested that 12 Infantry Division should also capture Akhnur. This attack was codenamed ‘Operation Grand Slam’ and was planned as a sequel to ‘Gibraltar’. Similarly Shaukat Riza, the official historian (Pak) of the 1965 War has admitted that by 31 Aug once the Indians had ruptured 12 Infantry Division’s defences across the cease fire line, the Pak GHQ decided to launch Grand Slam to ease pressure on the Division by capturing Chamb and threatening Akhnur. In an extremely aggressive, well planned and confident move, Pak infantry units backed by armour overran the Indian outpost in Chamb in the initial phase itself, crossed the Tawi river and were headed towards Akhnur in order to cut off India’s line of communication with Srinagar.

The Indians were now under tremendous pressure and the military situation was getting precarious in the Kashmir sector. Ahmad Faruqui puts it on record ‘’ that the Indian response on Sept 06 across the international border at Lahore was a natural counter-response, not an act of aggression.’’ To relieve forces almost cut off in their part of Kashmir, the Indian Government took the momentous decision, as advised by Gen J N Chaudhuri, to open another front across the IB. The aim was to relieve the pressure in J&K where the situation was getting uncomfortable for the Indian Army. Sultan M. Hali (Operation Gibraltar—An Unmitigated Disaster?) adds that,” –the guarantee by the Foreign Office that India would not dare to conduct a full scale attack was a civilian opinion. As military commanders, Ayub and Musa should have taken all contingencies into consideration, including that of a full scale war. Neither the Supreme Commander (Field Marshal Ayub Khan) nor the C-in-C (Gen Musa) and his General Staff, viewed the chances of a full scale war with India as ’probable’ leave alone warranting the cancellation of leave. It was a gross misconception and miscalculation of the operating factors which sent the Pakistan Army into battle on Sept 6, 1965 with 25% of its strength on annual leave, it was inexcusable because the C-in-C Gen Musa and his General Staff knew fully that the entire Kashmir Valley had been ablaze for over a month and ferocious air and land battles were being fought in Chamb-Jaurian sector for nearly a week, involving large formations of armour, infantry and artillery. Under the circumstances, it was Pakistan that was caught napping’’.

The Western Front –The Indian Riposte

Following this, the Indian Army then counterattacked by crossing the international border thus opening the Western front in Pakistan Punjab to force the Pakistan Army to relocate troops and distract the Pak Army’s attention and resources away from Operation Grand Slam.

And thus started the second Indo – Pak war of 1965.

Yes, there were no declarations of war made by the adversaries, either when the Pak troops crossed over in J&K nor later when the Indian troops crossed over in the Punjab. Circumstances and perceptions may differ on warring sides, but historical facts cannot be changed or misrepresented for partisan reasons. In this article, to be fair, events as they unfolded have been recorded as viewed from both sides. Coming on to the question as to who won the ’65 war, Dennis Kux has summed it up very aptly that India “won simply by not losing”. The reader may chose to interpret this very candid and truthful remark in whichever way he choses to decide who won the war.


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6 thoughts on “1965 War: Op Gibraltar and How the War Started

  1. Had the paper tiger Gen Yahya Khan not involved himself in the rapidly progressing Operation Grand Slam brilliantly planed by Gen Akhtar Malik, Pakistan Army would have conveniently carried out link up with Rajouri already under the administrative control of Major Munawar Khan SJ. The Map of Kashmir would have changed. A large number of Indian security forces in IOK would have surrendered and India would not have dared to open a front on International Border. But alas………..

  2. One must remember that fact is stronger than the fiction. Indian claims of victory in 1965 war could be taken as nothing more than a good fiction to please themselves. It is nothing but natural what a timid enemy should do. At the same time it is very unfortunate that few Pakistani writers simply term GIBRALTAR Operation as a failure without carrying out in depth study of the failures and achievements of GIBRALTAR Operation. No doubt nine out of ten forces of GIBRALTAR Operation miserably failed to accomplish their
    mission. But GHAZNAVI Force commanded by Major Munawar Khan SJ (Sitara e Jurrat) successfully won the support of local mountainous eagles in Rajouri-Budil Region and they taught unforgettable lessons to the Indian security forces (My hats off to the true Muslim wariors of Rajouri and Budil Region). GHAZNAVI Force over ran Rajouri Garrison (attack started in the evening, Indian soldiers posed strong resistance and it continued till next morning, the death toll of Indian soldiers raised to over 700, eventually remaining Indian personnel managed to escape), beside other losses of men and material, wiped out three Indian Infantry Battalions (3 Kamaon Regiment, 9 Kamaon Regiment and 7 Madras Regiment), Jatha of 600 Jain Singh and two Artillery Batteries in Rajouri, Budil, Thana Mandi Naushera and Mehndor. Maj Munawar also formed Revolutionary Council for Rajouri-Budil Region under the chairmanship of Ex President Muslim Conference Sardar Jalal Deen. Major Munawar Khan SJ controlled area measuring 500 sq miles (750 sq KM) in Rajouri-Budil Region and established his own government, had his own civil administration till the implementation of UN mandated Cease Fire. He was a hero amongst the war heroes of Indo-Pak Armies in 1965 war. He became a symbol of terror for the Indian security forces. There is none except Major Munawar Khan SJ, in Indo-Pak Armies who had secured and controlled this much of area in one theatre of war during 1965. Had the paper tiger Gen

    • O really,had India lost 65 war ,Kashmir would have been yours sir ji,it’s ur war u need to finish it by liberating Kashmir,only problem with u people is that u always hide ur 99 percent failure of Pakistan and highlight 1 percent failure of India to describe Pakistan victorious,u mentioned ghaznavi force,so for ur kind information had ghaznavi force become victorious Kashmir would have been yours,by capturing hazi peer we completely deleted ur ghaznavi force and gibralter operation,then u launched your plan be lanned in the month of May and to be used at the success of gibralter to physically cut down India from Kashmir so that India will not contain gibralter,but things gone against u,and when u launch offence on kashmir we opened 2nd front in Punjab and defeated ur objective of grandslam ,our objective to launch offence in Punjab is to divert the forces of Pakistan from Kashmir and bound them to withdrawn from Kashmir,had we really tried to occupy ur cities,we would have gone to Sindh or east pakistan because of geographical advantage,go and check which country launched gibralter followed by grandslam and both these operation we’re pre planned,seato sento bagdad pacts gave u 350 Patton tanks,8 squadern of sabers 86,p8 inches howinzers gazi submarine,ssg brigades and much more which gave u technohival edge over India,i think u r a dumb man who delebratly trying to saw the failures of Pakistan,had ur ghanzavi force became victorious lashmir would have been urs,and ur grand slam was not a just a time being ,we failed ur grand slam by opening 2nd front,so don’t put all blame of grand slam failure on command change loser

  3. Sarao, thanks for putting the facts across in such a well researched manner. I think it was too naive on the part of Pak military planners to presuppose that India will not retaliate even if a part of Kashmir is taken away by them. You can not hang your plan with such a thin thread. It is equally surprising that an Army is going for operations with 25% men on leave. No doubt they could not achieve their aim.

  4. True enough that India “won simply by not losing” . Lt Gen JFR Jacob describes 1965 as a stalemate. I’m more inclined to think it was the trailer for the feature film 6 years later, 1971.

    As to who was the aggressor in ’71, the whole situation was a lot more complicated. If, today, some state gets fed up by the ISIS shenanigans attacks the Levant, it would be a tad hard to describe who is the aggressor.

    As an aside, i believe you were in Pathankot in ’71 (as i was too). Our school, KV, was in the Air Force station area at the time. AA guns had already been positioned round about in the thick “ber” bushes near the school, well before the war started on 3 Dec. The anti-aircraft gunners were a friendly lot to us school kids who went to eat ripe bers during recess, as they listened to bollywood songs on their wireless. And the Air Force personnel, exactly 2 days before the shooting started, got their side caps replaced by WW2 vintage tin hats. Perhaps the intercepts of Pak navy wireless traffic by Eastern Command were taken seriously in some quarters, which indicated something big chalked up for 2 Dec.

    • Thank you Sudershan , for your interest. Yes , were all having a ringside seat watching the events as they un-folded in the Ptk Airforce Base in 1971. As amply brought out , the events leading to the 1965 war, how the war started and who was the aggressor does not invite many guesses. Do appreciate that disputed ‘national boundaries’ at times are used as an excuse to deny launching of an offensive/aggression or fomenting subversion , as was the case in 1965. Pakistan had considered (and still does) J&K as ‘disputed’ territory. When OP GIBRALTAR, with a mix of regular troops and razakars, was put into effect in J&K within Indian territory, or if you want to say ‘Indian held territory’—they did not consider it as ‘war’ against India. When India retaliated and crossed the IB (albeit with its regular Army only) in the Punjab/Rajasthan sector in retaliation(counter offensive in military parlance), Pakistan considered it as an act of aggression. It is simple –crossing of the accepted line, call it the IB or the LoC or the LC or the LAC or the AGPL ) will invite a sharp reaction by any Nation. Put it this way , if India were to launch an offensive to get back ‘Azad Kashmir’ or ‘Pak Occupied Kashmir’ tomorrow — who do you think will be the aggressor?

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