Understanding Pakistan Project Team September 6th, 2007
Guest Post* by: MAK Lodhi (published in The News International, Sept 7, 2007)
The Indian army launched a three-pronged attack across a 50-mile wide front towards Lahore at 0530 hours on September 6, 1965. The Indian XI Corps, comprising the 7th and 15th Infantry Divisions and the 4th Mountain Division mounted the attack. Within a couple of days, the Indian army launched a full-scale attack with its 1st Corps directed towards Sialkot, in between Lahore and Kashmir.
The war, fought for only seventeen days, is often drummed up as a great victory compared with the debacle of 1971 when the country split into two, more because of internal factors, which are often ignored, than external factors.
Even for the 1965 war, the blame is laid entirely on India as the aggressor and the nation is not allowed to have a realistic appraisal of the missteps and blunders that led India to attack. Nor has Pakistan’s establishment ever accepted that armed forces were totally unprepared for such an eventuality.
Was there any exigency plan ready to be implemented? Were the forces alert enough to face a counter-offensive before launching two adventures, one after the other, in the occupied Jammu and Kashmir prior to Indian invasion of Pakistan?
It is time the up-and-coming generations were apprised of true and bitter realities, of myopic vision of Pakistani leaders, of lack of planning and strategic fiascos.
From the 1965 war to Kargil in the spring of 1999, the military establishment seemed to have learned no lesson. “Pakistan’s behaviour is so unlike that of other vanquished powers that it belies Michael Howard’s dictum that ‘the vanquished are likely to learn more from their defeat than the victors from their victory”, writes Ahmad Faruqui in “Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan.”
Prior to the Indian attack, General Mohammad Musa Khan who was commanding the Pakistan army then, created a force of seven thousand tribesmen. They were imparted a mere six-week training in guerrilla warfare and on 8th August 1965 (writers differ on the timing of the event) sent into Indian-administered Kashmir in order to incite a people’s uprising and installing a provisional revolutionary government. Ironically, it was called Gibraltar Force. Were the people in Kashmir ready to play an active role for their liberation?
There were no signs, no reports and no working was done. Earlier, according to Altaf Gauhar, Pakistan’s then foreign minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto chaired a cabinet meeting in late July 1965, informing the officials in attendance that a ‘popular revolt’ had broken out in Kashmir and that the situation in the Vale was desperate. It was all based on surmises, though, this much was true that Sheikh Abdullah had been re-arrested in May, 1965 and Indian forces were deployed in occupied Kashmir, taking stern action against some separatist activists.
According to American academic Lawrence Ziring, the plan “fizzled out when four Pakistani soldiers were captured and, upon interrogation, revealed the purpose and the plan of the attack. The failure exposed ISI activities whose agents were ordered to break contact and retreat.”
The then Indian prime minister responded to Pakistan’s activities. He warned Ayub Khan that India was reluctant to fight Pakistan, but that if war came, it would be at a time and in a place determined by India. But the warning fell on deaf Pakistani ears. Not only that, Indian forces had moved in, neutralised the effects and been alerted. Despite being checkmated, Pakistan made a more risky move that even lacked the element of surprise.
It launched Operation Grand Slam on August 30, 1965. As could be obvious even to an ordinary soldier, it met stiff Indian resistance and three days later it virtually collapsed. It was a major offensive. Led by Major-General Akhtar Hussain Malik, it comprised of an armoured force of 90 Patton tanks thrusting into the Chamb salient towards Akhnur, threatening India’s main supply route into the valley of Jammu and Kashmir. For some inexplicable reasons, General Malik was replaced by Major-General Yahya Khan, the same Yahya Khan, who was later to preside over the break-up of Pakistan. Initially, Pakistan gained tactical advantage but it lost it when the commander was changed.
What Pakistani generals and the leadership, being in the hands of a military man, were up to is not known till this day. Even if Operation Grand Slam had been successful in cutting off India from Jammu and Kashmir, how was it expected that it would not launch a counter-offensive, which it did. It was named Operation Riddle, an all-out attack on Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city and nerve centre.
It is very important to learn retrospectively what happened on the morning of September 6, 1965. As Indian forces attacked, Pakistan’s borders were lying empty. There were only a few hundred Rangers, the irregular force that had been traditionally posted at borders. The distance from Wagah border to the Lahore railway station was only 17 kilometres and this was something that the Indians could cover in just half an hour. Within minutes, the Rangers were eliminated. Men in border villages were lined up facing India and were shot from behind. The Indian forces were asking them, at gun-point, about the location of the Pakistani troops. The fact is that there were no troops so the poor villagers couldn’t tell the Indians anything to save their lives. Some of the men working in the fields at dawn saw the happenings and were able to escape only to relate this story.
The writer, a student of Class VII at that time, escaped with his father and others villagers from the outskirts of village Narwar, situated just at the edge of Wagah border on that fateful morning. As they tried to move away from the Indians by crawling in the fields and moving through grown crops, they saw Indian tanks moving up and down the tracks, searching for Pakistani troops.
The Indian forces had a plan according to which they thought they would be able to have lunch in Gymkhana which was then situated inside the premises of Lawrence Gardens. But the Indians kept searching for the Pakistani soldiers, who they thought must have been deployed at the border. According to the Indian plan, Pakistani soldiers deputed to safeguard its international borders, had to be defeated. But they were not there, not even a single regular soldier of Pakistan army except the Rangers. Time was of the essence and India lost the initiative. The first Pakistani formations started gathering on the western fringe of the BRB canal five miles inside Pakistan as late as 10 am. Bridges on the canal, perceived as the first defence line, were then blown up to limit the Indian advance. Lahore was saved, and thus was Pakistan, miraculously.
Whatever sacrifices the people of Pakistan and its armed forces laid, later, is another story told many times. Who were responsible for such blunders? The Indian war, imposed on the people of Pakistan because of the failure of the rulers, changed the psyche of people of Pakistan forever. India remained awake and played an eventful role to break up Pakistan only a few years later.
The irony of fate is that rulers in Pakistan didn’t learn despite meeting such fiascos. Its forces continued its gung ho zeal and again caught Indians having a catnap at Kargil. Just for another petty tactical advantage, it attacked and changed the course of history in Pakistan. Where would it end, no one knows. But people do have lurking fears.
[Guest Posts are pieces published elsewhere that are reproduced on the Understanding Pakistan website for the purpose of supporting and providing another perspective on an ongoing debate.]