Pakistan News

A wrong war

A wrong war

IN marked contrast to the pomp and show eulogising the fable of the 1965 war victory, the speech of the army chief at the GHQ ceremony was sombre. There was no jingoism or war rhetoric; just firm resolve. It was more about the internal and external security challenges that confront the country at present than a show of grandiloquence and bluster.

Indeed, the nation is indebted to the brave soldiers who laid down their lives to defend the motherland against a much bigger adversary. For this reason we mark Sept 6 as Defence Day every year to pay homage to those brave souls. But there have never been such celebrations of ‘victory’ as was witnessed on the 50th anniversary of the war. Day in and day out TV channels aired a grand military spectacle and display of modern weapons. It was in response to India’s own victory celebrations, we are told.

For sure, all that helps raise nationalist sentiments and boosts public confidence in our military preparedness. What it also does, however, is gloss over the blunders that brought us to the brink of a military debacle in a war which we had initiated. The real story of the 1965 war has largely been missing in the media discourse that only highlighted the false victory version.

While remembering the sacrifices and gallantry of our security forces, it is also important to let go of the myth of a victory that never was. The limited success our forces achieved in certain sectors must not be used to cover up the miscalculations and flawed military strategy.

We have never recovered from the effects of that military misadventure. It may have been driven by India’s intransigence on Kashmir, but Pakistan has never been the same again after that futile war. What happened in 1971 is also to some extent linked to the events that followed the 1965 war.

In fact, the war was started when we launched Operation Gibraltar in early July 1965, infiltrating thousands of Pakistani soldiers into India-occupied Kashmir under the assumption that Kashmiris would rise in revolt against the Indian forces. That never happened and within weeks the entire operation had collapsed. Meanwhile, the Indian forces launched a counteroffensive occupying parts of Azad Kashmir.

Subsequently on Aug 30, we launched Operation Grand Slam that was meant to capture the strategic town of Akhnur and to cut off held Kashmir from India. But it was too late. Another disaster happened when halfway through Grand Slam, the command was changed giving more time to the Indians to recoup and gather reinforcements. As a result this operation too ended in a fiasco.

Altaf Gauhar, a former information secretary and arguably the most powerful bureaucrat in the Ayub regime, was a witness to the events. His book on Ayub Khan provides perhaps the most authentic detail of the war planning. The disarray in the military command was well-illustrated by his words: “Ayub Khan did not know, even on Aug 29, nine days before the war started, that Gibraltar had failed and that none of its objectives had been achieved, and that the enemy forces were in commanding positions with Muzaffarabad within their reach.”

Even Ayub Khan, who was also the supreme commander, was kept in the dark about the real situation on the ground. While Operation Gibraltar had completely collapsed, Gen Mohammad Musa, the then army chief, was telling him that everything was on course, some setbacks notwithstanding.

The entire operation was planned on the miscalculation that Indian forces would not launch an attack across the international border. Except for a small coterie of top generals, very few in the armed forces knew about Operation Gibraltar. The foreign ministry under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto that was a critical part of the entire operational plan had assured Ayub Khan that India could not afford to expand the war.

According to Altaf Gauhar, Mian Arshad Hussain, the Pakistani high commissioner in Delhi, sent an urgent cipher message to the Foreign Office on Sept 4 that Indian forces would launch the attack on Sept 6. The cable was never communicated to the president or the army chief as the foreign ministry suppressed the message thinking that the high commissioner had “unnecessarily panicked”.

So the persons most surprised were the president and the army chief when the Indians launched the attack on Sept 6. Ayub was woken up at four in the morning and given the news of Indian advances towards Lahore by an officer of the air force on reconnaissance duty. Ayub telephoned Gen Musa who said he had also heard the news but was waiting for confirmation!

Gen Gul Hasan, who was the then director general military operations, confirmed that the first report of the Indian aggression on the Lahore front came from a PAF pilot. “They were not located in Indian territory but on our land”, the general wrote in his memoirs. Lahore was saved by the gallantry of our soldiers and the air force which stopped the Indian offensive.

Ironically the air force that played the most critical role in defending the country was kept out of the joint planning of operations Gibraltar and Grand Slam; they were not considered “sufficiently security minded”. There was hardly any coordination among the forces even when the Indian offensive had started.

No wonder within a few days into the war Ayub Khan was discussing the possibility of a ceasefire as the war he had initiated had lost its way. Supplies of ammunition had dried up and shortage of spare parts drastically reduced the capability of the air force.

Air Marshal Nur Khan, who led the air force, achieving complete superiority over the Indian air force, called it a wrong war that was planned “for self-glory rather than in the national interest”. History has to be put straight so that the mistakes are not repeated.

The writer is an author and journalist.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2015

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