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Mainstream, VOL LIII , No 38, New Delhi, September 12, 2015

Shadow of 1965 War

Sunday 20 September 2015, by Kuldip Nayar

Democracies celebrate Magna Carta, not war victory. Such actions only encourage Bonapartism and, in no way, strengthen the people’s say. I was dismayed to see a full-page advertisement in newspapers to commemorate the victory in the 1965 war against Pakistan. The advertisement said:

“The Indo-Pak War of 1965, which began on 05 August and ended on 23 September, is one of the biggest tank battles since World War-II. Pakistan launched troops inside Kashmir under Operation Gibraltar in early August 1965.

“Further operations were stalled when the Indian Army captured the strategic Haji Pir Pass on 28 August, 1965. Pakistan then launched operation Grand Slam in Akhnoor sector, but India opened the Western front to counter the same. Pakistan’s 1 Armoured Division was badly mauled in the Battle of Asal Uttar with nearly 100 tanks destroyed. Other major battles were fought at Poonch, Phillora, Barki and Dograi.”

True, India had an upper hand but it was at best 55 per cent against 45 per cent. Lahore was the yardstick. We could not take it and had to bypass it. General J.N. Chaudhuri, who was the Chief of Army Staff at that time, told me subsequently in an interview that he had never planned to occupy Lahore. It would have unnecessarily pinned down a large number of troops and we would have suffered heavy casualties. Pakistan, he said, would have defended the city with all it resources and fought us in every house, every street.

This may well be a valid explanation. Yet, the general impression is that India failed to take Lahore. A small contingent which reached the Ravi Bridge, bypassing Lahore, was severely crushed. General Chaudhuri’s defence was that the march to the Ravi Bridge was neither authorised, nor did it figure in his scheme of things. This must be true. But the thinking of an average person is different. He believed that India lacked the strength to occupy Lahore.

General Chaudhuri said that their main purpose was to destroy Pakistan’s armour, particularly the Patton tank which America had given them. The Ichhogil Canal in the area came in handy. Indian troops breached it to let the water spread. The tanks got stuck in the water.

The question which remains unanswered is: Who was responsible for the 1965 war? General Mohammad Ayub Khan, who was then Pakistan’s Marshal Law Administrator and Commander-in-Chief, told me that it was ‘Bhutto’s war’. Bhutto sent infiltrators into Kashmir, without taking him into confidence. In fact, General Ayub’s son, Gohar Ayub, apart from confirming about what his father had said, went public with a part of the information.

Gohar used to live in a palatial house in the suburbs of Islamabad. This was where he hosted a lunch for me. Mushahid Hussain, then the editor of Muslim, had arranged it. I remember the day distinctly because I heard about the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi at Gohar’s house. He spoke about her only for a while and that too cursorily. In fact, Gohar was keen to tell me something which was not complimentary to our armed forces. His story was that our armour had chinks. I was sure it had. But I was taken aback when he said that a copy of the topmost secret papers from India’s military headquarters would be “with us before they reached Nehru’s table”.

Those days you could walk through the South Block corridors from one end to the other in New Delhi. Security requirements had not yet blocked passage. Nor had gates been built within gates. How could a paper conceivably reach Pakistan intelligence agencies before a messenger covered a few yards to deliver it at Nehru’s office?

At that time Gohar did not give the example of an Indian brigadier parting with the 1965 war plan for a sum of Rs 20,000. However, he did remark that his father was “contemptuous of Indian officers selling their country for a few thousand rupees”. I did not join issue with him because it was the first time I was hearing of any such thing. But I told Gohar about a remark his father had made against the Kashmiris when I met him in Islamabad in 1972. I had gone there to interview Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who was briefly the President after Pakistan’s debacle at Dhaka. Ayub said Bhutto had assured him that the Kashmiris would rise in revolt once they knew the Pakistan Army was in their midst. Ayub referred to the infiltrators as ’Bhutto’s mujahideen’. According to Ayub, he told Bhutto that if he knew anything about Kashmiris, they would never raise the gun.

Gohar was wrong in saying that the reports on Kashmir reaching his father were ’doctored’. His father had himself told me that Bhutto never took him into confidence on the scale of infiltration. (Ironically, that’s exactly what Nawaz Sharif, in exile at Jeddah, told me about Pakistan’s misadventure at Kargil.) Pakistan’s attack in 1965 began with hundreds of infiltrators—mujahids (liberators), as Bhutto, then Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, hailed them—stealing into Kashmir.

The report of the intrusion first appeared in the Indian press on August 9, 1965, along with Ayub’s assurance to Kewal Singh, while accepting his credentials as India’s High Commissioner at Rawalpindi, that Pakistan would reciprocate every move from India for better cooperation. He argued that infiltration into Kashmir was not the same thing as infiltration into India. The ’uprising’ that Pakistan expected to foment failed because local Kashmiris did not help the infiltrators. And when I interviewed Bhutto, he did not deny Ayub’s allegation that the 1965 war was his doing. However, he said that he has “learnt a lesson and would not repeat it”.

If at all New Delhi was keen to talk about the 1965 war victory, however limited, it should have dwelt more into the benefits of being a democratic state instead of violence and weapons. India’s advantage is that sovereignty remains with the people. In Pakistan, the interest of the armed forces comes first. New Delhi cannot export democracy, but it should help Pakistan get back the rule where the people have the final say.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com