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Editor-in-chief view on INDIA PAK WAR 1965 (August Issue)

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The fighting that began in April 1965 culminated at the end of September 1965. That is a really long-time to keep at it and yet not produce a result. Which is broadly what happened in the 1965 War between India and Pakistan. There are narratives and counter-narratives of what is the only really indecisive conflict between two neighbours constantly at it. All of the other wars, 1947-48, 1971 and even the localised 1999 Kargil conflict, produced results. But this one was a strange one, because having ended in the manner in which it did and yet a result is claimed by both. When both claim victory it is fair to say neither won.

The war began in the salt flats of the Rann of Kutch in April and ended in the shadows of the snowy peaks of Kashmir at the end of September. This is not to say that it was an endless contest of lead all along. The Pakistan Army initiated forays into the Rann of Kutch, to check Indian resolve and preparation. They found both wanting in Kutch and thought Kashmir was available for plucking. So they did what they did in 1947 and sent infiltrators in the garb of civilians to stir the hive, hoping to collect the honey when it would drop into their lap.

As in 1947 the infiltrators were soldiers in the guise of civilians, except that they didn’t plunder and rape as they had done earlier. They were inducted to incite the local population that was ‘reeling under the brutalities of Indian rule’, as the Pakistani narrative has all to believe. The assumption that the locals would now welcome them as saviours, rise in revolt against India and Kashmir would become a part of Pakistan. This simplistic plot was code-named ‘Operation Gibraltar’, borrowing from a romanticised episode from the mythical period of Islamic history.

Once the people of Kashmir revolted ‘Operation Gibraltar’ was to be converted into ‘Operation Grand Slam’. Except that Kashmir shepherds informed Indian authorities well in advance that there were infiltrators, which gave India time to respond. Which it did by sending 1 Para to capture Hajipir Pass on a rainy August night, thus cutting a critical Pakistani link. Pakistan had to prepone ‘Operation Grand Slam’, by which time the Indian Army was well advanced in its campaign. So much so that 3 Jat under Lt Col Desmond Hyde crossed Ichhogil Canal on the outskirts of Lahore on 3 September with negligible losses.

This was not the case elsewhere, for the main aim of ‘Operation Grand Slam’ was to cut Akhnoor from India and all communication lines thereafter. The losses in this sector were heavy and were to remain so through the war. Since Pakistan began the war in Kashmir and India took it to Punjab, Pakistan took it further south to the deserts of Rajasthan and captured territory in Barmer district. Each country opening a front that suited it, to relieve pressure on the other fronts. And that is where the narrative of the war gets muddled, for each has a version at variance with the other. The initiator became the defender and the defender became the attacker, so on and so forth.

Pakistan celebrates 6 September as the Defence Day. This is in recognition of the success in thwarting Indian gains into Lahore. Lt Col Desmond Hyde, who had almost crossed into Lahore, was left perplexed when asked to withdraw from his position of strength. And that is really where the lessons of 1965 War begin. This stalemated war is an episode rife with incidents of immense unit level leadership and bravery, juxtaposed with an astonishing shortfall in generalship. The opportunities that commanders of 1 Para and 3 Jat and others like them, provided to the higher military leadership were squandered by timidness, at times, misinformation, sometimes and downright absence of foresight, many many times.

There is no antidote to that other than greater professionalism. Having been bested in 1962 by China and brought Pakistan’s ambitions to a halt in 1965, India was well prepared to instil greater professionalism into its armed forces by the time 1971 came. The result of that war is plain to all. Which is the greatest lesson to learn of all, that there are no shortcuts to professionalism. What of Pakistan? The one pointer is that it has tried the same formula three times, 1947, 1965 and 1999. None of its objectives were met, yet narratives persist. There is a lesson in that too.

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