Battlefields and history

Print edition : December 27, 2013

Ayub Khan with U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House in Washington on December 14, 1965. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Seized or damaged Pakistani Patton tanks near Khem Karan during the 1965 war. Photo: THE HINDU

Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and Pakistani President Ayub Khan met in Tashkent to sign a truce to end the 1965 war. Photo: The Hindu Archives

January 22, 1966: General J.N. Chaudhuri, Chief of the Army Staff, and General Mohammad Musa, Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army (third from left) discussing the withdrawal of armed personnel following the Tashkent Declaration, at the Army Headquarters in New Delhi. Among those who attended the meeting were Maj. General Sarfaraz Khan (extreme left) and Brigadier Gul Hasan (second from left) of the Pakistan Army, and Lt. Gen. P.P. Kumaramangalam, Vice Chief of the Army Staff. Photo: The Hindu Archives

Farooq Bajwa scores in analysing Pakistan’s rationale for the 1965 war, providing a lucid account of its course, and in linking it to the diplomatic exchanges right until the Tashkent conference in January 1966.

“History teaches us that conferences reflect in their decisions an established balance of forces resulting from victory or capitulation in war or similar circumstances."

--Khrushchev at Leipzig on March 7, 1959.

REGIONALLY, the war that Pakistan launched against India in 1965, in a foolish calculation, inflicted consequences on itself as far reaching as those unleashed by the First World War (1914-1919). It weakened the authority and diminished the stature of President M. Ayub Khan, whom The Economist had hailed as Asia’s de Gaulle; ended Pakistan’s military build-up with American help; strengthened the secessionist sentiment in East Pakistan; and weakened those in India, led by Jayaprakash Narayan, who demanded a settlement of the Kashmir dispute, if need be by holding a plebiscite.

Jawaharlal Nehru had set his face against a plebiscite in 1948 in private, if not earlier, deceptive promises in public notwithstanding. He publicly ruled out a plebiscite in 1954 after the United States announced its programme of military aid to Pakistan. The 1965 war buttressed India’s old resolve with greater plausibility—Pakistan could not demand at the conference table what it had failed to secure at its own chosen forum, the battlefield. Pakistan’s defeat was predictable and was, indeed, predicted by The Economist in a brilliant editorial written by Stephen Hugh-Jones, who had served as Assistant Editor of The Indian Express in Mumbai, where it was then headquartered, from 1961 to 1963. He also reported for The Manchester Guardian and The Economist, while in the city, and now contributes a column on the quirks of the English language to The Telegraph. I cherish the 50-year-old friendship, not least because he alerted Amnesty International while I was in prison and wrote a letter “C/o The Governor, Yeravada Jail, Poona” which, despite its sharp comments, was delivered uncensored to me.

There is overwhelming evidence that the war was conceived by Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his henchman, the boorish Foreign Secretary Aziz Ahmad. Ayub Khan overcame his initial reluctance and supported it. The plan was in two phases. In the first, guerillas were sent into Kashmir on August 5, 1965, as reported by General Nimmo, Chief of the United Nations Military Observers Group for India and Pakistan. Kashmiris did not rise in revolt against India to aid the infiltrators. It was known as Operation Gibraltar. Its failure drove Ayub Khan to send his army into Kashmir on September 1 in Operation Grand Slam.

On July 27, 1951, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan held up a clenched fist as the country’s “symbol”. Kashmir’s Constituent Assembly had been convened and he was afraid it might ratify the State’s accession to India. Nehru moved troops to the border and invited Liaquat Ali Khan to India for talks. He also made it plain that any attack on Kashmir would be treated as an attack on India to which it would respond accordingly. This declaration was repeated by his successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, in 1965 after the Kutch crisis, which was a trailer to Pakistan’s adventure in Kashmir.

Operation Grand Slam

Operation Grand Slam was aimed at India’s “jugular” vein—Akhnur. The target was personally selected by Ayub Khan, as his confidant and biographer, Altaf Gauhar, records ( Ayub Khan; Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore, 1993). If it was seized, Indian troops in the valley would have been choked. A secret Kashmir cell, miscalled the Kashmir Publicity Committee, comprising senior officials and headed by Aziz Ahmad, was set up in 1964. In the second week of February 1965, the plan was explained to the Intelligence Committee of the Cabinet. Ayub Khan asked angrily, “Who authorised the Foreign Office and the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] to draw up such a plan? It is not their job” (page 321). At Murree, on May 13, 1965, before the ceasefire in Kutch became effective, Ayub Khan examined the plan that had been prepared by General Akhtar Malik, General Officer Commanding of 12 Division, to launch the guerilla operations. The details were explained on a sand table.

“Toward the end Ayub put his finger on Akhnur, an important town of great strategic value, and asked, ‘But why don’t you go for the jugular?’ ‘That would require a lot more men and money,’ replied General Malik. After some discussion Ayub sanctioned additional funds and told the Commander-in-Chief to provide the necessary manpower. Thus was Akhnur introduced into the operation which was shown as a red flag in General Malik’s plan. The assault on Akhnur was later given the code name Grand Slam. The timing of Grand Slam was not discussed but everyone admired Ayub for giving the operation a real edge and a new dimension” (Gauhar; page 322).

Only the day before, on May 12, 1965, Foreign Minister Bhutto had addressed to President Ayub Khan a revealing letter, which bears quotation in extenso: “ India is at present in no position to risk a general war of unlimited duration for the annihilation of Pakistan…. Moreover, from what I have been able to gather from authoritative sources, there is for the present at least, the relative superiority of the military forces of Pakistan in terms of quality and equipment…. This does not mean that there cannot be a general war of limited duration … the morale of our nameless soldier on the front line is high. He has proved to be an effective exponent of our foreign policy. The powder out of his gun has succeeded in drawing attention and bringing forth appeals from all over the world. It has been demonstrated that a bold and courageous stand on our part does not only succeed in stemming the tide but it also helps to open up greater possibility for a negotiated settlement. The justice of our cause is not in doubt. The valour and morale of our people is equally well-established.… However, facts being what they are, the situation is becoming more and more difficult for us and the time must come when India will be in a position to successfully wage a short and swift action against Pakistan.… In issues of war and peace, the question of initiative assumes very great importance.… It is the nature and extent to which Pakistan reacts to the retaliatory action by India which will determine the future course of events. The initiative would move to India only in case Pakistan should decide to rationalise India’s retaliatory measure as a fair retribution for Biar Bet [in Kutch] and to leave it at that. India would then use Pakistan’s acquiescence as a springboard for precipitating a war.… In the ultimate analysis, two alternatives face us: (i) to react now boldly and courageously in self-defence, in the event of Indian retaliation, or (ii) to allow the initiative to move irrevocably to India, who would then proceed to launch her final attack for the liquidation of Pakistan subsequently at a place and time of her own choosing.

“When we consider that India’s capacity increases with the passage of every single day, the second alternative diminishes in meaning and leaves us with the painful and poignant choice to react now if India chooses to retaliate. This is our hour of decision and may God guide us on the right path” (White Paper on the Jammu & Kashmir Dispute; Government of Pakistan; 1977; pages 82-84).

The White Paper ends the long quote with this lie: “This assessment had gone unheeded.” Quite the contrary. On the very next day, at Murree, Ayub Khan adopted the plan. The White Paper was credibly reported to have been the work of Bhutto’s Special Assistant, Yusuf Buch. Its language and contents reek of partisan polemics to which no official would stoop. Its aim was to denounce Ayub Khan and it was published to bolster Bhutto’s prospects in the 1977 general elections. What option did India have in the face of the march towards its jugular, Akhnur, but to carry out its oft-repeated resolve, in such a case, to attack Pakistan in order to relieve the pressure in Jammu. This is just what India did on September 6. It marched towards Lahore.

Yet, in the last nearly half a century, September 6 is observed as Defence Day in Pakistan. In Indian mythology, Pakistan attacked India on December 3, 1971, though Indian armour had entered East Pakistan on November 22, its Mukti Bahini apart. Indira Gandhi had decided to go to war in April 1971. India marched into Junagadh well before the tribal raid into Kashmir on October 22, 1947, an operation approved by its leader, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, which Pakistan denies. The India-Pakistan mythology war betrays sheer immaturity on both sides. Let alone journalists, even academics accept those myths.

Mature study

Farooq Bajwa’s book on the 1965 war is a mature study based on original research into hitherto unpublished material. A few factual errors and unreal hypothesis notwithstanding, he eschews partisanship and strives to be fair. The reader is taken all the way through the dense thicket, by each chapter on Operation Gibraltar, Operation Grand Slam and Operation Riddle—whose plans were finalised by the brilliant Lt.-Gen. Harbaksh Singh, GOC, Western Command. It envisaged a three-pronged attack on Lahore —Pakistan’s immediate riposte, Operation Mailed Fist at Khem Karan; Operation Nepal—India’s march into Sialkot; and Pakistan’s Operation Wind-Up of September 20 designed to carry out an assault on numerous Indian positions.

On the military aspect of the war, Lt.-Gen. Mahmud Ahmed’s magisterial book History of Indo-Pak War (Services Book Club, 2006) merits close study since he was given almost unfettered access to military papers in writing the book.

Where Farooq Bajwa scores is in analysing Pakistan’s rationale for the war, providing a fair and lucid account of its course, and, above all, in linking it to the diplomatic exchanges which were being simultaneously conducted right until the Tashkent conference in January 1966, including Ayub Khan’s secret trip to meet China’s leaders during the war. They advised him against accepting a ceasefire and prodded him to launch a guerilla war against India.

The war made the West wash its hands of a plebiscite in Kashmir. The so-called “U.N. Resolutions”, which Kashmiri demagogues scream about, had died in 1964 and were buried by the Security Council’s Resolution 211 of September 20, 1965. All it decided was “to consider”, after the ceasefire had been established, “what steps could be taken to assist towards a settlement of the political problem underlying the present conflict”. The Secretary-General was asked to assist the parties “to seek a peaceful solution”. This was overtaken by the Tashkent Declaration on January 10, 1966. The 1998 resolution by the Security Council after the nuclear explosions buried the old resolution even deeper.

In December 1965, Ayub Khan went to the U.S. to meet President Lyndon Johnson. He was asked to “realise that we cannot force India out of Kashmir. Nor can the Paks. To be brutally frank, we think that only out of a process of reconciliation with India is any compromise likely to emerge.” The most that Johnson could offer Ayub was that “although the U.S. could not help Pakistan in Kashmir, it could do something which no other state could: that is, ‘help assure Pakistan’s future viability and security—which we see as its ultimate insurance against any Indian threat’. Before that was to happen, Ayub had to reassure the U.S. that he would not … waste money on the arms race, … let anti-U.S. public abuse continue.”

On December 14, 1965, Ayub Khan himself told U.S. Under-Secretary of State George Ball that Pakistan was not “ irrevocably attached to the plebiscite”. He told his Ministers on December 31, 1965, shortly before his departure for Tashkent, “I know of people [read: Bhutto] who want to risk Pakistan for the sake of Kashmir.”

Grim realities

The author fairly records the grim realities which faced the man. “Ayub had been left in no doubt after the visit to London and Washington in December 1965 that the West had washed its collective hands of Kashmir and the only option available to Ayub was to refuse the invitation to Tashkent or to walk away from there without an agreement, which would have resulted in diplomatic isolation, no military support from the U.S. and tacit U.S. encouragement of Soviet support for India.…

“Faced with a military stalemate in which Pakistani tanks and aircraft had no spare parts and ammunition supplies were running low, Ayub was reminded many times after the ceasefire that he could not achieve on the diplomatic field what the arms had failed to achieve on the battlefield. India held territory in Sialkot and near Lahore while Pakistan had few reserves and only a small portion of land on Indian territory at Khem Karan and some land in Chamb since Grand Slam. In order to continue to fight with India in 1965, the Pakistan Army would have had to transform itself into a Chinese-style ‘red army’, a concept which the predominantly Sandhurst or U.S.-trained Pakistani senior military officers were simply not able or willing to contemplate. Tashkent was therefore the natural acceptance of the inevitable result of a war which had begun on a wing and a prayer” and massive propaganda. That genius Noorjehan’s patriotic songs won her undying fame. The propaganda hid the realities from the people. Tashkent came as a rude shock.

The prime instigator of the war, Bhutto, exploited it to undermine his benefactor and emerge as a popular hero on the debris of a defeat for which he himself was responsible. This was not the only occasion in which he acted thus. In March 1971, he sabotaged Yahya Khan’s talks with Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and broke up his country. In December 1971, he sabotaged the Polish Resolution in the Security Council, which would have averted the humiliation of the public surrender at Dhaka as well as the Simla Conference, though he played his cards well there. Having come to power on the wreck, for which he was mainly responsible, he began a policy of repression, invited a subdued army to help him against the opposition, thus reviving its élan, rigged the elections in 1977 and paved the way for the worst military dictator Pakistan has suffered, the despicable Zia-ul-Haq. Bhutto’s party loves him still. Such is the power of myths.

Once the war ended, myths spawned in plenty in both countries. The Indian Army’s performance left a lot to be desired. There were careless mistakes and some brilliant performances on both sides. There was, however, one decision which Ayub Khan personally took because of which he was and has since been blamed for the defeat. Bajwa holds: “It was a decision that, without exaggeration, may well have decided the course of the war. There is no doubt that this was a fundamentally flawed military decision, and so it can only be explained by some political motivation.… Such a momentous decision could simply not have been made by [General Mohammed] Musa on his own initiative; he was as always the messenger for Ayub, and whatever the later denials and silences, there is no doubt that the decision was made by Ayub and executed by Musa.”

By first light on September 2, Chamb had been taken and Akhnur was within Pakistan’s reach. In the early afternoon that day, General Mohammed Musa, C-in-C, flew to 7 Division HQ under the command of Major-General Yahya Khan. General Akhtar Malik, GoC of 12 Division, who had prepared and led Operation Gibraltar, was summoned. According to Altaf Gauhar, Ayub Khan had decided “to cut the losses and wind up the operation”. If so, the easiest thing for him to do was to ask Lal Bahadur Shastri directly or through the U.S. for a ceasefire followed by talks rather than give the task to Yahya Khan, who was admittedly “hitting the bottle because he had been given a marginal role in Gibraltar”. Musa asked this very man “to assume control of Operation Grand Slam with immediate effect” in Malik’s presence (1 p.m., September 2). Gauhar’s version that before the operation was given “a decent burial” India attacked on September 6 is implausible. It has been torn to pieces by more objective and knowledgeable writers. General Malik was flown back to GHQ Rawalpindi and then sent to Murree, the HQ of 12 Division.

Bajwa cites the evidence. Gen. Malik did not speak. But his son gave his version to Gen. Ahmed with permission to publish it. This poignant letter of November 22, 1967, figures as Appendix 18 in General Ahmed’s authoritative book (see box). Bajwa agrees that Ayub sought “to avoid all-out war with India”. After the change of command, there was a decline in the tempo. Yahya was “told” not to take Akhnur.

Sense dawned belatedly on Ayub Khan. In 1947 the tribesmen, led by Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Akbar Khan, were just a few miles from Srinagar at the fourth milestone. They faced a roadblock there. He wrote: “A single armoured car might be able to break through it. That seemed to be the answer. I thought a couple of armoured cars could make sure of the job—and they could reach here from Pakistan within twenty-four hours. The thing to do, therefore, was to rush back and get the armoured cars.…

“It could be argued that it would precipitate a general war between India and Pakistan. I did not think it would. Neither side could afford it. In Kashmir, we were irrevocably committed, but neither side could wish to enlarge the conflict. The governments of the two dominions, barely three months old, were not yet fully settled in their saddles—the old army was not yet fully divided—a neutral boundary force, under a British General, was still in existence—and there was a common British Supreme Commander who still carried some weight. …

“…On return to Pindi, I was immediately able to find Colonel Masud, who volunteered to take not two but a whole squadron of his unit armoured cars. His men, he said, would go in plain clothes without official permission and at their own risk. This was indeed a thrilling response to the needs of the occasion, and all seemed well. While they were getting ready I held a consultation with Brigadier Sher Khan, Lt. Colonel Arbab and Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan, the last being a Central government Minister at Pindi. Brigadier Sher Khan and Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan stoutly opposed the idea. This, they thought, would certainly bring about war; the government would never forgive it; in any case its chances of success were very little, and I was to remember that the front was not under my command. So the proposal was abandoned.

“Thus armoured cars did not go to the assistance of tribesmen and the tribesmen were not destined to find some other way of entering Srinagar.” (Akbar Khan, Raiders in Kashmir; Pak Publishing, Karachi; 1970; pages 43-45.) Pakistan had lost the 1947 war.

In 1947, Nehru was resolved to attack Pakistan if Uri fell. There has been a similar calculus of politics and war at work in Kashmir since 1989. There is a limit beyond which Pakistan will not intervene militarily, nor India acquiesce in it. An astute Pakistani diplomat told this writer: “We know India will never give up Kashmir; and we have no desire to go to war over it.” That was over 20 years ago.

Militancy has declined steeply in Kashmir. But there has been no decline in the people’s antipathy towards India. However, India cannot relinquish the State to Pakistan, which has repeatedly sought to grab it by military force. Independence is just not a viable proposition either. The demagogues in Kashmir who chant “U.N. resolutions, U.N. resolutions” or imagine that India will quit are either dishonest or foolish. That said, Pakistan’s locus standi in the dispute cannot be denied, though it cannot—indeed does not—ask for enforcing the U.N. resolutions. Not one member of the Security Council does. Alternatives must be explored. Now even the unionists have begun clamouring for a settlement of the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan.

Therein lies hope. “The All or Nothing” approach helps some to enrich themselves politically by promoting claims to “sole” leadership, fuelling a contest in irresponsible demagogy. The downtrodden people cry for relief from repression, which only a settlement with Pakistan will provide. It can be based realistically on the Four-Point formula—self rule; demilitarisation; de facto unity of Jammu and Kashmir; and a joint mechanism between the two parts of the State. Kashmir does not secede from India. The LoC does not become an international border either. This is not a “final” settlement but an ad hoc interim arrangement for 10 or 15 years to provide relief. In 2007, the deal was just a signature away when Musharraf came into trouble at home.

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