Launching the unmitigated disaster that was “Operation Gibraltar” in 1965 it was criminal negligence not to anticipate a far wider Indian response than the conflict being only being restricted to Kashmir. Even though after Rann of Kutch in May, formations like 7 Div, etc. had moved out of their peacetime locations, our military hierarchy were lulled into believing that only a “limited” war across the Ceasefire Line (CFL) would take place, they failed to prepare for an all-out war.
Once “Operation Grand Slam” was set in motion to relieve Indian reaction in strength in Kashmir, full scale retaliation across the international border should have been a foregone conclusion. Under command of GOC 12 Div, units of 7 Div crossed the River Tawi and captured Chamb and Jaurian before 5 Sept. The planned change of command from 12 Div to GOC 7 Div once across the Tawi had been decided earlier, unfortunately an inexplicable delay allowed the Indians time to reinforce their positions defending the vital bridge at Akhnoor.
Fifty years on it still is a surprise how on Sept. 6, 1965 the Indians almost managed total surprise in their all-out ground offensive aimed at capturing Lahore and by-passing Sialkot cutting the GT Road astride Gujranwala. The planning was brilliant, however the Indians underestimated the fierce resistance by the rank and file of the Pakistan Army. On the contrary despite facing overwhelming numbers, within days local counter-attacks delivered with great élan and spirit forced the Indians to retreat in a number of many places. 6 Sep changed the dynamics of the war, units and formations were re-located haphazardly by GHQ to meet the developing threat.
Sialkot witnessed the largest tank battle since World War II. An Indian Armoured Division, reinforced with an additional armoured brigade, failed to break through our thinly defended lines astride Chawinda. Our 1 Armoured Division’s thrust across the BRB in the Khem Karan sector at Nathuwala siphon near Kasur came to grief when one of the tanks slipped and the bridge built by our combat engineers was damaged. With our armour outrunning our logistics, bereft of ammunition, fuel and reinforcements they could not maintain the momentum. We were successful capturing large swaths of territory in the Chor desert, this mostly due to the aggressive initiative of some gallant infantry units.
The ferocity and professionalism with which a vastly outnumbered PAF pressed home their attacks on Indian airfields with great effectiveness was truly amazing, individual bravery seen at its best. Within 48 hours the PAF was dominating the skies. The small Pakistan Navy also went into the offensive, striking at Dwarka in a bold and brilliant raid, over the 17 days they sank a number of Indian naval vessels.
Why the Indians did not opt to invade our eastern wing in strength in 1965 defies belief. Comprising only four infantry brigades in East Pakistan, some moron had thought up “the defence of the east lies in the west”, 14 Division was left isolated to fend for itself. Indian air attacks ceased after our lone but gallant Airforce squadron based at Dacca went into action. Perfunctory artillery exchanges and small patrol actions continued till well after the Ceasefire till the Tashkent Declaration in early Jan 1966.
It is said that “Allah” and the three A’s, “Airforce, Artillery and Armour”, saved Pakistan in 1965. It was also the tenacity and courage of young officers (YOs) and other ranks in the infantry that held off concerted Indian attacks along the line. Had it not been for the poor bloody infantryman (PBI) the Indians would have broken through in many places. Not having geographical depth, a breakthrough at only one place would have meant a real setback for Pakistan. 50 years later we have the tactical nuclear weapons to offset the overwhelming numerical and material superiorly of the Indian Armed Forces.
Our poor generalship was offset by the failure of Indian YOs and other ranks to implement a good plan. As the war went on the Indian generals panicked despite our indulging in ad-hoc arrangements, which unfortunately still persists today, resulting in organised confusion. To cope with crisis in the Lahore and Sialkot sectors units were rushed up and down the GT Road. Circumstances kept many of these “GT Road warriors” from taking actual part in battle for no fault of theirs. Unfortunately those who have never seen combat sometimes develop a complex and tend to regale the ladies with their “wartime exploits”.
One cannot claim being a direct witness to 1965, I spent the 17 days of the 1965 in the confines of the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA). While 32nd and 33rd PMA Long Courses graduated with a full ceremonial PMA parade at Kakul with PAF air cover on 11 Sep. Trucked out immediately to join their units fighting in the field, cadets of 34th, 35th and 36th PMA stood by the roadside cheering the YOs going into battle, weeping at the same time for being kept from joining them. Among those who graduated, dozens embraced “Shahadat” in the 12 days leading to the Ceasefire on Sep 23.
Narandra Modi has played an exemplary role unifying Pakistan. Hellbent on adventurism the Indians seem to be conditioning their public to a possible war. Given their proliferating domestic problems, this may come sooner than later. One cannot forget PM Shastri in mid-August 1965 had openly threatened us with a war “at a time and place of their choosing,” we failed to read his intentions. Indian COAS Gen Dalbir Singh has promised Pakistan a “short, limited” war. Unlike in 1965 we must take the Indians seriously and be prepared this time. Nobody wants war but if a madman is determined to inflict it on us then they must understand the ultimate sacrifice we are willing to pay but the level of pain we will inflict with both conventional and non-conventional means. Are the Indians prepared to lose the economic gains they have made to satisfy the ego and basic prejudices of a religiously-inspired political bigot?
Public response can be orchestrated but for emotional highs there has to be substance and spontaneity. With our Armed Forces successfully fighting the religious and political militants, and now turning to accountability across the board, the spirit of 1965 has been invoked in our masses not seen for five decades. Independence Day on Aug 14, 2015 was exhilarating for the soul. By consistent sacrifice over the past few years and by letting their guns do the talking for them, the khakis have revived the spirit of 1965 of 50 years ago.
The writer is a leading defense and political analyst of Pakistan. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org