Intro : A study of the 1965 War between Bharat and Pakistan makes for interesting reading, but more importantly, even fifty years later, holds important lessons for the country.
To keep the Kashmir issue alive in the international arena, President Ayub Khan of Pakistan constituted the Kashmir Publicity Committee in 1964. It was this committee that first mooted the proposal to President Khan, to send Pakistani Army personnel, disguised as infiltrators into J&K, to create an uprising in the state, which would then be followed up by a quick offensive by the Pakistani army to capture the strategic township of Akhnur. President Khan and his army chief, General Musa, initially demurred, as they felt that such a move could lead to a full scale war with Bharat. However, In April 1965, Ayub Khan gave the go ahead for these operations despite his army chief still having reservations on the subject. Consequently, in August 1965, about 8000 to 10,000 infiltrators crossed over into J&K to create a mass uprising in the state in an operation codenamed Gibraltar.
Though the Bharatiya Army was initially taken by surprise, it reacted swiftly and with firmness and by the end of the month, most of the infiltrators were either killed or captured. The few that remained, were thoroughly demoralised and by mid-September had exfiltrated back to Pakistan. The operations conducted by 19 Infantry Division also resulted in the capture of the strategic Hajipir Pass on August 28, 1965, which gave Bharat a direct link between Poonch and Uri. The capture of the Hajipir Pass also cut off the major ingress routes into J&K. While Gibraltar had been defeated, Pakistan continued with the second part of its plan, which envisaged the capture of Akhnur in an operation codenamed ‘Grand Slam’.
On September 1, 1965, Pakistan carried out a surprise attack on Chhamb. At this time, the defences in Chhamb were held by 191 Infantry Brigade. The brigade had four battalions, two of which were deployed in the Kalidhar ranges, one on the ceasefire line (CFL) in the plains sector and the fourth battalion around the Mandiala heights near Chhamb. Beyond Chhamb, upto Akhnur, there were no forces available to guard positions in depth. For this operation, Pakistan used two armoured regiments to spearheaded an attack launched by an infantry division and supported by the fire of over a 100 artillery guns.
Despite the overwhelming superiority of the Pakistani forces, which outnumbered the Bharatiyas by more than six times, the defenders put up a staunch resistance. Though the lone battalion holding defences along the CFL was overrun, the depth defence held out and the Pakistanis could not cross the Munawar Wali Tawi that day. That night, Bharatn forces withdrew in good order to take up defences in Akhnur. On September 2, Pakistan occupied Chhamb as the Bharatn forces had withdrawn the previous night. Here, they made the strategic blunder of waiting for two days before resuming the offensive. By that time, Bharatiya troops had taken up defences in Jaurian and also in the Fatwal ridge, which prevented the enemy from capturing Akhnur.
To relieve pressure on Akhnur, Bharat launched operations against Pakistan across the International Border (IB) on September 6. This forced the Pakistanis to pull back their forces in the Akhnur sector as Bharatn offensives threatened the Pakistani townships of Lahore and Sialkot.
Bharatiya offensive operations in the Lahore sector were carried out by XI Corps, on three axes, to threaten Lahore. These operations were launched on September 6 with mixed results. In the Khem Karan Sector, the attacks launched by 4 Infantry Division were beaten back by the Pakistanis, with heavy losses to own troops. On September 8, Pakistan launched a counter attack with its 1 Armoured Division, with the avowed aim of capturing Amritsar and Delhi. In a heroic defence put up by the troops of 4 Bharatn Division, from 8 to 10 September 1965, in the fields astride the villages of Asal Uttar and Chima, more than a 100 Pakistani tanks were destroyed. This was a serious body blow to Pakistan which now had no capability left to carry out offensive operations. This was the place where CQMH Abdul Hamid was awarded the Param Vir Chakra for gallantry in operations, for single handedly destroying a large number of enemy Patton tanks, before he himself was killed by enemy tank fire.
The Bharatiya offensive in the Sialkot sector started on September 8, with an advance by Bharat’s 1 Corps, but did not achieve much headway initially. Thereafter, it was resumed on 11 September and the township of Phillora was captured. This area saw some of the heaviest tank battles since World War 2, in which the enemy’s 6 Armoured Division suffered very heavy casualties. However, Bharat could not capture the strategic township of Chawinda, which would have enabled the Bharatiya forces to completely destroy Pakistan’s 6 Armoured Division. When the ceasefire took effect on September 23, Bharatiya was in possession of vast amounts of Pakistani territory, but the Pakistan Army had not been defeated. However, Bharat had achieved its wartime aim of protecting Jammu and Kashmir from aggression and in destroying a major part of the enemy’s offensive potential.
An analysis of the war throws up many shortcomings, which Bharat would do well to heed. the first of these was the failure of intelligence. Bharat was surprised by Operation Gibraltar, launched on August 1 and again by Grand Slam launched on September 1. We also did not know that Pakistan had raised a new armoured division which very nearly proved disastrous for us in Asal Uttar. This reflects a critical weakness in gathering external intelligence, which has been repeated in 1971 and later in Kargil. It is evident that Bharat’s external intelligence agencies need to be revamped, otherwise we are likely to be surprised again.
Another weakness was in wartime preparations leading up to the war. There were critical shortages of basic requirements needed to prosecute war. The attacking troops did not have maps of the area, communication equipment was poor, many infantry battalions were still holding the outdated .303 rifle, anti tank guns were not available upto authorisation, and vehicles with the units were in short supply. In Asal Uttar, the 106 mm recoilless guns were made available to the units only on September 7, just a day before Pakistan launched an attack! It was the sheer grit of the Bharatiya Army which saved the day, but such callousness needs to be overcome. In the Ministry of Defence, bureaucrats wield power without accountability and the Services have to shoulder responsibility without power. It is imperative that integration of military personnel in the Ministry of Defence takes place at the earliest, as recommended by various committees formed by the government.
Another major weakness was the total lack of integration in war plans be-tween the Army, Air Force and the Navy. Each Service prosecuted its war independently, which resulted in lack of synergy in operations. This lacuna too needs to be overcome through institutionalising mechanisms for joint operations. A step has been made by creating the Integrated Defence Staff, but we have to go much further than this and create the office of the Chief of Defence Staff, who shall be the single point advisor to the Raksha Mantri, as is the norm in all modern militaries across the world.
Finally, we need to ponder why Pakistan took the gamble of carrying out offensive operations in August and early September, knowing well that this could lead to war with Bharat. Simply put, they perceived Bharat to be militarily weak. This was the time when Pakistan was equipped with modern military hardware from the West and its economy was robust and growing steadily. Bharat, on the other hand was recovering from the after-effects of the 62 war with China and was beset with internal problems in the Punjab, J&K, Tamil Nadu and in parts of Northeast Bharat. It was Pakistan’s belief that a quick offensive would give them disproportionate gains and that in the event of an all out war, the world body would call an early end to hostilities. Pakistani miscalculation led to war.
Today, when we reflect on what happened 50 years ago, the age old lesson repeats itself. Weakness is a sure recipe for war and strong militaries are the best deterrent to conflict. Let us therefore, remain prepared at all times.
Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoch (The writer is retired officer of Dogra Regiment and former Director CLAWS)