The Spirits Undaunting: Remembering the Fighting Spirit of Pakistan Armed Forces in 1965 – Indo-Pak War

Written By: Brig (R) Usman Saeed

Our army museums have the war trophies in the form of Indian captured tanks, vehicles, RRs and above all the jeep of Major General Niranjan Prasad GOC 15 Indian Division which he abandoned with maps on Wagah–Lahore axis after a very bold counter attack by Pakistani reserve brigade of 10 Division personally led by the Brigade Commander Brigadier Qayum Sher, a courageous and competent commander of his time.

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Armed forces’ officers and men are trained and motivated worldwide for combat but their real worth for combat can be judged during war only. The army that possesses brave and the best fighting machines stand out distinctly as fear of death becomes irrelevant and the mission supreme – no matter what intensity of combat operations and the size of opposing forces confronted with.

History is replete with war accounts where smaller armies having best fighting stock of officers’ corps and men defeated much larger armies through brilliant display of courage and skills of warfare. To name few battles from the annals of military history include: Battle of Yarmuk (636AD) between the Byzantine Empire (strength 400,000) and the Arab army (strength 40,000), decisively won by the latter. The Crusade wars (1095-1099) and (1147-49) where the crusaders had fielded much superior and bigger armies were defeated by the Muslims. The Turkish War of Independence (1919-23) fought against the Allies (British, French, Armenians, Italians, Greeks etc. of strength one million) ended up with victory for numerically much inferior Turks. Shahab-ud-Din Ghori (1192) and Ahmad Shah Abdali (1761) defeated much bigger Hindu armies. French Army was defeated by Vietnam guerilla forces in the battle of Dien Ben Pho (1954).

Pakistan has been up against numerically superior army of India. Both the countries have fought three wars primarily on Kashmir issue. India claims occupied Kashmir on fictitious instrument of accession while Pakistan claims Kashmir on principles of partition of the subcontinent that makes Kashmir inalienable part of Pakistan. The first Indo-Pakistan War of 1948 forced India rush to UN Security Council for ceasefire. She promised to hold plebiscite under the supervision of the UN in Kashmir but failed to honour her commitment. India spared no effort to strengthen military deployments inside Kashmir to crush the freedom movement with force. Pakistan like a hapless spectator observed Indian atrocities inside Kashmir and insensitivity of the international community to address the long standing issue. The situation was viewed in Pakistan with great public discontent and frustration. Pakistan exercised restraint during the Sino-India war of 1962, although opportunity emerged to enter the forces in Jammu-Kashmir when bulk of Indian Army was moved to fight Chinese offensive. India went into deep shock. The defeat affected international image of Indian army and it was now viewed as a weak and demoralized military. It was natural for Pakistani leadership to consider exercise of military option for Kashmir like China and more so when diplomatic efforts had clearly failed. The operational plans were drawn up by Pakistan to provide support to the Kashmir Freedom Movement and defreeze the issue internationally for a final resolution. Pakistan was left with no option but to help Kashmiri brothers due to dishonourable conduct of India (by not fulfilling plebiscite promises) and indifferent attitude of the international community.

In April 1965, a military encounter took place between the Indian and Pakistani troops in Rann of Kutch where India suffered casualties and withdrew few miles from their forward positions established in territories under claim of Pakistan. Victory in the Rann of Kutch made Pakistani nation jubilant. Indian Prime Minister threatened Pakistan of a war at a time and place of Indian choice.

In the first week of August 1965, Operation Gibraltar was put into execution. The plan envisioned attack by infiltration by highly motivated irregulars. Ceasefire line was crossed in 9 groups comprising 5 companies each through multi-prong routes leading to Srinagar, Nowshera, Rajauri, Bandipur, Qazinag, Titwal, Gurais, Kel and Kargil. The operation could not unfortunately achieve the desired results despite successful penetration and had to be called off. The Commander-in-Chief PAF, Air Marshal Nur Khan stood out for extreme bravery when he personally accompanied C-130 flight for hazardous aerial drop mission near Srinagar for the infiltrated force. The C-130 aircraft had no night flying capability and had to rely on Doppler navigation system for night flying in mountainous regions of Kashmir. The PAF mission remained successful and in fact contributed positively during exfiltration phase of the force.

During Operation Grand Slam (August 1965), Akhnur, the main artery for India to access Occupied Kashmir was to be captured by powerful ground and air offensive. The first phase of offensive was launched by 12 Division. It was a major breakthrough and a success. Our heavy calibre artillery, M-47 tanks and the PAF steamrolled resistance by Indian army and forced the retreat turning into rout. Indians left field artillery guns in Chamb (25 pounders) that enabled Pakistan to raise one artillery regiment. It was in Chamb, where Major (later Major General) Nasir-Ullah Baber, HJ, SJ mistakenly landed his helicopter inside Indian position but kept his cool. He ordered Indians to surrender being surrounded and marched them to Pakistani positions. The second phase was launched by the 7 Division. It advanced with lightening speed and reached at the outskirts of Akhnur. The fighting was in progress when India started an all out war crossing the international border. It is relevant to mention that skirmishes and fighting along Kashmir front had been a pattern in the past and was not a legitimate cause to spread the war across the international border; that too without any prior warning. This was a sheer violation of international norms and the Geneva Convention. Notwithstanding, many young officers of Pakistan Army displayed exceptional courage and won gallantry awards during Akhnur offensive. Amongst the recipients was Captain Shabbir Sharif (later major Shabbir Sharif Shaheed Nishan-i-Haider 1971 war) who won Sitara-i-Jurrat (SJ) in one of the combats in this sector.

It is relevant to mention that skirmishes and fighting along Kashmir front had been a pattern in the past and was not a legitimate cause to spread the war across the international border; that too without any prior warning. This was a sheer violation of international norms and the Geneva Convention.

On September 6, 1965, India first launched a secondary effort in Lahore Sector with two infantry divisions supported by air force. In those days no worthwhile obstacle system existed between the border and the Bambawala-Ravi-Bedian (BRB) Canal. Therefore, Indian advance up to BRB Canal experienced lighter opposition from the Pakistani troops. By September 7th, 1965, Indian formations reached BRB Canal but timely demolition of bridges by Pakistan Army Engineers made their crossing impossible. For the next 17 days India kept on attempting to gain foothold across BRB Canal but was of no success. Battle accounts of Batapur, Dograi, Barki and Hudiara near Kasur in Lahore Sector were extremely motivating and indeed inspirational. Major Aziz Bhatti embraced Shahadat in Barki sector and earned Nishan-i-Haider. PAF dog fights over Lahore air space with Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter aircrafts, in which Indian planes were shot down by our valiant pilots, were breathtaking that people still cherish. Indian dreams to have drinks in Lahore Gymkhana on September 7, 1965 was shattered. Pakistan Air Force and Artillery hunted the Indian Army troops stranded between the BRB and the border. The entire area was littered with destroyed Indian tanks, vehicles and corpses.

On night of September 8, 1965, India launched the main effort comprising an Armoured Division and 2-3 Infantry Divisions in Sialkot Sector. Concurrently, an effort was launched from Rajasthan in the southern desert regions of Pakistan. This Indian offensive was beaten off by irregular warriors known as Hurs from the desert region. Hurs chased retreating Indian forces and occupied large part of Indian territory in Rajasthan. Pakistan was ready to fight Indian offensive in Sialkot Sector. Sufficient artillery, armour and infantry was de-inducted from Akhnur and concentrated in Sialkot. Indian armour and infantry divisions encountered fiercest resistance from Pakistan and despite force ratio predominantly in their favour could not breach the defence lines near Chawinda. This town came under international focus where the biggest tank battle was fought between the newly

raised Pakistani Armoured Division and the Indian counterpart. The integrated employment of artillery, air and armour inflicted heavy attrition to Indian offensive formations throughout the next two weeks and Indian operations came to a standstill. Pakistan had by now established firm grip over the operational situation. Indian offensive in the Lahore Sector was effectively contained astride BRB. The operational situation in Sialkot sector was also effectively under control. Pakistan took a bold decision to switch over to offensive. Khem Karan was the first town that was captured on September 9, 1965 after fierce fighting with the Indian forces. Our tanks advanced beyond Khem Karan towards Asal Uttar where one major tank battle ended up in stalemate. Khem Karan, however, remained in Pakistani possession till ceasefire.

PAF dominated the skies throughout the war. IAF was marginalized and rarely took chance to challenge PAF fighters in the skies. PAF daring close support and deep interdiction missions had the devastating effects on IAF and it stood paralyzed with the destruction of 70 aircrafts as against 17 of the PAF in the entire war. Squadron leaders Sarfraz Rafiqui (Shaheed), M. M. Alam, Cecil Chaudhry, Sajjad Haider, and many others displayed exceptional courage and competence throughout the war that earned them gallantry awards. They are the role models for young fighter pilots of today. Pakistan Navy, though very small in size, did not lag behind. Bombing of Dwarka, a coastal city near Bombay, on the night of September 7, 1965 by a fleet of seven naval ships with the mission to draw Indian Navy out for attack and PNS Submarine Ghazi made Pakistani nation proud and jubilant. Governor of West Pakistan Malik Amir Muhammad Khan refused to leave Lahore and shifted his offices to Lahore Fort. The entire nation got united to support Pakistan Armed forces in whatever capacity they could. Civilian blood donors and volunteers were limitless to support the military. Pakistan Army suffered high percentage of casualties in war but it was never regretted considering the gigantic national service it performed by humbling a much bigger Indian Army and containing their offensives within the proximity of international border.

Our army museums have the war trophies in the form of Indian captured tanks, vehicles, RRs and above all the jeep of Major General Niranjan Prasad GOC 15 Indian Division which he abandoned with maps on Wagah–Lahore axis after a very bold counter attack by Pakistani reserve brigade of 10 Division personally led by the Brigade Commander Brigadier Qayum Sher, a courageous and competent commander of his time. We must remember our brave warriors and veterans who valiantly defended our motherland against a much bigger army and many of them sacrificed their lives for our continued freedom. Kashmir still continues to be flash point for conflict but this time both the countries being nuclear powers may fight a new round under nuclear environment.

All major battle zone accounts of 1965 war should be fully documented and displayed at sites for public interest and to keep the spirit of 1965 war alive.

The writer is a retired Brigadier and serving in Prime Minister’s Inspection Commission (PMIC), Islamabad.

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