Written By: Nadeem F. Paracha


Ever since Pakistan’s war with India in 1965, highly polarizing debates have continued to erupt concerning the nature and result of the conflict. On the one side are those who claim that Pakistan won the war, while on the other side are those who suggest otherwise.

 

However, we now have enough academic and anecdotal sources to convincingly conclude the following: After making initial gains, the Pakistan Armed Forces were suddenly left high and dry when its ally the United States decided to impose military sanctions on both the countries. The sanctions had a harsher impact on Pakistan’s war effort because of its closer military and economic proximity to the U.S. The conflict ended in a stalemate; however, being defender a stalemate is equal to a moral victory for the defender.

 

spirithavingflow.jpgWhat has gone missing over the years is the core raison d'être behind celebrating September 6 as Pakistan’s Defence Day. It has very little to do with what takes place in the aforementioned debates on the conflict. Truth is, it was declared a special day mainly to celebrate the kind of spirit that was exhibited by the Armed Forces and civilians of Pakistan during the war – especially after an all-out attack by the Indian military on Lahore was repulsed on September 6, 1965.

 

Academic sources and eyewitness accounts which appeared after the attack show the Indian military crossing the Pakistan-India border on the western front under Major General Prasad and reaching the BRB Canal east of Lahore. Here, the Pakistani military successfully waylaid the invaders and pushed them back. The Major General had to flee the scene in his military jeep.

 

The Indian military tried again and this time after using a bridge near the village of Barki, it began its charge towards the centre of Lahore. A cousin of my late paternal grandfather who was in Lahore at the time used to tell us that when word got out that the Indian soldiers were about to enter Lahore, hundreds of civilians from almost all classes poured out from their homes to help the Pakistani combatants fight back the invasion.

 

Never again would Pakistanis unite in such a spirited manner as in September 1965 – even though we have often seen similar spirit emerging during crucial sporting events, formerly during hockey games and now during cricket matches.

Whenever I come across a debate on the 1965 War, I am surprised by the manner in which both the poles completely ignore the real essence of September 6. This essence was about the kind of resolve and spirit the Armed Forces and people of Pakistan exhibited when they challenged a much larger army without the fear of being overwhelmed.

My mother still remembers how when Radio Pakistan briefly reported the attack, my parents, grandparents and uncles ran up to the rooftop of our house in Karachi. Once there, they saw that the whole neighborhood had come out. Some had gathered in a nearby park and some, like my parents and grandparents, were standing on the roofs of their respective homes and apartment blocks.

 

Many years after I was born, I asked my parents what they were trying to achieve by coming out in Karachi when the attack was taking place in Lahore. My mother told me that it was an instinctive reaction. They felt they had to come out to exhibit their solidarity with the people of Lahore and Pakistan Armed Forces.

 

As the Indian military was making futile efforts to advance towards Lahore, embassies of various countries began to draw up emergency plans to evacuate their countries’ citizens from Lahore. In 2004 I met a Dutch man during a visit to the Netherlands whose father was posted in Lahore at the time. The father was working for a European petroleum company in the city.

 

spirithavingflow1.jpgHe told me that his father received a call from a Dutch deputation in Karachi asking him to reach any European or U.S. government outpost in Lahore for possible evacuation. The father obliged and began to drive towards a European embassy which was just a few kilometers from his house. However, what was supposed to be a short drive, turned into a much longer one because the roads and streets were jammed by people on foot, motorbikes and cars. It was as if everyone was trying to make their way to the border to fight the Indians.

 

The father did manage to reach the embassy. After waiting there for many hours, he was finally told by the embassy staff that the evacuation plans have been dropped. This happened because Pakistan Army and Pakistan Air Force successfully pushed back the Indian military, making the foreign embassies withdraw their evacuation advisories.

 

Never again would Pakistanis unite in such a spirited manner as in September 1965 – even though we have often seen similar spirit emerging during crucial sporting events, formerly during hockey games and now during cricket matches.

 

Whenever I come across a debate on the 1965 War, I am surprised by the manner in which both the poles completely ignore the real essence of September 6. This essence was about the kind of resolve and spirit the Armed Forces and people of Pakistan exhibited when they challenged a much larger army without the fear of being overwhelmed.

 

Pakistan was a developing country, just 18 years old when the 1965 war erupted. But compared to where it would begin to go after the war, it was a rapidly evolving nation-state and one of the most promising countries in the region. This is why so many Pakistanis came out to defend it in 1965 and why its Armed Forces displayed such valour.

Recently, while conducting research for my forthcoming third book I ventured towards a question: what made the people behave in such a selfless and bold manner during that war? After going through dozens of quotes and eyewitness accounts printed in newspapers and books, I came to the conclusion that Pakistanis at the time saw the Indian attack as an attack on their way of life.

 

They had some very good reasons to do this. In the early and mid-1960s, Pakistan’s economic growth rate was almost 6%; GDP growth rate was 7% (one of the highest in the region at the time); and its manufacturing growth was 10% of GDP. Inflation remained in check.

 

State, private and foreign investments witnessed a massive increase, triggering rapid industrialization, creating white and blue-collar jobs, the initial formation of a Pakistani urban middle-class and a manifold increase in the demand for higher education. Compared to the late 1950s, the net foreign inflow trebled to about 7% of GDP.

 

Mechanization, introduction of more effective pesticides and high-yield grain in agriculture and some land reform had begun to greatly benefit classes based in the country’s rural areas as well.

 

Socially it was a tolerant time. Religious and sectarian tensions were minimal and aggressively discouraged and subdued. And though ethnic tussles were more prominent, they were countered with equal zeal.

 

The tourism industry had begun to take shape and so had Pakistan’s film industry. Pakistanis with more liberal tastes in recreational activities conveniently co-existed with those with more conservative palates.

 

This was no Utopia. Pakistan was a developing country, just 18 years old when the 1965 war erupted. But compared to where it would begin to go after the war, it was a rapidly evolving nation-state and one of the most promising countries in the region. This is why so many Pakistanis came out to defend it in 1965 and why its Armed Forces displayed such valour.

 

There is a lesson for us all in the now elapsed spirit of this day. Nations need some very solid reasons to exhibit the kind of spirit in discussion here. These reasons have to enhance their economic and social sense of wellbeing and then safeguard it. The Ayub Khan regime provided these reasons.

 

I am a committed democrat, but I never have shied away from proclaiming that to me, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, was one of the most focused visionaries to become head of state of this country. At least till 1965, Ayub was able to largely materialize what he envisioned. This is exactly why as Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Armed Forces during the 1965 war, he enjoyed overwhelming support and outpouring of genuine patriotism. A patriotism that had nothing to do with hollow sloganeering; or the myopic idea of nationalism which has now become the unfortunate hallmark of our polity.

 

The writer is a Pakistani journalist, cultural critic and satirist. He is the author of a detailed book on Pakistan’s ideological, political & social history, called ‘End of the Past.’

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