September Special

Glorious September of 1965

“And do not speak of those who are slain Allah’s way as dead; Nay (they are) alive but you do not perceive.”
Surah al Baqarah (2:154)  

The September of 1965 has a unique position in the history of our motherland, especially for the generation which was born during the first decade of our independence. For me it has a special significance as I joined Cadet College Hasan Abdal in April 1965. We had hardly settled down in our boarding houses when we started hearing about the skirmishes in Rann of Kutch. By the time a ceasefire was brokered we got our first introduction to our heroes (ex cadets of our college) Lt Ahmed Farooq Khatlani (Shaheed) and Lt Nadir Pervez who were both awarded SJ (Sitara-e-Jurat) for their acts of valour and bravery during the battle. The college faculty narrated numerous events of their stay in the college to help us understand the character qualities which had helped them achieve this distinction. 

We were on summer vacation when the uprising in IOK (Indian Occupied Kashmir) reached the peak by early August. As young kids we would anxiously sit before the radio to listen to the news about new exploits and successes of Mujahideen in the Valley. Just before we returned to the college on September 3, we had heard of the advance of Pakistani forces and capture of Chamb and Jaurian towns. The morale of the returning cadets was very high and wards of military personnel were full of stories and fables of bravery of the troops during Rann of Kutch and ongoing operations. We had no comprehension of the gravity of the situation but the prevalent excitement had the adrenalin high in our veins. September 6 being a Monday, everybody was in the classrooms taking the post summer vacation exams when the news of Indian attack on Lahore was announced on the radio. The exams were postponed and the cadets were gathered to explain the environment. The college had to be closed though the bulk of the students which were from all over Pakistan preferred to stay back since nobody could come to pick them up and allowing cadets to go at their own during war was not considered appropriate by the British principal of the college. 

The next few days were spent in digging bombing shelters/trenches and rehearsing various safety drills. I won’t go in lengthy details of how we spent those 17 days because as kids whatever was happening was like watching a war movie. We had our friends who never showed any signs of fear despite their fathers fighting on the fronts or not even knowing where their parents actually were. Here I would be amiss not to mention a friend whose father Lt Col Nisar Ahmed Khan was commanding 25 Cavalry, the brave unit that single-handedly blunted the advance of Indian 1 Armoured Division in Chawinda, destroying the cream of Indian armour in the process. Their heroics were known much after the war. However, there were brave officers like Lt Naeem Akhtar, a sword of honour from PMA who embraced shahadat but didn’t let Indians capture Hajipir Top; Lt Abid Majeed shaheed of 19 Lancers and Lt Hussain Shah shaheed of Guides Cavalry both of whom embraced shahadat in Sialkot sector. It was at that time that we were taught our first lesson of how a shaheed has to be honoured. Important places in the college like the auditorium, open air theatre, the dining halls and so on were named after them in proper ceremonies. These few men became our heroes to emulate, encouraging us to follow their footsteps to redeem our national honour. That was a brief description of what goes through my mind when the War of 1965 is discussed. Having served for almost 40 years in uniform and studied the campaign in detail, now I have a relatively different perspective about the use of kinetic force for resolution of disputes.

“Force enters when diplomacy is exhausted,” Zulfikar Ali Bhutto wrote in The Myth of Independence. The reality of this quotation is evident from 1965 War when issues and apprehensions got out of the diplomatic premise. A soldier’s duty is to obey his commander without any question. Post-Modi’s rise to power in India, there has been a clear and coordinated attempt to paint 1965 Indo-Pak War as a great Indian victory. Encouraged by the government, which seeks to revise its historical humiliation by rewriting history, Indian armed forces and top media outlets along with some of the renowned writers like Kuldip Nayar went all out to prove that India came out on top in the War of 1965. It no doubt turned out to be an uphill task because even their own military historians like Gen Harbakhsh Singh or Jagan Mohan and Samir Chopra have made contradictory statements.

Kashmir Front
Uprising in IOK after the theft of the holy relic from Hazratbal Shrine, Srinagar during December 1964 was also a reaction to the Indian intransigence on denying the right to self determination and its brutal repressive policies making the lives of common Kashmiris even more miserable. By mid-July 1965 the situation was ripe and Operation Gibraltar with the help of locals of IOK, Kashmiris of AJK along with a core group of SSG personnel was launched. By middle of August the situation in the Valley had become very grim for the Indians and the Mujahideen were interdicting their lines of communication and blowing up bridges and logistic dumps. Having failed to quell the uprising in IOK the Indians decided to strike back across Ceasefire Line (CFL) in AJK. During last week of August, the Indian Army undertook three major attacks across the CFL in Tithwal and Uri/Poonch sectors. In both areas the Indians gained partial success as on August 25 the Pir Sahaba feature was captured while the Hajipir Pass was captured on August 28. Pakistan then decided to launch Operation Grand Slam, its riposte across CFL on September 1, 1965 with a powerful thrust in Chamb aimed at Akhnur. In the words of the Indian commander Gen Joginder Singh, “Gen Akhtar Malik had steam rolled over Chamb with tremendous velocity; Akhnur lay like a ripe plum and undoubtedly he would head for Jammu after securing Akhnur; even today we hang our heads in shame that officers and men of 161 Artillery Regiment, stationed for main defence of Akhnur just defected after hearing the news of Akhtar Malik’s onslaught on Chamb and heading for Akhnur. But suddenly there was an eerie quiet and we wondered what Gen Malik was planning. A whole day passed and Providence came to our help as we heard the news that Gen Malik had been replaced”.


The Lahore/Sialkot Front
As the Indian blitz on September 6 developed against the city of Lahore (the heart and soul of Pakistan), it was met with the indomitable spirit, resolve and blood of a handful of soldiers, who stood like the Rock of Gibraltar to defend their motherland, looking death in the eye. Numerically, India had 4:1 superiority on land and 3.6:1 in the air. I can’t describe the events which took place and the sagas of bravery written by the men in uniform can’t even be cursorily covered, however, no account of the 1965 War is complete without mentioning Major Aziz Bhatti shaheed. No words to describe this brave man. 

I shall quote some of the Indian Generals how they saw the situation on ground.
Gen Sukhwant Singh writes about the state of Indian offensive on September 6 after a PAF combat mission attacked its advancing elements. “The unit lost all its Sherman tanks and guns… It was about 09.30 a.m. and the enemy (PAF) aircraft shot every vehicle for about 15 minutes undeterred by anti aircraft fire from ground troops. The CO of 3 Jat ran back with just one boot and a sock deserting his unit. His second-in-command followed suit and escaped on a bicycle and took refuge in Amritsar”.
Lt Gen Harbakhsh Singh in War Despatches: Indo-Pak Conflict 1965. “1300 hours, 6 September 1965. GOC 15 Division Major Gen Niranjan Prasad reported that situation in his sector was desperate and no further offensive was possible. He stated his inability to undertake any further offensive action on the plea that his formation had lost all capacity for operations”.

On pages 100-101 he says:
“In midst of this grim crisis on 10 September, Army Chief Gen Chaudhary asked Gen Harbakhsh Singh, whether our forward positions should not be readjusted and established behind Beas as the enemy armoured division was poised to breakout and may breakthrough the initial defences”.
Below some international independent sources are quoted on the outcome of this 17-day war:

Brian Cloughley, the Australian writer in one of his reviews of this war writes, “Indian advances were blunted and the defenders were able to hold their positions and deny penetration of any vital ground in both Lahore and Sialkot sectors”.

Louis Karrar, Time Magazine, September 22, 1965; “I asked the GOC (Pakistan), ‘how is it that despite small number you are overpowering the Indians?’ He looked at me, smiled and said, ‘if courage, bravery and patriotism were purchasable commodities, then Indians could have got them along with American aid’.
Donald Seaman, Daily Express London, September 24, 1965; “Outnumbered three-to-one, they beat Indians to a standstill, and were about to mount a counter attack in the last 6 hours before the ceasefire when they were stopped on political grounds”.

Frank Melville, Newsweek, September 27, 1965; “Despite the bombings, the morale among Pakistani Jawans (which is the Hindustani for GIs literally means ‘strong young men’) remained extremely high. Their coolness and thoughtness under fire have paid dividends”.
Times of India, Bombay, September 16, 1965; “It is clear from the fury with which the enemy (Pakistan) is fighting on all fronts that it has not been easy for the Indian army to advance into Pakistani territory”.

To sum up, it is easy to discern that the Indian offensive plan against Pakistan lacked finesse in conception and was bereft of boldness in conduct. History will always remember it as a ‘War of Lost Opportunities’. It’s also viewed as a war of ‘reaction/counter actions’ and some have even gone to the extent of calling it a war of disillusionment. Though there were no clear victors as neither Pakistan was able to find a solution to the Kashmir issue nor could the Indian military might attain their tactical as well as strategic objectives. On the other hand, the Pakistani soldiers and junior leadership came through with flying colours. The war outcome does remain a victory for Pakistani soldiers on ground who badly defeated a much superior enemy in both numbers and equipment. However, Pakistani soldier’s superiority in training, discipline and motivation won him the day always. The nation displayed remarkable solidarity and courage in the face of all dangers and supported their forces in an admirable manner. The performance of our forces in air, land and sea remained par excellence and acknowledged around the world. The few examples given above clearly highlight it. 53 years down the line we need to draw correct lessons of putting up a united front against all odds. With our resolve and indomitable spirit we can overcome any odds and attain our rightful place in the comity of nations.

The writer commanded 11 Corps from 2007 to 2010. The Corps has valiantly fought the war against terrorism in KP/FATA.

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