When the Indian forces crossed Pakistan's international border unannounced in the dark of the night on the fateful date of September 6, 1965, they were hoping for a swift march into Lahore. Indian General, J.N. Chaudhry, had boasted that he would celebrate his victory at the Lahore Gymkhana the same evening. But the dream of the Indian General got drowned in the muddy waters of the BRB Canal where handful of Pakistani soldiers gave a heavy pounding to his 15th Infantry Division in the initial hours of the battle. The first mighty blows struck by the valiant sons of Pakistan on the aggressors set the tone of this 17-day conflict. Be it the defence of Lahore, the capture of the desert town of Munabao in Rajasthan, the grand tank battle of Chawinda near Sialkot, the bombardment of the India's radar station at the town of Dwarka by a small flotilla of Pakistan Navy, or the heroics of Pakistan Air Force – the gallantry of Pakistan Armed Forces in the 1965 War remain stuff fit for the folklore even after the passage of nearly five decades. The Indian offensive aimed at capturing major Pakistani cities of Lahore and Sialkot in one blow in the initial stage of the conflict on the back of a far superior numerical strength and firepower failed to materialize. But the Indians did manage to deflect pressure on the Akhnur and Jammu front where the Pakistani Forces were advancing at a rapid pace.
Nevertheless, halting the Indian charge on the international frontier and defence of the major cities by Pakistani Armed Forces remains a feat in itself. The conflict tested the sheer resolve, courage and spirit of the mortal men that continue to resonate in our hearts even today. “The war has started,” thus spoke the then President Field Marshal Muhammad Ayub Khan in his brief address to the nation at the start of the conflict. “Almighty Allah has provided an opportunity to the Pakistani Armed Forces to demonstrate their ability. My countrymen forge ahead and take on the enemy.” It was not just the men in uniform who answered to the call to arms, but the entire nation rose as one-man to foil the enemy designs. If our soldiers, airmen and sailors stood like a rock in the line of fire, the hearts of the entire nation were with them on each and every battlefront. Those were the times which galvanized the nation. The Indian aggression erased all the differences of class, social background, religion, ethnicity, nationality or sect. Internal wrangling and petty politics were kept on the back-burner. Defending the motherland was the only goal. In their bid to crush the legitimate freedom movement in the occupied Kashmir, the Indians thrust the war on Pakistan's international border. Pakistan responded matching fire with fire and steel with steel. It was a classical example of the Biblical tale of young David, who kills Goliath, the giant, with a stone. 14-15a Even though Pakistani Armed Forces were pitted against the much bigger enemy, there was never an element of self-doubt or lack of conviction that this war cannot be fought. The smallness of size and numerical strength got offset by the giant Pakistani spirit that believed 'yes we can.' We can defend our frontiers… we can preserve our liberty and we can give a bloody nose to our enemy. Be it the armed forces or the civilians – this conviction and sense of unity remained the hallmark of those testing times. In that short, less than three week war, if the armed forces made the nation proud, the civilians did their bit by backing the men in uniform as best as they could. Pakistani poets, artists, singers and musicians produced some of the best war time national songs that became classics in their own right that fill our hearts with pride, passion and love for our country and the armed forces even today. The Radio Pakistan bubbled with round-the-clock activity – even during the Indian air-raids – performing the task of countering the Indian propaganda blow-by-blow, disseminating information and articulating the national spirit through the national songs. If Pakistani intelligentsia worked overtime to back the war-effort, our labourers, workers, peasants, technicians, engineers, doctors, government employees, traders and shopkeepers ensured that all the vital operations and services continue unhindered during the wartime. And yes the grand Pakistani spirit that brought civilians to the rooftops of their houses to witness Pakistani eagles chasing the Indian planes. People shouted slogans, screamed and jumped with joy – many with teary eyes – as they hailed and showered their love and affection on the defenders of their motherland. Fear was and is not in our blood. Conflicts and war often bring the best or worst out of men. The 1965 war indeed brought the best out of the Pakistani nation. This unyielding spirit needs to be celebrated... it needs to be rekindled even today when the country faces the usual conventional threat on its eastern front as well as the internal challenge of extremism and terrorism. The ongoing operation Zarb-e-Azb against the Al-Qaeda-inspired local and foreign militants, who want to bring down the state and consider the Pakistani Armed Forces as their number one enemy, must be seen as vital for the unity and integrity of the country as was the 1965 war effort. To defeat this internal enemy – having tentacles not just in the treacherous mountainous regions but also in all major cities and towns of Pakistan – it is necessary that we evoke the similar spirit, which helped us repulse the attack of the Indians. Operation Zarb-e-Azb is not an isolated crackdown concerning the armed forces alone. It is Pakistan at war against the elusive enemy which is misusing the sacred name of Islam to weaken and damage the world's lone Muslim-majority nuclear state. Our stakes today remain as high as they were in 1965. Any doubts, disunity, discord among our ranks in taking on this challenge only benefit the internal as well as the external enemies of Pakistan. Our politicians need to grasp this reality and take a lead in setting the national narrative against these parochial forces which stand opposed to education, modernity, progress and development. The dream of a stable, economically vibrant and peaceful Pakistan would continue to elude us until we crush this internal enemy on a war-footing. The armed forces are doing their job and our soldiers and officers sacrificing lives in one of the most difficult terrains of the world, but are we, as a nation, backing this effort with a similar passion and single-mindedness as needed? We need to answer this question honestly. Yes, the nation stands solidly behind their armed forces despite all the turf wars being fought among our politicians and the ensuing confusion, but one hardly sees any sense of urgency and focus needed to win this internal war among our national leaders. The military operation against extremists and terrorists has provided the much-needed space to the civilian leadership to focus on reforms, and win the battle of ideas, but apart from the lip-service to this cause, there are hardly any meaningful steps being taken to exploit this window of opportunity. There should be zero tolerance against the non-state actors who try to undermine the writ of the state, take up arms and attack the armed forces, sensitive installations or target civilians. This is the minimum national consensus we need at this moment. For it is Pakistan's war, our war. It cannot be won without igniting the similar spirit which helped us in 1965. This is a chance for our generation to prove itself. We have no choice but to accept the gauntlet.
The writer is an eminent journalist who regularly contributes for media and is Editor of a national daily
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