Lessons of 1965 War for Pakistan and India – Karamatullah K Ghori

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Pakistan Air Force cadets march at the mausoleum of Pakistan founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Karachi. AFP photo.
Pakistan Air Force cadets march at the mausoleum of Pakistan founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Karachi. AFP photo.

Fifty years on, the psychosis of war lingers on between India and Pakistan. The prevailing ambience is as jingoistic as it was in the pre-1965 war period. Peace and normalcy between neighbors is as elusive today as it was fifty years ago. Saber-rattling is still the name of the game and threatening the ‘enemy’ with doomsday scenario in the event of another war is, currently, the buzz word. Neither side seems ready to learn from their own experience, which is tragic

KARAMATULLAH K GHORI | Special to Caravan Daily

[dropcap]R[/dropcap]emembering the first real war in one’s experience is an unusual, if not strange, experience. But that’s exactly what I’ve been doing all this first week of September—and I’m certain that I’m not the only one of my generation reliving and recalling all those details permanently etched on our minds of the 1965 War between India and Pakistan.

September 6 marked the 50 th anniversary of the war that was the first real horror of my youthful years of the mid-1960s. Suddenly, one fine morning—the morning of September 6—the calm that we were so used to taking for granted was shattered by the early morning Radio Pakistan news bulletin that the Indian armed forces had invaded Pakistan by crossing the border near Lahore. We were at war with ‘enemy India.’

The news was stunning, no doubt. The nation, by and large, wasn’t ready to find ourselves at war with India despite the national belief that India was our mortal enemy, had never accepted Pakistan’s sovereign existence from its heart, and had been on the lookout, forever, to undo Pakistan. The national narrative had been all that in the years since Pakistan’s birth, reinforced, no doubt, by India’s implacable hostility, especially on the Kashmir issue. We didn’t, normally, entertained any fancy notions about India’s agenda about us.

But was it really the whole truth that we’d been taken by surprise by India? Was it, really, an entirely unprovoked naked Indian aggression, as the official narrative would have us believe? Had we, really, had no hand, at all, in provoking India and leading it to a pass where offence was deemed best defence by India’s military planners and leaders?

Having greyed profusely, already, and poised at that juncture of life where the future is like a road of which I’ve no clearly charted map, I feel I owe it to myself—and to my memory of that history of half-a century-ago—to dissociate myself from all the romanticism, if not myth and folklore of that age.

The future may be an uncharted course but the past is recorded history. And that recorded history has some serious question marks in regard to the national narrative of the 1965 war as passed on to generations that have come of age since that watershed.

There’s that superior call—the one of conscience—that beckons me to get down to an impassioned dissecting of what had spawned that blighted visitation of 1965 in the first place.

Once again, with tongue-in-cheek, I dare to add that in doing so, I may have the silent support of those of my generation who, like myself, may be reliving and revisiting that unforgettable landmark on the road of our collective wisdom.

The national psyche has been laboriously informed over the last five decades by the national narrative that a jingoistic India pounced on us because of its unbridled ambition to undo us.

A contingent of Indian Armed forces march past after a ceremony at India Gate in New Delhi on Friday. President Pranab Mukherjee paid homage to Indian soldiers as he commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1965 India-Pakistan war. AFP /Prakash Singh
A contingent of Indian Armed forces march past after a ceremony at India Gate in New Delhi. President Pranab Mukherjee paid homage to Indian soldiers as he commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1965 India-Pakistan war. AFP /Prakash Singh

However, subsequent personal, authentic and scholarly-researched accounts—some by generals and senior officers who’d seen action in that war—nailed down the fallacy of ‘unprovoked aggression’ in black and white. But their books were read by few and have become library fixtures gathering the dust of time and neglect on rarely-visited book shelves. The fallout of time has blurred their accounts. And, then, in today’s cyber age, the only book read by most is the Facebook.

So the popular version of India being the unprovoked aggressor against Pakistan still prevails and sits well with the intelligentsia and the layman alike. General Chaudhry, then in command of Indian forces is still lampooned for his hectoring that he’d be drinking the chotta peg of his evening whiskey at the Lahore Gymkhana that Sept. 6 evening. That the general’s arrogance had to lick the dirt, because of Pakistan’s ‘heroic resistance,’ is still making the rounds to rake up popular jeers against that bumbling war-monger.

However, those few who have still had the scholar’s integrity, and objectivity, to dig up truth from under the rubble of doctored history haven’t shied away from stating the whole truth of what went before that fateful day of September 6 when Indian tanks did, after all, roll across the border between the two countries near Lahore.

Strangely, the architects of the war weren’t the generals in uniform—a popular version of chauvinistic India historians given currency also in the western academia. The real architect, instead, was the neatly-attired, suave and dashing Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, then Foreign Minister in Field Marshal Ayub’s cabinet.

ZAB was seen in Pakistan as Ayub’s heir-apparent whom the old soldier-president was believed to be grooming to take over from him, one day. But ZAB was greedy for power and wasn’t prepared to wait. In his incontinent lust for glory, he thought he’d come up with an ace, a win-win throw of the dice that would catapult him to the top of Pakistan’s power pyramid in one clean swoop.

ZAB, with his gift of the gab, convinced Ayub that the time to wrest Kashmir back from India’s hands had arrived; with a bit of bravado and quixotic adventure, the prize was Pakistan’s for the taking. India was still reeling under the embarrassing drumming of its 1962 debacle in NEFA against China. The morale of its military was low. So was its people’s faith in their political leadership since the demise of the charismatic Pundit Nehru, a year earlier. Ironically, ZAB had represented Pakistan at Nehru’s funeral in Delhi.

It was ZAB’s brain-child to infiltrate Pakistani commandos in Indian-held Kashmir, in the summer of 1965, under the alluring code-name, Gibraltar, to rekindle memories of the Arab conquest of Spain, in early 8 th century.

ZAB was confident that the commando infiltration would trigger a general uprising by the Kashmiris against India, and Pakistan would use that smoke-screen to capture Srinagar. At the very least, he argued, the moribund Kashmir issue would be internationalised and the world would rush to douse the fires in Pakistan’s favour.

Strangely, another soldier of fortune, General Pervez Musharraf came up with the same logic to unleash his ill-fated military adventure in Kargil, in 1999. Musharraf was as good, or bad, as a ZAB in khaki, except that while ZAB had brains aplenty Mush suffered from an appalling brain-deficit. But the commando—a clear case of megalomania—thought his surfeit of brawn would make up for what he lacked in brains.

The result, in both cases, was disastrous. The 1965 infiltration into the Indian-occupied valley back-fired when the Kashmiris didn’t rise up against their occupiers and the army was forced to deploy its Plan-B, code-named ‘Grand Slam.’ This was the curtain-raiser that provoked India to open a larger front as its payback to Pakistan.

I recall a luncheon meeting with Lt. Gen. Akhtar Hussain Malik—a soldier to boot and one of the commanders in Bhutto’s Grand Slam—at the UN Headquarters in Manhattan, in the spring of 1969. The lunch was hosted by a very senior Pakistani civil servant, Agha Abdul Hameed, who was then on deputation to UN. I was then a Vice-Consul at our CG in New York. General Malik was bitterly critical of both the civil and military leadership for having squandered that ‘golden chance’, according to him, of bringing India to its heels because of inept handling of the campaign. I couldn’t say how much truth there was to his critique. But the gritty soldier had an impeccable reputation for bravery.

The war didn’t last long. In just 17 days, both combatants ran out of fire-power. The cease-fire was more out of mutual exhaustion than anything else. Eventually, the Russians induced both to write a sombre footnote to a grisly, bloody and totally useless, episode at Tashkent, in January 1966.

ZAB didn’t become a hero of 1965 war. He was kicked out in ignominy by Ayub and had to lick the dust. But he was too incorrigible and over-ambitious to be restrained for long. He managed to inveigle Ayub’s successor, General Yahya, into short-changing the Bengalis of East Pakistan, following the December 1970 general elections. Bangladesh was the result of ZAB’s corrosive power grab.

But it still took another war with India, of 1971, before ZAB would climb to power in a truncated Pakistan—on the back of a defeated, demoralised and humiliated army—as the only ‘national’ leader capable of picking up the pieces of a shattered Pakistan—a product of his Machiavellian lust for power. In the fitness of things, ZAB was, eventually, made a horrible example by another General, Ziaul Haq.

What’s the moral of this cloak-and-dagger 50-year-old episode that spawned one war and laid the ground work for another within a span of 5 years? It’s none other than that cynicism, myopia and unbridled pandering to ambition by a power-driven political leadership can spell disaster. It becomes lethal recipe for doom when matched with the limited vision of a chauvinistic military brass like India’s: they must be mad to think they can inflict grievous wounds on Pakistan and get away with it in a lightning encounter.

Fifty years on, the psychosis of war lingers on between India and Pakistan. The prevailing ambience, on both sides of the divide, is as jingoistic as it was in the pre-1965 war period. Peace and normalcy between neighbors is as elusive today as it was fifty years ago. Saber-rattling is still the name of the game and threatening the ‘enemy’ with doomsday scenario in the event of another war is, currently, the buzz word.

Ironically, neither side seems ready to learn from their own experience, which is tragic. What do historians say about a people too naïve, or self-absorbed, to learn from their past mistakes? That they will be condemned to repeat them, time and time again.

Why haven’t India and Pakistan learned from their mistakes? It’s a question that naturally comes to every inquisitive mind but is still begging for an answer.

The first requirement on the learning curve is an admission of guilt. Correction starts only after admission that a mistake was made. But here, in the national narratives of the 1965 war, of both India and Pakistan, there’s no hint of any mistakes made. Each side declares the other an aggressor, itself the victim of that aggression, and rates the heroics of its soldiers as the stuff of legends. The word, correction, has no place in the official lexicon of war.

India’s ‘victim’ syndrome at the hands of Pakistan now has a new narrative—one that has become a gospel truth there since the Nov. 2008 Mumbai mayhem laid at Pakistan’s door. The message drummed by a supposedly ‘free’ Indian news media into the ears of their audience is of India being terrorised by a terror-exporting Pakistan. This anti-terror phobia, with Pakistan as villain of the piece, has been amplified in the rise of Hindutva as India’s new creed. It has also paved the way for BJP to the pinnacle of power.

In Pakistan’s case, the victim narrative has catapulted the army to a position of pre-eminence in the nation’s affairs and blurred the line separating political command from military. The Pakistanis—even those claiming to be well-tutored in history and well-informed—are quite content to let the military brass define the nation’s agenda. They have no issue with the brass’ argument of being guardians of both the physical and ideological frontiers of Pakistan.

Of course the appalling failures and miasma-reeking corruption of political leaders has contributed daylight between the nation’s trust in its military leadership and its trust-deficit in its robber-baron politicos. Political scientists may rue that an imbalance of such epic proportions doesn’t beckon well for the health of democracy but that doesn’t perturb many in Pakistan. They, too, have a valid argument to counter the sages: why should the people stand by thieves, with grubby, soiled hands, masquerading as their leaders? In the cyber age, truth can’t be hidden from a free people for long

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