September brings many things for Pakistanis. It brings renewed patriotism, tales of valour exhibited by our jawans (soldiers), accounts of deft execution of our planes, and above all, the passion-arousing war songs imbued with narratives of gallantry. This is the season when everyone’s patriotism comes out of collective slumber, and everyone starts to hum the heroic melodies of the war that our soldiers, nay we all, fought tooth and nail with our arch-rival who had never accepted the reality of Pakistan’s sovereign existence.
Facts exhibiting Homeric versions are told to the young to keep them abreast of their past. For decades, these heart-warming incidents of the Pakistan-India war of 1965 have been inspiring the youth.
On the other side of our eastern border, there is a clear effort to manoeuvre the strings of history claiming the war of 1965 as the one that brought many laurels for India. But the history penned down by renowned Indian scholars say the opposite. The official Indian Air Force (IAF) losses in the war are chronicled by Indian military historians, P V S Jagan Mohan and Samir Chopra. They write that 66 IAF operational aircraft were demolished by actions of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), and nine lost due to accidents. In comparison, Pakistan lost 12 aircraft due to IAF actions and five PAF attritions were caused by accidents.
Having been hit by PAF fighters, leading soldiers of the Indian strike force also suffered heavy losses at the hands of our jawans. To quote General Sukhwant Singh, “The CO of the battalion [at Wagah] ran back with just one sock and one shoe, deserting the battalion. His second-in-command followed suit and escaped on a bicycle and took refuge in Amritsar.” Interestingly, and reminiscently, earlier General Chaudhry, then in command of Indian forces, had boasted in a press conference—where Mark Tully of the BBC was also invited—of relishing the victory drink of a ‘chhota peg’ (small drink) at the Lahore Gymkhana on the evening of September 6, 1965.
But there were some errors on our part, avoiding which Pakistan could have given a much bigger dent to India and achieved the desired result. These strategic inaccuracies do not find a mention during our celebrations.
Before the dawn of September 6, two major ‘adventures’ were taken up by Pakistan in the summer of 1965. First, there was Operation Gibraltar followed by the Operation Grand Slam. In the summer of 1965, it was planned to send our commandos to Kashmir so as to wrest Kashmir from the clutches of India. The mission was code-named as Gibraltar, a term derived from the past glories of Arab conquests in Spain.
Contrary to the popular notions crafted by some Indian historians, the flight to Gibraltar was the brain-child of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who exploiting his close affinity with the Field Marshal-turned-president Ayub Khan and gift of the gab, convinced the latter that it was the best plausible opportunity to get Kashmir given the ground realities of a demoralised India in the wake of its rout in the border skirmishes with China in 1962, and the one inflicted by Pakistan at the Rann of Kutch in 1965. Moreover, the demise of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru a year earlier had also put the Indians in the dumps.
General Musa Khan writes in his memoirs that the commandos to be sent on the Gibraltar mission were given training of six to eight weeks at Rawalpindi in the art of guerrilla warfare. Almost 8,000 men were dispatched to Indian Illegally Occupied Kashmir, and no chronicle of history mentions as to where on earth those people disappeared. Operation Gibraltar failed since it lacked the strategic vision and a proper contingency plan.
Then came plan B: Operation Grand Slam. In a briefing at Kharian in the last days of July, President Ayub asked General Akhtar Malik to go for the capture of Akhnoor; the place known as the Chicken’s Neck, which was the sole entry point for India to reach the Indian-occupied Kashmir, and thus called the jugular vein of the valley.
General Akhtar Hussain Malik went for Akhnoor with his all-out mettle and alacrity. In his war diaries, India’s General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the western front, General Joginder Singh writes: “Gen Akhtar Malik had steamrolled over Chamb and was heading for Akhnoor with tremendous velocity; Akhnoor lay like a ripe plum and, undoubtedly, he would head for Jammu after securing Akhnoor; even today we [Indians] hang our heads in shame that the officers and men of the 161 artillery regiment, stationed for the main defence of Akhnoor, had defected after hearing the news of Akhtar Malik’s onslaught on Chamb and heading for Akhnoor. But suddenly there was 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.”
Retired Air Commodore Sajjad Haider dolefully writes that this was the day we lost Kashmir forever. Pakistan could not have got a better chance to reach Kashmir, and thus a victory-at-hand was turned into a tragedy-in-perpetuity. General Malik was replaced with General Yahya Khan who acknowledged years later in one of his addresses at the Staff College, Quetta that he was ordered not to proceed further for Akhnoor.
Notwithstanding the conspiracies to divert the Grand Slam and the poor ploys at the mission Gibraltar employed before September 6, 1965, there are many successes that Pakistan would always feel proud of. The intrepid tales narrating the heroic accounts of the PAF and the ground forces would always shine in the pages of our history.