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August 5, 1965: Indo-Pakistani War of 1965

On this day, 54 years ago, as part of Operation Gibraltar, thousands of Pakistani soldiers, disguised as Kashmiris, infiltrated Indian Territory. Pakistan miscalculated that 1965 was its best chance to claim Kashmir, as India was smarting from defeat in the 1962 war with China, Nehru's death, his successor Lal Bahadur Shastri's "weakness, and an anti-Hindi agitation in the South. Shashtri rose to the occasion and Indian Army took the war to Pakistani territory to claim victory

What was the Pakistani plan?

By 1965, the Pakistan Army had been trained enough to go on an offensive in Kashmir at a short notice. Pakistan’s aim was to keep the war confined to J&K, but the leadership lacked the courage to attack openly. A secret plan of armed infiltration was therefore adopted. The invasion was carried out in three stages:
limited offensive was launched in the Kutch region in May 1965 to test the political waters and to draw India’s forces away from Punjab – the main battlefront.

Armed infiltration in J&K was launched with a view to seize power and declare independence of J&K. The idea was to make it look like a local uprising. A revolutionary council was formed to appeal for military assistance from various countries, including Pakistan.

In Jammu, a major offensive was to be launched to capture Chhamb and Akhnur Bridge, soon after the uprising in Srinagar had taken place.

On August 5, 1965, as part of Operation Gibraltar, thousands of Pakistani soldiers, disguised as Kashmiris, infiltrated the area, with the aim of encouraging insurgency against the government of India.

The Operation HQ for Operation Gibraltar was set up in Murree under Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik. He had approximately 30,000 men under his command, divided into eight to ten groups. The force was trained to infiltrate in nominated areas and overthrow the existing regime with the help of Kashmiri collaborators. This force was launched in the first week of August 1965, divided into various task forces.

It was planned that the Salahuddin force along with some other groups would concentrate in Srinagar by 8 August 1965 and mix up with the devotees assembling for the festival of Pir Dastgir, a much-revered Sufi saint in J&K.
An armed revolt or a coup would be staged followed by a declaration of liberation by the Revolutionary Council, after seizing strategic infrastructure such as the radio station and Srinagar airfield. The revolutionary council was to proclaim on the air that it was the sole legitimate government of J&K and was also to seek help and recognition from all countries.

The infiltrators were however detected before they could carry out the intended coup. The information came from the Kashmiri Muslims themselves, who did not respond to this call of liberation. Pakistan at this stage had little mass support in the Valley and that is the primary reason this seemingly brilliant Pakistani plan failed.

The Indian counteraction against the various advance bases for Pakistani infiltration cut off the infiltrating columns. Now these columns were on the run, hunted by the Indian Army and the local police alike. Pakistan at this stage started a full-fledged war by attacking Chhamb (Operation Grand Slam). After limited success, Operation Grand Slam also fizzled out and Pakistan had to go on the defensive as the Indian forces went on the offensive in Lahore Sector and reached the outskirts of Lahore.

By September 20, India held about three times more Pakistani territory, especially through the advances in the Lahore and Sialkot sectors, than the Pakistani army held Indian Territory, although they had made some smaller gains in the northern parts of Kashmir. The death toll at that time was also slightly more favorable to India, who lost approximately 3000 soldiers while Pakistan had a number of approximately 3800 soldiers lost in action.

Why was Pakistan optimistic about its chances?

Kashmir was the most powerful reason which strained the relations between India and Pakistan, but it was certainly not the only reason.

The Rann of Kutch is a region within the Indian state of Gujarat, which India held in possession since 1947. The Rann became the perfect pretext for skirmishes and other kinds of limited military maneuvers as the Pakistani government laid claim to the northern part of the region ever since 1947.

Nehru’s death in 1964 had created political uncertainty in the country and an impression in Pakistan that India was no longer politically or militarily strong. In Pakistan, Field Marshal Ayub Khan was well entrenched in power and liberal American arms aid and assistance had provided him with the latest aircrafts and battle tanks.

By 1965, the Pakistan Army had been trained and poised itself to go on an offensive in Kashmir. A limited offensive was launched in the Kutch region in May 1965 to test the political waters and to draw India’s forces away from Punjab – the main battlefront.
The Rann is a remote salt plain of coastal Gujarat, which remains flooded with shallow salt waters for nearly six months in a year. Only a few small islands of dry land or ‘bets’ remain above the water line. This area provided the opportunity for Pakistan to tryout various new weapons supplied to them by the US and also to draw the Indian Army away from Punjab and J&K.
India, however, resisted the temptation of deploying its strike forces or other reserves from Punjab into this area. A few battles were fought in the Rann in which Pakistan even used tanks. A ceasefire was arranged in May 1965.

It was still difficult to imagine that a full-scare war was coming to this region.

When did Pakistan make gross miscalculations?

Pakistan was not in a favorable position to attack India, since
after the defeat in the Sino-Indian War of 1962, India had undergone a massive modernization program for the armed forces
India had announced on several occasions that it would not tolerate any border incursions by foreign troops and
India had a significantly greater industrial capacity than Pakistan, which would have given the former a clear advantage during a protracted conflict.
It is therefore possible that under these circumstances, the conflict itself spiraled out of control toward a direction previously unforeseen by the Pakistani officials and military commanders, although they were responsible for making the first move.

Pakistan President Field Marshal Ayub Khan felt that the Indian leadership after the death of Nehru was weak and would not be able to withstand a Pakistani offensive. Also, at this time Pakistan was prospering economically and recording food surpluses while India was facing local famines and serious economic difficulties.

Operation Gibraltar was not the success which Pakistan expected it to be mainly because of miscalculations regarding the discontent present among the Kashmiri locals. Instead of being galvanized toward a rebellion by the Pakistani infiltrators, most of the locals remained neutral, some of them even rallying to the Indian side and tipping off the army that Pakistani regulars in disguise have advanced on several areas of the Kashmiri Valley.
After being informed of the Pakistani presence in the Kashmir Valley, the Indian army replied in kind by crossing the Line of Control and capturing several outposts from the Pakistani side of Kashmir, effectively dismantling one possible assumption made by the Pakistanis, namely that military action would remain confined to the ceasefire line.

The 1965 War remains memorable for two things.

One was a monumental miscalculation by Pakistan. President Ayub Khan, egged on by his scheming and feckless Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, sent a top-secret order to his army chief General Mohammed Musa: “As a general rule, Hindu morale would not stand for more than a couple of hard blows delivered at the right time and the right place. Such opportunities should therefore be sought and exploited.” (He often referred to Indians as Hindus, completely ignoring the fact that India had more Muslim people than Pakistan.)

Secondly, India’s leadership – as it has done consistently over the past 2500 years – threw away on the negotiating table what the soldiers had won on the battlefield with their lives and labour. India had an upper hand on the table, but refused to leverage it to its advantage. Former Maharashtra chief secretary R.D. Pradhan wrote: “In a way, India’s leadership, out of its sense of restraint, fair play and endeavour to seek enduring peace and goodwill with the neighbour, seems to have missed opportunities to solve the problem.”

Where did international support go to?

China: The diplomatic relations between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and India were relatively poor at the outset of the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War, mainly due to the border problems, which the two countries were arguing over for the past 6 years. Although India was one of the first countries to recognize the PRC and establish diplomatic relations with them in 1950, by the end of the decade the ties had rapidly deteriorated, especially due to conflicting views over the placement of borders in the Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh regions but also because of India’s “hostile attitude towards Chinese actions in Tibet”. The diplomatic conflict later degenerated into a limited war, during the year 1962, in which the Chinese army won the military engagement but later withdrew to its original positions. The war decisively strained the relation between the two countries and it also provided a background for the initiation of friendly relations between China and Pakistan. After 1962 the Chinese also got involved in the Kashmir problem in particular, maintaining that “the dispute should be resolved in accordance with the wishes of the people of Kashmir as pledged to them by India and Pakistan”, in line with the Pakistani policy of Kashmiri self-determination. During the war itself, the PRC clearly allied itself with the Pakistani cause, in particular during the escalation of hostilities at the beginning of September. Thus, on the 5th of September, the Chinese Foreign Minister expressed “complete sympathy and support’ for Kashmir’s just struggle” and on the 7th of September they labeled the Indian offensive in Punjab “an act of naked aggression”. Further, after the Indian army crossed the international boundary, the Chinese government pursued a much more aggressive course of action, giving India a “three-day ultimatum to dismantle all their military works on the Chinese side of the Sikkim-Chinese boundary, or else bear full responsibility for all the grave consequences arising there from”.

USSR: The relation between India and the USSR had an altogether opposite course than the relation between India and the People’s Republic of China. Due to the tough stance in favor of the non-aligned movement, which India assumed immediately after the Partition of British India, the USSR did not engage in friendly relations towards India, as they were vehemently opposed to the emergence of a strong non-aligned movement. In the post-Stalinist period however, in correlation to the influence which the PRC was beginning to gain in Asia, the USSR began a process of thawing relations with India which was also going to result in several acquisitions of military equipment, especially airplanes and helicopters, with the trade frequency intensifying significantly after the Sino-Indian War. The USSR still maintained amicable relations with Pakistan as well, considering that peace between the two countries was essential to containing the Chinese influence in the region. Although at the outset of the 1965 conflict, the USSR had closer ties to India than to Pakistan, a fact illustrated through the emphasis put on the “traditional friendship” relation between the USSR and India, by Russian governmental sources, the USSR maintained official neutrality throughout the war, offering its good offices for the mediation of a peace agreement at Tashkent several months after the ceasefire, in the establishment of which they also played an instrumental role.

US: The relations between the US and Pakistan in the first years after the British Partition of India were excellent, mainly due to the fact that Pakistan, trapped between three powerful regional neighbors (USSR, PRC and India), was in desperate need of strong allies and that the United States needed a strategic ally in the region, especially in order to halt the Russian influence in southern Asia, and prevent it from reaching the Arabian Sea. During that time, the US streamlined large sums of money in the form of economic aid, leading some to state that during the first decades of existence, the United States was the lifeline to Pakistan and that without U.S. diplomatic, military, and economic aid, Pakistan would have had great difficulties surviving. The military dimension was also an essential one and in 1954 the US and Pakistan signed their first arms agreement, after which the US supplied vast quantities of military equipment to Pakistan. However, by 1965 the relation between Pakistan and the US was somewhat cooled and it was nowhere near the excellent terms on which it was before 1962, due to what the Pakistani perceived as a US betrayal by the shipment of arms to the Indian side during the Sino-Indian War. Thus, the United States did not welcome the conflict, which emerged on 1965 between India and Pakistan, declaring their neutrality, supporting efforts to end the war and being one of the primary actors supporting an arms embargo toward both India and Pakistan.

Who brokered the ceasefire?

After Pakistani troops invaded Kashmir, India moved quickly to internationalize the regional dispute.
It asked the United Nations to reprise its role in the First India-Pakistan War (1947-48) and end the current conflict. The Security Council passed Resolution 211 on September 20 calling for an end to the fighting and negotiations on the settlement of the Kashmir problem, and the United States and the United Kingdom supported the UN decision by cutting off arms supplies to both belligerents. This ban affected both nations, but Pakistan felt the effects more keenly since it had a much weaker military in comparison to India.

The UN resolution and the halting of arms sales had an immediate impact. India accepted the ceasefire on September 21 and Pakistan on September 22. The ceasefire alone did not resolve the status of Kashmir, and both sides accepted the Soviet Union as a third-party mediator. Negotiations in Tashkent concluded in January 1966, with both sides giving up territorial claims, withdrawing their armies from the disputed territory.

Before leaving for Tashkent, Shastri – who was hero-worshiped by Indian soldiers – had promised his victorious troops that he would not return the land captured from the enemy after so many sacrifices. But after six days of talks, Shastri proved once again that Indians are bad negotiators. He gave away everything. Was Shastri feeling the pressure from the international community? Most likely not, but perhaps he felt – like his successor Indira Gandhi after the 1971 war – that showing leniency towards Pakistan would buy its goodwill.
It did not.

How contested is the result of the war?

Despite the cease-fire rendering the conflict militarily inconclusive, both India and Pakistan claimed victory.

Most neutral assessments, however, agree that India had the upper hand over Pakistan when the ceasefire was declared. Though officially deemed to be militarily inconclusive, the conflict is widely seen as a strategic and political defeat for Pakistan, as it had neither succeeded in fomenting insurrection in Kashmir nor had it been able to gain meaningful support at the international level.

Internationally, the war was viewed in the context of the greater Cold War, and resulted in a significant geopolitical shift in the subcontinent. Before the war, the United States and the United Kingdom had been major material allies of both India and Pakistan, as their primary suppliers of military hardware and foreign developmental aid. During and after the conflict, both India and Pakistan felt betrayed by the perceived lack of support by the western powers for their respective positions; those feelings of betrayal were increased with the imposition of an American and British embargo on military aid to the opposing sides.

As a consequence, India and Pakistan openly developed closer relationships with the Soviet Union and China, respectively.
The perceived negative stance of the western powers during the conflict, and during the 1971 war, has continued to affect relations between the West and the subcontinent. Of special mention is the backing India received from the Russians even during the war. Russia did not want an open confrontation with China, but Moscow made it clear to Beijing that it would not remain a passive spectator if India had to battle on two fronts. China got the message and backed off despite Pakistani appeals for help. Chinese strongman Mao Zedong was reported to have told Ayub Khan that "if there is a nuclear war, it is Peking and not Rawalpindi that will be the target".

In spite of improved relations with the U.S. and Britain since the end of the Cold War, the conflict generated a deep distrust of both countries within the subcontinent, which to an extent lingers to this day.
The end of the 1965 war brought with it leadership changes in India and Pakistan.

Shastri’s passing (after signing the Tashkent declaration in 1966) saw the emergence of Indira Gandhi in India.
In Pakistan, opposition against how the war was directed by Ayub and his military leadership grew. Ayub was increasingly isolated, having already been abandoned by Bhutto, and eventually handed power over to Yahya Khan in 1968.

Although 1965 was militarily inconclusive, Pakistan was left considerably worse off, with its strategic objective of “liberating” Jammu and Kashmir from Indian control having been defeated by an adversary that it gravely underestimated – not for the last time.

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