Gibraltar, Grand Slam and war

Published August 30, 2015
The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

This isn’t a week for civilians. Wars old and new will be celebrated and much made of the abilities and wisdom of the Great Protectors. Which is fine, really. What’s a week between friends.

Especially if there’s not much good to say. 1965 was a bad idea taken to perfection, all three stages of it. First came Gibraltar, that silliness of sending irregulars and radicalised civilians over into India-held Kashmir to foment revolution.

When revolution didn’t show up, we got into the busi­ness of Grand Slam — sending regular army troops over to wrest a bit of India-held Kashmir and win that most lusted after of victories, a strategic one.

We don’t have to rely on uninformed opinion, because there is a uniformed one available.

Then came actual war across the border, for which we were somehow unprepared and scrambled to fight to a stalemate because the Indians were a bunch of reluctant invaders.

Told you, it’s not a week for civilians. Luckily, we don’t have to rely on uninformed opinion, because there is a uniformed one available.

An eminent one — dripping with medals, reached the highest offices, tasked to write the official tale of 1965 and took two decades to do it. But then he got the funny idea of publishing his 650-page report, which was promptly banned by the army and never heard of again.

It’s a good week to remember the forgotten. Coming to you from a dusty shelf, the words of Lt Gen (retd) Mahmud Ahmed from a tome rather unassumingly and modestly titled History of the Indo-Pak War — 1965.

Tell us, General, what was Operation Gibraltar all about?

“The military aim of launching the guerrilla operations was threefold. Firstly, disrupt Indian civil and military control of the State. Secondly, to encourage, assist and direct an armed revolt by the people of Kashmir against Indian military occupation, and thirdly, to created conditions for an advance by the Azad Kashmir forces into the heart of occupied Kashmir and eventual liberation of IHK.”

So, how’d it go?

“The intelligence directorates were unable to provide any worthwhile intelligence to 12 Division for the guerrilla operations. Each commander of the Gibraltar Forces was given a few names of collaborators whom they were able to contact after infiltration into inside Indian Held Kashmir but their reliability was uncertain. In fact, none came forth to help the guerrilla forces. Therefore, despite undetected infiltration across the Cease Fire Line, all the Gibraltar Forces, with the exception of Ghaznavi, ran into trouble at the very outset of their operations.”

Then what, General?

“In the event, the Gibraltar Forces were unable to initiate any large scale uprisings in IHK as was visualised or hoped. Instead, the Indian Army in Kashmir retaliated violently resulting in the loss of some valuable territory. Undismayed by these losses, [Maj Gen Akhtar Hussain Malik, commander of 12 Division] was able to convince GHQ that the time for the attack he had envisaged through the Munawwar Gap was indeed opportune since the bulk of the Indian Army in IHK was committed in the retaliatory operations in addition to its involvement in counter-insurgency measures. A reluctant GHQ was thus compelled to act in accordance with Gen Akhtar’s proposal by sheer force of circumstances rather than by sound professional reasoning which demanded logical military contingency preparations from the very moment when the decision to launch Operation Gibraltar was first taken.”

How’d one screw-up, Gibraltar, lead to an even bigger cock-up, Grand Slam?

“If anything, the limited guerrilla operation [Gibraltar] served as pinpricks to rouse a slumbering giant as it were, though India initially went into action almost reluctantly with a self-imposed restraint of confining its attacks to the upper parts of Kashmir. Operation Grand Slam was a logical move after the failure of the guerrilla operations.”

Civilian note: Mahmud doesn’t think Grand Slam was a bad idea. He thinks it was not ambitious enough — the army should have gone for Jammu and created a giant Punjabi pincer to gobble up the Indian armed forces. Total victory could have been ours! Oh, generals.

So, err, what happened next?

“The Pakistani high command considered the international boundary with India and the Working Boundary with the State of Jammu and Kashmir inviolable and expected its Indian counterpart also to regard it as such. From the inviolability of the international boundary sprang the policy of ‘no provocation’. Having had all defence works dismantled and the mines removed as part of the Kutch agreement, the GHQ forbade occupation of defences along the Punjab border on the eve of Operation Grand Slam to avoid provoking India into launching an offensive across the international boundary.”

You’re saying we left ourselves open to invasion, General?

“It is a matter of great irony that despite its forward assembly the Pakistan Army still managed to allow itself to be surprised by the Indian attack on 6 September 1965! The Indian build-up (as reaction to Operation Grand Slam), of which there were clear indications since 3 or 4 September, was somehow not taken note of. It was only after listening to an All India Radio broadcast in the evening of 4 September that the Pakistan C-in-C, Gen Muhammad Musa, reached the conclusion that Indian intentions were hostile. Then too the GHQ sent a rather ambiguous signal message to the formations.”

But the fight was heroic, yes?

“Apart from the sheer number of tanks involved, it is well worth asking if the armoured battles were really great by any standard? The fact is both sides lacked skill in handling armour at the operation level.”

In the end, we did get something out of it, right? Right?

“In the case of Pakistan, if it was solution of Kashmir, then we failed; if it was merely to defreeze the issue, then the means employed and risks taken were grossly disproportionate to the results achieved. In the bargain, we got a war which we perhaps did not want and could have avoided.”

So there it is. An official history by an official general in a proper book with maps and diagrams. But who needs history when we’ve got a war to celebrate.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2015

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