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Flashback to 1965

Updated September 06, 2015


The writer is a former armour and SSG officer.
The writer is a former armour and SSG officer.

FLUSHED with victory in the Rann of Kutch in April 1965, Field Marshal Ayub Khan and his confidants thought that the time was ripe for wresting Kashmir from India by inciting the Muslim population to rise in rebellion against the occupying power, and then delivering the knockout blow by severing the road link between India and Kashmir at Akhnur.

On the night of Aug 5/6 1965, 5,000 lightly armed men slipped across the ceasefire line into occupied Kashmir. They were the Gibraltar Force. While the surprise lasted, they conducted a series of spectacular operations. Then the expected happened. Indian retribution against Muslim villages was swift and brutal; as a result, the locals not only refused to cooperate with the raiders but also started to assist the Indian forces to flush them out. To make matters worse, the Indian forces went on the offensive capturing Kargil, Haji Pir pass and Tithwal and threatening Muzaffarabad. With its fate sealed, the Gibraltar force disintegrated. In order to release the pressure being applied on Azad Kashmir, Phase 2 was launched.

In the early hours of Sept 1, 1965, the sudden thunder of 100 artillery guns stunned the Indian troops in Chhamb and heralded the opening of Operation Grand Slam. As Pakistani armour advanced rapidly towards Akhnur the Indian defences crumbled. Instead of exploiting this, the operation was suddenly stopped to effect the infamous change of command.

Pakistan was saved by the valour of its jawans, junior officers and air force.

In the process 36 precious hours were lost, enabling the Indians to reinforce the area. When it was resumed it was unable to develop momentum and was terminated when India opened up the Lahore front on Sept 6. Maj Gen Joginder Singh, then chief of staff of Western Command, in his book Behind the Scene writes, “The enemy came to our rescue.”

On Sept 8, 1965, the Indians launched their main offensive in Sialkot sector after crossing the Ravi at Madhopur Headworks. These headworks connect India to occupied Kashmir. In order to retrieve the situation, the field marshal played his trump card - the First Armoured Division. On Sept 8, it was launched in a counteroffensive to sever the Indian lines of communication serving their forces in the Lahore, Sialkot and Kashmir sectors, by seizing the main bridges on River Beas, east of Amritsar.

The counteroffensive made a brilliant start, yet, barely 36 hours later, it ended in disaster and was terminated. The reason was that instead of sending the logistics forward, the units were called back to rearm and refuel at nightfall on Sept 8 and 9. This gave a 24-hour respite to the Indians which enabled them to reinforce the area. On Sept 10 when the units advanced yet again, they encountered lethal fire by enemy tanks and anti-tank guns from the front and flanks.

The field marshal was no longer master of the situation and the Indians failed to exploit this. Both in Sialkot and the Lahore sectors, they were unable to overcome the defences as they kept attacking frontally and kept getting repulsed. Their senior leadership was as inept as their Pakistani counterparts.

In the final analysis, the valour of its jawans and junior officers, the clinical efficiency of its artillery and the daring exploits of its air force saved Pakistan.

Pakistan cannot afford to surrender time, space and initiative to the enemy, more so when it lacks depth and when the enemy enjoys superiority in resources. If it does, its limited military assets will invariably get consumed in defensive battles. The strategy of pre-emption is thus imposed on Pakistan in the same way it is imposed on Israel. Therefore, once the decision was taken to raise the stakes, the high command should have known that Operation Gibraltar would evoke a strong response and Operation Grand Slam, even a stronger one. They should, therefore, have planned to fight the 1965 war, which they had provoked, on their own terms.

Consequently, Gibraltar should have been followed up 24 hours later by Grand Slam along with another offensive in Ravi-Chenab corridor to capture Madhopur Headworks on the Ravi, and the area west of it. The Ravi could then have been flooded by releasing water in it from the headworks to preclude a counteroffensive by the Indians across it — their only option then would have been to launch the main offensive against Lahore from the direction of Amritsar and Khem Karan, east and south of Lahore respectively.

The destruction of Harike Headworks on the Beas/ Sutlej rivers and the main bridges on River Beas by the SSG on the same night as Grand Slam and the accompanying offensive in Ravi-Chenab corridor were launched, would have further curtailed the Indian operational options.

The field marshal had squandered away the opportunity to take Kashmir — “In war opportunities come but once, the great art is to seize them” (Napoleon).

The writer is a former armour and SSG officer.

Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2015

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