The September war that was

Sep 06 2015

Email

THE September 1965 war days were, to borrow from Dickens, the best of times (for the people of Pakistan) and the worst of times.

For 17 days in September 1965, the Pakistani nation achieved a unity of action and purpose it had not demonstrated before and has not displayed since.

The people of Lahore woke up on the morning of Sept 6, 1965, to realise that what they had been told could not happen had come to pass. Contrary to the authorities’ belief that India could not attack Pakistan across the international border, its troops had actually crossed Wagah and then driven up to Jallo and withdrawn a little, frightened by the lack of resistance.


Several questions were asked in the aftermath of the conflict.


Within no time the undefended city found defenders who wrote with their blood tales of matchless valour and commitment to protect the motherland. Names of Sarwar Shaheed, Aziz Bhatti Shaheed and Shafqat Baloch rose to the top in the people’s pantheon of heroes.

The list soon grew with the addition of more heroes — Sarfaraz Rafiqui Shaheed, Cecil Chaudhry, M.M. Alam — who shot down many planes in the air and on the ground.

The Lahore front was soon stabilised and quick victory was won in the Khem Karan sector. The Lahorites could not decide what they liked better — the spectacle of aerial dogfight in daytime or the roar of Rani (a heavy gun) at night.

Soon afterwards the tank battle at Chawinda in the Sialkot sector caught the people’s imagination. The battle was grim but the spirits were high. Poets offered soul-lifting lyrics and Noor Jahan led a galaxy of singers to inspire soldiers and citizens alike.

It was wonderful to be buoyed up by belief in the justness of the national cause and confidence in the state’s capacity to meet the challenge.

But the heady feeling of victory faded quickly and many in Pakistan realised they had gone through a poor patch in their history. The story of those days has been told so often. How the victory in the Rann of Kutch was exaggerated, how the situation in Kashmir after Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest was misread, how the plan of sending guerrillas there did not work out, how the thrust towards Akhnoor was thwarted, and how Ayub Khan lost his nerve when his tanks sank in the marshes. Eventually, the international intervention and ceasefire came as a relief.

The question as to who won the war has been answered many times over. But soon afterwards questions began being asked; why was intelligence about India’s troop movement ignored? Why was the theory of inviolability of international borders accepted? Why were soldiers provided with old maps? Why was faith pinned on ‘guerrillas’? And why was US support expected when it had consistently declared that its arms could not be used against India?

The aftermath of the September war was far from pleasant. The objectives of Operations Gibraltar and Grand Slam were not realised and Pakistan’s case on Kashmir suffered a setback. The number of Kashmiris who backed Pakistan declined and so did Islamabad’s ability to invoke the UN resolutions.

For reasons still largely obscure, Pakistan did not derive full advantage of the Tashkent Declaration, whose denunciation started a new phase of Moscow’s disenchantment with Pakistan and ultimately persuaded it to sign the Friendship Agreement with India, without which the East Pakistan war of 1971 might not have ended the way it did.

In 1965, Pakistan received wholesome support from China and a number of Muslim countries — Indonesia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and even Afghanistan. Malaysia fell out of line and Islamabad had to break off relations with it. Factors as yet unknown caused these countries’ support to Pakistan to wane considerably by the time Islamabad landed itself in the fatal crisis of 1970-71

The 1965 war did the Indian Muslim some good in the sense that many of them stopped looking at Pakistan for succour and accepted, as Mohammad Ali Jinnah had advised them in 1947, their responsibilities as citizens of India.

The battle of Chawinda, which filled most Pakistani hearts with pride while tanks wrestled with one another, failed to impress the experts later on. They said the ritual of daily clash of metal, with neither side showing skill and capacity to clinch the issue, did not merit mention along with the tank battles in Africa during the Second World War.

On Sept 6, President Ayub appealed to the people to fight in the name of religion. His campaign for keeping faith out of politics came to an end. It was left to the editor of a Dhaka daily, Zahoor Husain Chaudhry, to remind him,” the more you swear by religion the smaller will your state become”.

One consequence of the war was a belated inquiry as to who had pushed Pakistan over the precipice. The story that Ayub was led up the garden path by his advisers is belied by his statements on the days preceding Sept 6. However, he dropped Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto from the cabinet, and Kalabagh forced a battle on him. The result: Pakistan was never the same again.

Meanwhile, throughout the 17 days of the conflict the East Bengal people were isolated from Pakistan and they were feeling defenceless and abandoned. The theory that East Bengal’s defence lay in West Pakistan was finally buried in 1971. The war directly led to the emergence of the Six Points.

Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2015

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