Golden Jubilee of Delusional Adventurism
By Dr Mohammad Taqi
It started with a rather crisp tactical victory in the Rann of Kutch in April, went through the Operation Gibraltar disaster in August, muddled through the botched Operation Grand Slam in August/September, blunted a formidable Indian cavalry assault in Chawindah, hung on to Lahore by the skin of its teeth and came to an ignominiously grinding halt in the Asal Uttar near Khem Karan, India, on September 10,1965.
The 1965 war between Pakistan and India was a military stalemate for both and a political disaster for the former. It is absolutely no surprise to hear the Pakistani side clinging on to the myth of victory 50 years on as delusional thinking led to the adventurism that the 1965 war was and has perpetuated that myth ever since. Lately, the Indian side also seems to be thumping its chest about a purported victory 50 years ago. They need not look any further than the candid account, War Despatches: Indo-Pak Conflict 1965, by the late Lieutenant General Harbaksh Singh, chief of Indian western command, who wrote, “Measured purely in terms of material gains our achievements have been very modest.”
From a Pakistani perspective the war was not only an immediate disaster but had geopolitical aftereffects under which the country and the region are still reeling. First and foremost is the absolute denial about the shortcomings in 1965 and second is the use of jihadist irregulars. Pakistan had set out to “defreeze the Kashmir issue” by triggering an indigenous uprising in Indian-held Kashmir (IHK) through the covert action dubbed Operation Gibraltar to be followed in tandem by Operation Grand Slam to cut off IHK from India proper, internationalize the Kashmir issue thereafter and force India to accept the fait accompli it theoretically would have been thus presented.
Operation Grand Slam was a slow-starting dud not least because of the change of its command at the eleventh hour. Additionally, the Pakistani military and civil planners did not contemplate even once that India would respond, as it actually did, across the international border and hit where it hurts the most, i.e. the Pakistani heartland of Punjab. The extent of recklessness was such that the highly respected chiefs of air staff, Air Marshal (AM) Asghar Khan and the late AM Nur Khan, who took charge from the former on August 15, 1965 while Operation Gibraltar was already underway, were not consulted or even informed as both were to later state on record. Ironically, it was the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) that outshone its Indian counterpart in defense, offense and support to the ground troops. The attempt to take IHK by force ended up ceding the critical Haji Pir Pass to India, with Muzzafarabad in Azad Kashmir within its reach. The then director military operations, Lieutenant General Gul Hassan Khan noted in his memoirs (page 223): “(the army) Chief (General Muhammad Musa Khan) and CGS, General Sher Bahadur, had from its inception viewed Gibraltar as a bastard child, born out of the liaison between the foreign office and HQ 12 Div — to be precise the foreign minister (Z A Bhutto) and General (Akhtar Hussain) Malik.”
Contrary to Pakistan’s self-serving notion that the Kashmiris were craving to rise up against India, almost no such uprising took place. In fact, the people of IHK nabbed several Pakistani regulars and irregulars, and handed them over to the Indian authorities. According to the US State Department’s archives, Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s cabinet member Muhammad Shoaib told an assistant to the US president, Walt Rostow, that Ayub Khan was so exasperated with the debacle that after the war he told his cabinet: “I want it understood that never again will we risk 100 million Pakistanis for five million Kashmiris, never again.” Field Marshal Ayub Khan was dead wrong not on just that count alone however. According to his longtime aide, Altaf Gauhar, Field Marshal Ayub Khan actually believed that “as a general rule Hindu morale would not stand more than a couple of hard blows at the right time and place”. The limited Rann of Kutch encounter where the Pakistan army largely prevailed thanks to Air Marshal Asghar Khan convincing his Indian counterpart Arjun Singh to keep the two air forces out of the fray was misconstrued by Ayub Khan to corroborate his nonsensical views. A firm believer in the bigoted ‘martial race’ theory, Ayub Khan used to claim that one Pakistani soldier was equal to three Indian men. Battles such as the one at Asal Uttar where Pakistan lost some 75 cutting-edge Patton tanks to the antiquated Indian Centurions put Ayub Khan’s delusion to test and then — permanently — to rest.
In addition to anti-India jingoism, the ostensibly secular Ayub Khan and the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was his civilian point man overseeing Operation Gibraltar, were also fond of a throwback to Islamic history. The infiltrating Gibraltar force, which included army regulars and commandos as well as conscripted mujahids (holy warriors), was subdivided into Khalid, Qasim, Tariq, Salahuddin, Ghaznavi and Babur groups named after Muslim generals and invaders. A lasting legacy of the 1965 misadventure was this amalgamation of jihadism, religious sloganeering and an ultra-nationalism exploiting the west Punjabi ethos, with an outright racist thesis to proclaim not just parity with India but actual supremacy over it. The media and artists were commissioned to hype up this reactionary cocktail through martial and male chauvinist music to the extent that even when the Indians were piling up those 75 destroyed Patton tanks at Bhikhiwind in a war monument dubbed Patton Nagar, the Pakistani airwaves were proclaiming victory. An untruth was repeated so frequently, consistently and systematically that both the state and the people took it for the truth.
Field Marshal Ayub Khan and his coterie had called Kashmir “the unfinished agenda of partition”. The incumbent army chief in his Defense Day address this year, also repeated that catchphrase and additionally said, “The time has come that the Kashmir issue should be resolved in line with the aspirations of its people in accordance with the UN resolutions.” Field Marshal Ayub Khan took the Kashmir issue to the UN in 1962 and failed to gain any traction there whatsoever. In fact, his failure at the UN was one of the reasons that led to Ayub Khan opting for the 1965 misadventure that brought Pakistan to the precipice of disaster. A lot of water has flown under diplomatic bridges since 1962 and most certainly since 1948. What is needed is a coolheaded approach to bilateral diplomatic engagement with India over all issues, including cross-border terrorism and Kashmir, not a sleight of hand to stymie whatever little headway was made at the Ufa meeting in Russia. The way forward is a pragmatic approach untethered from hyper-nationalist ideology, not celebrating a golden jubilee of delusional adventurism.
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he tweets @mazdaki)
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