Who won the '65 war?
IT is rare to see two adversaries celebrating the same war as their respective victory! On September 6, 2015, Pakistan celebrated the 50th anniversary of Youm-e-Difa, or Pakistan Defence Day, with a 21-gun salute and a victory parade to commemorate its successful defence of Lahore against the Indian Army. The Youm-e-Difa, however, distorts its history to the extent that this war was initiated by Pakistan, not India. Also, it glosses over Pakistan’s failure to annex J&K, and its most successful operation of the war, wherein Pakistan army almost reached Akhnoor to severe India’s Jammu-Akhnoor-Naushehra-Rajauri-Poonch road.
India, too, is commemorating the 50th anniversary of this war: a war that many Indians thought had been forgotten and assessed as a stalemate by many. The fact that the Indian Government has woken up this year to celebrate the victory, for which 2,862 soldiers laid down their lives, is a reflection of its lack of strategic culture, apathy towards the profession of soldiering and the partisan politics that dominates our country.
Geopolitically, 1965 was the most appropriate time (and the last opportunity) for Pakistan to annex J&K by force. Politically, India was shaken after the demise of its first Prime Minister Nehru in May 1964. In comparison, Pakistan was politically stable with a higher percentage of economic growth. It was a strategic ally of the US and had been receiving the latest weapons and equipment, like Patton tanks, F-86 Sabre and F-104 Starfighter combat aircraft and the sidewinder air-to-air missile — the only usable air-to-air missile in that conflict. By ceding Shaqsgam Valley to China in 1963, it had established a long-term strategic partnership with China. Its only problem was of a false sense of optimism and strategic superiority; a common factor in all wars between India and Pakistan.
India was yet to recover from the ignominy of its horrible military defeat in the China-India war of 1962 and in the midst of making up strength of the armed forces which had been mindlessly reduced in the years before. The emphasis in the military facelift was on mountain warfare.
The war plan to ‘finish the unfinished agenda of J&K’ was approved by Pakistan military dictator Field Marshal Ayub Khan on May 13, 1965. Pakistan launched Operation Gibraltar by infiltration of nearly 10,000 armed soldiers and mujahideen into J&K on the night of 5/6 August to cause a revolt against India. When this failed and India succeeded in capturing strategic heights in Kargil and Hajipir Pass, Pakistan launched Operation Grand Slam on September 1 to capture Akhnoor with its strategic bridge over the Chenab. This led to India’s counteroffensives in the Sialkot and Lahore sectors and the decimation of Pakistan’s armoured offensive in Khemkaran and Asal Uttar. Pakistan celebrates defence of Lahore which was never a military objective of the Indian forces.
It was not a short 22-day war, as mentioned by some historians, but one which began with Pakistani infiltration on August 5 and ended on September 22, when both sides agreed to a ceasefire.
So, who won that war?
In the classic military treatise On War, Carl von Clausewitz states that the “political objective is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purposes”. Pakistan, who initiated the war, failed in its political objective. It lost more territory (lost 1800 sq km of territory and captured 540 sq km), suffered more casualties, lost more tanks and guns and more importantly, faced domestic and international humiliation.
In a recent lecture in Lahore, Pakistan's historian and political economist Akbar Zaidi dispelled the Pakistani victory myth, saying that “there can be no bigger lie as Pakistan had lost terribly”.
With major advances in warfare technologies and their huge impact on operational art and tactics, our interest in the 1965 war should now be more to draw strategic lessons from than operational art and tactics. The first thing that strikes me is the near similarity with which Pakistan took the war initiative, under cover of its non-state actors. They were led by Pakistani regular army officers in 1947-48 and in the 1965 war. In Kargil war, they were replaced by some regular army personnel wearing mujahideen clothing. The mujahideen façade continued, although none had participated in that war. In all these wars, there was distorted and disjointed version of Pakistani capabilities and intentions by our intelligence which enabled Pakistan to achieve strategic surprise. We reacted to adverse circumstances — always a bigger challenge — and yet kept the war scope limited. There was no political objective except to force Pakistan to vacate our territory. Such a strategy violates Sun Tzu’s dictum: “Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive.”
What’s the relevance of a formal declaration of war which activates directions contained in the inter-ministerial War Book? And what about the ‘rules of engagement’ which are different for the usual terrorists and those who cross over to wage a 1965 or 1999-type war? Shouldn’t that discretion be left to the Chiefs of Staff Committee?
India’s defence and security report card has, by and large, been more positive than negative. Despite reactive strategic policies, ad hoc defence planning and decision-making, intelligence failures and surprises, the armed forces have maintained the country’s security and territorial integrity better than any other democratic, developing nation. And yet, many a time, we have failed to convert sacrifices and hard-won operational achievements into long-term strategic successes. That is because there is inadequate politico-military dialogue or political guidance in peacetime. Like, approaching the UN when we were doing well in 1947-48 or finishing the J&K issue in 1971, giving up Hajipir Pass was a strategic error in the 1965 war. Unfortunately, despite the important national security roles envisaged and expected of them, the armed forces are not adequately involved in strategic policymaking and planning level.
No two wars are fought in an identical strategic environment. To quote Sun Tzu again: “Just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare, there are no constant conditions.” At the strategic level, one requires a long memory but a longer vision. The next war, if there is one, will be different. The nuclear threshold, cyber capabilities and real-time information, assessments and actions will dictate political and military strategy, operational art and tactics. The uncertainty of peace with Pakistan requires continued vigilance and being ready for the next generation armed conflict.