Our blood runs thick, our blood runs green
September 6th is celebrated as Defence Day in Pakistan. It was on this day that India launched an attack on Pakistan back in 1965. Only a couple of months after launching Operation Gibraltar in Kashmir, Indian forces crossed the border in retaliation, pushing back Pakistani Rangers and advancing towards Lahore from two sides.
They had driven up to Batapur from the Wagha check post during the night of September 5th and 6th before they were pushed back. While this was happening, the Indian army chief was boasting about sipping on coffee at the Lahore Gymkhana club.
Despite it being a surprise attack, it was held back and fought off, inflicting heavy losses to the opposing side. One of the most well-known and famous heroes of the 1965 War was Air Commodore MM Alam, a Pakistan Air Force fighter pilot nicknamed ‘little dragon’. He was also awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat for holding the record of having taken down five Indian aircrafts over the city of Lahore. The people of Lahore came out on the streets to witness the air battle taking place in the skies, making Alam’s task all the more difficult as he had to be ensure no civilian got hurt.
Major Raja Aziz Bhatti, another hero who sacrificed his life in 1965, was commanding a platoon posted in the Burki area of Lahore. As the commander, Major Bhatti chose to lead from the front and moved his platoon forward despite constant heavy firing from Indian tanks and artillery. For five days, he carried on with the attack without taking a moment to rest. He continued to resist Indian attacks for those five days, defending a Pakistani outpost on the strategic Bambawali-Ravi-Bedian canal. However, on September 12, 1965, when he was leading his jawans (soldiers) on the forefront, he was hit by an enemy tank shell in the chest, leading to his martyrdom. He is the true reflection of the character of a Pakistani soldier.
A similar case of gallantry was repeated during the 1971 war by Major Shabbir Sharif. Under orders to advance towards the Sulemanki sector, he captured the Indian Jhangar Post and fought fearlessly as he passed through minefields laid out by the enemy, under heavy shelling, and finally led his company on a high bund (levee). He ended up eliminating Indian soldiers positioned in fortified bunkers and on the night of December 5th, he overpowered Indian Major Narain Singh of the fourth Jat Regiment and ended up killing him during hand-to-hand combat.
In response, Indian troops resorted to an air strike and heavy artillery shelling, and since Major Sharif was on the forefront, he was hit by an enemy tank shell on the chest and embraced martyrdom.
Another hero, during the 1965 war, was Squadron Leader Sarfaraz Ahmed Rafiqui, who on September 6th led a formation of three F-86 aircrafts on a strike against the Halwara airfield. The formation was intercepted by about 10 Hunter aircrafts, out of which Squadron Leader Rafiqui accounted for one in the first few seconds of the battle.
But unfortunately, his guns jammed due to a defect and stopped working. However, he refused to leave the battle ground and instead ordered his second in command to take over as the leader and continued the engagement while providing the formation with as much protection with an unarmed aircraft as possible. His aircraft was eventually shot down and he was killed, but his bravery enabled his formation to shoot down three more fighter aircrafts.
The air combat firing capability of Squadron Leader Rafiqui was also admitted by Major General GS Sidhu in his book, The Indian Cavalry: History of the Indian Armoured Corps till 1940, and he called the Pakistan Air Force pilots “blood thirsty vampires”. General Sidhu conceded Indian defeat in the 1965 war due to nerve shattering gallantry displayed by the Pakistani fighting forces.
On September 8th, India launched its main attack against Sialkot in the Chawinda sector using its armoured division and other offence formations. What ensued has been described as the largest tank battle since World War II. Divisions in southern Pakistan took the initiative to push back Indian troops and entered Indian territory. During the operations, India captured about 400 square miles of Pakistani territory but lost more than 1,600 square miles of its own territory in Khem Karan and the Monabao sector of India.
These are just a few names from a long list of brave soldiers who fought tirelessly for their country.
The entire war lasted for 17 days and ended due to the USSR taking a stand acting as mediator between both parties. A peace agreement was agreed upon which was signed in Tashkent in 1966. The Tashkent declaration, which put an effective end to the war, also included that Indian and Pakistani forces would have to pull back and station themselves at their pre-conflict positions and pre-August lines.
Both nations pledged that they would not interfere in each other’s internal affairs. The fact that the Tashkent declaration took India and Pakistan ‘back to square one’ changed the entire dynamic of the war in such a way that neither could claim full victory or defeat. The 1965 war was a defining moment since both nations learnt that the Kashmir conflict could not be solved by military intervention. Secondly, the remarkable military success of the Pakistani military was not only due to their superior tanks and high level of preparedness, but also due to the wise policy that Field Marshal Ayub Khan had been pursuing during the run-up to the war.
In 1964, only a year before the war, on the initiative of Ayub Khan, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey had concluded an agreement called ‘Regional Cooperation for Development’ (RCD) which also provided defence assistance to each other on the side-line. An agreement similar to RCD was concluded with Indonesia as well. Therefore, when the war began, the Pakistani Air Force was able to use Iranian air fields so that our Pakistani fighter planes would be out of reach of Indian bombardments.
In addition, Turkey supplied Pakistan with spare parts for the F-104 Star fighter planes along with ammunition. Indonesia sent submarines and gun boats into the Bay of Bengal, defending former East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.
At the same time, the US had not only backtracked from its earlier assurances, but tried to pressurise Pakistan to not use American fighter planes and tanks in the war against India. But the bold Pakistani president told US that Pakistan had not purchased military hardware and equipment to be used as a display in museums, rather the planes were purchased for use in defending our territory in case of an attack.
China was another true friend of Pakistan during the 1965 war. They welcomed President Ayub Khan with open arms when he made a secret trip to China during the war. Thus, regional alignments have helped us defend our country, rather than relying on supplies from far away non-Asian countries that do not share the same regional roots and values as us.
The most important lesson that came out of the entire war was the memory of our nation’s unquestioned solidarity with the army and the feeling of belonging and loyalty to our home country. Memories of the bravery of our heroes fighting the enemy face to face and the civilians at home that had united as one to defend the country are truly inspiring.
Unfortunately, this single-minded solidarity seems to have weakened over time, but is slowly recovering due to operation Zarb-e-Azb in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Karachi operation being carried out by the Rangers.
Let us take the events of September 6, 1965 as a reminder that there is no Pakistan without us; it is the Pakistani people who make or break our country and we are the only ones who can make it a worthy place to live in.
Let us, as a united nation, step forward and make an honest commitment towards supporting the present drive against economic terrorism whole heartedly.
Who lives if Pakistan dies and who dies if Pakistan lives?
God bless Pakistan and mankind.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.