Did the 1965 war make Pakistan stronger?

Published: September 6, 2016
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Pakistani soldiers atop captured Indian tanks. PHOTO: INTER-SERVICES PUBLIC RELATIONS.

September 6th to me will always remain a day of remembrances of the following brave soldiers of Pakistan; Raja Aziz Bhatti, Sarfraz Raffiqui, Peter Christy and Younas Hassan. Through their ultimate sacrifice, they ensured that a superior invading force, which outnumbered Pakistan’s military forces, was decisively stopped from taking key cities like Lahore. 

That Pakistan could hold India to a stalemate during the 22 day war was nothing short of a miracle brought about by the sheer bravery and an indomitable will of our fighting men – and in particular our magnificent little air force – which was outnumbered five to one but which scored an aerial victory by all accounts. Some people even attempt to attribute to this divine help, but that is to take away the credit of those brave men who fought and died for Pakistan.

Yet as Pakistanis, we owe it to our dead to revisit the mistakes of the past.

Just as the 1965 war was a testament to the courage of our fighting men and the nation which stood behind them as a rock, it also makes for a shameful record of the failure of Pakistani leadership and in particular that of President and Field Marshal Ayub Khan who at that trying moment was found pitifully wanting. So were those around him, especially his ambitious foreign minister, the man who thought he was cut from the cloth of Talleyrand, Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Earlier that year, Ayub Khan had stolen the presidential election from Fatima Jinnah. How much of his anti-India posturing throughout the early part of 1965 was an attempt to restore his credibility with Pakistani people is a question only the historian can answer. It is clear to me, however, that had Fatima Jinnah been allowed to become the president that year, Pakistan may never have gone to war with India in 1965. That would have also saved us ignominy of defeat in 1971.

Pakistan and India had quarreled over Rann of Kutch, 3500 square miles of barren land on the Gujurat border. There, Pakistan’s military had seen some success. This had emboldened Pakistan’s policymakers, and especially Bhutto, to calculate that a short war against India could be won in Kashmir. This is not to say that such an outcome was militarily impossible.

The Operation Gibraltar, which was planned to ignite a Kashmiri uprising, was quickly followed by Operation Grand Slam on September 1, 1965. Initially Pakistan Army’s advance was swift under Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik. General Malik forced the Indians to retreat but the next day all of a sudden he was replaced with Major General Yahya Khan.

This decision has been the subject of much speculation but it seems that General Malik, who was an Ahmadi, had something to do with this disastrous decision. After all, Kashmir could not be allowed to fall to an Ahmadi general. If it was bigotry, it cost Pakistan dearly. The change in leadership delayed Pakistan’s advance and allowed Indians to reinforce and push back. The golden opportunity (probably the last opportunity) to liberate Kashmir by force was squandered.

On September 6th, India did what Bhutto had claimed it would never do – start the war on the international border. That Pakistani troops were able to hold off the Indian advance at Bambawali Ravi Bedian (BRB) canal is no doubt a testament to their courage. But what of the extraordinary strategic failure that had led to this happening in the first place?

The outcome of military conflict is judged by how far either side was able to achieve its objectives. Whether we like to admit or not, India’s objective of stopping Pakistan’s advance in Kashmir was met. Our objective of wresting Kashmir once and for all was not. The terms of peace achieved at Tashkent further made plain how far Pakistan’s stock had fallen on the international stage. Of course Bhutto painted the Tashkent treaty as Ayub’s failure on the negotiating table, but Ayub was only doing what he could.

The 22 days war had left Pakistan bankrupt and in a rather bad state. A continued conflict would have only resulted in a total defeat.

The 1965 war is when Pakistan and India officially became enemies. Till 1965 there were relatively permeable borders between Pakistan and India. Sure there were disagreements on history and partition, but Pakistanis and Indians had not seen themselves as eternal enemies till then. Those who remember the pre-1965 era speak of a time when, if a book was not available in Lahore’s Urdu bazaar, a reader would simply take a bus over to Amritsar and buy it from there. There was considerable camaraderie and neighbourliness between the two countries.

The change was reflected in the nomenclature as well. Before 1965, the properties left behind by migrants at the time of partition were called evacuee properties. After 1965, both India and Pakistan began calling them enemy properties. It was the 1965 war that poisoned the well.

Was it worth it? Did it make Pakistan stronger or did it even resolve the outstanding issue of Kashmir?

I think we all know the answer to that.

Carl Von Clausewitz, the Prussian military theorist, wrote that,

“War is continuation of politics by other means.”

He did so in an age that had seen Frederick the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte. In our age, some 200 years later, one can only conclude that war is simply the failure of politics and diplomacy. 51 years after the 1965 war, we are no closer to resolving the Kashmir issue. The Pakistan of today cannot afford wars. We need to build ourselves up as a progressive and democratic state with a strong economy that works for the people. Only an economically strong Pakistan can negotiate a final settlement on Kashmir.

As for militarism, that bus has long left the stop. Realism demands that we learn from our mistakes and do not repeat them.

Yasser Latif Hamdani

Yasser Latif Hamdani

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality. He tweets as @theRealYLH (twitter.com/therealylh)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.