Did the 1965 war make Pakistan stronger?

Published: September 6, 2016

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.

  • Andy

    But 1971 made Pakistan smaller ,hahahahaRecommend

  • Frank Mossman

    The primary problem in all of the military campaigns started by the Pakistan army was, and continues to be, a lack of foresight. They focus on the immediate problem, with no thought expended on the stepwise sequence of actions required to achieve their ultimate objective. Nor is there any planning regarding fallbacks and alternative strategies if the primary strategy falters. This can be seen time and again in their misadventures in 1965, 1971 and Kargil.

    This is a consequence of their poor training. The Pakistani army evolved from (and in all important war-fighting respects, still remains indistinguishable from) the British Indian Army. That army was explicitly designed as a cannon-fodder army, with the Brits doing the thinking and planning and the natives doing the fighting and dying. As a result, the natives, never learnt the arts of strategy and logistics, which are, by far and away, the most important skills in war.

    Instead, they continue with what the British officers taught them: unquestioning obedience and discipline with very little thinking (the primary requirements for a cannon-fodder army). Indeed they proudly maintain the “traditions” (which are in fact indoctrination and brainwashing for cannon-fodder) which they inherited from the British Indian Army.

    Most other armies, of nations which got independence from colonialism, such as the Israelis & the Chinese, ditched the training methods which their colonisers gave them, in favour of those which emphasise original thinking, individual and collective initiative, simulation and planning etc.

    But perhaps the worst error of the Pakistani army was and continues to be its
    involvement in politics and national leadership. These skills are even further
    removed from the aforementioned limited training which it receives. So it is inevitable that it fails miserably in these fields.

    In sum, the Pakistani military continues to be a colonial cannon-fodder military, which ‘assumed the position’ vis-a-vis their neo-colonial overlords, the US; and now perhaps looks to do the same for the Chinese. The only way this problem can be rectified is by removing the entire leadership superstructure of the military and replacing it with one trained to think for themselves and capable of designing and simulating original, adaptive and resilient war-fighting strategies.Recommend

  • Parvez

    That was a good read.Recommend

  • Bairooni Haath

    If Pakistan has to take the right lessons from history, it needs to dispassionately examine the roles of various political personalities. Though Ayub is blamed for the 1965 war disaster and Yahya for 1971, it was Bhutto in both cases who egged the Generals on to war by giving Ayub the wrong advice in 1965 and not accepting Mujibur Rehman’s election victory in 1971. Bhutto met his end at the hands of another General in 1979 but Pakistanis should remember he was responsible for bankrupting the nation twice and dismembering it and other crimes such as election fixing, not giving Bengalis their rights and excommunicating the Ahmedis. This is apart from economically disastrous policies such as nationalization etc. Bhutto was a demagogue of the worst kind.Recommend

  • Andy


  • Andy

    fake story!!Recommend

  • Samson Simon Sharaf

    Though I agree on some aspects, Here is my bit.
    1. Soldiers to remember in 1965 also include Cecil Ch of Halwara Fame. People forget that he was the plot who led the assault on an Indian armoured advance in Chawinda and cuaded two hours delay that gave time to 25 Cavalry to react and stop/reverse the advance.
    2. Air Vice Marshall Eric Hall who modifies a C130 ro drop barrel bombs on Indian lines behind BRB canal and IHK.
    3. Wing Comd Mervyn Middlecoat the famous F 104 pilot who later went down fighting in 1971.
    4. Wing Cmd Nazir Latif a Christian Bomber Pilot.
    5. Peter Christy died in combat in 1971, though he was on many bombing missions in 1965.
    6. Flt Lt. William Harney a B 57 BomberRecommend

  • Concard_007

    Pakistanis are such geniuses in 1965 war, most Indians were expecting 2 front war from East and West Pakistan. But Pakistan ended up fighting to save West Pakistan. There was hardly any war or fight in the East. So in 1971 we did what we long thought we should do. Cut East and the West and make East Pakistan a independent country.Recommend

  • Faulitics

    smaller and meanerRecommend

  • Prananjai

    Alahmdulillah Pakistan is the only country in the world to celebrate Defence Day after starting a war.Recommend

  • Simon

    Yes 71 and 1999 made them look crap internationallyRecommend

  • Abhijeet

    Was a misadventure. Pakistan gained nothing by starting an unnecessary war. The manner it is being talked about as if the soldiers, civilians who lost their lives on both sides do not matter – mere pawns in Pakistan’s ill thought ventureRecommend

  • Maverick_NZ

    Completely agree. But Pakistan was always susceptible to such selfishness and incompetence more than India as India had set systems, procedures and hierarchy which prevented someone like Ayub Khan or Bhutto to act beyond their brief. Pakistan was only as strong as the strength of its leader, which showed in the ’71 war. We, rightly or wrongly, started from scratch but have made tremendous progress.

    Now we just need to keep the cycle of democracy running and keep respecting our armed forces without maligning them. Next step in Pakistan’s evolution: Complete revamp of electoral institutions such as ECP. Otherwise, we will be stuck.Recommend

  • Gp65

    “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. ”

    You have yourself admitted that it was Pakistan that attacked India first and India only retaliated. How then do you talk about Indian ‘invasion’?Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    But you neglected to tell us what part of the story was FAKE!!!!!Recommend

  • Srinivasulu Mekala

    I can not predict my own next move, but I can accurately predict where Pakistan is destined to move in the next decade.Recommend

  • Bana Post

    Actually the real decline of pakistan started after the war and the process is going on even nowRecommend

  • Fighter

    But i thought it was India who started the Fight?! Did it not? Why does the author say we did not achive our objective. How can that be when we won the war?Recommend

  • Mr Obvious

    Pakistan lost International support/reputation during the 65 war – also began the loss of trust/credibility with Pakistan/USA relationship. That doesn’t fit my definition of stronger.Recommend

  • ToreBraaten

    India attacked Pakistan, left Pakistan with no other choice then to self defend.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Pakistan started the war,lost it and celebrates it as defence day,how Pakistani is thatRecommend

  • raj

    don’t read Pak news thenRecommend

  • khan

    Andy knows everything…Recommend

  • Milind A

    It made them a superpower….or super-beggerRecommend

  • Sane

    But, then why you shiver when Pakistan is named before you.Recommend

  • Sane

    Ha….ha….ha…. you Indians are typical and shall remain unchanged. After so many years you could not accept losing a war against Pakistan.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    India was on a backfoot and decided to escalate to gain the advantage. Your military thought that would never happen
    Your objective was to capture Kashmir. Our objective was to deter you guys from gaining any territory.
    India was healing from the wounds of 1962 defeat against China and was very very poor at the time. So, we went to Tashkent.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Because he has to soothe the Pakistani ego. Use friendly terms to get attention and try to tell a different story. Recommend

  • Concard_007

    When the objectives are not met, then you have lost the war. As the article itself says 1965 was the year where Pakistan had the chance to liberate Kashmir. Did it happen? No. Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Did you read what the author has written or jumped straightaway to the comment section? He is asking for sanity from sane people like you.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    I wondered too but please understand the author is a Pakistani and hence he cannot ruffle all feathers at one go especially when the people of Pakistan are fed on lies since its very creation.Recommend

  • maynotmatter

    So you cannot make a difference between “disgust” and “shiver”Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Some jernail and politician read Angrezi phorren book Small is Beautiful. So Pakistan became small. I have an innocent query: Bangalis were in majority, so who are real Pakistanis?Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Cannon fodder for feudal lords in battle fields are native Xian, Ahmedi, Shia and in his fields Hindu Haris. Army kernails and jernails also dream of grabbing Hindu lands and women. That is what they have been told by Mulla and Turki Mughal barbarians.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    World wide Islam will disappear in next decade or so. Anglos are done with using Islam as WMD against Soviets, Indians, Russians and even Middle Easterners and in fact Islam is growing within the West.Recommend

  • indiandude

    In 65, the brave Pakistani armed forces attacked to snatch Kashmir away from India but ended up saving Lahore! Thus saving of Lahore, its own territories, is considered as a victory and known as defence day.
    ..oh almost forgot..LOL!Recommend

  • Andy
  • Sane

    I replied a comment. User you mind.Recommend

  • Sane

    As always, illogical; and out of sense answer.Recommend

  • BJK

    This piece is little bit on the presumptive side! There is no basis to assume that in 1965, Pakistan would have “won” in Kashmir on the abilities of one General – whether an Ahmadi or anybody else. Every war is a long-drawn affair and in the end the Indians would have won because India is a bigger country and has a bigger army, has more resources and has as much (maybe more) of a motivation to win than you guys ever did. Maybe Bhutto screwed up in that one decision-making (to invade in 1965) but all that pales in comparison with the original blunder in Kashmir started by Jinnah.

    And I have news for you. It was not the 1965 war which made Indians suspicious of Pakistanis in general, take it from someone who was actually alive and aware at the time. At the time, we did not like some of your leaders – but mostly we thought they were not representative of your general population (which was easy to think because you guys were having so many coups!) The real “divide” did not come around till you guys started sending in your troublemakers. That was in the 1980s, when you started training the Khalistanis. Then you trained mujahidin in Kashmir and you fomented a lot of religious discord (in both places). Your agents were killing bus travelers in Punjab because they were Hindus and your agents were kicking out Pandits from Kashmir because of the same reason. You guys hijacked our civilian planes and made us free hardened terrorists (our forced gift to you, which now keeps on giving). To keep it short, 1965 was just one little blip on a very long march done with deliberation on your very own chosen path and traceable all the way to Jinnah!Recommend

  • BJK

    Salim yaar, you obviously skipped those mandatory lectures being delivered early in the life of Pakistan on the topic of martial races!Recommend

  • Rohan

    The whole world recognises that you lost even some of your newspapers and gernails Recommend

  • gp65

    He is a proud IndianRecommend

  • gp65

    Did USSR lose Afghan war or not? Is it because Afghans had even a single inch of USSR territory? No. It is because USSR started the war and failed to meet its objective.
    The same logic applies to 1965 war : Pakistan started the war and failed to meet its objectives.
    All the other facts (India lost more planes, Pakistan lost more territory and men) are not relevant to the determination of who won or lost.Recommend

  • gp65

    Insightful and introspective comment. Kudos.Recommend

  • gp65

    I hope that was a tongue in cheek post and you are aware that Pakistan started the war.Recommend

  • gp65

    Please see what your own heroes Air Marshal Asghar Khan and Nur Khan say about who started the war.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Do you mean those who want to have more than one wives- Marrital?Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    They will declare Bhutto and Yahya as Kaffir. I remember 65 war and also daily 20-30 killings in Punjab in road transport.Recommend

  • sher khan

    one of the solider to remember was Major general niranjan prasad running aways from the battle field on 6th sept 1965.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    When was the last time Pakistan won a war?Recommend

  • Bana Post

    Pakistan has a habit of celebrating all debacles after 20 or 30 years as land mark victories .In 2030 they will boast 1971 surrender as the greatest achievement of Pak army Not only that the 71 debacle will glorified in the school text.Such an outstanding manipulatorsRecommend

  • Sudhakara Reddy

    Friends in pakiatan. Think We need to give productive resources or war ravaged nations to future generations. This ugly thought of “hate” was sowed by yester year politicians. Present politicisns Continuing the same past. I have not seen any pakistani except in TV. I dont hate them. But when trained terrorists attack innocents. I dont understand what were they thinking.Are they thinking they can kill 100 billon people. If any one on earth thinks. They can live forever.No one is big fool than him. Live with peace and love 60/100 years you have.Recommend