VIEW: Lessons of the 1965 war
Reminiscing about the 1965 war with India in which the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) emerged victorious, Pakistan’s ex-air chief, Air Marshal (Retd) Nur Khan, makes the shocking revelation that he almost resigned from the job the day he took over from Air Marshal Asghar Khan. “Rumours about an impending operation were rife but the army had not shared the plans with the other forces,” he said. Air Marshal Asghar Khan, he says, also did not brief him of what lay ahead while handing over charge.
To double-check, Nur Khan spoke to the then Commander-in-Chief, General Musa Khan, who reluctantly parted with the information that Pakistan was about to launch an operation inside Held Kashmir. Nur Khan then spoke to Lt-Gen Akhtar Malik, GOC Kashmir, and was told that Pakistan was launching “Operation Gibraltar” with 800,000 infiltrators “to throw out the Indian troops with the help of the local population”. Since the air force would not be needed, Nur Khan was told, it was not informed. Nur Khan says he went on to discover that even the Lahore garrison commander did not know; and that the powerful governor of West Pakistan, Malik Amir Mohammad Khan of Kalabagh, did not know either, having departed for Murree for vacations.
One can’t blame Nur Khan for wanting to resign. In the event, nothing went as Generals Ayub and Musa had calculated. The Indians opened up on Lahore and everybody had to scramble into action at the last moment, letting the Indians come pretty close to the city. No one will doubt that our air force bailed us out in 1965. It gave us almost complete mastery in the air over an enemy many times larger.
Within 43 days of the change in command, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fought like a lion under Nur Khan. He had good officers under him, none tainted by the greed of power and property as happened in later years. Isolated from the take-over blight that had befallen the army, the PAF had reared itself as a professional institution under two consecutively competent leaders. Nur Khan goes on to say, “The performance of the Army did not match that of the PAF mainly because the army leadership was not as professional. They had planned ‘Operation Gibraltar’ for self-glory rather than in the national interest. It was a wrong war. And they misled the nation with a big lie that India rather than Pakistan had provoked the war and that we were the victims of Indian aggression.”
There was lack of imagination behind the strategy that led to the 1965 war. That’s why on the second day General Musa told Ayub that his army had run out of ammunition. The war didn’t last long and Pakistan was forced to sign a ceasefire at Tashkent that finally brought General Ayub down. Nur Khan says it was an “unnecessary war” and he compares it to the equally unnecessary 1999 Kargil Operation where the Pakistan Navy was kept out of the loop and prime minister Nawaz Sharif had to run off to Washington to sue for peace because India was said to have moved its fleet and was preparing to threaten Karachi.
The first big lesson is that Pakistan as a state should not think in military terms. It should not credit the Pakistani generals’ belief that only military victories will ensure Pakistan’s future. The Argentine general who fought the Falklands war to present “the gift of the Malvinas” (Argentina’s Kashmir) to the Argentine nation was drummed out of power by the very people who had egged him on. The victory General Ayub had dreamed about did not materialise because it was based on the erroneous belief that India was too cowardly to attack. This was based on another theory — which dismembered Pakistan in 1971 — that the defence of West Pakistan contained a level of deterrence that India would not challenge. East Pakistan discovered that its defence was non-existent because it depended only on the defence of West Pakistan.
General Ayub’s 1965 war ruined the good economic indicators his era had achieved. The military leaders who followed him kept interfering in politics and feeding the nation more lies. The 1965 war was well fought because of superior US equipment which was not meant to be used against India. The war proved that Pakistan had joined the US pacts under false pretences. Later the army turned anti-American and made the textbooks say that America had let Pakistan down in 1965 and 1971. Declassified papers relating to the Nixon era inform us that Nixon had indeed prevented India from attacking West Pakistan in 1971.
The lesson from 1965 is the same as drawn by Nur Khan: that the military should stay away from political power, that Pakistan should demilitarise its mind and think of options other than war to ensure its survival, that the economy should be given the primacy it deserves; and that, last but not least, Pakistan should consolidate itself internally, re-establish the social contract with the people that it has lost because of its coercive ideology, and focus on the internal threats that confront it. *
EDITORIAL: Good meeting between APHC and Indian PM
The “moderate” faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) met the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh in New Delhi for two and a half hours Monday night and reportedly felt good after the meeting. The five-member Hurriyat team — comprising its chairman Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, Abdul Ghani Bhatt, Maulvi Abbas Ansari, Bilal Gani Lone and Fazl Haq Qureshi — told the prime minister that they would make “specific suggestions” for the resolution of the Kashmir problem. The meeting was significant because in March 2004 when the process broke off the APHC had succeeded in meeting only the then deputy prime minister, LK Advani.
This first-ever meeting will lead to some thaw in Kashmir. The Kashmiris kept in jail unlawfully may be released and the Indian army might relent a bit after Mr Manmohan Singh said he could start withdrawing some forces if the militants took the pressure off him. Hidden behind the strategy of meeting the APHC leaders is the gambit of isolating the hardliners, but it won’t work if too many are left out. In fact the ones meeting the prime minister could become isolated if important leaders like Yasin Malik, Shabbir Shah and Sajjad Lone are left out to strengthen Ali Geelani’s position. (Pakistan isolated him by welcoming all the others.) And it is time to give something substantial to the Kashmiris to get the region out of its morass of conflict. *