Most neutral historians agree that the 1965 India-Pakistan war ended in a stalemate, yet both countries today claim to have delivered a crushing defeat on the other side.
In the era before most South Asian newspapers could afford embedded reporting, media outlets in both countries relied mainly on official statements in their reporting on war. The way the media on both sides reported on the 1965 war itself and the events than followed made it possible for establishments of both countries to interpret conclusions of the war according to their own choice.
Archives of the Indian media kept by the media wing of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), which itself was the only source of information for the Pakistani media, show that grossly exaggerated claims of military success were made by the Indian military and reported in India.
“Our valiant forces have set up a civil administration in Lahore after capturing the railway station, airport, Mughalpura, an ordinance factory …. Civilised attitude of our solders wins hearts of Lahoris,” reads headline of an Indian newspaper. “Lahore captured: Our forces are moving into Kasur,” was another headline, complete with many side stories to substantiate such claims. Indian forces never entered the city of Lahore.
The Pakistani side also employed different tools. Shortly before the war broke out, Radio Sada-e-Kashmir, set up as ‘revolutionary radio’, was reporting stories of ‘audacious attacks’ by Kashmiri separatists on the Indian military, some of which carried over to the mainstream Pakistani media. In its August 11, 1965 edition, Dawn ran the headline: “Patriots cut Srinagar-Jammu Road”.
Reporting a night raid, quoting Radio Sada-e-Kashmir, the paper said separatists also destroyed nine bridges on this main road that linked the summer capital Jammu with Srinagar and the Kashmir Vale. The paper also published a map showing various other important road links from across the 1948 ceasefire line supposedly under the control of the ‘revolutionary council’ that had been set up as a parallel government to the Indian administration in Kashmir.
In reality, Pakistan’s covert operation – codenamed ‘Gibraltar’ – did not achieve all the objectives, prompting another operation, named Grand Slam, to be launched on September 1, 1965. Pakistani Army conducted the second operation to capture Aknor, a town in Jammu, to sever communication supplies to Srinagar, something Sada-e-Kashmir had claimed already happened.
In this second major operation, both sides used regular forces and heavy war machinery including tanks. Pakistan claims that before their second operation, the freedom fighters on the Indian side of the ceasefire line were fighting against Indian forces. However, India claims Pakistan had entered more than 30,000 troops into the Indian side in the guise of locals.
Many historians say that Pakistan had launched Gibraltar with a strong belief that it would stir a mass uprising by local Kashmiris against Indian occupation. The expected results were not achieved, they say. However, in desperation to ease mounting pressure by Pakistani forces on the Kashmir front, India attacked Pakistan and crossed the international border on September 6 at three points, which marked official beginning of the 1965 war.
The war ended on September 22 as the result of the Tashkent accord, brokered by the Soviet Union and signed by President Ayub Khan and then Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri. Both sides agreed to withdraw to pre-August 1965 boundaries by February 25, 1966.
Both sides still claim that they gave a crushing blow inflicting heavy casualties to the other side and won the war. However, most independent war historians dispute claims of the two sides and say it was a draw and none of the two was ultimate winner in the battlefield.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 2nd, 2015.