’65, fifty years on

Published: September 5, 2015
PHOTO: historypak.com

PHOTO: historypak.com

PHOTO: historypak.com The writer is a political and security analyst who retired as an air vice-marshal in the Pakistan Air Force

The most notable achievement of the 1965 War was not that Pakistan won – it did not – it was that India did not win. That is about the maximum extent of objectives that this war served. Wars are fought to achieve political aims; when they do not, they are failed wars. In 1965, both sides failed to achieve their political objectives and thus both lost; in more respectable terms it is called a stalemate. So much so, that the two needed to fight another war in 1971 to achieve their political ambitions. In this case, India won and Pakistan couldn’t prevent the loss.

Of valour, outstanding commitment to the mission, tactical brilliance, and courage, there was no shortage in 1965. The men and women of the Pakistan Armed Forces fought with exemplary bravery and wrote many a saga of selfless sacrifice and duty to the nation. That excellence of the human spirit is what we Pakistanis celebrate, connoting victory not as a gain or loss but as a value that keeps nations alive and serves to guide future generations. We err when we wish to seek victory in this war in literal terms and convolute history to contrive one.

When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Lt Gen Akhtar Malik conceived Operation Gibraltar, it was to sever Kashmir from the Indian mainland. The infiltration of irregulars to bolster the freedom movement inside Kashmir, instigated a series of rebel actions that provided the backdrop for the engagement of regulars on the ceasefire line (CFL). The CFL began to be regularly violated and small troop movements began on either side of it. That gave cause to bigger assemblies across the international border while Pakistani troops pressed in on an offensive across the CFL towards Jammu.

Perhaps the most brilliant move of the entire war was the rapidity with which Pakistani troops, under the command of Lt Gen Malik moved on the Tawi-Akhnoor-Jammu axis. They moved into Chamb and Jaurian without a fight; the enemy having receded as they advanced. Jammu was only an arm’s length away, and that would have laid open the Kathua road to Pakistan’s advancing troops, making the dream of cutting Kashmir at its chicken-neck at Madhopur a probability. Until of course minor matters of the spoils and ultimate glory came in the way.

The offensive was paused for a change of command away from Lt Gen Malik, over to the blue-eyed Lt Gen Yahya Khan. This two-day pause was sufficient for the Indian forces to hustle, dig deep and halt the momentum of the Pakistani troops. Meanwhile, to release pressure on Jammu, India opened up two fronts and war was declared on September 6. The situation on the Kashmir front never got better beyond what was reached by September 2 and 3, and Pakistan’s political objective of winning Kashmir lay buried at the altar of egotistic ambition and human pettiness. Many saw the generalship as Pakistan’s pervasive Achille’s heel. It is true for many other reasons but this particular moment in 1965 was lost to crass ordinariness and human baseness.

Here on, began a dour fight for the stalemate. Pakistan lost the offensive edge and was forced on the defensive. All of Pakistan’s war stories – popular in the public realm – are related to the courage of defending what had been wrought on itself. India opened on two fronts — one in Sialkot, as a protective manoeuvre against the growing momentum of the thrust in Kashmir and the other in Lahore. Both Indian offensives were halted by magnificent tales of personal bravery and sacrifice. On the Sialkot front, the biggest tank battle since the Second World War was fought and the Indian offensive petered out. On the Lahore front a combination of some stout defending by the much smaller defensive elements and some extraordinary support by the air force in targeting Indian forces, saved the day for Pakistan.

In seventeen days, both sides learnt a few lessons: that the plains of Punjab are not suited for rapid advance because of excessive ground friction and massive populations and structures. The gains in Kashmir will always remain a factor of brilliant strategy, not of matching numbers and firepower. And air power is the key to both offence and defence. A lesson that may not have been learnt is that military force is used to achieve political aims; if none are achieved, it amounts to failure. The larger the military, the bigger is its loss. Yet surprisingly, military leaders on both sides continue to make bellicose statements of superiority of one over another. Unfortunately, the military defeats of the other, without achieving political aims, is akin to having won a friendly match without ever entering and winning the championship. It may make a good game, but is of little consequence. It is time we stopped treating politics and the military as a game of kabaddi.

The Line of Control (LOC) and the Working Boundary are again active but this is more in commemoration of what once was. The real fight is in Fata, and in Balochistan to an extent. Karachi is an internal front. When the two nations decided to go overtly nuclear they practically bid farewell to conventional war. Under General Musharraf there were two attempts to test this theory and on both occasions the implausibility to revert to a convention was reinforced. The ten-month long eye-ball-to-eye-ball (O, how I love this term! It really makes one feel like a man) confrontation in 2002, and then the Kargil experience, both failed to breach the binds of the newer paradigm in military engagement, even as the later commanders sought ancient glory in recreating the sagas of yesteryears. Air Marshal Nur Khan was a man of his time; but in today’s construct he would be a total misfit and more likely fail unless he learned and adapted to the new realities.

As jets whiz over me in preparation of commemorating the heroes of the 1965 war, my heart goes out to them because they were only carrying out their task. In doing so, they display a perfection in their mastery and attainment over their craft. In many ways they relive the moment of their forebears who made their mark on exactly similar lines. But I question if they understand that they will ultimately be known by whether their contributions helped win Pakistan an abiding victory. And that is a matter for the generals and ministers to ponder.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2015.

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Reader Comments (47)

  • Bairooni Haath
    Sep 5, 2015 - 2:37AM

    So Pakistan started the war and failed to achieve its objective. Your definition of defeat. India never had any designs on Lahore or Sialkot to start with.Recommend

  • ajeet
    Sep 5, 2015 - 2:38AM

    Wonderful soviet style narrative by the user, which I’m reading for the first time after Pravda stopped printing.Recommend

  • ZK
    Sep 5, 2015 - 6:03AM

    Dear @author

    I am confused.

    Pakistan started the war. Did it win or not? If the end goal was to capture Indian Kashmir, then we have not won. Definitely it was not a truce. Did I miss anything here, can someone help me understand.Recommend

  • Prakash
    Sep 5, 2015 - 6:56AM

    So you tried to burgle a house; Got kicked out; On top, the house owner entered your home and thrashed you; And now you are jeering at him because he didn’t take away any of your stuff?
    I don’t know your definition of bravery, but you sure can put up a brave face.Recommend

  • IndianDude
    Sep 5, 2015 - 6:59AM

    ..The most notable achievement of the 1965 War was not that Pakistan won – it did not – it was that India did not win…
    So Pakistan started a war with India to gain territories/J&K from India but manage only to save itself. That makes you proudly celebrate as a great achievement of Pakistani in 65 war? What chivalry!Recommend

  • Aman
    Sep 5, 2015 - 7:59AM

    The author misses out on the fact that India was NOT the aggressor in ’65 so as far as India was concerned the objective of the war was to prevent Pakistan from making any permanent games in Kashmir. In that respect it has succeeded even though it did not achieve convincing victory. However most neutral observers agree that at the end of the war India had the upper hand and had the war prolonged history might’ve been very differentRecommend

  • Vasanth
    Sep 5, 2015 - 9:10AM

    The author missed the best that India learned it’s lesson well and showed how to win in just 6 years after 1965. Of course Pakistan after 50 years is still taking lessons in outcomeRecommend

  • Average Indian
    Sep 5, 2015 - 9:16AM

    After fifty long years, finally some semblance of truth. My dear friends from Pakistan and the author should understand that by running a PR campaign one can not change reality. By your own acceptance in the article Pakistan started all the wars and yet has not been able to gain any territory. Pakistan should accept the truth, accept the reality, accept the status quo and make peace with India on every issue including Kashmir. War mongering, rigid attitudes, use of non state actors, occasional cross border raids, occupying peaks is not going to help achieve anything except a ruined international reputation.Recommend

  • Indian
    Sep 5, 2015 - 9:27AM

    Shashtri as truly said was indecisive,any other leader would have pressed on and taken Lahore as part of India..Pakistan would have been now crying for Lahore instead of Kashmir.. Chance missed but not next time I hope.Recommend

  • ajay gupta
    Sep 5, 2015 - 9:50AM

    eagerly awaiting your write up on 50 years of the 1971 war, due in 6 yrs’ time. twisitng the truth is an art pakistanis have perfected, sp those who write on its wars!! when pakistan has lost credibility in the eyes of the world, must u make your country a bigger laughing stock by writing such expert analyses!! (the previous one being how there should be equitable distribution of power between muslims and hindus in british india even though muslims comprised at best 30% of the population!)Recommend

  • Milind
    Sep 5, 2015 - 10:09AM

    @Prakash – That analogy was spot on.. Awesome!!!Recommend

  • SKChadha
    Sep 5, 2015 - 10:09AM

    Sir, India’s Political Objective in 1965 war was to save J&K from severing from Indian main land. It defended the territory under its control to last inch. Thus how India lost 1965 war in achieving its Political Aim? Same was also the case in Kargil? Yes, in all such foolish actions we lost our brave hearts on both sides besides considerable expenses. Sooner we realize that war or inflicting terror is not going to solve over Political differences, better it is for us.Recommend

  • Normal Pakistani
    Sep 5, 2015 - 10:11AM

    Dear Shahdaz Chowdary, Pleae don’t write similiar articels in future to add embrassement to Pakistan. It is very evident from your writings what has happened. Pleae don’t think pakistani public are fools.Recommend

  • Milind
    Sep 5, 2015 - 10:13AM

    @Indian – “Shashtri as truly said was indecisive,any other leader would have pressed on and taken Lahore as part of India..”

    That’s incorrect assessment.. Shastri was wrongly perceived by the Pakistani establishment as someone meek, since he was diminutive, spoke less, was not media friendly.. However they were in for a surprise, when Shastri gave the go ahead to open a second front and have our forces reach Lahore. He stood his ground, refusing to vacate the held territory, but mysteriously died at Tashkent. It was rumoured that he was killed, since he refused to yield to the game of the then superpowers – U.S. & U.S.S.R. Shastri was anything but indecisive, a man who spoke less but carried a big stick.Recommend

  • Ashish Chaudhary
    Sep 5, 2015 - 10:17AM

    India got badly hurt in 62 war, so pak thought it’d be cake walk for him to snatch Kashmir from wounded India, but things didn’t turned out as pak expected..
    and the period between 62 to 71 was toughest for India…because from 62 to 71 , in 9 years of time, India fought four wars , two with China(62,67) and two with pak(65,71) …in out of four wars, India won three (65,67,71) and lost one(62)Recommend

  • manoj
    Sep 5, 2015 - 10:17AM

    Sir…a) “A lesson that may not have been learnt is that military force is used to achieve political aims; if none are achieved, it amounts to failure”. So you admit Pakistans attempt ie to achieve a political aims was a failure .but that a failure is not a loss? Please help us to understand this construct of yours.

    b) what was the Indian political objective in 1965 war , which it was not able to achieve? I thought India had only a military objective ie to push pakistan forces back?


  • manoj
    Sep 5, 2015 - 10:24AM

    “In doing so, they display a perfection in their mastery and attainment over their craft. In many ways they relive the moment of their forebears who made their mark on exactly similar lines”.. may we know who are the “forebears”? very curious. Are you referring to Babars and Aurangzebs?


  • Sameer
    Sep 5, 2015 - 10:33AM

    Well bigger size of military doesn’t matter always.
    just see how one Israel defeated it’s 4-5 enemies…how superpower America was defeated by Vietnam….
    and just see how 13000 Indian soldiers made enemy’s 93000 soldiers surrenderedRecommend

  • hari
    Sep 5, 2015 - 11:15AM

    Why all indians are more interested in commenting on Pakistan news sites. They must remember that Hindus only get power when England govt decided to free them. They were under Muslims slavery since centuries.

    Indians are somehow successful in making Pakistan weaker and more weaker by financing MQM.Recommend

  • Steve R
    Sep 5, 2015 - 11:23AM

    Excellent article! Very balanced.Recommend

  • Wellwisher
    Sep 5, 2015 - 11:49AM

    Modi it seems has succeeded in educating the real truth across the borderRecommend

  • Pnpuri
    Sep 5, 2015 - 11:51AM

    One wonders why Pakistan has objection to golden jubilee of 1965 being celebrated by India , when it has been celebrating Defence Day since. But probably Defense Day is a case of misnomer, it should be renamed as Offence Obstruction Day.Recommend

  • Bilal
    Sep 5, 2015 - 2:31PM

    I see many of our indian brothers have commented here and they seem very proud, “justified”. but whats alarming is the rage which both the Nations have for each other. One platform you guys are promoting peace, the other you are ready to go on a war just to prove that you can win. Killing humanity is wrong no matter whatever the cause is (which you guys obviously been doing in kashmir and on borders for a long time now), at least be human for once and then think.Recommend

  • Azfar Bilal
    Sep 5, 2015 - 3:33PM

    Author has very candidly expressed his opinion about the condcut of war. Why Indians are getting agitated, i fail to comprehend. Its always better to read the books on the subject. Its not like Muabao, Khem Karan, Chamb, Fazilka didnt happen. Indians did gain some territory in Punjab but were not able to threaten either Lahore or Sialkot. No area of economic and starategic significance was lost. Where you see the pictures of khem Karan and Munabao raliway stations i dont see any from the Indian side. That Operation Nepal and Riddle didnt achieve their objectives is clear from the books written by Indian authors also. That they lost territory in Punjab Rajistan and kashmir is also clear and so did we. No side can claim to an out right win. Lets leave it at that.Recommend

  • Dubya
    Sep 5, 2015 - 4:07PM

    Actually India gained tremendously the Physiological edge which she had lost during China War… Now look India is … Anybody and everybody will have to think twice before attacking India … No wonder India has a plan in place if there is two front war …
    India can now take on BOTH Pakistan and China simultaneously… Bravo India …
    India should actually thank Pakistan for 1965 war … as it raised the moral of Indian forces sky high …
    The results are there to show … 1971 and Kargil ….Recommend

  • Kashmiri
    Sep 5, 2015 - 4:24PM

    @prakash not YOUR house . Kashmir isnt INDIA and never will be. Go and ask any kashmiri if you may.Recommend

  • Raza
    Sep 5, 2015 - 5:42PM

    Finally, at least someone in the Pakistani media is acknowledging that we brought ’65 onto ourselves. Though I agree with the Indian posters here; we attacked them to win territory, we failed to win territory, hence we lost. India was defending territory, stayed in control of the territory; hence it won. We have nothing to celebrate; all the Defence Day celebrations are just typical military propaganda and public delusion.

    And yes, I realize this post will be greeted with the typical accusations of treason; but its just the truth. Happy Defence Day everyone! Recommend

  • Khurram
    Sep 5, 2015 - 8:17PM

    @Raza Brother I could not have said it any better than you. This is a clear admission that we were the instigators of ’65 War not India. India only defended her territory in the end came out as the winner because we badly failed to achieve even a single objective of the war. This Defence Day clamor is nothing more than a Khaki Propaganda for the delusional people.Recommend

  • undeployed
    Sep 5, 2015 - 8:41PM

    Both sides stick to arguments they read in their elementary school text books :) I thought education meant more than that. IMO, we did not win anything after 65 victory. Successful defense was our victory.
    As far as entering Lahore is concerned, its never going to happen. You have absolutely no idea about citizens of big cities of Pakistan. I am sure when theres the next time, you will make the biggest push for Lahore.Recommend

  • Gavin
    Sep 5, 2015 - 8:50PM

    @Kashmiri: Yeap, Kashmir ain’t India, but a part of India. Go ask the world if you may.Recommend

  • S.k.jaiswal
    Sep 6, 2015 - 12:57AM

    Democracy is the real strength of INDIA and let the other side clearly understand that only those states succeed who have people’s real support.
    Soviet Union disintegrated after seventy years without a war due to internal disquiet among its various sections/staresRecommend

  • Indian
    Sep 6, 2015 - 2:22AM

    @Milind, all talk about Shastri bravery is hogwash as much as Pakistan win, India was ill prepared as it did not expect Pakistan attack. Pakistan being part of NATO alliance got superior planes and tanks and was preparing for attack, India just defended itself well just because of sheer size could have slight upper edge of Pakistan. Any other country and such a leader would be sacked.I believe Gandhi had spoiled the DNA of Indian at that time..I believe difference with Modi and current lot is If someone attacks India now they would ensure enemy know whom it messed up and does not lives to tell false stories of its win to citizens. BTW Pakistan were thinking they were winning 71 war as well but that kind of loss cannot be hidden.Recommend

  • Abe
    Sep 6, 2015 - 3:04AM

    What about Pakistan itself? Did not exist before 1947 and was created out of India by a foreign power, not native Indians.Recommend

  • lancersboy
    Sep 6, 2015 - 5:22AM

    Pakistan and India are in a state of perpetual war since 1947,65 was just one phase of this war.If RAW continues to target Pakistan,even now when I write these comments,then all comments here and the article by Shehzad Ch are incomplete.Even the tone of comments from Indian trolls are testimony to the fact that the war goes on.Pakistan never entered Indian back door as a thieve as Kashmir was and still remains disputed.Pakistan had every reason to claim the Occupied Kashmir,so pre 65 war skirmishes make sense.Folks,we are the third generation of this war and many more will come till dooms day.Happy reading.Recommend

  • Rao
    Sep 6, 2015 - 6:27AM

    I don’t get it. Why was Ayub Khan made a Field Marshall when he never won a war in his life time? Recommend

  • Ariba
    Sep 6, 2015 - 8:18AM

    Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai watch documentary — In 2013 it was proven once again that the creation of Pakistan was just. Killed more than 200 muslims in riots. thanks to BJPRecommend

  • Indian Reality
    Sep 6, 2015 - 9:12AM

    “With the exception of a few minor successes… The operational performance was virtually a catalogue of lost victories.” said t Lt Gen Harbakhsh Singh about the main thrust to Lahore that faltered on day one itself.


  • Auginpk
    Sep 6, 2015 - 9:15AM

    It is essential that we must learn the facts correctly and use our intelligence. Both in India & Pakistan history is being taught as political point of iew of the ruling party, in Pakistan’s case it involves army also.

    Learning the facts frees us from political sterio-type and gives us new vistas for our thought.

    The Indo-Pak war of 1965 requires something like this.Recommend

  • ABCD
    Sep 6, 2015 - 9:21AM

    Pakistan did not win. India also did not. In fact both lost. Both lost thousands of lives and economy was crippled. But Pakistan lost more, as this event led to creation of BD 6 years after.Recommend

  • Virkaul
    Sep 6, 2015 - 9:33AM

    Why would it not be part of a successful democracy where every ethnic and religious group feels safe and can succeed? You keep you communal thoughts to yourself and please do not generalise it. I am a Kashmiri and negate your viewsRecommend

  • Komal S
    Sep 6, 2015 - 10:51AM

    Okay, as everyone can see Pakistan used irregulars in 1965, 1999 for the war against India. Pakistan continues to pump irregulars across the border. With this track record, all of us in India are finally glad that the current Government has decided to use disproportionate response to any adventure across the border. Recommend

  • observer
    Sep 6, 2015 - 12:03PM

    Someone needs to tell Zaid Hamid about this.Recommend

  • Dilip
    Sep 6, 2015 - 12:23PM

    Wars are fought on the whims of politicians. We the bystanders laud the fighters and the poor women at home loose their breadwinners. Their are no winners in wars. Only families that loose their men and live in poverty thereafter. Recommend

  • Dubya
    Sep 6, 2015 - 5:23PM

    Don’t make a mockery of yourself Mr. Ex AVM…
    You are an upright solder … but for you the war is history ….
    So for you “Everything is fair in love and war” does not apply ….So stop your white lies..
    Be Brave .. and face what you are responsible for ….Recommend

  • G. Din
    Sep 6, 2015 - 6:51PM

    “@prakash not YOUR house . Kashmir isnt INDIA and never will be. Go and ask any kashmiri if you may.”
    OK, OUR outhouse, if you must insist.Recommend

  • Np
    Sep 7, 2015 - 2:16AM

    @Komal S: Pakistan used irregulars not just in 1965 And 1999 but also in 1948.Recommend

  • Izhar
    Sep 10, 2015 - 10:47AM

    Just one thin gained both the countries from this war.Experience of war.Recommend

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