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India has still not learnt that single lesson of 1965

By Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)
Last updated on: September 24, 2015 11:57 IST
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IMAGE: Indian troops in Jammu and Kashmir. 'As India and Pakistan engage in a war of words in 2015,' says Colonel Anil A Athale, 'the thought uppermost in Indian minds ought to be what the next reckless step Pakistan will take. A reading of 1965 shows that whenever Pakistan has perceived that it has an edge, it is prone to aggression.'

50 years after the 1965 War India still thinks we can have a 'limited war' when our opponent has time and again shown it does not believe in a limited war, says Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).

India has traditionally elevated old is gold to the level of an ideal.

In 1965 India failed to read the impact of the 1962 defeat. In 1965 it failed to achieve a decisive victory that was within its grasp. No sooner has Pakistan put behind its 1971 defeat as betrayal by Bengalis, it has begun a re-run of its game in Kashmir.

It is difficult to site an exact date, but sometime in the 1980s it began to call Kashmir an occupied territory. Simultaneously it began to call the international border in the Samba sector as a working boundary.

Around the same time China began calling Arunachal Pradesh as Southern Tibet. These are not mere rhetorical flourishes, but change of approach by these two adversaries.

The 1965 War for Pakistan was to liberate Kashmir, now it is to free occupied Kashmir, depicting it as a defensive war with India as the aggressor. Freeing occupied territory is legitimate jihad according to the Quran. Hence, Kashmir has now irrevocably changed from a geopolitical issue to jihad! Have we in India clearly understood the implications?

The 22-day 1965 War ended on September 23 when both sides accepted the United Nations proposal for a ceasefire. We marked 50 years of that event with tributes being paid to the martyrs, as they should be. But true to form, there has been scant analysis and it does appear that we learnt no lessons.

That should not surprise any perceptive Indians. Our history is witness to this. The last intellectual to analyse a war was Maharshi Ved Vyas who subjected the Kurukshetra war to a detailed study in the Mahabharata. That was around 1,500 BC. Since then Indians have fought numerous defensive wars, yet there is no literature or work dealing with it. Is it any wonder that time and time again Indians used war elephants when they were known to have been the root cause of many battles being lost.

Fifty years after the 1965 War, Kashmir is still referred to as the 'unfinished business of Partition,' the infiltration from Pakistan continues with the usual routine denial (as in 1965 and again in 1999 Kargil). India, it seems, has not understood the enemy's motivation, aims, strategy and tactics.

I was a member of the War Studies Division at the ministry of defence where under Dr B C Chakraborty, an official account of the 1965 War was completed. It must be emphasised that the official history is a compilation of facts and not an analysis. In our country we often confuse narration of facts for analysis. One does not need to be a general to do an analysis, basic military knowledge/experience and staff training is enough. A general's forte and importance lies not in analysis, but decision making. In fact the two are even contradictory, a successful general needs to be something of a risk taker, while an analyst needs to objective and calculating.

The late Lieutenant General Eric Vas (then a brigadier) was tasked with the job of studying the war. Subsequently he led an inter-services team that made presentations all over the armed forces institutions. He used to comment that Indians were 'fools,' but luckily for us the Pakistanis proved to be bigger fools.

Just two examples will suffice. On September 1, 1965 when Pakistani tanks crossed the Munnawar Tawi river they ran through Indian defences. The Indians had only light tanks (the French-made Chaffe) since the sole bridge over the Chenab river at Akhnoor (our only access to Chhamb) could only take their weight. India had no answer to the Pakistani M-47 Patton tanks in that area.

By the evening of September 1 (and despite valiant air force efforts to stop them) the Pakistanis reached within shouting distance of Akhnoor.

If the Pakistani forces were to take Akhnoor, the entire division in Rajouri area would be cut off. But the Pakistani armoured brigade inexplicably did not advance and instead went back to Jaurian, further 15 km to the rear. One possible explanation has been that the Pakistani infantry was left behind due to resistance by the Indian infantry.

At that time Akhnoor was totally at the mercy of the Pakistanis and a golden chance was lost. By the time the advance resumed next day, India had pumped in troops for the defence of Akhnoor overnight and Pakistan could never advance an inch.

But an even greater disaster was created for India on the Lahore front by a general who was unnerved by success! On September 6 when India attacked in the direction of Lahore, the Indian troops met no resistance and within a few hours reached the Bata shoe factory on the outskirts of Lahore. The bridge over the Ichhogil canal was captured intact as the Pakistanis did not even have time to blow it up.

Lahore lay within the grasp of the Indian Army. But the general instead of pumping in all available troops and consolidating India's hold over the bridge asked the troops to withdraw, since the advance on the flanks was slow. A General Patton would have said let the enemy worry about his flanks!

Once Pakistan got breathing time, it reinforced the defences to Lahore and Pakistani soldiers fought ferociously to defend their country.

The Indian Army could never again cross the Ichhogil canal in the three weeks of war. The episode was then rationalised, saying the capture of Lahore was never India's aim.

There was, of course, the Khem Karan disaster of Pakistani armour and India getting bogged down in the Sialkot sector. The rest of the war began to resemble the trench warfare of World War I.

One must mention another very bizarre incident of that war. On September 6, around 200 special forces commandos of the Pakistan army were airdropped close to the airfields of Pathankot, Adampur and Halwara. The last two being several kilometres inside Indian territory.

Their task was to destroy Indian Air Force assets. In the actual event, none of them could reach the airfields and were hunted down by the villagers. It is a military axiom that paratroopers must have a link up within 48 hours, else they would be massacred.

It showed a clear lack of foresight and planning on the Pakistani side to recklessly sacrifice its elite troops. More than the tactical stupidity that it was, this also shows how reckless the Pakistani military leadership can be. The Kargil episode in 1999 again showed up this tendency.

As India and Pakistan again engage in a war of words in 2015 the thought uppermost in Indian minds ought to be what the next reckless step Pakistan will take.

A reading of 1965 shows that whenever Pakistan has perceived that it has an edge, it is prone to aggression. That this is despite its nuclear weapons is a matter of worry for not just India, but the rest of the world as well.

One enduring legacy of the 1965 War has been that after this war India no longer ever threatened an attack on Punjab as a retaliation for aggression in Kashmir. We modified our deterrence to 'a limited offensive' to punish transgression. It appears that we then shifted focus to the desert area to 'deter' Pakistani actions in Kashmir. In this deterrence, we failed.

What led to the failure of deterrence in 1965 and subsequently ought to have been a matter of deep concern and study. Fifty years after this event India still thinks we can have a 'limited war' when our opponent has time and again shown it does not believe in a limited aim.

The principle cause of our disasters at Panipat was not lack of bravery or modern weapons, but this lack of clarity in fighting a war. An enemy who is clear about his aim of total war will always triumph over an adversary who believes in 'limits.'

This single lesson of 1965 is still unlearnt.



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