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Why did India give back the Haji Pir Pass to Pakistan?

September 23, 2015 10:03 IST

'We don't know what the reasons were that we gave back the Haji Pir Pass which was strategically very important. Today the entire infiltration into Kashmir takes place from that area. If we had retained that post that we had captured, things could have been different.'

'A lesson we need to learn is if you start losing the gains of war at the negotiating table, they become a disincentive for future wars,' says Lieutenant General D B Shekatkar (retd), reviewing the lessons from the 1965 War.

Lieutenant General Harbakhsh Singh, second from right, at the Haji Pir Pass, with other commanders.

IMAGE: Lieutenant General Harbakhsh Singh, second from right, at the Haji Pir Pass, with other commanders. Photograph: Kind courtesy The India Pakistan War of 1965

 

 

I was a captain doing a mountain warfare course in Gulmarg. Our course was stopped midway and we were ordered to hunt for the infiltrators Pakistan had sent into Kashmir in 1965 to create a revolt-like situation in the valley and then annex it. But Pakistan did not succeed.

Thereafter, Pakistan attacked Chhamb. The aim was to capture Akhnoor and cut Jammu off from the rest of India. That did not work out either.

Had the attack on Akhnoor succeeded, India could have been in serious trouble. There would have been a threat to Kashmir and to Jammu. We could have lost it forever.

When Pakistan attacked Chhamb, India had no option but to retaliate.

We launched a two pronged thrust. One, in Sialkot from the Jammu-Pathankot side, where the Indian Army with the support of tanks reached the outskirts of Sialkot.

The second thrust was south of Lahore. The aim was not to enter Lahore, but go south of Lahore.

This was the largest tank battle after the Second World War. That battle went on for 5, 7 days with almost 400 tanks on either side.

The Indian Army entered south of Ferozepur into Pakistan. So the war was confined to the Chenab, Jammu Tawi, Ravi and Sutlej rivers.

These were the corridors available because when you capture territory you have to see where your ingress can be faster and how quickly can the objective given to you be achieved.

The aim was to threaten Lahore, not capture it. Fighting in built up areas -- cities, towns -- is a difficult proposition.

There was a new government in India at that time. Pandit Nehru had died and Lal Bahadur Shastri was the new PM.

Even the government in Pakistan was new. Ayub Khan was the dictator, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was foreign minister and General Musa was the commander-in-chief.

Just two-and-a-half years earlier, India had been defeated by the Chinese. Pakistan was better equipped because they were getting weapons from America. There were reports of an understanding between China and Pakistan. Luckily, America did not intervene the way Pakistan had anticipated.

Since India was recovering from the shock of the 1962 defeat, Pakistan thought there would not be a better opportunity to take on India.

We were not the same army in 1965 as we were in 1971. The Indian Army was not well equipped in 1965 and was trying to rebuild itself up with Soviet help.

The people of India were also recovering from the reverses of the 1962 war.

When you launch a war, all these factors have to be taken into account.

The army was given a free hand by then defence minister Y B Chavan. Credit should also go to the then leadership of the Indian Army.

All these factors combined together created an impact on the outcome of the war.

Wars are not fought in isolation. Wars are first conceived in the mind. Only its manifestation is on the ground.

Bhutto had convinced Ayub Khan about the Pakistan army's success against India. As an army man himself, Ayub Khan had some doubts, but capturing Akhnoor was his idea.

When you go to war you should be reasonably sure that you will win.

Secondly, you should be sure how long you are going to prolong the war.

Thirdly, what is the duration during which you are going to achieve your aim.

There is also the factor of national endurance because when you fight a war, the nation cannot come to a grinding halt. Hospitals, offices etc have to run, human beings have to survive. If sanctions are imposed, you need to know how long you can survive.

India was able to capture a reasonable area of Pakistan -- the grain producing area -- in the 1965 War. Any deeper thrust would have affected Pakistan.

Ayub Khan realised that Pakistan was not going to win the war and India if not checked was in a position to capture Lahore.

The Indian Army had captured the Haji Pir Pass which overlooks Pakistan occupied Kashmir, but as a result of the negotiations in Tashkent the following January between India and Pakistan, for some reason, we did not insist on Pakistan vacating Chhamb.

As a result, even today Chhamb is with Pakistan.

We don't know what the reasons were that we gave back the Haji Pir Pass which was strategically very important. Today the entire infiltration into Kashmir takes place from that area.

If we had retained that post that we had captured, things could have been different.

Haji Pir was given to Pakistan because of the Indian government's magnanimity.

A lesson we need to learn is if you start losing the gains of war at the negotiating table, they become a disincentive for future wars.

You can never ever gain anything on the political table what you lose on the battleground.

Your occupation on the ground has to be very firm so that the enemy knows that you are not going to give up. If you are not sure of your aims and objectives, you shouldn't go to war.

The Indian Army was in a very strong position when the 1965 War was called off.

Pakistan claimed that the Indian Army did not succeed in capturing Lahore, but that was not our intention. After all, the army functions within the framework laid down by the government.

The 1965 War had a very big impact on the psyche of the Indian people and the Indian nation. That we could defeat Pakistan, the same Pakistan that created problems in Kashmir in 1947.

The same Pakistan that hoped a defeated India of the 1962 war could be defeated.

After 1965, the desire for independence started building up in East Pakistan.

It was the beginning of the revolution in the minds of the people of East Pakistan. Six years later Bangladesh came into being.

After six years, India had become so powerful that we could break Pakistan into two parts.

I don't say any war is useful, but the 1965 War achieved four things:

1. Rebuilding of confidence among the people and the armed forces.

2. Realisation in the political leadership about the development of our defence mechanism for India's security.

3. The beginning of the downfall of Pakistan's rule in East Pakistan. Had we not succeeded in defeating Pakistan in 1965, the desire for seeking independence in East Pakistan may not have formed.

4. Pakistan got a rude shock that India was not what they thought it was.

In his own wisdom Ayub Khan had told his senior commanders that they should bypass Amritsar and go east of Amritsar -- that means Pakistan would have captured Amritsar if they had wanted. In fact, Ayub Khan boasted that the Pakistan flag must fly over Delhi. That was the level of confidence -- that they had dreams to see the Pakistani flag flying over the Red Fort.

In the 1971 war we had to go with our tanks in the same area in Punjab to prevent any territorial loss while the war was going on in Bangladesh.

We made the Lahore airport unusable, that was the kind of our hold of the area. If the government had given orders to go deep -- because there was no threat at that time of a nuclear bomb -- maybe we could have captured more territory that would have enabled us to have greater bargaining power.

What's the point of war if you can't dictate your terms to the opponent to agree to what you want in your national interest?

Exactly, after 25 years, Pakistan launched a similar attack in Kargil. They sent people (soldiers) in civilian clothes and occupied our areas.

Pervez Musharraf, who was the commander-in-chief, said they were not their people, they were freedom fighters.

The Pakistan army is the only army in the world which refused to accept the bodies of its soldiers.

Pakistani infiltrators captured in the Kashmir valley in 1965.

IMAGE: Pakistani infiltrators captured in the Kashmir valley in 1965. Photograph: Kind courtesy The India Pakistan War of 1965

 

 

The hidden war, the war in the garb of civilians, has become the philosophy of Pakistan.

Therefore, we have to be very careful in the future because history has a chronic habit of repeating itself if you don't learn from it. It has a habit of punishing you if you don't learn.

The Indian political leadership and governing mechanism must know one thing clearly -- when your enemy is not in a position to fight a prolonged war, bash him! hit him hard!

In a war, after a particular period of time, the superpowers with veto powers in the UN Security Council start discussing sanctions, blockades etc. So for a country to achieve its strategic aims, it doesn't have the luxury of prolonging a war.

We had captured the grain producing region of Pakistan in 1965. Had we retained it for two or three years after the war ended, it would have put tremendous pressure on Pakistan.

In any war, your national aim and your political objective must be clear.

There is a philosophy of warfare which says if you know your adversary and if you can deter him, then you can live in peace for 100 years.

Secondly, it is not the severity of punishment, but the certainty of punishment that deters your enemy.

These are factors that inhibit your enemy. Unfortunately as a nation we have not been able to do that.

If Pakistan does not learn its lesson, it must be prepared to lose even more territory. I am 100% sure there will be another Bangladesh in Pakistan.

It may take 10, 15 years, but people are preparing themselves.

Pakistan is playing with fire. They are heading towards the destruction of their own people.

It was the incapability of the Pakistan army to control East Pakistan, the distance and rising expectations that provoked the people there to seek independence.

If they don't learn now, can they prevent a repetition in some other part of Pakistan?

From 1947, we have been fighting wars. We had the 1948 War, the 1962 War, the 1965 War, the 1971 War, the Nagaland insurgency, which was the longest insurgency in the world, terrorism in Kashmir, terrorism in Punjab... those who are born here and are going to die here spout anti-India sentiments.

Doesn't it show that something is wrong with us somewhere and our internal security?

Of course, the Indian Army has not allowed any territory to cede from India, neither will it ever allow it. There is no power on earth which can take away even an inch of Indian territory with the power of the gun. Our armed forces and the nation will not allow it.

Secession is a state of mind. Whenever you are weak internally, your adversary will make use of it and that is what 1965 did. Ayub Khan realised that we were weak from within.

The 1965 War should not be read only as history and forgetten. There are big lessons in it for us and those lessons are perennial.

Lieutenant General Dr D B Shekatkar (retd), PVSM, AVSM, AVSM, fought in the 1965 War in Kashmir, the 1971 War in the Western Theatre. He also trained the Mukti Bahini before the war of liberation.

During the Kargil War the general was in charge of the entire China front in Arunachal Pradesh.

The general, who served extensively in the North East, compelled a record number (1,267) of terrorists in Kashmir, trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan to give up terrorism.

General Shekatkar spoke to Archana Masih/Rediff.com

OUR SPECIAL SERIES: THE 1965 WAR, 50 YEARS LATER

Archana Masih / Rediff.com
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