Gibraltar, Grand Slam And The 1965 War: Bane Or Boon?

Gibraltar, Grand Slam And The 1965 War: Bane Or Boon?
In August 1965, Pakistan’s 12th infantry division under the command of Major General Akhtar Hussein Malik launched Operation Gibraltar in Indian-Occupied Kashmir and managed to infiltrate about 7,000 trained volunteers led by regular Pakistan Army officers to start a hit-and-run campaign of sabotage in the Indian Kashmir. This military adventure was launched on the false premise that the Indian Muslims will rise up in revolt and that India will not cross the international boundary. All assumptions of the planners proved false and this operation turned out to be a strategic mistake, a tactical blunder and a political disaster. After the failure of Operation Gibraltar, General Akhtar Malik led Operation Grand Slam to capture the Indian strategic cantonment of Akhnur and by then the Indian Army was on full alert and ready to pounce. At 0300 hours on 6 September 1965, the mighty juggernaut of the Indian Army struck with force across the international borders. On that fateful day, the entire nation waited with abated breath. There was an air of excitement and expectation. Amidst mounting tension President Ayub Khan Addressed the nation on radio exactly at midday. In a clear, strident voice brimming with confidence and resolve, he declared “My dear countrymen, the hour of trial for a hundred million Pakistanis has struck.” And the rest is history.

On 6 September we will celebrate the 57th anniversary of the 1965 war with India and the day is now remembered as the Defense of Pakistan Day with the display of a lot of nationalism, parades and homage to the martyrs of this war. This 17-day war fought between 6 to 22 September 1965 caused thousands of casualties on both sides and saw the biggest tank battle since the Second World War.

Hostilities were ended after a ceasefire was declared through the UN resolution of the Security Council 211 after a diplomatic intervention by the USSR and the USA and the subsequent signing of the Tashkent agreement. After the end of the war, propagandists and spin doctors on both sides of the border claimed victory and great success in the war. Independent analysts and historians, however, are very clear that it was a military stalemate and neither side won. There was no winner or loser at best it can be called a draw. Pakistan did not achieve any of its objectives in Kashmir and even India’s own history of the war published recently is scathing in its review of how poorly the Indian army and air force performed.
The war caused alienation in East Pakistan and had a disastrous impact on relations between the East and the West wings

As Air Marshal Nur Khan observed in an interview on 6 September 2005, “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.” As the commander of the air force during the 1965 war put it, “It was an unnecessary war.” Militarily nothing could be achieved and all objectives remained elusive. The most far-reaching result of this war was the wide-scale economic slowdown in Pakistan. The 1965 war put an end to the very impressive economic growth that Pakistan had seen during the 1960s. Between 1964 and 1966, Pakistan’s defense spending rose from 4.82 % to 9.86 % of GDP, putting a great strain on Pakistan’s economy and by 1971 defense spending shot up to 55.66% of government expenditure. Pakistan had to pay a crippling economic price for this war.

The short-sighted planners of Operation Gibraltar, Operation Grand Slam and the subsequent war could not see beyond the tip of their nose. All decisions were based purely on personal political gains. Ayub Khan’s popularity had taken a nosedive after the elections in 1964 against Fatima Jinnah and the actions in Indian Kashmir were supposed to jack up the popularity ratings of the failing regime of Ayub Khan. The ill-conceived and miscalculated war plan resulted in many negative consequences for Pakistan that were totally unseen by the planners of Operation Gibraltar, who were mainly Z.A. Bhutto, Aziz Ahmed Major General Akhtar Malik. They had the tacit approval of General Musa and President Ayub Khan. One major negative result was the strengthening of separatist tendencies in East Pakistan, the rise of Sheikh Mujib Ur Rahman, the popularity of the Six Points program introduced by Mujib and the ultimate breakup of the country in 1971. The other major negative consequence was the arrest of economic development, resulting in a huge rise in unemployment, a price hike leading to the overthrow of the Ayub regime and the second martial law regime of General Yahiya Khan.

The war caused alienation in East Pakistan and had a disastrous impact on relations between the East and the West wings. It became clear during the war that while East Pakistan sustained the country’s exchequer, adding more than its Western counterpart to the much-needed foreign exchange and also contributing a large share for national defense, the military plan made no provision for its defence during a war. East Pakistan was left to fend for itself.

The decision to launch Operation Gibraltar was taken in West Pakistan. There was no strong feeling for Kashmir in the Eastern wing. The country’s defence policy was widely criticized by Bengali leaders as the military jobs were almost exclusively reserved for those in the West Wing and the bulk of the armed forces were deployed in that region. The Bengalis were not considered fit for the army and only one among the entire population had attained the rank of a General.

By all accounts, this war was militarily inconclusive: each side held prisoners and some territory belonging to the other side. Losses were very heavy Pakistan lost twenty aircraft, 200 tanks and 3,800 troops. The war resulted in an arms embargo by the USA, rapid expansion of the armed forces, decline in economic progress and the ultimate loss of East Pakistan.

Ironically, most Pakistanis indoctrinated in the belief of their own martial prowess could not accept the fact that they had not defeated “Hindu India” – because one Muslim was supposed to be equal to ten Hindus. The blame for any setback was placed on the incompetence and ineptitude of President Ayub Khan and his regime.