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A tough war for both India and Pakistan, it was inconclusive with neither side gaining a decisive military advantage.
Reality Check: The Indian Army had used only 14 per cent of its front line ammunition and still possessed twice the number of tanks as compared to Pakistan
by Dinesh Kumar
The August-September 1965 India-Pakistan War will go down as one of the country’s most significant wars. The war, which occurred at a critical juncture in India’s military history, took place less than three years after India’s humiliating defeat at the hands of the Chinese (October-November 1962).
Furthermore, Pakistan had begun cosying up to China and had only less than two years earlier in 1963 illegally ceded an occupied portion of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to Beijing. Then again, just 10 months earlier, China had flexed its nuclear muscle by exploding an atomic bomb in October 1964. On the eastern front, an assertive Indonesia was laying claims to the Great Nicobar Island, seeking renaming of the Indian Ocean to Indonesian Ocean.
Two Clear Armour-Piercing Shots on the turret of a Pakistani Sherman tank at the Hodson’s gunnery in Thakurdwara
Pakistan, member of both the US-led SEATO (South East Asian Treaty) and Baghdad Pact renamed CENTO (Central Treaty Organisation), had meanwhile been equipped with modern US weaponry comprising the far superior F-104 Star Fighter and F-86 Sabre jets, many of the latter equipped with Sidewinder air-to-air missiles; the latest Patton tanks and modern artillery guns among other equipment.
In contrast, the Indian Army was in the midst of its first post-Independence military modernisation with limited purchases made from both the US and the Soviet Union. The Army was in the process of increasing the number of its Divisions from 10 to 25. And so, when hostilities broke out, the Indian Army was statistically inadequate. Over half of the Army’s Divisions on the western front were new and not fully trained. Compared to the latest US-supplied Patton tanks, the Indian Army’s most modern tank was the World War II vintage Centurion, the World War II discarded Sherman and the AMX-13 light tanks.
Meanwhile, India’s limited military response to Pakistan’s incursion in the Rann of Kutch, acceptance to both international mediation and to conceding some part of the Rann, US indifference to India’s protests about Pakistan using US-supplied weaponry, the subsequent miscalculation that India would continue to deploy some of its Army formations in the Rann and the unrest in the Kashmir valley following Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest gave Islamabad confidence that it could take on India in J&K with relative ease.
As accounts of the war reveal, it was a tough war for both India and Pakistan. Although both had their failures and successes, from purely a military point of view, the war was inconclusive with neither side gaining a decisive military advantage. Territorial gains by both sides proved inconsequential considering that the Soviet Union-brokered Tashkent Agreement involved restoration of status quo ante to pre-conflict (pre-August 5) positions along the Cease Fire Line (CFL), renamed Line of Control (LoC) after the July 1972 Simla Agreement.
Thus, August 5 marked the beginning of a long arduous military engagement for the Indian Army. On September 1, the Pakistan army launched Operation Grand Slam comprising a joint armour-infantry thrust in the Chhamb-Jaurian area to take control of the strategically vital Akhnoor bridge to cut off the Naushera-Rajouri-Poonch area from Jammu.
But before Pakistan launched Operation Grand Slam, so pushed to the wall had been the Indian Army that the latter embarked on a daring operation across the CFL — capture of the Hajipir Pass, which was the primary route for Pakistani infiltration into the Kashmir valley and the Poonch area. The successful capture of the Hajipir Pass on August 28 came as a major shock and setback for the Pakistanis.
For India, the war revealed several drawbacks. Most notable was that India’s intelligence gathering remained steadfastly poor with the armed forces and intelligence agencies being repeatedly caught off guard. Equally notable was that there had been no prior joint planning, inter-service contingency plans, consultation or training exercises between the Army and the IAF. There existed little coordination between the two services both prior and during the war. In contrast, the Pakistani Army and Air Force had better intelligence on Indian military movements and fought in close coordination.
It was also a war in which, in contrast to the 1962 Sino-Indian War, the political leadership hardly supervised, let alone interfere in the Army’s operational planning. Both highly conscious of and on the defensive following the national outrage and criticism that the political leadership under late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and late Defence Minister Krishna Menon had received consequent to the 1962 Sino-Indian War, their respective successors Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and Defence Minister Yashwantrao Chavan chose to give the armed forces a near blanket operational freedom during the war.
But there were two notable areas in which the political leadership put its foot down:
1. There would be no fighting in the eastern theatre, i.e. East Pakistan;
2. The Indian Navy was forbidden from taking any pro-active action.
Both measures were aimed at preventing escalation of the war. All through the war, the effort on India’s part was to keep the war as localised and restrained as possible.
Yet, the war marked several major unprecedented and bold decisions by India. Compared to the 1962 Sino-Indian war when IAF fighters were not allowed to participate, the government had no hesitation in permitting the use of airpower for offensive operations.
Overall, the offensive actions by the IAF caused little attrition and material damage on the Pakistanis but nevertheless had a demoralising effect on the infiltrators.
The boldest decision yet was for India, on September 6, five days after Operation Grand Slam, to open up an altogether new theatre in Pakistani Punjab with a pincer attack directed towards Lahore and Sialkot. This created a valuable diversion, which prevented Pakistan from seizing the vital Akhnoor bridge. It is a different matter that so unprepared and inadequate had been the Indian Army and so lacking its coordination with the IAF that the Indian Army’s counter-attack fell through within hours after a brilliant start.
Equally notable was the Western Army Command Chief, Lt-Gen Harbaksh Singh’s refusal to withdraw Indian forces to Beas as ordered by Army Chief General Chaudhuri in the face of an imminent Pakistani armour thrust in Punjab’s Khem Karan sector. In the famous Battle of Asal Uttar, the forces under Lt-Gen Harbaksh Singh’s command went on to turn the Khem Karan sector into a graveyard of Pakistan’s much-prized Patton tanks.
The Indian Navy was mostly deployed in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago to ward of a perceived Indonesian threat. The remaining Navy assets were forbidden to cross northward of latitude Porbandar even though the Pakistan Navy had launched an (ineffective) attack on Dwarka.
As for Pakistan, it abjectly failed in its objective of wresting control of J&K with the Indian armed forces preventing that from happening. To that extent, Pakistan lost and India won the war. Contrary to its expectations, there was no public revolt against India in Kashmir. Neither did they anticipate India opening a new theatre of conflict.
Despite being a member of SEATO and CENTO, Washington DC imposed an embargo on military supplies to Pakistan, which adversely impacted the latter considering that much of its defence hardware was of US-origin.
Arguably the biggest blunder on the Indian side was made by General J.N. Chaudhuri, who agreed to a ceasefire saying that India’s front line ammunition had been expended and the Army had suffered considerable tank losses. It was later discovered that the Indian Army had only used 14 per cent of its frontline ammunition and still possessed twice the number of tanks compared to Pakistan, which in contrast had expended 80 per cent of its ammunition. Had India continued to fight, would the outcome have been more decisive in India’s favour and change the course of history is a question that experts and students of warfare need to analyse.