The 1965 War was a pre-planned, cowardly and unjustified act of aggression by Pakistan Army Dictator Field Marshal Ayub Khan.
Aside from a long list of spectacular failures during the 1965 War, Pakistan failed to achieve its basic objective: the capture of Indian Kashmir. India’s objective was to repulse the Pakistani aggression, and to achieve a ceasefire with the status quo boundaries back to where they were on January 1, 1965. India achieved its objective totally. From this perspective, India was the winner of the 1965 War, and Pakistan was the loser.
India stopped the fighting when it achieved its objective, but if it had continued the war, it could have inflicted a humiliation on Pakistan more severe than 1971. On that occasion, Pakistan Army capitulated against the Indian Army after 2 weeks of fighting, and 90,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendered their weapons in a legendary act of cowardice.
The road to the 1965 War started with Ayub’s sham Presidential election of January 1965. Ayub won this rigged election across Pakistan, but suffered a humiliating loss in Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial and cultural capital. Many observers felt Ayub would have lost to Fatima Jinnah nationally if the elections had been held on a free and fair basis.
Ayub was infuriated: he held a “Victory Parade” in Karachi two days later, and his Pakhtun terrorist supporters burnt thousands of Muhajir homes, killing dozens. Ayub’s immediate domestic priority was restoring his image as a Supreme Leader, beloved by the entire nation. The best way to do this, he concluded, was to launch a campaign of war to capture Indian Kashmir.
In early April, Ayub provoked India into a low-level conflict over the uninhabitable salty marshes of the Rann of Kutch. This was the true beginning of the 1965 war. When the Indians declined to escalate this 3 month long idiotic and pointless conflict, Ayub and his Punjabi generals calculated they could do something similar in Kashmir, and the Indians would again decline to escalate the conflict.
The Pakistan Army fooled itself into believing that if they infiltrated Indian Kashmir with thousands of plain clothed soldiers, the Kashmiris would rise up against the Indian government, turn Indian Kashmir into a guerrilla battlefield, and together they would push the Indians out of Kashmir. This proved to be a ridiculous miscalculation: Plain clothes Pakistani soldiers (claimed to be Kashmiri freedom fighters) infiltrated Kashmir. Once there, they duly began terrorist attacks on Indian installations, but the Kashmiris declined to participate in the sabotage. Instead the Kashmiris helped the Indian forces to capture the Pakistani terrorists. The plan to spark a Kashmiri uprising in the late summer of 1965 was an absolute failure.
But the Pakistani terrorist infiltrators kept coming from their bases in Pakistani Kashmir. The Indians were forced to cross the Line of Control (LoC) to neutralise the bases from which the Pakistani plain clothed soldiers were infiltrating. After the Indians finally crossed the LoC, the Pakistan Army dictators declared that the Indians had invaded Pakistan for no reason other than to destroy Pakistan. In those days, there was no social media, only Pakistan TV (PTV) on their airwaves, and print media strictly controlled.
Although the Indian Army was disorganised and unprepared, the war quickly turned in India’s favour. The Pakistan Army trumpeted some minor victories over Indian forces in Indian territory, but this was just in and around some small villages across the Indian border. The Indians, on the other hand, reached the gates of Lahore at the time of the ceasefire. The Indians launched bombing raids on Chittagong, Dhaka, Rawalpindi, Lahore, and Karachi – with not a single retaliatory Pakistan attack on any Indian city. After a couple of weeks, the Pakistanis had only 10-15% of ammunition left, the Indians had more than 80% left. Pakistan was forced to accept a ceasefire in which both sides had to move back to the lines before the conflict began.
The Pakistan Army regime gained absolutely nothing, except domestic power consolidation. The nation was subjected to warlike songs broadcasted nonstop on national radio, and anyone questioning Ayub’s rule was accused of being a pro-Indian traitor.
The most embarassing aspect of this entire affair was the cowardly strategy of the Pakistan Army. The Pakistan Army could have planned an attack on Kashmir (albeit unjustified), put on their uniform, and fought the Indians face to face like proud warriors. Instead, Ayub began months of low-level conflict over a salty marsh (Rann of Kutch) which simply served to alert the Indians. The next stage of Ayub’s plan was to send thousands of Pakistani soldiers in plain clothes into Kashmir, like shameless jackals rather than proud warriors. For months, these plain clothed jackals failed to gain any support amongst Kashmiris. Just like with the Rann of Kutch, this strategy simply alerted the Indians further to Ayub’s warlike intentions.
The Pakistan Army had no concept of any “element of surprise”. By September, when the Pakistan Army finally fought in uniform against the Indians, there had been almost 5 months of mid/low level armed conflict, with months of terrorist attacks in Kashmir, yet no Kashmiri uprising whatsoever. It would have been so different if Ayub had decided on day 1 to launch a massive, surprise attack on Indian forces, rather than fight like a hyena in Rann of Kutch and then for months in Kashmir with plain clothed soldiers/infiltrators.
The war itself was a shambles: from the beginning it was clear that Pakistan Army could neither expel the Indians from Kashmir, nor make any significant gains against them elsewhere.
The Pakistan Army was brave when massacring unarmed Karachi Muhajirs or fighting Baloch bandits armed with ancient muskets, but proved to be shameless cowards when pitted against an Army which could fight back.
The Sacred Hair of the Prophet
Indian Kashmir began 1964 with civil unrest. There was rioting in the streets. Several buildings. including police stations, cinemas, and a hotel were burnt down. Shops and businesses were closed for almost 2 weeks. Black Flag processions snaked their way through the streets. In New Delhi, India’s PM Shastri was alarmed.This fervor of the Kashmiris was not aroused by some geopolitical matter. Indian Kashmir’s civil unrest of January 1964 was caused by the sudden disappreance of a sacred relic, the Prophet’s Hair, from the Hazratbal Shrine near Srinagar.
The relic, a single strand of hair, was kept encased in “four successive boxes in a strong room. One hair encased in a crystal piece had been cut away from a long chain to which it was secured”. The (supposedly) Sacred Hair was displayed at the Hazratbal Shrine on certain holy days (Deedars) every couple of months, and crowds of over 100,000 people came to see the Sacred Hair and make donations to the Shrine. They never actually saw the hair up close, as it was displayed from a balcony at a distance, but it made them feel special to feel that the (supposed) Hair of the Prophet was in Kashmir. On December 27th 1963, it simply disappeared.
The disappearance of the Sacred Hair sparked days of rioting. Curfews were imposed. Many rioters were shot dead by Indian forces. Some alleged that the clique of Ghulam Bakshi, the previous Prime Minister of (Indian) Kashmir Government had stolen the Sacred Hair. Bakshi had been PM of Indian Kashmir from 1951 to 1964, with deep support amongst the Kashmiris. Bakshi was well-known for his strong support for Nehru’s Kashmir policy, namely that India would not cede an inch of Indian Kashmir to Pakistan, and that no plebiscite would be held to determine any alternative future for Indian Kashmir than remaining in India.
Bakshi’s main rival on the Kashmiri political scene was Sheikh Abdullah, who favoured Kashmiri autonomy. Sheikh Abdullah had made it clear on many occasions that he did not seek union with Pakistan. There was no Kashmiri politician in Indian Kashmir who favoured joining Pakistan.
With Kashmir in chaos, Indian Prime Minister Shastri frantically sent Delhi Police and security officials to assist in finding the Sacred Hair. A few days later, the Delhi Police apparently found the Sacred Hair inside the Hazratbal Shrine itself. Many people were suspicious about this discovery, as the Hazratbal Shrine was crowded with grieving worshippers at the time, and nobody else had been able to find the missing Sacred Hair. The first that Kashmiris heard of the discovery of the Sacred Hair was when it was announced later that evening on the Radio.
A few days later, the Indians gathered all of the Custodians of the Sacred Hair (“Lovers of the Sacred Hair”) together, and held a ceremony to verify that the hair which had been found was indeed the Sacred Hair. One by one, the Custodians nodded their agreement to indicate that this was indeed the Sacred Hair. With the relic recovered, a sense of calm and tranquility descended on the valleys of Kashmir. So much so that the Kashmir National Council elections were held later the same month (28 February 1964) to vote for the Prime Minister of Kashmir – the elections went smoothly, and a transfer of power to the newly elected PM was accepted graciously by the loser and his predecessor.
In 1 month. Kashmiris had demonstrated 2 things: First, that they were very capable of large-scale rioting for weeks if provoked by a cause which they cared for. Second, that there was no protest whatsoever to the smooth running of Indian Kashmir politics under the umbrella of the Republic of India.
Why Ayub dragged Pakistan to war
At the very same time as the Kashmir Sacred Hair riots, Pakistan was also experiencing tumult. The Army Dictator, Field Marshal Ayub Khan had just held a sham Presidential election, with the only voters being his hand picked 80,000 Basic Democrats.
Many foreign observers felt that if elections had been held on a free and fair basis, Fatima Jinnah would have defeated Ayub. During Ayub Khan’s election campaign, he had been booed for 5 minutes on the stage in Karachi by Muhajirs.But when the election came, Ayub’s “Basic Democrats” did their duty and voted for the Field Marshal. Out of all of Pakistan, there was only 1 single district which voted for Fatima Jinnah: Karachi.
For Ayub to lose in Karachi was the greatest humiliation of his life until that point, and shattered his illusion of unanimous support across Pakistan. For genuine democratic leaders, it is understood that you can’t win support from everywhere, and that one must nevertheless govern with the interests of everyone in mind. For a narcissist like Ayub, who had just declared himself Field Marshal despite never having led anyone into battle, the loss in Karachi was a spectacular dent to his image as the “Supreme Leader of the Nation”.
Only 2 days after Ayub’s election victory, he arranged for a Victory Parade to be held in Karachi, the only district in the entire country where he had lost. Thousands of Pakhtun terrorists paraded Ayub’s Victory through the Fatima Jinnah supporting Muhajir areas. Ayub’s Pakhtun terrorists entered Laluketh (present day NA-246). and burnt 1000s of homes, killing dozens of Muhajirs. This Great Muhajir Massacre is remembered by Muhajirs to this day, and was a key event leading up to the creation of the MQM.
As Karachi burned after a damaging election process, Ayub’s immediate domestic priority was to restore his political reputation and silence his opponents.
But things went from bad to worse for Ayub Khan. In March 1965, Ayub held his nest scheduled election, this time to vote for 150 Members of the National Assembly. Again, the 80,000 Basic Democrats would be the only voters.Whilst the Ayub vs Jinnah Presidential Election in December 1964 attracted a 97.5% turnout amongst the 80,000 handpicked Basic Democrats, the March 1965 National Assembly elections attracted an 87.5% turnout: over 10,000 didn’t bother to vote in spite of the material privileges they received by being Basic Democrats.
Much of Pakistan’s intelligentsia viewed the process as little more than a farce. With a fragmented opposition, Ayub won by a landslide 114-13 margin. However, his share of the vote in West Pakistan fell from 74% down to 61%: a loss of a fifth of his voters in just a few months since the Fatima Jinnah contest.
We can’t say for certain why 10,000 hand picked Basic Democrats decided not to vote in the March 1965 National Assembly election. However, we could assume that they preferred to abstain rather than be thought to have voted against Ayub. This would imply a sub-50% vote for Ayub in the election.
Ayub was slipping fast, and he needed to rectify his growing political weakness. There was a simple solution to silence his domestic opposition: to make war on India over Kashmir.
A Field Marshal who had never tasted battle
Ayub was by nature a coward. In World War II, he had been deputy commander of a British India Army division fighting in Burma. However, Ayub was deemed to have failed to follow orders and lead his troops into battle, and was censured. Nevertheless, Ayub remained the senior Indian (Muslim) mercenary in the British India Army. It was also said by his former colleagues (now in the post-independence Indian Army) that Ayub was a drinking partner of General Gracey, who was Pakistan’s his predecesor as Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS).
For decades, Ayub had served as a mercenary of the British colonial army. Thanks to loyal mercenaries like Ayub, the British managed to keep India under tight military control until they granted independence to India (and Pakistan) in 1947. In 1951, Ayub became the first native Pakistan Army COAS. As Ayub was the seniormost “native” mercenary at the time of independence, and also recommended as COAS by the departing British COAS, Ayub was effectively a nomination of the British.
By 1965, Ayub had been the senior (native) officer in the Pakistan Army for 18 years. He had not gained any experience in battle during a military career spanning over 40 years.
Ayub devised a two-stage plan to capture Kashmir from India. In the first stage, Ayub would launch a localised invasion of India from Pakistan’s South East border, (Sindh-Gujrat). This area is known as the “Rann of Kutch”, a salty marshland which is flooded every year from early July for several months. According to Ayub’s thinking, the Indians would be too scared to confront the Pakistan Army, and would cede some of the salty marshland territory without much of a fight. This Indian surrender of salty marshland territory would be the green light for Ayub to move to stage 2.In the next stage of Ayub’s plan, thousands of Pakistani soldiers would then cross over into Indian Kashmir, and incite the local Kashmiris to rebel. Although there was no Kashmiri group openly in support of Pakistan, it was assumed that Sheikh Abdullah’s “Plebiscite Front” would join the struggle to expel India from Kashmir. In this scenario, world opinion would be on the side of Pakistan and the Kashmiris. With Kashmir in full scale rebellion, Pakistan Army would then invade Kashmir, and the Indians would be pushed out of Kashmir. According to this plan, the Indians would only fight within Indian Kashmir; they would not extend the fight out of Kashmir and into the main areas of West Pakistan. Indeed, it was thought the Indians would barely fight at all.
Fighting over a Salty Marsh
The Rann of Kutch is an uninhabitable salty marshland. Very humans can be found there, except perhaps the odd shepherd crossing the Rann with his flock. In winter, it is a haven for pink flamingos. Every year, with the monsoon rains around June/July, the Rann of Kutch is flooded for several months.No state should ever allow any of its territory to be seized, but the idea that Pakistan would want to fight a war to gain some salty uninhabitable marshland would have been unthinkable. On April 8th, 1965, Ayub ordered Pakistan Army to move forward (into empty Indian land) and create 2 outposts (1300 and 2000 yards into Indian territory). The move was met with bewilderment by the Indians. Whilst the Indians sent a tiny number of troops to reclaim their positions in the marshland, the Pakistanis escalated the conflict. Bizarrely, the Pakistanis then abandoned their outposts which had caused the problem in the first place, yet moved to claim the largely deserted Kanjarkot Fort, a few hundred yards in Indian territory. Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of this conflict was that the entire area would soon be flooded by monsoon rains, and both armies would be forced to withdraw anyway! In the meantime, Pakistan escalated the conflict even further by bringing armoured divisions into the Rann of Kutch. An Indian pilot took photos of Pakistani Patton tanks in the Rann – these had been provided by the USA as military aid on the basis that they could only be used for self defence purposes. Indian PM Shastri declined to take any measures to escalate this pointless conflict in any way, despite pressure in the Indian assembly (Lok Sabha) for India to extend the war into Pakistan itself. In late April, the Indians accepted a ceasefire plan but the Pakistanis rejected it because they claimed India should retreat beyond a line they believed should rightly constitute the border. The Pakistanis continued extremely low level firing at Indian positions. The Indians took little measures to expel the Pakistanis from positions they had occupied because the rain would soon do that for them.
After a few weeks of quiet, the Pakistanis again began firing at Indian positions in mid June. By that stage, with monsoon flooding taking over the Rann, it was time to withdraw and both sides accepted a British ceasefire.
To any rational observer, the Pakistani assault on the Rann of Kutch must be one of the most futile military exercises in the history of warfare. There was no ostensible objective, beyond potentially gaining some salty marshland territory. The Pakistanis had been forced to withdraw from the area due to floods anyway. The Indians had barely been engaged, let alone defeated in any way. There was simply no logic to it.
Yet for Ayub, the Rann of Kutch incident was an experiment which had gone according to plan: He had managed to cross over into Indian territory without much of a challenge. The Indians had not escalated the conflict in any way. Neither did they extend the conflict by attacking Pakistan in any other area outside the Rann. The Western Powers had attached a sense of equivalence to both sides, and prioritised getting both to come to agreement rather than condemning Pakistan for a totally unprovoked military escalation. Domestically, Pakistani Punjabis and Pathans were delighted at the prospect of war with India, and anyone daring to criticise any aspect of Ayub’s government was condemned as a pro-India traitor. All of this was music to Ayub’s ears. From his blinkered perspective, the stage was set for putting the same game plan into action in Kashmir.
Whilst Ayub was fighting in the Rann of Kutch, he also passed the draconian “Security Act” to persecute his domestic political rivals. Using these powers, Ayub was imprisoning any voices still speaking out against him. The principal objective of Ayub’s war was to generate huge public backing as a cover for forcefully consolidating his internal political control. He didn’t have any coherent strategy for pursuing his military aims.
A Cowardly War
India had a far larger Army in 1965, but Pakistan benefited from a qualitative advantage due to several years of massive US military aid. Pakistan’s top of the range Patton tanks outclassed India’s Centurions. Pakistan’s Air Force was largely equipped with advanced Sabres. However, invading the valley of Kashmir was not easily possible with tanks for either Pakistan or India, as the route is obstructed for both sides by mountainous terrain. For Pakistan to capture Srinagar and the Kashmir valley would require a surprise land invasion via narrow mountainous passes, along with a massive air drop into the valley. However, after several months of pointless low level skirmishing in the Rann of Kutch, India was alert to any major Pakistani build up. There was no element of surprise for any Pakistani move.
But Ayub had never planned on a surprise army attack, made by soldiers in uniform. Instead, on August 9th 1965, Ayub sent thousands of Pakistani plain clothed soldiers across the (then) porous Line of Control (LoC) into Indian Kashmir. This was meant to coincide with a protest day held on the same day by Sheikh Abdullah’s Plebiscite Front. But the plan was a failure as the protesting Kashmiris didn’t not rise up.
Even at this stage, Pakistan Army could have called the whole thing off, and prevented a costly and futile conflict. They could simply have concluded that the Kashmiris had no intention of rising up against the Indians, and that there was little change of a succcessful guerrilla war to expel India from Kashmir.
Instead, the Pakistan generals decided to continue the fighting. It was too late for massing several divisions along the LoC and mounting a huge surprise invasion, as the Indians were on high alert. The cowardly strategy of Pakistan had made it virtually impossible to succeed in actually capturing Kashmir. And if India chose to extend the fighting beyond Kashmir, Pakistan’s Army could not match Indian supplies in a drawn out conflict.
Throughout August, Ayub sent more and more Pakistani soldiers dressed in plain clothes across the LoC. Some crossed by land, others were dropped by parachute under the cover of darkness. Whilst in Indian territory, these bands of saboteurs blew up bridges, destroyed roads, and attached the odd police station. But the Kashmiris stubbornly refused to take part in the violence, and the Pakistani aggression was bound to fail.
Even at this stage, the Pakistanis were denying that their soldiers were present in Indian territory, claiming it was only Kashmiri freedom fighters. They could still have called the whole foolish midadventure off, with their honour largely intact. The world would quickly have forgotten the Rann of Kutch incident and the subsequent few weeks of low level sabotage in Kashmir.
India had by this stage demonstrated its strong desire for peace. If the Indians had been intent on invading Pakistan, they would have used the Rann of Kutch conflict as an excuse to launch a wider war. But they did not. After a few weeks of Pakistani infiltrations into Kashmir in August, the Indians could have found a way to escalate the conflict into a full blown war on all fronts.
But Ayub had dug himself into a deep hole, and there was simply no way out. Starting from his humiliation in 2 elections of 1965, Ayub had racheted up tensions with India in order to silence domestic opposition. Now he could not step back from the brink. He had told the Pakistani public that Kashmiri freedom fighters were behind the recent disturbances in Indian Kashmir, therefore Ayub could not be seen to back down in the face of supposed Indian aggression. The Pakistani public was in a state of feverish hatred for India, and Ayub had no option to back away from war in late August 1965. He may well have been lynched publicly if he had tried!
By the end of August, Pakistani bases were still being used to send saboteurs to cause mayhem in Indian Kashmir. For this reason, the Indians were left with no choice but to cross over the LoC and neutralise these terror bases.
After 3 Indian raids over the LoC, war became inevitable. Pakistan Army first crossed over into Indian Kashmir wearing uniform in early September, and the soft war became a hard reality.
Pakistan’s 1965 War: A Failure from start to finish
The 1965 War was a failure on all levels for Pakistan. Initially, Pakistan crossed over into India and captured some outposts and deserted border towns. In Rajasthan, Pakistan troops pushed around 30 miles into some largely uninhabited and undefended desert, and then claimed to have captured 1000 square miles of Indian territory. In reality, the Pakistanis had provided a textbook example of how not to capture a disputed border territory from a rival state.
Pakistan believed the Kashmiris supported them in their aim to seize Kashmir from India. The Kashmiris had shown they were capable of mass scale rioting during the Sacred Hair incident. But Pakistan’s assumptions were proven wrong, as the Kashmiris took no interest in their planned uprising.
Pakistan could have fought bravely, surprised the Indians and stood a far greater chance of success. Instead, the Pakistanis lost the element of surprise by beginning a low level skirmish in the Rann of Kutch.
Once the war started, Pakistan had little chance of holding any territory in Indian Kashmir or India proper. Pakistani tanks could not enter Kashmir in significant numbers due to terrain, so Kashmir was almost impossible for them to capture.
The Indians launched bombing raids on Dhaka, Chittagong, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Karachi, yet the PAF could not hit any Indian city.
There were several drawn out tank battles on the flat plains of Punjab, but these were of little consequence either way from a military perspective.
By the time of the ceasefire on 21 September, the fighting was almost entirely taking place in West Pakistan territory, with Pakistani troops fighting only in Kasur on the Indian border.
The Indian war aim had been to contain the Rann of Kutch conflict, and this was a success. When the main war started in September 1965, the Indian aim was simply to achieve a ceasefire based on both sides unconditionally pulling back to January 1965 lines. This was also a success.
The Pakistani basic war aim had been to expel the Indians from Kashmir and annex the territory into Pakistan. This aim was a complete failure.
Ayub managed to stay on as President until he finally felt compelled to hand over the reins to the even more ridiculously inept General Yahya Khan in 1969.
Pakistan lost the 1965 war. For Ayub, staying in power may have been the only victory he was looking for.