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Sunday, June 9, 2024

1965 Kashmir War: The Political Dimension

Despite a long war in 1947-48, Jammu & Kashmir dispute (“issue” to the Indians) refused to die. It lingered on as a dysfunctional conflict, breeding frustrations and creating an overall hostile environment in the Subcontinent. The problem with a dysfunctional conflict is that it creates inertia which sometimes needs to be broken through negative and violent means.

A little less than a month from today, Pakistanis will be going through the ritual of celebrating the 58th anniversary of the 1965 War between Pakistan and India.  

The first Kashmir War (October 1947 – April 1948) did not end in a decisive solution for either of the contestants. Pakistanis felt frustrated and bitter while their leadership tried to hide behind the United Nations resolutions and similar excuses. On the other hand, Nehru, the man who had promoted himself as a person, symbolizing India, was generally content with what India had grabbed. For now, he appeared sated like a cat after it has polished off the mouse.

Read more: Demographic and Political Engineering of Kashmir

For him, Pakistan-controlled Kashmir could wait for another day

The Indian leadership, however, occasionally made noises about recovering the chunks of Kashmir India had lost to Pakistan. President Kennedy once remarked that whenever he tried to talk to Nehru about Kashmir, the latter would lower his glance and start looking at his shoes (Bhutto, 1969).

Despite a long war in 1947-48, Jammu & Kashmir dispute (“issue” to the Indians) refused to die. It lingered on as a dysfunctional conflict, breeding frustrations and creating an overall hostile environment in the Subcontinent. The problem with a dysfunctional conflict is that it creates inertia which sometimes needs to be broken through negative and violent means.

Breaking the inertia was the main motive for Pakistan to move forward, hence the 65 War. According to the proponents of this war the Valley was simmering with unrest due to the inept Kashmiri leadership in IHK, the high-handedness of the occupation administration, and perhaps because Indian leadership was contemplating withdrawing the special status accorded to the state under the Indian constitution. According to the Indian version, Pakistan Army, having received massive military aid from the United States during the Cold War, and encouraged by India’s defeat in the 1962 Sino-India border war, was spoiling for a showdown with India.

Some Pakistani theorists point out the growing frustration and resentment when the people started getting fed up with Ayub Khan, particularly after his controversial success in the 1964 general elections. Ayub Khan was losing his grip on power as new power centers were emerging (Bhutto, the army itself, and the Bengali autonomists). During the twilight years of his rule (1964-68), Ayub Khan did not entirely control the decision-making process in Pakistan.

Read more: August 5 – A black day for IO Kashmir

Whatever the reason, Ayub Khan, unwittingly or in cohort with at least two power centers (Bhutto and some of the generals) took steps to break the inertia. There should be nothing to apologize about this and start a blame game. However, Ayub started a war without proper planning and with faulty appreciation. Presumably, Ayub based his calculations on two premises 1) a contrived insurgency will result in a major revolt against the Indian occupation. 2) The operations will remain localized to the disputed state. Bhutto’s opponents accuse him of misguiding Ayub regarding the second premise.

This does not, however, exonerate Ayub from his responsibility

Whereas Pakistani leadership hoped against hope that someday, somehow the Kashmiris will be allowed by India to exercise their right to self-determination as a result of which IHK will become part of Pakistan, short of Quixotic adventurism like the one sponsored in 1947 through the tribal invasion, they had never seriously thought of a military solution. True, the Military Operations Directorate at the General Headquarters had ponderously made and kept updated contingency plans to recover the IHK, these plans were (and are even today) broad guidelines.

No effort had been made to mesh these plans with the political strategy (How to transform the general resentment among Kashmiris into a meaningful insurgency? How to exploit the world opinion in favor of a projected Kashmiri uprising? How to deliver, in concert with a fomented Kashmiri revolt, the coup de grace on India? Etc).

Prerequisites to a Military Option

How serious was Ayub Khan in opting for a military solution to break the inertia? Such an option implied meeting the following pre-requisites:-

  1. Formulating a national policy by identifying and merging the political and military objectives.
  2. Neutralizing the pro-India J&K National Conference in IHK and cultivating a parallel pro-plebiscite leadership.
  3. Nurturing political awareness in IHK , necessary for an uprising in the state.
  4. Exploiting the UN resolutions and international opinion to the hilt, wherever they suited Pakistan, without making them the sole instrument of conflict resolution.
  5. Identifying the type of war required to achieve the military objectives and training for it.
  6. Crafting a comprehensive plan aimed at achieving the military objectives across the Cease-fire Line while holding the enemy along the international border. This required abandoning the limited war mindset.

Another Lavon Affair?

The original plan for the operation code-named Gibraltar may have been prepared by the Pakistan Army as early as the 1950s, but, according to folklore, was resurrected by Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik, General Officer Commanding 12 Division. During a meeting held in late May 1965 on the directive of Vice Chief of the General Staff (Major General Abid Bilgrami), General Akhtar revealed his plan to Colonel Syed Ghaffar Mehdi, Commander of Special Services Group (SSG). The plan called for infiltrating groups of “Mujahideen” comprising regular army troops and irregulars into IHK for contriving a local uprising and unfreezing the issue without provoking a general war (Hali,2012).

It was almost going to be a replay of the first Kashmir war. As mentioned earlier, the meeting between the two was arranged by the Vice Chief of the General Staff. However, when asked by Mehdi if the Army High Command were on board, Akhtar responded that it was his plan. When asked further when he expected to launch the Mujahideen, Akhtar replied “July, the same year”. According to Mehdi, he told Akhtar that the plan was a non-starter, but upon the latter’s insistence, Mehdi left behind his three officers whom he had taken along for the meeting with Akhtar and “tasked them to do their best in the remaining four to six weeks”.

Read more: The threat to freedom in Kashmir Valley

Was Operation Gibraltar Pakistan’s Lavon Affair?

The Lavon Affair refers to a failed Israeli covert operation, code named Operation Susannah, conducted in Egypt in the summer of 1954. As part of the false flag operation, a group of Egyptian Jews was recruited by Israeli military intelligence to plant bombs inside Egyptian, American, and British-owned civilian targets, cinemas, libraries, and American educational centers. The bombs were timed to detonate several hours after closing time. The attacks were to be blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian Communists, “unspecified malcontents” or “locals” and “nationalists” to create a climate of sufficient violence and instability to induce the British government to retain its occupation troops in Egypt’s Suez Canal zone.

The operation caused no casualties, except for operative Philip Natanson when a bomb he was taking to place in a movie theater ignited prematurely in his pocket; for two members of the cell who committed suicide after being captured; and for two operatives who were tried, convicted and executed by Egypt.

The operation ultimately became known as the Lavon Affair after the Israeli defense minister Pinhas Lavon, who was forced to resign as a consequence of the incident. Before Lavon’s resignation, the incident had been euphemistically referred to in Israel as the “Unfortunate Affair” or “The Bad Business”. After Israel publicly denied any involvement in the incident for 51 years, the surviving agents were officially honored in 2005 by being awarded certificates of appreciation by Israeli President Moshe Katzav.

Read more: July 19th: The history and significance of Kashmir’s Accession to Pakistan Day

Parallels can be drawn between how Lavon Affair and Operation Gibraltar evolved, except that in the latter case, Pakistan’s President, his Foreign Minister, and General Officer Commanding 12 Division also had their fingers in the pie. It is generally believed that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had also assured Ayub Khan that fighting would be confined to Jammu & Kashmir and that India would not attack across the international border. Detailed coverage of the 1965 War will be made by me during the subsequent weeks.



Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.