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1965: Right War at the Wrong Time

Reflecting back after fifty-seven years, one can argue that, from Pakistan’s perspective, this was the right war fought at the wrong time.

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1965 war was a watershed moment in Pakistan’s military history because the military successfully repelled a major Indian offensive on Lahore and Sialkot fronts simultaneously against a much larger enemy with a ratio of 1:4. Pakistan tactically won the war in 1965 because of brilliance shown by the soldiers and officers fighting on the frontlines. There were many war heroes, but one prime example was Major Raja Aziz Bhatti, who successfully defended Lahore and embraced martyrdom in the line of duty. However, despite its stalemate, on a strategic level, the war ended in favor of India because it was Pakistan that had initiated action in the occupied Jammu and Kashmir through operation Gibraltar and later Grand Slam.

Reflecting back on the 1965 war after fifty-seven years, one can argue that, from the perspective of Pakistan perspective, this was the right war fought at the wrong time. The rationale is that 1965 was the right war in the sense that it had to take place as Pakistan being the aggrieved party over Kashmir, had to act because the Indian government was moving away from its commitments that it made to United Nations Security Council.

The 1965 war was fought at the wrong time for Pakistan in the sense that India armed itself heavily after the war of humiliation against the Chinese and purchased state-of-the-art weaponry from abroad. The key example is Mig-21 jet fighters that were purchased from USSR in 1963, immediately after the war with China. On the other hand US, an ally of Pakistan also provided India with $92 million worth of military aid between 1962-65 that included air defense radar and communications and mountain warfare equipment. And there were many more arms acquisitions by India after 1962. In short, Pakistan’s decision to fight India in 1965 was wrong because India was better equipped than in the 1962 war.

Read more: 1965 War: Operation Grand Slam

Missed opportunity

The right time to fight the war was siding with the Chinese and attacking the Indian forces in 1962. However, Pakistan made a strategic blunder when it decided to stay neutral in the war between China and India back in 1962. This was the impeccable time of waging war against the occupied forces in Indian occupied Kashmir because Indian forces had suffered a serious defeat at the Chinese hands and were demoralized. Indians remember this as the “War of Humiliation.” Had Pakistan decided to launch an offensive against the Indian forces in Kashmir in 1962, the result may have been far better than the 1965 war.

Though the Chinese had encouraged Pakistan to take advantage of the situation, the Pakistani rationale for not indulging in the war was the hypothetical illusion created in the mind of President Ayub Khan that the US would compel India into meaningful dialogue to settle the Kashmir dispute. The US did try, leading to Bhutto-Swarang Singh Talks (1963-64), but for Delhi, this was a mere time-buying exercise and it refused to make any concessions.

Read more: Op-ed: Accepting Bhutto-led FO’s advice during 1965 war cost Ayub Khan dearly

The US’s close coordination with the Indian government was exposed by the former US intelligence analyst and expert on South Asian affairs, Bruce Riedel, in his book “JFK’s Forgotten Crisis: Tibet, the CIA, and the Sino-Indian War.” In the book, he described how the joint efforts of John Kenneth Galbraith, US ambassador in India, and Walter McConaughy, US ambassador to Pakistan, acting in coordination with the Kennedy administration, saved Nehru from the challenge of war by Pakistan.

Conclusively, in initiating a war, timing matters. Pakistani decision-makers failed to grasp the opportunity when it had presented in 1962 and ended up fighting the “right war at the wrong time.”

Note: A slightly different version of this article appears in the 2022 September Magazine.

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