Between February and March 1965, Pakistan had a slogging match with India over the Rann of Kutch, a desolate seasonal salt marshland located between the Indian state of Gujarat and the southern tip of Pakistan’s Sindh province. In March, Pakistan Army captured Biar Bed, a strip of marshland to the southwest of the de-facto International border. This was hailed as a great victory for Pakistan. Indian PM Lal Bahadur Shastri, jilted by this insignificant but symbolic setback to India, vowed to avenge the defeat at a place and time of India’s choosing.
I had written earlier that the perceived Pakistani victory in the Rann of Kutch made President Ayub Khan draw the wrong conclusion that India would be unable to defend itself against a quick military move in Jammu & Kashmir also. In late May 1965, Operation Gibraltar was conceived which was an almost replay of the 1947-48 Kashmir War when Pakistan had sent tribesmen in the state of Jammu & Kashmir to liberate it from the yoke of its Hindu ruler. India responded to Operation Gibraltar by occupying, in August 1965, the heights in the Kargil sector, Neelam Valley, and the Haji Pir Bulge. Pakistan reacted to the Indian move with Operation Grand Slam in the Chamb sector.
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Understanding the matter better
To relieve pressure on Chamb and Akhnur, on the night of 5th/6th September, India attacked Pakistan along with the international border in Lahore and Kasur sectors. The advance of the Indian Army also threatened to cut across the right flank of the Pakistani attack in Chamb. Realizing the gravity of the threat, the Pakistani Army stopped its thrust into Kashmir and diverted the 7 Division to counter the Indian incursion.
Despite intelligence reports that had started trickling in as early as 15th August, clearly indicating that the Indian Army had started the operational build-up against West Pakistan, we remained in a state of limbo. Even after the capture of Chamb and advance towards Akhnur, no precautionary measures were taken due to the Foreign Office’s assurance that India would not start an all-out war.
Rann of Kutch clash had resulted in the forward deployment of troops along with the International border. The official history of the Pakistan Army tells us about troop deployment in early July. The defensive positions were strengthened with barbed wire and mines. In the last week of July, the troops were ordered to completely dismantle the defenses and return to barracks. When the Indians attacked, there were no mines or barbed wire.
On the evening of 4th September, referring to the Indian PM, All India Radio informed the listeners that the Pakistan Army was moving from Sialkot towards Jammu. Alarmed by the Indian fabrication, at around midnight of 4th/5 September, a signal was dispatched to the field formations, directing them, vaguely, to “take necessary defensive measures”.
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At the Lahore front, Indian XI Corps began its operations by advancing on three axis –15 Division (three infantry brigades and an armored regiment) to attack Lahore along Amritsar–Lahore axis (Wagah road), 7 Division (three infantry brigades and an armored regiment) to attack Burki along Khalra–Burki axis, and 4 Mountain Division (two mountain brigades and an armored regiment) advancing along Khem Karan-Kasur axis was to capture Kasur.
Facing the Indians along Amritsar-Lahore and Khalra, the Burki axis was the 10 Division (seven infantry battalions within three infantry brigades, and an armored regiment). On insistence from his brigade commanders, GOC 10 Division permitted them to take up defensive positions during the night of 5th/6th of September, start time midnight. This implied that the troops would not be in position before 0400 hours and defensive positions would not be occupied before 0700 hours on 6th September. Resultantly, infantry battalions, under command armor elements, and line parties of artillery observers bumped into the attackers while occupying the assigned forward defended localities/artillery observation posts.
None of the twenty-odd bridges were prepared for demolition
These were haphazardly blown up belatedly in the face of the stiff enemy pressure. While the advance positions were overrun by the enemy, some elements of the ex-10 Division continued operating on the east bank of BRB till the cease-fire. All the enemy attacks on forwarding defended localities were beaten back, mainly by their own artillery. The Indian claim that the invading divisions did not attempt to establish a bridgehead anywhere across the BRB Canal has been rejected by Singh and Rikhye (1991). According to these Indian defense analysts:
“Pakistan knows that it prevented the Indian Army from crossing the last defense before Lahore, the BRB (Icchogil) Canal just in time, and saved itself a very major defeat in the process. Much of the credit has deservedly gone to a single company of the 3 Baloch Regiment which held up the Indians for several hours. Only this battalion was in position because the rest of Pakistan’s 10 Infantry Division had not been alerted as Pakistan did not expect India to cross the International frontier. Formations and units of the 10 Division, responsible for the defense of Lahore, were rushed to their battle locations when India’s XI corps made its three-pronged attack for Lahore.
What few know is that the PAF also had a major role in stalling the Indians. But for the PAF, the weak Pakistani defense would have been overwhelmed and the Indian Army would have poured across the BRB Canal and into Lahore.
The lead brigade of Indian 15 Infantry Division was about to throw a bridgehead across the BRB Canal when it was attacked by the F-86s (of No 19 Squadron, sic) that strafed it and other elements of the Division up and down the Grand Trunk Road, throwing the Indians into confusion, delaying the advance, and thus allowing Pakistan’s 10 Division to assume its forward positions, which ended the hope of a quick Indian victory”.
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By 22nd September, Indians, while leaning on the water obstacle, had captured two major villages, Burki and Dograi, to the east of BRB.
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.