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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Prelude to the September War

When the Indians retaliated by attacking Pakistani posts all along the CFL, the infiltrating units were recalled and asked to counterattack. There was little time for preparation. In the confusion of battle, companies lost contact with each other and with their battalion headquarters.

Rann of Kutch, comprising an area of 30,000 square kilometers, is a seasonal salt marshland located between the Indian state of Gujarat and the southern tip of Pakistan’s Sindh province. Due to its marshy nature, the area was not regularly patrolled on the Pakistani side. In January 1965 the Indians reinforced the area with approximately two BSF battalions, and their patrols started probing forward towards the Rangers posts located along the un-demarcated border.

There were accusations and counteraccusations about border violations by both sides. These were followed by attacks on each other’s posts. Pakistanis blamed Indians for establishing new posts on their side of the border. The ensuing skirmishes remained localized and, harking back to the era of limited wars, the two air chiefs agreed on keeping their respective air forces out of the conflict. 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.

Read more: 1965 Kashmir War: The Political Dimension

Emboldened by the setback to the Indians, Major General Tikka Khan, GOC 8 Division, outlined a tactical plan called Plan Alpha to capture the northern half of the Rann. However, Ayub Khan did not allow such an offensive. Ayub Khan’s critics think he had missed an opportunity to push India further to the south.

Understanding the matter better

In June of 1965, at the behest of British Prime Minister Harold Wilson,  both countries agreed to end hostilities and set up a tribunal to resolve the dispute. The clash had not resulted in a major gain for Pakistan. When the tribunal announced its award in 1968, Pakistan was awarded, against its claim of 9,100 square kilometers (3,500 square miles), approximately a marginal area of 910 square kilometers (350 square miles) to the south and east of the contested border. Indian claim on the whole of the Rann was also rejected. The International boundary in this area was thus roughly delineated along the line that existed in 1953.

For Ayub Khan, the outcome of the Rann of Kutch encounter was a victory for the Pakistan Army. This perceived victory, and exhortations by Bhutto, made Ayub Khan draw wrong conclusions that the Indian Army would be unable to defend itself against a quick military move in Jammu &Kashmir even as it had failed to counter the Chinese onslaught in 1962. He was mistaken that the situation in the Indian-held Kashmir was ripe for a popular uprising. Ayub Khan also mistakenly concluded that America would come to Pakistan’s assistance, even when the latter provoked a war with India.  It is surprising how he failed to register U.S. ambassador Walter Mc Conaughy’s stern warning to Pakistan against using U.S. arms in a conflict with India.

Failure of a Contrived Uprising

According to General Muhammad Musa, Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army:

“…..the concept of sending infiltrators in the Indian held Kashmir, code-named ‘Gibraltar’ was the brain-child of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is a simple truth and nothing but the truth.. .….. After the Government finally decided that deep raids should be launched in Indian-held Kashmir, I directed Commander 12 Division, Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik, to prepare a draft plan for the operation, code-named Gibraltar in consultation with GHQ and within the broad concept, we had specified. GHQ approved it after making certain changes in it. With the help of the sand model, he went over the final plan in Murree before it was put into effect on 7 August 1965 under our overall control. The Supreme Commander and his Military Secretary were present. He also agreed with it. I was accompanied by the CGS (Major General Malik Sher Bahadur) and the Directors of Military Operations and Intelligence (Brigadiers Gul Hasan and Irshad Ahmed Khan respectively). Broadly the plan envisaged, on a short-term basis, sabotage of military targets, disruptions of communications, etc., and, as a long-term measure, distribution of arms to the people of occupied Kashmir and initiation of a guerrilla movement there to start an uprising in the valley eventually. The push towards Akhnur was not part of it. However, it was considered as one of the likely operations that we might have to undertake, as we felt our activities would have an escalating effect.”

The services chiefs were designated “Commander in Chief ” till after the 1971War

Pakistan sent infiltrators to IHK to contrive an uprising. The plan was based on a simplistic assumption that the war would remain confined to Jammu & Kashmir. The mission assigned to the various infiltration groups was warfare in the enemy’s rear to create conditions for an open revolt against the Indian occupation. Within the four to six weeks time frame available one can imagine what sort of training, groundwork, coordination with the local Kashmiris, and logistics planning would have been done.

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The total strength of the “Gibraltar Force” was not more than 5,000 to 7,000 men subdivided into nine forces. Operation Gibraltar surprised the Kashmiris more than the Indian Army. Instead of receiving help from the locals, most of the infiltrators were handed over to the Indian Army. Those who were not discovered were in a more pathetic state since rations, ammunition, and supplies ran out.

Nothing was done to reinforce the holding troops and plug the gaps in their defenses. Alerted by the infiltration attempts and skirmishes with the Mujahids, from 16th August onwards Indians increased their patrolling along the 1948Cease Fire Line (CFL). In the Kargil sector, the Srinagar-Leh road, the Indian Army’s lifeline to Ladakh, was dominated by the heights held by Pakistan. Indian Army convoys traversing Srinagar – Leh road would frequently come under heavy fire from the Pakistani posts overlooking the road. Indians had the compulsion to keep the CFL as far away from this road as possible.

Since 1948 Indians had been nibbling at the heights dominating this vital road. Despite the constant Indian threat, this sector was thinly held by the scouts. Indians had, therefore, no difficulty in capturing, in late August, some scattered and isolated Pakistani posts (notably Kuru, Laila, and Majnun) in this area. Between 25th August and 11th, September Indians attacked and captured important Pakistani posts in Neelam and Jhelum valleys. It is not easy to capture a dominating feature held by a well-trained defender. Why were Pakistani defenses falling like Nine Pins?

During Operation Gibraltar whole infantry battalions were pulled out from their defensive positions by bleeding the holding brigades (Sectors) to beef up the infiltration forces. Some of the units were hastily moved into the area from their peacetime locations. When the Indians retaliated by attacking Pakistani posts all along the CFL, the infiltrating units were recalled and asked to counterattack. There was little time for preparation. In the confusion of battle, companies lost contact with each other and with their battalion headquarters. This was the state of planning to liberate Kashmir. As a total war with India had not been factored in the Pakistani war planning, panic ensued when, on 6th September, India attacked Pakistan all across the International border.



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.