JL Tiku 

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Operation Gibraltar and the Indo-Pak War of 1965

By J.L. Tiku

“Ayub Khan may have a lot to answer for authorizing Kashmir Operation, but in agreeing to ceasefire he acted with...realism....patriotism...., though he had to pay a terrible price in personal term” Altaf Gauhar

Probably, the successful encounter of the Pakistan army with Indian forces in the Rann of Kutch area had reinforced Ayub Khan’s rising faith in the military superiority of his forces. The Rann of Kutch conflict was a low cost test of Indian will & capabilities. Ayub khan in his autobiography Friends Not Masters published in 1967 had left the important event of the 1965 war untouched intentionally. Now his son Gauhar Ayub Khan is trying to fill this gap in his reported forthcoming book. The book may be an attempt to salvage the lost position of his father Field Marshal Ayub Khan as President of Pakistan after 1965 debacle.

Rann of Kutch was one of the areas left undemarcated by Radcliffe award during partition. Pakistan laid claim to whole of Rann, contrary to India’s position. The clash started between border police force and soon involved the armed forces of both sides. Pakistan did make local gains, it seems they were prepared for the battle. India didn’t want to engage extensively in the sticky area thinking it may have been Pakistan’s diversionary tactics. The Rann of Kutch operation also bolstered Pakistan official General Musa’s morale. His assessment of the inherent strength of army rose in tandem to Ayub Khan’s perception on the subject.

Pakistan’s army was persuaded to produce a plan for a bolder course of action. The task was entrusted to Maj. Gen. Akhtar Hussain Malik, the General Officer Commanding, 12th Division, who was responsible for the defence of Pak Occupied Kashmir. The plan reflected his outlook and character - supposedly bold and imaginative. Thus was Operation Gibraltar born.

Highly    trained    30,000    strong    non-Kashmiri guerilla force labeled Gibraltar Forces was to be raised at Murree under the charge of Maj. Gen. Akhtar Hussain Malik. The Gibraltar Forces bearing romantic names comprised of ten forces. These would be infiltrating whole of Jammu & Kashmir for mobilising mass scale uprising against India. Then the Pakistan army would march in to protect the ‘revolutionaries’.

The decision for Operation Gibraltar was primarily based on three important premises. It was assumed that widespread support existed within Kashmir to make a guerilla campaign a success. It was considered unlikely that as a consequence of this action India would be inclined to attempt a large-scale military offensive against Pak Occupied Kashmir territory. Lastly  the possibility of India crossing the international border either in then East or West Pakistan was ruled out.

The several groups of Gibraltar Forces that infiltrated into Kashmir were: Salaudin force headed for Srinagar and Valley; Ghaznavi force operated in Mendhar-Rajouri; Tariq force was to strike Dras and Kargil; Babbar force Bhimber, Kalidhar; Qasim force Bandipora; Khalid force Qazinag; Nasrat force Tithwal area. The operation was launched as hurriedly as it had been conceived. It was not gradual enough to give it the character of an internal uprising.

Whereas it was true that goodwill for Pakistan existed in some pockets of Kashmir, it was unrealistic to expect that this feeling of resentment against India could be mobilized all over Jammu & Kashmir and thereby make the execution of large-scale operation within Indian borders possible. They were not successful in establishing the necessary rapport with local populace. Few of them were turned over or revealed to the Indian army. With their self styled liberators and ‘freedom fighters’ who apart from doing some damage to public property and inflicting much suffering on the people by burning their homes got nowhere close to capturing the Srinagar Radio Station for their historic broadcast on 9lh August proclaiming that war of liberation was on.

When faced with a rapidly escalating situation, which endangered India’s position in Kashmir, army persuaded to retaliate in an area in Pak Occupied Kashmir, which would be strategically important. The Haji Pir salient, which provided Pakistan with a link between the northern and southern sectors of Pak Occupied Kashmir, was a natural region, which fitted this pattern. Also, it had become important gateway for infiltrators and had to be closed. On 27th August the Indian army launched a strong attack on POK positions in the area, which were relatively lightly held, and by 28th August we were in control of strategic territory to cut the line of communication between Muzaffarabad, the capital of POK and Kotli, a major town in the southern POK. On 10th September Indian force advancing from Poonch completed the control of Uri-Poonch link, thus straightening the bulge.

Pakistan retaliatedin vulnerable area of Chamb-Akhnur It is the only sector along the ceasefire line (LoC) where tanks could be used effectively during, offensive. Pakistan ordered its infantry division located South of Lahore to move to the Chamb area. Initially the attack was to be carried out by Maj. Gen. Akhtar Hussain Mulik of 12th Division. As formations of Pakistan's 12th division moved swiftly towards Akhnur, India was faced with a difficult military situation. The capture of Akhnur by Pakistan would provide them a base, seriously threaten the lines of communication between India and the Kashmir valley and it could result in the loss of a large portion of the Indian army in northern and central Kashmir.

Indian was left with little choice but to remove this threat to the security of their vital strategic area. Rather than confining the contest to Pak occupied Kashmir, it was decided to widen the area of conflict to then West Pakistan. Operation Riddle was code word for all out attack on West Pakistan. The plan was prepared after Rann of Kutch incident. Of all the places in West Pakistan Lahore was the natural choice. “I want to reach Lahore before they take Srinagar” were the strong words of then Prime Minister Shastri to army chief. A threat to its security could not fail to draw forces to Lahore’s defence, and this could well remove the threat to Jammu and Akhnur. The offensive was with this limited objective only.

On 2nd September, just about thirty-six hours after the Chamb offensive launched by 12th Division, Pakistan completed the movement of their 7th Division to the Chamb area. On the very same day, Maj. Gen. Yahya Khan, GOC 7th Div. was given command of this sector and Maj. Gen. Akhtar Malik was ordered to return to his earlier location further north. The decision to change commanders in the midst of the Chamb battle was clearly based on the assumption that the Indian retaliation to an attack on Akhnur would come in the Pak Occupied Kashmir area in the North and not against Pakistan territory in the South.

As Pakistan changed horses in mid-stream, India began to make a last bid to strengthen her crumbling defences in the Akhnur area. The change of formation slowed down Pakistan’s advance sufficiently to allow the Indians to consolidate their position. And as our forces crossed Pakistan borders in Punjab on 6th September at dawn, the morale of the Indians in the Chamb-Akhnur sector began to recover.

Neither country won the 22 day war. It was inconclusive war. It is equally true that Pakistan lost the war in that the she failed to  win her military and political objectives. Pakistan's blunder was her over-confidence and arrogant underestimation of its adversary’s strength and competence. Pakistan having convinced themselves that they would win the war in a week's time on paper, had put everything they had all at once in full force their armour, artillery, and air power. With the result Pakistan army was short of supplies, it was running out of ammunition and had lost heavily in equipment and trained men. It had to seek help from friendly countries, Indonesia, China. Pakistan lost most decisive battles of the war-Assal Uttar in the Khem Karan sector and the tank battle in Sialkot sector. Pakistan lost half of their American gifted Patton tanks. Their strike power was crippled and humbled. The psychological impact of loss upon the Pak army and the military leadership couldn’t be underestimated. To continue to fight under these circumstances and with principle fighting concentrated in Pakistan would bring the risk of further heavy losses without immediate hope of gain. Pakistan finally had to accept conditions for truce which settled none of the issues which had precipitated war.

It can be concluded from the course of events that steered the 22 day war, Pakistan had misjudged Indian psyche to its misadventure. If Pakistan’s army leadership had got hold of the war plan from Indian army official as reported by Gauhar Ayub, why did they leave Haji-Pir salient lightly held and then move 12th Division from South to Chamb sector so as to leave Lahore vulnerable for Indian attack. It is reported that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had assured Ayub Khan that Indians would never violate the Indo-Pakistan border. On what basis Bhutto had given the assurance would require to be elaborated. These are few unanswered questions, which, Gauhar Ayub Khan has to throw some light on.


1. Altaf Gauhar was at the time of conflict, Secretary, Ministry of information & Broadcasting, Government of Pakistan, who worked closely with Ayub Khan for five and a half years.

2.  Courtesy Times Of India,  Bombay monograph dated November 10th 1965, India Answers Pakistan by B. G. Verghese.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel




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