Sultan M. Hali*
(Operation Gibraltar was the code name given to the clandestine raids carried out in Indian-Held Kashmir (IHK) in July/August 1965, which became the immediate cause of the Pakistan-India War in September
1965. The operation itself may have been bold and audacious in its planning but immature and unprofessional in execution, which resulted in needlessly sacrificing hundreds of Pakistani soldiers, who remain unsung and unheralded. However, forty-one years later, it is still not too late to study the consequences of “Operation Gibraltar”, why it was an unmitigated disaster and to avoid recurrence of follies of this nature. Although if truth be told, had a bit of soul searching regarding “Operation Gibraltar” been carried out earlier, a fiasco like the Kargil misadventure in 1999 could have been avoided and hundreds of honourable soldiers would still be in the service of their country rather than going unflinchingly to the beckoning of their superiors on an ill- conceived “OperationBadr”, ending up with their names adorning anonymous epitaphs, apart from a few like Captain KarnalSher Khan, whose citation was written by the enemy because of his exceptionaldisplay of valour. Initially Pakistan even refused to accept the bodies of its slain soldiers2.- Author)
Kashmir was an unfinished agenda of the partition plan of India. The Boundary Commission under its Chairman Sir Cyril Radcliffe, assigned the task to partition India, was heavily influenced by the Viceroy Lord
Mountbatten. Sensing this prejudice, Pakistan’s founding fathers, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan concluded that the entire area of the Muslim majority population of Gurdaspur was being awarded to India, providing them access to Kashmir. Liaquat Ali Khan took serious note of the anomaly and sent a letter to Lord Ismay through Chaudhry Muhammad Ali. Ismay expostulated that “…the final report of Sir Cyril Radcliffe is not ready and therefore, I do not know what grounds you have for saying that Gurdaspur has been allotted to the East Punjab.”3
India thus was enabled by Lord Mountbatten to have a direct access to Kashmir and occupy it by force through a blatant Indian military invasion of Jammu and Kashmir on October 27, 1947, even though it had a majority Muslim population. The Maharaja of Kashmir acceded to India but the Indian forces had occupied Kashmir before the accession papers were signed.4
Pakistan sent its forces to aid the local Kashmiris liberate their homeland, resulting in the First Kashmir War. Pakistan managed to unfetter some portions of the Valley but before success could be achieved, the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru approached the United Nations, which had a cease fire promulgated; the fate of the Kashmiris was to have been decided through a plebiscite, ensured by UN Articles 47 of 21 April 1948 and 51 of 3 June 1948.
India’s first head of state, Lord Mountbatten, is on record of having said on October 27, 1947, that since the “question of accession [of Kashmir] should be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people of the state, it is my government’s wish that as soon as law and order have been restored in Kashmir… the question of the state’s accession should be settled by a reference to the people.”5India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru also made a similar commitment. Conversely, Mountbatten and Nehru reneged on their promises. Pakistan was looking for an opportunity to liberate the remaining Kashmir areas. An opportunity came its way following the Sino-Indian War in 1962, in which India got a drubbing, but Pakistan missed the boat. Subsequent to the war with China, Indian military decided to undergo massive up-gradation of its arms and equipment. Some Pakistani military and civil planners considered it an opportunity to take action in Kashmir before India completed the buildup of its military arsenal. Two developments acted as a catalyst to this thinking. The Rann of Kutch episode in the summer of 1965, where Indian and Pakistani forces clashed, with Pakistan achieving an edge and the December 1963, disappearance of a holy relic from the Hazratbal Shrine in Srinagar, created turmoil and intense Islamic feeling among Muslims in the Valley, which was perceived by Pakistan as conducive to stage an uprising in Indian held Kashmir. These factors bolstered Pakistani command’s thinking: that the use of covert methods followed by the threat of an all out war would force a resolution in Kashmir6.
Evolution of the plan for Operation Gibraltar
The original plan for the Operation, codenamed Gibraltar, was prepared as early as the 1950s; however the conditions mentioned above, appear to have motivated Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, headed by its young, brash and ambitious Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and the Foreign Secretary Aziz Ahmad to endorse the plan into action through the military.
Since most of the major players in this high stakes drama are no longer in this world to tell their side of the story, I have relied on relevant books, documents and articles available in archives and a series of interviews with Colonel Syed Ghaffar Mehdi, who commanded the elite force of Pakistan Army’s Special Services Group (SSG) and was privy to the plan and a witness to its bungled execution. Besides Colonel Mehdi, I also had the opportunity to obtain the views of Lieutenant General Lehrasab Khan (Retd), who as a young Lieutenant participated in the Operation Gibraltar and was able to provide invaluable first hand impressions of the situation and action, as he saw it in his sector of operations, while being actively engaged in the action in the Valley.
During my various visits to Colonel Mehdi, I found him not only eloquent and courteous, but the nonagenarian, despite his frail health, would get up to greet me and ensure that he would stroll till the gate to see me off; reminisces of rapidly receding values. Here I reproduce some extracts from the interview:
SMH (myself): When did you first find out about Operation Gibraltar? Col. Mehdi (CM): In late May 1965, I was directed by the Vice Chief
of General Staff, (late Major General Abid Bilgrami) to go to Murree and see GOC 12 Division, Akhtar Hussain Malik. I listened to his briefing, which in a nutshell involved my SSG boys training a group of “Mujahedeen”, comprising regular army troops and volunteers, infiltrating them into IHK, creating a general uprising and bringing India to the conference table without provoking general war. I asked him whether the Army was on board. He responded that it was his plan. I then asked him, when he expected to launch the “Mujahedeen”? When he said July, the same year, I nearly choked. I had initially assumed the plan to materialize in a year or two. I told him “you will never get away with it.”
The GOC’s briefing of the outline plan of Gibraltar operation left me stunned. The plan was so childish, so bizarre as to be unacceptable to logical, competent, professionally sound military persons anywhere in the world. I frankly told General Akhtar Malik that the Operation was a nonstarter and that I would render the same advice to the Chief and Vice Chief of General Staff. He insisted that I depute some of my (SSG) officers for immediate training of his “Mujahedeen”. I had taken three of my officers with me for the briefing; I decided to leave them behind with General Akhtar and tasked them to do their best in the remaining four to six weeks.
SMH: Did you brief the VCGS?
CM: I rushed to the GHQ, the same day and briefed the CGS and VCGS, who listened to me patiently. The result of my presentation however was barren of the result. Major General Malik SherBahadur (The CGS) posed only one question. You (Mehdi) say that operation
Gibraltar as planned stands no chance of succeeding, but Akhtar Malik (GOC 12 Division) feels confident of its success. My reply to the Chief of the General Staff was that, the conflicting view point of Mehdi and Akhtar Malik notwithstanding, as Chief of General Staff of Pakistan Army, he should also have an opinion on this important matter as we were not playing a peace time war game, but with the destiny of Pakistan itself.
SMH: What was his reaction?
CM: To this date I remember the reaction of the CGS. He went red right up to his ears, and after a painful pause got up, extended his hand to shake and brought the interview to an end with the remarks that “it is always interesting to listen to you!”
SMH: What steps did you take after the meeting?
CM: I was not going to let the matters rest there as it involved precious human lives. My commitment to my boys was more than just being their CO. After taking over from my predecessor Mitha Khan, I had changed the entire concept of their training and moulded them into a cohesive and professional unit. They had a role to play in the defence of Pakistan but not to be led to the slaughter chambers on a foolhardy scheme.
Undaunted by the rebuff at Murree and later at the GHQ, I decided to put my arguments in writing, as to the reasons why Gibraltar shall fail. My observations in brief, were:
1. No ground had been prepared before launching of the operation, in concert with people of the valley.
2. The raids were to be launched in total logistical vacuum relying exclusively of what the troops would carry in their packs or living off the countryside. Without any covert support across the Ceasefire Line, this living off the land proved fatal to the security of the guerrillas. (Most of them were betrayed.)
3. GHQ had mixed up classic Guerrilla operations with Commandos raids.
4. All SSG and other officers, responsible for training and later leading groups across the ceasefire line were critical of the soundness of the plan, unsure of the means and uncertain of the end.
SMH: What did you mean: “unsure of the means and uncertain of the end”?
CM: As I mentioned earlier, there was no planning for providing them with logistic support, replenishment of arms, ammunition and food supply; providing them with shelter, shielding them from the Indian military and ultimately achieving their task.
SMH: What was the response of GHQ?
CM: Initially I was pressurized to withdraw my observations and go along with the plan, when I did not budge;I was relieved of my command on 30th July and told to destroy all copies of my correspondence with GHQ on the subject.
SMH: What was the background of Gen Akhtar’s obsession with the
Operation Gibraltar and how did he get involved?
CM: To the best of my knowledge, a number of bureaucrats from Rawalpindi used to go to Murree for the weekend, where they would relax, play cards and chill out. Gen Akhtar, as GOC 12 Div, would at times attend these sessions. Once he was dared by the bureaucrats that Pakistan Army had done nothing for Pakistan’s creation or the liberation of Kashmir. At this Gen Akhtar spoke up that he had a plan and disclosed the rationale for Operation Gibraltar. The bureaucrats were reportedly quite taken in and the Foreign Secretary Aziz Ahmad went and reported it to the Foreign Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The mercurial ZAB apparently met Gen Akhtar and then brought the matter to the ears of President Ayub, who asked for a detailed briefing after he was purportedly convinced by Bhutto that the operation would resolve the Kashmir issue, bringing India to the dialogue table and it would not risk the danger of an all out war. The briefing did take place at Murree amply illustrated by sand models and maps, with both President Ayub and the Army C-in-C Gen. Musa present. Gen Ayub gave his nod but asked “why not Akhnur? Go for the jugular.” General Akhtar responded: “That too but I would need more troops and funds”. The same was promised.
SMH: You have not explained the reason for Gen Akhtar’s obsession with Operation Gibraltar.
CM: That is right but Gen Akhtar was a brilliant soldier and strategist who became obsessed with prematurely launching the operation, which resulted in disaster.
SMH: When was it launched and what was the chain of events? How come no one besides you opposed it?
CM: Neither the C-in-C Army nor General Staff had the guts to stand up to the President, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, and tell him that his advisers in the ministry of Foreign Affairs supported by GOC 12 Division, Akhtar Malik were taking him on a long ride commencing with Gibraltar, leading to his downfall via Tashkent, as it eventually proved! The loser in the final analysis was Pakistan, described by General K.M. Arif in an analysis carried by daily Dawn, 6th September 1990. ‘How and why Pakistan blundered into war’7 …“At that time, the policy making in the country was highly personalized. The institutions were weak and by-passed. Pakistan’s Foreign Office with Mr. Aziz Ahmed as the Foreign Secretary and Mr. Z.A. Bhutto as the Foreign Minister called the martial tunes. It had miscalculated that despite operation Gibraltar, the fighting was likely to remain confined inside the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Foreign Office is on record to have assessed that India was not in a position to risk a general war with Pakistan……for inexplicable reasons the General Headquarters based its operational plan in Kashmir on a wishful logic. The misplaced ego, the high ambition and the naive approach of a selected few plunged the country into an armed conflict. The outcome of the war, or the lack of it, eclipsed Ayub’s position.”
SMH: Sherbaz Mazari, commenting on Bhutto’s role, which was instrumental in shaping the plans for the Operation is evident from his biography “A Journey to Disillusionment” writes: “The [Kashmir] Cell was greatly influenced by the views of Aziz Ahmed and his Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Bhutto had also taken to lobby the Army directly by visiting senior officers at their residences and seeking to impress upon them with the indispensability of launching raids across the Cease-Fire Line. These visits led General Musa to complain to Ayub Khan that Bhutto was brainwashing his officers.” 8
SMH: What happened with the launch of the operation?
CM: I quote from the C-in-C General Musa’s book My Version. On page 6, he comments, “the sponsors and supporters of the raids had at last succeeded in persuading the President to take the plunge that led to an all-out armed conflict with India’ ……. To the extent that the concept of sending infiltrators in the Indian held Kashmir, code named Gibraltar’ was the brain-child of the ministry of Foreign Affairs, is the simple truth and nothing but the truth.” However, General Musa assumed full responsibility for the development of the concept, its planning and coordination of the entire operation. This is graphically stated by him on page 35 of his book: “After the Government finally decided that deep raids should be launched in Indian-held Kashmir, I directed Commander 12 Division, Major General AkhtarHussain 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 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 SherBahadur) and the Directors of Military Operations and Intelligence (Brigadiers GulHasan 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 with a view to starting 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.”
SMH: How did the events of the operation unfold?
CM: The total strength of the “Gibraltar Force” was not more than 5,000 to 7,000 men subdivided into nine forces “Salahuddin,Ghaznavi, Tariq, Babar, Qasim, Khalid, Nusrat, Sikandar andKhilji.
The mission assigned to the various Gibraltar forces was warfare in the enemy’s rear including harassing enemy communications, destruction of bridges, logistic installations, headquarters with a view to create conditions of an “armed insurrection” in Kashmir finally leading to a national uprising against Indian rule leading to liberation of Kashmir or at least parts of it. As pointed out earlier, with little or no ground work, improper coordination with the local Kashmiris and lack of logistic planning, the operation was doomed to fail. A number of personnel selected for the operation were of Kashmiri origin, however, I would like to point out the case of Major Qayyum, he belonged to Jammu, and in fact his uncle was the Governor of Jammu. He volunteered for participation in the operation; when he reached his uncle, he was asked regarding his mission. On explaining the same and seeking his uncle’s support, he was curtly informed that he should go back with the comment:“The graveyards around the Valley are filled with the bodies of the Hazara and other volunteers who came to liberate Kashmir in 1947.” I am not sure when the Major managed to exfiltrate but others were not so lucky, instead of receiving help from the local Kashmiris, most were handed over to Indian troops and the cat was out of the bag before any part of the mission could be accomplished. Those who were not discoveredwere in a pathetic state, since rations, ammunition and supplies ran out.
SMH: What was the haste for launching the operation? If I may quote from Air Chief Marshal Shamim’s book Cutting Edge, he mentions the case of dropping of guerrillas in enemy area in South Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh, the president of North Vietnam advised his Army Commander General Vo Nguyen Giap to launch guerrilla fighters in South Vietnam.The general replied that he required ten years to plan and place guerrilla force in occupied territory. He said first there was a need to prepare safe places for them so they were absorbed in local population and could get the necessary arms and ammunition for their tasks. Otherwise, he said, they would be like fish out of water and would be caught and butchered.9
CM: Perhaps political expediency, one is not sure of the agendas of different people.
SMH: Brigadier Shaukat Qadir, in his article, ‘Operation Gibraltar: Battle that never was’ provides a possible rationale: “For some obscure reason, Pakistan undertook Operation Gibraltar, without preparing the grounds for it, or seeking guarantees of local support, or even attempting to assess the mood of the Kashmiri people. They only relied on the assessment offered by some adventurous element of Kashmiris from Azad Kashmir without verifying this assessment. What was the reason for such haste, even if such an adventure was to be undertaken? I am afraid that I can only speculate an answer to that question.
1965 was the year that Ayub contested the elections against Fatima Jinnah. Personally speaking, her election to office would have been disastrous and, in my opinion, Ayub would have won anyway.Nonetheless, not only did two of his sons open fire on demonstrators in Karachi killing 30-odd people and wounding many more, but it was commonly accepted that the elections had been rigged. As a consequence of these events, Ayub had lost a lot of political ground. Perhaps he felt that by becoming the liberator of Kashmir he would redeem himself in the eyes of the people, or that through such a venture he hoped to unite the people, for there is little doubt that there has never been greater unity in the country than in the period of the war and immediately after.10
CM: Musa also, indirectly, played Bhutto’s game by not opposing this childish plan from his powerful perch of C-in-C. But he may be excused only slightly, the General Staff possessed the professional acumen to comprehend the grave shortcomings and the ultimate consequences of the plan. But they elected to remain silent even when, he gave detailed reasons both verbally and in writing, militating against the success of this operation. Why then did these officers, who were rated as intelligent, shrewd and competent, allow Ayub and Musa – the professional simpletons, to be taken on a risky ride? One cannot keep silent on issues of this nature, when the nation’s destiny is at stake. General Musa, in his book My Version says, “We had not even consulted the public leaders across the cease fire line about our aims and intentions, let alone associating them with our planning for the clandestine war…”
SMH: Other analysts opine “The people of the area to be ‘liberated’ must have to be taken into confidence, if the people organizing this gigantic task really meant business. Without the help of the local people outside army cannot win a war or even survive. Not only the people of Kashmir living on the other side of the cease fire line were not taken into confidence, also the people of Azad Kashmir, even the Azad Kashmir Government was not taken into confidence. When the ‘Operation’ was put into practice then the planners realized the need to have some Kashmiri support. They already had set up a Liberation Council, and compelled by circumstances they announced that ChaudhryGhulam Abbas was leading this Liberation Council. ChaudhryGhulam Abbas was already very annoyed with this; he immediately rejected that in a news statement in the Daily Nawa-i-Waqt the following day:
‘I have nothing to do with all this, and I did not know anything about an ‘Operation’.”11
KH Khurshid, who was the secretary to Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and also Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir Government, commented:”I firmly believe that Ayub Khan was not fully aware of the reasons for the war of 1965. Foreign Office, Home Ministry and some senior officers from the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs which included A B Awan, Nazir Ahmed, Aziz Ahmed and Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, prevailed on him and assured him that it is only a small programme which would not lead to a war with India. Ayub Khan who offered India ‘joint defence’ would not have agreed to a full scale war with India…. These men wanted to weaken Ayub’s hold on the government, and this is the real reason why he was so angry with them after the war.”
SMH: What were the subsequent events? CM: It led to “Operation Grand Slam”
SMH: General Musa says in his book: “Nevertheless, when the Indians started attacking and capturing Azad Kashmir territory in Tithwal and Haji Pir Pass areas, we decided to hold them in these places and retaliate by threatening Akhnur through the Chamb valley in order to release the pressure in the north.”Thus in order to ease the pressure on the 12th Division which was defending against repeated Indian attacks and to guard against the threat to the important city of Muzaffarabad, which resulted from the gain by Indian forces of strategic areas, like the HajiPir pass, in Azad Kashmir, the Pakistani Army commenced Operation Grand Slam at 0500 hours on 1 September 1965.
Allow me to quote from Major Agha Humayun Amin’s article:
‘Grand Slam—A Battle of Lost Opportunities’:
“Ayub Khan was assured by his advisors and the Foreign Minister, Z.A. Bhutto, that India would not cross the international boundary to attack Pakistan. The Indian leaders and ministers were clearly saying that if Pakistan did not stop its adventure in Kashmir, then the conflict could spread to other areas. But Pakistani leaders did not take these threats seriously until the direct Indian attack on the Pakistani cities of Lahore and Sialkot in order to release the pressure on the retreating Indian forces in Kashmir.
There is absolutely no doubt that Gibraltar was an undoubted failure! The loss of HajiPir Pass, the principal logistic base of the infiltrators on 28th August and Indian successes in the Neelum Valley and opposite Uri on 29-31st August 1965 unnerved the Pakistani GHQ who assumed that Muzaffarabad was about to be attacked! The supposed liberators of Indian Held Kashmir were more worried now about what they had held before commencement of hostilities! It was under these circumstances that the Pakistani GHQ ordered execution of Grand Slam with the aim of relieving Indian pressure against Muzaffarabad!”12
SMH: Why did things go awry, permit me to quote from Brig Shaukat Qadir’s Op-Ed, ‘Why Pakistan Lost Akhnur?’13
“Operation Grand Slam was four phased: the capture of Chamb, the crossing of River Tawi and consolidation, followed by the capture of Akhnur, and finally severing the Indian lines of communication and capturing Rajauri.Despite the difficulties of terrain, specially entailing a river crossing, the possibility for success lay in the bold audacity of the plan, which necessitated speed in execution, since if there was sufficient time permitted to the Indians, they would reinforce Akhnur and it would be impossible to capture.
When the operation (Gibraltar) was initially planned, GHQ was conscious of the fact that he (Maj Gen Akhtar Malik) was commanding an over extended division, which was under immense pressure from the enemy. Despite this, he was chosen to command this offensive. In fact, at most times he was commanding forces greater than 1 Corps, our only corps at that time. Once again, no record is available as to the causes and I have to again resort to speculation: in my view, apart from the fact that he was the commander most suited for undertaking such an operation, there was also the realization that there was little he could do to influence events in Kashmir and, since Grand Slam was initially linked to the success and later to the failure of Gibraltar, unity of command may have been a consideration for the achievement of the aim, because of which he was selected to command this operation. The operation started as planned: Chamb fell within the hour and soon after first light around 7 am on September 2 our troops started crossing the river Tawi. Operations from here onwards continued with speed and by 1 pm troops had consolidated and were ready to move into concentration areas from which an attack on Akhnur could have commenced well before last light around 3 pm. However we were not destined to get to Akhnur which remained, in the words of Dr Ahmed Faruqui, ‘a town too far.’
Akhtar Malik being the kind of person he was, was to be found where the action was. Unfortunately, since his command was of another formation (Gen Yahya’s), he also did not have the facility of staff officers. Consequently, he had found little time to communicate with GHQ, which had no idea of the battle situation. General Musa therefore, flew into Kharian in a helicopter around
11:30 am on September 2 to find out first hand. When he could not discover much more there, he decided to fly towards the border and en route he spotted some vehicles and ordered the pilot to land. Prior to the commencement of Grand Slam, another offensive division commanded by Major General Yahya had been asked to concentrate at Gujarat to meet any unforeseen contingency. These vehicles that General Musa spotted were those of Yahya and his staff out on a reconnaissance mission. From here Musa managed to establish contact with Akhtar Malik who was ordered to report to the C-in-C Musa. Akhtar Malik found the C-in-C by about 1 pm.
Ayub has been accused of changing the command so that Yahya got the glory and could be appointed the next chief. In fairness to Yahya, who has often been accused of this failure, probably any other in his place would have taken as much time and suffered the same fate. Perhaps the troops were also disheartened by the change of command, perhaps even the flamboyant Akhtar Malik would not have been able to get there.
Perhaps if Akhnur had been captured and the Indian lines of communication severed, the Indian attack on Sialkot could never have occurred!”
CM: In my opinion, Yahya did not replace Akhtar but his 7 Div had been placed at the disposal of Gen Akhtar for the sake of Grand Salam. It came into action and later Yahya came to command his own Div.
SMH: General Musa says that the Indians surprised us by their attack on 6 September. Hamid Khan, in his book The Constitutional and Political History of Pakistan says: “When India attacked Pakistan, the man most surprised was Ayub. His surprise was shared by the Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army. They had been assured by Bhutto, Foreign Minister, and Aziz Ahmed, Foreign Secretary, that India would not cross international borders to attack Pakistan. They had even suppressed a message from Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi sent through the Turkish Embassy to the Foreign Office in Islamabad that India was planning an attack on Pakistan’s territory on 6 September. Ayub was woken up at 4 o clock in the morning on 6 September and given the news of Indian advance towards Lahore. He telephoned General Musa, who said that he had also heard the news but was waiting for confirmation. All this badly exposed the military genius of Ayub and his army chief.”14
CM: on September 3, 1965 a patrol of five SSG personnel I had requested for, ventured across the Line of Control and captured an Indian dispatch rider who was carrying the comprehensive orders of Indian 1 Armored Division for the Indian offensive. I immediately dispatched our findings summarily to Military Intelligence HQ at GHQ via an Army Cessna L19, but it was dismissed as an Indian deception and plant and we continued to imagine the 1st Armoured Division to be at another location entirely.
When General Musa says he was surprised by the massive Indian offensive towards Lahore and Sialkot on September 6th, then it is inexcusable. The guarantee by the Foreign Office that India would not dare to conduct a full scale attack was a civilian opinion. As military commanders, Ayub and Musa should have taken all contingencies into consideration, including that of a full scale war. Neither the Supreme Commander (Field Marshal Ayub Khan) nor the C-in-C (Gen Musa) and his General Staff, viewed the chances of a full scale war with India as “probable”, leave alone warranting the cancellation of leave”. It was a gross misconception and miscalculation of the operating factors which sent the Pakistan Army into battle on Sept 6, 1965 with 25% of its strength on annual leave, it was inexcusable because the C-in-C Gen Musa and his General Staff knew fully that the entire Kashmir Valley had been ablaze for over a month and ferocious air and land battles were being fought in Chamb-Jaurian sector for nearly a week, involving large formations of armour, infantry and artillery. Under the circumstances, it was Pakistan that was caught napping.
Musa Khan narrates on page 48 of his book My Version: “India launched her ignominious, undeclared and blatant aggression on our homeland at about 0330 hours on 6 September. The Supreme Commander was informed about the invasion by Air Commander (perhaps he means Air Commodore) Akhtar of the Pakistan Air Force, who was on duty at the Air Defence Headquarters at Rawalpindi on night of 5/6 September. Indian troop movements across the frontier had been reported to him by the border posts of the PAF Wireless Observer wing. The President then rang me up to ascertain whether or not GHQ had received any information about the Indian attack and the whereabouts of the field army that morning.”
General K. M. Arif, in his biography “Khaki Shadows: Pakistan
1947-97”, writes “It is amply clear, though, that all prudent civil- military mechanisms of defense strategy and policy planning were bypassed in the pre-planning of Operation Grand Slam. The Defense Committee of the Cabinet (DCC)—the apex defense policy making body of the country—did not even meet prior to or during the war. The Defense Services Chiefs Committee (DSCC) which comprises the three services chiefs and is required to approve all military plans was never even informed about the existence of the plan. The air and naval chiefs deeply resented the fact that they were not taken into confidence.”15
As far as the advance warning coming through our High Commission in New Delhi is concerned, Mian Arshad Hussain, a former Foreign Minister of Pakistan (April 25, 1968-April 4, 1969) had demanded a judicial probe in the events leading to the 1965 war. On Oct. 23, 1977, Mian Sahib addressed the nation through a statement released to the Pakistan Times, Lahore. I quote:
“Following Col. Mehdi’s articles on the 1965 war, there has been an expression of interest in this momentous event as can be seen from the letters which appeared in these columns. In my opinion, the 1965 war bred the 1971 war and is thus an important contributory cause of the latter and the tragic events that have followed the conflict. Is it not time that a full-fledged inquiry was held into the causes, the conduct and the consequences of 1965 war?”
Mian Arshad Hussain had excellent reasons to demand a probe into the concept, conduct and consequences of the 1965 war’ as he was Pakistan’s High Commissioner at Delhi during that fateful period. He sent a warning on 4th September 1965 to the foreign office of Pakistan through the Turkish Embassy that the Indians were planning to attack Pakistan, on 6th September. Mr. Aziz Ahmed, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary, through a press statement acknowledged that such a warning was indeed received by the Foreign Office. But the debate on this warning issue remained inconclusive, in that Aziz Ahmed maintained that the warning was received two days after war had already started,Only probe by a high powered judicial commission can separate shadows from the substance.
Lieutenant Lehrasab Khan’s Account:
Any discussion on Operation Gibraltar would be incomplete without taking into account the version by an actual participant of the “Gibraltar Force”. I located Lieutenant General Lehrasab Khan (Retd.) and obtained his views on the subject as he perceived the action as an active participant in “Operation Gibraltar” in 1965, albeit as a Lieutenant but baptized under fire and soon battle-hardened.A highly decorated officer [Hilal-e-Imtiaz(M), Sitara-e-Jurat(SJ) and Sitara-e-Basalat], who has seen action from close quarters, participating in Operation Gibraltar and
1965 and 1971 Pak-India Wars. In the former he was recommended for SJ while in the latter, he saw near death during the mutiny by Bengali officers in East Pakistan, fought bravely to quell the insurgency as well as keep the Indians at bay, got wounded, was evacuated miraculously and was conferred upon with the coveted SJ for his unparalleled valour.
Here are some extracts from the interview.
SMH: Sir when were you deployed for Operation Gibraltar?
General Lehrasab Khan (GLK): I got commissioned on 21 April 1963 and was posted to 1 East Bengal Regiment. With the March/ April 1965 Indo-Pak skirmish at Rann of Kutch and activation of the Cease Fire Line (CFL), which is now known as the Line of Control (LoC), and general mobilization and deployments along the international border, 1 East Bengal Regiment was moved to its wartime area of responsibility in Kasur Sector. I was by then serving as a company officer in the rank of Lieutenant. I was detailed for a course at the Army School of Infantry and Tactics at Quetta. On 10 August 1965, I was informed via telephone regarding my immediate posting and ordered to report to the
General Headquarters (GHQ) at Rawalpindi, Adjutant General’s Branch (AG-5). I was a little taken aback and upset that what a mere Lieutenant would do at GHQ and with war clouds gathering, I wanted to be where the action was. I did not know then what was in store for me. On 11 August, I was immediately dined-out and given a jeep for my onwards journey to Rawalpindi next morning via Lahore. Enroutefrom Bedian to Lahore, I was informed that the orders were changed and instead of GHQ, I should report to Headquarters 12 Div at Murree. (The plot was thickening!)
By the time I reached Murree, it was evening, after reporting to the Assistant Adjutant and Quarter Master General at the 12
Div Headquarters, I was put up in the officers mess and asked to report the next morning to the AQ’s office for an interview with the GOC 12 Div, Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik. I was thrilled that a junior Lieutenant like me would be interviewed by the GOC himself.
SMH: How were you selected for the participation?
GLK: I will just explain. The next morning, I reported to the AQ, who politely welcomed me and seated me to wait for the arrival of the GOC. As a young officer, I felt elevated that the GOC will meet me. Just then Gen Akhtar Malik walked in directly to the AQ’s office and greeted me:“Bravo! TheMujahid is here!” Adding:“you have been selected on merit.”He was accompanied by Brigadier Ishaq, then Brigade (Bde) Commander Rawalakot. The GOC, in his chirpy style continued: “You will have the honour to infiltrate enemy territory with good troops.”
That was the first time that I learnt of my mission and that I had been posted to 10 Azad Kashmir Regiment. That was the end of the impromptu interview as the GOC walked out of the AQ’s office saying that Brig Ishaq would brief me further. The Brigadier directed me to report to the Bde Headquarters at Rawalakot and travel light. Now that I had some inkling of my mission, I asked permission to travel via Rawalpindi to get some suitable clothes and dump my extra baggage with my brother. At Rawalpindi, I purchased militia cloth to get two suits stitched; since I had to pose as a Mujahid for my forthcoming mission. I then set course and reached Rawalakot at 4 am and went straight to the mess, where I saw the Bde Commander; I was directed to report to the Bde Major (BM) the next morning at 10 am.
SMH: So what kind of briefing did you receive the next morning? GLK: I reported to Major Manazar Hussain, the BM at his office at 10
AM on 15 August 1965. He had a large map pasted on the wall,
on which he explained the route I had to follow to reach 10 Azad Kashmir Regiment Rear Headquarters (HQs) at BandiAbbaspur, from where my new unit would be tasked to move inside Indian Held Kashmir (IHK). The unit was presently concentrated in Hillan Shumali.
Since I had never been to the mountainous area of Kashmir I asked the BM for a set of maps to enable me to reach the Battalion HQs. The BM very politely declined my request for the luxury of a map. As for my question regarding the means of travel, I was told that I was a Mujahid and had to walk most of the way.
SMH: So how did you reach the Bn HQs?
GLK: At about 10:30, I was handed over to Major Khazeem Shah, a retired Army officer, who had settled down in AK and had even married locally. He took me to the Officer Commanding Rear Party of 10 Azad Kashmir Regiment Major Shah via a ¾ Ton vehicle, reaching BandiAbbaspur at 14:30 hours. Now I had to make arrangements for my militia suit to adopt the style of a true Mujahid. I thought of one of my class fellows at Government College Rawalpindi, Mr. Akbar, a local. I was told that he was out of town but his brother Mr. Ayub came to meet me at HQ 10 AK. He solved my problem and got the Militia suit stitched on emergency basis, since I had to depart at midnight for 10
AK Hillan Shumali. I handed over my remaining belongings to Major Shah for onwards dispatch to my home in Rawalpindi. I
was issued a Rucksack, a sten gun, 200 x rounds, a blanket, Rs 5,000/- Indian currency and Rs. 5,000/- Pakistani currency by the Officer Commanding rear party 10 AK Regiment. At that time my new unit was in Hillan Shumali, the last village this side of the Cease Fire Line (CFL) and was poised to move into IHK.
On 16 August 1965, having had the experience of climbing only Hazara Hills during training at PMA, I set off on foot with one Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) and a local porter for Hillan Shumali. Due to my inexperience and lack of acclimatization, I set off on my new mission of trying to fight a guerrilla war in enemy territory and began climbing the mountain vertically upwards. The guide was of little help and we were soon exhausted. We reached Forward Kahuta at night where we spent the night and I had the comfort of sleeping on a bedding and blanket. The next morning, I tied my bed-sheet as a turban around my head, when an old man presented me with a stout stick. In my ignorance I had not brought one but realized its usefulness in climbing mountains.
We resumed our onwards journey on 17 August early morning and reached HillanShumali after Isha prayers. The guide took me to a house to meet my new unit the “ZindaDils,” where I met my Commanding Officer (CO), Lieutenant Colonel Arem Khan Effendi from Swat, and two other Company Commanders. After walking/climbing for two continuous days, I was exhausted so they gave me a charpoy to rest but I wanted to orientate myself with my Company and the Battalion’s Mission.
SMH: What was the composition of the deployment?
GLK: I am coming to that. Late at night I met my Company Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) Subedar Jan Muhammad, who informed me that the strength of the company is 145 in addition to 70 porters. The mission of the Battalion was “go to Dogi, cross Pir Panjal from Neel Kanth Gali and be on other side and join the Gibraltar Force already operating in the area.” The handpicked individuals of the battalion at that time had gone with Nusrat Force under command Major Rehmat Ali (Second-in-Command
10 Azad Kashmir Regiment) in IHK. Therefore the deficiency was made up by Mujahids who were given 8 weeks rigorous training and wore dark green shalwar kameez and PT shoes. There were four companies in the Battalion, Alpha was commanded by Captain Aslam, Bravo by Major Zafar, an Engineer from AK, I was commanding Charlie Company and Delta Company was under Lieutenant Zulfiqar Ali Shah. Charlie and Delta Companies were to operate in tandem,which suited me since Zulfiqar Shah and I were close friends and were destined for much action, which I will subsequently describe.
SMH: Did you receive any special training/briefing prior to being launched?
GLK: None whatsoever.
SMH: How did the operations unfold in your area of deployment? GLK: Before we finally hit the sack, we were informed by the Adjutant that the next morning we had to go for reconnaissance (recce) with the CO to Dogi Forest. The next morning, on 18 August at 0800 hours, the recce party along with a strong protection party left for Dogi. The party comprised the CO, all available officers and JCOs. The CO had two ponies, a substitute for the CO’s jeep. The recce party reached Dogi by midday and after staying there for a while, moved back. On the way back, I was offered the pony ride by the CO. Despite my hesitance, since I was the junior most officer, the CO kept insisting, so I accepted the offer. We returned to Hillan Shumali late at night. Before retiring, I was summoned by the CO and ordered to take my coy to Dogi Forest the next morning and secure it as a firm base while the Battalion would follow in a few hours. It then dawned on me why I was being offered the luxury of the pony ride by the CO.
Next morning, on 19 August, I moved Charlie Company to Dogi Forest and deployed my men in a linear all round defensive position and established my command post in the centre under a tree. My task was to secure Dogi Forest to ensure that it serves as a hideout for the whole Battalion for further operations. We kept waiting for the Battalion to arrive, which it finally did after three days, just when our ration of chana and gur was running out. Fatigue finally caught up with me and I fell sick. I had secured a camouflaged lean-to under atree, which was serving as a command post. One had to crawl in and out of my hideout. As I lay there burning in fever, I heard Lieutenant Zulfiqar calling me by name. We had not met for quite some time and he had not arrived at Hillan Shumali, till I left. He could not see me because of the hideout. So I called out to him “this is guerrilla war and you will have to crawl on your knees”. We both laughed spontaneously and I guided him to climb into my lean-to. We were delighted to meet and be together. I forgot my fever and we had tea, celebrating his joining the Zinda Dils in Dogi Forest. This was perhaps our last instance of frivolity as further events will indicate.
SMH: When did the action commence?
GLK: At about 10 am on 22 August, the CO came to the C-company and asked me to conduct the recce of Neel KanthGali. The reconnaissance party comprised 2 officers, 2 JCOs and platoon strength protection party with one Light Machine Gun (LMG). Neel KanthGali is a table top and flat ground having width of
4-500 yards at an altitude of 14500 feet. The reconnaissance party had barely reached the top, when it was greeted by a few rounds of Mortar and intense small arms fire by the Indians. This was no “Battle Inoculation” but my first exposure to actual hostile fire by the enemy and became my “Battle Orientation” with artillery fire from both sides. All the lessons taught at the PMA and School of Infantry and Tactics came to my mind; the various mock battles, war games and exercises. But this was the real thing. Real bullets were flying over our heads and the enemy meant business. My heart was pumping adrenaline and I had to take decisions and take action instantly and instinctively.
At that time, I was on the reverse slope of the pass and rushed immediately to my men who had by then reached the top. I immediately deployed the protection party and ordered them to take position but hold their fire until they saw the enemy within range. I was conscious of the fact that we were short of ammunition and if we did not utilize it properly it could lead to disaster. The enemy was firing from both the shoulders of the pass and could observe our movement. When night fell, the enemy assumed that we had retreated since we neither fired a single shot, nor did we make any noise to give away our presence. By that time the Indians started to line up and climb up from the Neel KanthGali towards our protection party. As the Indians entered within our small arms range, I ordered my men to commence fire. Our patience had paid and the Indians were taken completely by surprise and were routed. Our men were exuberant and highly motivated by the initial success though we also suffered our first casualties. Not a single bullet was wasted. After last light, the recce party moved back and the entire Battalion joined us at Dogi forest.
The next night on 23 August, Alpha Company was tasked to occupy the shoulders of Neel KanthGali to secure it and open it for free movement to Sri Nagar Valley via Gulmarg. The task was achieved with ease because of our success the previous day. All preparations had been completed and the battalion was now ready to ingress deeper into IHK. The logistic aid provided to infiltrate into IHK and conduct operations was insufficient. The meager amount of Rs. 5000 Indian and Pakistani currency, the limited quantity of ammunition and equipment was not enough to sustain the force for long. Moreover none of us was familiar with the area on the other side. The civilian population was also non cooperative because of the fear of Indian retaliation. Even the logistic supplies reportedly dumped for use by the Gibraltar Force was not available to us. We saw signs where perhaps th dumping had been placed but was either pilfered or removed before we got there. Yet with limited ammo and our humble rations of gurchana we had secured the two important ridges of PirPanjal Range.
Meanwhile our tasking was suddenly changed on 26thAugust because the Indians had made swift progress towards Haji Pirpass and the battalion was asked to abandon this mission and fall back to help defend own positions. Charlie and Delta companies led by Zulfiqar Shah and myself were rushed towards Haji Pir Pass. As soon as we had reached close to HillanShumali, we received a message to climb Lunda feature and intercept enemy convoys which were supporting its force in occupation of Haji Pir pass. On reaching Lunda feature, we could see the enemy movements but could not interfere as the enemy was far away. The men were exhausted by that time but their morale was high despite surviving on chana and gur for the last four days. On 28th August both companies reached Kailer, from where we moved to Chanjal/ Forward Kahuta. Here we were informed by the civilians that the Indians have already occupied Aliabad. We were disappointed but desperate to move ahead and stop the Indian advance. Charlie and Delta companies managed to occupy Ziarat Ridge north of the Chanjal-Aliabad road.
The next day on 31 August, I met Lieutenant Naeem of 20 Punjab Regiment who was on his way to visit Captain Nawaz’s company at Sar. Lieutenant Naeem told me that he had not taken any food for last three days. I offered him chana and gur. Both of us enjoyed our “fast food” and then moved to company HQs of 20 Punjab Regiment near Sar feature commanded by Captain Nawaz. When I returned to my company, an Artillery Shell landed on the bunker of Captain Nawaz, Lieutenant Naeem embraced shahadat. On the same night 31 August/1st September rest of the Battalion also joined Charlie and Delta Companies which was between Ghoremar and Forward Kahuta south of BetarNullah.
A message was sent by Commanding Officer that all companies will deploy astride BetarNullah between Kahuta and Aliabad. Zulfiqar Ali Shah and I were given the task to cross Chanjal and deploy north of BetarNullah in Ziarat Area. Indians were trying to link up from Chand Tekri with Haji Pir Pass and secure Uri–Poonch route. Till 7 September 1965 the battalion stayed in this position; two Companies across the BetarNullah and two Companies on the home bank.
SMH: It is ironic, you were already engaged in battles once you stepped foot in the Valley but when did you find out about the outbreak of the War?
GLK: We had small transistor radios. The address of President Ayub Khan on 6th September 1965 was a real motivating factor for the whole nation but it had special impact on the morale of troops and young officers. Despite the fact that now we had to fight a regular war and we were not equipped for it, we gave our best. The war was terrible for us since we were nearly unarmed but we held on. On 7 September 1965, Ziarat Area came under pressure from Bedori side. On night 7/8 September 1965 the left forward coy commander Zulfiqar Ali Shah repulsed one attack of Indians which came from Bedori side. On the same day, DarnaShahbaz was also attacked and captured by the Indians. Next day 8 September 1965, Indians captured Chand Tekri and were now exerting pressure against Chanjal Bridge. On 9 September 1965 during day time Delta Company came under attack and forward platoon had been overrun by the enemy. Zulfiqar Ali Shah contacted me and informed me of the latest situation. I recommended regrouping for redeployment in the same area.
On 10 September, the Battalion received orders from HQ 2 AK Bde to deploy on Ghoremar/Gitlan in coordination with 20 Punjab Regiment and hold it at all cost. The remnants of Frontier Constabulary troops of Chand Tekri also fell back to Forward Kahuta on the same day and they went back to Bagh area. Forward Kahuta was now the forward position not the main position because it was down near the BetarNullah. It was not possible to hold it while leaving the high features around Kahuta vacant. The Battalion now deployed on Ghoremar/Gitlan ridge in line with 20 Punjab Regiment with Sar feature.The right forward Company commanded by me was facing Poonch and deployed on main feature, behind Chaprian. Battalion HQ was in the centre behind all the Companies near village Sangar. The Companies were told to defend these positions at all cost. For the first time I saw people digging with their sticks, bayonets and whatever material was available because there were no digging tools with the force. Preparation of defences continued for next three days till 14/15 September and now the Battalion was for the first time in a compact form deployed on important features to face the Indian thrust. On 17/18 September 1965 Indians reached Forward Kahuta and had complete control over the area. Indian 3/11 Gorkha Battalion and 19 Punjab Regiment were facing our unit and 20 Punjab regiment respectively.
On the night of 19/20th September Alpha Company of 20th Punjab Regt. came under attack from Aliabad side. It was a worrying situation for our Battalion commander as the threat was developing from Sar feature. He tasked me to prepare to launch a counter attack incase the enemy captures Gitlan since I was the right forward company commander and the enemy was probing on the left forward company on Gitlan. On 20th Sept at about 1930 hours Indian 19th Punjab Regiment launched a probing attack on Alpha Company of 20th Punjab along the northern slopes of Gitlan towards Aliabad. I reached my position with my Company and positioned my men to carry out the counter attack when ordered. On the night 20/21 Sept, Indians attacked Gitlan and Ghoremar simultaneously. Gitlan was captured by the enemy but the Ghoremar attack was repulsed. At the same time Indian
3/11 Gorkha Battalion started advancing towards Ghoremar from lower ridges along Betar Nullah between Kahuta and Palangi. On 21stSept at 0600 hrs I was ordered to launch a counter attack towards Gitlan position with my Company and a Lashkar of 60 Diris(volunteer Pathans from Dir) to recapture Gitlan. I moved my
Company and reached behind Alpha Company’s position from where we had to launch counter attack. At 7 AM, the Lashkar of 60 Diris also joined me behind Alpha Company at Ghoremar. At about 08:30 hours when I ordered my Company to move for the counter attack, no one responded to mycommand. Not a soul stirred; even the Diris were hesitant because we had to move in broad daylight, uphill directly in the line of enemy fire. I then addressed my Company and told them that “I had received orders for attack on Gitlan and I would proceed to attain the objective in spite of certain death. Those of you who wish to follow me should makeup your mind without loss of any more time otherwise I would attack by myself.” Indian artillery was pounding the entire objective area and adjacent A Company position. Then Zulfiqar Ali Shah, who had also joined the Company as volunteer to go for the counter attack, announced that he will also accompany me in the attack. By the time both of us reached near Alpha Company from where we had to launch the attack, half of the Company had already overtaken us (I was encumbered by the communication equipment on my back). The men realized that they were being led by commanders, who were leading from the front. With renewed trust and confidence,the Company led by us was moving towards Gitlan. I am proud to say that the brave sons of Zinda Dil recaptured Gitlan although we had to pay a heavy price in terms of casualties. 27 persons embraced shahadat including 6 Diris. Zulfiqar Ali Shah evacuated Sepoy Bagh, who received a burst on his chest, carrying him on his shoulders. Today I recount with pride that in a rare and inspiring example of comradeship, another company commander joined his colleague voluntarily in a most crucial moment to share all dimension of danger in a most criticalsituation. Together, we managed to achieve our task but also retrieve all dead bodies except 4 including 1 Diri. These dead bodies were later returned after the cease fire with due respect by commanding officer 19 Punjab Regiment of Indian Army. To this day I remember one particular Diri, who got so motivated that he stood up and asked Zulfiqar Shah, where is the enemy and just then there was a fire from one of the clumps and the Diri charged towards it shouting Allah-o-Akbar and pounced upon it with his sword in hand, killing a number of Indians but himself embraced shahadat in the bargain. All these men fought with courage and died with honour.
SMH: Such are the vagaries of war! Didn’t the Indians attempt to capture Ghoremar again?
GLK: They most certainly did. By this time Zulfiqar Shah and I had both been promoted to the rank of Captain, but were unable to wear our ranks since we were wearing Militia shalwar kameez. Anyway both Captain Zulfiqar Ali Shah and I moved back to our company locations after last light on 21/22 September 1965. Same night 3/11 Gorkha again attacked Ghoremar and Chaprian Ziarat features but it was successfully repulsed by Charlie and Delta companies, which proved their worth at Ghoremar and Ziarat and did not lose even an inch of territory. On 22 September1965, it was decided that Cease Fire will come into effect at 0300 hours on 23 September 1965. I was given 40x rounds of artillery which I had not utilized yet. This was the first ever artillery support made available to 10 AK. On the same night, a few hours before cease fire, Indians 3/11 Gorkha resumed attack towards Charlie Coy position. I held my nerves and decided to deal with them. I had deployed one of my platoons ahead at Ziarat area ahead of Ghoremar ridge while keeping two platoons on this main ridge. I ordered my Ziarat Platoon to stay there and only withdraw in casethe Indian come in close proximity of hand to hand combat. They acted upon the order. When the enemy reached near Ziarat, I called for artillery fire and also started small arms fire. Enemy wastaken by surprise and suffered heavy losses. At 0300 hours cease fire came into effect and firing stopped immediately. After cease fire I asked my forward platoon to creep forward and reoccupy the Chaprian, the position vacated in the early part of the night 22/23 September. This was done very stealthily. Since we had no implements, we dug in trenches with sticks and bayonets, but secured our positions before sunrise,
SMH: That was remarkable, a timely action and very audacious and bold. But did that not put you in trouble?
GLK: Indeed it did when the Indians came next morning with their spades and picks to dig trenches and stake their claim; they were shocked to see my men occupying the position. We told them to get lost. They raised a hue and cry with the UN. After the cease fire, on 29 September, a Canadian Officer Major Blanche who was a United Nations Observer came from Indian side and asked to meet the Company Commander, so with approval of the CO I went out to see him. He ordered me to vacate my forward platoon position because that belonged to the Indian forces as the CFL runs behind this according to the agreement. I gave a response on the spur of the moment: “the position which Indians could not capture during war how can I vacate after the cease fire.” I refused to vacate that position and the Canadian officer went backwith a long face. The matter was raised at the highest level by the Indians and Commander 6 Azad Kashmir Brigade ordered to record summary of evidence for my Court Martial for disobeying orders. Meanwhile, I received a message that Commander 6 Azad Kashmir Brigade along with my CO will be visiting my Company to see the disputed area regarding demarcation of the cease fire line. On their arrival, I briefed them in detail and also how we managed to occupy the position and hold on to it. The Brigade Commander was highly impressed by the timely action taken and subsequent forays and realizing the strategic importance of the position, he ordered the status quo. The cease fire had come in place and now the forces had to stay where they were deployed.
SMH: I believe your opposite number on the Indian side was none other than the legendary Sikh Commander Major General Shabeg Singh, AtiVishishtSeva Medal (AVSM), ParamVishishtSeva Medal (PVSM), who was later killed after joining the Akali Dal, becoming frustrated with the discrimination of Sikhs. He joined the leader of the Akali Dal,SantJarnail Singh Bhindranwale and died defending the sanctity of the holiest of Sikh shrines, the AkaliTakht at the Golden Temple Amritsar when it was stormed by Indian Army during Operation Blue Star in 1984.16|
GLK: Yes, he was a Lieutenant Colonel then and was commanding the
3/11 Gorkha Rifles.
SMH: Indian army history of 1965 Pak-India War mentions that he served with distinction and was mentioned in dispatches for the capture of important enemy positions on the Haji Pir front. However, I believe you became his tormentor.
GLK: Yes he was very upset with our occupying the Ghoremar-Ziarat feature and despite his efforts, including raising the UN Military Observer Group; our obduracy in continuing with the occupation cheesed him off. We indulged in other activities too; much to his chagrin. One day I was approached by two AK personnel, who begged me to rescue 13 Kashmiri families stranded at Forward Kahuta, which was under Indian occupation and the families were facing torture and torment because some locals had extended some support to the Gibraltar Force earlier. I took the initiative of sending a rescue mission in the dead of the night through Lt Col Shabeg Singh’s territory and evacuated all thirteen families successfully. The next morning the evacuees came to me with the Holy Quran on their head and wanted to thank me profusely but I told them that anyone else in my place would have done the same. When Lt Col Shabeg Singh discovered the escape of the Kashmiri families, he was furious. He was screaming from the Indian side at the top of his voice, addressing my men that your Captain will be torn into smithereens. I later learnt that he had fixed “head money” for me; a reward for any of his soldiers capturing me dead or alive.
SMH: You must have met him in peaceful conditions too.
GLK: Actually we used to meet during UN sponsored flag meetings and when I found out that he originated from my own home town Rawalpindi and was a resident of AryaMohalla and his wife was from a village near Kasur, I invited him to visit Pakistan once conditions were better. I later found out that despite his show of anger, he respected me and my friend Zulfiqar Shah. Two of our Engineer officers had gone to the Indian side to pin point the locations of the mines so that they could be removed to avoid casualties, stayed the night in Lt. Col Shabeg’s camp. He was very hospitable to them so during the course of the dinner they asked him that with all the might, weaponry and superiority of arms of the 3/11 Battalion, how come it was unable to capture Chaprian and a strategic point like Ghoremar? Lt. Col Shabeg’s response was the ultimate compliment. He said “By God if I had even one Company Commander like Captain Lehrasab or Zulfiqar Shah, I would have captured Ghoremar-Ziarat feature and never let go.”17
SMH: What a remarkable compliment, to be honoured and acknowledged by your enemy; a genuine battle honour. I believe you crossed sword with him in the 1971 War too?
GLK: Not directly, but indirectly Shabeg exacted his revenge from Pakistan. The Indian Army Chief, Field Marshal Manekshaw specially selected Shabeg Singh, then a Brigadier, putting him in-charge of Delta Sector with headquarters at Agartala. He was given the responsibility of planning, organizing and directing insurgency operations in the whole of East Pakistan. Under his command were placed all the Bengali officers who had deserted from the Pakistan Army. These included Col Osmani, as adviser, Maj Zia-Ur-Rehman and Mohammad Mushtaq. Zia Ur Rehman later became the President of Bangladesh while Mushtaq Mohammed became Bangladesh army chief. Starting from about January to October 1971, the insurgency operations gradually grew to such intensity and the MuktiBahini got bolder that the Pak Army in the East began to grow demoralized due to the onslaught. It got so widely dispersed and stretched in trying to contain the ‘MuktiBahini’ that when the Indian Army launched its operations in Nov. 1971 their operations were highly facilitated.
The Indian government promoted Shabeg Singh to the post of
SMH: What difficulties did you face during the operations in 1965?
GLK: I will enumerate the main problems:
1. No familiarization of even officers with the area or ground realities
2. Whatsoever no local support so question of mounting insurgency did not arise
3. Unique logistic bungling; all the dumps were taken away, nothing remained only signs of gunny sacks, inside logistic support was nil resultantly deep penetration suffered serious problems
4. Means of Communication, weapon system, equipment, clothing, boots/shoes issued were not designed to fight a war of this kind. Porters and Mujahid were given rubber PT shoes which could not last even a day in the rugged mountainous terrain. The blankets issued had army markings. For the Gibraltar Force, we could have bought lois or quilt to preserve the identity of the infiltrators
5. Lack of training except SSG personnel, who were only three in number
6. Operations not correctly placed in time and space dimensions
In a nutshell, it was an ambitious plan with improper execution.
SMH: What in your opinion was the impact of the operation on the Kashmir struggle?
GLK: In my reckoning, the freedom struggle of the Kashmiris received a major setback and was pushed behind by at least 15 years. I give you the example of a Captain, who had taken troops of the Gibraltar Force in Mandi area, where the locals showed some sympathy towards them. The Indians eliminated every Kashmiri suspected of local support and the simmering support was extinguished.
It is clear that not only was “Operation Gibraltar” an unmitigated disaster, but by hiding the muck under the carpet, the perpetrators of the ill planned operation were allowed to go scot free, the dissenters like Colonel Syed Ghaffar Mehdi paid heavily.
To quote from Mr. Ikram Sehgal, Managing Editor Defence Journal’s Op-Ed of September 2004, “The rank that Syed Ghaffar Mehdi (MC) (Military Cross, World War 2) retired as, ‘Colonel’, testifies that brilliant, brave young officers of the armies of the world always choose not to remain silent, at the peril of their careers, and sometimes their lives. There is no future in being brash and outspoken on issues dear to the heart of those who may never have heard a shot being fired in anger, to quote Montague, ‘war hath no fury like a non- combatant’. to quote Gen NawabzadaSher Ali, ‘it (the war in 1965) lasted 17 days starting from the 6th of Sept 65 but in those 17 days the few final nails in the coffin of a united Pakistan had been driven’, unquote. Late Lt Gen AttiqurRahman’s had this to say in his thesis on ‘Senior Leadership’, ‘I had opposed OPERATION GIBRALTAR as I saw it being launched in a total geo-strategic vacuum. To GHQ I had pointed out all its inherent contradictions both verbally as well as in writing. The authors of GIBRALTAR had mixed up commando-type operations with the classic guerrilla or insurrectional warfare. I am glad that I took a strong stand on these important issues, otherwise like many others; I would also be talking wisely with the knowledge of hindsight. Even if we were to ignore the conspiracy theory we cannot, but express with deep sorrow that it was a first-rate betrayal of hapless troops by their GHQ and own government which sent them in a place without doing its own geo-strategical spade of work’.
The brilliant Col SG Mehdi wrote in Nawa-i-Waqt nearly 25 years ago on July 3-4, 1980, ‘had our government initiated a probe into ‘concept’, conduct and consequences of 1965 war and raised the curtain from the acts of gross omission or that of criminal commission, the ignominy of 1971 could have been avoided. The war of 1965 into which the country stumbled thus became a series of stray and isolated battles without any politico-strategic concept and perspective.”
What is worse is the deliberate attempt to hide the facts. General Arif reveals through his earlier mentioned book Khaki Shadows, “Pakistan suffered a loss of a different kind… Soon after the War the GHQ ordered all the formations and units of the Pakistan Army to destroy their respective war diaries and submit completed reports to this effect by a given date. This was done…Their [the war diaries’] destruction, a self-inflicted injury and an irreparable national loss, was intellectual suicide.”
Another suicidal aftermath of Operation Gibraltar, which came in 1999, thirty four years later was the Kargil misadventure. Pakistan launched infiltrators comprising “Mujahedeen” and regular soldiers on to the Kargil heights, to interdict and cut off the supply route to Siachen and force India to vacate it. The move backfired since the repercussions and exterior maneuver had not been thought through. India managed to mobilize international opinion in its favour. Pakistan was criticized by other countries for instigating the war. Pakistan’s primary diplomatic response, one of plausible deniability linking the incursion to what it officially termed as “Kashmiri freedom fighters”, was not successful and the country not only lost credibility, was termed as the aggressor but precious lives of soldiers were lost when Pakistan was ordered to withdraw the troops, who became targets of the Indian onslaught. If Operation Gibraltar had been critically analyzed, the fiasco would not have been repeated. Youngsters like Lehrasab Khan, who were baptized under fire and thrown to face the Indian wolves to stoke the fire, survived through their guts and sheer valour but many of comrades were sacrificed at the altar of ambition of a few Guderians, who should have been taken to task. An attempt has been made to bring to fore some of the untold stories not to lionize any individual but to bring out objective lessons.
1 This is an abridged version of an article by the same author, originally published in September issue of The Defence Journal
CRITERION – January/March 2012
Sultan M. Hali
2 Rediff.com, July 11, 1999, ‘Pakistan refuses to take even officers’ bodies’.
3 Constitutional Relations Between Britain and India: The Transfer of Power, N.
Mansergh and E.W.R. Lunby eds., pp. 662, 663
4 Narrated by Brigadier Noor AHussain in PTV program Defence and Diplomacy on “Jaswant Singh’s book on Quaid”, hosted by Sultan M Hali on 27 August
5 The Kashmir Dispute and a possible US role at http://groups.yahoo.com/
6 Weiss, Meredith, The Jammu and Kashmir conflict Overvieew , 25 June 2002
– Hosted on Yale University
7 Arif, KM, General (Retd.), ‘How Pakistan blundered into war’, Dawn, 6th
8 Mazari, Sherbaz, “A Journey to Disillusionment”, 1999, p. 128
9 Shamim, Anwar, M., Air Chief Marshal, Cutting Edge, Vanguard Books, Lahore, Pakistan, 2010.
10 Qadir, Shaukat, Brig. (Retd.), ‘Operation Gibraltar: Battle that never was’, Rdiff. com, September 08, 2005
11 Daily Nawa-i-Waqt, Lahore, August 11, 1965
12 Amin, Agha, Humayun, Maj (Retd.), ‘Grand Slam—A Battle of lost
Opportunities’, Defence Journal, September 2000.
13 Qadir, Shaukat, Brig. (Retd.), ‘Why Pakistan Lost Akhnur?’, Rediff.com, September 09, 2005
14 Khan, Hamid, The Constitutional and Political History of Pakistan, 2001, p.
15 Arif, K.M. Gen., “Khaki Shadows: Pakistan 1947-97”, 2001 p. 54.
16 The Lion of the Pride, how does the love of God turn to terrorism?, http://www. greatdreams.com/india/lion_pride.htm
17 Lieutenant General Lehrasab Khan had specifically asked me not to include this portion in the article because of his humility but I found the same account in
third person in his unit’s history so I have taken the liberty of including it here.