Exposes the Failure of Operation Gibraltar
PAF C-130 drops paratroopers as an Indian tank burns after a direct
Pakistan Army Committed
Kargil Like Disaster in 1965 War As Well
Sept 6: A new book on Pakistan, scheduled to be released worldwide
on Sept 11, gives out a detailed account of how the Pakistan Army
planned a military operation to capture Akhnur in August 1965
which ultimately led to the India-Pakistan war and how mysterious
decisions led to its failure, a la the Kargil fiasco of 1999.
book Pakistan's Drift Into Extremism: Allah, The Army, And
America's War On Terror, written by Hassan Abbas, a former
police officer from Pakistan and currently a Research fellow at
the Harvard Law School and a PhD. candidate at the Fletcher School
of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, provides a befitting backdrop
to the 1965 war, the 39th anniversary of which is being observed
in Pakistan today.
book, already among the top 100 bestsellers at Barnes and Nobles,
also examines the rise of religious extremism in Pakistan and
analyzes its connections to Pakistan Army's policies and the fluctuating
US-Pakistan relations. It includes profiles of leading Pakistani
Jihadi groups and gives details of the conspiracy behind General
Zia-ul-Haq’s plane crash in 1988, a botched military coup
by fundamentalists in army in 1993-94 and lastly about how General
Musharraf handled the volatile situation after the 9/11 attacks.
writers and intellectuals including Stephen P Cohen of the Brookings
Institution, Harvard University Professor Jessica Stern, Peter
Bergen, Terrorism Analyst, CNN and author of The
Holy War Inc and Arnaud de Borchgrave, Editor-at-Large of
The Washington Times and UPI, have praised the
book in glowing terms.
raises an oft repeated but a pertinent question about the conduct
of the top Pakistan Army brass in 1965 when Pakistani troops were
just three miles from Akhnur and its capture was imminent, the
military commander was changed and so much time was deliberately
wasted that a successful war was turned into a defeat.
Following excerpt of the book throws
more light on how, on this day, the Pakistan Army wrote an inglorious
epitaph to a glorious plan which it failed to execute:
“When the Pakistan Army inflicted
a short, sharp reverse on the Indians in the Rann of Kutch in
mid-1965, Ayub’s spirits got a boost. More important, the
international arbitration that followed the Kutch dispute (resulting
in favor of Pakistan) put Pakistan under the assumption that if
the Kashmir problem was to be solved, the Rann of Kutch route
would have to be replicated - a limited clash in Kashmir leading
to a threat of all-out war, and then an intervention and arbitration
by the great powers.
Hence at this point there was considerable
confidence among the Pakistanis about the strength of their own
arms, which was bolstered by their newfound friendship with China.
Utter frustration over Indian intransigence on Kashmir coupled
with sympathy for the gathering hopelessness of the Kashmiris
and concern over the rapid rearmament of the Indian armed forces
on account of Western military aid, were factors that played a
crucial role in Pakistan’s drift toward considering a military
solution of the Kashmir issue.
Bhutto, in his letter to Ayub of
May 12, 1965, drew his attention to increasing Western military
aid to India and how fast the balance of power in the region was
shifting in India’s favor as a result. He expanded on this
theme and recommended that “a bold and courageous stand”
would “open up greater possibility for a negotiated settlement.”
Ayub Khan was won over by the force
of this logic, and he tasked the Kashmir Cell under Foreign Secretary,
Aziz Ahmed, to draw up plans to stir up some trouble in Indian-held
Jammu and Kashmir, which could then be exploited in Pakistan’s
favor by limited military involvement.
The Kashmir Cell was a nondescript
body working without direction and producing no results. It laid
the broad concept of Operation Gibraltar, but did not get very
far beyond this in terms of coming up with anything concrete.
When Ayub saw that the Kashmir Cell was making painfully little
headway in translating his directions into a plan of action, he
personally handed responsibility for the operation over to Major
General Akhtar Hussain Malik, commander of the 12th Division of
the Pakistan Army. This division was responsible for the defense
of the entire length of the Cease-fire Line (CFL) in the Kashmir
General Akhtar Malik was a man of
towering presence and was known for his acuteness of mind and
boldness of spirit. He was loved and admired by his subordinates,
but was far too outspoken to be of any comfort to most of his
superiors. His professional excellence, however, was acknowledged
both in military and civilian circles.
The plan of this operation (Gibraltar)
as finalized by General Malik and approved by Ayub Khan was to
infiltrate a sizable armed force across the CFL into Indian Kashmir
to carry out acts of sabotage in order to destabilize the government
of the state and encourage the local population to rise up against
In order to be able to retrieve the
situation in case this operation got into trouble, to give it
a new lease on life, or to fully exploit the advantage gained
in the event of its success, Operation Grand Slam was planned.
This was to be a quick strike by
armored and infantry forces from the southern tip of the CFL to
Akhnur, a town astride the Jammu-Srinagar Road. This would cut
the main Indian artery into the Kashmir valley, bottle up the
Indian forces there, and so open up a number of options that could
then be exploited as the situation demanded. According to some
Pakistani Army officers, it was foreseen then that the value of
Operation Gibraltar would be fully enchased after Grand Slam succeeded
in wresting control of Akhnur.
There was not enough time to fully
prepare and train the men who were to infiltrate, and the three-month
deadline given was considered to be not nearly enough for this,
but the 12th Division was told that, because of certain considerations,
no further time could be given.
Most of the men to be trained belonged
to the Azad Kashmir Regular Forces, which meant that they would
have to be withdrawn from the defensive positions along the CFL.
The denuded front lines therefore had to be beefed up by other
elements. Having no reserves for this purpose, General Malik decided
that the only option for him was to simultaneously train a force
of Azad Kashmiri irregulars (mujahids) for this purpose.
But when he called the C-in-C, General
Musa, to ask for weapons to equip this force, the latter refused.
General Malik then made a call to Ayub, apprised him of the difficulty
he was having with the C-in-C, and concluded that if the Kashmiris
were not to be trusted, they were not worth fighting for. Ayub
then called Musa, told him why the new Mujahid Companies needed
to be armed and equipped, and ended with the same note, that is,
people who cannot be trusted were not worth fighting for. Soon
General Malik got a call from Musa: “Malik, people who cannot
be trusted are not worth fighting for - go ahead, arm them.”
Operation Gibraltar was launched
in the first week of August 1965, and all the infiltrators made
it across the CFL without a single case of detection by the Indians.
This was possible only because of the high standards of Pakistan’s
security measures, as acknowledged by a senior Indian Army general.
The pro-Pakistan elements in Kashmir had not been taken into confidence
prior to this operation, and there was no help forthcoming for
the infiltrators in most areas.
Overall, despite lack of support
from the local population, the operation managed to cause anxiety
to the Indians, at times verging on panic. On August 8 the Kashmir
government recommended that martial law be imposed in Kashmir.
It seemed that the right time to launch operation Grand Slam was
when such anxiety was at its height. But it was General Malik’s
opinion that this be delayed till the Indians had committed their
reserves to seal off the infiltration routes, which he felt was
certain to happen eventually.
On August 24, India concentrated
its forces to launch its operations in order to seal off Haji
Pir Pass, through which lay the main infiltration routes. That
same day General Malik asked General Headquarters (GHQ) permission
to launch Operation Grand Slam. The director of military operations,
Brigadier Gul Hassan, passed on the request to General Musa, and
when he failed to respond, reminded him again the following day.
But Musa could not manage to gather
the confidence to give the decision himself and sent ZA Bhutto
to obtain the approval from Ayub Khan, who was relaxing in Swat,
200 miles away - strange way to fight a war with the C-in-C unwilling
to give decisions and the supreme commander unable to do so.
The decision finally arrived on August
29, by which time the Indians had bolstered their defenses in
the sector where the operation was to be launched with the induction
of three infantry units and an artillery regiment. Still a few
more precious hours were wasted by the GHQ, and the operation
went to the early morning of September 1, more than a week after
the commander in the field had first asked for the go-ahead.
By early afternoon of the first day
all the objectives were taken, the Indian forces were on the run,
and Akhnur lay tantalizingly close and inadequately defended.
“At this point, someone’s prayers worked” says
Indian journalist, MJ Akbar: “An inexplicable change of
command took place.”
What happened was that, in a surprising
turn of events, General Musa landed in the theater of operations
and handed the command of the 12th Division over to General Yahya
Khan, whom he had brought along. General Malik was asked to get
into the helicopter and was flown away by Musa.
For nearly 39 years now the Pakistan
Army has been trying to cover up this untimely and fateful change
of command by suppression and falsification of history.
Loss of time is inherent in any such
change, but for reasons that cannot be explained but by citing
the intrusion of ego, Yahya insisted on changing Malik’s
plan and therefore lost even more time. Whereas Malik had basically
planned to invest and bypass the strongly defended localities,
subordinating everything to reaching and capturing Akhnur with
the least delay, Yahya took a different route - he crossed river
Tawi and went straight into Troti, in which crucial time was lost.
And this was enough for the Indians to bolster the defenses of
Akhnur and launch their strike against Lahore across the international
frontier between the two countries.
This came on September 6 while the
Pakistani forces were still three miles short of Akhnur. This
was the contrived end of an operation, which had been meticulously
planned and had promised a lot.
On September 6, after the Indian
attack across the international border, Ayub and Bhutto tried
to invoke the 1959 US-Pakistan bilateral agreement, to ask for
American help against Indian aggression, but to no avail.
Instead, President Johnson suspended
military aid to both India and Pakistan. Pakistan immediately
turned to China for help. These efforts brought about a strong
Chinese condemnation of India’s aggression against Pakistan,
and this was followed by a Chinese warning against Indian intrusions
into Chinese territory.
And then on September 16 they sent
a note to India to say that as long as Indian aggression against
Pakistan continued, it would not stop supporting Pakistan in its
just struggle. On September 19, Ayub and Bhutto flew to Beijing
for a top secret meeting with the Chinese leadership. China promised
Pakistan all the help, but told Ayub that he should be quite prepared
to withdraw his army to the hills and fight a long guerrilla war
For this neither the Sandhurst-trained
Ayub nor the Berkeley-educated Bhutto was quite prepared. On the
international scene there was already considerable concern that
any direct Chinese involvement in the conflict may escalate and
broaden the war involving other countries. Pakistan was pressed
by the Western ambassadors to not encourage the Chinese to step
up their engagement any further.
Pakistan knew it did not have the
wherewithal to break through the stalemate on the battlefront.
Thus it knew this was the end. Now Pakistan was prepared to accept
a cease-fire. The guns fell silent on the afternoon of September
23. As to the final outcome of the war, Dennis Kux aptly says
that India “won simply by not losing.”
Immediately after the war, on the
Pakistan side the major controversy that occupied the minds of
many was the change in command of Operation Grand Slam. The “view
both in India and even amongst ‘sensible army officers’
in Pakistan was that Malik’s sudden replacement led to the
failure of Grand Slam.”
But the “sensible” Pakistani
Army officers were restrained from discussing this subject. It
was taboo to do so in the army messes and officers’ gatherings,
though in private this was most passionately debated. It was only
after General Malik’s death in 1969 that GHQ gingerly started
putting together a theory to justify this change and to propagate
It was now claimed that the change
was preplanned and that this plan laid down that General Malik
would command the first phase of the operation up to the river
Tawi, and thereafter the command would be assumed by General Yahya
Khan. However, there is not a shred of evidence to support this.
The operation itself was a set-piece attack for which the operation
orders are a part of the historical record, and there is no such
mention in these.
And any doubts there might have been
on the issue were laid to rest by General Gul Hassan, who was
Director of Military Operations during the war and the one person
who would have known of such a change. He has specifically denied
having any knowledge of the same.
Indeed, not a single army officer
except Musa and General Yahya seem to have known about this change,
which shifted the initiative from Pakistan to the Indian Army.
It now seems fair to speculate that the change in command was
preplanned only in the sense that it was a conspiracy between
Ayub, Musa, and Yahya; that if the operation got into trouble,
Malik could keep the command and also the blame that would accrue
as a result, but that if it held promise of success, Yahya would
be moved in to harvest it.
General Harbaksh Singh, one of the very respected senior Indian
military commanders, was one of the few to have appreciated the
full military value of Operation Gibraltar as a part of Grand
Slam rather than seeing the two in isolation. According to him,
“The plan of infiltration was brilliant in conception,”
and as for Grand Slam, he thought it was “aptly named Grand
Slam for had it succeeded, a trail of dazzling results would have
followed in its wake, and the infiltration campaign would have
had a fresh lease of life,” and that “it was only
the last minute frantic rush of reinforcements into the sector
. . . that prevented this debacle from deteriorating into major
seems therefore that but for the change of command at a critical
time during Operation Grand Slam, the aim of Gibraltar was well
within realization, that is, to “de freeze the Kashmir problem,
weaken Indian resolve, and bring India to the conference table
without provoking general war.”
It would be highly educative to read
General Akhtar Malik’s views on the subject. This unpublished
letter from General Malik to his younger brother, Lieutenant General
Abdul Ali Malik, is a new source of information on the subject,
and for this purpose is quoted here in full:
Permanent Military Deputy
Embassy of Pakistan
hope you and the family are very well. Thank you for your letter
of 14 Oct. 67. The answers to your questions are as follows:
a. The de facto command changed the very first day of the ops
[operations] after the fall of Chamb when Azmat Hayat broke off
wireless communications with me. I personally tried to find his
HQ [headquarters] by chopper and failed. In late afternoon I sent
Gulzar and Vahid, my MP [military police] officers, to try and
locate him, but they too failed. The next day I tore into him
and he sheepishly and nervously informed me that he was ‘Yahya’s
brigadier’. I had no doubt left that Yahya had reached him
the previous day and instructed him not to take further orders
from me, while the formal change in command had yet to take place.
This was a betrayal of many dimensions.
b. I reasoned and then pleaded with Yahya that if it was credit
he was looking for, he should take the overall command but let
me go up to Akhnur as his subordinate, but he refused. He went
a step further and even changed the plan. He kept banging his
head against Troti, letting the Indian fall back to Akhnur. We
lost the initiative on the very first day of the war and never
recovered it. Eventually it was the desperate stand at Chawinda
that prevented the Indians from cutting through.
c. At no time was I assigned any reason for being removed from
command by Ayub, Musa or Yahya. They were all sheepish at best.
I think the reasons will be given when I am no more.
d. Not informing pro-Pak Kashmiri elements before launching Gibraltar
was a command decision and it was mine. The aim of the op was
to de freeze the Kashmir issue, raise it from its moribund state,
and bring it to the notice of the world. To achieve this aim the
first phase of the op was vital, that is, to effect undetected
infiltration of thousands across the CFL [cease-fire line]. I
was not willing to compromise this in any event. And the whole
op could be made stillborn by just one double agent.
e. Haji Pir [Pass] did not cause me much anxiety. Because [the]
impending Grand Slam Indian concentration in Haji Pir could only
help us after Akhnur, and they would have to pull out troops from
there to counter the new threats and surrender their gains, and
maybe more, in the process. Actually it was only after the fall
of Akhnur that we would have encashed the full value of Gibraltar,
but that was not to be!
f. Bhutto kept insisting that his sources had assured him that
India would not attack if we did not violate the international
border. I however was certain that Gibraltar would lead to war
and told GHQ so. I needed no op intelligence to come to this conclusion.
It was simple common sense. If I got you by the throat, it would
be silly for me to expect that you will kiss me for it. Because
I was certain that war would follow, my first choice as objective
for Grand Slam was Jammu. From there we could have exploited our
success either toward Samba or Kashmir proper as the situation
demanded. In any case whether it was Jammu or Akhnur, if we had
taken the objective, I do not see how the Indians could have attacked
Sialkot before clearing out either of these towns.
g. I have given serious consideration to writing a book, but given
up the idea. The book would be the truth. And truth and the popular
reaction to it would be good for my ego. But in the long run it
would be an unpatriotic act. It will destroy the morale of the
army, lower its prestige among the people, be banned in Pakistan,
and become a textbook for the Indians. I have little doubt that
the Indians will never forgive us the slight of 65 and will avenge
it at the first opportunity. I am certain they will hit us in
E. Pak [East Pakistan] and we will need all we have to save the
situation. The first day of Grand Slam will be fateful in many
ways. The worst has still to come and we have to prepare for it.
The book is therefore out.
hope this gives you the gist of what you needed to know. And yes,
Ayub was fully involved in the enterprise. As a matter of fact
it was his idea. And it was he who ordered me to by-pass Musa
while Gibraltar etc. was being planned. I was dealing more with
him and Sher Bahadur than with the C-in-C. It is tragic that despite
having a good military mind, the FM’s [Foreign Minister
Z.A. Bhutto’s] heart was prone to give way. The biggest
tragedy is that in this instance it gave way before the eruption
of a crisis. Or were they already celebrating a final victory!!
case you need a more exact description of events, I will need
war diaries and maps, which you could send me through the diplomatic
remember me to all the family.
Akhtar Hussain Malik
is quite obvious what had happened. In the words of Justice Muhammad
Saraf: “Had Akhtar been continued in his duty... he would
have been the only General in Pakistan with a spectacular victory
to his credit and it would then have been very difficult for President
Ayub to ignore his claim to the office of the Commander-in-Chief,
after the retirement of Musa, which was quite near.”
Ali Bhutto, one of the main players of this game, also later argued
that, “Had General Akhtar Malik not been stopped in the
Chamb-Jaurian Sector, the Indian forces in Kashmir would have
suffered serious reverses, but Ayub Khan wanted to make his favorite,
General Yahya Khan, a hero.”
However, the very idea of Operation
Gibraltar was controversial in itself. The military initiative
robbed Pakistan of its moral high ground vis-à-vis the
Kashmir conflict. In retrospect, it would have been better if
Pakistan had focused more on continuing its efforts toward the
resolution of the dispute through UN or third-party mediation.
Ayub and his top generals also misread how far Kashmiris (in India)
were willing to cooperate with Pakistan in this kind of adventure.
(After the war) the army also underwent
major though subtle changes in personnel. Musa retired soon after
the war, to be replaced by General Yahya Khan as C-in-C of the
army. This was not a popular choice, but as Yahya settled in,
he subtly started to gather power by promoting and placing his
own loyalists in critical spots. A sick and disheartened Ayub
was too careworn to notice this. And besides, he had implicit
faith in Yahya’s loyalty.
He may also have been quite certain
that his new choice of army chief came with the kind of baggage
that would foreclose the possibility of his gaining the sort of
following that could eventually threaten Ayub’s position.
Ayub was wrong. He could not see that Yahya could collect any
number of equally discredited officers around him. Among the first
to be swept off the stage was General Akhtar Malik. He was posted
out to CENTO in Ankara, Turkey.
Yahya told him that Pakistan needed
a sensible and mature officer there, and Malik had replied: “Being
a sensible and mature officer, I quite realize why I am needed
there.” Concurrently with this, all officers considered
to be Malik loyalists were sidelined. This was a major step along
the road inaugurated by Ayub himself, of promoting the interests
of personal loyalty over those of competence and professionalism.
Professional pride progressively gave way to servile behavior.
Already the army had embarked on
a crash program of making up shortages in the ranks of the officer
class. To meet the target, standards were consciously and conspicuously
lowered, thus making it a self-defeating exercise.
Also, in the aftermath of the war,
one would have expected the army to analyze its performance. Not
only was such an appraisal not carried out beyond the merest whitewash,
the attempt deliberately falsified the record to save reputations,
because after the war many of those were promoted whose reputations
needed to be saved.
But the formality of a war analysis
had to be fulfilled, and most ironically the task was entrusted
to General Akhtar Malik. He did this in two parts; one dealt with
the performance of junior leadership, and the other with that
of the higher command.
Mohammad Afzal Khan, who read the latter in manuscript form, and
Major Qayyum, under whose supervision it was typed, both commented
upon the scathing criticism to which this document subjected the
prosecution of the war at higher levels. After the death of the
general, no one has seen the record of this document in the army