New Delhi, Last year, this week, India celebrated the 50th anniversary of the victory of the 1965 war. Several functions were held in the capital and at the flash points of 1965 to mark the occasion. It was the first time ever that India was emphatically celebrating the victory of 1965 which many had dubbed as a ‘no clear win by either side’.
But that did not stop Pakistan from celebrating it as their ‘victory’ all these years. Pakistan’s so-called ‘victory’ was that it did not allow India to succeed in its attempt to capture Lahore. The fact was that capture of Lahore was not the objective of the Indian Army.
The diabolical design of General Ayub Khan who was ruling Pakistan was to capture Kashmir before India could strengthen itself following the setback it suffered during the attack by China in 1962.
I was closely involved in the effort to cover the operations as Public Relations officer of the Ministry of Defence both in the Rann of Kutch and later in the Lahore front.
I was on leave in Mumbai when Pakistan attacked at Chamb. I was attending to my father who was ill. When the war commenced on September 1, I left Mumbai to rejoin my duties in the Eastern Command. While I was passing through Kharagpur, I saw Pakistani aircraft returning from Kalaikunda the nearby Indian Air Force station.
I got off the train, went to the Indian Air Force Station and got an escort and took photographs of the Pakistani Air Force aircraft, which had crashed during an encounter earlier in the day.
I got a close up of the crashed aircraft and its pilot Flt Lt Afzal I rushed back to the railway station reached Kolkata and released the photo to the newspapers there, and sent a copy through radiophoto to my Directorate in Delhi. That proactive move on my part prompted the Director of communications during the war Mr. GG Mirchandani to assign me to cover the war in the Western Sector.
I was posted to the Lahore sector, with my office at the Sainik Rest house in Amritsar. The impression was gaining in the country that we were losing yet another war. This was because was Pakistan Radio bulletins which could be heard in many parts of India kept announcing that the Pakistan Army would not ‘harm ‘ people in Punjab. This led many to believe that Punjab was on the verge of being captured by Pakistan. During my travel to Amritsar, I had kept my transistor radio on to listen to radio Pakistan bulletins.
When I got down at the railway station in Amritsar, I asked the driver about the situation, he said Pakistan was nowhere near Amritsar. Assured, I went to the Sainik Rest House, my future office for the next couple of months.
My assignment was to cover the activities of 11 Corps, headed by Lt. Gen. Jogi Dhillon. Under him there were three divisions, deployed on the Wagah–Lahore axis, the Burki axis and the Khem Karan axis. My team included the Photo Officer, Lt. Col Gulzar Singh Pablay, the Films Division Photo Officer Abnashi Ram, and the Press Trust of India correspondent, T.V. Venkatachalam.
My main task initially was to dispel the impression that Pakistan was winning the war. I took press parties across Wagah into Pakistan. I first interviewed Lt. Col Desmond Hayde, on the Wagah –Lahore axis. He told us that his battalion the 3rd Jat had reached Dograi on the banks of the Icchogil Canal overlooking Lahore on September 6, but as the supporting troops like Artillery and armour had not reached, he had to fall back but they were still inside Pakistan.
Next day we reached Burki axis and saw Indian troops occupying the Police Station there. We talked to the Division Commander. The sector had the support of an Armoured Brigade, headed by Brig Theograj and Lt.Col A S. Vaidya and Lt Col Salim Caleb, both of whom were decorated with Maha Vir Chakras for their performance during the war, headed the regiments. When Pakistani armoured regiment consisting of superior Paton tanks attacked in the Khem Karan front, India flooded the area. Pakistani tanks got stuck in the wet fields and became easy targets.
We used to leave for the stations every morning and on the way we saw people cheering Indian Army personnel going to the front and offering poories and lassi and cheering us. The photographs and reports filed by us were displayed in Indian newspapers and the country gained confidence.
The war lasted for 22 days. Friends of Pakistan were exerting pressure on India to agree to a cease-fire. On the final day of the war I had crossed the Wagah border, when I heard of the ceasefire. One of my friends who had served with me in Gaza, Lt Col Gurbir Mansingh asked me not to return to Amritsar, as there was to be heavy fighting that evening.
I took shelter in an underground shelter and later travelled to Dograi on the border, to witness 3rd Jat headed by Lt Col Desmond Hayde establishing his battalion there. The Pakistan Army, which had lost the battle, was busy picking up dead bodies and carting them away in lorries from Dograi.
Many press correspondents landed in Dograi the next day. Among them was H. K. Dua, who represented United News of India, and later rose to become the editor of the Hindustan Times, and a member of Parliament.
In the following month, my duty was to conduct media teams to Dograi, Burki, and Khem Karan, and the graveyard of Patton tanks near Bhikiwind.
The favorite location for media visits was Asal Uttar in the Khem Karan sector where the famous tank battles took place. In the battle of Asal Uttar in the Khem Karan sector India had knocked down 70 Pakistani tanks. Pakistan had abandoned 25 Pattons with their engines running.
India had won the war. It had more territory under its control as compared to Pakistan. At the end of the 22-day war, India held 1920 square kilometers of Pakistani territory while Pakistan only held 550 square kilometers of Indian land. The Haji Pir pass was in the possession of the Indian Army
India was under pressure to come to a settlement with Pakistan. Both India and Pakistan were persuaded to go to Tashkent and all that India had won in battlefield was surrendered at the negotiation table.
India also lost her Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri due to a cardiac arrest soon after he signed the Tashkent Agreement, according to which both countries were to withdraw from the areas captured during the war
As someone who was associated with the 1965 war, I feel that we should celebrate our victory in the war. Pakistan observes its victory every year when in actuality they were the aggressor and won nothing.
India had frustrated Pakistan’s attempt to capture territory in the Rann of Kutch, defeated its attempt to provoke people of Kashmir to rise against India, captured strategic territory in Kashmir like the Haji Pir pass, and successfully defended Chamb, and occupied the Icchogil Canal, overlooking Lahore. Taking over Lahore was not its aim.
As someone associated with the war, I feel that we should, as real victors, celebrate our gains in the 1965 India-Pakistan war. Pakistan observes its so-called victory every year, but the real victor in the war has been silent except for the celebrations last year.
We owe our victory to the commanders in the field like Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh, the GOC-in-C of the Western Command, political leaders like Lal Bahadur Shastri and Defence Minister Chavan, and soldiers who won gallantry awards. It would be fair to ‘celebrate’ our victory as real victors.