Why should we remember the 1965 India-Pakistan war?
Fifty years have passed, since the Indian Army, taken by surprise by Pakistani infiltrators, fought back to finally get the better of eventual military exchanges. The war, fought across both the Line of Control and the international border, saw India capture larger tracts of Pakistani territory and attain a military advantage.
An analysis of the 1965 Indo-Pak war from a strategic perspective remains relevant for a number of reasons. This is facilitated by a reasonably long period of fifty years, which provide an opportunity to objectively assess its significance, with the proverbial benefit of hindsight.
It was a mere three years prior to the war in 1965 that India had been defeated by the Chinese in 1962. This was not merely a military defeat, but also a serious blow to the pride of the country and its armed forces. Despite this setback, the soldiers and their leaders did not display any adverse sign of the debacle against Pakistan. The Indian soldier excelled despite fearful odds.
The war threw up a number of outstanding tactical victories, as well as individual stories of bravery. This is best illustrated by the valour displayed in bloody battles like Haji Pir, Dograi and Asal Uttar. At Haji Pir, the armed forces launched one of the finest attacks, deep into Pakistani territory to capture the pass. Major Ranjt Singh Dayal, who led this force, became a household name. The battle of Dograi, is unique in the annals of Indian military history, wherein 3 JAT, the battalion that was involved, captured the same objective twice, despite erroneously being asked to fall back after the first victory. Asal Uttar is often referred to as "Patton Nagar". It witnessed the destruction of nearly 100 Pakistani tanks on the battlefield. As a result of a number of similar victories, by the end of the war, the armed forces had not only buried the defeat against China, they had also chartered the course for building upon their hard fought victories. This finally became evident during the 1971 Indo-Pak war.
It is a commonly held belief that India has always held a clear edge in the conventional military sphere against Pakistan. This was certainly the case immediately after independence, however, after the mid fifties, Pakistan embarked on a concerted path to modernise its forces, in the garb of aligning against communism. This saw it receive high end military hardware from the US. In reality, its preparations were clearly aimed at India, as the events of 1965 proved. After the 1962 war, when the US provided India with military hardware, Pakistan, established a special relationship with China, the very country, US had armed it against. India was also disadvantaged during the process of raising new formations after the 1962 war, as most of these were not in a state of preparedness to fight a war. The sudden increase in size had also diluted its professional edge. Pakistan realised these limitations and decided to strike at a time that it considered most advantageous. Therefore, purely from the perspective of military hardware and readiness, Pakistan had a clear edge in 1965. The Indian response and achievements must be seen from this perspective and were therefore all the more commendable.
Despite some of the notable successes in the face of odds, the war brought home certain important military realities that remain relevant fifty years later as well. Here are five factors, which emerge as the lessons that the armed forces must build upon.
First, each service fought its individual battles, with limited cohesion in the planning or execution of the war effort. While there has been better coordination achieved over the years, a lot needs to be done to ensure that unity of effort is achieved through the seamless integration of the armed forces.
Second, the war exposed limitations in the intelligence capability of the country and the armed forces. This has been a recurrent weakness repeatedly exposed thereafter as well. There is a case for investing far more than is presently the case to enhance the capacity of military intelligence as well as internal and external national intelligence agencies.
Third, the war brought home the reality that military capability cannot be created in a short span of time. The efforts that began after the 1962 war, were inadequate to create the kind of military edge needed to retain conventional military superiority against Pakistan. This is equally relevant in the present context.
Fourth, the refusal of military and civilian authorities to share the reality of wars and war fighting with the country has led to misinformation and misgivings which are great for sustaining myths, but not objective analysis. The recent initiative to document wars is a step in the right direction, though it should ideally be accompanied by declassification of records to enable scholars to enlarge the debate.
Fifth, war termination is a reflection of a country's long term strategic assessment of its desired objectives. The aftermath of the 1965 war clearly exposed weaknesses in this regard. It also reinforced the country's adhoc strategic culture. This remains a weakness, with inadequate investment in developing strategic insight amongst leaders, both military and civilian alike.
As the country celebrates the achievements of the 1965 Indo-Pak war, a simultaneous attempt must be made to ensure that weaknesses if any must be addressed so that the country and its armed forces are prepared to successfully achieve national objectives.
Written By Col Vivek Chada Published in Daily O