To this day most Pakistanis believe that on Sep 6, 1965, thirty nine years today almost to the day, the massive attack across the international borders that the Indians launched to capture Lahore and Sialkot was a surprise. It certainly seems to have been surprise for our military hierarchy, and in fact probably surprised the Indians more as to how and why we were surprised. In the words of Col (Retd) S G Mehdi, MC, “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”. Col Mehdi goes on, “it was a gross misconception and miscalculation of the operating factors which sent the Pakistan Army into battle on Sep 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, involving large formations of armour, infantry and artillery”, unquote.
Does this support Maj Gen Farman Ali Khan’s conclusion about 1965 that it was “diabolically stage –” managed to get our army defeated”? Col Mehdi says that the 1965 war was a “betrayal, complete and total, and in all fields –” geo-political, strategic and tactical”. Despite the gross mistakes of our general officers the young men of our Armed Forces fought the enemy against overwhelming odds to a standstill, they paid the price of failure of higher leadership with her lives, where have all the flowers gone? The courage and sacrifice of our young men will always be a matter of great pride for us and was no surprise, that it will be so in the future will also not be a surprise!
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”. As Commander of the elite Special Services Group (SSG), Col Mehdi became aware of “Operation GIBRALTAR” only in May 1965, for detailed briefing GHQ asked him to report to Maj Gen Akhtar Hussain Malik, GOC 12 Div, who had conceived of the plan and was in total operational control. Col Mehdi thought GIBRALTAR was a year or in the future, and even though he believed that as a concept the plan was sound there were critical variables missing, like timing, training, logistics, etc that needed detailed attention. Shocked when he was told that the start date was barely a couple of months away, he asked Gen Malik whether this was part of the GHQ Strategic Plan, he was told “no”. Col Mehdi immediately told Malik, “you won’t get away with it”. In fact it was Pakistan that did not get away with this ill-planned adventure, to quote Gen Nawabzada Sher Ali Pataudi, “it (the war in 1965) lasted 17 days starting from the 6th of Sep 65 but in those 17 days the few final nails in the coffin of a united Pakistan had been driven”, unquote.
Col Mehdi says “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”, unquote. Col Mehdi says in “Mehdi Papers”, “the point being made is this: why those, who had the comprehension to conceive, did not protest? Did they project their views strongly enough –” or at all –” to those in authority? Did they ever think of offering their resignation?”, unquote. To quote one of the most outstanding of men, civil or military, to grace Pakistan, Air Marshal (Retd) Asghar Khan, “it is a pity that Ghaffar Mehdi served at a time when flattery and opportunism was at a premium and candour and courage were frowned upon. In another period –” which we have yet to see in Pakistan –” he would, I believe, have found his proper place”, unquote. Nations that do not honour their real heroes seldom rise above mediocrity.
Late Lt Gen Attiqur Rahman’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”. Col SG Mehdi suffered the consequences, “I was posted out of the Command of the SSG on 31 August 1965 for telling the GHQ that in permitting to launch the half-cooked “Operation Gibraltar”, Pakistan was repeating its “Bay of Pigs”. Indeed it was fortuitous for Pakistan that Col Mehdi was moved post-haste to Sialkot to take over as Col Staff 15 Div. “I am terribly proud of one act of mine, i.e. deployment of 15 Div in their battle location a clear 48 hours before 6 September. I quoted to the GOC an Arabic proverb, “when you go out looking for the pug mark of a tiger, be prepared to come across the tiger as well”. The GOC (Brig Ismail and the four Brigade Commanders) saw the point and accepted my recommendation to move all troops to their battle locations” unquote.
With the entire Indian Armed Forces poised in offensive posture along the entire length of our borders in 2002, I was repeatedly asked at various international forums, “will you Pakistanis be able to hold the Indians?” My reply in the affirmative was based on conviction that (1) we had the military capability to hold them and (2) personal knowledge of the fighting spirit of our troops, this with grave reservations about anyone commanding Corps and Div Formations without having heard a shot fired in anger, pocket-Guderians interested only in real-estate operations, Phase by Phase. There is no substitute in command for combat experience. Subordinates are better judge of your character and ability than superiors. Credible Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs) can only be given by the unit and the troops the officer has served with. Fighting on our soil and our survival, our youth in khaki, blues and whites will always be able to recall the spirit of 1965 (as opposed to 1971), containing anything that the Indians throw against us in men and material. One does pray however that neither the Indians nor us throw anything at each other anymore.
Read only what 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. No objective study on the 1965 war would be complete without paying tributes to the great fighting spirit and unparalleled heroism of Jawans and junior officers of the Pakistan Army, Navy and Air Force. 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. Our Janbaz fought against the betrayal within and India’s regimented hordes without. They also fought against the international conspiracy of Anglo-Saxon powers. But for their glorious sacrifices, the saga of their actions, the feat of their arms, this society of ours, would be much poorer today than it already is”. And we are certainly that much poorer today for not having the wisdom to listen to the Col Mehdis of this country and this world!