By S M Hali

Far from rising up in arms, the local population denied any support and, in many instances handed over the infiltrators to Indian troops. An act for which they should not be held to blame in any way, since by then they were reconciled to staying within the Indian Union and Pakistan had made no preparations for such a venture.”[i]

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. I have pointed out 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?”

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 Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas was leading this Liberation Council. Chaudhry Ghulam 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'."[ii]

General Musa confirms the above position, he said: "Because of the haste with which the ‘Operation’ was launched, even Azad Kashmir leaders were not taken into confidence by the advocates of Guerrilla raids. Helplessly they remained in the background. Their co-operation was also very necessary and would have been very helpful. They could have assisted the mujahedeen in various ways by themselves’."

SM: 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."

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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 Haji Pir 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.

Indian 15 Corps Commander was unnerved; however, the C in C Western Command Harbaksh Singh exhibited greater resolution and spurred the 15 Indian Corps into launching two major counter infiltration attacks inside Pakistan Held Kashmir to destroy the logistic bases in Haji Pir Bulge and Neelum Valley areas. Both these attacks succeeded since the 12 Division was already over stretched with single infantry battalions holding frontages varying from 10 to 20 miles. There is absolutely no doubt that Gibraltar was an undoubted failure! The loss of Haji Pir 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!”[iii]

Akhnur sector was lightly defended by four Indian infantry battalions and a squadron of tanks. The infantry was stretched thin along the border and the Indian AMX-13 tanks were no match for the Pakistani Patton tanks. Against a militarily stronger and larger Pakistani thrust, the Indian forces retreated from their defensive positions. The Indians brought in their air force but that ended in a disaster.

Let me quote extracts of an account from another Defence Journal article, researched and penned by me: ‘A flying start’[iv]: “Operation Grand Slam was launched across the CFL in Chamb sector of Kashmir, towards Jaurian and Akhnur, at first light on 01 September, 1965 by Pak Army’s 12 Division under its GOC Major General Akhtar Malik. By early afternoon, they had advanced more than 10-15 miles.  PAF maintained Combat Air Patrol (CAP) missions comprising pairs of F-86 Sabres, supported by F-104A Star fighters, keeping about 10 miles away from the border to avoid provocation, but ready to deal immediately with any attempt at Indian Air Force (IAF) intervention in the land battle. The plan was to withdraw the CAP by 1700 hours if the IAF had not reacted by then. Nur Khan, the PAF C-in-C, after assessing the situation through a reconnaissance mission of the battle area in an Army L-19 aircraft, decided to extend the CAP beyond 1700 hours. His decision was most timely, because he considered the Pakistani troops, tanks, guns and vehicles too temptingly exposed for the IAF to ignore for long. At 1720 hours, Army reported that IAF was indeed attacking the advancing Pakistani troops. Within minutes, Squadron Leader Sarfaraz Rafiqui and Flight Lieutenant Imtiaz Bhatti were scrambled from Sargodha and directed towards the enemy. In the ensuing dogfight, in plain sight of the Pakistani troops, the PAF duo made short work of the attacking IAF Vampire fighter aircraft and shot down four of them…..

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…Air Marshal Nur Kahn, returning from his visit to the battle front, landed at Sargodha, where he received the news of the PAF opening its account and the decisive initial victory achieved over the IAF. He congratulated in person the two PAF officers credited with drawing ‘first blood”. This overwhelming victory had several profound effects on the military situation. Unknown to the PAF, after losing an entire formation of four Vampires in the opening round, IAF ordered the immediate withdrawal of its entire fleet of 132 Vampires and 56 Ouragons considering them no match for PAF’s F-86 and F-104s.

The entire air battle had taken place in broad view of Pakistan Army, whose morale was raised pitch high at the prompt dispatch of its tormentors. Brigadier Amjad Chaudhry, the Artillery Commander of No 4 Corps wrote in a letter to the Air Chief, ‘Your very first action in Chamb left no doubt in our minds that we did not have to worry much about the enemy air. The pattern was set there and then. We will never forget that spectacle—it lifted our spirits and gave us a flying start’.”

SMH: If this was such a flying start, to shed light on why things went awry, permit me to quote from Brig Shaukat Qadir’s Op-Ed, ‘Why Pakistan Lost Akhnur?’[v]

“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 was to commence at 05 am on September 1, but was delayed by a day. It 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.'

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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.

Though the official reason for the change of command of Operation Grand Slam at this stage was that Akhtar Malik could not handle troops from Northern Areas to Kharian: that holds little credence since he was assigned the task knowing that he would be required to handle troops over this stretch.

Ayub has been accused of changing the command so that Yahya got the glory and could be appointed the next chief, but records indicate that this decision was taken by Musa and subsequently ratified through a signal by GHQ. Consequently, once again I am forced to speculate on the decision taken there to change the command of the offensive and hand it over to Yahya; and I can think of none except that Musa was annoyed at not having been kept informed and had been waiting a few hours.

Once contact had been established, he could well have received an update on the wireless, rather than waste precious time in ordering the successful commander back.

Whatever the reason for changing horses’ midstream, precious time was lost. It took time for Akhtar Malik to return, time for him to brief Yahya, time for Yahya to assume command, and time for him to understand the situation on ground, before issuing orders. Enough time for Akhnur to be reinforced and never again be attainable by Pakistani troops.

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! Perhaps. But that we will never know. What we do know is that Akhnur was never captured and this led us into the (Indian) attack on Lahore and later Sialkot in the wee hours of September 6 1965.”

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.

To be continued………

To read Part 2 click here.