By S M Hali
SMH: Where did you go from Cherat?
CM: “I was posted out of the Command of the SSG on 30 August 1965 for telling the GHQ that in permitting to launch the half-cooked ‘Operation Gibraltar’, Pakistan was repeating its ‘Bay of Pigs’. I was moved 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 other Brigade Commanders) saw the point and accepted my recommendation to move all troops to their battle locations.”
SMH: General Musa says that the Indians surprised us by their attack on 6 September. Hamid Khan, in his book The Constitutional and Political History of Pakistan says: “When India attacked Pakistan, the man most surprised was Ayub. His surprise was shared by the Commander-in-chief of the Pakistan Army. They had been assured by Bhutto, Foreign Minister, and Aziz Ahmed, Foreign Secretary, that India would not cross international borders to attack Pakistan. They had even suppressed a message from Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi sent through the Turkish Embassy to the Foreign Office in Islamabad that India was planning an attack on Pakistan’s territory on 6 September. Ayub was woken up at 4 o clock in the morning on 6 September and given the news of Indian advance towards Lahore. He telephoned General Musa, Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Army, who said that he had also heard the news but was waiting for confirmation. All this badly exposed the military genius of Ayub and his army chief.”[i]
CM: on September 3, 1965 a patrol of five SSG personnel I had requested for, ventured across the Line of Control and captured an Indian dispatch rider who was carrying the comprehensive orders of Indian 1 Armored Division for the Indian offensive. I immediately dispatched our findings summarily to MI HQ at GHQ via an Army Cessna L19, but it was dismissed as an Indian deception and plant and we continued to imagine the 1st Armoured Division to be at another location entirely. Nobody believed it: numerous examples of disinformation were cited, like the 'dead soldier' found by German troops during the Second World War who was also found carrying the complete orders for war providing the wrong location of the second front about to be opened.
While intelligence assessments are hardly to be blamed in such a situation, whichever conclusion they arrive at, GHQ's decision not to order precautionary deployment defies understanding. It was left to formations to take 'precautionary measures.' I am satisfied that I strongly stood my ground for the deployment of 15 Div to battle location.
When General Musa says he was surprised by the massive Indian offensive towards Lahore and Sialkot on September 6th, then it is inexcusable. The guarantee by the Foreign Office that India would not dare to conduct a full scale attack was a civilian opinion. As military commanders, Ayub and Musa should have taken all contingencies into consideration, including that of a full scale war. 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”. It was a gross misconception and miscalculation of the operating factors which sent the Pakistan Army into battle on Sept 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 for nearly a week, involving large formations of armour, infantry and artillery. Under the circumstances, it was Pakistan that was caught napping.
Musa Khan narrates on page 48 of his book My Version: “India launched her ignominious, undeclared and blatant aggression on our homeland at about 0330 hours on 6 September. The Supreme Commander was informed about the invasion by Air Commander (perhaps he means Air Commodore or Wing Commander) Akhtar of the Pakistan Air Force, who was on duty at the Air Defence Headquarters at Rawalpindi on night of 5/6 September. Indian troop movements across the frontier had been reported to him by the border posts of the PAF Wireless Observer wing. The President then rang me up to ascertain whether or not GHQ had received any information about the Indian attack and the whereabouts of the field army that morning.”
General K. M. Arif, in his biography “Khaki Shadows: Pakistan 1947-97”, writes “It is amply clear, though, that all prudent civil-military mechanisms of defense strategy and policy planning were bypassed in the pre-planning of Operation Grand Slam. The Defense Committee of the Cabinet (DCC)—the apex defense policy making body of the country—did not even meet prior to or during the war. The Defense Services Chiefs Committee (DSCC) which comprises the three services chiefs and is required to approve all military plans was never even informed about the existence of the plan. The air and naval chiefs deeply resented the fact that they were not taken into confidence.”[ii]
As far as the advance warning coming through our High Commission in New Delhi is concerned, Mian Arshad Hussain, a former Foreign Minister of Pakistan (April 25, 1968-April 4, 1969) had demanded a judicial probe in the events leading to the 1965 war. On Oct. 23, 1977, Mian Sahib addressed the nation through a statement released to the Pakistan Times, Lahore. I quote:
“Following Col. Mehdi's articles on the 1965 war, there has been an expression of interest in this momentous event as can be seen from the letters which appeared in these columns. In my opinion, the 1965 war bred the 1971 war and is thus an important contributory cause of the latter and the tragic events that have followed the conflict. Is it not time that a full-fledged inquiry was held into the causes, the conduct and the consequences of 1965 war?”
Mian Arshad Hussain had excellent reasons to demand a probe into the concept, conduct and consequences of 1965 war' as he was Pakistan's High Commissioner at Delhi during that fateful period. He sent a warning on 4th September 1965 to the foreign office of Pakistan through Turkish Embassy that the Indians were planning to attack Pakistan, on 6th September. Mr. Aziz Ahmed, Pakistan's Foreign Secretary through a press statement acknowledged that such a warning was indeed received by the Foreign Office. But the debate on this warning issue' remained inconclusive, in that Aziz Ahmed maintained that the warning was received two days after war had already started! Only probe by a high powered judicial commission can separate shadows from the substance.
Lieutenant Lehrasab Khan’s Account:
Any discussion on Operation Gibraltar would be incomplete without taking into account the version by an actual participant of the
“Gibraltar Force”. I have taken the liberty of referring to the Managing Editor of Defence Journal’s another inspiring piece on the subject titled ‘Gibraltar-2’, published in the October 1999 issue, coming at the heels of the ill-fated Kargil debacle. His comments provided me with a clue thus I quote: “While Akhtar Malik was a brilliant tactician with impeccable motivation, both Bhutto and Aziz Ahmad were embarked on a 'heads I win, tails you lose' option. If the operation (code-named Operation GIBRALTAR) succeeded they would get the credit, if it didn't the discredit and the damage would be to the account of the Armed Forces, a sure way of bringing them to heel as they did manage to do later. A mixture of volunteers from the Army, mainly those belonging to Azad Kashmir and fresh recruits from our side of the Cease-Fire Line (CFL) in Kashmir were hurriedly trained and launched into the valley in late July/early August 1965. While the operation failed despite the bravery and courage of the participants, among them some of the finest soldiers produced by the Pakistan Army, Lt Gen (Retd) Lehrasab Khan, presently Federal Secretary Defence Production (in October 1999) and Col Iqbal, presently Director Education Defence Housing Authority, Karachi, then young lieutenants, the operation eventually led to war on September 6, 1965. The Indians in a well planned but horribly executed operation to relieve the pressure on the Kashmir choke point of Akhnur crossed the international border at Lahore and Sialkot in what was to be a lightning operation. Pakistan fought the Indians to a standstill, even gaining ground in many places. For the first time graduates of the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) saw large-scale military operations as young officers. However, Operation Gibraltar, named for the rock where Tariq had burned his boats so that there was no going back when the Muslims first entered Spain failed, mainly because, viz (1) conditions within Indian Held Kashmir were not conducive (2) major percentage of the personnel of the guerrilla bands were neither well trained enough nor battle-hardened and (3) there was no plan to support them with attack by either a main force or even a logistics replenishment. Outnumbered, out-gunned, lacking proper information and local intelligence or support, the remnants were either killed or captured. Very few made it back, it is not fashionable today to speak about their heroics, in the annals of war they do not exist.” Unquote.
The above quoted article prompted me to locate Lieutenant General Lehrasab Khan (Retd.) and obtain his views on the subject as he perceived the action as an active participant in “Operation Gibraltar” in 1965, albeit as a raw Lieutenant but baptized under fire and soon battle-hardened. The interview with Lieutenant General Lehrasab Khan (Retd.) took place at Rawalpindi at his residence, where he had taken time off from his current passion and full time voluntary occupation of establishing and now managing Cadet College Jajja, which is the project of Al-Noor Welfare Trust where future leaders are being taught and groomed to serve humanity and the armed forces of Pakistan. A highly decorated officer [Hilal-e-Imtiaz (M), Sitara-e-Jurat (SJ) and Sitara-e-Basalat], who has seen action from close quarters, participating in Operation Gibraltar and 1965 and 1971 Pak-India Wars. In the former he was recommended for SJ while in the latter, he saw near death during the mutiny by Bengali officers in East Pakistan, fought bravely to quell the insurgency as well as keep the Indians at bay, got wounded, was evacuated miraculously and was conferred upon with the coveted SJ for his unparalleled valour. In the nineteen nineties General Lehrasab saw action of a different kind; as GOC Hyderabad Major General Lehrasab Khan combated and took up the cudgels against Sind’s notorious dacoits, who were on the rampage in the interior in 1992 and later as Corp Commander V Corps, from 1994 to 1997, Lieutenant General Lehrasab Khan took the unique initiative of recommending that regular troops be pulled out from urban area operations against hardcore militants in Karachi and reorganize para-military Rangers and Police in a devastating counter-urban guerrilla campaign to decimate the miscreants. As Secretary Defence Production Division, he provided yeoman service and now with his philanthropic work, he is winning the hearts and minds of the youth by providing them excellent education and vocational training even to girls, the neglected gender in Pakistan, especially in the lower strata of society.
Lieutenant General Lahrasab was willing to speak to me with candour regarding Operation Gibraltar but insisted that I should not glorify him in any way but present the facts as they occurred and he witnessed. His account and his humility are so fascinating that if it appears that in narrating his untold story, I have been carried away, I render my apologies in advance. I sat through three hours of the discourse with Lieutenant General Lehrasab, listening to his version spellbound, pausing only to type on my laptop. I have sacrificed brevity to capture maximum details to enable the readers to share this captivating and at times painful episode of our military history, coming as a first person account. Here are some extracts from the interview.
SMH: Sir when were you deployed for Operation Gibraltar?
General Lehrasab Khan (GLK): I got commissioned on 21 April 1963 and was posted to 1 East Bengal Regiment and joined my unit on 1 May 1963 at Comilla in East Pakistan. At the end of 1963, my unit moved to Bannu and after a year, 1 East Bengal Regiment moved to Lahore. With the March/April 1965 Indo-Pak skirmish at Rann of Kutch and activation of the Cease Fire Line (CFL), which is now known as the Line of Control (LoC), and general mobilization and deployments along the international border, 1 East Bengal Regiment was moved to its wartime area of responsibility in Kasur Sector. I was by then serving as a company officer in the rank of Lieutenant. I was detailed for a course at the Army School of Infantry and Tactics at Quetta. On 10 August 1965, I was informed via telephone regarding my immediate posting and ordered to report to the General Headquarters (GHQ) at Rawalpindi, Adjutant General’s Branch (AG-5). I was a little taken aback and upset that what a mere Lieutenant would do at GHQ and with war clouds gathering, I wanted to be where the action was. I did not know then what was in store for me. My unit was then deployed between Bedian and Punnuan village in the Lahore Sector. On 11 August, I was immediately dined-out and given a jeep for my onwards journey to Rawalpindi next morning via Lahore. Enroute from Bedian to Lahore, I was informed that the orders were changed and instead of GHQ, I should report to Headquarters 12 Div at Murree. (The plot was thickening!)
By the time I reached Murree, it was evening, after reporting to the Assistant Adjutant and Quarter Master General at the 12 Div Headquarters, I was put up in the officers mess and asked to report the next morning to the AQ’s office for an interview with the GOC 12 Div, Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik. I was thrilled that a junior Lieutenant like me would be interviewed by the GOC himself. While I was getting into bed, I was informed to go to Mall road and get myself photographed and bring the photos the next day for my interview. The Mall Murree had closed down but I got a shop opened, and did the needful. Next morning, was Sunday, but I was directed to be in AQ’s office at 11 am.
SMH: How were you selected for the participation?
GLK: I will just explain. The next morning, I reported to the AQ, who politely welcomed me and seated me to wait for the arrival of the GOC. As a young officer, I felt elevated that the GOC will meet me. Just then Gen Akhtar Malik walked in directly to the AQ’s office and greeted me: “Bravo! The Mujahid is here!” Adding that “you have been selected on merit.” He was accompanied by Brigadier Ishaq, then Brigade (Bde) Commander Rawalakot. The GOC, in his chirpy style continued: “You will have the honour to infiltrate enemy territory with good troops.”
That was the first time that I learnt of my mission and that I had been posted to 10 Azad Kashmir Regiment. That was the end of the impromptu interview as the GOC walked out of the AQ’s office saying that Brig Ishaq would brief me further. The Brigadier directed me to report to the Bde Headquarters at Rawalakot and travel light. I asked him how I would get to Rawalakot; I had never been to these parts before. By then it was midday and Brig Ishaq gave me the option to travel via Kohala Bridge or via Kahuta/ Palandri. Now that I had some inkling of my mission, I asked permission to travel via Rawalpindi to get some suitable clothes and dump my extra baggage with my brother. At Rawalpindi, I purchased militia cloth to get two suits stitched; since I had to pose as a Mujahid for my forthcoming mission. I then set course and reached Azad Pattan, and ultimately reached Rawalakot at 4 am and went straight to the mess, where I saw the Bde Commander and other officers listening to qawwali. They welcomed me and said they were waiting for me and we moved for dinner at 4 am. After dinner I was told to report to the Bde Major (BM) the next morning at 10 am.
SMH: What kind of qawwali were they rendering?
GLK: It was an ongoing qawwali in which the shaheeds in the Kashmiri struggle and Operation Gibraltar were being eulogized. Each time the news of a fresh shahadat was received, that person’s name was added to the list, while the qawwali continued incessantly.
SMH: So what kind of briefing you received the next morning?
GLK: I reported to Major Manazar Hussain, the BM at his office at 10 AM on 15 August 1965. He had a large map pasted on the wall, on which he explained the route I had to follow to reach 10 Azad Kashmir Regiment Rear Headquarters (HQs) at Bandi Abbaspur, from where my new unit would be tasked to move inside Indian Held Kashmir (IHK). The unit was presently concentrated in Hillan Shumali.
Since I had never been to the mountainous area of Kashmir I asked the BM for a set of maps to enable me to reach the Battalion (Bn) HQs. The BM very politely declined my request for the luxury of a map. As for my question regarding the means of travel, I was told that I was a Mujahid and had to walk most of the way.
SMH: So how did you reach the Bn HQs?
GLK: At about 10:30, I was handed over to Major Khazeem Shah, a retired Army officer, who had settled down in AK and had even married locally. He took me to the Officer Commanding Rear Party of 10 Azad Kashmir Regiment Major Shah via a ¾ Ton vehicle, reaching Bandi Abbaspur at 14:30 hours. Now I had to make arrangements for my militia suit to adopt the style of a true Mujahid. I thought of one of my class fellows at Government College Rawalpindi, Mr. Akbar, a local. I was told that he was out of town but his brother Mr. Ayub came to meet me at HQ 10 AK. He solved my problem and got the Militia suit stitched on emergency basis, since I had to depart at midnight for 10 AK Hillan Shumali. I handed over my remaining belongings to Major Shah for onwards dispatch to my home in Rawalpindi. I was issued a Rucksack, a sten gun, 200 x rounds, a blanket, Rs 5,000/- Indian currency and Rs. 5,000/- Pakistani currency by the Officer Commanding rear party 10 AK Regiment. At that time my new unit was in Hillan Shumali, the last village this side of the Cease Fire Line (CFL) and was poised to move into IHK.
On 16 August 1965, having had the experience of climbing only Hazara Hills during training at PMA, I set off on foot with one Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) and a local porter for Hillan Shumali. Due to my inexperience and lack of acclimatization, I set off on my new mission of trying to fight a guerrilla war in enemy territory and began climbing the mountain vertically upwards. The guide was of little help and we were soon exhausted. Around midway we came across a woman cutting grass and asked her for water. She took us to her hut and offered us lassi, which was a luxury despite the unhygienic container it was served in. We crossed Chirikot, Palangi and reached Forward Kahuta at night where we spent the night and I had the comfort of sleeping on a bedding and blanket. The next morning, I tied my bed-sheet as a turban around my head, when an old man presented me with a stout stick. In my ignorance I had not brought one but realized its usefulness in climbing mountains.
We resumed our onwards journey on 17 August early morning, crossed Chanjal and reached Kailer at midday and reached Hillan Shumali after Isha prayers. The guide took me to a house to meet my new unit the “Zinda Dils,” where I met my Commanding Officer (CO), Lieutenant Colonel Arem Khan Effendi from Swat, and two other Company Commanders. After walking/climbing for two continuous days, I was exhausted so they gave me a charpoy to rest but I wanted to orientate myself with my Company and the Bn’s Mission.
SMH: What was the composition of the deployment?
GLK: I am coming to that. Late at night I met my Company Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) Subedar Jan Muhammad, who informed me that the strength of the company is 145 in addition to 70 porters. The mission of the Bn was “go to Dogi, cross Pir Panjal from Neel Kanth Gali and be on other side and join the Gibraltar Force already operating in the area.” The handpicked individuals of the battalion at that time had gone with Nusrat Force under command Major Rehmat Ali (Second-in-Command 10 Azad Kashmir Regiment) in IHK. Therefore the deficiency was made up by Mujahids who were given 8 weeks rigorous training and wore dark green shalwar kameez and PT shoes. There were four companies in the Bn, Alpha was commanded by Captain Aslam, Bravo by Major Zafar, an Engineer from AK, I was commanding Charlie Company (coy) and Delta Company was under Lieutenant Zulfiqar Ali Shah. Charlie and Delta coys were to operate in tandem, which suited me since Zulfiqar Shah and I were close friends and were destined for much action, which I will subsequently describe.
SMH: Did you receive any special training/briefing prior to being launched?
GLK: None whatsoever!
SMH: How did the operations unfold in your area of deployment?
GLK: Before we finally hit the sack, we were informed by the Adjutant that the next morning we had to go for reconnaissance (recce) with the CO to Dogi Forest. The next morning, on 18 August at 0800 hours, the recce party along with a strong protection party left for Dogi. The party comprised the CO, all available officers and JCOs. The CO had two ponies, a substitute for the CO’s jeep. The recce party reached Dogi by midday and after staying there for a while, moved back. On the way back, I was offered the pony ride by the CO. Despite my hesitance, since I was the junior most officer, the CO kept insisting, so I accepted the offer. We returned to Hillan Shumali late at night. Before retiring, I was summoned by the CO and ordered to take my coy to Dogi Forest the next morning and secure it as a firm base while the Bn would follow in a few hours. It then dawned on me why I was being offered the luxury of the pony ride by the CO.
Next morning, on 19 August, I moved C-company to Dogi Forest and deployed my men in a linear all round defensive position and established my command post in the centre under a tree. My task was to secure Dogi Forest to ensure that it serves as a hideout for the whole battalion for further operations. We kept waiting for the Bn to arrive, which it finally did after three days, just when our ration of chana and gur was running out. Fatigue finally caught up with me and I fell sick. I had secured a camouflaged lean-to under a Thum tree, which was serving as a command post. One had to crawl in and out of my hideout. As I lay there burning in fever, I heard Lieutenant Zulfiqar calling me by name. We had not met for quite some time and he had not arrived at Hillan Shumali, till I left. He could not see me because of the hideout. So I called out to him “this is guerrilla war and you will have to crawl on your knees”. We both laughed spontaneously and I guided him to climb into my lean-to. We were delighted to meet and be together. I forgot my fever and we had tea, celebrating his joining the Zinda Dils in Dogi Forest. This was perhaps our last instance of frivolity as further events will indicate.
The mission was not fun and games, besides the danger of Indian forces, Lieutenant Zulfiqar had a narrow miss when a leopard appeared suddenly while he was taking a bath in a nullah near the hideout. He was saved by sheer luck.
To be continued…….