By S M Hali
Editor's Note: This is the last part of the 6 part series. Its hoped the the readers must have enjoyed this very informative account of Operation Gibraltar narrated by those who were actually involved in the operation.
It is amply clear that not only was “Operation Gibraltar” an unmitigated disaster, but by hiding the muck under the carpet, the perpetrators of the ill planned operation were allowed to go scot free, the dissenters like Colonel Syed Ghaffar Mehdi paid heavily. 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.
To quote from Mr. Ikram Sehgal, Managing Editor Defence Journal’s Op-Ed of September 2004, “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’. to quote Gen Nawabzada Sher Ali Pataudi,’it (the war in 1965) lasted 17 days starting from the 6th of Sept 65 but in those 17 days the few final nails in the coffin of a united Pakistan had been driven’, unquote. 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’.
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!”
What is worse is the deliberate attempt to hide the facts.
General Arif reveals through his earlier mentioned book Khaki Shadows, “Pakistan suffered a loss of a different kind…Soon after the War the GHQ ordered all the formations and units of the Pakistan Army to destroy their respective war diaries and submit completed reports to this effect by a given date. This was done…Their [the war diaries’] destruction, a self-inflicted injury and an irreparable national loss, was intellectual suicide.”
Another suicidal aftermath of Operation Gibraltar, which came in 1999, thirty four years later was the Kargil misadventure. Pakistan launched infiltrators comprising “Mujahedeen” and regular soldiers on to the Kargil heights, to interdict and cut off the supply route to Siachen and force India to vacate it. The move backfired since the repercussions and exterior maneuver had not been thought through. India managed to mobilize international opinion in its favour. Pakistan was criticized by other countries for instigating the war. Pakistan's primary diplomatic response, one of plausible deniability linking the incursion to what it officially termed as "Kashmiri freedom fighters", was not successful and the country not only lost credibility, was termed as the aggressor but precious lives of soldiers were lost when Pakistan was ordered to withdraw the troops, who became targets of the Indian onslaught. If Operation Gibraltar had been critically analyzed, the fiasco would not have been repeated. Youngsters like Lehrasab Khan, who were baptized under fire and thrown to face the Indian wolves to stoke the fire, survived through their guts and sheer valour but many of comrades were sacrificed at the altar of ambition of a few Guderians, who should have been taken to task. An attempt has been made to bring to fore some of the untold stories not to lionize any individual but to bring out objective lessons. Suffice to conclude in the words of the then Air Chief:
“The performance of the Army did not match that of the PAF (Pakistani Air Force) mainly because the leadership was not as professional. They had planned the ‘Operation Gibraltar’ (infiltration into J&K) for self glory rather than in the national interest. It was a wrong war. And they misled the nation with a big lie that India rather than Pakistan had provoked the war and that we were the victim of Indian aggression.”
Colonel Mehdi may have been sidestepped by his own country but his military genius and qualities of head and heart were recognized by Iran. He was invited by the Government of Iran to serve as Military Adviser to the Iranian National Defence College as well as Iranian Staff College by General Feridoun Jam, head of the Iranian Imperial Army Corps from 1969 to 1971. His services in Iran were acknowledged by the Conferment of Nishan of the Iranian Armed Forces. The award was more than justified because the honourable Colonel Mehdi not only shared the intricacies of military strategy with senior officers of the Iranian armed forces but also advised his hosts against dubious defence purchases being pressed upon Iran by Britain and USA. Later in September-October 1985, he visited the Islamic Republic of Iran, on its Government's invitation and had the honour of being conferred upon Nishan of ALQUDS by the HQ of Ground Forces of the Islamic Republic in recognition of his unbiased reportage of the Gulf War in Pakistani National papers – both in English as well as in Urdu.
 Khan, Nur, Air Chief Marshal, Dawn, Karachi 6 Sep, 2005
The author, Group Captain Sultan Mahmood Hali, Sitara-i-Imtiaz (M), after an illustrious career in Pakistan Air Force, became a full time journalist. After achieving an M-Phil in Mass Communication and broadcast journalism courses from USA, is a regular columnist, analyst and hosts a talk show “Defence & Diplomacy” on PTV.