DEFENCE NOTES

GIBRALTAR-2

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Publisher and Managing Editor IKRAM SEHGAL writes this article for THE NATION from where we are re-producing with thanks

To quote Vegetius in the 4th century, 'Let him who desires peace, prepare for war'. Operation Gibraltar was one of the most brilliant operations ever planned. Maj Gen (later Lt Gen) Akhtar Hussain Malik, the GOC 12 Div then looking after Azad Kashmir, conceived of a plan in 1965 to infiltrate armed guerrilla bands into Indian-Held Kashmir and attack nodal points that would tie up the Indian Army and herald a full scale revolt in the valley. He was vociferously supported by the then Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the Foreign Secretary Aziz Ahmad, both of whom convinced President Ayub Khan that conditions were ripe for such an operation and since the war was localised in Kashmir, Indian troops would not cross the international border. 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 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.

No sane person likes war but when it is forced upon you then there is no option but to fight. The Indians have violated the Line of Control (LoC) in strength three times since 1972, when not counting the most visible incursion of Siachen in 1984. At each time our government was weak-kneed. The Indians decry the present Kargil operation as a result of incursion by 'Mujahideen' from the Pakistan side of the LoC, what about their war in Held-Kashmir for over 50 years? They have whipped up war hysteria within their country by repeated threats to Pakistan from the Indian President downwards. While shelling and indiscriminate firing all along the LoC they have moved troops all along the international border with Pakistan into a threatening posture. Short of declaring when they intend to attack Pakistan, they have virtually declared war. One result has been massive evacuation of civilians, particularly along the borders of Punjab. For weeks now, the Pakistan hierarchy has been 'keeping a cool head' as advised by our Chinese friends, but do we have any options left? Even though we have leaned over backwards, instead of reciprocating the Indian reaction has been far more negative than even anticipated by Pakistan. One may hate war but that should not stop one from preparing for war. Going by the Indian rhetoric and body language, war is imminent. Let us now be prepared to face it - and with optimism.

The Indians have a few options in a war scenario in an attack mode viz (1) at concerted places along the LoC (2) going for Lahore and Sialkot (3) in the desert near Rahimyar Khan or at Khokhrapar aimed at Hyderabad and (4) blockade Karachi. They could probably start with Option Four and it will escalate into war because such a blockade is by itself an 'act of war' made ambiguous in recent times by the actions of US and Allies against Iraq and Yugoslavia. While certainly we will suffer economic damage, our Armed Forces are far better equipped and have much more warning than in 1965. Even though we will be outnumbered and out-gunned our Armed Forces are far more capable of repelling aggressors than in 1965. In fact based on our strategy of offensive defence we are capable of carrying the fight into enemy territory. Unlike 1971, our Navy will not sit on it's hands in the face of an Indian blockade, the Indian Navy may have to pay an unacceptable price in the face of our sea-air counter campaign. Given that we can fight the Indians to a standstill along the international border, what about Kashmir?

In all our history there will not be a more golden opportunity than at the present time to settle the Kashmir issue once and for all. While we cannot want war, it would be criminally irresponsible not to take advantage of the situation if war is forced on us by India. And in the face of it we have to take their threats seriously. Let us go back to the fundamental criteria for Gibraltar which were ignored and which now exist, viz (1) conditions within Indian Held Kashmir now exist after a decade old internal revolt by Kashmiri Mujahideen (2) battle hardened Kashmiri Mujahideen now will form the core of the groups if allowed to cross over the LoC in strength (3) about 75,000-100,000 well trained battle hardened volunteer Afghan Mujahideen are only a day or two's drive away from the LoC and (4) hopefully, something like Operation Grand Slam, the end run to take Akhnur in 1965, will be attempted in strength at not one but over a dozen places with the Afghan Mujahideen to link up with the guerrillas within Indian Held Kashmir. If a few hundred men can isolate 3 Indian Divisions in Ladakh and Siachen by dominating of a road by fire, one leaves it to the imagination if a dozen guerrilla bands of brigade plus strength isolate the Indian Army in pockets within Kashmir. During the India-China war of 1962 this is exactly what the Chinese did, in NEFA, by the time they reached Foothills at the base of the Himalayas, the best part of an Indian Corps had disintegrated and surrendered, almost without fighting. We have no occasion to go to war but if the Indians persist, why should we turn the other cheek? Gibraltar-2 will not be like Gibraltar-1, if Gen Akhtar Malik had these conditions in 1965, Kashmir would have been free 34 years ago.

Nobody in his right mind wants war. But we are not talking about people with a desire to live but people like Thakre and Advani who have reached the age where they know that they have not much time in this world. What does it matter to them if hundreds of Indian soldiers have been killed trying to solve their ambitions. As much as one fears those in military power who have not tasted battle and are thus the most blood-thirsty about sending others to their death, one must be apprehensive of these 80 year-olds in charge in India today, facing a few years of life themselves they are least concerned about the future of their youth. If India decides on the war option, it would be a blessing in disguise for Pakistan but would India be able to stomach the loss of Kashmir which must come inevitably? With the nuclear button in the hands of such geriatrics, one has no illusion about what they would do in the face of defeat. Be rest assured, Pakistan will have no cause to use the nuclear option if we go to war but India will. As Marc Antony said in 'Julius Caesar' 'Cry Havoc and let slip the dogs of war', but one must quote Shakespeare in Henry the Fifth, 'In peace there is nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility; But when the blast of war blows in our ears, then initiate the action of the tiger: Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage' unquote. It is time the PM and the Government stopped turning the other cheek. We do not want war, but if the Indians are going to keep on trumpeting about distant drums, let the war drums start to beat on our side too.

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