DEFENCE NOTES

1965 War
Operation Gibraltar
Role of SSG Para Commandos

medhi

Col SG MEHDI, MC who commanded the SSG till just before the 1965 war, gives a fascinating account of SSG operations during the conflict

Mian Arshad Hussain, a former Foreign Minister of Pakistan 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 this 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.

1965 war
'Without deliberate intent'

In 1965, the Pakistan Army found itself at war with India without deliberate intent which achieved a measure of surprise....'This is the opening sentence of the foreword by General Zia-ul-Haq, written for The Pakistan Army, War 1965' compiled by Major General Shauket Riza from hundreds of interviews and documents.

General Mohammed Musa who commanded the Army in the 65 War, gives a graphic account of how the Indians surprised the GHQ, the C-in-C and the Supreme Commander Field Marshal Ayub Khan on September 6, 1965. Narrates Musa Khan 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 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'.

How did the GHQ
allow Indians to Achieve Surprise?

Let General Musa describe the genesis of the surprise' Indian attack on 6th September in his own words.

The then Foreign Minister Mr Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and the Foreign Secretary, Aziz Ahmed spurred on by Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik, who was commander of our troops in Azad Kashmir, pressed the Government to take advantage of the disturbed situation in the valley and direct the Army to send raiders into Indian held Kashmir for conducting guerrilla activities there and to help, on a long term basis, the locals in organising a movement with a view to eventually starting an uprising against the occupying power.

Continues the former C-in-C on page 6 of his book, the sponsors and supporters of the raids had at last succeeded in persuading the President to take the plunge that led to an all-out armed conflict with India' ....... To the extent that the concept of sending infiltrators in the Indian held Kashmir, code named Gibraltar' was the brain-child of the ministry of Foreign Affairs, is the simple truth and nothing but the truth. But General Musa, the C-in-C, assumed full responsibility for the development of the concept, its planning and coordination of the entire operation. This is graphically stated by him on page 35 of his book: After the Government finally decided that deep raids should be launched in Indian-held Kashmir, I directed Commander 12 Division, Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik, to prepare a draft plan for the operation, code-named Gibraltar' in consultation with GHQ and within the broad concept we had specified. GHQ approved it after making certain changes in it. With the help of sand model, he went over the final plan in Murree before it was put into effect on 7 August, 1965 under our overall control. The Supreme Commander and his Military Secretary were present. He also agreed with it. I was accompanied by the CGS (Major General Sher Bahadur) and the Directors of Military Operations and Intelligence (Brigadiers Gul Hasan and Irshad Ahmed Khan respectively). No civil official attended this briefing.

Broadly the plan envisaged, on a short-term basis, sabotage of military targets, disruptions of communications, etc. and, as a long-term measure, distribution of arms to the people of occupied Kashmir and initiation of a guerrilla movement there with a view to starting an uprising in the valley eventually. The push towards Akhnur was not part of it. However, it was considered as one of the likely operations that we might have to undertake, as we felt our activities would have an escalating effect.

When Akhtar Malik was pointing out on the sand model the various targets of the raiding parties of Gibraltar, the President did say why don't you go for Akhnur also? Akhtar Malik replied that, too, could be considered, but it was not raided because no Gibraltar force had been organised for that purpose.

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.

The simple truth emerging from the preceeding statement of General Musa is clear cut, in that, while the concept of Gibraltar' did originate from the ministry of Foreign Affairs, General Musa, whatever he might say after the event, went along with it in a half heartedly and non serious manner.

Operation Gibraltar and the SSG Involvement

This writer is a personal witness to the unfolding of this tragedy as I had the honour to command our Army's Corps de elite, the Special Service Group (SSG) at this critical juncture.

In late May 1965, I was directed by the Vice Chief of General Staff, (late Major General Abid Bilgrami) to go to Murree and see GOC 12 Division, Akhtar Hussian Malik. The GOC's briefing of the outline plan of Gibraltar operation left me stunned. The plan was so childish, so bizarre as to be unacceptable to logical, competent, professionally sound military persons anywhere in the world.

I frankly told General Akhtar Malik that the Operation was a non starter and that I would render the same advice to the Chief and Vice Chief of General Staff. At GHQ, the same day I briefed the CGS and VCGS, who listened to me patiently. The result of my presentation however was barren of the result. Major General Malik Sher Bahadur (The CGS), posed only one question. You (Mehdi) say that operation Gibraltar as planned stands no chance of succeeding, but Akhtar Malik (COG 12 Division) feels confident of its success. My reply to the Chief of the General Staff was that, the conflicting view point of Mehdi and Akhtar Malik not withstanding, as Chief of General Staff of Pakistan Army, he should also have an opinion on this important matter as we were not playing a peace time war game, but with the destiny of Pakistan itself. To this date I remember the reaction of the CGS. He went red right up to his ears, and after a painful pause got up, extended his hand to shake and brought the interview to an end with the remarks that it is always interesting to listen to you!!

Undaunted by the rebuff at Murree and later at the GHQ, I decided to reduce my arguments in writing, as to the reasons why Gibraltar shall fail. These, in brief, were:

1. No ground had been prepared before launching of the operation, in concert with people of the valley.

2. The raids were to be launched in total logistical vacuum relying exclusively of what the troops would carry in their packs or living off the countryside. Without any covert support across the Ceasefire Line, this living off the land proved fatal to the security of the guerrillas. Most of them were betrayed.

3. GHQ had mixed up classic guerrilla operations with Commandos raids.

4. All SSG and other officers, responsible for training and later leading groups across the ceasefire line were critical of the soundness of the plan, unsure of the means and uncertain of the end.

SSG records at Cherat shall substantiate the points made above

The simple truth emerging from the narrative is, that neither the C-in-C Army nor General Staff had the guts to stand up to the President, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, and tell him that his advisers in the ministry of Foreign Affairs supported by GOC 12 Division, Akhtar Malik were taking him on a long ride commencing with Gibraltar, leading to his downfall via Tashkent, as it eventually proved! The loser in the final analysis was Pakistan, described so feelingly by General K.M. Arif in an analysis carried by daily Dawn', 6th September 1990. How and why Pakistan blundered into war .......... At that time, the policy making in the country was highly personalised. The institutions were weak and by-passed. Pakistan's Foreign Office with Mr. Aziz Ahmed as the Foreign Secretary and Mr. Z.A. Bhutto as the Foreign Minister called the martial tunes. It had miscalculated that despite operation Gibraltar, the fighting was likely to remain confined inside the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Foreign Office is on record to have assessed that India was not in a position to risk a general war with Pakistan......for inexplicable reasons the General Headquarters based its operational plan in Kashmir on a wishful logic. The misplaced ego, the high ambition and the naive approach of a selected few plunged the country into an armed conflict. The outcome of the war, or the lack of it, eclipsed Ayub's position.

S.S.G. COMMANDO PARA DROPS

The 1965 War cannot be worthy of study unless the story of Pakistani commando drops on Adampur, Helwara and Pathankot air bases are briefly recounted. John Fricker calls this operation as an unmitigated disaster'. This operation conceived initially by PAF Chief who obtained the nod' of Ayub Khan in May/June 1965 while planning for operational contingencies in the event of an Indian aggression. Such advance operational planning is normal to all service HQ in peace time. GHQ passed the buck on to the commander of SSG- this writer. On being told by Vice Chief of General Staff Brigadier Bilgrami who had these instructions conveyed to him from Musa and Sher Bahadur the Chief of General Staff, I emphatically pointed out that the concept of operation was faulty as no raids of this nature, after the breakout of war, could have even a remote chance of success against fully alerted targets.

On my persistent refusal, GHQ told me that I should give my reasons for not undertaking the envisaged operation direct to the HQ, PAF. At a briefing arranged at SSG Parachute Training School at Peshawar in the presence of two senior officers of my command, Lt. Col. Abdul Matin, the Commander of No. 1 Commando Battalion, now retired and the brilliant Operations Staff Officer Maj. E. H. Dar, (Late Major General E. H. Dar) Air Force Chief were told that only a pre-emptive operation like the Israeli crippling raids against the front line Arab State's air bases as in 1956 Arab Israel War, could have probability of success. To this, the Air Chief observed that a decision to carry out pre-emptive operation as suggested could only be taken by the Government-meaning the President. Technically the observation made was correct but in that case the operation should have been based on the hypothesis of pre-emptive' alone. I had also objected to the para-commandos after being dropped, just left there in the void, in the heart of 100% hostile population with no equivalent of French Maquis to hide, feed and organise the escape of commandos.

That this was an unmitigated disaster from beginning to end is correct but for no fault of the brave band of commandos or their officers. I have already rendered a full account of this in my testimony to Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission, besides submission of a report to the Chief of General Staff and C-in-C in 1967.

Tribute

No objective study of this war would be complete without paying tribute to the great fighting spirit and unparalleled heroism of all ranks of the Pakistan Army, Navy and Air Force and notably of the SSG. The war of 1965 into which the country stumbled, with GHQ Surprised' and the army, its 25% of its strength still on leave, thus became a series of stray and isolated battles without any strategic concept and perspective. The Ghazis of the army, janbaz of the SSG, Shaheens of our Air force and Barbaroosas' of Pak Navy fought against the betrayal within and India's regimented hordes to an honourable draw. They also fought against international conspiracy of Anglo Saxon powers.

Conclusion

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 the criminal commission, the ignominy of 1971 could have been avoided.

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