Sunday, September 30, 2007, Ramzan 17, 1428 A.H. Editor-in-Chief: Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman 
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Opinion Archive
The News International Pakistan

 Operation Gibraltar revisited
By Kamal Matinuddin

One of the goals enshrined in the national aims and objectives of Pakistan is to strive for the right of self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The manner in which this aspect of the nation's aspiration is to be implemented has not been specified, thus leaving successive governments to achieve the goal, in keeping with the prevailing regional and international environment.

As the years rolled by it was becoming evident that the Indian leadership had no intention of agreeing to implement the UN resolutions on Kashmir. Nehru had gone back on his promise of holding a plebiscite in the state. In order to make certain that his successors do not barter away his ancestral home, he formally made Kashmir a part of the Indian Union.

The failed Bhutto-Swaran Singh talks of 1963 bore in their womb the seeds of the September War. The security environment was in Pakistan's favour. The Indian armed forces had withdrawn some of its formations from IHK to face the Chinese in the Himalayas, where they had suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the People's Liberation Army in 1962. These had still not been sent back to their original locations. The Indian military establishment was also in a state of rapid expansion, re-organisation and re-grouping. It was still not a well-oiled machine, as adequate training had not been imparted on the newly raised formations. Lt Gen P S Bhagat admitted that after 1962 India was difficult to rouse much less to fight. That being the impression it did not take too much persuasion for Field Marshal Ayub to chose the military alternative to solve the Kashmir question.

His confidence in the armed forces had increased because they had received state-of-the-art weapons after joining the US sponsored anti-Soviet military pacts. It had for the first time attained a qualitative edge over the Indian armed forces in tanks, guns and aircraft. The PAF was equipped with F 104s and supersonic Sabre jets and was more than a match for the IAF Gnats and Hunter aircraft. The Patton tanks and the 8-inch howitzers could out range and out manoeuvre the Indian armour and the Indian artillery.

Lal Bahadur Shastri, who had taken over as the new prime minister was, in the eyes of the Pakistani military leadership, a weak leader who was not expected to resort to an all out war if a conflict occurred in Kashmir alone. The brief sent to the president in early 1965 indicated that if Pakistan was to act it must do so now as the Pakistan armed forces, at this point of time, had an edge over the Indian armed forces in certain type of weapons. If we waited any longer India would regain its military superiority. When India did not enlarge the Rann of Kutch conflict Pakistan was encouraged to take the offensive in Kashmir in the expectation that the conflict will remain confined to the princely state.

Political matters were in Pakistan's favour. China's friendship with Pakistan was blossoming and it was openly supporting the right of the self-determination for the Kashmiris. It was, therefore, hoped that Peking would assist Pakistan in containing a fair amount of Indian forces in the Himalayas in the event of a war with Pakistan. Ayub had very good relations with the Shahinshah of Iran and the Turkish president.

Operation Gibraltar was preceded by Operation Nusrat, which was launched in July with the purpose of locating gaps in the cease-fire line (CFL) and finding out crossing places for the mujahideen. It was also meant to assess the reaction of the Indian army and the response of the local population.

The main purpose of Operation Gibraltar was to shatter the status quo on the cease-fire line (C F L); to de-freeze the Kashmir issue; compel India to come to the negotiating table and be willing to enter into meaningful talks about the future status of Kashmir.

Lt. Gen Kaul acknowledged that the guerrillas did succeed in carrying out many acts of sabotage. One group even reached close to Srinagar. The Indians reacted with force. They close the infiltration routes and reinforce their forces in IHK by sending another two divisions into the area. They attacked and captured Kargil and Haji Pir pass and linked Uri with Poonch, thus cutting off the Bedori Bulge. They were now becoming a threat to Muzaffarabad.

Not enough preparations was done to assess the response of the locals, most of whom were found to be unwilling to risk their lives by supporting the raiders, who are likely to go back leaving them under the mercy of the Indian forces. Secrecy of the operation could not be ensured, as there were double agents, which informed the Indians of the plan of operation. Surprise in most cases was, therefore, lost. The infiltration force was not large enough to make a serious impact on the Indian armed forces nor was it found possible to sustain them logistically for a sufficiently long period of time. No one area was liberated and brought under control of the mujahids, from where guerrilla operation could be effectively continued. The Indian reaction was not fully appreciated. The reports given by the groups, which had infiltrated was highly exaggerated.

Something had to be done to retrieve the prestige of the Pakistani planners. Pakistan then decided to launch Operation Grand Slam in order to relieve pressure against Azad Kashmir. The military objective was to seize the Akhnur Bridge and cut off the Indian line of communications to the rest of Kashmir.

The concept of Operation Grand Slam was excellent. The area chosen was a vital sector of the Indian defences in the whole of Jammu and Kashmir. It was directed at the jugular vein of the Indian forces in Kashmir. The terrain was suitable for armour operations. The river Chenab provided protection on the right flank. The Kalidar range gave some protection from the left. There was no major water obstacle, which could delay the advance beyond the river Tawi. The Munawwar Tawi was formidable at several places. The Indian initially had one beefed up brigade in the area.

However, the change of command in midstream and a delay of one day to consolidate the gains of the previous days gave time to the Indians to strengthen their positions at Akhnur. Even then 7 Infantry Division came to within six miles of their objective. There was panic in the city. The civilians were feeling the town. The Pakistan army was on the verge of creating history, as the fall of Akhnur would have isolated the Indian forces in Kashmir. General Yahya was about to make his Grand Slam but the joker in the pack was with Lal Bahadur Shastri. He played it just when the game was going to be up. And saved a humiliating defeat.

Unlike staff college exercises, where there is a controlled enemy, Pakistan was facing a live adversary, which had its own plans. India widened the conflict and invaded Pakistan on September 6. The consequences of Operation Gibraltar were that both countries went to a war, which neither of them had wanted. Territories captured were returned after the cease-fire and neither of the two neighbours derived any political benefit from their military adventure in 1965.

The writer is a retired lieutenant-general and a former director-general of the Institute of Strategic Studies

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