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Lahore and after

By Brigadier (retd) Shaukat Qadir
September 13, 2005 21:20 IST
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In the concluding part of his series on the 1965 war, retired Pakistan Brigadier Shaukat Qadir looks at the battle in the Lahore sector, and the opportunities that both India and Pakistan failed to capitalise on.

Part I: Operation Gibraltar
Part II: Operation Grand Slam
Part III: The Sialkot Sector
The 1965 War, 40 Years On

Having discussed the Sialkot operation, we are aware that Sialkot was the main effort of the Indian Army and Lahore the secondary one.

Apart from the successful diversionary attack at Jasser, the secondary attack preceded the main attack by 24 hours, probably intended to divert our reserves in that direction to allow the main effort a free run.

Lahore cantonment hosted two divisions in those days. The original division, which I will refer to as the Lahore division, was being commanded by Major General Sarfraz Khan and was actually responsible for the defense of Lahore. The other had been recently raised under the command of Major General Hameed and had been given dual tasks of defense and offense at Kasur. I will refer to it as the Kasur division.

Since GHQ had not given firm instructions to formations and had left it to them to take precautionary measures, both these divisions took actions as they thought fit. The Lahore division had deployed some of its artillery and troops as early as September 3.

On the evening of September 5 some representatives of the International Aid Agency came by road from India across Wagah and were to dine with Sarfraz. They had been brought in three Indian army jeeps. After dropping them, one of the drivers made some excuse to return and the other two jumped into his jeep to return to India. Perhaps they were intended to report on our deployment and, perhaps their sudden departure warned Sarfraz; whatever the reason, he ordered deployment that very night.

Consequently, the Lahore division was almost prepared and in position when the attack broke in the early hours of September 6.

The Kasur division, on the other hand, had deployed some of its elements as a precautionary step by September 4, and had also moved some of its elements to forward concentration area including the division HQ, but a fair portion of the division was still in Lahore. Consequently, when battle commenced, some of the troops were doing physical training when they were ordered to mobilise for battle locations!

Fortunately, the Lahore division was facing the brunt of the Indian attack and the overflow into the area of the Kasur division was within the capability of the troops already deployed. Although an Indian division was supposed to attack Kasur, but the attack was sufficiently delayed that the division was prepared for it and, in fact, preempted it.

Amongst the hastily prepared contingency plans was an offensive by our armored division from Kasur towards Jandiala Guru, a distance of about sixty miles: a bold, ambitious plan, which could have had greater chances of success if the Indians were allowed to penetrate a little deeper into our territory, leaving a relative vacuum for this division to exploit.

However the orders to the defensive formations were that no penetration was to be allowed. Consequently, while the Indian offensive continued to make some headway, but it was neither very deep, nor threatening Lahore, even though All India Radio and the BBC announced on the evening of September 6th that Indian troops had entered Lahore.

An armored division is a massive formation with over 2,000 vehicles. If it has to cross an obstacle like a canal, it needs more than one bridge, or it will consume an inordinate period of time. The Kasur division managed to attack, capture Hussainiwala Headworks and establish a bridgehead during the night of September 6/7, but it was not a very large bridgehead.

During the day, one of the brigades of our armored division managed to partially cross over and expand the bridgehead. Since the activities of the three formations here, two infantry divisions and an armored division were totally uncoordinated, without the benefit of a corps HQ, the confusion continued to be compounded. Apart from vying for road space and priority of movement, no one seemed aware of what each formation was up to.

Therefore, the armored division which was supposed to concentrate by nightfall September 7, continued to be delayed. During the night of September 7/8 another brigade of the armored division managed to cross over, but it was to take another twenty four hours before the entire division managed to get across.

General J N Chaudhry, the C-in-C Indian army at that time, records in his memoirs that when he learnt of the crossing of the Pakistani armored division on the morning of September 7, he almost decided to call off the offensive, but then thought he would await developments for 24 hours.

The direction of this operation threatened the rear of the Indian secondary effort at Lahore and the lines of communication of the Indian main effort at Sialkot. In conception a plan that could be considered flawless in terms of operational strategy.

But bold plans need bold commanders to execute them, and somebody needs to see to logistic and support details that can make them successful. The GOC of the armored division was Major General Nasir Ahmed, an infantry officer with little understanding of handling mechanized forces. Apart from the fact that it took three days to cross over -- during which a large number of vehicles and tanks remained exposed to enemy aircraft, parked in the bridgehead as if they were parked outside a cinema hall, which took considerable toll--not enough dynamism was injected into the operation. It remained static, once again giving the Indians enough time to regroup.

Two things that Nasir was certain of was that tanks withdrew to leaguer at night and, when faced with anti tank weapons needed infantry to take the position before they resumed advance; he was unaware of concepts of maneuverability, or bypassing opposition to threaten its rear.

Consequently, when the division advanced, it went seven kilometers forward, before withdrawing three to leaguer! There were also other difficulties, the American tanks recently inducted were too heavy and would bog down where the water table was high.

Meantime the Indians strengthened their defenses to protect their rear and released water along the line of advance of the armored division. Not only did the operation fizzle out, we left behind a large number of tanks totally intact, which the Indians paraded before us, to our shame after the war was over. The battle of Lahore too was far from over, but we can omit further details. However, it would be inappropriate not to mention that it was in defense of Lahore that Major Aziz Bhatti was posthumously awarded the Nishan-e-Haider.

A Brief Analysis

Before beginning my analysis I wish to point out that I have only mentioned the courage of some in passing. This is not because there were not many instances of individual courage. In fact there were so many tales of moving courage that they could fill a book, but I have stuck to attempting to present an overview and therefore, only those instances of individual courage germane to the story have merited mention.

To begin with, the reason for initiating conflict in the aftermath of a peaceful solution to the Rann of Kutch conflict, conscious of the possible diplomatic risks involved in initiating it, remains difficult to comprehend. These reasons must have been singularly compelling to force undertaking Operation Gibralter in such haste, without preparation, with insufficient information, based on a militarily untenable premise that the Indian response would be confined to Kashmir.

There is little doubt of the fact that it was doomed to failure. Nonetheless, those who conceived this operation had not even considered the possibility of its failure, or prepared contingencies for such an eventuality. That it resulted in thinning troops from an already overstretched deployment, which resulted, on the failure of the operation, in loss of a number of posts, some of them key ones, never to be regained by us, was also never considered.

Operation Grand Slam prepared as one of the contingencies to support the success of Gibraltar, had to be resorted to, so as to relieve pressure on the troops defending Kashmir. It was entrusted to, arguably, the only GOC of the time with the qualities to succeed.

This was done despite the fact that he was commanding the division defending Kashmir and Northern Areas, for reasons that we can but conjecture. Having done so, within hours of his unexpectedly swift success in completing the first two phases of the attack, when he was within sight of Akhnur, the command was inexplicably changed.

The ostensible reason for this change was that he could not command his division and this offensive simultaneously. Since he was given the command of this offensive knowing that he would have to command both, this reason is untenable, and we must again conjecture as to why. Whether or not Akhtar Malik would have been able to get to Akhnur and then Rajauri, we will never know, but enough precious time was lost in this change of command to make it impossible to get there, thereafter.

While the "ifs" of events are always guesses, but if Rajauri, or even Akhnur had fallen, military sense suggests that it would have been exceedingly risky for the Indians to undertake an offensive in Sialkot, with troops threatening their rear.

>In Sialkot, the division led by an incompetent brigadier under probation was subjected to chaos, but this chaos was to be the cause of our success. While the Indian armored division advanced slower than a snail, probably influenced by the knowledge that copies of their orders had been captured by us, they felt they were being lured into a trap, the armored unit that was to be defending the area of Phillaurah-Chawinda-Pasrur had been sent post haste to react to a successful Indian diversionary attack on Jasser Bridge and, only on commencement of the Indian offensive was ordered back.

Since the armored regiment was returning from that direction it came up on the flank of the advancing Indians, thus inflicting heavy casualties, saving Sialkot division and convincing the Indian armored division that they had indeed been lured in.

In Lahore, for some inexplicable reason Major General Sarfraz ordered his division to move in to battle positions on the night of September 5/6, saving us from embarrassment. Sufficient elements of the Kasur division were also in location to prevent the Indians from overrunning the defenses. The Kasur division managed to make a bridgehead at Khem Karan and despite the confusion and lack of coordination between the forces in Lahore, caused by the lack of a corps or coordinating HQ, the armored division managed to cross over by the morning of September 9.

However, due to the lack of imagination and incompetence of its commander could not make headway: thus rendering another imaginative maneuver, a failure.

The war from both sides reads like a comedy of errors. Both sides had opportunities they failed to capitalize on. Both sides enjoyed unexpected successes; India with the diversionary attack at Jasser, and Pakistan, both in crossing Tawi and in approaching the advancing Indian armored division from a flank. The last resulting from the divisional commander's ineptitude, but this was the only advantage fully exploited by either side, because it was offered at a tactical level to officers who had not yet lost their initiative.

From my perspective this is the single most important aspect of the conduct of this war. This war took place at a time when the commanders on neither side had much exposure to learning operational strategy, and exploiting fleeting opportunities.

Thus, with the exception of people like Akhtar Malik, senior commanders followed the letter of each book, rather than its spirit, but mid ranking and junior officers were well exposed to, and understood the exploitation of fleeting tactical opportunities, though in this case, the tactical opportunity produced strategic results.

In conclusion, let me add that while my story has focused on the land operations, but both the navy and the air force made remarkable contributions to this war, specially the PAF.

For fighter planes, relying almost exclusively on virtually obsolescent F-86s, which had been found wanting against MIG-19s by the American pilots in the Korean War, trusting their superior training and maintenance, the PAF out-flew and out-fought the IAF who had not only MIG-19s, but also MIG-21s and even MIG-23s.

Without the remarkable success of the PAF, the blundering land forces could not even have forced the stalemate that they finally managed.

This series was originally carried in the Daily Times, Lahore, and has been reprinted with the author's permission.

Next: Major General Afsir Karim (retd) on Operation Gibraltar

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Brigadier (retd) Shaukat Qadir