In 1965 I was deputy secretary (budget and planning) in the Ministry of Defence. It was a Sunday evening in June, shortly after the Rann of Kutch clashes. I was returning from a visit to one of the Sainik Schools — I was the honorary secretary of the Sainik Schools society — when I met M.M. Hooja, then joint director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), at Delhi’s Palam airport.
I had known Hooja in my earlier post as deputy secretary (joint intelligence organisation) and member of the Joint Intelligence Committee. He offered to drop me home and, in the car, told me IB had intelligence that Pakistan had raised a second armoured division by cheating the Americans. Though the army had been told, it had refused to accept this.
I asked him to communicate this in writing to enable me to bring it to the defence minister’s notice. The next morning I received a top-secret letter from K. Sankaran Nair, deputy-director, IB.
The defence secretary, P.V.R. Rao, was on four months leave. The secretary-in-charge was a new man, A.D. Pandit. I handed over the letter to H.C. Sarin, secretary (defence production), who enjoyed the confidence of the defence minister, Y.B. Chavan. He gave it to the minister for discussion in his daily morning meeting.
When the minister raised the issue, the army chief, General J.N. Chaudhuri argued, according to what Sarin told me, that IB was exaggerating and unable to produce credible evidence. Due to this casual attitude of the army chief, Pakistan was able to spring the surprise of 1st Armoured Division at Khemkaran and 6th Armoured Division at Sialkot.
That the Indian armoured brigade, under Brigadier T.K. Theogaraj, destroyed the Pakistani armoured division reflects to the credit of officers and men of the army, their guts, valour and skills. They had the full support of their corps commander, General J.S. Dhillon, and their army commander, General Harbaksh Singh.
Even for taking a stand at Khemkaran, General Chaudhuri had to be overruled by defence minister Chavan and the prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri. the army chief preferred withdrawal to the Beas river. The details may be found in R.D. Pradhan’s bFrom Debacle to Revival. Pradhan was Chavan’s private secretary upto end 1964 and was brought back during the war. Subsequently, he had access to Chavan’s diaries.
Earlier that year, General Chaudhuri had obtained cabinet orders to reduce our medium tank regiments from 11 down to four and increase the light tank regiments from four to 11. He carried this reorganisation through in spite of opposition from professional subordinates.
The Pentagon simulated a ‘game’ in March 1965, according to which Pakistan attacked India on September 1, 1966, and captured Srinagar, with Shastri unable to counter-attack. In reality, Pakistan attacked on September 1, 1965, and Shastri hit back very hard If Pakistanis had not been in such a hurry and had struck a year later with their two divisions of armour, India would have been in real trouble. After the war, General Chaudhuri not only had to abandon his plans for armour reorganisation, but ask the government to hastily import six regiments of medium armour — three T-54 regiments from Czechoslovakia and three T-55 regiments from the USSR.
General Chaudhuri, as was disclosed by Air Chief Marshal P.C. Lal in a later lecture, did not keep the Indian Air Force (IAF) informed of his intending operation in the Lahore sector. The IAF was caught off-guard and incurred avoidable losses of aircraft, including newly-arrived MIG-21s.
The Indian Army was surprised by the Pakistani armour’s sudden appearance through the various aqueducts under the Ichogil canal. This intelligence about the aqueducts was available well in advance, since construction plans of the canal, including the aqueducts, were obtained from the World Bank by IB and provided to the army.
Shekhar Gupta (‘‘1965 in 2005’’, National Interest, June 4, 2005) was not wrong in calling the war one of mutual incompetence. It so happens both Ayub Khan and General Chaudhuri were in the same batch at Sandhurst.
TWO months before the war, in my planning branch, undersecretary I.C. Bansal did elaborate research on the US budgetary documents and calulated American military aid to Pakistan totalled slightly below $ 900 million. When this was put up to the Chiefs of Staff Committee, they (particularly the army chief) rejected the study. In their view, the aid should have been several billions of dollars.
We costed the equipment and facilities and argued it could not be very much more. But it was to no avail. Subsequently it was proved our calculations in the planning branch were not very much off the mark.
So on the one hand General Chaudhuri refused to accept the existence of the second Pakistani armoured division. But at the same time he had an exaggerated view of US aid to Pakistan.
Having negotiated with the Americans on aid for six Indian mountain divisions, we were aware US policy was to provide only six weeks’ war wastage of ammunition at US rates, which were lower than our rates, to aid-receiving countries. On September 2, 1965, through a top-secret telegram, I sought information from S. Guhan, my cadremate and at that time first secretary in our Washington embassy, to check through contacts in the Pentagon what was the ammunition supply rate to Pakistan.
Gohar Ayub Khan’s story of a stolen war plan is probably bogus. But 40 years on, the first full-fledged India-Pakistan war is still a very real presence for many Within a few days Guhan confirmed my assumption and a copy of the top-secret telegram went to General Chaudhuri also. He congratulated me for the information. Indeed, Gohar Ayub Khan has referred to Pakistan suffering from ammunition shortage within a few days of the war beginning.
India had some 90 days war wastage reserves. After the war ended, it was found only eight to 10 per cent of the tank and artillery ammunition had been spent. We had to cancel an order to Yugoslavia for a million rounds of L-70 anti-aircraft ammunition. The order had been placed during the operations.
If the war had been continued for another week, Pakistan would have been forced to surrender. Unfortunately General Chaudhuri advised the prime minister to accept the UN ceasefire proposal since he felt both sides were running out of ammunition. This was far from true for India.
Let me come to some major intelligence failures, even though we were not aware of them at the time. According to an article by Altaf Gauhar — in 1965, the alter ego of President Ayub Khan — in Nation on October 3, 1999, Brigadier Ayub Awan, director of the Pakistani Intelligence Bureau, travelled to Saudi Arabia in early 1965. He contacted Sheikh Abdullah in Jeddah and told him about Operation Gibraltar. Later however, President Ayub decided against taking Sheikh Abdullah’s help.
This version was confirmed by the then CIA operative in Madras (now Chennai), Duane Claridge, who was deputed to meet Sheikh Abdullah and told by him of the coming war. US authorities had, therefore, full knowledge about Operation Gibraltar and Pakistani plans to use American equipment against India as early as March 1965, but chose not to warn India.
This information is available in Claridge’s book A Man for All Seasons. Claridge rose high in the CIA and became deputy director. He was convicted during the Reagan presidency in the Iran-Contra affair, but pardoned.
Pakistan was suffering from an ammunition shortage within days of the war starting. India had 90 days of war wastage reserves. If the war had continued for another week, Pakistan would have been forced to surrender. But India agreed to a UN ceasefire Following all this, the Institute of Defence Analysis (IDA) in the Pentagon simulated a politico-strategic game with Harvard University. According to this game, ‘‘played’’ in March 1965, India lost the war with Pakistan and had to accept US mediation on Kashmir, after losing Srinagar. Though Shastri was advised in the game to counterattack, he was timid and refused.
The verbatim proceedings of this game were published in March 1965 by Doubleday and available in US bookshops. The book was titled Crisis Game, ascribed to author Sidney Giffin.
But our intelligence, civil and military, did not have a clue. In 1967, I picked up a second-hand copy on the pavement outside the London School of Economics. One wonders how much this book influenced President Ayub in initiating Operation Gibraltar.
Strangely enough, in the book Pakistan attacks India on September 1, 1966. In reality it happened on September 1, 1965.
Till today, the valour and skills of the officers and men of that armoured brigade commanded by Brigadier Theogaraj and the roles of Generals Harbaksh and Dhillon in defying General Chaudhuri have not received their due credit.
One American academic — an assistant secretary of state in the Kennedy administration who played a prominent role in preventing India getting combat equipment — ruefully told me that on the eve of the 1965 war he was planning to write a book on ‘the war that changed the fate of the subcontinent’.
Thanks to the valour and tactical skills of those men who confronted the Pakistani Pattons at Asal Uttar, he could never write that book.
The author, a former civil servant, is a defence affairs analyst