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The Monsoon War: Young Officers Reminisce 1965 India-Pakistan

The Monsoon War: Young Officers Reminisce 1965 India-Pakistan

Review By :- Monica Arora

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Publisher :- ROLI BOOKS

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As India commemorated the golden jubilee of the 1965 India-Pakistan War in September 2015, and Pakistan celebrated its ‘Defence Day’, an illustrated book on the war co-authored by former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh along with Lieutenant General Tajindar Shergill, has been published by Roli Books. 'The Monsoon War: Young Officers Reminisce 1965 India-Pakistan' proposes to present the "right perspective" of the war fought 50 years back. 
Interestingly, both writers have been participants in the war, Amarinder Singh who was serving as ADC to Lieutenant General Harbakhsh Singh, GOC-in-C of the Western Command, and Lieutenant General Tajindar Shergill, who was the Troop Leader 1 Troop C Squadron Deccan Horse during the war and was taken prisoner of war after a forlorn tank attack. Thus, the writing is honest and the narrative gritty, with both authors presenting eye witness accounts of the battle observed individually at close quarters.
Initiating by giving a complete insight into India’s socio-political climate after the 1962 India-China War and quoting from Russel Brines’s ‘The Indo-Pakistani Conflict’, and adding his own perspective, Captain Amarinder Singh states that: ‘Since I was the Aide-De-Camps (ADC) to the Western Army Commander (comprising Ladakh, Kashmir, Punjab and Rajasthan) from December 1964-67, I can say that…each day there were a number of incidents, mostly an exchange of rifle, machine gun, mortar and in some cases, artillery fire. I cannot remember a single day before or after the 1965 war, when there was all quiet on the cease-fire line…After the Indo-China war of 1962, Ayub Khan (President of Pakistan and de facto Chief of Army Staff COAS) went out of his way to placate China as a trusted friend’. 
Quoting Brines, he states: ‘Throughout 1965, therefore, India and Pakistan waged a diplomatic and political war of nerves…Pakistan generally maintained the offensive seeking to exert pressure on India by every means, propaganda campaign to persistent diplomatic attempts to isolate India internationally.’
In the backdrop of such a hostile political climate with China virtually backing up Pakistan’s radical designs on India by “implying Chinese military support for Pakistan without pledging it”, when Pakistan first attacked in September 1965, the main thrust of Lieutenant General Harbakhsh Singh’s retaliation plan was to not cede a single square inch of Indian land to the enemy. Owing to their grit and determination, despite the strategic capability of the Pakistan Army and Air Force, the Indian Armed Forces emerged victorious, even in battles where it initially seemed that they did not stand much chance of overcoming their foes.
According to the book, ‘The three war objectives given by Prime Minister Shastri to the armed forces were to defeat the Pakistani attempts to seize Kashmir by force and to make it abundantly clear that Pakistan would never be allowed to wrest Kashmir from India; to destroy the offensive power of Pakistan armed forces; and to occupy the minimum Pakistani territory to achieve these purposes, which would be vacated after satisfactory conclusion of the war.’
Most refreshing about the book is the fact that the author-duo have refrained from tom-tomming self-paens for the Indian forces or from overt criticism of the Pakistan side. Right from the ceasefire after the Kutchch operations to Operation Gibraltar and others in the Kashmir sector to Operation Nepal, Operations in Rachna Doab Operation Riddle as well as offering an insight into contributions of the Indian and Pakistani Air Force and Navy during the war of 1965, objective and very rudimentary accounts have been created thereby rendering the volume as a reference material for historians, research scholars, history aficionados, political analysts and soldiers in general.
The rich collection of images and maps, the former illustrating the key players in the war and the latter, highlighting the key arenas of battle further add context to the proceedings and can enable the reader to visually encapsulate how the war must have actually played out eventually.
How the entire attack strategy had been planned by the Pakistan side can be gauged from this excerpt: ‘Even though Ayub Khan, the President of Pakistan and de facto COAS operating through a rubber stamp Chief, General Muhammad Musa, had throughout his career shown an aversion to personally getting militarily involved, the hawks around him led by his foreign minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto persuaded him to confront India. Strangely, after it was all over and Musa was asked by a senior Indian correspondent, Kuldip Nayar, about why Operation Gibraltar was conceived and launched, leading to various stages of escalation, he has been reported to have said, ‘Ask the President.’ When Ayub was asked the same question, he answered, ‘Ask Bhutto’. When Bhutto was asked, to his credit he readily agreed that he was for it.’
A very well-written Epilogue captures how the 1965 War has a bearing even now on the current Kashmir strife and this is what the authors have to say: ‘The peace agreement brokered by Russia at Tashkent and signed by the two Heads of State, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and President Ayub Khan, undid all that the Indian Army had achieved in Kashmir. All the territory taken during or in the period leading up to these operations was handed back to Pakistan.
For India, nothing could have been more disastrous. Not only had thousands of her soldiers died fighting in the operations of 1947-48, but many thousands more were killed and wounded in 1965. We had gone back to square one and would have to face them again to recapture the same ground because of this lack of foresight.
Today, Kashmir is once more witnessing the onslaught of Pakistan's foreign policy. Infiltration, which had been so brilliantly brought under control by Lieutenant General Harbakhsh Singh in 1965, has plagued Kashmir over the past years. Routes of ingress into the Valley are the same as in 1965 and India is unable to check movement into it, thanks to the thoughtless decisions taken at Tashkent. Pakistan, well aware of its shortcomings in 1965, is now holding the same positions in strength, so that to repeat the successes achieved by the Indian Army then would mean the acceptance of manifold casualties today. Furthermore, unable to do so without a major conflict with Pakistan, India is today fighting this menace in the Valley and in the lower nullahs and gullies of.the Pir Panjal Range, which is exactly what General Harbakhsh Singh had predicted. He had even planned operations to prevent a recurrence of this menace in the future.
Before getting to the cease-fire on 23 September, the run up to the peace talks and the talks themselves at Tashkent, we must first summarize the operations which were conducted during the twenty-three days of the war. A summary would make it easier for the lay reader to understand the various battles and stages of the war, without getting into the nitty-gritty of battle, which would tend to confuse a non-military mind. That is where we intend to start.
As early as 15 May 1965, General JN Chaudhuri, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), at a planning conference held at Jullundur at the headquarters of XI Corps, had given out the following tasks to XI Corps:

1.       To protect Indian territory from Pakistani aggression and occupation.

2.       To pose a threat to Lahore by securing the Ichhogil Canal.

3.       Destruction of enemy forces, particularly their newly acquired armour.

There was a prolonged exchange of demi-official letters between April and 9 August 1965, between the Western Command headquarters and the army headquarters, regarding the task and selection of the area of the launch of I Corps into the Rachna Doab. The threat to Jammu was viewed as a distinct possibility by the army headquarters and the Western Command headquarters. Both headquarters agreed that the destruction of enemy forces, particularly their newly acquired armour, was a priority common to both the I and XI Corps operations and that the final line that I Corps should try to reach was that of the Marala Ravi Link (MRL) Canal. In spite of serious differences of opinion between General JN Chaudhuri and Lieutenant General Harbakhsh Singh regarding the area of the launch of I Corps, the task given to I Corps was:
With a view to relieving Jammu, I Corps would cross the International Border between the Road Jammu—Sialkot and Basantar River and secure a bridgehead in Area Pagowal (Bhagowal)-Phillora-Cross Roads with a view to advancing towards MRL Canal and eventually to the line of Dhalewali—Wuhilam—Daska—Mandhali.
It seems that the higher direction of war by the Government of India was decided upon later and would have been based upon the strategic thinking of the defence forces and the political overtones of the government. Pakistan's Operation Gibraltar was by then a failure and Operation Grandslam, launched on 1 September 1965, was in full flow in the Chhamb sector and the Government of India had ordered the COAS to cross the International Border (IB) and take the war across the IB to Pakistan.’
All in all, 'The Monsoon War: Young Officers Reminisce 1965 India-Pakistan' captures the landmark war of 1965, which is a testament to the leadership of Harbakhsh Singh, who had during the course of the war even suggested a potential solution to the Kashmir conflict. However, over the course of peace talks between then Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and President Ayub Khan of Pakistan, many of Harbakhsh Singh’s tactical solutions were bypassed and Kashmir continues to remain a bone of contention for both India and Pakistan. Thus, besides the War story, 'The Monsoon War: Young Officers Reminisce 1965 India-Pakistan' promises to be a very insightful read not just for those from the armed forces but also for the common men and women of the country.