Kashmir: Fifty years since 1965 War

The expectation of Operation Gibraltar was that the population would rise up against Indian 

‘occupation’ to coincide with a festival and the anniversary of the first incarceration of Abdullah in 1953 on 8-9th August, while the military columns would interdict Indian military reaction.

Emboldened by the unrest in Kashmir in relation to the Moe-e-Muqaddas episode over the turn of the year 1963-64, Pakistan figured that the time was ripe for wresting Kashmir. Politically, it was worried by the moves afoot to normalize India’s relations with Kashmir, evident in the change of nomenclature of Sadar e Riyasat and Wazir e Azam in April and third time internment of Sheikh Abdullah in May. It wanted to act militarily before India recovered from the drubbing of 1962. While the war officially dates to 6th September with India’s opening up the Punjab front to release Pakistani pressure in Kashmir, the run up to the war had begun by February 1965.

Pakistan tried to divert Indian attention to the opposite end of the border at the Rann of Kutch. The action began in February fifty years ago in area Kanjarkot. An Indian military formation was tasked to evict a Pakistani intrusion in Operation Kabadi on 21st February. Pakistani counter moves led by Tikka Khan led to a bust up in the sector in April that year. A peace agreement followed on 30th June, but the encounters largely at patrol level set the stage for what was happening up north by May that year.

By May, the firing on Cease Fire Line (CFL) as the Line of Control was then known had increased threefold compared to the preceding year. Quite like in 1999, immediately on the melting of snows Pakistani posts that were much closer to the road to Leh owing to the CFL alignment prior to it being pushed back in the 1971 War, started harassing the arterial route in Kargil sector. India in response to an attack on 16th May on one of its posts, decided to push back and attacked on 17th May. Operations continued into June. At end June, coinciding with the agreement in Kutch, India withdrew from locations it had captured or occupied across the CFL at the behest of the UN. The UN in turn promised to increase its monitoring.

These strategic and operational level diversions in Kutch and Kargil respectively were only the opening gambits. The main course was yet to come. Din Mohammad, a Gujjar grazing his sheep on the Pir Panjal was the first to get wind of it on 5th August. Ten columns of infiltrators were enroute to J&K, with two – Ghaznavi and Babar forces – south of Pir Panjal. The expectation of Operation Gibraltar was that the population would rise up against Indian ‘occupation’ to coincide with a festival and the anniversary of the first incarceration of Abdullah in 1953 on 8-9th August, while the military columns would interdict Indian military reaction. To seal of any response from the rest of India, Operation Grand Slam was ready to slam into India’s line of communication in the Akhnoor-Jammu sector.

In the event, India’s response was swift and sure. By end August, it captured the launch pad and support bases for the infiltrating forces at Haji Pir and in Kishenganga valley. It proceeded to wrap up the columns of infiltrators within. The resulting pressure on Pakistan forced it to escalate on 1 September with its coup de main, Operation Grand Slam. The expectation behind this was that India would be cut-off and yet not respond in the IB sector further south. Yahya Khan, taking over the command of the operation midway, provided India the breather it needed to open up the Punjab front and the rest as they say is history. 

What does this history speak to today? It seemed apparent then that this was the last land grab Pakistan would attempt. However, India’s spectacular victory in 1971 gave Pakistan a reason to want to get back at India. It already had a bone to pick with India over Kashmir. It wanted to ensure that next time India would not be able to hit back. It therefore embarked on the ‘Bomb’ as cover. By early eighties it was reckoned that plans existed for a lightening strike into Kashmir and then resorting to threat of the ‘Bomb’ to stall India’s counter. There were even suggestions that this might also be with a nuclear strike on Banihal and then proceeding at leisure to wrap up Kashmir. These fanciful ideas gained traction with the proxy war launched in earnest against India in Punjab and Kashmir, with lessons from the Mujahedeen war in Afghanistan. India through its Exercise Brasstacks, designed for the new nuclear conditions, made clear to Pakistan that it could mount a conventional counter. 

The uprising in Kashmir provided Pakistan a fresh opportunity. However, any ideas for conventionally exploiting it were put paid by India in its acquiring a third strike corps, based on HQs of the peacekeeping force it withdrew from Sri Lanka in early 1990. Now it only remained for India to leverage its manpower advantage to tackle the insurgency in Kashmir. This it proceeded to do by establishing a vice like counter insurgency grid in Kashmir and a counter infiltration posture along the Line of Control.

Using another India sent opportunity, Pakistan followed close on India’s heels in going nuclear in 1998. This set the stage for another round of escalation in the Valley with the Kargil War. It opened up India’s guard enough for Pakistan to thrust in another generation of proxy war fighters. This led to fierce contest in the Valley and strategic pressure on the Indian government. The Agra summit followed. Its failure in turn led to the parliament attack and Operation Parakram, the standoff of ten months under a nuclear overhang. Both sides stepped back because Vajpayee had the strategic vision to do so and an interlocutor in Musharraf who appeared then to be in control in Pakistan. 

India exploited the calm returned to the LoC by extending the fence it had along the IB to the LoC. It progressively wrapped up the remaining jihadis, who Pakistan could only replenish with fresh blood by innovative means and routes across the fence. India deepened democracy with successive elections attracting increasingly larger voter turnout. It embarked on back channel talks and five rounds of the composite dialogue. Any potential results from the former were truncated by Musharraf going under in internal instability in Pakistan. Mumbai 26/11 ended the latter. Spirited action on the streets in Kashmir by stone throwing youth over three successive years could not get India to budge. 

India could comfortably sit on its oars in the UPA II period, waiting to see how the region shapes up with the Obama promised draw down and exit from the region, as Pakistan got increasingly bogged down in tackling its Frankenstein, the jihadis on its western border. If Musharraf is to be believed, the mild Manmohan Singh presided over Indian intelligence agencies conditioning the ISI by reminding it of its underbelly through a proxy war in Afghanistan. This was the favourable strategic circumstance that the new government took office in. In its opening moves of inviting Nawaz Sharif to Delhi and cutting off talks soon thereafter, it sent two signals across: India will prove responsive in case Pakistan behaves. If not it can wait out Pakistan indefinitely. 

India has since proceeded to outpace Pakistan on all fronts. Diplomatically, it has the US in its bag and Modi is off to China this May for the rest. Politically, the ruling party has created an unprecedented space for itself in the politics of J&K by ending the perception of the center of gravity of politics in J&K lying in Srinagar. Strategically, it has reportedly upped the intelligence game in Afghanistan and militarily it has upped the ante in terms of spending a manner that simply cannot escape Pakistan this time.

Clearly, for Pakistan the writing is on the wall. Fifty years since its last try for Kashmir, it has perhaps finally run out of steam. This is not exactly ‘bad news’ for Kashmiri militants. They have had to rely on Pakistan since any insurgency requires a sanctuary and moral, material and political support. However, it would be delusive to believe that Pakistan would have wagered Pakistan for Kashmiri independence. It has merely added fuel to the fire in order to keep India tied down for its own strategic purposes and for revenge. That normal Kashmiris got in way of Indian reaction was merely collateral damage.

It is this that Kashmiris need recognizing. Recently released army data indicates that at least 70 young Kashmiris joined the insurgency last year, of which two had doctorates and eight were post graduates. 14 of them have already been killed. The corps commander in Srinagar is reported as ruing the trend thus: "Youth joining the militancy is disturbing. If educated youth are joining, it is more disturbing."

General Saha is not only a kind man. He is also right that this is a "cause of concern". Pakistan does not have the intrinsic resources to support any new round of militancy. What it can however do is to divert the religious extremism consuming it into new channels. There are also ill winds from West Asia blowing outwards, including towards the subcontinent. There is no reason why Kashmiris should want any of this. 

They are at a critical juncture in which they can afford to drive a bargain. There is a government in Delhi that does not need to look over its shoulder. It is set for the next few years at least and can deliver on any promises, particularly of development, it may make. However, the more significant one is that of political autonomy. This government can consider the more innovative formulas for this in exchange peace, since it needs stability to deliver on its promises in the rest of India and get itself the developmental decade Mr. Modi asked for in his Independence Day address. Kashmir must cash in now. Its martyrs will only then rest in peace. 

(*Firdaus Ahmed, author of Think South Asia and Subcontinental Musings (CinnamonTeal 2014), blogs at www.subcontinentalmusings.blogspot.in.)