The Legendary Feats Of Pakistan Armed Forces In Indo-Pak War Of 1965

By Ali Hassnain

There are countless versions about why the 1965 war between Pakistan and India took place. Everyone apparently has his/her own opinion. The lack of research by even the most learned people is surprising. “My Version” by General Musa Khan is a recommended reading. Pakistan Army wasn’t sleeping or ignorant on the night of 6th September 1965, but due to certain circumstances we were caught in a very dangerous situation on the morning of 6th September. We ended up defending Lahore with an almost skeleton crew for three days. It was touch and go militarily speaking but in the end with the help of Allah almighty we prevailed.

Let’s go in the background a little. Pakistan was as close an ally to the US during the 1960s as Israel, comparable to perhaps the friendship between Pakistan and China today, actually closer. Ayub Khan was greeted as “Leader of the free world in his region” and a former “commander of the Burma front” by John F. Kennedy, that too, when Kennedy waited for him while Khan’s Boeing 707 (first Jet in Asia) landed in Washington.  Congress was allied with Soviets even before India came into existence. They were ideologically linked and they had connections.

In 1947 we had a hostile India on our border, while Pakistan as a state was yet to be built, a state which Lord Mountbatten had compared to a tambu (tent) being built while he compared India to a building being built. At the time Nehru in a letter called Pakistan a temporary arrangement. Communists had an agenda which was to export the revolution (communism) and expand it. They had eastern Europe practically under occupation, a puppet government in Kabul and were sponsoring people like Che Guevara all over the world and using them for their own goals. As early as 1952 a communist coup had been attempted in Pakistan (Rawalpindi Sazish case). USSR did not have access to all weather shipping ports.


It’s clear from the maps that the western access is basically blocked by Bosporus and towards the East most of the year they run icebreakers to keep their shipping routes open, so no “warm water”.

Naturally Pakistan joined the US camp. Pakistanis did not want the Soviet tyranny. We did not want them to impose their ideology, which by the way included suppressing religion of all kinds by force. World at the time existed on a delicate balance of power between the two nuclear powers.  The location of Pakistan was the wall between the so called “Iron Curtain” and the world.  Tourists used to go and see with curiosity the Torkham crossing, the end of free world on this side.

When Stalin died, a power struggle ensued in Moscow with Nikita Khrushchev eventually assuming control. He was a moderate compared to Stalin but he was no match for hard liners in the party. He was soon removed with another character Brezhnev who was the main force behind our 1971 defeat and his last major decision was invading Afghanistan. Pakistan signed defense pacts with Americans, SEATO and SEANTO which meant basically that invasion from a communist country would be fought together.  US gave Pakistan all sorts of military hardware, like F-104 airplanes.

Giving the devil his due, they did help us bring an agrarian revolution and we were at the cusp of industrious one when Bhutto appeared on the national scene and ruined it all. They helped us build dams, the way Field Marshal Ayub Khan was taking Pakistan forward it was simply unimaginable. For one year our GDP growth rate was above ten, and in 1970 one year before the war due to the progress during the Ayub era it was 11.4% (for West Pakistan). For Eastern wing highest was 11% for year 1964, after 1971 their highest GDP was in 1974 (9.6%). They had another good year in 1978(7.1%). Other than that their GDP growth has been between 4 and six. When we compare it with India, their highest recorded GDO growth was 9.8% in 2007 and around 4% today (real figures), same figure for Pakistan. In 1964 Indian economy had a negative growth -.1%, for West and Pakistan figures were 10.4 and 11% positive growth.

Pakistan was growing by leaps and bounds. During the late 1950s Turkey and Pakistan were the key against USSR. Turkey has nuclear ballistic missiles installed on its NATO bases. This was an era before satellites. Pakistan had leased an air base in Peshawar to United States at a place called Badda ber.


Do remember this is a different Operation Grand Slam; it has nothing to do with the one in 1965. U2 was a highly advanced (for its age) plane which flew near the edge of space and spied on Russian Nuclear arsenal. In all probability Americans also had bombers carrying nuclear missiles in Peshawar for a first strike option. In 1960 U2 by some sheer stroke of luck was shot down by the Soviets and the pilot caught alive. That was the first time Pakistanis and Soviets directly looked eye to eye on opposite sides. US backed Pakistan fully (naturally).

At a time when most people didn’t know what a stereo was in Asia, Ayub Khan was the center of all attention wherever he went in the west and especially in the US. There is a video from the early 1960s on the internet where the Saudi King joins the dance with a sword to honor him in a rare gesture.

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In that atmosphere being a CIA agent was more of a compliment then a badge of treason. China was considered a No Go and it faced isolation much comparable to North Korea today. Taiwan actually sat in United Nations Security Council instead of China! They claimed they were the real China! A comical situation indeed. Pakistan, thinking with foresight and not getting away with the phobia, saw the difference between Soviets and the Chinese. We opened an air link to China and established close ties with China which continue today, and all that despite US alliance.

PIA was the first non-communist airline to fly to China. There might have been a flight from Soviet Union to China but relations between USSR and China were complicated and often hostile. Pakistan had one international airport, Karachi. PIA invented a new air route through the Himalayas; remember it was many decades before GPS was available. Virtually all of the Chinese who had to visit another country flew to Karachi and used to change flights from there.

In 1962 when China went to war with India, Pakistan did not participate. Ayub Khan probably had his own reasons; Soviet pressure, American pressure, lack of preparation and fall back plan may be. Perhaps one, all or many other factors were involved. Or the fact that Pakistan never actually wanted to go to an all-out war with India because going to an all out war is unpredictable. No one could predict Germany Sixth Army would be annihilated twice in Soviet Union, or that US would lose in Vietnam. War is a calculated risk and perhaps as much of a gamble, and an all-out war is an all out risk.

UN resolution on Kashmir was effectively dead by the late 1950s, it was clear it would not be implemented, contrary to Pakistani expectations. Indians had started to incorporate Kashmir in India. They had a fraudulent election and declared it’s over.

Somewhere in the early 1960s Ayub’s henchman Bhutto, who incidentally used to call him daddy, convinced him India would not be able to violate the international border and any future conflict would remain limited to the ceasefire line of 1948. He was foreign minister at the time and had his own ambitions which ended in us losing East Pakistan. Was he CIA? Many ministers of Ayub Khan were probably CIA; hell, Ayub himself probably had a favorable view of CIA. Recent declassified documents reveal his finance minister was a CIA agent. When Commander In Chief General Musa Khan requested finances to raise some troops (a division I think) he was refused. Had the request been approved it would have been the deciding factor in a more favorable eventual stalemate in upcoming war.

Tensions were running high between India and Pakistan. India unlike Pakistan had a regular military since 1947, Pakistan almost had to build from scratch. India’s ties with USSR were closer than our ties with China today. They had British made Gnat Hunter and Vampire (Australian) aircrafts which by far outnumbered the Pakistan Air Force which was better trained and had better aircraft. India had Canberra Bombers where as Pakistan had B 57; they were actually the same variants except that 57s were made by USA and Canberra by the UK! Same was the case with tanks and guns. We mostly, had Pattons and Shermans (tanks) and they had Centurions. Plus they had an almost unlimited access to Russian hardware.

Anyway, between President Ayub, Core Commander Rawalpindi General Akhtar Malik and Bhutto a plan was hatched. It was code named Operation Gibraltar. A few thousand young Kashmiri Mujahideen infiltrated Indian Occupied Kashmir along with some regulars like the Ghaznavi force. They expected an all out revolt and (now I am guessing) a resolution of matter in UN. It was partially successful. They even established a “Radio Azad Kashmir” in occupied Kashmir relaying regular broadcasts. They disrupted communication, engaged in guerilla warfare and urged the local population to rise. It was expected that India would not cross the international border or even cross ceasefire line since Pakistan was mostly sending irregulars and guerillas which were basically light infantry at best and did not engage in pitched battles. The Kashmiri Mujahideen were basically fighting for the freedom of oppressed Kashmiris who had been occupied forcefully by India.

While all this was being planned, tensions were running high with India. India invaded Rann of Katch in April.


It’s at the edge of Tharparkar and one of the toughest terrains in the world with extreme desert conditions. Pakistan was caught with surprise and replied by deploying Pakistan Army there. Eventually breakthrough came through the SSG (Special Forces) branch when they blew up Indian water supply lines beyond enemy lines. India agreed to UN mediation and Pakistan agreed. Pakistani Army Chief General Musa Khan was informed that Indian Aircraft had been spotted and air support was called which was declined. Army engaged the Indian aircraft with light anti air craft weapons they had. General Musa Khan was furious and enquired from Air Marshal Asghar Khan why the air force didn’t act?

Asghar Khan had called the Indian Air Chief and struck a deal with him that air forces of both countries would not interfere in the conflict. Gen. Musa Khan smelled a rat, so on his request Air Marshal was almost immediately sacked and replaced by a daring brilliant and great strategist of air warfare Air Marshal Nur Khan. As far high command is concerned Air Marshal Nur Khan was the architect of the success of PAF in 1965 war and his strategies were to shape the future of jet warfare. General Musa Khan writes, during the Asghar Khan era (who was probably CIA) Army had been told that PAF at best would be able to contain Indian Air Force. The doctrine was changed under Air Marshal Nur Khan. Daring low flying missions (to avoid radar detection), night time bomber raids and repeated attacks were conducted under his command and the name of PAF interred the fear of God in enemy’s heart.

Anyway, Operation Gibraltar was launched. It had considerable success and a few setbacks. India decided to cross the cease fire line when things got out of their hands in Kashmir. Hajji peer darra (pass) was the main route to Kashmir for Operation Gibraltar. It is near Poonch and Uri. Indians had high ground and was able to mostly block it.

Air Force was not told of the plan in advance but PAF quickly adapted. Air Marshal even flew a few night time mission himself, behind enemy lines dropping crucial supplies.

Faced with Indian attacks on ceasefire line, things escalated. Pakistan launched Operation Grand Slam. There is much controversy regarding whose idea it was, it has been quoted that General Malik avoided Akhnoor (a town in Kashmir). When Ayub asked why is he doing that he suggested India would launch total war. Ayub told him to ignore the possibility. Why? Well false assurances/hopes from US or Bhutto’s own ambitions to cause a war? Or sheer stupidity and false input on Americans from Bhutto? It is probably one of these factors.

Anyway, there was one road linking India to Kashmir. The aim was to cut of India from Kashmir. Now we must understand how dependent we were on Americans. Spare parts of our aircrafts were flown weekly from US or shipped monthly. We had no indigenous heavy military industrial complex.

Well Operation Grand Slam was launched, Chamb and Jaurian were towns heavily fortified and defended by Indian bunkers. Pakistani lightening attack overran both. Pakistani forces crossed Tavi and were rushing towards Akhnoor to cut off the Kathua road (NH1 of India).

India was on the brink of losing Kashmir. An Indian General wrote in his book (If I am not wrong Gen. Kaul) that Indian Army Chief, Gen. Chaudhuri said he could not guarantee they could hold Kashmir for more than 5 hours if an all-out invasion was not launched.

Let’s jump back a week from 6th September. India had mobilized its forces, Gen. Musa Khan has questioned the readers in “My Version” that how can an army chief be unaware or ignorant about 50000+ troops within miles of international border. Through a series of events war was becoming inevitable. Indian overconfidence was not without cause, after Muslim rule of a thousand years they had their chance. Pakistan had one main Radar (Sakesar) and one operational airbase (Sargodha) which was used for most (almost all) missions one way or another.

On 1st September Pakistan launched Operation Grand Slam and Indians tried to use their air force. PAF came into action; Squadron Leader Rafique Shaheed and Flight lt. Imtiaz Bhatti intercepted and shot down Indian planes. From 2-5 September there were skirmishes between PAF and IAF and it started to become apparent that the morale, hardware (planes), training and Jazba of PAF fighters were to be the deciding factors. Flt. Lt. Yousaf Ali Khan (Sitara e Jurrat), for example, had to get into a dogfight with 6 Gnats without his wingman and survived.

It became apparent India would invade Pakistan. India had deployed the cream of their air force on their forward airbase in Pathankot. Jets back then had a limited range compared to today and had to be refueled at air bases near the enemy. Pakistan decided to take out the Indian fighters. At the time there was no GPS and navigation was manual. Jets were venerable to anti-aircraft fire and enemy aircrafts at day.  It is now a legend that Air Marshal led the pre-emptive Pakistani strike himself. Pakistan attacked Indian airfield of Pathankot at 5th of September and successfully destroyed many of their aircrafts on ground heavily impacting Indian capability.

On the night of 5th we had one air base to support our forces and attack India, and one radar station. That night Gen. Chaudhuri of India made his famous statement, “Today I would have whiskey in Lahore Gymkhana”. Indian Air Chief Arjun Singh promised they would knockout Sargodha Air Base in 72 hours and there would be no attacks from there.

In Pakistan people listened to radio broadcasts regularly, had faith and an all time high morale in our history.  Navigation was difficult at the time. On the night of 5th September, the Mushrikeen e Hind started moving towards Lahore. Their aircrafts followed River Jehlum in the moonlit night and then Lower Jehlum Canal right up to Sargodha Air Base (now called Mushaf Mir Air Base) while Pakistanis prayed to Allah for help. That night Mushrikeen stood up and challenged the biggest (then) Islamic country.

Let’s pause a moment, and think: India with all its might advancing towards Pakistan and Indian planes flying to destroy the only airbase that Pakistan practically used to attack and stop the main Indian thrust. There was one response Pakistan could give India! Allah O Akbar!

Several eye witnesses told me, that night low flying Indian Jets reached Sargodha airbase and there was a burst of Machine Gun fire and a blast, then hell broke loose. Tens (maybe hundreds) of ack ack (anti-aircraft guns) started firing. Due to night, at first people mistook the anti-aircraft shells for wave of Indian bombers; it took them a while to realize it was actually their own anti-aircraft shells exploding in the sky.

I salute the unknown soldier (gunner) who initially engaged the Indian Aircrafts.

That night our air defenses protected the airbase. I have no doubt they had divine help. For there is no reasonable explanation for the fact that Indian planes reached the airport and yet were unable to damage it. One F-86 was lost and that was all.

That morning on lunch American ambassador met Field Marshal Ayub Khan, who probably got the shock of his life when the American ambassador moved his hands to demonstrate how “India has got him by the neck”.

“Who knows who has got whom by the neck” was his instant reply. America decided to cut off all the military supplies to Pakistan effectively limiting the flying hours of our aircrafts for one thing.

There was Ayub’s response.

At dawn, PAF planes shot down Indian planes while simultaneously flying critical sorties to provide close air support to Lahore sector.

While our handful of jawans who had still not received the crux of our force decided to fight till either victory or martyrdom, forward troops managed up to Shalamar Gardens in the fog of war.  Gun shots on the walls there were visible for quite some time even after the war. Our jawans and officers fought as gallantly as is expected of a Muslim. India planned to open three fronts initially. Attack on Lahore, Sialkot and Kasur, and move from all three sectors to capture a triangle like area with concentrations of Pakistan Army cut off from each other, effectively neutralizing Pakistan armed forces and occupying Pakistan. They were defeated on all fronts.

Near the village of Chwanda in Sialkot largest tank battle was fought since the Battle of Kursk during the Second World War. Pakistan defended successfully on all fronts.  Pakistanis defended Lahore on the BRB Canal, making it their line of defense. Indians couldn’t go an inch beyond that. On the Lahore front Pakistani counterattacks baffled India later in the war, a jeep belonging to one of their generals was actually captured with its engine running and had important documents in it. The Jeep was made available to children and adults to take a ride in (for fun) around the fortress stadium Lahore. I believe the jeep is currently in Sialkot or Lahore as a war trophy.


A pilot of IAF panicked and lowered his gears when surrounded by Pakistani fighters (international sign of surrender in aerial warfare). He surrendered with his aircraft and was taken POW. Strangely enough he retired as a Vice Air Marshal in Indian Air force.

A few incidents are worth mentioning. Before Ayub Khan’s speech on the morning of 6th September, President Soekarno of Indonesia officially declared war against India and offered to attack Andaman Islands to divert Indian forces in the spirit of Muslim brotherhood. Iran fully supported Pakistan, going to great lengths to support Pakistan diplomatically and physically. Saudi Arabia fully supported Pakistan diplomatically and with material help. Turkey supported Pakistan fully diplomatically and with material help where they could. Algeria fully sided with Pakistan. Libya lead by Moammar Gaddafi fully supported Pakistan in every way they could despite being in the Soviet camp.

It signaled the rise of an eventual Islamic Block.

Mark Tully of BBC announced that India has captured Lahore. Poor guy was actually quoting Indian Prime Minister who believed they would capture Lahore in a few hours anyway so what’s the harm in making the statement early.

Pakistan got messages from brotherly Muslim countries if indeed Lahore had fallen, Pakistani line of defense had collapsed and if Pakistan needs to park its fighter and commercial aircrafts there till the conflict was settled.

This war had far reaching impact.

Ayub Khan and Pakistan never trusted the US again. Muslim world in general felt betrayed by the US. Tactics used by Pakistan in aerial warfare changed it forever. Pakistan grew closer to China. Bhutto eventually rose to power claiming Ayub Khan is the one who hurried to ceasefire and that there were secret terms in the Tashkent accord. He claimed he would bring the cat out of the bag (in every major speech) until President Ayub transferred power to Gen. Yahya which was welcomed by the politicians.

Pakistan learnt the lesson that self-reliance is the key in warfare. Pakistan rose as a middle power and a major regional player. The perception of Indian dominance in the region was smashed once and for all.

England suffered badly as the reputation of British military hardware war suffered and has not recovered yet. Potentially lost revenue is enormous. They further suffered when Israelis used Mirages with success against Arabs and lot of countries turned to France for military supplies.

Due to the September 1965 war, the belief that India hates Pakistan was further engraved on Pakistanis. The belief that India wants to destroy Pakistan was reaffirmed (in 1971 too when they succeeded in East Pakistan). And above all, bravery of Pakistani soldiers became legendary.

Categories: Geopolitics, History, Pakistan Armed Forces

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