Book Review : 1965 – Stories From The Second Indo-Pak War
Book : 1965 — Stories From The Second Indo-Pak War.
Author : Rachna Bisht Rawat.
Publisher : Penguin.
Pages : 190.
Price : Rs 299/-
The book “1965 – Stories from the Second Indo-Pak War” by Rachna Bisht Rawat vividly recounts the five major battles fought by the Indian Army. The sheer grittiness, intense hand-to-hand combat and unflinching valour of the officers and men of the Army refreshes one’s memory of the grittiest battles fought at Haji Pir, Asal Uttar, Barki, Dograi and Phillora where the Pakistanis were beaten fair and square.
Understandably there was a lot of unhappiness that hard won territories had to be returned and the sacrifice of the Indian soldier had been in vain. It is believed that Pakistan was running out of ammunition and had the war continued for a few more days, it would have broken their back.
In Pakistan too there was lot of disgruntlement as public opinion had been created giving the impression that they were winning the war.
As the wife of an Army officer, Rachna’s narrative is simple, matter of fact and poignant. Even after the ceasefire was imposed after 21 days of the conflict in which India’s victory was never in doubt, it is widely believed India lost in Tashkent what it had gained during the war. The peace agreement signed on 10 January 1966 between then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and the then Pakistan President Gen Ayub Khan was aimed at normalising relations between the two countries. On the contrary the third Indo-Pak war of 1971 was round the corner.
At 1.30 AM on 11 January 1966 Shastri died of a heart attack in Tashkent. He was one of those rare Indian Prime Ministers who had boldly told the Indian Army that it could cross the border and attack Pakistan at a place of its own choosing. It was agreed that both sides will pull back their armies to the pre-August position. On the first of September 1965 Pakistan invaded Chamb district of Jammu and Kashmir believing that a peace oriented India would never declare all out war. They were proved wrong.
The deliberate invasion intended to annexe J and K triggered a 21-day bloody conflict that witnessed one of the biggest tank battles since the Second World War and infantry attacks where 100 per cent casualty was considered acceptable. Ultimately the cold courage of the Indian soldier prevailed over the superior U S weapons that Pakistan had banked on.
The pitched battles were fought from Kashmir’s Haji Pir pass to the paddy and sugar cane fields of Punjab. Having unprecedented access to Army records and war diaries coupled with extensive interviews with the survivors some of whom were in their eightees five decades after the conflict lends authenticity to the author’s painstaking efforts of providing a first hand account of the conflict in five different and diverse theatres of war.
On September 20, 1965 the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution calling upon India and Pakistan to implement the ceasefire on 22 September at 7 AM GMT (12 PM IST). The resolution did not satisfy either country. India had set two conditions to the ceasefire: that Pakistan would be declared the aggressor and give an assurance that it would not interfere in Kashmir thereafter. Neither conditions were agreed to. Pakistan too had hoped to defeat India with Chinese support and force plebiscite in Kashmir. This did not happen either. Ceasefire was finally declared between the two countries on 23 September at 3.30 AM (IST) after international pressure intensified. However, skirmishes still went on.
In his foreword union Defence minister Manohar Parrikar said the endeavour was to commemorate the 1965 Indo-Pakistan conflict. “I hope the book will make you pause and think about the courage and sacrifice of our soldiers who defend our borders and ensure our freedom,” he observed.
Rachna is candid that mistakes are made even in wars and “I have not tried to hide that. In many cases the bravery of the enemy has been applauded by our own soldiers.” There are incidents where Pakistani Company Commanders have informed India about the bravery of an Indian soldier and vice versa. The author said “she was touched to the core. Soldiers respect bravery, even in the enemy.”
Around 2 PM on 27 August 1965 Maj Ranjit Singh Dyal gets orders to launch the attack on Haji Pir. What had been planned as a brigade level attack is now being taken on by a single company. This suddenness of the daring assault he leads flusters the enemy and they flee in confusion. By 10 AM on 28 August Haji Pir pass is taken. Maj Dyal’s stories of courage are legendary. He had the strength of character to stand by what he believed in. 2Lt Dyal was headed for big things in life. He would go on to command his unit, become the Army Commander, then General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, and later the Governor of both Puducherry and Andaman and Nicobar. He was one of the country’s first Maha Vir Chakra awardees of the 1965 war when India was still smarting from the reverses of the 1962 Chinese aggression.
The Indo-Pak war witnessed the largest tank battle in military history between WWII and 1965. Moe than a 1000 tanks on both sides took part in the deadly offensives. One of the most fascinating war trophies of the Battle of Sal Uttar. Battered and abandoned enemy tanks were lined up by the victorious Indian Army. In three days of the war 75 Pakistani tanks were destroyed or abandoned. These included the entire tank fleet of Pakistan’s 4 Cavalry, whose commanding officer, twelve officers and several soldiers of other ranks surrendered on the morning of 11 September. Lt Col H R Janu of 4 Grenadiers says he had counted as may as 103 tanks after the battle. This area was referred to as the Patton Tank graveyard. Subsequently named Patton Nagar it served as a unique memorial to all those who fought and fell at Asal Uttar or survived the ordeal of that battlefield.
Then there are others whose individual acts of valour coupled with leadership on the battlefield unmindful of the injuries suffered by them inspired others to bash on regardless and silence the enemy. Being just out of school in 1964-65 one was overawed by the Army and the raw courage of these soldiers. Newspapers were flooded with the narration of their heroism despite their life hanging by a thread.
Their supreme sacrifice coupled with the prestige of their regiments soared to new heights. It encompassed the valour of so many including Company Quarter Master, Havidar Abdul Hamid, awarded the PVC posthumously. During the capture of Phillora a splinter cut through Lt Col Ardeshir Burzorji Tarapore’s arm leaving a gaping wound. He refused to be evacuated insisting saying its just a scratch. Besides he still has to oversee the attack on Chawinda. In this battle his tank was hit several times. Inspired by his leadership his regiment fiercely attacks and destroys as many as 60 tanks. He was also awarded the PVC posthumously.
The furious action at Dograi had its own moments of anxiousness before achieving victory. There were several heroes including Lt Col Desmond Eugene Hayes who only made two demands from his men who were the Jats. The First is “Ek Bhi aadmi peche nahi hatega” and the second was “Zinda ya murda Dograi mein milna hai.” A must read book which also underlines the need to remember the simple women who lost their husband on the battlefield thereby “losing their today for our tomorrow.”