Memories of the 1965 Indo-Pak War

Photo provided by MK Mangalmurti

This article is a fascinating account of the 1965 Indo-Pak war by Madhav (MK) Mangalmurti. He was in Pakistan at that time and his experiences give us an insight into the real Pakistan. This write-up was penned for a book by Maj.Gen. Gokhale (yet to be published). 

1965 was an eventful year in Indo-Pak history. The Pakistani military ruler General Ayub Khan emerged victorious in the Presidential elections held in January 1965 amidst allegations of rigging. This factor created a desire in Ayub to improve his political image by achieving some success in the realm of foreign relations. He got an opportunity to do so in April 1965 over a minor border dispute with India in the Rann of Kutch area. The Pakistan Army dominated the skirmishes in the Rann area as a result of which a climate of overconfidence was created in the Pakistani military and political establishment.

As a result, In May 1965, President Ayub decided to launch the proposed “Operation Gibraltar. The plan was to launch guerrillas into Indian held Kashmir with the objective of creating a popular uprising, finally forcing India to, abandon Kashmir. Ayub went to Murree on 13 May 1965 to attend a briefing on the conduct of Operation Gibraltar. It was during this briefing that Ayub decided that the 12 Division should also capture Akhnur. This attack was codenamed “Operation Grand Slam”. The rationale was that If Operation Gibraltar did not achieve the expected result of creating an uprising in J&K, a military thrust cutting off our army in Kashmir from the rest of India would achieve the same result.

The miscalculation here was that they never anticipated that India would extend the fighting beyond the disputed state of J&K. When our army retaliated across the international border it came as a rude shock to Ayub Khan. He knew that his whole plan was in shambles.
The Pak thesis was that Kashmir being a disputed territory, it was legitimate to use force in ‘Indian occupied Kashmir’, but not across the international border.

Indian leaders believed that India should have an image of a peace-loving, non-violent country and therefore we never threatened retaliation against any provocation. Our policy was reactive and not proactive. Only under the present Prime Minister, we have adopted a stronger posture to provocation. This is welcome and in fact, will deter the enemy from embarking on any misadventures in the future.

I have a hypothesis that if India had firmly and convincingly told them that an attack on Kashmir would be considered an attack on India and that we would respond with an all-out war, they would have backed off. Our innocuous image and weak posture instead of preventing war, encourage it. When will our policymakers understand this?

Memories of the 1965 Indo-Pak Conflict

I was posted in Santiago, Chile, as Second Secretary till June 1965. Chile was like a mini paradise with a wonderful climate, beautiful nature and friendly people.

From there I was thrown into this boiling cauldron when I was posted in July 1965 to the Indian High Commission in Karachi on getting my promotion to senior scale. It was one occasion when I rued my promotion. Karachi was then the Capital of Pakistan. It was a feather in one’s cap to be posted there as it was supposed to be a very important station for us but I could see that this was clearly not the best time to be there as the two countries were heading towards war.

In those days life in the Foreign Service was quite different. Everything moved much more slowly. On overseas postings, we were supposed to travel by ship with our luggage. It took me 50 days for the total journey which was a wonderful cruise paid for by the government. There was no internet and no cell phones. In those days, the landlines in India did not work properly and communication with one’s relatives and friends in India was very difficult. People today used to instant communication with email, WhatsApp and mobile phone will not comprehend what we went through.

I was travelling alone as my wife had to leave earlier by air to look after my father who had suffered an attack of paralysis. On reaching Karachi I was allotted a flat in Hindustan Court which was one of the building complexes where the officers were put up the other being Shivaji Court. As the last arrival and being relatively junior, I found that the only the least desirable furniture had been left in the flat earmarked for me. I do not remember how I survived until my wife finally arrived from Pune after a few days. I vaguely remember that it was through the kindness of my other colleagues living in the same complex that I survived.

phone-1610185_640For my wife to arrange the journey to Karachi was not easy because she had to communicate with the TG Section in MEA for booking her passage. The phones never worked. I could not communicate with her while on the ship, so on landing at Karachi I tried to call her. Tensions were already rising between India and Pakistan since Operation Gibraltar had already begun. The telephone calls between Pakistan and India were discouraged by Pakistan. To get through, I had to make a very expensive lightning call and plead with the operator to connect me to my wife in Pune. After great effort, I could speak with her for about 2 minutes. She was still struggling with her bookings but promised to do everything to come early. The call was so expensive that I paid one-third of my monthly salary for this call.

Letters from our posts abroad also took a long time. They were put in our weekly diplomatic bag, then sorted out and posted by the MEA. Similarly, the letters from India were sent to the MEA and then forwarded to us by diplomatic bag. This was snail mail.

war-469503_640Soon after my wife reached Karachi, and before we could settle down properly, war broke out on the 6th of Sept 1965. The High Commissioner was Mr.Kewal Singh ICS, who had just replaced Mr. G. Parthasarathy only about 3 weeks earlier. The other distinguished members of the Foreign Service who were posted there at that time were the Deputy High Commissioner, Prakash Kaul, and First Secretary (Political), K.S. Bajpai, under whom I started my stint as Second Secretary (Political) in Karachi.

The India-Pakistan situation which was already tense after the Rann of Kutch skirmish was worsening day by day. When the war started, the High Commissioner held a meeting with the senior officers of the High Commission and a decision was taken to destroy all the classified papers including the codebooks. Normally, even during wars, the sanctity of the diplomatic missions is respected. Even In the 2nd World War, the embassies of enemy countries were allowed to function normally. However, Pakistan was a very untrustworthy country that had no respect for international conventions. This assessment turned out to be correct and the decision a very good one as will be seen from subsequent events.

The High Commission had a huge number of files and papers accumulated over the years marked with various degrees of secrecy ratings. There was no time to weed out papers according to their secrecy level. Also, a shredder would have taken a month to destroy the papers. Fortunately, we had a big outdoor furnace in the backyard of the building. We started burning the files and papers there. It was like Holi. I did not even go home for lunch on the first day and participated in the burning till late evening. It took us nearly 3 days of continuous burning to complete the job. How wise this decision proved to be will be seen later.

We were told that we were going to be evacuated to India by sea and that every officer would only be allowed 2 pieces of baggage. We sorted out all our belongings and put the most valuable stuff in two suitcases. The next day we were told that this was not possible, and we might now be evacuated by air but only one suitcase per person would be permitted. We repacked our important belongings in one suitcase each and waited anxiously. We were almost certain that once we left Pakistan, we would never see the rest of our belongings. After some hours we were told that Pakistan had refused to let us leave. It was clear that we were being held as hostages.

The diplomatic officers were concentrated in Shivaji Court and Hindustan Court. The staff was all asked to move to another building- Panchasheel Court. We had to take into our house as guests an Administrative Attaché and his wife. We were all put under house arrest and held incommunicado from the outside world. Our telephones were cut. Three or four days later the police came to our buildings and searched our flats. They did this on the pretext that there was a transmitter being operated from somewhere in these buildings. Of course, nothing was found.

The HC’s house was also searched during his absence which made it even more objectionable.

The police guards surrounding our compounds used to shout at us to switch off lights as they would aid our air force bombers- as if we had a death wish to get bombed by our own planes. Even if we opened the refrigerator door they would start shouting ‘light band karo’. We had to do everything in complete darkness.

tooth-pain-2071938_640One member from the complex was allowed to go in a police vehicle to the market to buy provisions and vegetables in bulk for everyone. Usually, we had to subsist on potatoes and onions. An officer’s wife who had a toothache was told just to take a pain-killer because she would not be allowed to consult an outside dentist.

We whiled away time playing cards or visiting one another within the complex and exchanging stories and experiences. The First Secretary (Visas and Consular), Frank Dewars, regaled us with stories about his Burma days and kept us entertained,

Two days after our houses were searched, the police arrived at about 2 am and asked us to come with them immediately carrying our office keys. We were herded into an open truck and taken to the High Commission building which was not very far. Except for us, it seems that there was no problem for others to switch on the lights except when an air raid alert was sounded. All the lights in the High Commission were switched on. I noticed that I was wearing the top of one night-suit and the bottom of another having worn my clothes in complete darkness. But this was the least of our problems. Despite our protests, we were made to open our offices and even our safes. They could find very little of any value since we had had time to destroy all the confidential documents.

It was fortunate that the war lasted only 3 weeks. I wonder what would have happened to us if the war had lasted a long time like the Iran – Iraq war.

The officers used to take turns as couriers carrying diplomatic bags to Delhi and back. I was selected to be the first courier after the cease-fire and our release. Shankar Bajpai said that I should meet the Foreign Secretary while in Delhi and apprise him of what had happened to us and recommend breaking off diplomatic relations at least for some time to register our protest at the flouting of diplomatic norms. Accordingly, I sought an audience with the then Foreign Secretary, Mr.C.S.Jha ICS. He listened to me without indicating any reaction beyond thanking me for briefing him. To our chagrin, no retaliatory action was taken by our government either during or after the war. You see we are so civilized and large-hearted!

I understand that the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi was allowed to function normally. Neither were the houses of the Pakistani diplomats nor their offices searched. There was no question of putting them under house arrest. Our government did not seem too concerned about our fate in Pakistan. No steps were taken through friendly countries or the UN to ensure our welfare. No threat was issued to Pakistan regarding their diplomats if our diplomatic status and the sanctity of the High Commission was not immediately restored. Information about us could have been obtained by our Ministry, if there was a desire, through the missions of other friendly countries. This contrasts with what the present government would have done in a similar situation.

After the war, we immediately protested strongly through a Note Verbale to the Pakistan Foreign about all this. They replied that nothing like this had happened. As we now know Pakistanis are inveterate liars. The strange fact is not that they denied it but that we quietly swallowed this.

After the signing of the Tashkent Agreement, President Ayub Khan invited all diplomatic officers of the Indian High Commission to tea at his residence. Perhaps this was his way of apologizing for the rough treatment meted out to us. As an aside, I was destined to meet several Pakistani PMs and Presidents in my career and Ayub was the first. Later in Islamabad, I had occasion to run into Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto at a national day function and chat with him for a few minutes. Many years later I met Nawaz Sharif when I was accompanying PM Narasimha Rao at the Davos WEF conference. I also saw Benazir Bhutto at close quarters there though I did not have a chance to meet her. While in Islamabad I attended the Kakul passing out parade of the Pakistani Military officers and heard in person Yahya Khan who became President later. I had to drive through Abbottabad where more recently Osama bin Laden was found hiding.

Our authorities were euphoric after this agreement that now Pakistan would realize the futility of conflict and our relations would become friendly and normal. There was a strong lobby in the MEA and top echelons of the government which believed that we should behave like gentlemen and be magnanimous even if Pakistan did not and our pre-partition links would ensure that things could be worked out peacefully. As has been proved this was a misreading of the situations.

After the cease-fire, about 80 per cent of the staff of the Indian High Commission, Karachi was repatriated to India. I was among them. The relief for me was short lived as I was hastily posted to Islamabad where in the meantime the Capital had shifted along with all the embassies. After the signing of the Tashkent Agreement, our government thought that we should strike the iron while it was still hot and achieve progress through bilateral talks. These reached a deadlock very soon and tense relations between India and Pakistan resumed. During my stay in Pakistan, the main exchange between the two governments was protesting notes about various violations.

Islamabad then was just a one-horse town. As it was just coming up, it had only one hotel and perhaps one cinema hall. I do not recall having seen a movie there during my tenure of three years. Our High Commission was under 24- hour surveillance. There was a permanent hut opposite the High Commission where the police in plain clothes kept an eye on who came and who went. Any Pakistani coming to the High Commission for any reason was immediately interrogated. Similarly, next to our houses there was a permanent police presence. If my wife and I went out for a walk in the evening there would be one or two plainclothes policemen following us at about 20 feet distance. If I drove out, I would immediately get a tail. In my case, it was a white Volkswagen which had different registration numbers at the front and the rear. In India, I understand that any surveillance against the Pakistan High Commission that we had was unobtrusive and not rough.

As a visitor, I attended their National Assembly sessions a few times. It was remarkable to see the East Pakistani members raise the issue of fair treatment to their province all the time. This was a portent of what was to come in 1971. In Islamabad, I had the good fortune of working with two more outstanding officers. One was the High Commissioner, Samar Sen and the other was KPS Menon who later became Foreign Secretary.

During one of my visits to Karachi for some work, I was taken on a ‘fishing’ trip in Karachi harbour by our Karachi based Naval Attache’ Lancy Gomes. I remember seeing among other Pakistan navy ships, the submarine Ghazi docked in the Port. I am mentioning this because this submarine in December ‘71 was sent to Vishakhapatnam to strike at our aircraft carrier Vikrant but mysteriously exploded just outside the port. A fictional movie “The Ghazi Attack” has been made based on this incident.

A few other remarkable incidents occurred while I was in Pakistan.

The first one was just after the war ended. We were still in disarray. The High Commission was still limping back to normalcy. My neighbour Frank Dewars, First Secretary (Consular), knocked on the door of my flat at 2 AM. The Pakistanis believed that he was from RAW so he had apprehensions about his safety and with some difficulty had obtained clearance to return to India. His family had already left. He said that he was supposed to catch a flight at 5 AM but the staff car had not turned up. He was leaving behind his car for sale later as he was leaving in a hurry. Would I be able to accompany him to the Karachi Airport and drive the car back? I was still new to Karachi and my car had still not arrived. So, I was not too familiar with the roads. Driving alone in Karachi at that hour in the night was quite hazardous and the Pakistanis would associate me with him which was not a good thing. In lawless Pakistan, they could make anyone disappear. Whom would you go to? The Pakistani police would feign total ignorance if anything happened to you. But this was not a moment to flinch as Frank was a fellow officer and a friend. Fortunately, I reached back safely.

While being repatriated by sea soon after that there was chaos at Karachi Port. There were not enough licensed porters. In desperation, we engaged two persons in ordinary clothes who assured us that they would take our luggage to the hold. We did not see our luggage again and were left only with our cabin bags which we had carried ourselves. We had some insurance which gave us some compensation but could not replace our photos and other personal stuff.

The other incident was when one of our First Secretaries, Maharaj Swarup was declared persona non grata and had to leave within 48 hours. My wife and I helped him and his family to pack and he was just able to beat the deadline.

I was later deputed to go to the Wagah border to escort Sikh pilgrims from India who were coming to visit their holy places in Pakistan. I flew to Lahore and then hired a taxi to go to the border by road. The inevitable tail was there but they were following at a distance because there was only one road to the border. Halfway through my taxi failed. I was completely stranded in the middle of a hostile country. I tried to thumb a ride and a friendly Pakistani stopped and gave me a lift saying that he was going in the same direction. He assumed that I was a Pakistani. He was speaking in Urdu and me in Hindi. I realized that the languages are so similar that we think we are speaking each other’s language. He even showed me the place where the big tank battle near Asal Uttar had taken place. I got down at Wagah after thanking him for the lift. About 15 minutes later the intelligence chaps arrived looking extremely flustered. They were so perplexed that throwing all pretence to the wind, they came to me and directly asked me where I had disappeared. They were quite relieved when I told them what had happened.

Taxila or Takshasheela was a worthwhile historical spot to visit near Islamabad. It is a remarkable place in Buddhist history and learning. In the old times, Taxila was compared with Nalanda in the East. The locals there did not seem to have any sense of their past. The villagers there spoke as if some strange Buddhist people used to live in this area. They did not say that their ancestors lived there. This was an example of how Islamization obliterates the pre-Islamic history and culture of a people as Naipaul has described in one of his books.

Once Anjani and I planned a visit to Harappa. We had to stay overnight at Lahore at radha-krishna-2521206_640Flashman’s Hotel- an old Oberoi hotel taken over by Pakistan as evacuee property. In the evening my wife and I decided to go to the cabaret in the hotel since we had nothing else to do. Imagine our surprise when we saw that the program was a Radha-Krishna dance performed by a troupe from East Pakistan. This brought home to me the paucity of indigenous Pakistani culture. They face the dilemma of how to look cultured without looking Indian. When we drove into the circuit house in Harappa the next day, I was quite unprepared for the warm reception. There was a guard of honour at the entrance followed by a sumptuous lunch arranged for us. They also arranged a good guide to show us around. If they wanted, the Pakistanis could be extremely good hosts. Many ordinary Pakistanis had a warm feeling towards us but had to keep away.

The common Pakistani was still friendly towards Indians, but the Pakistani authorities saw to it that we did not have people to people contact. Pakistani media and school books paint a picture of India as a hostile country not reconciled to Partition where Muslims are persecuted. The common Pakistani sincerely believes that Kashmir should have come to them as a Muslim majority area. A strong civil society does not exist in Pakistan, so democracy remains a façade. Religion has been used as an instrument to give Pakistan a separate identity from India. By now the pre-partition links and memories hardly exist. The army there finds it convenient to maintain this bogey of India to keep themselves in control of the country. All plum posts are given to Army officers or ex-army officers.

The Pakistani posting for me was exciting although quite arduous and finally getting posted back to Delhi felt like deliverance.

MK Mangalmurti (known to family and friends as Bhaiyya), became a part of our family when he married Anjani. She is the grand-daughter of Abasaheb and the daughter of Vimal Paranjpye nee Jatar. Abasaheb (Vishnu Shriram Jatar) was the son of Shriram Jatar. and here is a link to Shriram’s Family Tree

Photo credits: Pixabay.

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