Ayub and the 1965 war

Decades after his death, his diaries covering the period from 1966 to 1972, were published. The most telling omission is the war of 1965, which failed to make it into his memoirs. In his diaries, he said that the people of Pakistan were gullible and the politicians were crooked, which he had been saying all along

The omission of the 1965 War is very curious since millions think Ayub led Pakistan to victory. Ayub, a graduate of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, was a brigadier in the British Indian Army when Pakistan gained independence. In 1951, Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan appointed him as the first Pakistani commander-in-chief of the army.

In 1954, Ayub visited the United States (US) and negotiated a substantial arms-and-training package including Patton tanks and F-86 Sabre fighter-bombers. The army that fought in the war of 1965, and 1971, was Ayub’s army.

But what put him on the map was his coup in October 1958. When he appointed General Muhammad Musa as the army chief to succeed him, he promoted himself to the position of a Field Marshal so that he could continue as the supreme commander.

Ayub watched with apprehension as the US began shipping sophisticated arms to India after its skirmish with China in 1962. But he remained convinced that the US and Pakistan were deeply tied together not only through the CENTO and SEATO alliances, but also a mutual defense agreement. He was convinced that in a future Indo-Pakistan war, the US would side with ‘its most trusted ally’.

But the ambitious foreign minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, pursuaded him that it was time to wrest Kashmir from India. Ayub authorised skirmishes with India in the Rann of Kutch marshes in April 1966, in which Pakistan came out ahead. He thought that meant Pakistan could defeat India in a bigger encounter.

All his assumptions were proven false on September 6, when disaster struck and India attacked Lahore. A quarter of the army was on leave. Pakistan only had enough ammunition to fight India for two weeks. The US cut off arms supplies to both India and Pakistan and that hurt Pakistan much more than India. A ceasefire was negotiated with India on September 23, and Kashmir reverted to its pre-war status

He argued that one Pakistani soldier was worth ten Indian soldiers and that the Hindu morale would break after a few losses. He authorised armed excursions into Indian Kashmir in August 1965, hoping that they would cause a rebellion to break out in Kashmir leading to its liberation from India.

All his assumptions were proven false on September 6, when disaster struck and India attacked Lahore. A quarter of the army was on leave. Pakistan only had enough ammunition to fight India for two weeks.

The US cut off arms supplies to both India and Pakistan and that hurt Pakistan much more than India. A ceasefire was negotiated with India on September 23, and Kashmir reverted to its pre-war status.

Ayub held the US accountable for the inconclusive results. Like an estranged lover, he would write in his memoirs that Pakistan needed friends, not masters.

After the war, Ayub replaced Musa with Yahya, the division commander in the 1965, war who had failed to take the Indian town of Akhnoor in Kashmir. He was a brash and impetuous general of questionable repute and his choice reflected poorly on Ayub’s judgment.

Ayub, who had commanded the Fourteenth Division in East Pakistan, theorised that the defense of the East lay in the West. Thus, in the East he deployed only one army division and one air force squadron.

Ayub’s theory was shattered when a full-scale war with India broke out in the East in December 1971. The president, General Yahya, had rushed three additional divisions over during the prior months but they had come without the usual complement of armor and artillery since Pakistan’s air lift capability was very limited.

Drained by an eight-month long insurgency, the Eastern garrison surrendered in less than two weeks to India in December.

Ayub died in 1974. Decades after his death, his diaries covering the period from 1966 to 1972, were published. The most telling omission is the war of 1965, which failed to make it into his memoirs. In his diaries, he said that the people of Pakistan were gullible and the politicians were crooked, which he had been saying all along. It was his commentary on the crisis in the East that was far more revealing.

In May 1967, he wrote that the people of East Pakistan, “are consciously Hinduising the language and culture. Tagore has become their god. Everything has been Bengalised, even the plate numbers on vehicles are in Bengali. A man from West Pakistan feels like a foreigner in Dhaka. Consciously or unconsciously, they are moving towards separation and exposing themselves to absorption by Hinduism.”

Furthermore, he added on September 1967, “God has been unkind to us in giving the sort of neighbours and compatriots we have. We could not think of a worse combination. If worse comes to worst, we shall not hesitate to fight a relentless battle against the disrupters in East Pakistan. Rivers of blood will flow if need be, unhappily. We will rise to save crores of Muslims from Hindu slavery.”

These entries, made while he was president and head of government, are unbecoming and entirely self-incriminating. Thus, the onus falls on Ayub for not only what happened in the 1965, war but also what happened in the war of 1971.

Pakistan’s history was shaped by these two wars. Ayub had a bigger impact on Pakistani history than any other ruler and he failed the country not once but twice as its supreme commander.

History was not kind to him. He died in anonymity, like Yahya.

The writer is a defence analyst and economist. He has authored Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan (Ashgate Publishing, 2003). He writer can be reached at ahmadfaruqui@gmail.com

Published in Daily Times, September 11th 2018.