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The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965

In mid-1965 Pakistan sent guerrilla forces into the Indian part of Kashmir in the hope of stirring up a rebellion that would either oust the Indians or at least force the issue back onto the international agenda. Pakistani forces did not find as much support among the Kashmiri population as they had hoped, but fighting spread by August, and a process of escalation culminated in a full-scale Indian offensive toward Lahore on September 6. Fighting, frequently very bitter, continued until a UN-sponsored cease-fire took hold on September 23. Both sides had tacitly agreed not to let the war spread to the East Wing of Pakistan.

The war was militarily inconclusive; each side held prisoners and some territory belonging to the other. Losses were relatively heavy--on the Pakistani side, twenty aircraft, 200 tanks, and 3,800 troops. Pakistan's army had been able to withstand Indian pressure, but a continuation of the fighting would only have led to further losses and ultimate defeat for Pakistan. Most Pakistanis, schooled in the belief of their own martial prowess, refused to accept the possibility of their country's military defeat by "Hindu India" and were, instead, quick to blame their failure to attain their military aims on what they considered to be the ineptitude of Ayub Khan and his government.

Pakistan was rudely shocked by the reaction of the United States to the war. Judging the matter to be largely Pakistan s fault, the United States not only refused to come to Pakistan s aid under the terms of the Agreement of Cooperation, but issued a statement declaring its neutrality while also cutting off military supplies. The Pakistanis were embittered at what they considered a friend's betrayal, and the experience taught them to avoid relying on any single source of support. For its part, the United States was disillusioned by a war in which both sides used United States-supplied equipment. The war brought other repercussions for the security relationship as well. The United States withdrew its military assistance advisory group in July 1967. In response to these events, Pakistan declined to renew the lease on the Peshawar military facility, which ended in 1969. Eventually, United States-Pakistan relations grew measurably weaker as the United States became more deeply involved in Vietnam and as its broader interest in the security of South Asia waned.

Iran, Indonesia, and especially China gave political support to Pakistan during the war, thus suggesting new directions in Pakistan that might translate into support for its security concerns. Most striking was the attitude of the Soviet Union. Its post-Khrushchev leadership, rather than rallying reflexively to India's side, adopted a neutral position and ultimately provided the good offices at Tashkent, which led to the January 1966 Tashkent Declaration that restored the status quo ante.

The aftermath of the 1965 war saw a dramatic shift in Pakistan's security environment. Instead of a single alignment with the United States against China and the Soviet Union, Pakistan found itself cut off from United States military support, on increasingly warm terms with China, and treated equitably by the Soviet Union. Unchanged was the enmity with which India and Pakistan regarded each other over Kashmir. The result was the elaboration of a new security approach, called by Ayub Khan the "triangular tightrope"--a tricky endeavor to maintain good ties with the United States while cultivating China and the Soviet Union. Support from other developing nations was also welcome. None of the new relationships carried the weight of previous ties with the United States, but, taken together, they at least provided Pakistan with a political counterbalance to India.

Pakistan needed other sources of military supply, most urgently because of its wartime losses and the United States embargo. After 1965 China became Pakistan's principal military supplier, providing matériel to all three services in substantial quantity and at attractive prices. Submarines and Mirage aircraft were also purchased from France. The Soviet Union sought to woo Pakistan with military equipment, but that program never really developed because of Moscow's concern not to jeopardize its more important relationship with India. The United States gradually relaxed its embargo; however, it was only in 1973 that substantial supplies again flowed to Pakistan.

The late 1960s were politically turbulent times for Pakistan; by 1969 conditions had deteriorated to the point where the army once again felt called on to intervene. On March 25, an ailing and discredited Ayub Khan transferred power to army commander in chief General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan, who declared himself president as well as chief martial law administrator (CMLA) and announced that Pakistan would have national general elections-- for the first time since independence--and a new constitution. The elections in December 1970 were fair but led to the breakup of Pakistan (see Yahya Khan and Bangladesh , ch. 1). In the process, the army and Pakistan's security situation deteriorated still further.

The largely Punjabi army was in a politically untenable position in East Pakistan, which had voted overwhelmingly for an autonomist party. Once it became clear that a compromise between the civilian leaders of West Pakistan and East Pakistan was unattainable, Yahya Khan was forced to choose between the two sides, and his actions were seen by the Bengalis of the East Wing as favoring the interests of West Pakistan, which were hardly distinguishable from those of the armed forces. Yahya Khan decided to postpone indefinitely the convening of the new National Assembly, which would have been dominated by Bengalis. It was feared that a government dominated by East Pakistani interests would cut back sharply on military prerogatives and roll back the dominance of Punjab in national affairs. Within days, unrest spread throughout East Pakistan. Bengalis went on strike and stopped paying taxes. Bengali autonomists became separatists.

Army elements in East Pakistan were strengthened in the spring of 1971 and were used to suppress Bengali recalcitrance. The task was undertaken with ferocity; killing, rape, looting, and brutality were widespread and resulted in the flight of nearly 10 million refugees to India over six months. International outrage was growing and forced the Richard M. Nixon administration in the United States to halt its attempts to reopen military supply lines to Pakistan.

The army was generally successful during the spring and summer of 1971 in restoring order in East Pakistan, but increasing Indian support of the antigovernment Bengali guerrillas known as the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Force) began to shift the balance. When Indian troops finally intervened directly in December, there was no hope of stopping them. Even though the garrison in East Pakistan had been reinforced, national strategy was still based on the assumption that Pakistan could not simultaneously defend both wings of the country against an Indian attack; hence, an attack in the east would be countered in the west. On December 3, Pakistani forces began hostilities in the west with attacks on Indian airfields. They had little success, and within twenty-four hours India had seized air superiority, launched attacks against West Pakistan, and blockaded the coast. Pakistani forces in East Pakistan surrendered to the Indian army on December 16, and India offered a cease-fire. In the face of superior force on all fronts, Pakistan had little choice but to accept the breakup of the country.

The armed forces were shattered and their equipment destroyed; 9,000 troops were lost, and 90,000 prisoners of war were in the hands of Indians and Bengalis in Bangladesh (the former East Pakistan). Yahya Khan resigned in disgrace, and the winner of the elections in West Pakistan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, succeeded him as CMLA and president. Pakistan, a country originally created in the name of religion, lost its raison d'être as the homeland of Muslims in the subcontinent and was much reduced in size. Although the politicians were ultimately responsible for the events of 1971, the army and its leaders were the obvious villains.

The security situation of the nation also changed. Any illusions of parity vis-à-vis India were demolished. Although both China and the United States had tilted toward Pakistan politically, it was abundantly clear that neither of those superpowers was in a position to offset Indian primacy in the region, especially in view of the friendship treaty that India had signed with the Soviet Union in August 1971, just before the outbreak of hostilities. The Soviet Union, forced to choose sides, opted for India, and the rapprochement that had taken place between Pakistan and the Soviet Union evaporated. Pakistan stood largely alone and at the mercy of India. The 1972 bilateral Simla Agreement restored most of the status quo ante the 1971 war in the relations between the two nations. The agreement states that "the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them." Although India maintained the more narrow interpretation that disputes be settled bilaterally, Pakistan in subsequent years favored a looser interpretation--one that did not exclude a multilateral settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

Yet the loss of East Pakistan also had positive implications for Pakistan's security. The loss of the East Pakistani population as a recruitment pool was only of minor significance. By shedding its most dissident and poorest province, Pakistan emerged stronger and was able to focus its energies more effectively. A major strategic problem--the geographic division of the country--was eliminated. The loss of East Pakistan also removed the need for a Pakistani role in Southeast Asia. Pakistan withdrew from SEATO, and Bhutto refocused national attention toward Muslim West Asia. He apparently tried to develop ways of putting the Kashmir issue to rest so that Pakistan could greatly reduce its preoccupation with South Asia. No longer closely tied to the United States, Bhutto sought a larger role for Pakistan among the nonaligned countries and, especially, within the Islamic world. A brilliant diplomat, he was able in a very few years to restore Pakistan's prestige, stake out a leading role for Pakistan among Muslim nations, court the superpowers, and even establish cordial relations with Bangladesh.

These triumphs were not shared with the military, as Bhutto moved to create a "professional but docile" military. Senior officers were dismissed, and their replacements were chosen by Bhutto. The military establishment was reorganized so that it would be under more effective civilian control. Bhutto's 1973 constitution narrowly defined the role of the military as defending Pakistan against external aggression and "subject to law" acting in aid-to-the-civil power when called on so to do. Any attempt to abrogate the constitution was deemed high treason (see Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and a New Constitutional System , ch. 1).

In 1972 Bhutto established the Federal Security Force of some 18,000 men to provide assistance to the civil administration and police and to do civic action work. Not under military control, the Federal Security Force was, in effect, Bhutto's private political army. The military, beaten and demoralized, had no choice but to accept this further setback, even as it harbored deep concerns over the impact Bhutto was having on the integrity of the army and its ability to defend Pakistan.

In 1973 Bhutto began to focus on rebuilding the tamed military because Pakistan continued to face serious security threats from abroad, highlighted by the Indian nuclear test in 1974, and at home--a major insurgency from 1973 to 1977 in Balochistan, which ultimately required the involvement of 80,000 army troops. New military production facilities and a navy air wing were established. Bhutto's diplomacy resulted in a partial lifting of the United States embargo on military sales to Pakistan in 1973 and a complete removal of the embargo in 1977. He also used diplomacy to tap into the burgeoning oil revenues of the Middle East; still, Pakistan could not afford to buy much, and its inventories of weapons were increasingly made up of outdated and ill-matched equipment from a variety of sources. Nonetheless, the army's self-confidence again began to grow. Expenditures on defense by 1974 had reattained the 1969 level-- even though the gross national product (GNP--see Glossary) was little more than half of the amount that had been produced before Bangladesh became independent. The defense budget continued to increase over the next several years, supporting a somewhat expanded strength--428,000 personnel in 1976. Pakistan's nuclear program was also established by Bhutto. )

Bhutto's domestic position, however, eroded rapidly in the mid-1970s, and, as his charisma waned, he turned to the army to deal with domestic unrest. The rigged elections of March 1977 resulted in mass demonstrations demanding Bhutto's resignation. General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, chief of the army staff--a new title for service chiefs replacing the former title of commander in chief--saw that the army was unwilling to engage in the violence that would be necessary to put down the unrest. In a stunning move, Zia arrested Bhutto and other political leaders on July 5, 1977, and declared Pakistan's third period of martial law.

Data as of April 1994

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