In August 1965, what looked like an indigenous uprising spread like a jungle fire across the part of Kashmir under Indian control. A month later, India invaded Pakistan in what Pakistanis call an “unprovoked” move. Since the war ended in stalemate, Pakistan holds a victory pageant each year on 6 September to mark the day it fended off a much bigger enemy. But was the uprising in Indian-administered Kashmir really indigenous?
Air Marshal (retired) Nur Khan, who headed the Pakistan Air Force in 1965, said in an interview with Dawn newspaper that the army “misled the nation with a big lie” – that India rather than Pakistan provoked the war – and that Pakistan won a “great victory”.
And since the “lie” was never rectified, the Pakistani “army came to believe its own fiction, (and) has continued to fight unwanted wars,” he said.
Qurban Ali, 71, is one of the “insurgents” who fought the Indian troops in August 1965.
But he is a native of the Pakistani-administered side of Kashmir, and he was not an insurgent, but a soldier of the Pakistani army’s Azad Kashmir (AK) Regiment.
“I was a fresh recruit then, barely 20 years old. I had completed the regimental training, and then we volunteered for the Gibraltar Force,” he says.
Pakistan is yet to officially confirm it ever commissioned such a force, but a former Pakistan army major, security expert and author, Ikram Sehgal, describes it in a newspaper article as “a mixture of volunteers from the army, mainly those belonging to Azad Kashmir [Free Kashmir, as Pakistanis call the part of Kashmir they control], and fresh recruits” from the Pakistani-administered side of Kashmir who were “hurriedly trained and launched into the valley [Indian-administered Kashmir] in late July/early August”.
The plan, called Operation Gibraltar, was hatched by the officer in command of the region, Maj-Gen Akhtar Hussain Malik, according to Pakistani and other military historians.
The idea was to use armed guerrilla bands to destroy India’s communication system, and attack nodal points to tie up the Indian army.
Qurban Ali and his group took a long, circuitous route through Pakistani territory to infiltrate Indian-controlled Kashmir from the north.