Introspect rather than celebrate ‘victory’: Bajpai

K.S. Bajpai says India must study lessons of 1965 war with a view to understanding the intent of the Pakistani Army on Kashmir. Photo: Sandeep Saxena  

Rather than celebrating the “victory” in the 1965 India-Pakistan war on its 50th anniversary, India should introspect on the lessons of the war, K.S. Bajpai, one of India’s most famous diplomats, says.

“Militarily, the war was a draw. Let us not forget that Pakistan is also celebrating the 1965 war [as Pakistan Defence Day] because they thought they won it too. So what is the point? Yes, we must mark the day as a tribute to those who fought so gallantly, and secondly, as a time to reflect on the lessons it had for us,” Mr. Bajpai, who was posted in the Indian High Commission in Karachi in 1965, told The Hindu in an exclusive interview recounting his experience of the time.

Mr. Bajpai’s comments come as the government kicked off celebrations of the victory in the war, planned for the first time on this scale. India officially celebrates “Vijay Diwas” on December 16 in honour of the liberation of Bangladesh, and now celebrates Kargil Vijay Diwas as unequivocal successes for the Army. However, the war in 1965, which officially stretched from September 6 to 23, when the United Nations forced a ceasefire, has never been seen as an outright victory for India for several reasons.

Recounting them, Ambassador Bajpai, who was posted as a political counsellor in the mission in Karachi, where he was living with his wife and two young children, says the main failure in 1965 was one of intelligence when Pakistani troops first overran Indian posts in the Rann of Kutch in March 1965. “Delhi has a perpetual gift for being taken by surprise,” Mr. Bajpai says. “We were taken by surprise in 1962 by the Chinese and again by the Pakistanis in the Rann of Kutch in March 1965. These were areas we claimed with great bravado but didn’t actively patrol, and the Pakistanis moved in quite easily. Years later, this repeated in Kargil.”

The second failure, Mr. Bajpai said, was the lack of strategic planning for the war that was fought along the International Border in Punjab, when India held and then gave up Lahore, and on the “ceasefire line” in Jammu and Kashmir, which ended soon after Indian troops took the town of Hajipur. “In a sense, the Indian Army ran a remarkable campaign and that is worth remembering ... the conquest of Hajipur was a monumental success, but then we returned it [after the Tashkent armistice declaration between Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and President Ayub Khan] ... As a result, 1965 didn’t achieve much for us, except that we stopped the Pakistanis in their tracks,” Mr. Bajpai says said.

He said India must study the lessons of the 1965 war with a view to understanding the intent of the Pakistani Army on Kashmir, “by any means”. “Pakistan’s burning desire to somehow wrest Kashmir is something we have to learn to live with. 1965 was the start of Pakistan’s resort to other means, as war did’nt go in their favour either,” Mr. Bajpai, who later served as High Commissioner to Pakistan (1976-1980), said. “It is better to learn these lessons than to take part in celebrating a war that wasn’t much of a victory story.”

A diplomat recounts:

After President General Ayub Khan declared Pakistan was in a “state of war” on September 6, 1965, Pakistani forces put the entire Indian High Commission compound “under arrest”. While much of those actions contravened international conventions, the incarceration lasted only two weeks, as a ceasefire was declared. Here is diplomat K.S. Bajpai’s account of what happened in those two weeks:

After the Indian Army’s assault on Lahore, on September 6, Ayub made a broadcast, saying, “We are at war.” He sounded shaken; it was clear the Pakistanis hadn’t expected us to move on the Punjab front. Anyway, we were at war. So we all met at the Indian High Commission and said what should we do. If we are at war, we must follow the protocol. But even the Pakistani foreign office had no idea. So for the first few days we were moving around quite freely. Then suddenly they said you are all confined to your compounds. One fine night, we came back to find our compound surrounded by the Army and the police. It was rather terrifying, especially for the women and children as they went room to room, making us all open our luggage.

They said there was a transmitter somewhere, but that was a pretext. After that, we just couldn’t move out. And it got worse. My younger son was only three months old and had terrible breathing problems. He couldn’t drink milk. And they wouldn’t let our doctor, a Parsi lady come in to treat him. There was more to follow.

One night at midnight, they herded all the men in the High Commission compound onto a truck, and took us to the Chancery. Once again, they were looking for the “transmitter”. They made us open everything, and looked through all our papers. Luckily, some weeks before I had shipped out all our papers, and burnt the rest (I presume they are still sitting in some corridor or corner of the Foreign Office). The Army and intelligence wasn’t acting on its own though. Many years later, a diplomat who moved to Bangladesh released a letter that came from the Cabinet Secretary to the Foreign Secretary to order an inquiry into the diplomat for trying to be helpful to Indian diplomats when they were incarcerated. So the orders obviously had come right from the top. Despite the fact that this was against all convention, no one ever apologised formally for the way we were treated.

At Tashkent in January the next year, General Ayub did tell Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in private that he regretted their actions against diplomats, but he wouldn’t say it officially. Luckily the war didn’t last very long after India fought back, and the incarceration ended two weeks later (September 23).

(As told to Suhasini Haidar)

(The strapline of the report said: He [Bajpai] was High Commissioner to Pak. in 1965. At that time, he was a Political Counsellor, posted in the Indian High Commission as mentioned in the text. He became High Commissioner to Pakistan only in 1976. The article has been corrected for the factual error.)

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2021 5:25:22 AM |

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