Book Review: The 1965 War by Shaukat Riza

From Major Amin

  1. THE PAKISTAN ARMY –WAR 1965 MAJOR GENERAL SHAUKAT RIZA (RETD) –ARMY EDUCATION PRESS 1984-309 PAGES , MAPS AND PHOTOGRAPHS Reviewed by Major Agha H Amin (Retired)
  2. This book was the first official effort to record military history of 1965 war. Major General Shaukat Riza an artillery officer dabbled in military writing and had penned many articles and military papers etc. He was described as a soft spoken gentle man who did not take kindly to being ordered to carry out ruthless action against civilians thus his removal from 9 Divisions command in 1971 in East Pakistan. On the other hand Brigadier Amjad Chaudhry when I met him in 1977-78 described him as not getting along well with major general abrar in the staff college in 1967-68 while serving as chief instructor. In addition he had a long record of having served as an instructor at various army schools of instruction including the prestigious command and staff college. The first major attempt at writing the 1965 war history was made by Brigadier Amjad Ali Khan Chaudhry whose book on 1965 war was published in 1977. Shaukat Rizas book was officially sponsored and he was provided access to all records.
  3. However as all official publications are , the book was doctored and sanitized and the author did not enjoy the right to critical analysis. The book nevertheless has great value. First it contains almost all major orders of battles of all major formations . Second it gives a clear picture of major events of the war. Third it manages to give insights about some most decisive battles of the 1965 war. Most interesting battle of Gadgor where Shaukat Riza described how clueless the 24 Brigade commander was when the Indian 1st Armoured Division broke in and all he could say was “ Nisar, Do Something”.
  4. Brigadier Shaukat Riza’s analysis of Operation Grand Slam is also reasonably critical.  where he faults 12 Division with bad handling of artillery and dispersing artillery fire. He totally misses out how armour was divided by 12 Division on first day of the war thus leading to failure although B Squadron 11 Cavalry had reached Chhamb at Tawi River at 0830 Hours in the morning. However with regard to change of command it appears that major general shaukat riza was forced to give legitimacy to the post 1965 pakistan army whitewash, i.e that change of command of operation grand slam was pre planned and not a surprise as was mostly believed. His treatment of Pakistan Armys First Armoured Division attack is critical and incisive.He admits that whole 4 cavalry. was captured by the Indians .Further he admits that there was much exaggeration of enemy strength in the reporting of armoured division commanders at various levels. When he describes how various brigades of Pakistans 1st armoured division were ordered left and right away from the scene of attack he hints at a Pakistan Army general headquarters deeply afflicted and paralysed by supreme indecision, vacillation and irresolution.
  5. The maps of the book are weak in details of what actually happened merely showing topgraphic details while what formations actually did is left to the readers imagination. However when we received this book via the army book club in 1985-86 this was a revolutionary development as till that time censorship had deeply plagued the cause of military history in Pakistan. Much blame of the failure was passed to ZA Bhutto while Generals Ayub and Musa were presented as innocent bystander pure maidens !
  6. One must admit that the general was handicapped by too many cooks doctoring his book and practicing sycophancy with the usurper and dictator zia , at the height of his power. Even General Mc Chrystal confessed that his book was subjected to some kind of official censorship and sanitization. This is the cost of becoming generals in any army where a man has to compromise over many things . As Sir Francis Bacon brilliantly summed it up , men gain dignities through indignities.
  7.  Major General Saeeduz Zaman Janjua many times recounted how even General Asif Nawaz , although his close relative , had to be obsequious and flexible with his seniors , as a brigadier and major general , failing which he would not have been promoted. Particularly he recounted a situation where a very senior officers son was caught cheating in the Pakistan Military Academy and General Asif Nawaz had to stop at relegation while the minimum punishment was withdrawal from the academy. This is how the world moves and only those who compromise and submit climb high in the so called systems or hierarchies. A man with no war record but one who was all in all in Pakistan of 1984.A sad year like George Orwells book 1984.
  8.  The book ignores how badly Pakistan Army was organized with formations like 12 Division holding an area of responsibility occupied by some five Indian divisions. What stopped Ayub Khan from raising 5 more divisional headquarters in 12 Division area of responsibility. At least this book gave us some idea about what had happened and a skeleton structure to construct a more detailed picture. His two later books Pakistan Army 1947- 59 and Pakistan Army 1966-71 were also similarly handicapped by censorship and sanitization by the Pakistan Army GHQ but more of this in subsequent book reviews.

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28 Replies to “Book Review: The 1965 War by Shaukat Riza”

  1. Omar, from reading all the analysis that you have posted by Major Amin, it would see that the bulk of Pakistani (and Indian) army officers have committed major blunders in all the Indo-Pak conflicts. Which is likely why these conflicts have been largely inconclusive. Notable exception being 1971 where Pakistan’s political blunders and logistical challenges gave India an insurmountable edge.

    What is interesting to me is that there are few “retrospectives” that are in the public domain from Indian officers related to Indo-Pak conflicts.

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  2. Major Amin has high standards for senior commanders and the fact is that most senior commanders in both armies were not capable of handling large formations.. they had grown up in the British Indian army where that level was the job of British officers. Still, there were exceptions. Generals Thimaya, Cariappa, Harbaksh Singh, Sagat Singh, Manekshaw (and I guess Arora, Jacob, Naru etc) and others on the Indian side, Akhtar Malik, Iftikhar Janjua, Noor Khan on the Pakistani side (even Tikka Khan.. nothing to write home about, but capable enough in a basic sort of way)… anyway, I am sure all military history types have their own pet heroes and villains (and theories about why senior command performance was so mediocre in both armies), but in a way it was a good thing that apart from Eastern front in 1971, neither army was ever able to pull off a large scale operation with great success.. lower level units fought well in most sectors (though again, there are exceptions, and cases of majors and colonels losing their marbles.. in the case of India, even a major general who ran and hid in some sugar cane fields (Lahore 1965) and the less said about Pakistan’s armored div commanders in Assal Uttar the better…. No Guderians and Rommels, which may mean we have been lucky.. There are several Indian generals who have written about their experience. I am not that widely read, but Major Amin has read them all and thinks well of some of them..

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  3. I think there is less fascination with the army ( which is changing now) on Indian side then Pakistan. Hardly anyone can name our COAS from the younger generation (and that’s a good thing in my view) . I think the army of both India-Pak are made of same stuff give or take, that’s why having a Rommels would be aberration.

    Indian officers do have memoirs and stuff, just that no body really reads them apart from military types.

    “in the case of India, even a major general who ran and hid in some sugar cane fields (Lahore 1965) and the less said about Pakistan’s armored div commanders in Assal Uttar the better”

    LOL, we had a COAS who in 65 wanted to cede Punjab to Pakistan altogether, untill a upright sikh showed up and disobeyed him

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      1. Major General Niranjan Prasad was so unnerved by PAF strafing his column on GT road near Lahore that he ran and hid in some sugar cane fields and General Harbaksh Singh (Commander Western command) had to go looking for him and found him panic stricken and disheveled and wanted to court martial him, but COAS Gen Choudhry saved his ass. This is mentioned in at least 2 (maybe 3) books written by Indian participants in the war, including one by Harbaksh Singh himself.
        Gen Choudhry losing his nerve and wanting to retreat to the Beas river is also mentioned in several books (though also denied by others). Again, Harbaksh Singh ignored his panic and held his nerve, and an Indian tank ambush at Assal Uttar (and totally inept leadership in the Pakistani armor div) saved India from a 4th battle of Panipat.

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  4. I dont know how much regionalism/ sub nationalism has to do with it (my family in the army says it has to very less, but i doubt) but i feel a commander of the very same region is less inclined to leave “their” region in harms way, sometimes leading them to take really brave (or reckless ) decisions .

    I mean had it been some Thapa or Nair , would he really had done what Harbaksh did for Punjab, or had he just concurred with Choudhary. Would even Harbaksh himself taken the same decision (of refusing a direct Army chief order) if it had been lets say Jaffna or Dhaka.

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    1. From what I can gather, there was no formal order to retreat (this is what enables Choudhry fans to insist that this story is not really true), but that JN Choudhry just proposed this in a telephone call, and Harbaksh ignored. My guess (and it can only be a guess) is that a capable officer (and Harbaksh was one) would not have withdrawn, whether he was from Punjab or not was not the critical factor (I am sure a Thimaya or Cariappa would not do so either). But this is only a guess.

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      1. Yeah, i agree. Just i feel that how much does competence play into it. Because disobeying an army chief direct order is a big deal. I mean we all know history would have changed had Akthar Malik disobeyed and not allowed Yayha to take charge at Akhnoor, and just got on with it. Indian army has more instances of following disastrous orders from the top rather than disobeying them. That;s why the one disobeying become famous.

        BTW did you know Cariappa was a hindu nationalist. 😁😁😁
        Perhaps Nehru would not have made him COAS had he known that.

        https://www.firstpost.com/india/how-coastal-karnataka-was-saffronised-part-8-bharatiya-jan-sangh-emerges-amid-nationwide-crackdown-on-hindu-nationalists-6415821.html

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      2. “My guess (and it can only be a guess) is that a capable officer (and Harbaksh was one) would not have withdrawn”

        This is correct. Don’t think it has much to do with where an officer is from. During the 1965 Indo Pak war, Sagat Singh who was a Rajput from Rajasthan did not withdraw from Nathu La in Sikkim even when the High Command wanted to acquiesce to China’s bullying.

        “To help Pakistan in the 1965 war, the Chinese gave an ultimatum to India and asked to vacate Jelep La and Nathu La in Sikkim area. Both Jelep La and Nathu La were Border Out Posts with their main defences in the rear. 17 Mountain Division (commanded by Maj Gen Sagat Singh) was responsible for the defence of Nathu La and 27 Mountain Division was taking care of Jelep La. Higher command issued orders to vacate the BOPs. 27 Mtn Div vacated the BOP and the Chinese occupied it instantly (it is under Chinese control till date). However Sagat refused to vacate Nathu La. He saw the tactical advantage of having control over Nathu La as an Artillery observer sitting on high features in Nathu La could observe Yatung Valley for miles and bring down accurate artillery fire. Sagat’s tactical brilliance paid off 2 years later.”

        https://www.sify.com/news/remembering-lt-gen-sagat-singh-on-his-birth-centenary-news-columns-thprpwhjbhbdg.html

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        1. Sagat Singh perhaps is the only true military genius Independent India has produced. His successes in Nathu La (1967) as well as the remarkable speed of his thrust into East Pakistan in 1971 allowed India to be successful beyond the dreams of the High Command.

          In 1971, India had actually only planned to take large parts of East Pakistan and then bargain with the Pakistani govt once ceasefire was declared as it happened in 1965. Sagat Singh’s lightening thrusts ensured we captured Dhaka and got an unconditional surrender instead.

          Another under-appreciated Rajput officer was Lt General Hanut Singh who commanded Poona Horse in the 1971. Although India’s aims in the western sector were defensive, Poona Horse went on a limited offensive in order to forestall in Pakistani moves into Indian Punjab or Jammu. Despite being outnumbered by Pakistani forces in the area, during the Battle of Basantar and subsequent operations Indian forces successfully destroyed a lot of Pakistan armor and captured enough land to put any Pakistani assault in this area out of question.

          This battle along with the disaster in Battle of Longewala (or Border movie fame) and extremely modest gains in the Battle of Chhamb (the only place in the Western theatre where Pakistanis put up a tenacious fight), put an end to the Pakistani theory that they could capture Indian land in the West in order to make up for what they lose in the East.

          Iftikhar Janjua mentioned by Omar above was commanding Pakistani troops at the battle of Chhamb. His helicopter was shot down by Indian troops leading to his death during the battle.

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  5. I usually dont take much interest in India-Pak military history (they were but school playground fights compared to the titanic battles between germany and russia in WW2). However, my curiosity was aroused over the conduct of maj gen niranjan prasad, and I googled him a bit.

    Apparently this general had given a bad account of himself just couple of years ago in 1962 war with china too. He always seemed to in a hurry to retreat. (He was instrumental in the fall of Tawang.) Amazingly the same accusations (losing the nerve and the will to fight) were laid against him in this earlier war too.

    It is astonishing that despite having such a damning war record this officer found himself in a critical commanding role just 3 years later. In any other army he would have lost his job at the first strike itself.

    Apparently niranjan prasad’s jeep is still in pakistan possession where they proudly display it as war trophy.

    Lastly, a tidbit. niranjan prasad was a Jain. I am sure this is enough to fuel talks of stereotypes.

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    1. “Lastly, a tidbit. niranjan prasad was a Jain. I am sure this is enough to fuel talks of stereotypes.”

      And COAS Choudhary (of 1965 fame) was a bengali 😛

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    2. “I usually dont take much interest in India-Pak military history (they were but school playground fights compared to the titanic battles between germany and russia in WW2”

      Every other battle is puny when compared to Germany and Russia death match in WW2. The reason is usually countries are led by “sane” governments who are interested in self preservation and also do not want to unnecessarily get large number of their people killed. Heck Churchill and Roosevelt delayed opening the Western front precisely to prepare well and ensure least number of casualties.

      In contrast both Germany and Russia were led by brutal dictators during WW2 and they, unmindful of the human cost, managed to ruin entire generations of their countries and cause widespread destruction in their quest for glory. Admittedly Hitler caused more harm to Russia than to his own people while Stalin got umpteen numbers of his own people killed through stupid policies before (purging of the Officers) and during the war(not taking the German threat seriously, ordering unnecessary attacks). The Eastern front was also characterized by hitherto unmatched levels of brutality towards the civilian population by the advancing German forces.

      The Eastern front was really atypical when it comes to war. The chances for something like that to recur are extremely low.

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    3. Niranjan Prasad comes across as incompetent and cowardly..

      Speaking of stereotypes, Abhinandan Varthaman is also a Jain (Tamil, Digambar)

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          1. Dravidian is a linguistic category. Any Tamil speaker – including those who may be Jehovah’s witnesses (if any) – is a Dravidian.

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  6. I find the focus on regional/caste affiliation of Indian generals/officers a little archaic. Are we still hung up on martial races theory, be it in the Indian Armed Forces or the public at large? Didn’t the Tamil tigers give many of the “martial” regiments of India a bloody nose?

    Omar, does the martial races theory still infect Pakistani military thinking in so far far as the its own communities (and castes) are concerned? I am referring to Punjabis, Baloch, Pathan, etc., as also Khatri, Rajput, etc.?

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    1. The Indian army itself is hungup a bit on the martial race theory. It won’t admit it, as well as it has been watered down significantly over the years , but its still there. To think that caste/ethnicity which animates almost everything in the Indian society and somehow the army being immune to it is being naive.

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      1. This is just untrue.

        Look at the awardees of gallantry medals during Kargil and later. You see a lot of OBC castes.

        Soon after Independence, the Indian army instituted a statewise quota for recruitment which effectively over the years has brought down the proportions of Sikhs, Jats and Rajputs and increased representation from OBC castes across the country (since they are most numerous anyway.) The removal of this statewise quota has been a long demand by Punjab govt as well as the Akali Dal since rural Sikhs were hit particularly hard by this rule.

        In 1965 and 1971 the Indian army was still a carryover from British times. The current army has changed completely in its composition. The statewise quota has been a great political move in order to make the Indian army truly representative of India.

        There is no quota in the officer corps however.

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        1. The presidential guards in India are only recruited from Rajputs and Jats. Sikh-Jats have allegedly been excluded since the Khalistan insurgency.

          I agree that the days of most of India’s army being comprised of Punjabis is likely over, but its silly to argue that these martial-race concepts don’t continue in some form.

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          1. President’s bodyguard is ceremonial. They don’t fight any wars. Indian Army continues to have caste and region based regiments but several other regiments which like Guards, Armoured, Mechanized Infantry are mixed and will be the first in line when we conquer Islamabad.

            Let see how long the British era martial race theory will stay on when a Yadav and a Jatav will together hoist the tricolor over Pakistani senate building in Isloo.

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          2. Yes its ceremonial but the point is the martial race theory persists in India (which you tried to deny).

            I wouldn’t get too excited about India conquering Islamabad given its recent performance. Missed airstrike, lost a plane, and shot their own helicopter down.

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          3. “The presidential guards in India are only recruited from Rajputs and Jats.”

            Lol. Your whole schtick seems to be to pick up obscure exceptions or redundant artefacts of tradition and build a theory around it.

            The Vatican is racist because they only let the Swiss guard the Pope.

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          4. The martial races theory held that only certain Indian “races” (Punjabis, Marathas, Gorkhas) were especially suited for the military profession and accordingly recruitment only focussed on those.

            Anyone with a nodding acquaintance with the modern Indian army knows it has regiments drawn from every single part of India – Punjabis, Marathas, Gorkhas, Biharis, “Madrasis” (there is a Madras regiment that draws on all the South Indian states) upto and including the NorthEastern states.

            Stop repeating this stupidity. (not you Indthings, you can carry on. You cant help it)

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  7. Jains discourage joining army. My grandmother stopped my Dad from joining Indian Airforce via complex guilt tripping and emotional blackmail

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