The Pakistan Army From 1965 to 1971-Maj (Retd) AGHA HUMAYUN AMIN (Pakistan Army)


Regular Member
Jan 31, 2010
The Pakistan Army-From 1965 to 1971

Maj (Retd) AGHA HUMAYUN AMIN (Pakistan Army) from WASHINGTON DC makes an interesting foray down memory lane.

The finest summarising of the incalculable qualitative harm inflicted on the Pakistan Army, by the self-promoted Field Marshal of peace, by a contemporary, was done by Major General Fazal I Muqeem, when he described the state of affairs of the Pakistan Army during the period 1958-71; in the following words: "We had been declining according to the degree of our involvement in making and unmaking of regimes. Gradually the officer corps, intensely proud of its professionalism was eroded at its apex into third class politicians and administrators. Due to the absence of a properly constituted political government, the selection and promotion of officers to the higher rank depended on one man’s will. Gradually, the welfare of institutions was sacrificed to the welfare of personalities. To take the example of the army, the higher command had been slowly weakened by retiring experienced officers at a disturbingly fine rate. Between 1955 and November 1971, in about 17 years 40 Generals had been retired, of whom only four had reached their superannuating age. Similar was the case with other senior ranks. Those in the higher ranks who showed some independence of outlook were invariably removed from service. Some left in sheer disgust in this atmosphere of insecurity and lack of the right of criticism, the two most important privileges of an Armed Forces officer. The extraordinary wastage of senior officers particularly of the army denied the services, of the experience and training vital to their efficiency and welfare. Some officers were placed in positions that they did not deserve or had no training for" 1.

The advent of Yahya Khan and Yahya’s Personality

Immediately after the 1965 war Major General Yahya Khan who had commanded the 7 Division in the Grand Slam Operation was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General, appointed Deputy Army C in C and C in C designate in March 1966 2. Yahya was a Qizilbash3 commissioned from Indian Military Academy Dehra Dun on 15 July 1939. An infantry officer from the 4/10 Baluch Regiment, Yahya saw action during WW II in North Africa where he was captured by the Axis Forces in June 1942 and interned in a prisoner of war camp in Italy from where he escaped in the third attempt4. In 1947 he was instrumental in not letting the Indian officers shift books 5 from the famous library of the British Indian Staff College at Quetta,where Yahya was posted as the only Muslim instructor at the time of partition of India.Yahya was from a reasonably well to do family, had a much better schooling than Musa Khan and was directly commissioned as an officer. Yahya unlike Musa was respected in the officer corps for professional competence. Yahya became a brigadier at the age of 34 and commanded the 106 Infantry Brigade, which was deployed on the ceasefire line in Kashmir in 1951-52. Later Yahya as Deputy Chief of General Staff was selected to head the army’s planning board set up by Ayub to modernise the Pakistan Army in 1954-57. Yahya also performed the duties of Chief of General Staff from 1958 to 1962 from where he went on to command an infantry division from 1962 to 1965.

Yahya was a hard drinking soldier approaching the scale of Mustafa Kemal of Turkey and had a reputation of not liking teetotallers. Yahya liked courtesans but his passion had more to do with listening to them sing or watching them dance. Thus he did not have anything of Ataturk’s practical womanising traits. Historically speaking many great military commanders like Khalid Bin Waleed, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Eftikhar Khan and Grant were accused of debauchery and womanising. These personal habits still did not reduce their personal efficiency and all of them are remembered in military history as great military commanders! The yardstick is that as long as a military commander performs his job as a military leader well, debauchery drink etc is not important. Abraham Lincoln a man of great integrity and character when told by the typical military gossip type commanders, found in all armies of the world and in particular plenty in the Indo-Pak armies, about Grants addiction to alcohol dismissed their criticism by stating "I cannot spare this man. He fights"! Indeed while the US Civil War was being fought a remark about Grant was attributed to Lincoln and frequently repeated as a joke in army messes. The story thus went that Lincoln was told about Grant’s drinking habits, and was asked to remove Grant from command. Lincoln dismissed this suggestion replying "send every general in the field a barrel of it"! Once Lincoln heard this joke he said that he wished very much that he had said it! 6 Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, praised by his enemies, i.e. the British, in the British Official History of WW One, as one of the greatest military commanders in world’s history was a great consumer of alcohol and chronic womaniser! It has been alleged that Kemal was a homosexual (a typically Turkish pastime) too and frequently suffered the ravages of venereal disease! The same was true for Petain one of the greatest military commanders of the French Army in WW One!

Gul Hassan Khan who served with Yahya in the General Headquarters in the early 1960s described Yahya as "professionally competent" and as a man of few words whom always approached the point at issue without ceremony.7 Muqeem described Yahya as "authoritarian by nature" and "reserved by temperament".8 Major General Sher Ali under whom Yahya served assessed Yahya as an officer of the "highest calibre". Shaukat Riza writing as recently as 1986 described Yahya as a good soldier, as a commander distinguished for his decision making and generous nature and one who gave his total trust to a man whom he accepted as part of his team or a colleague.9

Contrary to Gauhar’s judgement Yahya, at least in 1966-69, was definitely viewed as a professional in the army. His shortcomings in functioning as the Supreme Commander that became evident in the 1971 war were not known to anyone in 1966. No evidence exists, but it appears that Yahya’s sect and ethnicity may have played a part in Ayub’s decision to select Yahya as C in C. Musa writes in his memoirs that Yahya was not his first choice as Army C in C but was selected by Ayub overruling Musa’s reservations about Yahya’s character 10. This further proves that Ayub selected Yahya as the army chief for reasons other than merit. I am not implying that Yahya was incompetent, but merely the fact that Ayub was motivated by ulterior reasons to select Yahya. These reasons had something to do with Yahya’s political reliability by virtue of belonging to a minority! Yahya was not a Punjabi or a Pathan but belonged to a minority ethnic group as well as a minority ethnic group, just like Musa.This was no mere coincidence but a deliberately planned manoeuvre to have as army chief a man who was not from the two ethnic groups which dominated the officer corps, the Punjabis being more than 60 % of the officer corps and the Pathans being the second largest group after the Punjabis!11 Altaf Gauhar Ayub’s close confidant inadvertently proves this fact once he quite uncharitably, and for reasons, other than dispassionate objective historical considerations, described Yahya as one " selected…in preference to some other generals, because Yahya, who had come to hit the bottle hard, had no time for politics and was considered a harmless and loyal person".12

Selection of Army C in C

Foreign readers may note that almost all army chiefs of Pakistan Army were selected primarily because they were perceived as reliable as well as pliable! In Addition ethnic factors Vis a Vis prevalent political considerations played a part in their selection. Thus Liaquat the first premier selected a non Punjabi as the army’s first C in C since in 1950 Liaquat was involved in a political confrontation with Punjabi politicians of the Muslim League and had established a Hindustani-Pathan-Bengali alliance to sideline the Punjabi Muslims. Thus the most obvious nominee for the appointment of C in C i.e. Major General Raza, a Punjabi Muslim was not selected. Instead Ayub an ethnic Pathan, and one who already had been superseded and sidelined, and with a poor war record was selected as the first Pakistani Muslim army C in C. Similarly Ayub selected Musa simply because Musa was perceived as loyal despite not being competent! Yahya as Gauhar Ayub’s closest adviser and confidant admits, as earlier mentioned, was selected because he had hit the bottle hard; i.e. was harmless, and was loyal, and thus no danger to Ayub! In other words Gauhar advances a theory that Ayub selected Yahya (Gauhar’s subjective judgement) simply because it was politically expedient for Ayub to have this particular type of man as army chief! Gauhar judgement of Yahya has little value since it was highly subjective but Ayub’s reasons for selecting his army chief, as Gauhar describes it speaks volumes for the character of Ayub and I would say the orientation of all Pakistani politicians, both civilian and military! In third world countries every army chief is a military politician! The process was carried on and continues to date but this chapter deals with only 1965-1971, so more of this later!

The same was true for extensions given to the army chiefs. Ayub got three extensions since Iskandar Mirza perceived him as a reliable tool. He booted out Mirza, his benefactor, after the last extension in 1958! Ayub gave Musa an extension of four years in 1962 since he perceived Musa as reliable and politically docile, and thus no threat to Ayub’s authoritarian government. Since 1962 when Musa got his extension of service by one additional term of four years, which prolonged his service from 1962 to 196613, no Pakistani army chief was given an extension beyond his three or four year term. The situation however was still worse since Yahya took over power in 1969 and thus automatically extended his term as C in C till December 1971. Zia usurped power in 1977 and thus gave himself a nine year extension as Army Chief till he was removed to the army and the country’s great relief in August 1988 by Divine Design! Beg attempted to get an extension by floating the idea of being appointed as Supreme Commander of Armed Forces14 but was outmanoeuvred by his own army corps commanders, who gave a lukewarm response to the idea and by Ghulam Ishaq who was a powerful president and had a deep understanding of the military mind by virtue of having loyally and successfully served three military dictators.

Yahya Khan as Army Chief-1966-1971

Yahya energetically started reorganising the Pakistan Army in 1965. Today this has been forgotten while Yahya is repeatedly condemned for only his negative qualities (a subjective word which has little relevance to generalship as proved in military history)! The post 1965 situation saw major organisational as well as technical changes in the Pakistan Army. Till 1965 it was thought that divisions could function effectively while getting orders directly from the army’s GHQ. This idea failed miserably in the 1965 war and the need to have intermediate corps headquarters in between the GHQ and the fighting combat divisions was recognised as a foremost operational necessity after the 1965 war. In 1965 war the Pakistan Army had only one corps headquarter i.e the 1 Corps Headquarters. Soon after the war had started the US had imposed an embargo on military aid on both India and Pakistan. This embargo did not affect the Indian Army but produced major changes in the Pakistan Army’s technical composition. US Secretary of State Dean Rusk well summed it up when he said, "Well if you are going to fight, go ahead and fight, but we’re not going to pay for it"!15 Pakistan now turned to China and for military aid and Chinese tank T-59 started replacing the US M-47/48 tanks as the Pakistan Army’s MBT (Main Battle Tank) from 1966. 80 tanks, the first batch of T-59s, a low-grade version of the Russian T-54/55 series were delivered to Pakistan in 1965-66. The first batch was displayed in the Joint Services Day Parade on 23 March 196616. The 1965 War had proved that Pakistan Army’s tank infantry ratio was lopsided and more infantry was required. Three more infantry divisions (9, 16 and 17 Divisions) largely equipped with Chinese equipment and popularly referred to by the rank and file as "The China Divisions" were raised by the beginning of 196817. Two more corps headquarters i.e. 2 Corps Headquarters (Jhelum-Ravi Corridor) and 4 Corps Headquarters (Ravi-Sutlej Corridor) were raised.

In the 1965 War India had not attacked East Pakistan which was defended by a weak two-infantry brigade division (14 Division) without any tank support. Yahya correctly appreciated that geographical, as well as operational situation demanded an entirely independent command set up in East Pakistan. 14 Division’s infantry strength was increased and a new tank regiment was raised and stationed in East Pakistan. A new Corps Headquarters was raised in East Pakistan and was designated as Headquarters Eastern Command.18 It was realised by the Pakistani GHQ that the next war would be different and East Pakistan badly required a new command set up.

Major General Sahibzada Yaqub Khan took over as the army’s Chief of General Staff and thus Principal Staff Officer to the C in C soon after the 1965 war. Yaqub was an aristocrat from a Hindustani Pathan background and was altogether different from the typical north of Chenab breed in depth of intellect, general outlook and strategic perception! In words of Fazal Muqeem a sharp observer and one who was not lavish in praising anyone "planning had taken a turn for the better when Major General Yaqub Khan became the Chief of General Staff”.19 In other words Muqeem was implying that planning level in the army was relatively poor before Yaqub became the Chief of General Staff. But Muqeem went further and stated that the army’s war plans in the post 1965 era were still vague about "what action should be taken in West Pakistan if an attack was mounted against East Pakistan".20 We will discuss more of this later.

Promotions and Appointments

Selection and assessment of officers for higher ranks had depended on one man’s will and his personal likes and dislikes since 1950. Initially it was Ayub from 1950 to 1969 and Yahya from 1969 to 1971. Dictators fear all around them and this was the principal tragedy of the Pakistan Army. Selection and assessment of men was not a plus point in Yahya’s personality. It appears that either Yahya was not a good judge of men. In this regard Yahya continued Ayub’s policy of sidelining talented officers who had the potential of becoming a rival at a later stage! We will first deal with selection for higher ranks vis-a-vis war performance. Almost no one, who had blundered, except Brigadier Sardar Ismail the acting divisional commander of 15 Division, was really taken to task for having failed in the discharge of his military duties!21 Lord Bashir of Valtoha fame was promoted, and commanded the 6th Armoured Division after the war! On the other hand Major General Abrar, who had proved himself as the finest military commander, at the divisional level, at least by sub continental standards, was sidelined and ultimately retired in the same rank!22 Lieutenant Colonel Nisar of 25 Cavalry who had saved Pakistan’s territorial integrity from being seriously compromised at a strategic level at Gadgor on the 8th of September 1965 was sidelined. This may be gauged from the fact that at the time of outbreak of the 1971 War Nisar although promoted to brigadier rank, was only commanding the Armoured corps recruit training centre, a poor appointment for a man who had distinguished himself as a tank regiment commander in stopping the main Indian attack. A man whose unit’s performance was described by the enemy opposing him as one "which was certainly creditable because it alone stood between the 1st Indian Armoured Division and its objective"23 was considered by the Pakistani General Headquarters pedantic officers as fit only to command a recruit training centre while one who was instrumental in failure of the main Pakistani armour effort at Khem Karan was promoted to Major General rank and trusted with the command of Pakistan’s Armoured division! Brigadier Qayyum Sher who had distinguished himself as a brigade commander in 10 Division area in Lahore was also not promoted! Qayyum Sher was one of the few brigade commanders of the army who had led from the front. Major General Shaukat Riza who rarely praised anyone had the following to say about Sher’s conduct while leading the Pakistan army’s most important infantry brigade counter attack on Lahore Front as a result of which the Indian 15 Division despite considerable numerical superiority was completely thrown off balance. Shaukat stated that "Brigadier Qayyum Sher, in his command jeep, moved from unit to unit and then personally led the advance, star plate and pennant visible. This was something no troops worth their salt could ignore".24 but the Army’s Selection Boards ignored Qayyum Sher once his turn for promotion came! Qayyum Sher did well in war and was awarded the Pakistani D.S.O i.e. the HJ! But war performance or even performance in peacetime training manoeuvres was, and still is, no criteria for promotion in the Pakistan Army! Qayyum retired as a brigadier, remembered by those who fought under him as a brave and resolute commander, who was not given an opportunity to rise to a higher rank, which Qayyum had deserved, more than any brigadier of the Pakistan Army did.

Analysis and reappraisal after the 1965 War

The 1965 War was rich in lessons and many lessons were learned; however the army’s reorganisation was badly affected by the political events of 1968-71. The two major areas of improvement after the war were in the realm of military organisation and military plans. It was realised finally that infantry and armoured divisions could not be effectively employed till they were organised as corps with areas of responsibility based on terrain realities.

The post 1965 army saw major changes in terms of creation of corps headquarters. On the other side no major doctrinal reappraisal was done after the 1965 War except raising new divisions and corps no major reform was undertaken to produce a major qualitative change in the army’s tactical and operational orientation. Today this is a much criticised subject. The events of 1965-71 however must be taken as a whole. When one does so a slightly different picture emerges. A major start was taken soon after 1965 after Yahya had been nominated as the deputy army chief, towards improving higher organisation and corps were created, but this process was retarded by the much more ominous political developments which increasingly diverted the army chiefs energies into political decision making from 1969 onwards.

The 1965 War was a failure in higher leadership. This was true for both sides. However, qualitative superiority by virtue of superior doctrine strategic orientation and operational preparedness became relatively far more important for the Pakistan Army than the Indians.

The Indians had already embarked on a programme of rapid expansion since the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962. The material and numerical gap between the Indian and Pakistan armies started widening from 1962 and after 1965 it reached dangerous proportions! Further because of the 1965 War the Indians got an opportunity to improve their command and control procedures. The Indians the reader must note were already one step ahead of the Pakistanis in higher organisation since their army was organised to fight as corps since 1947-48 while the Pakistan Army had fought the 1965 War organised in divisions.

The Indians had failed to make good use of their considerable numerical superiority in infantry in 1965 but, they had learned many lessons which. This meant that in the next war the Indians could employ their numerically superior forces in a relatively better manner than in 1965. Further Pakistan had lost its major arms supplier the USA which had imposed an arms embargo on Pakistan. Thus the technical superiority in equipment which Pakistan had enjoyed in 1965 was nullified after 1965. On the other hand India had a much larger economy and thus far greater potential to buy from the open market than Pakistan. All these factors demanded a major qualitative change. One that would ensure that Pakistan could survive another war with India.It was an entirely new situation.

The year 1965 was a watershed in Pakistani military history. Till 1965 Pakistani planners thought in terms of liberating the Pakistani Alsace Lorraine i.e. Kashmir! The issue in the next war was no longer adding more territory but merely preserving the country’s territorial integrity! The country was in the grip of serious internal and external crisis. The Internal crisis stemmed out of 11 years of military rule which had sharply polarised the country into two wings i.e the Eastern and the Western Wing and even within the Western Wing the bulk of the populace was alienated with the Ayub regime. It appears that this major change in the overall geostrategic position was not grasped by those at the highest level. It appears that till December 1971 no one in the Pakistani GHQ seriously thought that the Indians would overrun East Pakistan. Too much hope was based on US or Chinese intervention. The Chinese could not possibly have intervened since all Himalayan passes were snowbound in Nov-Dec 1971. The United States on the other hand made no serious effort to pressurise India into not attacking East Pakistan. To make things further complicated the country’s internal cohesion was seriously weakened by the political conflict between the East and West Pakistan Provinces and the countrywide anti Ayub agitation which finally led to the exit of the self promoted Field Marshal Ayub from power in March 1969. The situation was extremely delicate, complicated and only a truly great leader at both civil and military level could have remedied the situation. Unfortunately for the Pakistan Army and the country there was no such man to steer the country’s ship out of troubled waters.

It appears that 1965 war was not rationally analysed in Pakistan at all. In this regard the Pakistani military decision-makers were swept away in the emotional stream of their own propaganda! The fact that the Pakistan Army was in a position to inflict a decisive defeat on the Indians in the war, but failed due to primarily poor leadership at and beyond brigade level, and due to doctrinal and organisational deficiencies at the higher level was not accepted! It was a natural result of the fact that Pakistan functioned as a pseudo democracy under one man! This in turn had led to a ban on frank and open analysis of the army’s performance and role! On the other hand the Indian Army’s poor performance was openly and frankly analysed and the Indian critics did not spare the Indian C in C General Chaudri.25 It would not be wrong to say that the Indians thanks to a democratic system in which the army was not a sacred cow, unlike Pakistan, analysed their failings in 1965 in a more positive and concrete manner. Shaukat Riza the officially sponsored historian of the Pakistan Army admitted this fact. Shaukat thus observed, while briefly analysing the Commander in Chief’s General Training Directive of 1968, that "We admitted that the enemy would have better resources in number of troops, quality of equipment, research, development and indigenous production. In face of superiority we were relying solely on quality of our troops to win a war against India. But there was nothing in our satchel of organisation, tactical doctrine or even quality of professional leadership, which could substantiate this confidence. This was self-hypnosis where we were not really hypnotised”.26 It may be noted that the General Training Directive identified the enemy threat relatively realistically only in an extremely vague and rudimentary sense but gave no solution or tangible doctrine to combat it except, operations on broad front for all formations except those in Kashmir, Mountain Warfare for formations in Kashmir and Baluchistan, Snow Warfare for troops in the Northern Areas, Desert Warfare for formations located in Sind Baluchistan and Bahawalpur, Jungle and Riverine Warfare for formations in East Pakistan and Frontier Warfare for all formations in NWFP and Baluchistan!27 It was a piece of extreme naivety and was probably drafted by a staff officer after reading the recommendations of the last two years training directives and was merely signed by the army chief 28. The 1969 training directive dealt with attack by infiltration and anti infiltration measures29, something, which was just a whimsical fancy in a staff officer’s mind! Infiltration was buried soon and in 1971!

Strategic and Operational Dilemmas

Fazal Muqeem quite correctly described the adverse strategic situation in the post 1965 period in the following words, "with the almost daily expansion of the Indian Armed Forces since the 1965 war, it had become economically impossible for Pakistan to keep pace with her. The policy of matching Indian strength with even 1/3 or _ in numbers had gradually gone overboard. Under these circumstances all that Pakistan could do was to avoid war with India and to strive to resolve her disputes through political and diplomatic means”.30 The only problem with this quote is the fact that, at that time i.e. the period 1965-71 no one at the helm of affairs was ready to think so realistically and rationally! Fazal’s wisdom is the wisdom of hindsight, expressed some two years after Pakistan Army had fought the disaster and humiliating war in its history and Pakistan was dismembered into two countries. The Pakistani nation had been fed on propaganda about martial superiority of their army! Brigadier A.R Siddiqi who served in the army’s propaganda/media management wing known as the ISPR (Inter Services Public Relations Directorate) states that "the 1965 war had exalted the military image to mythical heights”. 31 The common man drew false conclusions and to compound things further, the 1965 war was viewed differently in West and East Pakistan. The West Pakistani populace and particularly the majority West Pakistani ethnic groups i.e. the Punjabis saw the war as a triumph of a preponderantly Punjabi Muslim army over a numerically larger Hindu army! The East Pakistanis viewed the war as a war fought by a West Pakistani dominated army to protect West Pakistan, where some 90 % of the army was stationed! The Indians had not attacked Pakistan deliberately since their strategy was based on the fact that in case the bulk of Pakistan Army in the West Pakistan provinces northern half i.e. Punjab was destroyed Pakistan would automatically sue for peace or collapse! Thus they had concentrated the bulk of their army against West Pakistan in the 1965 War. On the Eastern Front the Indians outnumbered the Pakistani troops defending East Pakistan by more than three to one but did not attack East Pakistan out of fear of Chinese Army the bulk of which was concentrated opposite India’s Assam Province and the North East Frontier Agency. Later after the 1965 war the Indians with the benefit of hindsight painted this timid action in not attacking East Pakistan as an act of grand strategic dimensions. In any case the harm was done as far as East Pakistani perceptions about the war were concerned. The East Pakistanis increasingly started viewing the army as a west Pakistani entity created to defend only West Pakistan. The seeds of secession were firmly sown as a result of the 1965 War.

The strategic and operational dilemmas faced by the Pakistan Army can only be understood in terms of the complicated political situation in the period 1969-1971. Yahya Khan attempted to solve two highly complicated political problems that he had inherited from his predecessor and who were also the father and architect of both the problems. These were restoration of democracy and resolving the acute sense of deprivation which had been created in the East Pakistan province as a result of various perceived or real injustices during the period 1958-1969. Secessionist tendencies had emerged in the East Pakistan province where the people viewed Pakistan’s federal government with its capital in the West Pakistan as a West Pakistani elite dominated affair. A government which was Muslim in name but West Pakistani (Punjabi, Pathan and Hindustani in order of merit)32 dominated in essence and which had been exploiting the East Pakistan province like a colony since 1947! We will not examine the details of this perception since it is beyond the scope of this book. We are only concerned with the fact that this perception made things very complicated for the Pakistan Army. The bulk of the army was concentrated in the West Pakistan province in line with the strategic doctrine that defence of East Pakistan lay in West Pakistan. The likely political danger now lay in the fact that the East Pakistanis were increasingly viewing the army as a foreign and hostile entity. This perception could make things difficult for the lone infantry division of the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan. The Indian Army had been rapidly expanded since 1965 and the Indians now possessed a military capability to overrun East Pakistan while part of its army kept the bulk of the Pakistan Army stationed in the West wing in check. The situation was made yet more complex by fears in West Pakistan about the East Pakistani majority leader Mujeeb’s intention to reduce the army in case he won the 1970 elections that Yahya had promised. Further Mujeeb’s "Six Point Formula" if enforced would have led to virtual disintegration of Pakistan since it envisaged a confedral system with a very high level of provincial autonomy. What would happen in case a civil war started in the East wing after the 1970 elections and India decided to take advantage of the adverse internal political situation by invading East Pakistan. The military planners in the GHQ knew clearly that in case an armed insurrection broke out in the East Pakistan province one infantry division would not be control it. In case troops were sent from the West wing to reinforce the East Pakistan garrison, the war plans in the West Wing would be compromised. These were serious questions, which no one in the GHQ could answer in 1969. No one exactly knew what would happen in the first general elections of Pakistan. How could anyone know? This basic right had been denied to the common man in both the wings since 1946!

Yahya Khan and the Political Situation- 1969-1971

Now a word on Pakistan’s internal political situation in 1969 and its negative effects on the Pakistan Army. It appears that, had not Ayub Khan alienated the East Wing by his pro West Pakistani elite policies and also had not alienated the West Pakistani and East Pakistani populace by his self-serving policies, there would have been no East Pakistan problem which resulted in Pakistan’s break-up in 1971 or any anti-Ayub agitation in both the country’s provinces of East and West Pakistan that finally led to the fall of the Ayubian system of government in March 1969. The foreign readers may note that the East wing versus West wing rivalry had been constitutionally resolved through the passing of the 1956 Constitution, once the representatives of the East wing had most large heartedly accepted the principal of 50 % parity in the country’s legislature despite the fact that their actual ratio in the country’s population entitled them to 54 % seats in the assembly! Both the wings now started coming closer since issues were settled inside the parliament rather than by subversion or agitation. However Ayub in league with the president Iskandar Mirza repeatedly conspired to derail democracy and in league with Iskandar Mirza finally usurped power in the country by imposing the first Martial Law in October 1958. He sidelined Mirza in less than a month and imposed a one-man rule on the country. Ayub despised the East Pakistanis and as Army C in C had stopped more raisings of infantry battalions of East Pakistanis. The East Pakistanis on the other hand were anti-Ayub and resented Ayub’s policies of allocating a predominantly large part the resources of the country on the development of the West Wing. Further during the Ayub era, the strategic doctrine that defence of East Pakistan lay in concentrating the bulk of the Pakistan Army in the West wing was developed. This further alienated the East wingers since there was an unofficial ban on recruitment of Bengalis in the fighting arms of the army and the expanded army increasingly became a West Pakistani army, instead of being a national army.33

Once Ayub handed over power to Yahya Khan on 25 March 1969 Yahya inherited a two-decade constitutional problem of inter provincial ethnic rivalry between the Punjabi-Pathan-Mohajir dominated West Pakistan province and the ethnically Bengali Muslim East Pakistan province. In addition Yahya also inherited an eleven-year-old problem of transforming an essentially one-man ruled country to a democratic country, which was the ideological basis of the anti Ayub movement of 1968-69. Herein lies the key to Yahya’s dilemma. As an Army Chief Yahya had all the capabilities, qualifications and potential. But Yahya inherited an extremely complex problem and was forced to perform the multiple roles of caretaker head of the country, drafter of a provisional constitution, resolving the One Unit question 34, satisfying the frustrations and the sense of exploitation and discrimination successively created in the East Wing by a series of government policies since 1948. All these were complex problems and the seeds of Pakistan Army’s defeat and humiliation in December 1971 lay in the fact that Yahya Khan blundered unwittingly into the thankless task of cleaning dirt in Pakistan’s political and administrative system which had been accumulating for twenty years and had its actual origins in the pre 1947 British policies towards the Bengali Muslims. The American author Ziring well summed it up when he observed that, "Yahya Khan has been widely portrayed as a ruthless uncompromising insensitive and grossly inept leader…While Yahya cannot escape responsibility for these tragic events, it is also on record that he did not act alone…All the major actors of the period were creatures of a historic legacy and a psycho-political milieu which did not lend itself to accommodation and compromise, to bargaining and a reasonable settlement. Nurtured on conspiracy theories, they were all conditioned to act in a manner that neglected agreeable solutions and promoted violent judgements”. 35

The irrefutable conclusion is that Yahya failed as an Army Chief not because he lacked the inherent capabilities but because he tried to do too many things at the same time. This as we earlier discussed was the prime reason for failure of the Pakistan Army to develop and function as a dynamic entity beyond unit level in the 1965 war and in the pre 1965 era.

In all fairness one cannot but admit that, Yahya Khan, sincerely attempted to solve Pakistan’s constitutional and inter provincial/regional rivalry problems once he took over power from Ayub in March 1969. The tragedy of the whole affair was the fact that all actions that Yahya took, although correct in principle, were too late in timing, and served only to further intensify the political polarisation between the East and West wings. He dissolved the one unit restoring the pre 1955 provinces of West Pakistan, promised free direct, one man one vote, fair elections on adult franchise, a basic human right which had been denied to the Pakistani people since the pre independence 1946 elections by political inefficiency, double play and intrigue, by civilian governments, from 1947 to 1958 and by Ayub’s one man rule from 1958 to 1969. However dissolution of one unit did not lead to the positive results that it might have lead to in case "One Unit" was dissolved earlier. Yahya also made an attempt to accommodate the East Pakistanis by abolishing the principle of parity, thereby hoping that greater share in the assembly would redress their wounded ethnic regional pride and ensure the integrity of Pakistan. Instead of satisfying the Bengalis it intensified their separatism, since they felt that the west wing had politically suppressed them since 1958. Thus the rise of anti West Wing sentiment in the East Wing, thanks to Ayub Khan’s anti East Wing policies, had however reached such tremendous proportions that each of Yahya’s concessions did not reduce the East West tension. Yahya announced in his broadcast to the nation on 28 July 1969, his firm intention to redress Bengali grievances, the first major step in this direction being, the doubling of Bengali quota in the defence services 36. It may be noted that at this time there were just seven infantry battalions of the East Pakistanis. Yahya’s announcement although made with the noblest and most generous intentions in mind was late by about twenty years!

Yahya cannot be blamed for the muck that had been accumulating for more than two decades. Yahya’s intention to raise more pure Bengali battalions was opposed by Major General Khadim Hussain Raja, the General Officer Commanding 14 Division in East Pakistan, since the General felt that instead of raising new purely Bengali battalions, Bengali troops should be mixed with existing infantry battalions comprising of Punjabi and Pathan troops.37 Such was the strength of conviction of General Khadim about not raising more pure Bengali battalions that once he came to know about Yahya’s orders to raise more East Pakistani regiments, he flew to the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi to remonstrate against the sagacity of raising more pure Bengali units. Khadim’s advice that Bengali troops could not be relied upon in crisis situations should have been an eye opener for all in the GHQ. No one at least at that time took his advice seriously. It appears that the generals were convinced that the Bengali was too meek to ever challenge the martial Punjabi or Pathan Muslim

The Bengalis were despised as non martial by all West Pakistanis. However much later an interesting controversy developed in which the Punjabis and Hindustanis blamed each other for doing so! The Hindustanis blaming Aziz Ahmad etc and the Punjabis blaming many Hindustani ICS old foxes of the 1950s! There is no doubt that this exercise in Bengali degrading was neither totally or exclusively Punjabi led but a a true for all West Pakistanis business!

The foreign reader may note that Bengalis were despised as a non martial race from the British times. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan a Hindustani Muslim and an eminent Muslim leader of the North Indian Muslims in late 19th century made open fun of Bengalis in his various speeches, notably the one delivered at Lucknow in 1887. I.H Qureshi another prominent Hindustani Muslim and a post 1947 cabinet minister declared in a roundabout manner that the Bengalis were an inferior race. Ayub made various remarks implying that the Bengalis were an inferior race in his memoirs written in 1967.38

Inflated Perceptions about Pakistani military effectiveness

The essence of the whole business was the fact that the Pakistani GHQ placed entire reliance on the “Superior Valour and Martial Qualities of the Pakistani (Punjabi and Pathan Muslim soldier) vis a vis the Hindu Indian soldier, as proved in 1965 war” and felt that somehow, in the next war to miracles would occur and the Pakistan Army would do well! The tangible military facts of the Indo Pak politico-military scenario were not analysed in their true dimension! It was a classic case of perceptual distortion and losing sight of reality. Eric Berne an eminent psychologist defined "adjustment" as "ability to change one’s images to correspond to a new reality”. Berne rephrases "adjustment" as "flexibility" which he defines as " ability to change your images as they should be changed according to reality". This in Berne’s view is more important than intelligence. Berne thus concluded that ‘the successful man is the one whose images correspond most closely to reality, because then his actions will lead to the results, which he imagines".39 This as a matter of fact are one of the prime functions of a military and political leader. The success of the western democracies lay in the fact that one man was never totally in command but civil and military functions were divided and shared between various appointment holders aided by a host of staff officers and research Organisations. This sadly was not Pakistan’s case where one man from 1958 wielded all power, both civil and military onwards. The situation was not so complicated till 1965 since Pakistan enjoyed material and technical superiority till 1965 and because the troop ratio between Pakistan and India was relatively manageable40. Unfortunately in Pakistan after 1971 all blame was heaped on Yahya’s shoulders. The fact that the psychosis that had afflicted the Pakistani decision makers in the period 1966-1971 and finally led to the great humiliation of 1971, had a close connection with the nature of Pakistan’s experiences as a nation in the period 1947-1971 was not accepted and instead Yahya was made a scapegoat for all that had gone wrong. We will analyse more of this in the next chapter. I will quote Berne once again to define greatness or the lack of it in Pakistan during the period 1947-1971. But before we do it we must understand that man is not fully autonomous but is a prisoner of historical environmental and physiological circumstances. There are very few truly great men who act more autonomously than the multitude. Berne thus defined individual human greatness as " A great man is the one who either helps to find out what the world is really like or else tries to change the world to match his image. In both cases he is trying to bring images and reality closer together by changing one or the other”. In the period 1966-1971 Pakistan did not have the resources to change the world to match its images nor great men who had the depth of character and intellect to find out what the world is really like and changing their images!

Many Pakistani intellectuals with the naivety of a provincial farm maiden try to heap the whole blame on liquor and Yahya or on liquor alone! This unfortunately is too simplistic a view! The Pakistanis as a nation were forming wrong and unrealistic images right from 1947! Too much faith was based on ideology (Islam) to unite two entirely diverse regions of East and West Pakistan! Even Shauakat Riza a pro establishment historian, commenting on religion as a common factor between the East and West wings caustically noted that “Twenty four years is too long to gamble on one card”41 History was distorted to show that the Muslims were ruling the timid Hindu when the British snatched power from the brave Muslims by treachery! This was sadly not the case! In reality the Muslims were saved from total defeat by the British advent in India! A false image was formed by official propaganda right from 1947 that the Muslims were more martial than the timid Hindus were! It was a poor modification of the "Martial Races Theory" of the British, which was a purely imperialist theory to "Divide and Rule" India! But once Pakistan was defeated in 1971, all blame was heaped on Yahya and liquor, disregarding the fact that Yahya was merely the tip of the iceberg, and the irrefutable fact that many great commanders in history were absolutely incorrigible and compulsive womanisers and drinkers!

This fact was noted by some officers soon after 1965 but the majority were victims of the psychosis of Islamic Martial Military superiority that overwhelmed the West Pakistani psyche during the period 1966-1971! Brigadier A.R Siddiqi in his book on the Pakistan Army’s press image thus narrated a thought-provoking incident soon after the war. Siddiqi met Brigadier Qayyum Sher who as just discussed had distinguished himself as an infantry brigade commander in the battle opposite Lahore. Qayyum Sher was unhappy about the unrealistic expectations and myths that were being created as a result of the official propaganda. Qayyum Sher told Siddiqi, "Miracles he mused, ‘may indeed have happened, but they happen only once. Let me tell you that your press chaps are doing a lot of harm to the soldier psychologically by publishing all those foolish stories. I wonder what they are really trying to tell the world. That the Pakistani soldier can fight his war only with the help of his celestial allies. That he is facing an enemy inferior to him in all respects. I admit God’s help is of the utmost importance but it’s no substitute for one’s own performance. It would be quite stupid to forget that the Indian soldier is as much of a professional as his Pakistani counterpart. He has been trained in similar military systems and institutions and fights like hell when he has to. The only reason why the Pakistani soldier put up a comparatively better performance in this war was that he fought largely on his own home ground as a defender”. Siddiqi further noted that "The Pakistani image makers, however, had little use for such sterile talk. They had their own mental picture of the war and regarded it as the only correct one. Anybody who dared to speak of the war more realistically simply betrayed a ‘diffident and defeatist mentality’ …The merest suggestion of the criticism of the military performance became a taboo”.42 Sher was not alone in entertaining these views. Major General Tajammul Hussain Malik who very ably commanded the 3rd Baluch opposite Lahore on the BRB states in his memoirs that the Indian superiority opposite Lahore was not as overwhelming as later portrayed in the Pakistani official propaganda. Tajammul thus stated, "We had Patton Tanks whereas Indians had mostly Sherman Tanks which were comparatively much inferior. Similarly our artillery guns out ranged the Indian artillery guns. They had an overall superiority of infantry, perhaps of about 1 to 2 but most of their divisions were comparatively ill equipped and untrained and they had to guard a much bigger frontier”. 43

Many years earlier one of the greatest thinkers of this world Sigmund Freud rightly noted that "the irrational forces in man’s nature are so strong that the rational forces have little chance of success against them”. Freud thus concluded that "a small minority might be able to live a life of reason but most men are comfortable living with their delusions and superstitions rather than with the truth". As a matter of fact whole nations can be victims of delusions. This has happened many times in history. The same was true for the Pakistani nation, or the predominantly West Pakistani elite!

Sultan Khan who served as Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary with Yahya during the fateful year of 1971 noted at many places in his memoirs that most Pakistani generals thought that the Pakistani soldier was more martial and would somehow emerge successfully through the East Pakistan War. Gul Hassan, Sultan thus noted, was one of them and firmly believed in the power of bayonet to solve all problems! The tragedy is that after the war all the blame was heaped on Yahya and the fact that the whole elite and all those who mattered were under influence of highly irrational ideas was deliberately suppressed. Till this day in presentations and studies carried out in Pakistan Army’s schools and colleges of instruction, Yahya is made the scapegoat for the entire 1971 fiasco and the fact that the whole of West Pakistani was under influence of a psychotic state is ignored.

Historical Background of Superiority Complex in the Pakistan Army

It is necessary to examine the historical reasons for this false feeling of superiority in the Pakistan Army in 1969-71. It may be noted that the vast bulk of Muslims, just like the vast bulk of Hindus of the Indo Pak Sub Continent were caught in a vicious square of "ethnicity” "ideology" "exploitation by feudal and capitalist classes" and above all "British Colonial rule" during the period 1858-1947. In 1857 the common soldiers (sepoys), both Hindu (some three fourth) and Muslims (around one fourth) from modern UP province attempted a rebellion against the British. This rebellion was crushed by the Britishers using European as well as Punjabi (largely Muslim and relatively less Sikh and Hindu) Pathan (less in number than Punjabis) Gurkha and Madrasi troops. The rebellion’s end in 1858 marked a major turn in British policy in India. Till 1857 British policy as executed by various Viceroys of the private English East India Company was markedly egalitarian and anti feudal. A major policy change was introduced from 1858 onwards once the British crown took over the governance of India. Feudals who were viewed as unnecessary anachronisms by Dalhousie were now viewed as allies against future rebels while ethnic/religious factors which were not important in army recruitment before 1857, now became a matter of careful policy, since the pre 1857 was largely one in which soldiers were mixed down to platoon level regardless of race or religion. The British policy now changed since the Hindustani44 Hindus and Muslims regardless of race or religion had jointly rebelled. Thus from 1858 onwards the British introduced the concept of One class companies with soldiers from one religious as well as ethnic class in any single infantry company or cavalry troop. Due to various reasons discussed in detail in the previous volume of this history the British actively followed a policy of Punjabising from 1858 to 1911. As a result by 1911 the Indian Army was largely a Punjabi although not a Punjabi Muslim dominated army45.

The reader may note that during the period 1885—1911 when the ethnic composition of the British Indian Army changed from a Hindustani majority/Hindu/Non Muslim dominated army to a Punjabi Majority/Punjabi Muslim heavy army in 1911; no major war took place; that could prove that Punjabi troops or Punjabi Muslim troops were better than Hindu troops or the Hindustani troops, and the concept that the British changed the ethnic composition based on proven fighting ability in actual combat; has no connection with any reality of military history. Thus the “Martial Races Theory” was based more on political considerations than on any tangible or concrete military effectiveness or relative combat effectiveness in any war! In any case the pre 1947 Indian Army was never a Muslim majority army at any stage of its history. Many Britishers were crystal clear about the situational or historical relativity of the so called martial effectiveness even in the first half of the nineteenth century. Henry Lawrence a Civil Servant of the English East India Company thus summed up the whole business about martial effectiveness once he said “Courage goes much by opinion; and many a man behaves as a hero or a coward, according as he considers he is expected to behave. Once two Roman Legions held Britain; now as many Britons might hold Italy". On the other hand , the reasons why the British preferred the Punjabis in the army in preference to other races were rationalised by many Britishers by stating that the British preferred the Indian Army to be composed of “Martial Races”46.

The "Martial Races Theory" in reality was an Imperial gimmick to boost the ego of the cannon fodder. Various British writers like Philip Mason frankly admitted that the real reason for selective recruitment was political reliability in crisis situations which the Punjabis had exhibited during the 1857-58 Bengal Army rebellion.47 Another British officer thought that "Martial Races Theory" had a more sentimental and administrative basis rather than anything to do with real martial superiority. C.C Trench thus wrote, “Reasons for preferring northerners were largely racial. To Kiplings contemporaries, the taller and fairer a native, the better man he was likely to be…There was a general preference for the wild over the half educated native as being less addicted to unwholesome political thinking…Brahmins had been prominent in the mutiny, and their diet and prejudices made difficulties on active service48. The “Special Commission appointed by the Viceroy” to enquire into the organisation of Indian Army was more blunt in outlining the political reliability factor once it stated that "lower stratum of the Mohammadan urban population, the dispossessed landholders (many of them, off course, Muslims), the predatory classes, and perhaps the cadets of the old Muhammadan families (as)… the only people who really dislike British rule” 49 . The reason why the Punjabis whether Sikh Hindu or Muslim were more loyal to the British at least till 1919 lay in complex socio-political background of the province and the complex relationship between the Sikhs Hindus and Muslims of the province. Its discussion is beyond the scope of this work. The fact remains that in the first world war the Punjabi case for priority race for recruitment to the army was once again reinforced when the Punjabi soldiers, Sikh Muslim and Hindu loyally served the British in France Mesopotamia Egypt Palestine and Gallipoli. Philip Mason thus wrote that the "Punjabi Muslims were steady as a rock” while “a faint question mark hung over the Pathans” 50. Such was the difference in reliability within the units that when two Pathan squadrons of 15 Lancers passively refused to fight against the Turks in Mesopotamia, the Punjabi Squadrons remained staunch and the Pathan squadrons were disbanded and replaced by Hindustani Hindu Jat Squadrons from 14th Murray Jat Lancers! The Hindustani/Ranghar Muslims were also further discredited once the 5th Light Infantry a pure Hindustani/Ranghar Muslim unit composed of Delhi region Hindustani Pathans, and Ranghar Muslims rebelled and seized Singapore for about a day in 1915.51 It was more a question of political reliability than being more martial that led to further Punjabisation of the army after the first world war. Thus in 1929 as per the “Report of the Statutory Commission on Indian Constitutional Advancement”, military ability was not evenly distributed in the entire population and, the capacity to fight was confined to the martial races! The commission ignored the fact that recruitment was done to fill ethnic quotas as decided by the Indian government and was not open to all classes! As per this commission’s report some 86,000 or some 54.36% Indian Army combatants out of a total of 158,200 were from Punjab province. These did include some Ranghar Muslims who were administratively Punjabi although Hindustani ethnically/culturally, but there is no doubt that the vast bulk of these men were ethnically Punjabi. The important part of the whole business was the fact that once 19,000 Nepali Gurkhas, who were in reality foreigners, included in the above mentioned total of 158,200 men are excluded the Punjabi share in Indian Army rose to 61.8%. The Pathans thanks to their political record in the First World War had been reduced to just 5,600 men 52 or just 4.02% out of which at least a thousand were non Pathans!

The same state of affairs continued till the outbreak of the Second World War with the major change being the Punjabi Sikhs who became relatively less reliable politically because of being under communist influences 53. However the reader may note, so as not to be led astray by any false claims that in 1939 the Indian Army was only 37% Muslim, the rest being non Muslim including about 12.8 % Sikhs 10.9% Hindu Gurkhas and 37.6% other Hindus54. Immense demands of WW Two forced the British to diversify the recruitment pattern of the Indian Army and although Punjab remained the top contributor of recruits, it provided about 754,551 out of a total of 24,61,446, or 30.65% recruits to the Indian Army between 3rd September 1939 and 31 August 1945. 55 The reader may note that some 314,356 or a total of 41.66% from the Punjab contribution and 12.77% recruits were Punjabi Muslims56. Thus although Punjab led positionwise as a province in recruitment, there never was any Punjabi Muslim majority or even Punjabi Muslim majority or even near majority in recruitment to the Indian Army in WW Two. However a myth was widely propagated in Pakistan that the Punjabi Muslims were the most martial race and the Pathan Muslims were the second most martial race57. I may add that I heard this ridiculous and irrational myth thousands of times in the course of my 13 years service in Pakistan Army. On the other hand the knowledge of historical knowledge may be gauged from the fact that as late as 1992 in a book written and published in the staff college a brigadier made the Mughal Emperor Humayun fight the second battle of Panipat, at a time when Humayun was already dead!

In August 1947 the British Indian Army was divided into the Pakistan and Indian armies. Two divergent recruitment policies were followed in both the armies. The Indians broadened their army’s recruitment base, officially declaring that recruitment was open to all Indian nationals.58 Thus the post 1947 Indian Army drifted away from being the pre 1939 Punjabised army. In Pakistan, Mr Jinnah the politician-statesmen who created Pakistan almost single-handedly, as the country’s first Head of State, adopted a sensible policy, to make the army a national army. Jinnah ordered immediate raising of two infantry battalions of Bengali Muslims in 1948 reversing the anti Bengali policy of the pre 1947 British colonial government.59 Jinnah’s far sighted as well as just policy of bringing Bengalis in the fighting arms of the Pakistan Army was discontinued by General Ayub Khan who was the first Pakistani Muslim C in C of the Pakistan Army and became the Army Chief in January 1951. Ayub although allegedly guilty of tactical timidity in the WW Two in Burma60 had a low opinion61 about the Bengalis and discontinued the expansion of the East Bengal Infantry Regiment from 1951 to 1966. Thus by 1966 the Pakistan Army was a predominantly West Pakistani (Punjabi dominated) army. In addition the vast bulk of it except one infantry division was stationed in West Pakistan in line with the strategic concept evolved in Ayub’s time that the defence of East Pakistan lay in West Pakistan. Thus the “Martial Races Theory” was carried on till 1971 and in 1971 the vast bulk of West Pakistanis really felt that they were a martial race. This superiority complex played a major part in the wishful thinking in the Pakistani High Command that somehow the Indians would not invade East Pakistan in strength or even if they did so, the troops of this martial race (which was subdued by an 8 % Sikh minority from 1799 to 1849, till it was liberated by the English East India Company!) would frustrate the Indian Army, despite all the tangible numerical and material Pakistani inferiority. Foreign Secretary Sultan Khan’s memoirs are full of the existence of this irrational belief in the Pakistani High Command. Whatever the case at least the 1971 War proved that the real reason for the Indian Army’s martial fervour or relatively better performance was the British factor, keeping in mind the net total available resources of British Empire or its allies in the two world wars.

New Raisings – 1966-1971 and the army’s operational plans

New raisings as discussed earlier were done right from 1965-66 onwards. The Pakistani high command correctly assessed that lack of infantry played a major role in the failure of Pakistani armour to translate its convincing material and technical superiority into a major operational or strategic success. New raisings became more essential since US military aid, which had enabled Pakistan Army to function relatively more effectively as compared to the Indians, was no longer available because of the US ban on arms exports to both India and Pakistan.



1965 REMARKS 1966-1968 REMARKS 1968-1971 REMARKS

7 DIV Peshawar Part of 2 Corps. Reserve Division to Support 1 Armd Div Operations in Bahawalnagar area.

8 DIV Sialkot. 1 Corps Part of 1 Corps Defence of Shakargarh Bulge. Under 1 Corps

10 DIV Lahore 1 Corps Part of 4 Corps. Defence of Ravi-Sutlej Corridor. Part of 4 Corps

11 DIV Ditto Part of 4 Corps.

12 DIV Headquarters In Murree Defence of Azad Kashmir

14 DIV East Pakistan Defence of East Pakistan

15 DIV Sialkot Part of 1 Corps. Defence of Sialkot Sector.Under 1 Corps

1 ARMD DIV Multan 1 Corps Part of 2 Corps. Strategic Reserve.Stationed at Multan. Under 2 Corps.

6 ARMD DIV Kharian 1 Corps Part of 1 Corps. Strategic Reserve.Stationed at Kharian. Under 1 Corps.

9 DIV Reserve Div. Raising completed at Kharian by 1968. Airlifted to E.Pak in March 1971

16 DIV Reserve Div. Quetta. Raising complete by 1968. Ditto

17 DIV Kharian. Raising complete by 1968. Reserve Division To support 6 Armoured Division operations

18 DIV Raised at Hyderabad in June-July 1971 for defence of 560 miles area from Rahimyar Khan to Rann of Katch.

23 DIV Raised at Jhelum in June-July 1971 for Chhamb-Dewa Sector previously in area of 12 Div.

33 DIV Raised in December 1971.Reserve Division of 2 Corps later split between Shakargarh Bulge and Sindh in the war.

37 DIV Raised in Dec- 71 Jan-72.
The table of raisings above is self-explanatory. The most important organisational changes which occurred in the army till the 1971 war were as following. Firstly the army was organised into three corps i.e the 1 Corps, 2 Corps and 4 Corps and 12 18 and 23 Divisions. The 1 corps headquarter was designated to command four divisions i.e 8, 15, 17 InfantryDivisions and 6 Armoured Division63. 15 and 8 Infantry Divisions were responsible for defence of Sialkot Sector and the Shakargarh Bulge respectively while 17 Infantry Division and 6 Armoured Division were the strike force of the corps and also part of Pakistan Army’s strategic reserves. In addition the 1 Corps also had an independent armoured brigade (8Armoured Brigade). 4 Corps consisting of 10 and 11 Infantry Divisions, 105 Independent Infantry Brigade and 3rd Independent Armoured Brigade was responsible for the area between Ravi River and Bahawalpur. The 2 Corps with its headquarters at Multan was a strategic reserve corps. This corps consisted of the 1st Armoured Division (Multan), 7 Infantry Division and later 33 Infantry Division. Three infantry divisions i.e the 12, 23 and 18 Infantry Divisions were directly under GHQ and responsible for defence of Azad Kashmir, Chhamb-Dewa Sector and Sind-Rahimyar Khan respectively.

Tangibles and Intangibles - The Pakistan and Indian Army’s military worth by January 1971

By January 1971 the Pakistan Army was a reasonable military machine. Its main battle tank was the Chinese T-59 which was almost as good as any Indian tank.Its strategic reserves had the potential to deter any Indian aggressive military move. It was on its way to becoming a really national army since Yahya’s announcement of 1969 to allow recruitment of Bengalis in the fighting arms. Organisationally the command was coherently and logically distributed in corps and divisions and the organisational imbalances of 1965 had been totally removed. Yahya Khan had not failed as the C in C.

The Indian Army was numerically larger but the advantage was not overwhelming since the Indian Army was divided between the Chinese Border West Pakistan and East Pakistan. Technically the Indians had relatively better Soviet tanks but numerically the Pakistani armour was larger than Indian armour and possessed more higher organisational flexibility by virtue of having two full fledged armoured divisions as against one Indian armoured division.

Later events of 1971 clouded our perception and we in Pakistan tend to view things as entirely simple for the Indian military planners. The Indian military dilemma was a possible three front war with the Indian Army divided between West Pakistan East Pakistan and the Indo Chinese border. The Pakistani defence problem was a two front war with its army divided into two parts i.e one defending the East Pakistan and the major part defending West Pakistan. The Pakistani planners had evolved a clear-cut strategy to overcome this dilemma. The Indian strategy as it was later applied in 1971 war was based on a choice of time which reduced the likely threats that it faced from three to two since the December snow effectively nullified chances of Chinese intervention and enabled release of Indian Mountain Divisions earmarked for the Chinese Border to participate in a war against Pakistan. Even then the final Indian plan was a gamble and would have failed if Pakistan had launched a pre-emptive attack in October 1971. The C in C Indian Western Command admitted this fact. General Candeth who was C in C Western Command states in his book that “the most critical period was between 8 and 26 October when 1 Corps and 1 Armoured Division were still outside Western Command. Had Pakistan put in a pre-emptive attack during that period the consequences would have been too dreadful to contemplate and all our efforts would have been trying to correct the adverse situation forced on us”.64

There were however major shortcomings in both the armies at the higher leadership level. These pertained to the "Intangible aspects of military leadership". The mercenary origins of the pre 1947 Indian Army had resulted in the creation of an orders oriented machine! This was true for both Indian and Pakistani Armies. These shortcomings had their origin in the pre 1947 British era and were common with the post 1947 Indian Army. The Indian Army’s military worth was retarded and downgraded because of a civilian leadership which viewed the army as a reactionary entity consisting of mercenaries who had collaborated with the British rulers. This attitude was revised once India suffered serious loss of prestige in the Sino-Indian Border War of 1962. However changes in military spirit of an army occur very slowly and by 1971 Indian Army was still trying to recover from many teething problems. The Pakistan Army in 1947 had consisted of relatively talented as well as spirited officers. The Rawalpindi Conspiracy of 1951 had however started a witch-hunt and many dynamic officers were removed or sidelined. This conspiracy against originality and boldness had intensified when Ayub Khan started manipulating extensions from politicians and the army was reduced to a personal fiefdom of Ayub during the period 1951-1969! In the process the Pakistan Army lost the services of many more experienced officers simply because they were sidelined through political supersession or were retired. The gap between the two Indo Pak armies in quality of experience may be gauged from the fact that the first Indian C in C was eight years senior to Ayub in service and the course mate of Musa, the second Muslim C in C of the Pakistan Army i.e Manekshaw became the Indian C in C eleven years after Musa! This may have worked positively for the Pakistan Army had Musa been a man with an independent outlook! Musa on the other hand as Gul Hassan’s memoirs revealed lacked independent judgement dynamism or talent! The Pakistan army during the period 1951-71 became a highly orders oriented machine! Smart on the drill square, tactically sound but strategically barren and lacking in operational vision! One whose first Pakistani C in C was more interested in political intrigue and industrial ventures than in the basics of higher military organisation or operational strategy!

The reader must bear in mind that the only major difference despite all other differences between the Indian and Pakistan Armies was that the Indian Army was numerically larger than the Pakistan Army was. In quality of higher military leadership both the armies by virtue of being chips of one pre 1947 block were little different from each other! Both the Indian and Pakistan Armies of 1971 were like the Austro-Hungarian armies of 1809. They consisted of perhaps equally brave junior leaders but were severely handicapped since rapid expansion since the Sino-Indian war of 1962 and since the 1965 war. Having more corps and division despite being impressive on paper had not made the Indian or Pakistani military machine really effective because of poor training at divisional and brigade level. Both numerically larger than they were in 1965, but were organisationally ineffective beyond battalion level, having dashing young leaders but tactically and operationally inept brigade divisional and corps commanders from the older pre 1947 commissioned generation whom were initially supposed not to go beyond company level, had the transfer of power not taken place in 1947. The strike corps was a new concept and the Indian 1 Corps which was shortly created before the 1965 war was a newly raised formation whose corps commander and armoured divisional commanders were about to retire in 1965 when war broke out. The Indian commanders beyond unit level, as was the case with Pakistan Army, consisted of men who had experience of infantry biased operations in WW Two and did not understand the real essence of armoured warfare. It was this lack of understanding that led to the failures in achieving a decisive armour breakthrough in both sides. It was a failure of command as well as staff system where even the staff officers on both sides were too slow for armoured warfare and worked on yards and furlongs rather than miles. Their orientation was position oriented rather than mobility oriented and their idea of a battlefield was a typical linear battlefield. Their Burma or North African experience where the Japanese and Germans frequently appeared in their rear had made them extra sensitive about their flanks. These were men who thought in terms of security rather than speed. Conformity rather than unorthodox dynamism, having been trained in the slavish colonial orders oriented British Indian Army was the cardinal script of their life. It was this British system in which every senior commander was more interested in doing the job of those one step junior to him that led to the lack of dash and initiative at brigade and battalion level. They were trained that way and there behaviour as far as the timidity at brigade and divisional level has to be taken in this context. Yahya was not a superman who could clean up the Pakistani political system and reform Pakistan Army within an year or two! He started the job of reorganising and reforming the Pakistan Army but had to leave it half way once he was forced to clean up the political mess in 1969. He made an admirable attempt to clean the political garbage which had accumulated since 1948 but was over taken by the tide of history which in 1971 was too powerful to be manipulated by any single man!

The Indian Army of 1971 was much larger than the Indian Army of 1965! It was many times superior strategically and operationally to the 1965 Indian Army in terms of material strength, technological strength and numerical strength. The Pakistani defence problem was far more complex in 1971 than in 1965. Even in terms of foreign policy Pakistan had just been ditched by one superpower in 1965. The situation in 1971 was far more worse since India had been adopted by another superpower which, unlike the Naive half hearted, American Village maiden, was resolutely poised to go with India through thick and thin! Yahya made unique and brilliant moves to bring the USA and China together and vainly hoped that the Americans would help him! Unfortunately the US betrayed a country which had been loyally served US interests since 1954! Foreign Secretary Sultan Khan’s memoirs recognise Yahya’s contributions and dismiss many myths about Yahya having gone out of his way to annoy the Soviets. This aspect is however beyond the scope of this article.


The Pakistan Army and Yahya inherited a complex historical problem, which had many fathers, at least half of whom were civilians and politicians! The Bengali alienation started from 1948 over the language question, was increased through Liaquat’s political intrigues to sideline Suharwardy and delay constitution making and thus holding elections which held a threat of a Bengali prime minister challenging the Hindustani-Punjabi dominance of Muslim politics! The first sin was committed once Suharwardy was sidelined! This was followed by coercion and intrigue to force parity on the Bengalis! They even accepted this unjust formula in 1956! Ask the Punjabis today to agree to a 50% parity as against all three provinces and then evaluate the generosity and magnanimity of the Bengalis! The death verdict of Pakistan’s unity came in 1958 when Ayub took over and allied with the West Pakistan civil-military-feudal-industrialist clique to sideline the Bengalis for eternity from the corridors of power! Familiar names , and a familiar combination constituted the ruling clique! A Punjabi financial wizard, one Dawood, some generals, some civil servants, some Hindustani specialists, one old fox who knew how to twist the law, then young, and some younger whiz kids constituted the ruling clique! They took Pakistan back to 1864 or even 1804! Local bodies, two huge provinces like the Bengal and Bombay Presidency etc! The seeds of the division were laid between 1958 and 1969! Yahya Khan whatever his faults was a greater man than Liaquat or Ayub! He held the first ever general elections based on adult franchise! Something that the so called Quaid e Millat had failed to hold for four long years, not withstanding all hollow rhetoric by his admirers that he was going to make a great announcement on 16 October 1951, the original D-Day in 1999 too! Yahya restored provincial autonomy, brought the Bengalis in the army, and reorganised the army! He did everything that was right but it was too late! He was fighting against the tide of history! The Pakistan Army was tossed into a volcano whose architect enjoyed total power for eleven years and retired peacefully to enjoy his hard earned wealth. Ayub’s son has remained in the corridors of power in one form or another and is still a running horse! Yahya Khan is much criticised for problems with which he had nothing to do! For having done a job which Liaquat should have done in 1950! The Pakistan Army was a relatively good fighting machine in 1971! Great reforms were made in organisation, education and training! It was recovering from the curse of one-man rule! The cyclone of 1970 in words of an Indian general destroyed everything! Yes there was a far more dangerous intangible and invisible cyclone that had been building up since 1948! This cyclone had four great fathers! Yahya Khan was not one of these four great men! The "Martial Races Theory" that played a major role in Pakistani overconfidence in 1971 before actual operations had many fathers and dated from British times.These British officers had in 1930s described Jews as non martial! Compare the four Arab-Israeli wars with this attitude! The military action in 1971 was widely hailed in West Pakistan! Yet in December 1971 only Yahya was blamed! Yahya was not the architect of the problems that destroyed the united Pakistan of 1971! He paid for the sins of all that ruled Pakistan from 1947 to 1969! He could do little more than what a midwife can do in birth of a child as far as the child’s genetic codes are concerned! The failure of 1971 was not an individuals failure but failure of a system with flawed constitutional geographic philosophic and military organisational and conceptual foundations! I find nothing better to repeat once again the saying that “Success surely has many fathers and failure is an orphan! We must however not forget that the failure of 1971 had roots that go back to 150 years of history!
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