The event ‘1965 India – Pakistan War’ was organized by India Foundation on 26th September, 2016 in Delhi. The main theme of the event was to understand how 1965 War shaped India’s security architecture by hearing first-hand accounts of the veterans who fought the war. The Chief Guest for the event was Col Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting, Government of India. The veterans of 1965 war who attended the event include Lt. Col Naresh K. Rastogi, Brig Onkar Singh Goraya, Wg Cdr Vinod Nebb (VrC and Bar) and Lt Gen. GK Duggal (PVSM, AVSM, VrC).
Captain Alok Bansal, Director, India Foundation welcomed the gathering and noted, “The 1965 India – Pakistan War is a momentous event in India’s history with lot of geo-political significance, and we at India Foundation believe that the story needed to be retold”. He further elaborated on the geopolitical environment prevailing before and during the war.
Major Gen. Dhruv C. Katoch, Secretary General, Indian War Veterans Association was called upon to give a brief overview of the 1965 War. He noted that though he did not take part in the War, he took it upon himself to collect its stories from the veterans who gave first-hand accounts from their notes written 50 years ago. He went on to set a great start to the event by describing the significant events of the War briefly.
Lt Col Naresh Rastogi, who took part in the 1965 operations in the Khem Karan Sector as the Signals Officer with 7 Mountain Brigade and later went on to be apart of the 1971 War, was called upon first to share his experiences of ‘The Battle of Asal Uttar’, arguably the largest tank battle since Second World War and arguably the most significant encounter of 1965 war. With the help of a map, he very vividly narrated his journey from Lucknow to Ambala, through congested roads of Punjab which initially contrived to be a bane, but turned out to be a boon for the Indian side as the enemy’s tanks were slowed down due to them. With a twinkle in his eye, he recalled the warmth of the villagers who served food to the army when the army was bereft of its rations. Though officially he wasn’t a direct participant of the War, he called it a ‘spectacle’ that he had witnessed.
Second in the line to share the experiences was Brig Onkar Singh Goraya, who served actively in the 1965 War (Sialkot Sector) as GSO3 (Ops) and in 1971 War as BM 57 Artillery Brigade and has written books such as ‘Operation Blue Star and After’ and ‘Leap Across Meghna-Blitzkreig of 4 Corps in 1971’ based on his experience. He explained how Indian forces took down 51 Pakistani tanks and 1 helicopter and forced the enemy to withdraw. He also recalled that he was very adept at reading maps which was a very crucial asset during the war time. In an attempt to bring some old memories alive, he enraptured the audience with his authentic photographs from the War which included one with the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri.
Wg Cdr Vinod Nebb was next to share his story, who was still under training as a fighter pilot when the 1965 War broke out, but on his insistence, he was allowed to do Combat Air Patrol (CAP), which shows the signs of a patriotic fighter who went on to win two Vir Chakras(1965, 1971). He began with an interesting explanation of his reasons behind joining the air-force, which portrayed his zeal for flying since childhood and his pride in calling himself “an NCC product and not an NDA product”. Calling himself a Rookie Pilot and titling his presentation so, he described how at a young age of 22 he displayed a great sense of intelligence, steadfastness and valor in striking the enemy’s F86 Sabre Jet aircraft.
Lt Gen. G. K. Duggal, a veteran of both the 1965 and 1971 Wars and a leader who held several key positions some of which include India’s Defence Attache to Pakistan and Director General Assam Rifles, was invited next to speak and he chose to speak on the ‘Battle of Miajlar’. He commenced with the anecdote of his transfer to 4th Maratha Light Infantry which was on the move countering skirmishes, and his long journey by train and then an ambulance from ADS (Advanced Dressing Station) to reach his army troop. Then he described the intricate details of the geography and terrain, and the strategy of Indian Army in locating and defeating the enemy by proficient use of maps, in an age when technology and communication were not so well advanced.
Then, veterans were felicitated by Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, and commended and applauded by the audience for their display of bravery during the War and their selfless service in the army.
Chief Guest Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore was then called upon to address the audience. He began by humbly gesturing at the veterans on the stage and praised their selfless contribution to India. He further congratulated India Foundation for organizing such an event. Speaking of the stories of the veterans, Col. Rathore with great enthusiasm remarked “If you ever meet such veterans, you should listen to their true stories, which are much more interesting than any other film ever made.”
Stressing the importance of emotions and memories of the army men, he quoted the example of Lt. Gen Duggal who though having commanded 85,000 men later in his life, still very passionately and poignantly reminisced his command of 14 men during the Battle of Miajlar. Col Rathore then spoke of the letter of the then President of Pakistan, Ayub Khan to his army chief Gen Mohammed Musa before 1965 war which read “As a general rule, Hindu morale would not stand for more than a couple of hard blows delivered at the right time and the right place. Such opportunities should therefore be sought and exploited”. This notion depicted the overflowing hubris in the minds of the leadership of Pakistan. He further elaborated on the dire situation of India during 1965, which included the low morale of the Indian Army after the 1962 War defeat, the sudden death of a leader like Nehru and the political discontentment which encompassed the country, poverty and famine which were plaguing the nation. Quoting another anecdote in substantiation he spoke of the visit of the then Indian Defence Minister Yashwantrao Chavan to Pentagon to request Americans to sell F-104 Starfighter, the most advanced jet fighter of that era, and of the rude remark by the then US Defence Secretary, Robert McNamara which read- “Mr Minister, your air force is like a museum. I wonder whether you are aware of the variety of aircraft in your air force. You are still operating with Hunters, Spitfires, Vampires, Liberators, Harvards – exotic names of World War II vintage. All these aircraft are only worthy of finding a place in a museum.” This came at the time when America had had supplied the F-104 and the F-86 Sabres in large numbers – virtually free of cost to Pakistan. Moving on, he elucidated the circumstances, shedding light on Pakistan’s intention by encouraging and carrying out Operation Gibraltar and Operation Grand Slam. He also remarked that “it is not the machine, but the man behind the machine who counts.”
Col. Rathore then spoke of how the war had affected India and Pakistan. He forthright mentioned that Pakistan’s conventional method of resorting to warfare, obsession with Kashmir, and its own disgruntled population which it is not paying heed to, the idea of “death by a thousand cuts” – is all leading to a ‘boomerang effect’ – on Pakistan itself. He further stressed on the USP of Indian Army which is the selfless dedication and bravery of the Indian soldiers which is illustrated in Major Ranjit Singh Dyal’s words “Indian Army can fight even on empty stomachs” – which inspired the US Army to come down and learn counter insurgency from their Indian counterparts.
Bringing into context the recent Inter-Governmental Agreement with France for the purchase of 36 Rafale multirole fighter jets, Col. Rathore spoke of the weapons package which included the Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles – considered the best in the class with range of over 150 km and Scalp long range air to ground missiles. He wittily remarked, “now even if the enemy can’t see us, they’ll get hit by us.” On a concluding note, Col. Rathore assured the audience that he has lived as a soldier and seen such army men all his life, and that all of us are safe under the strong leadership of responsible leaders like the Defense Minister Shri Manohar Parrikar and Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi.
Expressing the vote of thanks, Capt. Alok Bansal thanked the veterans who took great efforts to make it to the event. He further congratulated the India Foundation team and his fellow colleagues for putting up a wonderful show at such a short notice.