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The Army Since 1965

Armies usually change their character to keep pace with weapons development. To quote late Brig ZA Khan from his book “Weapons and Tactics”, “Changes in the methods of warfare occur when a better method of using an existing weapon is evolved or a new weapon is introduced”, unquote. In the 20th century the IT revolution has changed this into a three-way equation. Whereas good military knowledge is a must for the upper military hierarchy, knowledge per se about a whole number of disciplines is always must for soldiers of the modern Armed Forces. To quote Sun Tzu in “The Art of War”, “War is a matter of vital importance to the State: the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied”. There is a vast difference between the Army that went into battle on the 6th of September 1965 and the Army of today. Today’s professional soldier is far more educated, the challenge lies in keeping him professional.

India attacked across the international border from Sialkot to Sindh sectors on 6 Sep 1965. The attacks were repulsed on all fronts, in a series of counter-attacks the Pakistan Army penetrated several miles inside Indian territory, capturing for more territory than the Indian Army did. The biggest tank battle since World War 1 was fought at Chawinda, the Indian armour thrust was blunted, inflicting heavy casualties. India eventually asked for a ceasefire, arranged by the UN on 23 September 1965. The Army of 1965 had in its rank general officers with barely 25 years service but most of them had seen active service in World War 2. The system of military education was not as comprehensive as it is today but quite a few unit commanders were from the very first batches of the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA),  Kakul, as were most of the platoon/company commanders from later Courses. Where generalship failed us in 1965, the junior leadership was almost universally outstanding in every arm and service of the Army. That was what tilted the balance against a numerically superior but determined enemy. Even though the young officers in 1965 were not so well educated as the younger officers of today, they made up in enthusiasm, spirit and deep-rooted motivation that shortcoming. The US embargo on military aid to Pakistan, and the continued Soviet navy build up of Indian forces, forced Pakistan to turn to China, North Korea, Germany, Italy and France for its defence procurement programmes. China, a time-tested friend and neighbour, enabled Pakistan to raise three fully equipped infantry divisions. It is interesting to see how the Army has evolved since 1965.

Generalship again failed us at both the strategic and tactical level in 1971 despite the lessons learnt in 1965. A vicious mutual parochialism that had stayed latent reared its head and led to the disintegration of the unity of the Army in East Pakistan in March 1971, culminating in the disaster on Dec 16, 1971. While the junior leadership performed as well as they did in 1965, they could not change the political strategic and tactical errors made by us on the regional and domestic plane. The major lesson learnt was that political issues cannot be settled by military means and that all armies need the support of masses, in peace and during war. East Pakistan was an unmitigated disaster that would have destroyed the will of many armies forever; where the spirit is strong, the will will survive. Since the bulk of the Armed Forces remained in West Pakistan and gave a reasonable account of themselves, a resuscitation  plan  was  put  into effect, first to raise the morale from the depths it had sunk to and next to re-organize the entire edifice to cope with requirements of modern warfare. However, the years from 1972 to 1977 saw the Armed Forces  engaged  in (1) deployment on the borders till Jan 1973 (2) in “And to Civil Power” in Sindh from July 1972 to Dec 1972 (3) counter-guerilla operations in Balochistan from May 1973 to 1976 (4) massive flood relief operations in 1975 and (5) “Aid to Civil Power” after martial law in July 1977. All these operations detracted from the Armed Forces primary role and training objectives, but it was necessary in the circumstances. However it did hold up the massive modernization planned for the Armed Forces.

In December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The US   offered  US$ 400  million  worth  of  military aid, which was however spurned by Pakistan as inadequate for a “frontline state”. Finally recognizing of the two-front threats to Pakistan, the US again offered a package of US$ 1.5 billion worth of military aid in 1981. This was accepted. Pakistan was in the forefront of the freedom struggle. By 1989, the Soviet Union – having suffered heavy losses in men and material and unable to withstand the Jehad, withdrew its forces from Afghanistan. Under the Pressler Amendment, the US again imposed an embargo on all economic and military aid to Pakistan, which continued for five years. 

On the domestic front other than martial law duties and “Aid to Civil Power” thereof, the most important challenge for the Army was in conducting anti-dacoit operations in Sindh in the early 80s. This was however overtaken by Siachen Operations from 1984 onwards (it continues till today). In the Karakorams, Siachen is one of the most inhospitable and inaccessible places on Earth. The extreme cold is only matched by an almost impossible terrain, the highest battlefield in the world! The only silver lining, if one can call it that, is that almost every young officer of the Army has been rotated through “Siachen duty”, a real-life battlefield inoculation where death stares you every moment in the face, through the vagarious nature and terrain more than man.  It is a matter of honour to be part of the Siachen Brigade. It is most important that our commanders have battlefield experience, there is no substitute to hearing shots fired in anger. Siachen has ensured this, almost to a man. Given that Gen Pervez Musharraf is the only surviving officer in the Army who was serving in 1965 and that very few officers are left of 1971 vintage, it will be important for the COAS when he eventually chooses his successor to keep this fact in mind. The sound of a bullet fired in anger is a great equalizer, it separates the men from the boys.

To counter the threat posed by India’s Integrated Guided Missiles Programme launched in 1983-84 the Pakistan Army developed the capability for producing and deploying at short notice the indigenous HATF-3 ballistic missile with range of 800 km. Pakistan also developed and introduced into Army’s service the ANZA and the BAKTAR-SHIKAN TOW systems. In the early 1990s the Army was involved in large scale “Aid  to  Civil  Power” in  Karachi, the major metropolitan city was almost taken over by militants, anarchy was staring us in the face. By the time the situation was handed back to Rangers and Police, concerted action had resulted in capture and killing of many terrorists. Since Karachi was astride the economic lifeline of Pakistan being Pakistan’s only commercially functioning port, the action was both timely and effective. In the late 1990s the Army was forced to back the Mujahideen forced into Kargil operations along the Line of Control (LOC). Because the area is not demarcated properly and it is uninhabited almost totally, elements of regular units of the Army were engaged in battle as the Indians tried to take advantage of the situation to make the battle lines more favourable to them for the future.

Pakistan, which firmly believes in the purposes and the principles of the UN Charter has been actively participating in the UN multi-national efforts since 1960 to maintain peace and order around  the  globe.   In the 1980s and 1990s Pakistani forces were acquired by the UN in numerous peacekeeping operations. Its contribution to UN peacekeeping has been extremely wide-ranging in the varied cultural, geographic, political and security conditions in which the contingents had to operate. Its contingents have brought hope and succour to a large number of starving and sick people affected by senseless factional violence causing widespread destruction and dislocation of population. Large contingents of all arms and services went on duty from Borneo in the east to Haiti in the west, covering most of the world’s serious trouble spots like Somalia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Sierra Leone, etc.  Pakistan troops have been under fire in almost all the operations but their steady and impeccable conduct has won them many admirers and as such there is increased demand for their services. Pakistan’s participation in peacekeeping activities of the United Nations reflects its desire to see the principles of human dignity, freedom and self-determination applied to all the peoples struggling to secure their inalienable basic rights. The latest is the US request for two brigades for Iraq, a political decision that is dependant upon a UN Resolution. From 2001, the Army has been engaged in counter-terrorist operation including attempting to seal the Durand  Line  with Afghanistan. Unfortunately our Afghan brethren have not been grateful for our support. With the new Afghan Army under the Northern Alliance attempting incursions into Pakistan, the Pakistan Army has been continuously engaged recently in support of our para-military forces at a number of places.

In the end one would like to again quote late Brig ZA Khan from his book, “Weapon and Tactics”, “In the military thinking there exists a paradox of conservatism and a penchant for Utopian tactical methods. The minds of soldiers are influenced more by habit and tradition than by reason, there are always interests   at   stake   which   prevent   improvements,   the   army hierarchy, like other hierarchies, believes that ‘wisdom comes from senior’ which creates conservatism which often survives the circumstances that created it. The lessons must be learnt from the past and must be utilized; it is the task of tacticians to work out combinations from the past and present, to study the means available and to arrive at a workable doctrine for use in the next war. A country’s military doctrine is influenced by factors of manpower industrial production, the national temperament, tradition and the geo-political situation in relation to its likely enemies. Generally, qualitative and quantitatively superior equipment enhances the chances of success yet seemingly inadequate resources properly utilized have repeatedly proved successful; the thought of man is the best weapon and thinking men constitute the best war machine”, unquote.

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