Indo-Pak War of 1965

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First came the dress rehearsal and a probe. Pakistan tested India’s response to a military push by occupying in April 1965 a part of the disputed and undemarcated territory in the marshy Rann of Kutch, bordering the Arabian Sea and Gujarat. There was a military clash but, because of the nature of the terrain, India’s military response was weak and hesitant. On Britain's intervention, the two sides agreed to refer the dispute to international arbitration.

Unfortunately, the conflict in the Rann of Kutch sent wrong signals to the rulers of Pakistan, who concluded that India's government and armed forces were not yet ready for war. They paid no heed to Shastri’s statement; given in consultation with the Army Chief, General J.N. Chaudhri, that whenever India gave battle it would be ‘at a time and place of its own choosing.’ In August, the Pakistan government sent well-trained infiltrators into the Kashmir Valley, hoping to foment a pro-Pakistan uprising there and thus create conditions for its military intervention. Taking into account the seriousness of this Pakistan-backed infiltration, Shastri ordered the army to cross the ceasefire line and seal the passes through which the infiltrators were coming and to occupy such strategic posts as Kargil, Uri and Haji Pir.

In response, on 1 September, Pakistan launched a massive tank and infantry attack in the Chhamb sector in the southwest of Jammu and Kashmir, threatening India’s only road link with Kashmir. Shastri immediately ordered the Indian army to not only defend Kashmir but also to move across the border into Pakistan towards Lahore and Sialkot. Thus, the two countries were involved in war, though an undeclared one. The USA and Britain immediately cut off arms, food, and other supplies to both countries. China declared India to be an aggressor and made threatening noises. However, the Soviet Union, sympathetic to India, discouraged China from going to Pakistan's aid. Under pressure from the UN Security Council, both combatants agreed to a ceasefire that came into effect on 23 September.

The only effective result was that 'invasion by infiltration' of Kashmir had been foiled. At the same time, the three weeks of fighting had done immense damage to the economies of the two countries, apart from the loss of life and costly military equipment. Resources urgently needed for economic development had been drained; and the defence budgets of the two countries had begun to mount again. Indians were, however, euphoric over the performance of the Indian armed forces which recovered some of their pride, prestige and self-confidence lost in the India-China war in 1962. Moreover, India as a whole emerged from the conflict politically stronger and more unified. There were also several other satisfactory aspects. The infiltrators had not succeeded in getting the support of Kashmiri people. As a result of the war, Shastri became a national hero and a dominating political figure.

Subsequent to the ceasefire agreement and under the good offices of the Soviet Union, General Ayub Khan, the president of Pakistan, and Shastri met in Tashkent in Soviet Union on 4 January 1966 and signed the Tashkent Declaration. Under this Declaration, both sides agreed to withdraw from all occupied areas and return to their pre-war August positions. In case of India, this meant withdrawing from the strategic Haji Pir pass through which Pakistani infiltrators could again enter the Kashmir Valley and giving up other strategic gains in Kashmir. Shastri agreed to these unfavourable terms as the other option was the resumption of the mutually disastrous war; that would also have meant losing Soviet support on the Kashmir issue in the UN Security Council and in the supply of defence equipment, especially MiG planes and medium and heavy tanks. The Tashkent Conference had a tragic consequence. Shastri, who had a history of heart trouble, died in Tashkent of a sudden heart attack on 10 January, having served as prime minister for barely nineteen months.

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