Are India's plans to celebrate 1965 war 'victory' in 'bad taste'?

Indian soldiers on Haji Pir pass Image copyright Courtesy:
Image caption The celebrations begin on 28 August, the day Indian troops captured the strategic Haji Pir Pass

India plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its "victory" over Pakistan in the 1965 war with a series of events, including a "grand carnival". But critics say it is in bad taste and a waste of money, writes the BBC's Geeta Pandey in Delhi.

The war was fought on the western front after Pakistan launched "Operation Gibraltar" - a covert offensive in which up to 30,000 fighters were pushed across the ceasefire line into Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. India retaliated by crossing the international border at Lahore.

For over three weeks, more than 100,000 Indian soldiers fought against Pakistan's 60,000 troops.

"The celebrations are set to kick off on 28 August, the day Indian troops captured the strategic Haji Pir Pass," Indian defence ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar told the BBC.

"They will go on until 22 September - the day India and Pakistan agreed to a UN-sponsored ceasefire."

Image copyright Indian Ministry of Defence
Image caption The 1965 war has been largely forgotten by the Indian people
Image copyright Courtesy:
Image caption More than 100,000 Indian soldiers fought in the war

The main event - a "victory carnival" with a show of military might, song and dance - is planned for 20 September on Rajpath - the wide boulevard in the city centre where the annual Republic Day parade is held and where India recently organised a record-breaking yoga event.

The celebrations will also include seminars, photo exhibitions and a concert.

"The 1965 war has been forgotten by people and this is an effort to revive the memory," said former journalist Nitin Gokhale who has been commissioned by the defence ministry to write a book on the conflict.

Gains and losses

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media caption1965 Indian Army war veteran, Brig (retired) Arvinder Singh
Image copyright Indian Ministry of Defence

At the end of the war, this is what India said the tally looked like:

  • India won 1,920 sqkm of territory; Pakistan won 540 sqkm
  • 2,862 Indian soldiers were killed; Pakistan lost 5,800 soldiers
  • India lost 97 tanks; 450 Pakistani tanks were destroyed or captured

Pakistan has not responded to attempts by the BBC to verify the numbers.

India captured the key Haji Pir pass - "a major ingress route for Pakistanis" - and made some big gains in Sialkot and reached the doors of Lahore in Punjab. The Pakistani army managed to repulse a takeover of Lahore, made advances in the deserts of Rajasthan and came perilously close to taking over Akhnoor in the Jammu region.

But the gains were not substantial for either side and after the ceasefire, India and Pakistan met at Tashkent in January 1966 where they agreed to withdraw to their pre-war positions.

Image copyright Courtesy:
Image caption Major Ranjit Singh Dayal led the Indian assault on Haji Pir Pass

Over the years, both sides have claimed victory. Pakistan even celebrates 6 September every year as "Defence of Pakistan Day" with a 21-gun salute and a victory parade.

Indians meanwhile believe that their forces had the clear upper hand.

"This war is important for two reasons - it wiped the humiliation of defeat India faced in 1962 against China and also allowed the Indian army to hone and tweak their strategy. This gave them confidence which led to their decisive victory in the 1971 war against Pakistan," said Mr Gokhale.

"For India, 1965 was not a grand victory, but it can certainly be called a limited victory," he added.

Did India win the war?

Image copyright Courtesy:

At least three independent authors believed India had an upper hand in the war:

  • Retired American diplomat Dennis Kux: "Although both sides lost heavily in men and material, and neither gained a decisive military advantage, India had the better of the war. Delhi achieved its basic goal of thwarting Pakistan's attempt to seize Kashmir by force. Pakistan gained nothing from a conflict which it had instigated."
  • English historian John Keay: "The war lasted barely a month. Pakistan made gains in the Rajasthan desert but its main push against India's Jammu-Srinagar road link was repulsed and Indian tanks advanced to within a sight of Lahore. Both sides claimed victory but India had most to celebrate."
  • American author Stanley Wolpert: "The war ended in what appeared to be a draw when the embargo placed by Washington on US ammunition and replacements for both armies forced cessation of conflict before either side won a clear victory. India, however, was in a position to inflict grave damage to, if not capture, Pakistan's capital of the Punjab when the ceasefire was called, and controlled Kashmir's strategic Uri-Poonch bulge, much to [Pakistani president] Ayub's chagrin."

Pakistan's toned down celebrations: Ilyas Khan in Islamabad

Pakistan continues to observe 6 September as "defence day", but the zest and gusto associated with the celebrations has dampened in recent decades.

One reason is the passing of the 1965 generation. Secondly, the threat of militant attacks during the last ten years have forced military parades, air shows and armament displays to become more low key.

Another is that an alternative view of the chronology and consequences of the war has gained more currency in Pakistan.

Earlier it was believed that the 1965 war had been initiated by India with a view to capturing Lahore and breaking Pakistan. Celebrations were centred on the "valiant defence" by the Pakistani armed forces defeated that aim.

More recently some influential politicians and members of the armed forces have publicly stated that all wars with India were initiated by Pakistan.

Had the 1965 war been a success, the argument goes, it would not have led to the demise and humiliation of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, Pakistan's first military ruler under whose watch the war was fought.

India has never celebrated any of its wars on such a grand scale, so why this big victory carnival now?

"It's 50 years since we won the war, if you won't celebrate it now then when will you do?" asked the defence ministry's Sitanshu Kar.

Not all Indians, however, are enthusiastic about the celebrations and the defence expert at Delhi-based Centre for Police Research, Srinath Raghavan, says the idea of the "victory carnival" is "absurd".

Image copyright Courtesy:
Image caption The 1965 war was fought in the mountains of Kashmir

"It smacks of bad taste. What do you have a carnival for? It is not a bad idea to commemorate the war, but it should be a solemn occasion, not a frivolous display of song and dance."

He said the government's plans to spend 350m rupees ($5.5m; £3.5m) on the event was "a waste of resources".

A former army soldier who fought in the 1999 Kargil conflict against Pakistan, he said, "the commemoration should not be jingoistic, it should be used to remember all the lives lost - of soldiers and civilians - on the border".

Image copyright Indian Ministry of Defence
Image caption Both India and Pakistan claim to have won the war

Although Islamabad has not commented officially, the plan for the victory carnival has, as expected, drawn criticism from Pakistan with some saying it could have a negative impact on bilateral ties.

Mr Raghavan also believes that it could lead to "unnecessary unpleasantness" at a time when the two countries have said they want to restart the dialogue process.

"A better way to commemorate the war," he said, "would be to inform people what this war was really about, to get the conversation going and foster a genuine historic dialogue about it."

Related Topics