Prelude to a war

In April 1965, Pakistan started a sudden conflict in the Rann of Kutch, a marshy plain that divides the Sind province of Pakistan from the Indian state of Gujarat, that diverted the country's attention from all other crises. Regrettably, Lal Bahadur Shastri's government was taken by surprise, though something of this kind should normally have been expected.

For Pakistan's military regime, headed by Field Marshal Ayub Khan, had scant trust in Shastri's constant refrain that he was keen to settle all disputes and differences with Pakistan through peaceful negotiation. In October 1964, Khan got his first opportunity directly to take a measure of the man. On his way back home from the Cairo Conference of the non-aligned, Shastri made a stopover in Karachi to impress on Khan his sincerity. After a one-to-one meeting between the two, as Khan and his foreign minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, walked towards their cars, the then Indian deputy high commissioner to Pakistan, K. Shankar Bajpai (later, ambassador to Pakistan, China and the United States), overheard him tell Bhutto, in English: "What can I talk to him? He seems to have no authority at all."

More shockingly, what was to become crystal clear only a few months later but wasn't yet known to Indian intelligence or anyone else in this country for that matter, Pakistan's makers of policy on India at the highest echelon were then engaged in deciding what was to be their next step to "defreeze the Kashmir issue". This matter will be discussed in necessary detail at an appropriate stage. Here, it would suffice to say that Bhutto and his hardline cohorts, including his most hawkish foreign secretary, Aziz Ahmed, Defence Secretary Nazir Ahmed and Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik (who had prepared an elaborate operational plan, codenamed Gibraltar, to send military and paramilitary infiltrators into Kashmir to foment internal revolt), were arguing that Pakistan had its "last chance to wrest Kashmir from India militarily". It was "now or never". For, the huge expansion and modernisation of the Indian army, started after the humiliating defeat at the hands of the Chinese, once completed, would shift the balance heavily in India's favour.

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