Rude awakening for Pakistan
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Although the distressing episode became known widely fairly soon, Harbaksh the gentleman, refused to discuss it. In his book, War Despatches: Indo-Pakistan Conflict, 1965, published a quarter of a century later, all he said was: "There appeared to be a tendency in the higher command to succumb to [the] pressure of events and fall an easy prey to dark and gloomy apprehensions. This is a dangerous attitude."
In any case, Pakistan's planners had counted without the tactical virtuosity of the Indian commanders in Khem Karan, Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh, Maj Gen Gurbaksh Singh, commander of 4 Mountain Division, and Brig Thomas Theograj who commanded the two armoured regiments hastily assigned to the defenders. In September, in Punjab's fields, sugarcane grows to full height. Indian generals then hid their tanks in these fields to welcome the Pakistanis. The biggest tank battle since World War II thus began. They then played their masterstroke. They cut off the embankment of a conveniently located canal. Pakistan's tanks got literally stuck in the mud. Soon enough, the nearby village of Asal Uttar became a graveyard of Patton tanks. Indian Centurions and Shermans of World War II vintage had decimated them.
How this climax to the war played out in Pakistan is best left to Gauhar to describe. He records that Khan had called him into his office and was happily explaining to him, on a map, how the Khem Karan offensive, personally approved by him, was progressing. He then adds: "While Ayub was explaining the details of the operation, his military secretary, General Rafi, walked into the room in a state of great agitation and almost shouted that the Indians had cut the Madhupur Canal." Khan wanted to know, writes Gauhar, how long it would take for the battlefield to be submerged. "The GHQ had no clue." Ghulam Ishaq Khan, then heading the water and power authority, was of some help. "At this juncture Ayub discovered, to his dismay, that General Nasir, the commander of the operation, had relied on old survey maps."