The strange march to the 1965 war

On June 30, 1965, an agreement on settling the Kutch conflict was signed ('Prelude to a war', IE, November 12) and the process of forming a three-member international tribunal to settle the issue continued all through July. And then, on August 5, some graziers in the Kashmir Valley spotted Pakistani infiltrators, many of them evidently soldiers in mufti, and reported this to the authorities. Eighteen years earlier, Pakistan had used precisely the same stratagem of sending in "raiders" as the first step in its first invasion of Kashmir. Yet the Indian government refrained from declaring Pakistan's diabolical action to be an act of war. Presumably, Lal Bahadur Shastri hoped that the strong personal message he had sent to Field Marshal Ayub Khan would solve the problem.

Inexplicably, New Delhi delayed the announcement of this grave development until the late evening of August 8. The next morning I took the first available plane to Srinagar. There was fear in the air but life in the city seemed to be going on normally. At 6 pm, when the whole Valley went under curfew, the mood changed. Suddenly, there appeared in my hotel room Sushital Banerji, a dear friend and an outstanding civil servant. In numerous capacities, he had handled many of Kashmir's myriad crises. He insisted that I pick up a change of clothes and my shaving kit to accompany him to his home.

Only on reaching there did I discern the cause of his anxiety. The situation was fragile and chaotic. Infiltrators were getting dangerously close to Kashmir's capital, and nobody senior to Banerji was around to direct the beleaguered administration. The dynamic state Home Minister D.P. Dhar and the equally effective chief secretary, Mangat Rai, had gone off in opposite directions to inspect how the rather paltry paramilitary forces and the police were coping with the Pakistani challenge.

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