Towards a ceasefire, slowly

Why Ayub Khan took 12 days to accept the UN-sponsored ceasefire ending the war with India in 1965

SINCE Pakistan President Ayub Khan knew that with the collapse of his counter-offensive on September 11, 1965, the war with India was over for his country ('Rude awakening for Pakistan', IE, December 24, 2012), why did he take 12 tense days to accept the UN-sponsored ceasefire for which the Security Council and the then UN secretary-general, U. Thant, were working overtime? From all accounts, there were three main reasons for his dithering.

In the first place, he was deeply worried that his people, misled by his government's false propaganda that Pakistan had won the war, might not accept a ceasefire on the terms set by the UNSC. Since Pakistan's entire strategy was to use brief military action within Kashmir to force India to negotiate on this "core issue", he insisted that the ceasefire be accompanied by an agreement to "settle the Kashmir issue through negotiations and, if necessary, arbitration". Indeed, he seemed convinced that he could shame his American allies who had "betrayed" him after the "Indian invasion" into supporting Pakistan over the inclusion of Kashmir in the UN resolution.

He was in for a shock, however, because the United States refused to do so, emphasising that an unconditional ceasefire was imperative. Worse, the US ambassador to the UN, when approached by the Pakistani envoy with the request that India should at least be named "aggressor", was told that the UNSC "wasn't a court of law". The American side had then added that the armed forces of both sides would have to withdraw to the positions they had held on August 5, the day that Pakistan's infiltrations into Kashmir had been detected.

Second, on September 12, when Khan conferred with his military and civilian confidants as well as political leaders, he believed, to quote his biographer Altaf Gauhar, that if Pakistan couldn't continue the war, neither could India. His judgement, therefore, was that "from now only ding-dong battles could take place here and there", and consequently he would "prefer a prolonged struggle to a ceasefire that did not guarantee a settlement of the Kashmir dispute".

This comforting view was also punctured before long. Nazir Ahmed, his defence secretary, who was a member of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's hardline coterie that had thought up Operation Gibraltar, reported to Khan that the army and air force were "facing acute shortage of spare parts, ammunition and petroleum, and that neither Turkey nor Iran (the two great allies) was willing to provide armour-piercing ammunition". Gauhar adds: "Ayub was mortified. He was stunned to find that the GHQ had been importing the wrong kind of ammunition". He became worried that the Indian army "might occupy Lahore". To add to his woes, the US started hinting at the "possibility of sanctions being applied against Pakistan", and the British prime minister, Harold Wilson, having initially delighted the Pakistanis by condemning "Indian aggression", started pressing them immediately to accept the UN resolution.

(Incidentally, Wilson's September 6 statement holding India responsible for starting the war so infuriated this country as to put paid to the cosy friendship he had developed with Lal Bahadur Shastri since December 1964, when the two had first discussed a "nuclear umbrella for India" in London. Shastri had great difficulty in restraining Parliament from passing a resolution demanding withdrawal from the Commonwealth.)

Despite all the setbacks he had had, Khan persisted in his efforts to delay the ceasefire as long as possible because he had resolved to play the China card. Even on September 12 he was conscious that this was his ultimate weapon, but he must resort to it only at an "appropriate moment" and not too soon, for fear of reprisals by the US and the West. That moment arrived on September 18, when the UN gave both India and Pakistan its final resolution on ceasefire, together with the deadline of noontime on September 22 for its acceptance. Accompanied by Bhutto, Khan embarked on a secret flight to Beijing from Peshawar on the night of September 19-20 and returned the next night after most detailed talks with Zhou Enlai and Chen Yi, the Chinese foreign minister.

China had, of course, been supporting Pakistan from the word go. Two days before the Indian army crossed the border, Chen Yi was in Karachi, where he offered his country's support to the "just action taken by Pakistan to repel the Indian armed provocations in Kashmir". On September 7, Beijing condemned "India's criminal aggression", adding that the Indian government was perhaps relying on the "backing of US imperialists and modern revisionists [read the Soviet Union]". Moreover, in order to put pressure on India and to ensure that its troops on the China border could not be moved to Pakistan, China had started accusing India of "acts of frenzied provocative activities" on the Chinese side of the Sikkim-Tibet border. After many days of acrimonious exchanges between the two countries, on September 12, the Chinese gave India a three-day ultimatum to "dismantle all military works on the Chinese side" and to return "all stolen sheep and yak" or face the consequences. Needless to say, the "ultimatum" was extended more than once.

During his long and candid talks with the Chinese premier, Khan asked how long China would maintain its pressure on India. Zhou smiled and replied: "For as long as necessary." But there was a clear proviso to this commitment: Pakistan must be ready to fight a long war, regardless of India's "numerical superiority" or America's support to it. "You must go on fighting even if you have to withdraw to hills and cities like Lahore are lost." Neither Khan nor Bhutto had ever thought of such a war. They knew now that there was no escape from the ceasefire.

Back home, on September 21, Khan presided over a very high-level meeting. The army chief, General Musa Khan, and the air chief, Air Marshal Nur Khan, were in favour of the ceasefire. The most powerful support for it came from the Nawab of Kalabagh who, as governor, controlled the whole of west Pakistan on Ayub Khan's behalf. Even so, Ayub made his broadcast accepting the UN resolution barely an hour before the deadline's expiry.

The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator

Please read our terms of use before posting comments
TERMS OF USE: The views expressed in comments published on are those of the comment writer's alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of The Indian Express Group or its staff. Comments are automatically posted live; however, reserves the right to take it down at any time. We also reserve the right not to publish comments that are abusive, obscene, inflammatory, derogatory or defamatory.