By Anjali Ojha
Fifty years after India and Pakistan engaged in a full-scale war, the return to Pakistan of territory captured by the soldiers still rankles the veterans of the 1965 conflict.
Even as they relate tales of bravery and unimagible courage, the veterans, who now have the non-implementation of the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme to add to their disappointments with the country’s political leadership, question why the captured territory was given back.
One such veteran is Wing Commander K.S. Parihar (retd) of the Indian Air Force, who was all of 21 years when the war broke out and was also trained as a para commando because it was his job to airdrop these elite troops behind enemy lines.
“Pakistan thought a humble man like (then Indian prime minister) Lal Bahadur Shastri would not be able to take a stand against them...(Pakistani president) Field Marshal Ayub Khan was six foot tall. They had the latest arms and equipment dumped by America, but they forgot the Indian soldier fought for the love of his motherland,” Parihar told IANS.
“Our soldiers gave their blood, and all the land we captured was returned to Pakistan... we feel angry about it,” the veteran added.
Col V.S. Oberoi (retd), who is a veteran of not just the 1965 war but also of the 1962 and 1971 wars, was posted in the Samba sector of Jammu and Kashmir and was a part of the armoured corps that rolled into Pakistan and captured a key railway station, Alhar, that connected Sialkot to Rawalpindi.
“We crossed the border and we kept going for 16 days before the ceasefire was declared. In that period, we captured the Alhar railway station, cutting off Rawalpindi and Sialkot,” Oberoi said.
The veteran said the army collected a number of items as souvenirs, including the station master’s cash box, tickets and the station’s signboard.
“However, all that area was given back to Pakistan... We still feel angry about it,” he said. “Even the (strategic) Haji Pir pass (which reduces the distance from Jammu to Srigar by over 200 km) was given back,” he lamented.
The commemoration of the 1965 war started on August 28 to mark the day when the Haji Pir pass was captured.
The return of Haji Pir to Pakistan through the Tashkent agreement has for long been seen by a section of experts as a mistake on the Indian side.
Another tale is that of Lance ik Sadanda (retd).
In a dramatic operation, Sadanda, who was 25/26-year-old at the time, along with other soldiers, blew a bridge over the Satluj river that was under the control of the Pakistanis.
“The bridge was over the Satluj and in Pakistan’s control. We were given the task of blowing it up so that Pakistanis could not cross over to our side,” Sadanda said.
For about 1.5-2 km the Lance ik crawled to the bridge, avoiding enemy fire, with explosives filled in his backpack and pouches.
“There was a railway line under the bridge, we climbed up the bridge using ropes, put the explosives in place...and blew the bridge up,” the veteran said.
“But when the territory was given back to Pakistan, the soldier in me was hurt,” he added.
Equally exciting is the story of Lt. Gen. Ashok Agarwal (retd) who was defending Srigar airport against the enemy.
“Enemy aircraft would fly above us, but our soldiers were brave. They were fearless, they would train their guns at the enemy aircraft,” Agarwal said.
All that the soldiers had were radars to track the enemy aircraft and L-60 guns to shoot them down.
“We never gave up, we did not fear for our lives,” he added, pride glittering in his eyes.
Nearly 3,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen were martyred in the war, which lasted 17 days.
The war ended with India capturing around 1,920 sq km of Pakistani territory, while India had lost around 560 sq km of land.
The Tashkent Declaration was signed on January 10, 1966, between India and Pakistan. This saw both the countries return to the pre-conflict positions by returning the territory they had captured. The veterans, however, add that their war at present was for getting OROP. “If the government honours its promise that will be true respect for us,” Agarwal said.
The programmes lined up for the commemoration from August 28 to September 26 include honouring of veterans - but they say they will boycott this.
“We will not attend any government function if our demands are not met,” Parihar added.