Pakistan celebrates Defence Day on September 6. Is it a day to remember or a day of shame. What happened on that day? But still Pakistan and it generals claim victory over India in 1965 conflict to boost the Army’s role. Its message of patriotism also perpetuates hatred for India and everything Indian. At this year’s 54th celebrations, “Kashmir Solidarity Day” was added when its leaders blew hot and cold at India… writes Rifan Ahmed Khan
Every year Pakistan celebrates Defence Day on September 6. On this day, the army reminds the Pakistani public that it defeated the Indian forces in the 1965 war and highlights the sacrifices it made in defending Pakistan’s borders from “a surprise attack from India”.
The world has known many times over that this is a fake narrative. Pakistan was the one to launch a “surprise attack” that was repulsed, leading to a 23-day conflict that ended, at the best, in a draw. Pakistan was forced to cease fire, under global pressure and realizing that running out of fire-power, it could lose. It had to sign Tashkent Pact. But the Pakistani military, in order to perpetuate its predominant role in the country’s life, stages year after year ceremonial military parades across the country.
This year, Pakistan Army Chief, Gen. Qmar Javed Bajwa took the centre-stage, pushing the civilian leadership into background adding angry narrative against India that has acted, well within its own territory, to reorganize Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
Bajwa sought to arouse his soldiers on this narrative, promising to give “fitting reply” (moonh tod jawab) to India, while insisting that this was also the “message of peace and prosperity.”
It was essentially an army show with the air force staging a fly-past and a parade, but apparently, no role was assigned to the Navy.
As every year, ISPR, the army’s media wing also asks national media outlets to run promotional videos that pay tribute to the armed forces.
Missing in action this year were religious and extremist groups, known to have friendly ties to the military. Normally, they come out in the streets, holding rallies glorifying Pakistan’s army.
They were kept away as Pakistan is under severe gaze of the FATF that is demanding severe laws to curb money laundering and terror funding. To meet that requirement and expecting more funds from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pakistan displayed a benign face, without sharing the dais with Hafiz Saeed and others.
The efforts to militarize the Pakistani population and reinforce a narrative of victory in the 1965 war are not limited to Defence Day.
Taha Siddiqui, senior Pakistani journalist who fled the country this year and lives in exile in France, writes: “This narrative is written into official Pakistani textbooks that teach students, both at public and private schools, how India committed an open aggression against Pakistan to facilitate its expansionist intentions and attacked on the night of September 6.”
Says Siddiqui: “Although Pakistan had far less military and economic resources compared to India, the armed forces of Pakistan, filled with the spirit of jihad, forced an enemy many times bigger to face a humiliating defeat – a typical Pakistani school textbook reads”.
For one, the Defence Day celebrations are totally silent on the event of 1971, when the military-ruled Pakistan cracked down on it east wing and engaged in massacre of thousands of unarmed civilians. And on how it ended in December that year with emergence of Bangladesh and surrender of 93,000 Pakistani soldiers.
As for the 1965 conflict, Siddiqui says: “There is little truth to these claims; Pakistan did not win this war. It agreed to a ceasefire with India after it realised it may lose. Also, it is absolutely false that India started this war.”
That conflict was the handiwork of a few generals goaded by an ambitious Z A Bhutto, when the military ruler, President Ayub Khan, kept in the dark, was sucked into it – just the way Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was, by General Pervez Musharraf, in the 1999 Kargil conflict.
Siddiqui says that the evidence of the 1965 conflict “first came to light when, in the early 2000s, General Mehmood Ahmed published a book bursting the myths around the 1965 war. The general was tasked by the army to investigate the 1965 war, and he chose to go public with his findings, which highlighted how the Pakistan Army launched a secret military operation into Indian-administered Kashmir in 1965, and India responded in turn.
“According to Ahmed’s account, the Pakistani military was eventually overwhelmed by Indian troops and forced to withdraw, thus failing to achieve the objective of taking over Kashmir”. The book goes on to explain in detail that only a select few generals knew about the secret military operation, that the Pakistan army miscalculated the Indian response and that this version of events is kept away from the public.
“After the book came out, it mysteriously disappeared from bookstores. Today it is almost impossible to find a copy of it in Pakistan,” Siddiqui writes for Al Jazeera.
He explains why the Pakistani army insists so vehemently “on propagating a false historical narrative and ensuring that the truth does not get out.
It is quite simple: having a perpetual enemy next door helps the military stay relevant and justify its enormous budget that burdens the country’s economy.
“It also shields the military from any criticism it may face for regularly intervening in politics, having multibillion-dollar businesses, and allegedly supporting Kashmiri and Afghan fighter groups. It poses as the saviour of the country and elevates itself above the state and the need for accountability.”
“Today, as Pakistanis once again celebrate Defence Day, we should ask ourselves whether we should continue believing in engineered narratives. Preaching hate, celebrating a false victory and promoting narrow-mindedness will only further exacerbate one of the core issues faced by Pakistan today: growing extremism”.
“The first step towards reversing this trend should be accepting the truth about the 1965 war. We must remember that incitement and conflict will not bring progress and development to the country, only peace will,” says Siddiqui.