In the Kashmir Valley, the common conceit about Operation Gibraltar is that in the summer of 1965, Pakistani soldiers and insurgents secretly infiltrated into J&K, the motive being to spark an anti-India uprising in the Valley. The operation, as it later appeared, was launched as hurriedly as it had been planned. The ‘project’ was exposed after a shepherd, Mohammad Din Gujjar, reported to the police about the presence of “some strangers” in Tangmarg near Gulmarg, 40 km north of Srinagar. (Gujjar was punished for his ‘crime’ 25 years later, in May 1990, when he was shot dead by Kashmiri militants.)
Sheikh Showkat Hussain, who teaches law at Central University of Kashmir, believes that Pakistan contemplated a rebellion in Kashmir after India had started claiming Kashmir as an “integral part” of the country, which was contrary to the UN resolutions. India’s defeat at the hands of the Chinese in the 1962 war also emboldened Pakistan in undertaking the cross-border adventure. “India had taken a host of measures to integrate Kashmir with it, brazenly eroding Article 370 in the process. These measures included changing the nomenclature of j&k’s PM to CM and ‘sadr-e- riyasat’ to governor. Kashmiris were watching the situation helplessly and anger was brewing,” says Hussain.
The people were also angry over the mysterious disappearance in December 1963 of a relic of the Prophet Mohammed from the Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar. “One can say conditions on the ground were absolutely ripe for an armed rebellion,” says Hussain.
According to one estimate, about 10,000 armed personnel crossed into the Valley between July-August ’65. “The majority of them belonged to the ‘Azad Kashmir’ army and were originally citizens of J&K state. They were equipped with automatic rifles, sten-guns and other firearms and weapons,” writes veteran Kashmiri journalist Sanaullah Butt in his book Kashmir in Flames.
These events were followed by a broadcast from a secret radio station, ‘Sadai Kashmir’ (Voice of Kashmir), which said that an armed rebellion had broken out. The Pakistani soldiers, who were in civvies, had virtually taken over Srinagar as they were just 1-2 km from the civil secretariat. Skirmishes between the Indian army and Pakistani armed personnel took place in many parts of north Kashmir and in Srinagar as well. On the morning of August 14, 1965, top army commanders and the state government decided that since Batamaloo area of Srinagar was virtually under the control of Pakistanis, the area should be set on fire. Accordingly, the area was torched, reducing nearly 500 houses to ashes.
Many in the Valley argue that Kashmiri separatists had full knowledge of Operation Gibraltar. This contradicts the claims of General Musa Khan, commander-in-chief of the Pakistan army at that time. In his book, My Version, Khan says the Kashmiris were not taken into confidence about the operation that had started to “liberate” them. “We had not even consulted the public leaders across the ceasefire line about our aims and intentions, let alone associating them with our planning for the clandestine war,” he writes.
But Munshi Mohammed Ishaq, a former close aide of Sheikh Abdullah, and three-time acting president of the Plebiscite Front, says that he and the organisation’s other members had full knowledge of the operation. “It had been decided that we would not remain unconcerned during this movement. The Pakistanis had talked to us and I had personally agreed to their plan, which was to undertake a sudden operation of occupying Srinagar airport, radio station, Sadar and other police stations.... We were entrusted with the responsibility of seeking public support for this action so there could be no other alternative for India except to agree to have an honourable settlement of the Kashmir issue,” Ishaq is quoted by Butt in his book.
After the operation failed, Butt says a tearful Ishaq told him, “The best opportunity (for) our freedom has been lost. Nobody listened to my advice and everybody, for the sake of individual security, sabotaged the plan.” Ishaq adds that “we, out of selfishness and temerity, did not cooperate (sic)”. This reading of events doesn’t show the full picture. According to another account, Pakistani soldiers while shopping in the Valley asked for “do seir aata (two kilos of flour)”. Neither was “seir” the unit of mass in Kashmir nor flour the staple diet of Kashmiris. It was enough for the people to smell a rat.
After the end of the 22-day war, the Operation Gibraltar planners trained their guns on the Kashmiris. It was argued that if it were not for their non-cooperation, the operation would have been successful. Mir Abdul Aziz, a Srinagar resident who had migrated to Pakistan in 1947 where he launched an English weekly Times of Kashmir from Muzaffarabad, says, “Poor Kashmiris were made the scapegoats. Those who were sent to Kashmir Valley did not even know the Kashmiri language—the whole affair was a wild goose chase” (from Bouquet: A tribute to Unsung Heroes of Kashmir by Zahir-ud-Din).