Fifty years after the 1965 Indo-Pak war, deputy leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha, Captain Amarinder Singh, has shed new light on an order allegedly given by the then Army Chief to withdraw Indian Army troops in Punjab, which could have led to the surrender of Amritsar.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Amarinder revealed he is writing a book on the 1965 war to mark its 50th anniversary. The book will trace battles fought in various theatres during the war, and give detailed information about several contentious issues.
One of these is an order allegedly given by then Chief of Army Staff Gen J N Chaudhari to the then General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Western Command, Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh, to withdraw Indian troops in Punjab. The order, had it been carried out, would have meant the surrender of Amritsar to the Pakistan Army, besides causing panic among Indian troops.
In September 1965, the Pakistan Army surprised Indian defenders in the Khemkaran Sector in Punjab when their armoured division made a dash towards the town of Khemkaran and captured it. The Indian Army had to pull back towards the village of Asal Uttar to consolidate their defence. The Pakistani division was believed to be in a three-pronged attack in which one column was heading towards south of Amritsar, one towards the town of Jandiala and another towards Beas. After the initial surprise, the Indian Army reinforced its presence in the area and the Pakistani advance was defeated in the Battle of Asal Uttar. The village is now known as the graveyard of Patton tanks.
Amarinder, who was the aide-de-camp of the GOC-in-C during the war, said he was a witness to the fact that Lt Gen Harbaksh received a call from Gen Chaudhuri late at night while the Pakistani armoured offensive in Khemkaran was under way. Gen Chaudhuri wanted the Indian troops to withdraw to river Beas, which would serve as a natural barrier to stop the advance of Pakistan’s armoured division.
“We had returned from Khemkaran very late and the general had gone to sleep when I received the call from the chief and put it through to the army commander. The general was heard telling the chief that he would not carry out those orders, and if he wanted this to be done, he should put it down in writing,” said Amarinder.
According to the former Punjab CM, the army chief went to Ambala the next day and met the GOC-in-C but did not mention his order of the previous night, because by then the battle in Asal Uttar had stabilised and the situation was under control.
“Had it been anyone other than Lt Gen Harbaksh, he would not have been able to resist the orders of the army chief. And had those orders been carried out, we would have had to surrender Amritsar, and the road from Beas onwards to Delhi would have been open because there would have been general panic. It would have been a repeat of 1962,” said Amarinder.
The book, expected to be out later this year, and will also include details about why several brigade and battalion commanders were removed from command during the war. Having witnessed the war from the vantage point of an army commander’s staff, Amarinder will be using the information to give a clearer version of what happened in those fateful days of September 1965.