BY: Nasir Mehmood Kiyani

1965 war was the first large-scale military clash between Pakistan and India after the partition of the Subcontinent. The root cause of this war was Kashmir, which was illegally annexed by Indian forces in 1948.

In an exclusive interview with Reporters Diary, War veteran and writer of the Book Flight of the Falcon, Air Commodore(r) Syed Sajad Haider unveiled part of history and the untold stories of the 1965 Indo-Pak war. For Pakistan, Air Commodore(r) Syed Sajad Haider is the hero of the 1965 war who led his No.19 Squadron and demolished the elements of Indian 15th Division troops that had crossed the Wagha border at 0330 Hrs. and were marching towards Lahore. Later in the day in third mission as squadron commander, he led the famous Pathankot attack and his Sherdils left 13 Indian aircraft in columns of smoke.

His father Dr. Syed Fazal Shah was a prominent All India Muslim league leader of the Balochistan chapter who had laid the foundation of All India Muslim in Baluchistan in June 1938.  In this exclusive interview, Air Commodore(r) Syed Sajad Haider revealed that the Jung Newspaper of August 14, 2016 carried a full page article in which it was revealed that it was his father Dr. Syed Fazal Shah who proposed the name of  Qazi Issa in June 1939 to head the Baluchistan chapter of All India Muslim league. Qazi Essa is the father of Pakistan’s Senior Supreme Court judge Qazi Faez Issa. 

 Question 1

After Pakistan’s victory on Rann of Kutch front in April 1965, the PAK-IND 1965 War actually started in month of August. President General Ayub Khan approved Operation Gibraltar and Pakistan launched a guerrilla operation in Indian Occupied Kashmir. Sir what was the actual plan? Which key individuals were part of the planning and PAF or Pakistan Navy were taken on board, if not then why?


Actually, all this started after the Sino-India war in 1962. India was defeated by China and its leadership was inexorably humiliated. To regain lost prestige of Lal Bahadur Shastri, India decided to occupy disputed areas of Ran of Kutch. Indian army infiltrated the disputed area and established a “Sardar post” near Kanjarkot with help of 2 Indian infantry brigade groups. It was then obvious that the Indian army was planning to capture Kanjarkot, which was in Pakistan’s possession. Pakistan retaliated and two Pak army brigades from No. 8 Division and were given the task to capture Sardar post. At the GHQ, the General Staff branch was irked to observe the slow movement of Pakistani brigades. The GS branch of the Pak army asked General Tikka Khan the Div. Commander regarding this slow movement and he replied that it was President’s order through the C-in-C to go slow.

The first confrontation between Pakistan and India took place on April 8, 1965. Initially, the Pak army’s strike was unsuccessful because of poor execution by the brigade commander assigned the task. After the first unsuccessful attempt, Brigadier Iftikhar Janjua joined the fray and led his brigade in fierce attacks and captured the Sardar post, followed by Biar Bet and several other posts under Indian occupation. It was a decisive victory for the Pakistan army and a –uphumiliating route for the Indian Force commander. Brigadier Iftikhar requested the higher command for orders to follow-up and arrest the route of the Indian Army and take them as POWs. The Operations branch gave go ahead but when the President was informed by the Commander-in-chief General Musa, he did not entertain the request and orderered that the defeaed troops be allowed to go back. It was feared that the all-out war with India may start.

Painting of Victorious Pak army troops

Operation Gibraltar

After facing humiliation, the Indian PM told his army chief that India will fight the next war against Pakistan in the plains of Punjab. He also asked his military chief to start preparations. However, the Indian PM pre-conditioned that it will depend on Pakistan going for any adventurism in Kashmir. Pakistan took the bate hook line and sinker.

On the home front, in an important meeting, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who was the foreign minister of Ayub Khan proposed a war plan. Bhutto said to Ayub Khan, “India is building up the military power since the 1962 Sino-India war. We can win Kashmir through military operation and for that we have only one year window. Any sort of delay will help India and the Indian military will become more stronger and we will lose Kashmir forever.”

Bhutto’s proposal was considered by Ayub Khan and ordered to start work on the “De-freeze Kashmir” Operation”. It is very interesting and unfortunate that a pompous bureaucrat Aziz Ahmed was handed such a critical military strategy planning task. The team which was working on the planning of the “Kashmir Freeze Operation” included C-in-C General Musa, Chief of General Staff Major General Malik Sher Bahadur and DGMO Brigadier Gul Hassan Khan.

C-in-C General Musa Khan once complained to the President’s Chief of Staff that Aziz Ahmed asks the participants of the meetings not to take notes because of “secrecy”. This so-called secrecy peaked to an absurd level that the President decided not to inform or include the PAF C-in-C AM Asghar Khan in the immature adventure.

Aziz Ahmed is standing behind Ayub and Bhutto

Operation Gibraltar’s plan was finalized in the meeting which took place in Khariyan. This meeting was attended by President Ayub Khan, C-in-C General Musa, Chief of General Staff Major General Malik Sher Bahadur and DGMO Brigadier Gul Hassan Khan and Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik. Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik was a fantastic commander and top-class military strategist.

In this meeting, President Ayub asked Major General Akhtar Malik to finalize the Operation Gibraltar. President asked him to make a strategy to capture Akhnur. “Why don’t you capture Akhnur? It is the Jugular vein and supply line of India,” said President Ayub Khan. Major General Akhtar Malik replied, “For this plan, I need more troops and armored support.”

President Ayub Khan directed General Musa to assist Maj General Akhtar Hussain Malik in this regard. General Gul Hassan once told me that we did not have enough troops at that time and we were wondering that how it would be possible but in the end, we managed it for General Malik.

Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik (Hilal-e-Jurat)

In August, Operation Gibraltar was started and six to seven thousand Kashmiri mujahids were recruited and in Gen. Musa’s book ‘My version” claims that these were trained in Guerilla tactics in 6 weeks or so. The force included the Kashmir Regiment and some high value commandos who had been trained for a totally different task.  Pak army troops infiltrated into Indian Occupied Kashmir. Indian Army had no idea about this operation and initially it came as a complete surprise for them. All forces successfully and launched their attacks on different Indian military bases, check posts, bridges, ammo damps and other strategically important vital targets.

It will be instructive to share that when Air Marshal Nur Khan was taking over as Air Marshal, Rahim Khan, who was Chief of Operation of PAF at that time was asked to give a briefing to the new air chief. When he started his briefing, he said “I just came back from GHQ and Pakistan army has started a military operation in Indian-occupied Kashmir.”

This was shocking for everyone. Air Marshal Nur Khan said to outgoing Air Marshal Asghar Khan, “You did not tell me about this operation”, he replied, “Even I have no idea about this”. Nur Khan said, “This is very disturbing that Army has sent forces there and we are blank about it.”

Air Marshal told me that after this meeting, he went to see Army Chief General Musa. He asked General Musa about this operation and said “what is this, why you did not tell the PAF about operation Gibraltar”? General Musa replied, “My supreme commander (President Ayub Khan) ordered me not to share this plan with you and PAF will not get involved in this operation otherwise there will be all-out war”.

This was nonsense because even a havildar knew that there is going to be an all-out war because of operation Gibraltar. After some initial success, guerilla forces of operation Gibraltar were facing serious adverse conditions to achieve objectives. Haji Pir Pass and all other points for exfiltration were completely blocked by Indian forces.  Indian military had brought two army divisions against guerilla forces. Pakistan forces were outnumbered and out of ammunition. They had nothing to eat. One guerilla commander Brigadier Tariq Rafi who was captain at that time, told me that “we were eating boiled grass”. This was the time when Air Marshal Nur Khan himself went in the valley in C130 to drop food for the fighting forces. Now it was the time when Gibraltar forces were retreating.

Question 2

Why Operation Gibraltar could not achieve the core objectives and whom to blame?


There were no backup reinforcements for Gibraltar forces. They were out of ammunition and food. On the other hand, India had brought a large military power into the valley and the whole valley was cordoned off. This was in fact perpetrated when one element of the guerilla force met with two Kashmiri Muslims. They were asked about the location of a bridge and in return gave them some Indian rupees. Those Kashmiris leaked this information to the Indian police and army so now the “secrecy” element was buried right at the beginning. Another core objective was missing the plan. Before starting operation Gibraltar, there was a need to boost the liberation movement in Kashmir. It was a terrible situation and the retreat was painful. It was the end of operation Gibraltar.The greater tragedy was yet to come. Owing to occupation by Indian forces of all exit points hundreds were killed, captured and humiliated. Does anyone talk about those martyred on this one way mission? Why not? Because the errant and their off springs are even today yielders of power through wealth and deceptive politics. Such is irony of nation that it is deceived to celebrate some fabricated & contrived heroes, while the real are cast away in to oblivion.  

Question 3

After the failure of Operation Gibraltar, the commander of Pak army’s 12th division Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik finalized the planning of Operation Grand Slam. After the approval by President, 4th artillery corps of Pak army launched first major offensive attack across the LOC on September 1, 1965. Strategically, how do you see the planning of Operation Grand slam and what was conveyed to PAF in this regard?


Operation Gibraltar failed for multitudes of blunders from conceptual stage.  Nonetheless, Major General Akhtar Husain Malik was a brilliant commander and had planned “Operation Grand Slam”. On August 30, Major General Akhtar Malik visited GHQ to get a green signal for Operation Grand Slam. He met with DGMO and the Chief of General Staff at GHQ. He told them that we are all set to launch the major offensive attack on Chumb and then we will capture the Akhnur in two to three days. DG MO Gull Hassan said to him that you are already given the “go ahead” so why are you here? Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik said, “it is better to get a final green light”.

 It appeared that Ayub Khan, now lobbed at the Wali of Swat Palace when hell was breaking loose in Kashmir, was hesitating to give ahead for Operation Grand Slam because he was fearing all-out war after operation Gibraltar. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto convinced him and advised him to let Major General Akhtar Malik start Operation Grand Slam. So, this is how it started. On September 1st, the Pak army launched the artillery attack on Chumb and Pak army troops pushed Indian troops across the Tavi River. But the greatest tragedy of Kashmir, kept under wraps till now, raised its ugly head on 2nd September, just as No. 12 Division was to launch mother of Kashmir operation, the capture of Kashmir’s jugular, as ordered at Kharian by the President. The Indian GOC in C of Western Command in his ‘War Despatches’ states that Grand Slam would have been really grand slam. Their 171 Artillery regiment, for the defense of Akhnur, suffered a shocking display of cowardice on hearing about Akhtar Malik steamrolling across Chamb, had abandoned their Guns and defected, officers and men including. He goes on to say that Akhnur was like a ripe plumb and after plucking that he would have gone for Jammu, with nothing to stop him. But then General Harbakhsh Singh writes that God came to their rescue. The onslaught much feared came to a halt as the news came that Pakistan leadership had removed the winning horse mid-steam with Gen. Yahya, which gave time for Indian forces to recover and consolidate. That’s how Kashmir was lost the second time after the 1948 decision by Liaquat Ali Khan.

Question 4

To stop Pak army troops, India brought IAF in Chumb sector. PAF retaliated and two brave PAF pilots intercepted 4 IAF Vampires. What is the story of this dogfight?


Air Marshal Nur Khan along with Corps Commander I-Corps Lieutenant General Bakhtiar Rana visited the Chumb area. Air Chief Nur Khan said to Lt General Rana, “our troops are so vulnerable and if IAF attacks, there will massive destruction”. Lt General Rana replied, “No sir, PAF will not intervene because it is just an operation and we have directions from president Ayub regarding this”.

As I told you, air chief Nur Khan did an Ariel visit to Chumb front and after this visit, he issued the directives to PAF regarding operation readiness. He also ordered to keep the interceptors airborne till 5:00 PM on daily basis.

On September 1, 1965, the Indian Airforce in Chumb area. The PAF retaliated and scrambled two top-class pilots Squadron leader Sarfraz Rafiqui and Flight Lieutenant Imtiaz Bhatti. Both these pilots outclassed IAF by destroying 3 IAF Vampires and damaging the fourth one badly. So this is how PAF started its 1965 war campaign. 

Sarfraz Rafiqui (Right), Imtiaz Bhatti (Left)


Question 5

 On 2nd September 1965, Pakistani Troops were ready to launch a forceful attack on Akhnur after capturing Chumb, Why General Musa changed the command of this operation by removing Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik and appointed Major General Yahya Khan as GOC 12 Division?


I would call it a tragedy. Two brigade commanders Brigadier Azmat Hayat and Brigadier Amjad were tasked to launch the first blow on Akhnur. According to Brigadier Amjad, C-in-C General Musa asked him, “what is the point to capture Akhnur?  We should capture Jaurian first.”, he replied. “Sir tonight we are launching our attack on Akhnur and attack on Jaurian was not part of the plan.”

On 2nd September 1965, C-in-C General Musa changed the command of Operation Grand Slam and brought Major General Yahya Khan as the new commander. Actually, The President as well as General Musa were vary of Major General Akhtar Malik’s popularity and General Musa did not want General Akhtar to capture Akhnur. So he removed him and the attack on Akhnur was cancelled by Major General Yahya Khan. This helped Indians to consolidate their defensive positions.

 I would like to quote Indian General Joginder Singh. In his book, this is what he said about Major General Akhtar Malik and Operation Grand Slam. “Gen Akhtar Malik had steam rolled over Chamb and was heading for Akhnur with tremendous velocity. Akhnur lay like a ripe plum and undoubtedly, he would head for Jammu after securing Akhnur. Even today we hang our heads in shame that the officers and men of the 161 artillery regiment, stationed for the main defense of Akhnur had defected after hearing the news of Akhtar Malik’s onslaught on Chamb and heading for Akhnur. But suddenly there was eerie quiet and we wondered what Gen Malik was planning. A whole day passed and Providence came to our help as we heard the news that Gen Malik had been replaced.” 

General Musa awarding Hilal-e-Jurat to Major General Yahya Khan

Actually, God did not come to help the Indians, Ayub and Musa helped them and Pakistan lost the opportunity to capture Akhnur and Kashmir. Later when General Yahya Khan visited staff college Quetta as C-in-C, Brigadier Amjad who was an instructor there, asked him, “Why he did not capture Akhnur? Yahya’s reply was short and crisp. He replied, “I was not ordered to take Akhnur”. So, who ordered him? It means, that General Musa never wanted to capture Akhnur and President Ayub Khan was afraid of all-out war.

Question 6

When all this was happening, what was the planning of PAF for an all-out war and how PAF started its preparations?


After Rann of Kucth episode, PAF started its preparations in June 1965. Air Marshal Asghar Khan was a brilliant military commander. He was predicting an all-out war. The PAF prepared its war doctrine in 2 weeks. Planning work was accomplished at PAF Kalabagh. According to war doctrine, the Ambala mission was my responsibility, Halwarha target was assigned to Squadron Leader Sarfraz Rafiqui and Adampur was given to Squadron Leader Alauddin Ahmed. All these missions were given to us in a meeting with PAF chief Asghar Khan. The whole PAF doctrine was shared with us and we were briefed about the execution plan as well.

On September 5th, Air Marshal Nur Khan visited Peshawar and met with us. I received him in Peshawar. He asked me, What about your preparations Sajad Haider? I replied, “We are fully prepared but our morale is down to our ankles. Every mission is being assigned to Sargodha”. He asked Group Captain F.S Hussain to assign an important mission to number 19 Squadron. This is how we start our 1965 campaign and we were given the Lahore mission on September 5th, 1965.

Question 7

When India launched the attack on September 6th to capture Lahore, what was your first assignment?


It was September 6th, at 08:30 AM, the duty officer shouted “Sir Mission”. Chief of Operation, Air Commodore Rahim Khan made a call and told me that Indian artillery is targeting our ground troops near Jassar Bridge and trying to destroy the bridge. Now go there, find out the artillery positions and destroy them. When we took off and were near Gujrat, my station commander told me that mission is cancelled and now go to Atari village because Indian troops are trying to enter Lahore. We had no idea of Atari village so I requested him to provide us the location of this village. When we were flying near Amritsar, we saw that the whole sky was black and Indian anti-aircraft guns were firing on some targets. We then took a turn and headed towards the Wagha border.

Crossing over the Wagha border, I noticed the famous omnibus at the barrier and many people standing there and looking up at us. Near the BRB canal, I spotted several tanks and armoured vehicles trying to climb from the banks onto the main road. I called out and said, “Boys, our Armoured Corps seem to be finally out, let’s give them a salute.” As I pulled up slightly and turned my aircraft on its back flying over the first batch of tanks, I saw to my horror the unmistakable Indian saffron roundels; I immediately yelled as I pulled up sharp left, “These are Indian tanks, let’s get them.

I would like to quote the book, Missed Opportunities, written by the Indian Maj Gen Lachhman Singh. In this, he said that:

“Hayde assembled his ‘O’ group near Milestone 14 to issue his orders for the advance. His ‘F’ echelon vehicles carrying ammunition, RCL guns mounted on jeeps, carriers with battalion mortars and reorganization stores including tools had halted on the road.

Before they could disperse to camouflage and conceal themselves,

6 F-86 PAF aircraft appeared over them and started strafing the vehicles parked near the ‘O’ group. It was about 9.30 AM and the enemy aircraft shot up every vehicle on the road for about fifteen minutes, undeterred by any fire from our troops. 11 Corps had not been allotted any Air Defence (AD) guns and no friendly aircraft was in the area to challenge the enemy. 3 Jat lost 5 out of 6 RCL guns, 3 mortars with their carriers and a number of men. An artillery OP officer of the light battery with 3 Jat was killed. 3 Jat was without any artillery OP officer except one FO with C Squadron who had no wireless communications with 3 Jat. Similarly 38 Brigade on the GT Road behind 54 Brigade lost vehicles and men to the PAF strike.”

General Sukhwant Singh in his book “Defence of Western Borders” also wrrote that the “CO of the battalion ran back with just one sock and one shoe deserting the battalion. His 2nd in command followed suit and ran back on a bicycle and took refuge in Amritsar Fort. Both were Court Martialed and dismissed.”

This was our performance in the first attack.

Question 8

Let’s move to your famous Pathankot attack. What was the plan and how it was executed?


When we landed back on the Sargodha base at around 12:30 PM, we were assigned the Pathankot mission. I was handed over a signal by our Station Commander. I opened it and read the incredible message, “No 19 Squadron is tasked to carry out strike against Pathankot Airfield with eight F-86 aircrafts.”

I asked the base commander, “according to PAF’s plan, my mission was Ambala. We did preparations accordingly”. He replied, “Yes you are right but now you have to do it.” 

It would be pertinent to mention that most of the pilots were flying our third sortie of the day, and had not slept more than a few hours for many nights. Squadron Leader Iqbal’s crew room was what we needed for a couple of hours of uninterrupted snooze before we launched the strike mission. There I asked one of my boys to get hold of a bottle of eau de cologne and pour it in a large bucket of cold water, ready with ten hand-towels immersed in the bucket at exactly 1600 Hrs. The pilot looked at me with a comical expression but I told him not to waste time and go find the cologne.

After this break, the formation was up and the bucket of sweet-smelling cologne water with 10 or more hand towels was given to me. I said to my team, “Boys we don’t know who will be the unlucky ones who won’t be able to dodge the enemy Ack-Ack. But let us be sure we all smell good for the promised “houris” and angels who will receive us at the gates leading to heaven, for fighting as Allah has commanded us.”

After this, we left for Pathankot. We did not face any resistance in the enemy’s air zone and successfully raided Pathankot Airbase. It was a surprise for Indians. Our raid is rightly recorded by Indian authors in the Indo-Pak Air War of 1965:

“Wing Commander Kuriyan became aware of the attack as he was driving into his garage at home and heard the Ack-Ack open up. Finally, as the Sabres left, ten plumes of smoke rose in the air. The raid had been highly successful, resulting in the destruction of 10 IAF aircrafts, 6 Mysteres from 3 Squadron, 2 from 31 Squadron,1 Gnat, 1 Fairchild Packet and 2 MiG-21s. Three other aircrafts were damaged.”

Sherdils of No.19 Squadron of PAF

Question 09

Beside Pathankot, which were the other Indian bases that got hit by your number 19th squadron?


My squadron completed 570 missions during the 1965 war. We completed the most number of missions during the 1965 war in the entire PAF. We destroyed the most number of the enemy fighters. 11 in the Pathankot raid, 3 in the Srinagar attack and destroyed Jammu’s radar.

Question 10

On 6th& 7th September, PAF had upper hand on IAF. For you, who were the heroes of this Air combat?


All pilots of PAF did a fantastic job. For me, the contribution of Squadron Leader Sarfraz Rafiqui and Squadron Leader Shabbir Alam Siddiqui was the greatest and they are the real Heroes of PAF and for Pakistani nation, but hardly sung at the perch these martyrs belong. When we discuss the heroes of the 1965 war, we should not forget those who got martyred during Operation Gibraltar. They and their families must be glorified. 

Squadron Leader Shabbir Alam Siddiqui( Left), Squadron Leader Sarfraz Rafiqui ( Right)

Question 11

As an independent observer, how do you see the current situation of our country and in which direction we are heading?


We never learned from history. Today, we are discussing the 1965 war. What happened just before the war? What we did with the sister of our founding father Quaid e Azam. What we did with Air Marshal Asghar Khan who served this country and he laid the strong foundations of our PAF. He was imprisoned during the Zia era. I was nominated in the “Attock conspiracy case”. I had nothing to do with it and later I was cleared from all charges. The situation today is not so different. I would like to share the conversation between me and General Zia ul Haq, so you would get an idea about “that time” and today’s situation. There is no difference.

“Mr. President, Pakistanis seem to live in a constant state of foreboding and terror of the intelligence agencies. These intelligence agencies have never told the truth as it is not in their culture to do, nor are they telling the truth to you about the state of the hearts and minds of the nation. Are these hearts beating for Pakistan or from the fear of getting lashed in public or thrown in dirty cells with convicts on the mere suspicion of being dissenters? These agencies have carefully crafted the fall of every government. What is to stop them from doing the same to your government? Sir, the road from the airport to the President House does not reflect the soul of Pakistan; which in fact lurks in the dark and pitted backstreets of Pakistan. But these agencies would not suggest that you take a peek there and see the real state of the wretched Pakistani nation. The press, Mr President, is stifled and people are petrified to speak their distressed minds. I have worn this uniform with incredible pride and never hesitated to put my life on the line for the defense of my country. Tragically, I do not feel the same sense of pride as I did a decade ago, when people almost kissed our hands when they saw us in uniform in a public place. Today, the tables have turned. People have visible contempt for us and our uniform. Since in some small way, I share the responsibility of this metamorphosis, I do not feel proud wearing this uniform anymore. Mr President, I live in Islamabad and everyday my exit from GHQ brings me on an intercept course with the Corps Commander also going home. But there is a difference. The gallant men of God, who are under oath to defend the people, the property and the frontiers of this country travel with outriders on motorcycles, red-beacons flashing and sirens screaming to herald the approaching cavalcade. In the meanwhile, all citizens on foot or in transports at the T-junction from GHQ to the old President House are shooed-off the road to clear the path for the defenders of Pakistan. This is not the way defenders should conduct themselves amongst their own people. I think that we have ceased to sense the ire that ordinary citizens feel at such intimidation.”

This was my confrontation with President Zia ul Haq. Today, Imran Khan is facing the same situation. He served this nation as a social worker. He served this nation as Prime Minister. Today, he is being labeled as corrupt, a terrorist and a traitor. This must stop now because the nation is standing behind him and he will make a strong comeback. This country has great potential to move forward and it will happen. It will happen soon.

Thank You