Alternate History

Pakistan War, 1965-1971

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Pakistan War (1965-1971)

The Pakistan War was a conflict waged by Pakistan against India and Afghanistan between 1965 and 1971. It involved Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, and the United States as Pakistan’s main ally against Soviet-supported India. The main issues surrounding the conflict were Afghan border incursions and the conflict over the disputed Kashmir region. The war ended with an Indian victory and the subsequent independence of Bangladesh.


The war began against the larger context of the Cold War alliance between the Soviet Union and India, and American attempts to use China as a counterweight against Soviet expansionism in the region. Following Afghanistan’s support of the creation of the independent state of Pakhtunistan, which included an intense propaganda campaign against Pakistan, the United States under the Johnson administration began sending troops to Pakistan in September of 1965 following Pakistan’s launch of Operation Gibraltar.

Course of the war

Much of the war was fought by the countries' land forces in Kashmir and along the International Border between India and Pakistan. This war saw the largest amassing of troops in Kashmir since the Partition of British India in 1947, a number that was overshadowed only during the 2001–2002 military standoff between India and Pakistan. Most of the battles were fought by opposing infantry and armored units, with substantial backing from air forces, and naval operations. American forces, operating from air bases in West Pakistan, took part in several operations culminating in Operation Searchlight , which resulted in accusations of atrocities in Bangladesh during the Bangladesh Liberation War, which was supported by India.

Relation to Vietnam

The war was seen as part of the greater struggle against Communism in Asia which was primarily focused in the Vietnam conflict. As the war in Pakistan continued, however, Vietnam became less of an issue for the United States, to the point where the South Vietnamese government accused the Johnson and Nixon administrations of ignoring Vietnam in favor of the expanding war in Pakistan. After the Tet Offensive, the United States under President Nixon began a policy of renewing its commitment to South Vietnam with a process the Nixon administration called “Pakistanisation” which saw American forces gradually withdrawn and replaced by Pakistani troops.

Conclusion and Aftermath

In what came to be known as a resounding historic and psychological defeat for Pakistan, India declared victory in December, 1971 with the capture of several thousand Pakistani POWs and civilians. The Indian and American governments denied that several American CIA operatives working for Air America, which supplied weapons to the Pakistanis, had been captured, something that the American government continues to deny to this day.

Bangladesh became an independent country and fell within India’s (and Russia’s) sphere of influence. Although the war was a defeat for Pakistan, it did not stop the country from remaining an American ally and the United States would later use Pakistan to funnel arms and money to mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan during the Afghan Civil War of 1979-1990. The Sino-Soviet split was also accelerated by the war, helping the United States increase diplomatic and trade ties with China which included a visit to the country by Vice President Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and by several visits by President Nixon in 1971 and 1972.

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