The 1965 war started as a series of guerrilla infiltration into the Indian sector of Kashmir by Pakistani militia in an attempt to stir up a ‘spontaneous’ uprising that would force India into negotiations. When the uprising did not happen, the Pakistanis erroneously banked on the support of their great ally, the United States. India was not able to launch an adequate on the spot counter offensive and instead opened second and third fronts by crossing into West Pakistan and launching major tank and air force combat near the cities of Lahore and Hyderabad. While United Nations Secretary General U Thant was negotiating a ceasefire, tanks ran out of fuel around Sialkot, and at that moment China intervened diplomatically by summoning the Indian High commission (relations had been downgraded) and issued an ultimatum that India dismantle all of the 56 military installations that it had erected at the border between Tibet and Sikkim within three days and that it would cease instantly all incursions across the Sino-Indian and Sino-Sikkimese border, return abducted border residents and stolen cattle and solemnly pledge to abstain from any further hostile actions across the border. At the same time, news was pouring in that China was amassing troops at the border near Sikkim and in Ladakh. Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri denied the Chinese accusations and expressed hope that China would not exploit the current tense situation by attacking India. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai called on the Pakistani leadership to launch a ‘people’s war’ against the Indian assault on Lahore and charged that ‘the Indian reactionaries could not have engaged in such a serious military adventure without the consent and support of the United States’.
The American ambassador in Warsaw, the only place in the world where since 1955 official diplomatic talks between China and the United States were being held, had warned his Chinese colleague that China should stay out of the Indo-Pakistani conflict if it wanted to be safe from American retaliation. India accepted a UN-brokered ceasefire on 22 September 1965, followed by Pakistan. One day later China announced that India had acceded to its demands. In the end, the Americans did not play any significant role, because President Lyndon Johnson, preoccupied with Vietnam, did not want to spend American resources on Pakistan. It was the Russians who took center stage by inviting Indian Prime Minister Shastri and Pakistan’s President Ayub Khan to Tashkent, capital of the nearby Uzbek Soviet Republic for peace talks, which were chaired by Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin. The Tashkent Meeting took place in January 1966, but did not achieve more than a declaration on troop withdrawal on 10 January, which was denounced by Beijing as a Soviet ploy to cajole Pakistan to the side of India and Russia against China. Shastri died unexpectedly in Tashkent one day later, which gave the declaration an aureole of sacrosanctity.
Pakistan had not gained anything from the war: it had solidified national unity in India and widened the divisions between West and East Pakistan. Ayub Khan dismissed his pro-China Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and moved to restore balance in relations with the West, Russia and China. However, China remained the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy because it was the only country that fully identified with its anti-India goals. With Ayub Khan resigning in 1969 and Bhutto as the new president and then prime minister from 1971 until 1977, the pro-China trend was firmly consolidated. What had started as a flirtation was now a lasting relationship.
As Pakistan’s relations with China intensified, its active participation in CENTO and SEATO lapsed. Throughout the 1960s, US intelligence agencies documented the strengthening of Pakistan’s relationship with China in violation of its treaty commitments to the United States.
In 1969 India became alarmed again about a planned new land link from Kashgar in Xinjiang to Gilgit in the north-east of Kashmir, the so-called Karakoram Highway, at an altitude of 4,877 meters the highest paved road in the world. This was clearly the first stage in China’s ‘Long March South’ to the Indian Ocean. The 1,300 kilometer long road through the Khunjerab Pass runs through disputed territory that India calls ‘Pakistan Occupied Kashmir’ (POK) and Pakistan refers to as the ‘Northern Areas’. India considered this a new strategic route that should facilitate Chinese intervention in an inevitable new Indo-Pakistani war, be it over Kashmir or over the survival of Pakistan as a geographically anomalous, bipartite country, split by 1,600 kilometers of Indian territory.