Above: Map of Kashmir Region
It was a major war between India and Pakistan, which finally led to the Bangladesh Liberation War or the Pakistani Civil War. Exact dates are under dispute. The battle in western India from 3rd to 16th December 1971 is termed the Indo-Pakistani war by both India and Bangladesh. Within two weeks Pakistan suffered a humiliating defeat.
Above: Picture of Sheik Mujibur Rahman
LIBERARTION WAR OF BANGLADESH:
The Bangladesh Liberation War was the main cause behind the Indo-Pakistani conflict. The former was an outburst of the tensions between the dominant West Pakistanis and the majority of Bengalis in East Pakistan. Sparks began to fly with the victory of the Awami League in the 1970 elections in Pakistan. It won 167 of the 169 seats in East Pakistan thus securing a simple majority in the 313-seat Lower House of the Pakistani Parliament. Mujibur Rahman, the leader of the Awami League presented six points and claimed the right to form a government. The leader of Pakistan’s Peoples Party, Bhutto, refused to allow Mujibur Rahman to become the Prime Minister and President Yahya Khan summoned military action – the military largely consisting of men from West Pakistan.
Above: Awami League protest march
Dissidents began to be arrested en masse and East Pakistani soldiers and police personnel began to be disbanded. There were strikes and non-cooperation movements and soon the military began to take action on Dhaka from the night of 25th March 1971. The Awami League was declared illegal and several members fled to exile. Mujib was arrested and taken to West Pakistan. On 27th March 1971, Ziaur Rahman, a Major in the Pakistani army rebelled and declared the independence of Pakistan on behalf of Mujibur. The exiled Awami League leaders formed a government in exile in April in Badyanathtola of Meherpur. The East Pakistan Rifles, an elite paramilitary forced, defected and extended support the new government. The Bangladesh Army took shape with the support of civilian guerillas.
Above: Refugees fleed, walking through dead brethren
LIBERATION WAR OF BANGLADESH – INDIA’S INVOLVEMENT:
Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, extended full support to Bangladesh on 27th March 1971. Bangladesh-India border came to be opened. Frightened citizens ran to India for shelter. The Indian provinces of West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura opened border refugee camps. Exiled Bangladeshi officers and Indian volunteers immediately set about to recruit and train freedom fighters of the Mukti Bahini guerillas.
With the intensification of massacres on East Pakistan, an estimated 10 million refugees fled to India starting of a chain of economic and social instability in the host country. The USA, an old friend and ally, continued to materially help West Pakistan.
Above: Picture of Indira Ghandi - First lady Prime Minister in India
In the middle of 1971 Indira Gandhi began diplomatic maneuvers by touring Europe. She was able to win over both UK and France to block USA in any pro Pakistani moves in the UN. Gandhi’s trump card was the signature of a 22-year treaty of friendship and cooperation with the Soviet Union. A stunned USA saw India given the assurance that China would not be involved in the conflict. So far China had been giving moral support to Pakistan but little in terms of military aid. China did not move her troops further into India.
Above: Formation of the freedom fighters Mukti Bahini
Meanwhile activities of the Mukti Bahini began to tell upon the Pakistani Army. But the swell of refugees rushing to India turned into a tide causing immense pressure. India became more involved by supplying weapons and training to the Mukti Bahini and began to take part in the shelling of East Pakistani targets.
Above: map of Pakistan and its border from India and Iran (click map to enlarge)
INDIA’S OFFICIAL ENGAGEMENT WITH PAKISTAN:
By November there was a huge build up of Indian forces on the border. War seemed imminent. India was just waiting for the rains to cease to allow for freer movement. Moreover snow and ice would close the mountain passes thus stalling Chinese intervention. On 23rd November Yahya Khan declared Emergency asking the people to be ready for war.
Above: Picture of submarine in operation
Sunday 3rd December – in the evening Pakistan attacked eight air fields in northwest India. The inspiration behind this operation was Israeli success in the Arab-Israel Six Day War. The lesson gained was to strike without warning. But in this case the Indians were ready. The raid proved a failure. In a counter attack the Indians proved their superiority. In the east India joined hands with the Mukti Bahini to form the Mitro Bahini (Allied Forces) and an impressive air, sea and land attack was made on East Pakistan.
Above: Massacre during the reign of Yahya Khan
Yahya Khan swiftly tried to capture territory in the western zone so as to be in a bargaining position in the east. For Pakistan’s very existence as a united country the operation in the western zone was of vital importance. India however made rapid gains in the west by capturing 5,500 square miles of Pakistani territory. As a gesture of goodwill, by the Simla Agreement of 1972 India returned to Pakistan the regions she had gained in Pak occupied Kashmir and Pakistan-Punjab. India’s involvement in the Bangladesh war of liberation gave the deathblow to Pakistan’s existence in the eastern region.
“The Indian Army merely provided the coup de grace to what the people of Bangladesh had commenced–active resistance to the Pakistani Government and its Armed Forces on their soil.”
Above: Indian Air Force assault in Pakistan
The Indian Navy proved its superiority in the ocean by successfully carrying out Operation Trident – which was an assault on the Pakistani seaport of Karachi. Two of Pakistan’s Destroyers and one Minesweeper were destroyed in Operation Python. The Indian Navy made its presence felt in the Bay of Bengal also. The Indian Air Force conducted 4,000 sorties in the west but its counterpart in Pakistan could hardly retaliate. This was because hitherto the technical personnel had mainly been Bengalis. Another reason for defeat was that the PAF, riddled with losses because of its eastern operations was in no position to further worsen matters. In the east the small air contingent of PAF no 14 squadron was easily destroyed giving Indian Air Force undisputed mastery of the air space. Within only a fortnight Pakistan was brought to its knees. The Pakistani forces surrendered on 16th December. On 17th December India announced a unilateral cease-fire to which Pakistan agreed.
Above: Picture of US former President Richard Nixon
INVOLVEMENT OF AMERICA AND SOVIET UNION:
Pakistan was supported politically and materially by USA. Nixon, backed by Kissinger was afraid of Soviet plans towards the south and southeast. Pakistan was close to China, with whom USA was looking for a rapprochement. A visit was scheduled for February 1972. Nixon reasoned that Indian victory over West Pakistan would lead to total influence of Soviet Union. It would seriously harm the global image of America as well as its new ally – China. In order to prove its credentials to China, Nixon directly violated the US congress imposed bans on Pakistan and sent military support via Jordan and Iran. Parallel to this action China was encouraged to supply arms to Pakistan. The Nixon administration turned a blind eye to reports about genocide in East Pakistan and even ignored the ‘blood telegram.’
Above: US 7th fleet Aircraft Carrier heading to the Bay of Bengal
When no doubt remained about Pakistan’s defeat Nixon sent a naval ship, USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal on 11th December 1971. It was interpreted by India to be a nuclear threat. On 6th and 13th December, the Soviet Union dispatched from Vladivostok, two groups of ships containing nuclear arms as well as a submarine. From 18th December to 7th January 1972 the Soviet ships trailed the US task force.
Above: Map of Bangladesh with troop and refugee route movements (click map to enlarge
Bangladesh had won the sympathies of the Soviet Union. The Communist country gave support to the Indian Army as well as to the Mukti Bahini. Soviet Union had reasoned that the independence of Bangladesh would weaken both USA and China. Therefore India was assured of Soviet Union’s support in the Indo-Soviet friendship treaty of August 1971.
Above: Soldier and Civilian brutally murdered during the war
The immediate result was the surrender of Pakistan to the Mitro Bahini – joint forces of Bangladesh and India. Secondly Bangladesh was born as an independent nation – being the third largest Muslim country in the world. Pakistan’s military became demoralized and Yahya Khan had to resign. Bhutto replaced him. Released from West Pakistani prison, Mijibur Rahman returned to Dhaka on 10th January 1972. Approximately one to three millon people were killed during the war. Some however put the toll lower at 300,000.
Faced with imminent and sure defeat, on 14th December the Pakistani army together with local cohorts killed Bengali doctors, teachers and other intellectuals as part of their programme against Hindu minorities. The latter made up the majority of urban educated elite. Young men, seen as potential rebels, especially students were also targeted.
Above: Picture of Indian Soldiers in prison
A Pakistani stamp was issued showing 90,000 prisoners of war in Indian camps to of globalize the issue. Pakistan had to pay a heavy price in terms of man and money power. Tariq Ali in ‘Can Pakistan Survive/’ says that the country lost half its navy, quarter of its air force and a third of its army. India took about 93,000 prisoners of war including Pakistani soldiers and East Pakistani quislings. Some were family members of the military or Bihari razarkars. Of these 79,676 were uniformed – the break up being as follows:
1. Army – 55,692
2. Paramilitary – 16,354
3. Police – 5,296
4. Navy – 1,000
5. Air Force – 800
Below: Stamp imprinted with an image of prisoners
Since the last World War this was the largest surrender. Initially India wanted to try them for war crimes and brutality in East Pakistan but ultimately they were released as a goodwill gesture. As part of the hand-shaking mood and desire for lasting peace, in the Simla Agreement about 13000 square kilometers of territory was returned to Pakistan.
• March 7, 1971: Declaration by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman that, “The current struggle is a struggle for independence”, in a public meeting attended by almost a million people in Dhaka.
• March 25, 1971: Start of Operation Searchlight to eliminate any resistance. In Dhaka thousands are killed in student dormitories and police barracks
• March 26, 1971: Major Ziaur Rahman declares independence over the radio from Chittagong. Indian radio stations relay the message globally.
• April 17, 1971: Provisional government formed by exiled Awami League leaders
• December 3, 1971: West Pakistan launches a series of preemptive air strikes on Indian airfields. Officially the war between the two countries begins.
• December 14, 1971: Pakistan army starts systematic extinction of intellectuals and quislings.
• December 16, 1971: Lieutenant-General A. A. K. Niazi, supreme commander of Pakistani Army in East Pakistan, surrenders to the Allied Forces (Mitro Bahini) represented by Lieutenant General Aurora of Indian Army. Bangladesh gains independence.