MG is a senior air warrior who is an alumnus of the Staff College and a notable writer on military history.
In 1947 thanks to the machinations of the British, the state of Pakistan was carved out of the Indian subcontinent. It consisted of two parts separated by twelve Hundred Miles of Indian territory. The part in the east was called East Pakistan and was predominantly populated by Bengali-speaking Muslims along with a substantial minority of Hindus.
The creation of Pakistan was the dream of Muhammad Ali Jinnah who had coined the two Nation theory of a separate homeland for Muslims. However, Islam by itself is not a uniting factor, as people in East Pakistan who spoke Bengali were incensed that Urdu was made the national language and overall power remained in the west mostly with the Punjabi Muslims.
The Bengali renaissance came to the fore when the Awami party which had earlier been asking for autonomy demanded independence. This was after the 1969 election when the Awami party under Shiekh Mujibar Rehman won a majority of the seats in the Pakistan parliament. The Shiekh was not called to form the government but on the contrary, arrested for treason. This was at the instigation of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who wanted to be the prime minister.
The general feeling in Pakistan was that East Pakistan can be kept by force. President General Yahia Khan declared martial law and the army was out in the streets of East Pakistan. They recruited a force of 200,000 and armed them. They were called the Razakars and began to terrorize the local population. They consisted mostly of migrant Muslims from Bihar. There were cases of rape and killings, as the Razakars and Pakistan army went into action to crush the political movement in East Pakistan.
Action always has a reaction and the local Bengali's formed the Mukti Bahini a freedom fighting force that began to attack military formations all over East Pakistan
The Pakistan President general Yahiyia Khan was an extremely short-sighted man and he was egged on by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. When the Pakistan army launched the crackdown, he reportedly said," thank God Pakistan is saved."
The Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi was a bold woman and she seized the opportunity to make India the dominant power in the subcontinent by breaking up Pakistan. She began to give help to the Mukti Bahini. She also signed a military pact with the USSR to strengthen India in case of intervention by China or the USA. India also banned overflights from Pakistan to East Pakistan, greatly harming the supply chain of the Pakistan army.
Mukti Bahini adopted guerrilla tactics and harassed the Pakistan army which was confined to the cantonments. General AK Niazi was appointed the commander in chief with the express orders to put down Mukti Bahini.
General Yahya Khan, now did something very foolish. He thought that as the Army was hard-pressed in East Pakistan if we opened a front against India in Punjab he would be able to relieve the pressure on East Pakistan. He hoped to capture a large amount of Indian territory to be used as a bargaining chip in the future. On 3rd December 1971, the Pakistan Air Force attacked 7 Indian bases, and now it was a total War.
The course of the war is well known. I will discuss the intricacies that went with it. A chain of events took place with the Pakistani attack on the seven Indian airbases. They were unable to do any damage. This gave the opportunity to the Indian army to retaliate in East Pakistan. The chief of the army staff General Sam Maneckshaw a Parsi authorized the Eastern Command Commander Lt General Jagjit Singh Aurora to proceed inside East Pakistan and tie-up with the Mukti Bahini.
The overall operational command was given to General Sagat Singh. The Indian army entered East Pakistan from three directions. Within four days of fighting it was apparent that the Pakistan army was going to lose. Pakistan president, General Yahiya Khan invoked the mutual assistance defense treaty with the United States. President Nixon was inclined to help Pakistan but the chairman of joint chiefs of staff General Westmoreland was not very keen to intervene in East Pakistan. In the bargain, precious time was lost and the Indian army continued its inexorable drive into East Pakistan.
The seventh fleet finally began to move towards the Bay of Bengal but I think it was a half heart effort and the Americans were not serious at all. Frantic appeals were being made by Lt General Niazi for help but nothing was available on the ground.
The Indian Army carried out a para drop at Tangail, the Dhaka military Cantonment, and very soon the army had encircled the city. General Jacob commanding the Indian troops was a coursemate of General Njazi before independence, as both were part of the British Indian army. He sent a message to General Niazi, "Abdullah I have come, please surrender."
At the same time, relentless propaganda was being carried out by the Indian airforce by dropping leaflets all over east Pakistan asking the Pakistan army to surrender and an assurance that they would be treated honorably. Demoralization was complete in the Pakistan army and General Niazi decided to surrender and not unnecessarily sacrifice the lives of the Pakistani soldiers. 100,000 soldiers of the Pakistan army and almost 200,000 Razakars surrendered and a surrender ceremony was signed in Dhaka at the Banga Bandhu Stadium in the presence of thousands of cheering Bengalis
When the surrender took place the American fleet was still many days away from East Pakistan but it was not hunky-dory for them as president Brezhnev had ordered the Russian Navy into action and Soviet nuclear-powered submarines tacked along with the American fleet. The Americans had to weigh all possibilities and probably decided it was not worth it. President Nixon recognized India as the dominant power in Southeast Asia
This war is important as it established India as the dominant power inSoutheast Asia. It also brought out the effect of military alliances and the Russians backed India to the hilt. When the seventh fleet moved, Leonid Brezhnev ordered the Russian fleet to action and nuclear submarines began to follow the aircraft carrier flotilla.
It also brings out the fact that religion alone cannot be a unifying force. There is nothing like a two-nation theory of Muslims and Hindus and what prevails is national interests. The state of Bangladesh came into being after the war and today has a GDP greater than Pakistan and per capita income also that is substantially higher than Pakistan.
However, all the protagonists involved in this war had a sad ending. Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was assassinated in an army coup in Bangladesh. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged to death as a common criminal by the Pakistan army and general Yahiya Khan drank himself to death. Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her bodyguards after she ordered the storming of the Golden Temple, the holiest place of the Sikhs.
MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 01, 2021:
Chitra, thank you for commenting.
Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on March 01, 2021:
Well written and informative article about the 1971 war, and the creation of Bangladesh. I was in school at that time, and vividly remember the turn of events in this part of the World, during that time.
Thank you for sharing the historical details.
Adil Yunus, Bangladesh on March 01, 2021:
Well-written article. I was not alive when Pakistan had colonized Bangladesh and it is good that they have been expelled.