Indo-Pakistan War, 1971: Remembering India's great victory
by Jaibans Singh on 05 Dec 2020 1 Comment

On the evening of December 3, 1971, at about 5.40 p.m., fighter aircraft of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) carried out a coordinated, pre-emptive air strike on Indian Air Force bases in Amritsar, Pathankot, Srinagar, Avantipur, Utterlai, Jodhpur, Ambala and Agra. The air strikes were supported by heavy artillery shelling all along the border and a massive attack in the strategically important Chhamb sector of Jammu and Kashmir.


It became quite apparent that the Pakistani military leadership (General Yahya Khan and General Tikka Khan) and its vitriolic political leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had lost the battle of nerves and Pakistan had opted to initiate open hostilities. Quite obviously, the military objective was to garner a decisive tactical and strategic victory through the element of surprise.


Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was then in Calcutta, rushed back to Delhi and addressed the nation on radio: “I speak to you at a moment of grave peril to our country and our people. Some hours ago, soon after 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 3, Pakistan launched full-scale war against us,” she said. “I have no doubt that it is the united will of our people that this wanton and unprovoked aggression of Pakistan should be decisively and finally repelled. In this resolve, the Government is assured of the full and unflinching support of all political parties and every Indian citizen,” she added.


Thus started, formally, the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971. It was to be, in the annals of military history of the sub-continent and the world, the shortest war to give such a decisive victory, to the extent of carving out a new nation – Bangladesh.


The main reason behind the war was the horrifying persecution of the people of erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) by the dominant West Pakistan. In the election held in Pakistan in 1970, the Sheikh Mujibur Rehman-led Awami League shocked Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the military dictatorship of Pakistan by garnering 167 out of 169 seats in the East Pakistan Legislative Assembly and a near absolute majority in the 313 seat National Assembly. Mujibur Rehman thus had the mandate to govern the country, but this was not acceptable to the Punjab-centric military dictatorship and their stooge, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.


Mujibur Rehman was arrested in West Pakistan and martial law imposed in East Pakistan.  Then commenced a genocide of the worst kind, with brutal atrocities on civilians, especially Bengali Hindus, including wanton killing, rape and torture. These hapless people fled to India in large numbers to escape the carnage. India opened her borders to save the refugees whose number soon swelled to almost ten million.


India sought international assistance to meet the huge refugee challenge and also to pressurise Pakistan into stopping the atrocities; in vain. The Government was keen to open hostilities with Pakistan quickly, but the then Chief of Army Staff, General SHFJ (Sam) Manekshaw, said the rainy season was not suitable for campaigning in East Pakistan and the army needed some time to prepare for war.


Manekshaw (later Field Marshal) went on to enter folklore for his firm and brilliant planning and conduct of the war. His actions were in keeping with the highest traditions and strategic requirements and thus gave India a resounding victory.


As soon as hostilities commenced, Prime Minister Gandhi recognised East Pakistan as an independent nation called Bangladesh and India got into a war on two fronts, east and west, with the Navy and Air Force pressed into service. The Indian Navy quickly implemented a blockade which disallowed supplies from West Pakistan to East Pakistan, and the Indian Air Force soon established complete air superiority over the East Pakistan skies.


On the western front, the war witnessed many battles where Indian soldiers exhibited courage and fortitude in the face of great odds and came out victorious, albeit after great sacrifice. The important battles fought in this sector include the Battle of Chhamb, Battle of Longewala, Battle of Shakargarh Bulge, Battle of Basantar, Battle of Fazilka, among others. The exploits of Major (later Brigadier) Kuldip Singh Chandpuri and his men of 23 Punjab in Longewala have been depicted in an epic movie “Border.”


The conduct of the war was a true example of the synergized efforts of the Government and the Armed Forces with complete support of the people of the country. The support of the nation served as an elixir for the soldiers to attain success.


Bangladesh today is a proud, independent nation well on the path to development. Its rapidly improving economy and enduring democracy are its biggest assets. Its relationship with India is very good. This freedom was won with great sacrifice by the Indian armed forces and the people of Bangladesh.


Due to the ignominious defeat suffered by Pakistan the evil policy to “bleeding India with a thousand cuts” was later formulated by General Zia-ul-Haq, sometime in 1977. The basis of the policy lies in the conviction that Pakistan cannot beat India in a conventional war, so the best option is to resort to a Proxy War designed to weaken the fabric of Indian constitutional democracy from within.


Jammu and Kashmir, particularly the Kashmir Valley, was chosen as the main battlefield for application of this policy. It has failed miserably. Foreign sponsored terrorism that formed the fulcrum of the policy has been decimated by the Indian Army. The political environment has been stabilised with revocation of Article 370 and re-designation of the state as a Union Territory.


Hopefully, Pakistan and its stooges will read the writing on the wall and understand that it cannot break India by any means, fair or foul. No kind of warfare, be it conventional, proxy, asymmetric, kinetic, hybrid or anything else can fructify the evil ambitions of some self-serving powers based in Pakistan.


(Jaibans Singh is a geostrategic analyst, columnist and author)

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