‘India won a glorious victory against Pakistan in the 1971 war. It was the first decisive victory in a major war in centuries. And it was won singlehandedly, in the face of opposition and threats from a majority of the UN member-states, including a superpower. Every Indian patriot felt proud of this glittering chapter in the nation’s history.’
– Dr S N Prasad in his introduction to the Indian government’s ‘restricted’ Official History of the 1971 War.
1. A widespread genocide against the minority Hindu population in East Bengal forced India to accept around 10 million refugees in 1971.
2. Tikka Khan, the military commander in East Pakistan in 1971, earned the nickname of the “Butcher of Bengal” due to the atrocities he committed.
3. The then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi decided to intervene in the Pakistan Civil War and help liberate East Pakistan.
She did this to support democracy in East Pakistan, which was being denied its right to governance by Pakistani rulers.
4. Due to the intervention of India in their Civil War, West Pakistan grew hostile.
Stickers proclaiming Crush India became a standard feature on the rear windows of vehicles.
5. Pakistani Air Force launched a pre-emptive air strike on eleven air-fields in India on 3rd December 1971 at around 5:40 pm.
“Trying to catch the Indian Air Force napping, Yahya Khan, launched a Pakistani version of Israel’s 1967 air blitz in hopes that one rapid attack would cripple India’s far superior air power. But India was alert, Pakistani pilots were inept, and Yahya’s strategy of scattering his thin air force over a dozen air fields was a bust!” – 34, Newsweek, 20 December 1971.
6. During these attacks, Taj Mahal was covered with twigs and leaves and draped with burlap as its marble glowed very bright.
7. Indira Gandhi held that the air strikes were a declaration of war against India. Indian Air Force replied with air strike that very night.
“We must be prepared for a long period of hardship and sacrifice.” – Indian PM Indira Gandhi.
8. Operation Trident conducted by the Indian Navy.
Karachi port was attacked by India on the night of 4-5 December in which Pakistani destroyer PNS Khyber and minesweeper PNS Muhafiz were destroyed and PNS Shah Jahan was badly damaged.
9. Sri Lanka helped Pakistan in the 1971 War by allowing its aircraft to refuel at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo.
“We in Pakistan cannot forget the logistical and political support Sri Lanka extended to us in 1971 when it opened its refuelling facilities for us.” – Seema Ilahi Baloch said in her speech to a Lanka-Pakistan business council in Colombo in 2011.
10. US supported Pakistan in this war.
On December 9, Nixon (then President of US) decided to send the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal to threaten India. The plan was to surround India from all four sides and force them to retreat and leave East Pakistan.
11. The Soviet Union sympathised with the Bangladeshis, and supported the Indian Army.
The USSR gave assurances to India that if a confrontation with the United States or China developed, it would take counter-measures.
12. A long standing ally of Pakistan, China was encouraged by US to mobilise its armed forces along its border with India.
However, due to lack of dominant positions on the Sino-Indian border, China demanded an immediate ceasefire.
13. INS Vikrant used its Sea Hawk fighter-bombers to attack many coastal towns in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) including Chittagong and Cox’s Bazaar.
14. In order to counter the attack, Pakistan sent its submarine PNS Ghazi.
This submarine sank en route under mysterious circumstances off Vishakhapatnam’s coast.
15. On December 9, Indian Navy suffered its biggest loss when INS Khukri was sunk by PNS Hangor in the Arabian Sea.
18 officers and 176 sailors lost their lives.
16. According to Tariq Ali, Pakistan Navy lost one third of its force in the 1971 war.
(Book: ‘Can Pakistan Survive? The Death of a State’ By Tariq Ali)
Historic document: “Confidential. December, 10, 1971. Moscow. For the DM Marshal Andrey Grechko:
According to the information from our ambassador in Delhi, in the very first day of the conflict the Indian destroyer ‘Rajput’ had sunk a Pakistani submarine with deep bombing. On December, 4 and 9, the speed boats of India had destroyed and damaged 10 Pakistani battle ships and vessels by Soviet anti-ship P-15 missiles. In addition, 12 Pakistani oil storage were burned in flame.”
17. In ground operations, Indian campaign employed “blitzkrieg” techniques to break through the Pakistani line of defence and dislocate them using speed and surprise.
18. The Instrument of Surrender was signed by Lieutenant-General A.A.K. Niazi of the Pakistan Army.
He surrendered to Indian Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, Joint Commander of the Bangladesh-India Allied Forces.
19. The Instrument of Surrender was signed at Ramna Race Course in Dhaka on 16th December 1971.
20. Approximately 90,000 prisoners of war, including Pakistani soldiers and their East Pakistani civilian supporters were taken by India.
It was the largest number of POWs since the Second World War.
Indira Gandhi Declared in the Indian Parliament:
Dacca is now the free capital of a free country. We hail the people of Bangladesh in their hour of triumph. All nations who value the human spirit will recognize it as a significant milestone in man’s quest for liberty.
21. Pakistan faced humiliation and a complete setback from its rival nation.
In his book The 1971 Indo-Pak War: A Soldier’s Narrative Pakistani Major General Hakeem Arshad Qureshi a veteran of this conflict noted:
“We must accept the fact that, as a people, we had also contributed to the bifurcation of our own country.”
22. The Hamoodur Rahman Commission, which was set up to investigate the causes of defeat of Pakistan, laid the blame squarely on Pakistani generals, accusing them of debauchery, smuggling, war crimes and neglect of duty.
23. In 1972 the Shimla Agreement was signed between India and Pakistan.
India returned the POWs to Pakistan along with certain captured areas. In return, Pakistan recognized Bangladesh as an Independent country.
24. Lance Naik Albert Ekka, Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon, Major Hoshiar Singh and Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal were awarded Param Vir Chakra for their service in the ’71 war.
Though a war must always be avoided, India knows how to defend herself while protecting and maintaining democracy in South Asia.