The brilliant victory of the Indian Armed Forces during the 1971 India-Pakistan War is rightly being celebrated this year, as Swarnim Vijay Varsh as we approach the Golden Jubilee of Vijay Diwas on December 16.
In East Pakistan, the Pakistani Army had launched Operation Searchlight in March 1971 against the people of East Pakistan under Lt Gen Tikka Khan, Governor and General Officer Commanding East Pakistan. The Army was given a free hand for using maximum force, resulting in a genocide of Bengalis. All domestic and international communications were cut off and all Bengali troops were neutralised by seising their weapons and ammunition.
Targeting Bengali Hindus
Pakistan had airlifted two Infantry Divisions from West to East Pakistan and had gained control over all big cities. Lt Gen AAK Niazi had assumed command of Pakistani forces in East Pakistan on April 11, 1971.
The continuing military operations by the Pakistani Army resulted in a large-scale exodus of refugees, numbering 10 million fleeing to India. Over 30 million were also displaced internally.
According to figures of the Bangladesh Government, some four million people were killed including three million Bengali Hindus by the Pakistani Army.
By April 1971, the Indian leadership was convinced that a war with Pakistan was inevitable. There were two opposing views about when to wage the war. One view was that the Indian Army should commence operations at the earliest and assist the Bangladeshis in their war of liberation.
Preparations for winning the war
Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Chief of the Army Staff, was of the view that the operations should be launched more systematically after due planning and creating logistics and infrastructure. For this, the Indian Army required 6-9 months for preparations for an assured victory.
Sam Manekshaw was against half baked, inconclusive involvements and had the moral standing to withstand pressures against his convictions. The quantum of force he needed to launch these operations would require time to collect, especially so when the immediately available formations were tied-up with the West Bengal elections, and others had to be found from operationally committed troops in counter insurgency operations and other holding roles in far-flung areas. By the time the force was collected the monsoon would be on its way, thus leaving a very tight schedule for the operations.
The shortage of stock piled reserves of essential, specialised and armed vehicles and of course bridging equipment would need some time to make up and recoup. In addition, raising new units and formations and the introduction of newly acquired equipment was in progress and this needed time to assimilate. Even with crash programming, these tasks could not be completed before the onset of monsoons.
The Indian Army’s aim was to eliminate Pak BOP and salients which were launchpads of Pak saboteurs in the East for disruption and damage to Indian infrastructure. It also was battle inoculation of Indian troops, improved defensive posture and ascertained Pak reaction at strategic and tactical levels
The Indian Army was oriented for operations against West Pakistan and China, and there existed only contingency plans to deal with East Pakistan. Hence time was needed for reorientation, training, re-organisation and creating new logistical bases. The Pakistani Army had by now built up about four infantry divisions in East Pakistan. India needed to create the force levels to fight the Pakistani troops in East Pakistan.
India launches offensives from three sides
The Indian Army had 6-7 divisions, while the Mukti Bahini had few battalions from the Border Security Force and CRPF. Since East Pakistan was surrounded by India from three sides, it was planned to launch offensives from all three sides. The sea was blocked by the Indian Navy. The two squadrons of the Pak Air Force were to be knocked out right at the start and air superiority achieved.
Initial planning envisaged the securing of the river lines. However, the ultimate aim of securing Dacca and thus capturing the whole of East Pakistan emerged as the offensives proceeded after the enemy’s defensive crust had been broken.
In addition, a covert operation under HQ Special Frontier Force (SFF), under the command of Maj Gen Uban, was launched from Mizoram to the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), primarily to capture any Pakistani personnel who may attempt to escape to Burma (now Myanmar). They were also tasked to threaten Chittagong.
Though India had an edge in numbers, the superiority was not large enough, being less than two to one. The only way the operations could be hastened was to evolve audacious plans that relied on manoeuvre and use of unconventional means. Risks had to be taken as it was envisaged that international pressure to stop hostilities would escalate, especially as the United States had decided to support Pakistan.
The Indian Army’s aim was to eliminate Pak BOP and salients which were launchpads of Pak saboteurs in the East for disruption and damage to Indian infrastructure. It also was battle inoculation of Indian troops, improved defensive posture and ascertained Pak reaction at strategic and tactical levels. In November 1971 Indian troops were permitted to go into East Pakistan up to a depth of ten miles to silence enemy guns that had started shelling Indian border posts. These instructions were used to advantage by Indian troops to secure specific areas which helped in improving our offensive posture. In these preliminary operations, whenever attacks were launched against well prepared defences, the Pakistanis fought doggedly and did not give up easily.
Pak troops become complacent
All operations were carried out in conjunction with Mukti Bahini to preclude blame of the aggressor. Limited employment of heavy firepower, resulted in considerable casualties to own troops.
It ensured that Pak forces were destabilised reacting to Indian incursions. Lifting troops led to weakening of Pak defences. As the Indian Army did not show interest to proceed further, Pak troops had become complacent. Offensive-led Pak strengthened defense’s only along main axes thereby facilitating bypassing.
The Pakistan Army was confused and dispersed troops leaving the most important objective of guarding Dacca. It was almost left unguarded. The Indian military leadership outthought the Pakistani leadership.