Till December 16, 1971, we had East Pakistan and West Pakistan on our Eastern and Western flanks. With the surrender of Lt Gen AKA Niazi, along with over 90,000 Pakistan soldiers at Dhaka that day, a new nation named Bangladesh was born. The story is history now, and it explains how geography changed in our neighbourhood decades ago.
Turning Down Indira’s Diktat
Around this time of the year, we ordinary citizens need to bow our heads in memory of all those who laid down their lives in the countless battles. The military success in that 13-day war, which raged from December 3 to 16, was primarily due to the then Army Chief, General Sam Manekshaw. It is common knowledge now that he had stood up to then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and said no to waging a war in April 1971.
His refusal to start a war against Pakistan in April was based on sound logic and lack of preparedness of the Indian Army at that point of time. Over the next nine months (April-December 1971), stiff training, buying of ammunition, building up stocks all along the borders was what Sam ordered. Deft diplomacy leading to a Friendship Treaty with the USSR in August 1971 also helped.
Surge in Nationalism
A biopic “Sam Bahadur’’ based on the life of legendary General, later Field Marshall, was released recently. It is getting good reviews and spectators are thronging the picture halls to know a bit of history. The movie leads to a surge of nationalistic feelings and we can hold our heads high.
Operation Searchlight – A name given to planned Genocide in Bangladesh
- Targets of the operation included Jagannath Hall which was a dormitory for non-Muslim students of Dhaka University, Rajarbagh Police Lines, Pilkhana which is the headquarters of East Pakistan Rifles. About 34 students were killed in the dormitories of Dhaka University
- Neighbourhoods of old Dhaka which had a majority Hindu population were also attacked. – Robert Payne, an American journalist estimated that 7,000 people had been killed and 3,000 arrested in that night
- Teachers of Dhaka University were killed in the operation by the Pakistani Army
- Sheikh Mujib was arrested by the Pakistani Army on 25 March
- Ramna Kali Mandir was demolished by the Pakistani Army in March 1971.
All that is well, and required too, but the discourse about the creation of Bangladesh usually remains patchy. More often than not shallow to the point of being disappointing, and we need to perhaps address that. How? It is important to have an official history of that war written now, duly vetted by the Defence Ministry. For sure, over 50 years after the cataclysmic events, our scholars and veterans can create an official version.
Incidentally, India and Pakistan went to war over Jammu and Kashmir in 1947-48 and an official account of this war exists, brought out by the Defence Ministry. India and Pakistan fought wars in 1965 as also in 1971 but official histories of these wars are not available.
War’s OfAccount Missingficial
By the end of 1971 war, which was waged from December 3 to 16, all of 13 days, East Pakistan became Bangladesh. Pakistan was then divided into two countries, losing its east wing. Unfortunately, an officially sanctioned account of the battles does not exist. There are many books about the 1971 war but not even a single volume of the official account exists. Maybe one volume can talk of the war in East Pakistan and the second volume can talk of war with West Pakistan.
Simla Agreement Favoured Pak
Summing up the 1971 war, Christine Fair, Professor of Security Studies at Georgetown University, says: “India successfully snatched defeat from the jaws of victory when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi signed the July 1972 Simla Agreement with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. This agreement formally concluded the war. Despite being the clear victor, India bizarrely acquiesced to most of Pakistan’s demands.”
Incidentally, these comments were published as part of an article in a web portal in November 2021. Christine is one of the most respected scholars on the Af-Pak region. She devoted a considerable part of her life to studying Pakistan closely. One of her most seminal books is “Fighting To The End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War’’.
Her articles and books on South Asia, including India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are widely read for the insights they offer. Many of her speeches are freely available on YouTube. She also maintains a website christinefair.net
In hindsight now, over 50 years later, two events stand out of the 1971 India-Pakistan war. The first is the one unforgettable picture of the surrender of Lt Gen AKA Niazi before Lt Gen JS Aurora on December 16, 1971, at Dhaka. The second is the image of Pakistan leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at Simla in July 1972 after signing the Simla Agreement.
Let us not befool ourselves into thinking of good relations with Pakistan any time soon. So? An enhanced understanding about what led to 1971 war, the genesis, the battles and the end result is sorely needed. Among more of our people, a good number of our people.
Presently, we are seeing a comparatively calmer phase in our relationship with Pakistan. However, this is due mainly to Pakistan’s abysmal economic conditions. Definitely not born out of any goodwill, but the result of retardation of its capabilities.
For the foreseeable future, we may continue to have the same edginess in our ties with Pakistan. We also need to look back at the end result of the 1971 war and the benefits for India that accrued. If truth be told, we in India faced more problems after Bangladesh had been created. After losing all direct wars that it fought with India, Pakistan now has its focus firmly on waging a proxy war. This is a permanent state of our being for the last few decades.
Pak’s Hand in Fomenting Trouble
Be it propping up Khalistanis in Punjab or fomenting so-called Jihad in Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan had a hand in both. Incidentally, Punjab and J&K are perennial objects of desire for Pakistan and that is not going to change. The reason is water that flows in Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Chenab, Jhelum and the Indus. These two States make India Upper Riparian vis a vis Pakistan and its hydrophobia is phenomenal. For all times to come, it seems, Pakistan will continue making efforts to separate these States from India. So that it can then merge them into itself! It has never made any secret of its covetous behaviour towards Jammu and Kashmir. The prime motive being wresting control of rivers that flow through it.
In 1990, Pervez Musharraf wrote a thesis at the Royal Military Academy in London as a Brigadier. In the thesis, he said that the prime reason for wars between India and Pakistan was water. It will be in the future too. Unfortunately, this document is still not available in the public domain. Musharraf has referred to it in some of his speeches though in bits and pieces.