India-Pakistan War of 1971

The 1971 Indo-Pak war was the third war that India fought with Pakistan after independence. However, this time the reasons for the war were different as compared to the previous ones.

On the eve of partition of India there were two wings of Pakistan - the West and the East - separated by 1000 miles with India being sandwiched between the two. The Western wing is the present day Pakistan and where the government and capital of the country Islamabad is located while the capital for East Pakistan was Dhaka.

The people of East Pakistan were dissatisfied with the treatment given to them by the West Pakistani Government. Hence they revolted against them. India helped the Mukti Bahini of East Pakistanis to get freedom. This was the major reason why the 1971 war took place. It was also the first war where Indian Army, Navy and Air Force took part collectively. Each of these wings of the Armed Forces played a major part in Indian victory. Because of Indian help a new nation called Bangladesh was born.

Why did India and Pakistan fight a war in 1971?

East Pakistanis were basically Bengali Muslims. Development in Pakistan was concentrated in the Western part while the Eastern side was neglected. In the 1970 local elections in East Pakistan a new party The Awami League came to power. The people now wanted more autonomy and control over natural resources.

Since its independence the government of Pakistan depended very much on the military to rule. By the time this war happened, Pakistan was under the control of a military General named Yahya Khan who took over power from his predecessor General Ayub Khan.

The military leadership of Pakistan under General Yahya Khan not only canceled the national assembly but also did not allow the formation of government by the Awami League who had won the recently held national elections. In other words, West Pakistan government rejected the demand for greater political control by the Bengalis.

The military arrested the leader of Awami League, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in March 1971 and imposed military rule in East Pakistan. They started committing atrocities against the people. Thousands of refugees started entering India and this created a big problem.

Atrocities by Pakistan Army and refusal to accept the demands of the people led to formation of a movement called ‘Mukti Bahini’ or Freedom Fighters, who led the armed liberation struggle against the Pakistani army.

What is Mukti Bahini Movement and what was the reason for its formation?

Mukti Bahini is an armed liberation struggle movement started in East Pakistan against the West Pakistan government. The reason for its formation was the refusal of letting Awami league form to the government after the national elections and arrest of the leader of Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

The mass killing was viewed as ‘genocide’ committed by the Pakistani army against its own citizens that led to an estimated 10 million Bengalis fleeing East Pakistan as refugees to India.

The reasons for this war were:

  • An elected political party in East Pakistan, the Awami League was not allowed to form the government was banned.
  • Military rule was imposed. Army committed atrocities and killed many Bengalis.
  • Bengalis fled and about 10 million refugees came to Assam and West Bengal. This caused serious economic crises in India.
  • General strike in East Pakistan and formation of Mukti Bahini to fight Pakistan army.
  • India openly supported the freedom struggle of the people of East Pakistan.

How did Bangladesh get Liberated?

The war began on 3rd December 1971 when Pakistani air force launched strikes on air fields in Western India and the very next day India declared war and retaliated with air strikes. However, even before the actual war began, the Indian Army’s Eastern Command started preparing for Eastern Operations as early as April and May 1971.

The command was given the responsibility of training and equipping the Mukti Bahini freedom fighters who were by then engaged in guerrilla war against the Pakistani army in the East.

Objectives for the Armed Forces: The Indian Armed Forces had two major tasks. These were:

  1. Liberate East Pakistan from the rule of West Pakistan
  2. Make sure Pakistan did not take this opportunity to make head ways in Jammu and Kashmir

From the military point of view the objectives meant two things. One was to capture Dacca the capital city of East Pakistan, and the second was to defend the Western borders against any attack by Pakistan.

The partition of India was incomplete since Kashmir was a contentious issue between the two countries. Hence, preventing Pakistan from utilizing the opportunity to enter into Kashmir was also the other objective of the war. Indian Armed Forces started preparing for war. Training for war, getting ammunition and weapons, and clothing for the jawans was all done very meticulously.

The Chief of the Army Staff, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, waited for monsoons to get over before starting any operations. The Indian Armed Forces became fully prepared by December 1971.

What did Pakistan do? Political parties in West Pakistan launched a ‘crush India’ campaign. On seeing India’s preparation for war and build up of Indian Army troops, Pakistan launched surprise air strikes on 03 December 1971. Pakistani Air Force bombed Indian airfields in Ambala in Haryana, Amritsar in Punjab and Udhampur in Jammu and Kashmir.

The strike was code named Operation "Chengiz Khan" and marked the formal initiation of hostilities between the two countries. And soon after, India retaliated to the attack in a swift manner. From now on the actual war began. The strategy of Pakistan was to destroy Indian aircrafts and gain air superiority. This in effect means to destroy enemy air fields so that the airspace will be brought under the complete control without any resistance from enemy aircrafts.

However, the attempt of Pakistani air force to establish air superiority failed since the Indian air force quickly reacted. Indian Air Force Hunters were used for bombing Pakistan airfields.