Indo-Pakistani War of 1971

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Indo-Pakistani War of 1971
Part of the Bangladesh Liberation War and Indo-Pakistani Wars
1971 Instrument of Surrender.jpg
Pakistan's Lt. Gen. A. A. K. Niazi signing the instrument of surrender in Dhaka on 16 Dec 1971, in the presence of India's Lt. Gen. Aurora. Standing immediately behind from Left to Right: Indian Navy Vice Admiral Krishnan, Indian Air Force Marshal Dewan, Indian Army Lt Gen Sagat Singh, Maj Gen JFRJ acob (with Flt Lt Krishnamurthy peering over his shoulder). Veteran newscaster, Surojit Sen of All India Radio, is seen holding a microphone on the right.
Date 3–16 December 1971
Location East Pakistan, IndiaWest Pakistan border, the Line of Control, the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal
Result Decisive Indian victory.[1][2][3]
Eastern front:
Pakistani forces surrender.
Western front:
Unilateral Ceasefire.[4]
  • Independence of East Pakistan as Bangladesh
  • Indian forces captured around 5,795 square miles (15,010 km2) land in the West but returned it in the Simla Agreement as a gesture of goodwill.[5][6][7]


Bangladesh Provisional Bangladesh
Commanders and leaders
India President Varahagiri Venkata Giri
India PM Indira Gandhi
Flag of Indian Army.svg FM Sam Manekshaw
Flag of Indian Army.svg LGen J.S. Arora
Flag of Indian Army.svg LGen G.G. Bewoor
Flag of Indian Army.svg LGen K. P. Candeth
Flag of Indian Army.svg LGen Sagat Singh
Flag of Indian Army.svg MajGen J. F. R. Jacob
Flag of Indian Army.svg MajGen OP Malhotra
Naval Ensign of India.svg Adm S. M. Nanda
Ensign of the Indian Air Force.svg ACM Pratap Lal
Bangladesh Prem Tajuddin Ahmad
Bangladesh Gen M. A. G. Osmani
Bangladesh Maj K M Shafiullah
Bangladesh Maj Ziaur Rahman
Bangladesh Maj Khaled Mosharraf
Pakistan President Yahya Khan
Pakistan PM Nurul Amin
Flag of the Pakistani Army.svg Gen. Abdul Hamid Khan
Flag of the Pakistani Army.svg LGen A. A. K. Niazi Surrendered
Flag of the Pakistani Army.svg LGen Gul Hassan Khan
Flag of the Pakistani Army.svg LGen Tikka Khan
Flag of the Pakistani Army.svg LGen Abdul Ali Malik
RAdm Mohammad Shariff  Surrendered
Pakistani Air Force Ensign.svg AVM Patrick D. Callaghan  Surrendered
MajGen Rao Farman Ali  Surrendered
MajGen Mohd Jamshed  Surrendered
Flag of the Pakistani Army.svg MajGen Iftikhar Janjua
Naval Jack of Pakistan.svg VAdm Muzaffar Hassan
Pakistani Air Force Ensign.svg AM Abdul Rahim Khan
Mukti Bahini: 175,000
Indian Armed Forces: 500,000
Total: 675,000
Pakistan Armed Forces: 365,000
Casualties and losses

2,500[8]–3,843 killed.[9]

Pakistani claims

Indian claims

Neutral claims

9,000 killed[17]
25,000 wounded[18]
97,368 captured
2 Destroyers[19]
1 Minesweeper[19]
1 Submarine[20]
3 Patrol vessels
7 Gunboats

  • Pakistani main port Karachi facilities damaged/fuel tanks destroyed[19][21]
  • Pakistani airfields damaged and cratered[22]

Pakistani claims

Indian claims

Neutral claims

The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 was the direct military confrontation between India and Pakistan during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. Indian, Bangladeshi and international sources consider the beginning of the war to have been Operation Chengiz Khan, when Pakistan launched pre-emptive air strikes on 11 Indian airbases on 3 December 1971, leading to India's entry into the war of independence in East Pakistan on the side of Bangladeshi nationalist forces, and the commencement of hostilities with West Pakistan.[24][25] Lasting just 13 days, it is one of the shortest wars in history.[26][27]

During the course of the war, Indian and Pakistani forces clashed on the eastern and western fronts. The war effectively came to an end after the Eastern Command of the Pakistani Armed Forces signed the Instrument of Surrender,[28] on 16 December 1971 in Dhaka, marking the liberation of the new nation of Bangladesh. East Pakistan had officially seceded from Pakistan on 26 March 1971. Between 90,000[29] and 93,000 Pakistanis were taken as Prisoners of War by the Indian Army which included 79,676[29] to 81,000 uniformed personnel of Pakistan Armed Forces, including some Bengali soldiers who had remained loyal to Pakistan.[30][31] The remaining 10,324 to 15,000 prisoners were civilians, either family members of the military personnel or collaborators (razakars).[29][32][33][34] It is estimated that between 300,000 and 3,000,000 civilians were killed in Bangladesh.[35][36][37][38][39][40] As a result of the conflict, a further eight to ten million people fled the country at the time to seek refuge in neighbouring India.[41]


The Indo-Pakistani conflict was sparked by the Bangladesh Liberation war, a conflict between the traditionally dominant West Pakistanis and the majority East Pakistanis.[19] The Bangladesh Liberation war ignited after the 1970 Pakistani election, in which the East Pakistani Awami League won 167 of 169 seats from East Pakistan and thus secured an absolute majority in the 313-seat lower house of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament of Pakistan). Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman presented the Six Points to the President of Pakistan and claimed the right to form the government. After the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, refused to yield the premiership of Pakistan to Mujibur, President Yahya Khan called the military, dominated by West Pakistanis, to suppress dissent in East Pakistan.[42][43]

After the convening of the National Assembly was postponed by Yahya Khan on the 1st of March, the dissidents in East Pakistan began targeting the ethnic Bihari community which had supported West Pakistan.[44] In early March 1971, 300 Biharis were slaughtered in rioting by Bengali mobs in Chittagong alone.[45] The Government of Pakistan used the 'Bihari massacre' to justify its deployment of the military in East Pakistan on March 25,[46] when it initiated its Operation Searchlight.

Mass arrests of dissidents began, and attempts were made to disarm East Pakistani soldiers and police. After several days of strikes and non-co-operation movements, the Pakistani military cracked down on Dhaka on the night of 25 March 1971. The Awami League was banished, and many members fled into exile in India. Mujib was arrested on the night of 25–26 March 1971 at about 1:30 am (as per Radio Pakistan's news on 29 March 1971) and taken to West Pakistan. The next action carried out was Operation Searchlight, an attempt to kill the intellectual elite of the east.[47]

On 26 March 1971, Ziaur Rahman, a major in the Pakistani army, declared the independence of Bangladesh on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.[48][49][50] In April, exiled Awami League leaders formed a government-in-exile in Baidyanathtala of Meherpur. The East Pakistan Rifles, a paramilitary force, defected to the rebellion. Bangladesh Force namely Mukti Bahini or Bangladesh Force consisting of Niyomito Bahini (Regular Force) and Gono Bahini (Guerilla Force) was formed under the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) General Mohammad Ataul Ghani Osmany.[51]

India's involvement in Bangladesh Liberation War

The Pakistan army conducted a widespread genocide against the Bengali population of East Pakistan,[52] aimed in particular at the minority Hindu population,[53][54] leading to approximately 10 million[53][26] people fleeing East Pakistan and taking refuge in the neighbouring Indian states.[52][55] The East Pakistan-India border was opened to allow refugees safe shelter in India. The governments of West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura established refugee camps along the border. The resulting flood of impoverished East Pakistani refugees placed an intolerable strain on India's already overburdened economy.[54]

General Tikka Khan earned the nickname 'Butcher of Bengal' because of the widespread atrocities he committed.[24] He was previously known as the 'Butcher of Balochistan' for other infamous atrocities he had committed.[56][57][58] General Niazi commenting on his actions noted 'On the night between 25/26 March 1971 General Tikka struck. Peaceful night was turned into a time of wailing, crying and burning. General Tikka let loose everything at his disposal as if raiding an enemy, not dealing with his own misguided and misled people. The military action was a display of stark cruelty more merciless than the massacres at Bukhara and Baghdad by Chengiz Khan and Halaku Khan... General Tikka... resorted to the killing of civilians and a scorched earth policy. His orders to his troops were: 'I want the land not the people...' Major General Farman had written in his table diary, "Green land of East Pakistan will be painted red". It was painted red by Bengali blood.'[59]

The Indian government repeatedly appealed to the international community, but failing to elicit any response,[60] Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 27 March 1971 expressed full support of her government for the independence struggle of the people of East Pakistan. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had concluded that instead of taking in millions of refugees, it was economical to go to war against Pakistan.[55] On 28 April 1971, the Indian Cabinet asked General Manekshaw (Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee) to “Go into East Pakistan”.[61] Exiled East Pakistan army officers and members of the Indian Intelligence immediately started using the Indian refugee camps for recruitment and training of Mukti Bahini guerrillas.[62]

The mood in West Pakistan had also turned increasingly jingoistic and militaristic against East Pakistan and India. By the end of September, an organised propaganda campaign, possibly orchestrated by elements within the Government of Pakistan, resulted in stickers proclaiming Crush India becoming a standard feature on the rear windows of vehicles in Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Lahore and soon spread to the rest of West Pakistan. By October, other stickers proclaimed Hang the Traitor in an apparent reference to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.[63]

India's official engagement with Pakistan


Illustration showing military units and troop movements during operations in the Eastern sector of the war.

By the end of April 1971, Indira Gandhi asked Indian Army Chief Sam Manekshaw if he was ready to go to war with Pakistan. Manekshaw refused on the basis of some difficulties (including climatic conditions of the monsoon in East Pakistan) and he also offered to resign, an offer which Indira Gandhi declined. He then said he could guarantee victory if she would allow him to prepare for the conflict on his terms, and set a date for it. Indira Gandhi accepted his conditions.[64]

By November, war seemed inevitable. Throughout November, thousands of people led by West Pakistani politicians marched in Lahore and across West Pakistan, calling for Pakistan to Crush India.[65][66] India responded by starting a massive buildup of Indian forces on the borders. The Indian military waited until December, when the drier ground would make for easier operations and Himalayan passes would be closed by snow, preventing any Chinese intervention. On 23 November, Yahya Khan declared a state of emergency in all of Pakistan and told his people to prepare for war.[67]

On the evening of 3 December, at about 5:40 pm,[68] the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) launched a pre-emptive strike on eleven airfields in north-western India, including Agra, which was 300 miles (480 km) from the border. At the time of this attack the Taj Mahal was camouflaged with a forest of twigs and leaves and draped with burlap because its marble glowed like a white beacon in the moonlight.[69]

This preemptive strike known as Operation Chengiz Khan, was inspired by the success of Israeli Operation Focus in the Arab–Israeli Six Day War. But, unlike the Israeli attack on Arab airbases in 1967 which involved a large number of Israeli planes, Pakistan flew no more than 50 planes to India.[70]

In an address to the nation on radio that same evening, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi held that the air strikes were a declaration of war against India[71][72] and the Indian Air Force responded with initial air strikes that very night. These air strikes were expanded to massive retaliatory air strikes the next morning.[4]

This marked the official start of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the immediate mobilisation of troops and launched a full-scale invasion. This involved Indian forces in a massive coordinated air, sea, and land assault. The main Indian objective on the Eastern front was to capture Dacca and on the western front was to prevent Pakistan from entering Indian soil. There was no Indian intention of conducting any major offensive into West Pakistan.[68]

Naval hostilities

Pakistan's PNS Ghazi sank off the fairway buoy of Visakhapatnam near the eastern coast of India, making it the first submarine casualty in the waters around the Indian subcontinent.

In the western theatre of the war, the Indian Navy, under the command of Vice Admiral S.N. Kohli, successfully attacked Karachi's port in Operation Trident[19] on the night of 4–5 December,[19] using missile boats, sinking Pakistani destroyer PNS Khyber and minesweeper PNS Muhafiz; PNS Shah Jahan was also badly damaged.[19] In response, Pakistani submarines sought out major Indian warships.[73] 720 Pakistani sailors were killed or wounded, and Pakistan lost reserve fuel and many commercial ships, thus crippling the Pakistan Navy's further involvement in the conflict. Operation Trident was followed by Operation Python[19] on the night of 8–9 December,[19] in which Indian missile boats attacked the Karachi port, resulting in further destruction of reserve fuel tanks and the sinking of three Pakistani merchant ships.[19]

In the eastern theatre of the war, the Indian Eastern Naval Command, under Vice Admiral Krishnan, completely isolated East Pakistan by a naval blockade in the Bay of Bengal, trapping the Eastern Pakistani Navy and eight foreign merchant ships in their ports. From 4 December onwards, the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant was deployed, and its Sea Hawk fighter-bombers attacked many coastal towns in East Pakistan[74] including Chittagong and Cox's Bazaar. Pakistan countered the threat by sending the submarine PNS Ghazi, which sank en route under mysterious circumstances off Visakhapatnam's coast[75][76] On 9 December, the Indian Navy suffered its biggest wartime loss when the Pakistani submarine PNS Hangor sank the frigate INS Khukri in the Arabian Sea resulting in a loss of 18 officers and 176 sailors.[77]

Indian aircraft carrier INS Vikrant launches an Alize aircraft

The damage inflicted on the Pakistani Navy stood at 7 gunboats, 1 minesweeper, 1 submarine, 2 destroyers, 3 patrol crafts belonging to the coast guard, 18 cargo, supply and communication vessels, and large scale damage inflicted on the naval base and docks in the coastal town of Karachi. Three merchant navy ships – Anwar Baksh, Pasni and Madhumathi –[78] and ten smaller vessels were captured.[79] Around 1900 personnel were lost, while 1413 servicemen were captured by Indian forces in Dhaka.[80] According to one Pakistan scholar, Tariq Ali, Pakistan lost half its Navy in the war.[81]

Air operations

After the initial preemptive strike, PAF adopted a defensive stance in response to the Indian retaliation. As the war progressed, the Indian Air Force continued to battle the PAF over conflict zones,[82] but the number of sorties flown by the PAF gradually decreased day-by-day.[83] The Indian Air Force flew 4,000 sorties while its counterpart, the PAF offered little in retaliation, partly because of the paucity of non-Bengali technical personnel.[19] This lack of retaliation has also been attributed to the deliberate decision of the PAF High Command to cut its losses as it had already incurred huge losses in the conflict.[84] Though the PAF did not intervene during the Indian Navy's raid on Pakistani naval port city of Karachi, it retaliated by bombing the Okha harbour, destroying the fuel tanks used by the boats that had attacked.[14][85] In the east, the small air contingent of Pakistan Air Force No. 14 Sqn was destroyed, putting the Dhaka airfield out of commission and resulting in Indian air superiority in the east.[19]

Attacks on Pakistan

While India's grip on what had been East Pakistan tightened, the IAF continued to press home attacks against Pakistan itself. The campaign developed into a series of daylight anti-airfield, anti-radar and close-support attacks by fighters, with night attacks against airfields and strategic targets by B-57s and C-130 (Pakistan), and Canberras and An-12s (India). The PAF's F-6s were employed mainly on defensive combat air patrols over their own bases, but without air superiority the PAF was unable to conduct effective offensive operations, and its attacks were largely ineffective. During the IAF's airfield attacks, one US and one UN aircraft were damaged in Dacca, while a Canadian Air Force Caribou was destroyed at Islamabad, along with US military liaison chief Brigadier General Chuck Yeager's USAF Beech U-8 light twin.

Sporadic raids by the IAF continued against Pakistan's forward air bases in the West until the end of the war, and large scale interdiction and close-support operations, and were maintained. The PAF played a more limited part in the operations, and were reinforced by F-104s from Jordan, Mirages from an unidentified Middle Eastern ally (remains unknown) and by F-86s from Saudi Arabia. Their arrival helped camouflage the extent of Pakistan's losses. Libyan F-5s were reportedly deployed to Sargodha, perhaps as a potential training unit to prepare Pakistani pilots for an influx of more F-5s from Saudi Arabia. The IAF was able to conduct a wide range of missions – troop support; air combat; deep penetration strikes; para-dropping behind enemy lines; feints to draw enemy fighters away from the actual target; bombing; and reconnaissance. In contrast, the Pakistan Air Force, which was solely focused on air combat, was blown out of the subcontinent’s skies within the first week of the war. Those PAF aircraft that survived took refuge at Iranian air bases or in concrete bunkers, refusing to offer a fight.[86]

Hostilities officially ended at 14:30 GMT on 17 December, after the fall of Dacca on 15 December. India claimed large gains of territory in West Pakistan (although pre-war boundaries were recognised after the war), and the independence of Pakistan's East wing as Bangladesh was confirmed. India flew 1,978 sorties in the East and about 4,000 in the West, while the PAF flew about 30 and 2,840. More than 80 percent of the IAF's sorties were close-support and interdiction, and about 45 IAF aircraft were lost.[8] Pakistan lost 75 aircraft,[8] not including any F-6s, Mirage IIIs, or the six Jordanian F-104s which failed to return to their donors. But the imbalance in air losses was explained by the IAF's considerably higher sortie rate, and its emphasis on ground-attack missions. On the ground Pakistan suffered most, with 8,000 killed and 25,000 wounded while India lost 3,000 dead and 12,000 wounded. The loss of armoured vehicles was similarly imbalanced. This represented a major defeat for Pakistan.[18]

Ground operations

File:T-55 tanks in the Bangladesh Liberation War.jpg
Indian T-55 tanks on their way to Dhaka.

Pakistan attacked at several places along India's western border with Pakistan, but the Indian army successfully held their positions.[citation needed] The Indian Army quickly responded to the Pakistan Army's movements in the west and made some initial gains, including capturing around 5,795 square miles (15,010 km2)[5][6][7] of Pakistan territory (land gained by India in Pakistani Kashmir, Pakistani Punjab and Sindh sectors was later ceded in the Simla Agreement of 1972, as a gesture of goodwill).

On the eastern front, the Indian Army joined forces with the Mukti Bahini to form the Mitro Bahini (Allied forces); unlike the 1965 war which had emphasised set-piece battles and slow advances, this time the strategy adopted was a swift, three-pronged assault of nine infantry divisions with attached armoured units and close air support that rapidly converged on Dhaka, the capital of East Pakistan. Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, who commanded the 8th, 23rd, and 57th divisions, led the Indian thrust into East Pakistan. As these forces attacked Pakistani formations, the Indian Air Force rapidly destroyed the small air contingent in East Pakistan and put the Dhaka airfield out of commission. In the meantime, the Indian Navy effectively blockaded East Pakistan.

The Indian campaign employed "blitzkrieg" techniques, exploiting weakness in the enemy's positions and bypassing opposition, and resulted in a swift victory.[87] Faced with insurmountable losses, the Pakistani military capitulated in less than a fortnight. On 16 December, the Pakistani forces stationed in East Pakistan surrendered.

Surrender of Pakistani forces in East Pakistan

The Instrument of Surrender of Pakistani forces stationed in East Pakistan was signed at Ramna Race Course in Dhaka at 16.31 IST on 16 December 1971, by Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, General Officer Commanding-in-chief of Eastern Command of the Indian Army and Lieutenant General A. A. K. Niazi, Commander of Pakistani forces in East Pakistan. As Aurora accepted the surrender, the surrounding crowds on the race course began shouting anti-Niazi and anti-Pakistan slogans.[88]

India took approximately 90,000 prisoners of war, including Pakistani soldiers and their East Pakistani civilian supporters. 79,676 prisoners were uniformed personnel, of which 55,692 were Army, 16,354 Paramilitary, 5,296 Police, 1,000 Navy and 800 PAF.[89] The remaining prisoners were civilians – either family members of the military personnel or collaborators (razakars). The Hamoodur Rahman Commission report instituted by Pakistan lists the Pakistani POWs as follows: Apart from soldiers, it was estimated that 15,000 Bengali civilians were also made prisoners of war.[90]

Branch Number of captured Pakistani POWs
Army 54,154
Navy 1,381
Air Force 833
Paramilitary including police 22,000
Civilian personnel 12,000
Total: 90,368

Foreign reaction and involvement

United States and Soviet Union

The Soviet Union sympathised with the Bangladeshis, and supported the Indian Army and Mukti Bahini during the war, recognizing that the independence of Bangladesh would weaken the position of its rivals—the United States and China. The USSR gave assurances to India that if a confrontation with the United States or China developed, it would take counter-measures. This assurance was enshrined in the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed in August 1971.[91]

The United States supported Pakistan both politically and materially. President Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger refused to use rhetoric in a hopeless attempt to intervene in a large civil war. They needed Pakistan to help stop Soviet expansion into South Asia in informal alliance with India. Pakistan was a close formal ally of the United States and was also on good terms with People's Republic of China, with whom Nixon had been negotiating a rapprochement and where he intended to visit in February 1972.[92] Nixon feared that an Indian invasion of West Pakistan would mean total Soviet domination of the region, and that it would seriously undermine the global position of the United States and the regional position of America's new tacit ally, China. Nixon encouraged countries like Jordan and Iran to send military supplies to Pakistan[93] while also encouraging China to increase its arms supplies to Pakistan. The Nixon administration also ignored reports it received of the "genocidal" activities of the Pakistani Army in East Pakistan, most notably the Blood telegram. This prompted widespread criticism and condemnation both by the United States Congress and in the international press.[52][94][95]

Then-US ambassador to the United Nations George H.W. Bush—later 41st President of the United States—introduced a resolution in the UN Security Council calling for a cease-fire and the withdrawal of armed forces by India and Pakistan. It was vetoed by the Soviet Union. The following days witnessed a great pressure on the Soviets from the Nixon-Kissinger duo to get India to withdraw, but to no avail.[96]

It has been documented that President Nixon requested Iran and Jordan to send their F-86, F-104 and F-5 fighter jets in aid of Pakistan.[97]

When Pakistan's defeat in the eastern sector seemed certain, Nixon deployed Task Force 74 led by the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal. The Enterprise and its escort ships arrived on station on 11 December 1971. According to a Russian documentary, the United Kingdom deployed a carrier battle group led by the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle to the Bay,[91][98][better source needed] on her final deployment. Eagle was paid off by January 1972 at Portsmouth, and was stripped of reusable equipment (radars and missile systems primarily).

On 6 and 13 December, the Soviet Navy dispatched two groups of cruisers and destroyers and a submarine armed with nuclear missiles from Vladivostok;[91] they trailed US Task Force 74 into the Indian Ocean from 18 December 1971 until 7 January 1972. The Soviets also had a nuclear submarine to help ward off the threat posed by USS Enterprise task force in the Indian Ocean.[99][100]


As a long-standing ally of Pakistan, the People's Republic of China reacted with alarm to the evolving situation in East Pakistan and the prospect of India invading West Pakistan and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. Believing that just such an Indian attack was imminent, Nixon encouraged China to mobilise its armed forces along its border with India to discourage it. The Chinese did not, however, respond to this encouragement, because unlike the 1962 Sino-Indian War when India was caught entirely unaware, this time the Indian Army was prepared and had deployed eight mountain divisions to the Sino-Indian border to guard against such an eventuality.[71] China instead threw its weight behind demands for an immediate ceasefire.

When Bangladesh applied for membership to the United Nations in 1972, China vetoed their application[101] because two United Nations resolutions regarding the repatriation of Pakistani prisoners of war and civilians had not yet been implemented.[102] China was also among the last countries to recognise independent Bangladesh, refusing to do so until 31 August 1975.[101][103]



The war stripped Pakistan of more than half of its population and with nearly one-third of its army in captivity, clearly established India's military dominance of the subcontinent.[26] In spite of the magnitude of the victory, India was surprisingly restrained in its reaction. Mostly, Indian leaders seemed pleased by the relative ease with which they had accomplished their goals—the establishment of Bangladesh and the prospect of an early return to their homeland of the 10 million Bengali refugees who were the cause of the war.[26] In announcing the Pakistani surrender, Prime Minister 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.[26]

Colonel John Gill of National Defense University remarks that, while India achieved a military victory, it was not able to reap the political fruits it might have hoped for in Bangladesh. After a brief 'honeymoon' phase between India and Bangladesh, their relations began to sour. India's relations with Bangladesh have remained frequently problematic and tense.[104][105] Whilst India enjoys excellent relations with Bangladesh during Awami League tenures, relations deteriorate when the BNP is in power in Bangladesh. A 2014 PEW opinion poll in Bangladesh found that India was perceived as the greatest threat to Bangladesh. This was the top choice (27%). However 70% of Bangladeshis held a positive view of India compared to 50% with positive view of Pakistan.[106]


For Pakistan it was a complete and humiliating defeat,[26] a psychological setback that came from a defeat at the hands of intense rival India.[33] Pakistan lost half its population and a significant portion of its economy and suffered setbacks to its geo-political role in South Asia.[33][26] Pakistan feared that the two-nation theory was disproved and that the Islamic ideology had proved insufficient to keep Bengalis part of Pakistan.[33] Also, the Pakistani military suffered further humiliation by having their 90,000 prisoners of war (POWs) released by India only after the negotiation and signing of the Simla Agreement on 2 July 1972. In addition to repatriation of prisoners of war also, the agreement established an ongoing structure for the negotiated resolution of future conflicts between India and Pakistan (referring to the remaining western provinces that now composed the totality of Pakistan). In signing the agreement, Pakistan also, by implication, recognised the former East Pakistan as the now independent and sovereign state of Bangladesh.

The Pakistani people were not mentally prepared to accept defeat, as the state-controlled media in West Pakistan had been projecting imaginary victories.[33] When the surrender in East Pakistan was finally announced, people could not come to terms with the magnitude of defeat, spontaneous demonstrations and mass protests erupted on the streets of major cities in West Pakistan. Also, referring to the remaining rump Western Pakistan as simply "Pakistan" added to the effect of the defeat as international acceptance of the secession of the eastern half of the country and its creation as the independent state of Bangladesh developed and was given more credence.[33] The cost of the war for Pakistan in monetary and human resources was very high. Demoralized and finding himself unable to control the situation, General Yahya Khan surrendered power to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who was sworn-in on 20 December 1971 as President and as the (first civilian) Chief Martial Law Administrator. A new and smaller western-based Pakistan emerged on 16 December 1971.[107]

The loss of East Pakistan shattered the prestige of the Pakistani military.[33] Pakistan lost half its navy, a quarter of its air force and a third of its army.[108] The war also exposed the shortcomings of Pakistan's declared strategic doctrine that the "defence of East Pakistan lay in West Pakistan".[109] Hussain Haqqani, in his book Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military notes,

Moreover, the army had failed to fulfill its promises of fighting to the last man. The eastern command had laid down arms after losing only 1,300 men in battle. In West Pakistan 1,200 military deaths had accompanied lackluster military performance.[110]

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. It was not a Niazi, or a Yahya, even a Mujib, or a Bhutto, or their key assistants, who alone were the cause of our break-up, but a corrupted system and a flawed social order that our own apathy had allowed to remain in place for years. At the most critical moment in our history we failed to check the limitless ambitions of individuals with dubious antecedents and to thwart their selfish and irresponsible behaviour. It was our collective 'conduct' that had provided the enemy an opportunity to dismember us.[111]

The Indian Army Chief in 1971 Sam Manekshaw had the highest respect for the fighting capability of the Pakistan Army. He did not accept the theory that they did not fight the Bangladesh war with enough vigor and zeal.[112] In a BBC interview, he said:

The Pakistan army in East Pakistan fought very gallantly. But they had no chance. They were a thousand miles away from their base. I had eight or nine months to make my preparations. I had got a superiority of almost 15 to 1....[113][114]

However, Defence sources state that the Indian superiority was less than 2 to 1.[115]


Bangladesh became an independent nation, the world's fourth most populous Muslim state. Mujibur Rahman was released from a West Pakistani prison, returning to Dhaka on 10 January 1972 and becoming the first President of Bangladesh and later its Prime Minister.

On the brink of defeat around 14 December, the Pakistani Army, and its local collaborators, systematically killed a large number of Bengali doctors, teachers and intellectuals,[116][117] part of a pogrom against the Hindu minorities who constituted the majority of urban educated intellectuals.[118][119] Young men, especially students, who were seen as possible rebels were also targeted. The extent of casualties in East Pakistan is not known. R.J. Rummel cites estimates ranging from one to three million people killed.[120] Other estimates place the death toll lower, at 300,000. Bangladesh government figures state that Pakistani forces aided by collaborators killed three million people, raped 200,000 women and displaced millions of others.[121] In 2010 Bangladesh government set up a tribunal to prosecute the people involved in alleged war crimes and those who collaborated with Pakistan.[122] According to the Government, the defendants would be charged with crimes against humanity, genocide, murder, rape and arson.[123]

According to John H Gill, since there was widespread polarisation between pro-Pakistan Bengalis and pro-liberation Bengalis during the war, those internal battles are still playing out in the domestic politics of modern-day Bangladesh.[124]

Hamoodur Rahman Commission

In the aftermath of the war, Pakistan Government constituted the Hamoodur Rahman Commission headed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Hamoodur Rahman, of Bengali origin,[125] and mandated it to investigate the political and military causes for defeat. However the truth unearthed by the Commission was unpalatable to the establishment. Bhutto is said to have ordered every copy of the report burnt. At least one copy was saved and obtained by India Today in the year 2000, which published its excerpts.[126][127]

The report showed many failings from the strategic to the tactical levels. It confirmed the looting, rapes and the killings by the Pakistan Army and their local agents.[128] It lay the blame squarely on Pakistani generals, accusing them of debauchery, smuggling, war crimes and neglect of duty.[129] The commission had recommended public trial of Pakistan Army generals on the charges that they had been responsible for the situation in the first place and that they had succumbed without a fight,[130] but no actions were ever taken.[126]

The Commission however rejected the charge that 200,000 Bengali girls were raped by the Pakistani Army. It remarked: “It is clear that the figures mentioned by the Dacca authorities are altogether fantastic and fanciful"[131] and cited the evidence of a British abortion team that it carried out the termination of "only a hundred or more pregnancies".[125][132] The Commission also claimed that "approximately 26,000 persons [were] killed during the action by the Pakistan Army."[131][133] Bina D'Costa states that the Commission was aware of the army's brutality in East Pakistan but "chose to downplay the scale of the atrocities committed."[131]

Simla Agreement

In 1972 the Simla Agreement was signed between India and Pakistan, the treaty ensured that Pakistan recognised the independence of Bangladesh in exchange for the return of the Pakistani POWs. India treated all the POWs in strict accordance with the Geneva Convention, rule 1925.[69] It released more than 90,000 Pakistani PoWs in five months.

The accord also gave back more than 13,000 km² of land that Indian troops had seized in West Pakistan during the war, though India retained a few strategic areas( including Turtuk), which was more than 800 km².[134][135] But some in India felt that the treaty had been too lenient to Bhutto, who had pleaded for leniency, arguing that the fragile democracy in Pakistan would crumble if the accord was perceived as being overly harsh by Pakistanis and that he would be accused of losing Kashmir in addition to the loss of East Pakistan.[33] As a result of which Mrs. Gandhi was criticized by a section in India for believing Bhutto's "sweet talk and false vows" while the other section claimed it successful, for not letting it to fall into "Versailles Syndrome” trap.[136]

Long-term consequences

  • Steve Coll, in his book Ghost Wars, argues that the Pakistan military's experience with India, including Pervez Musharraf's experience in 1971, influenced the Pakistani government to support jihadist groups in Afghanistan even after the Soviets left, because the jihadists were a tool to use against India, including bogging down the Indian Army in Kashmir.[137][138]
  • After the war, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto authorised the highly secretive and clandestine atomic bomb program, as part of its new deterrence policy, to defend itself and never to allow another armed invasion from India.[citation needed] Many Pakistani scientists, abroad working at the IAEA and European and American nuclear programs immediately returned to what remained of Pakistan and participated in making Pakistan a nuclear power.[citation needed]
  • Writing about the war in Foreign Affairs magazine Zulfikar Ali Bhutto stated 'There is no parallel in contemporary history to the cataclysm which engulfed Pakistan in 1971. A tragic civil war, which rent asunder the people of the two parts of Pakistan, was seized by India as an opportunity for armed intervention. The country was dismembered, its economy shattered and the nation's self-confidence totally undermined.'[139] This statement of Bhutto has given rise to the myth of betrayal prevalent in modern Pakistan. This view was contradicted by the post-War Hamoodur Rahman Commission, ordered by Bhutto himself, which in its 1974 report indicted generals of the Pakistan Army for creating conditions which led to the eventual loss of East Pakistan and for inept handling of military operations in the East.[126]


  • 7 March 1971: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declares that, "The current struggle is a struggle for independence", in a public meeting attended by almost a million people in Dhaka.
  • 25 March 1971: Pakistani forces start Operation Searchlight, a systematic plan to eliminate any resistance. Thousands of people are killed in student dormitories and police barracks in Dhaka.
  • 26 March 1971: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman signed an official declaration of independence and sent it through a radio message on the night of 25 March (the morning of 26 March). Later Major Ziaur Rahman and other Awami League leaders announced the declaration of independence on behalf of Sheikh Mujib from Kalurghat Radio Station, Chittagong. The message is relayed to the world by Indian radio stations.
  • 27 March 1971: Bangladesh Force namely Mukti Bahini {consisting Niyomito Bahini (Regular Force) and Gono Bahini (Guerilla Force)} was formed under the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) General Mohammad Ataul Ghani Osmany.
  • 17 April 1971: Exiled leaders of Awami League form a provisional government.
  • 3 December 1971: War between India and Pakistan officially begins when West Pakistan launches a series of preemptive air strikes on Indian airfields.
  • 6 December 1971: East Pakistan is recognised as Bangladesh by India.
  • 14 December 1971: Systematic elimination of Bengali intellectuals is started by Pakistani Army and local collaborators.[118]
  • 16 December 1971: Lieutenant-General A. A. K. Niazi, supreme commander of Pakistani Army in East Pakistan, surrenders to the Allied Forces (Mitro Bahini) represented by Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Arora of Indian Army at the surrender. India and Bangladesh gain victory.
  • 12 January 1972: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman comes to power.

Military awards

Battle honours

After the war, a total of number of 41 battle honours and 4 theatre honours were awarded to units of the Indian Army, the notable amongst which are:[140]

Gallantry awards

For bravery, a number of soldiers and officers on both sides were awarded the highest gallantry award of their respective countries. Following is a list of the recipients of the Indian award Param Vir Chakra, Bangladeshi award Bir Sreshtho and the Pakistani award Nishan-E-Haider:


Recipients of the Param Vir Chakra:[141][142]


Recipients of the Bir Sreshtho:[citation needed]


Recipients of the Nishan-E-Haider:[143][144]

Civilian awards

On 25 July 2011, Bangladesh Swadhinata Sammanona, the Bangladesh Freedom Honour, was posthumously conferred on former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi.[145]

On 28 March 2012, President of Bangladesh Zillur Rahman and the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina conferred Bangladesh Liberation War Honour and Friends of Liberation War Honour to 75 individuals, six organisations, Mitra Bahini and the people of India at a special ceremony at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre. This included eight heads of states viz. former Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav, the third King of Bhutan Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, former Soviet presidents Leonid IIyich Brezhnev and Nikolai Viktorovich Podgorny, ex-Soviet prime minister Alexei Nikolaevich Kosygin, former Yugoslav president Marshal Josip Broz Tito, ex-UK prime minister Sir Edward Richard George Heath and former Nepalese prime minister Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala. The organisations include the BBC, Akashbani (All India Radio), International Committee of the Red Cross, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Oxfam and Kolkata University Shahayak Samiti.

The list of foreign friends of Bangladesh has since been extended to 568 people. It includes 257 Indians, 88 Americans, 41 Pakistanis, 39 Britons, nine Russians, 18 Nepalese, 16 French and 18 Japanese.[146][147]


Films (Indian)
Miniseries/Dramas (Pakistani)

See also


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Further reading

External links