Today, the Indian Armed Forces are celebrating “Vijay Diwas” in memory of the greatest military achievements of Independent India. On 16 December 1971, the Indian Armed Forces had defeated the Pakistani Armed Forces in the 1971 India Pakistan War and carved out the nation of Bangladesh. However, most Indians who are battling COVID-19, are not aware of this fantastic tale of bravery, sacrifice, and astonishing victory that India achieved 49 years ago on 16 December 1971. This article covers this fantastic story from a common man’s perspective. Remembering this victory is more important as India faces Chinese belligerence during Ladakh Standoff.
After their independence, India and Pakistan fought two wars in 1947-48 and in 1965. However, Pakistani ambitions were of scoring a decisive victory and settle the score. This Cold War immensely benefited Pakistan who received cutting-edge weaponry from the US which further led to an increase in Pakistani belligerence.
By 1970s, East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) was under turmoil and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the leader of Bengali population. In 1970, Pakistan conducted elections in which Sheikh Mujibur Rahman emerged victorious due to near absolute majority in East Pakistan and demanded a rightful place in Pakistan’s government. However, this demand did not go well with then Pakistani dictator General Yahya Khan and subsequently, the Pakistani Army started massive ethnic killing of Bengali population and intellectuals.
This resulted in a massive influx of refugees in India. By May 1971, the Indian Government under PM Indira Gandhi feared the economic crises due to the increased number of refugees and minimal resources held with the Government of India. Therefore, PM Indira Gandhi started a multi-nation tour to convincing world powers of the humanitarian crisis in East Pakistan. On that tour, World leaders less US President Richard Nixon was convinced about the crisis but offered little help. The Soviet Union on the other side signed a 20-year Friendship Treaty in which an attack on one state was considered an attack on another. This Treaty assured India of military support from the Soviet Union if America joins the upcoming conflict on behalf of Pakistan.
Subsequently, a go-ahead was given to the Indian Armed Forces and charismatic General Sam Manekshaw was leading Indian Army as Chief of the Staff. Deliberate preparation was done for a swift ground offensive to liberate East Pakistan and hold West Pakistan on the Western border of India.
In this war, India’s newly found external Intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) provided accurate intelligence and trained Bengali resistance forces called Mukti Bahini who lead the covert operations until the commencement of hostilities in a declared war. By late November 1971, all preparation was completed and the Indian Armed Forces were ready for the offensive. However, the PM Indira Gandhi didn’t want India to start the war and the Indian Armed Forces were held on the border with frequent skirmishes with the Pakistani Armed Forces.
Finally, on 03 Dec 1971, Pakistan launched preemptive air strikes on Indian airbases, and subsequently on the evening of 03 Dec 1971, PM Indira Gandhi declared a state of war between India and Pakistan.
On 03 Dec 1971, Pakistani President General Yahya Khan believed that Pakistani Armed Forces in East Pakistan can fight for months in case of a ground offensive by India. However, brave Indian Army troops supported by Indian Air Force and Indian Navy triumphed over Pakistani defence repeatedly which resulted in the collapse of East Pakistan’s defence structure. Finally, after a series of lightning offensives and splendid victories, Indian Army troops reached the outskirts of Dhaka which was the capital of East Pakistan. Subsequently, on 13 December 1971, General Sam Manekshaw issued a warning to Pakistani Army troops in East Pakistan which stated “You surrender or we wipe you out”.
Finally, on 16 December 1971, the Pakistani Armed Forces surrendered to the Indian Army at the Ramna Race Course garden in Dhaka. The instrument of surrender was signed by Lieutenant-General A A K Niazi, Martial Law Administrator of East Pakistan who surrendered his pistol to Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, Joint Commander of Indian and Bangladeshi forces.
After the instrument of surrender was signed, the Indian Army took surrender of approximately 90,000 Pakistani servicemen as POWs which made it the largest surrender by any nation since World War II.
The most visible result of the 1971 India Pakistan War was the birth of Bangladesh as a nation that is now a member of the United Nations. For India, this war was a definitive moment as it established India as the dominant power in the Indian Ocean Region. The decisive victory in the 1971 India Pakistan War ensured India does not face any conventional war to date. The prolonged peace, global recognition, and increased standing in world affairs are the true benefits of the 1971 India Pakistan War.