BENGALURU: Vice-Admiral Anil Kumar Chawla, flag officer commanding-in-chief, Southern Naval Command, said here on Saturday that India had begun thinking of separating East Pakistan from West Pakistan from 1965 though it actually happened in 1971.
Chawla’s remarks came at a conclave at Air Force Station Yelahanka celebrating the golden jubilee of the 1971 India-Pakistan war victory.
Quoting “declassified” documents that he said were enough to show this, Chawla said: “The thinking started actively after the 1965 war, of how to separate East Pakistan from West. The principal reason was ISI’s interference in northeast insurgencies, particularly arming and training of Naga rebels in the Chittagong hill tracts. We used those lessons when we trained the Mukthi Bahini.”
However, he said, India was weak then as Congress had split and Indira Gandhi had barely held on to become prime minister. “She was called ‘Goongi Gudia’ by the opposition, which didn’t expect her to last long,” he said, adding that in Pakistan Yahya Khan had taken over from Tikka Khan in 1969.
“He (Yahya) actually started this whole story by dissolving the “one unit geopolitical programme” of 1954, by which entire Pakistan was considered one wing to offset the population superiority of East Pakistan, and called for elections in 1970,” Chawla said.
Pointing out that the 1970 elections were the first one-person, one-vote elections in Pakistan, he said Indira Gandhi called for elections one-and-a-half years ahead of the scheduled February 1971 polls.
“Yahya was very firmly entrenched and Gandhi was on a weak wicket. It suddenly changed in December 1970 when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won 160 seats in East Pakistan and Bhutto only 81 in West Pakistan. Rahman was the natural successor to the prime ministership,” he said.
Stating that the thinking in 1965 was nascent, Chawla inferred that the January 30, 1971 hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft to Lahore by Kashmiri separatists may have been a trigger.
“The government of India stopped overflight facilities, preventing them from rearming in East Pakistan. They had to fly over Colombo, which was difficult and expensive. Also, Rahman winning elections and not being allowed to be PM started unravelling the whole plot. In March, once Rahman declared independence, India entered the war in April 1971,” Chawla said.
He added that the comprehensive Indian response included clandestine operations to sabotage shipping in East Pakistan. “It was not just inter-service collaboration, it was the entire government approach under astute leadership. On March 7, Indira Gandhi won a landslide victory that strengthened her position. Several things fell into place and she came to be called the ‘Durga of India’,” he said.
“While we go over individual battles, the most important thing is the immutable principles of war, which almost perfectly followed in 1971. Whether this is being done today or not is for us to judge, but the adversaries are different. Warfare is different and technology has changed everything. We need to look ahead and remember that adversaries, the geopolitical situation, and technology are evolving at an ever faster pace,” he said.