Indo-Pakistani War of 1971

Indo-Pakistani War of 1971

conflict=Indo-Pakistani War of 1971
partof=the Indo-Pakistani Wars

caption=Lt. Gen A. A. K. Niazi signs the instrument of surrender on December 16, surrendering his forces to Lt. Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora.
casus=("Underlying") Bangladesh Crisis.
("immediate") PAF airstrikes against IAF bases in north-west India.

date=December 3-December 16, 1971
place=Current day Bangladesh and Indian-Pakistani western border
result=Decisive Indian and Mukti Bahini victory, dissolution of East Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh
territory=Bangladesh becomes an independent state.
commander1=flagicon|India Sam Manekshaw
flagicon|India J.S. Aurora
flagicon|India G.G Bewoor
flagicon|India K. P. Candeth

commander2=flagicon|Pakistan Gul Hassan Khan
flagicon|Pakistan Abdul Hamid Khan
flagicon|Pakistan Tikka Khan
flagicon|Pakistan A. A. K. NiaziPOW
strength1=500,000+ troops
100,000 Mukti BahiniRebelsFact|date=February 2007
strength2=400,000+ troopsFact|date=February 2007
casualties1=3,843 killed [ Official Government of India Statement giving numbers of KIA - Parliament of India Website] ]
9,851 wounded
casualties2=Unknown killed,
Unknown wounded,
90,368 POW captured [ [ Quantification of Losses Suffered] ]

The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 was a major military conflict between India and Pakistan. The war is closely associated with the Bangladesh Liberation War (sometimes also referred to as the Pakistani Civil War). Although there is some disagreement about the exact dates of the war, hostilities between India and Pakistan commenced officially on the evening of December 3, 1971. The armed conflict on India's western front during the period between 3 December 1971 and 16 December 1971 is called the "Indo-Pakistani War" by both the Bangladeshi and Indian armies. The war ended in the surrender of the Pakistani military after armed hostilities on two fronts.


The Indo-Pakistani conflict was sparked by the Bangladesh Liberation war, a conflict between the traditionally dominant West Pakistanis and the majority East Pakistanis. The Bangladesh Liberation war ignited after the 1970 Pakistani election, in which the East Pakistani Awami League won 167 of 169 seats in East Pakistan and secured a simple 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 out the military, which was made up largely of West Pakistanis.

Mass arrests of dissidents began, and attempts were made to disarm East Pakistani soldiers and police. After several days of strikes and non-cooperation movements, the Pakistani military cracked down on Dhaka on the night of March 25, 1971. The Awami League was banished, and many members fled into exile in India. Mujib was arrested and taken to West Pakistan.

On 27 March 1971, Ziaur Rahman, a rebellious major in the Pakistani army, declared the independence of Bangladesh on behalf of Mujibur. In April, exiled Awami League leaders formed a government-in-exile in Baidyanathtala of Meherpur. The East Pakistan Rifles, an elite paramilitary force, defected to the rebellion. A guerrilla troop of civilians, the Mukti Bahini, was formed to help the Bangladesh Army.

India's involvement in Bangladesh Liberation War

On 27 March 1971, the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, expressed full support of her government to the struggle for independence by the people of East Pakistan. 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. Exiled East Pakistan army officers and voluntary workers from India immediately started using these camps for recruitment and training of Mukti Bahini guerrillas [ [ Rediff news: I had to find troops for Dhaka, December 14, 2006/] ] .

As violence in East Pakistan escalated, an estimated 10 million refugees fled to India, causing financial hardship and instability in the country. The United States, a long and close ally of Pakistan, promised to ship arms and supplies to West Pakistan.

In the early autumn of 1971, Indira Gandhi launched a diplomatic offensive with a tour of Europe. She was successful in getting both the United Kingdom and France to break with the United States to block any pro-Pakistan directives in the United Nations security council. Gandhi's greatest coup was on 9 August when she signed a twenty-year treaty of friendship and co-operation with the Soviet Union, greatly shocking the United States, and decreasing the possibility that the People's Republic of China would become involved in the conflict. China, an ally of Pakistan, had been providing moral support, but little military aid, and did not advance troops to its border with India.

Operation of the Mukti Bahini caused severe casualties to the Pakistani Army, which was in control of all district headquarters. As the flow of refugees swelled to a tide, the economic costs for India began to escalate. India began providing support including weapons and training for the Mukti Bahini.

India's official engagement with Pakistan

By November, war seemed inevitable; a massive buildup of Indian forces on the border with East Pakistan had begun. The Indian military waited for winter, 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.

On the evening of Sunday, 3 December, the Pakistani air force launched sorties on eight airfields in north-western India, including Agra which was convert|300|mi|km from the border.. This attack, called Operation Chengiz Khan, was inspired by the Arab-Israeli Six Day War and the success of the Israeli preemptive strike. 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. Indian runways were non-functional for several hours after the attack.

India reacted strongly and declared war on Pakistan. India started flying sorties to Pakistan by midnight. On the Eastern front, the Indian Army joined forces with the Mukti Bahini to form the "Mitro Bahini" ("Allied Forces"); the next day the Indian forces responded with a massive coordinated air, sea, and land assault on the West Pakistani Army in East Pakistan. Unlike the 1965 war, when PAF continuously attacked Indian air force base, this time there were few attacks on IAF bases after the initial assaults, which permitted IAF attacks both army movement in East and West Pakistan throughout the 1971 war.

Pakistan had two primary objectives during the war: :1)to hold Indian forces from East Pakistan to the maximum extent. It was not easy for Indian troops to go long into Bangladesh as Bangladesh had many rivers and subrivers separating the land. Transporting the entire army and artillery across these rivers was not easy. :2)to occupy as much territory as possible on the western side of India. Pakistan expected that all India could achieve was a stalemate. In the end, a cease fire would be ordered and the territory procured prior to the stalemate would be theirs.

The main Indian Objective on the western front was to prevent Pakistan from entering its soil. It had no intention of occupying Pakistan.

Pakistan attacked at several places along India's western border with Pakistan, but the Indian army successfully held their lines. The Pakistan Army suffered a defeat at Battle of Longewala, where a 2000-3000 strong assault force of the 51st Infantry Brigade of the Pakistani Army, backed by the 22nd Armoured Regiment, was repulsed by the 120-odd soldiers of Indian 'A' company, 23rd Bn, Punjab Regiment. The Indian Army quickly responded to the Pakistan Army's movements in the west and made some initial gains, including capturing around convert|5500|sqmi|km2 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).

At sea, the Indian Navy achieved success in Operation Trident, the name given to the attack on Karachi's port, which resulted in the destruction of 2 Pakistani destroyers and a minesweeper. This operation was followed by Operation Python. The waters in the east were also secured by the Indian Navy.

The Indian Air Force flew 4,000 sorties in the west while its counterpart, the PAF put up little retaliation, partly because of the paucity of non-Bengali technical personnel. 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. [] In the east, the small air contingent of Pakistan Air Force No. 14 Sqn was destroyed, resulting in Indian air superiority.

The Indian campaign employed "blitzkrieg" techniques, exploiting weakness in the enemy's positions and bypassing opposition, and resulted in a swift victory. [Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age By Peter Paret, 1986, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0198200978 pp802] Faced with insurmountable losses, the Pakistani military capitulated in less than a fortnight. On December 16, the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan surrendered. The next day Pakistan surrendered.

American and Soviet involvement

The United States supported Pakistan both politically and materially. Nixon, backed by Henry Kissinger, feared Soviet expansion into South and Southeast Asia. Pakistan was a close ally of the People's Republic of China, with whom Nixon had been negotiating a "rapprochement" and where he intended to visit in February 1972. 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. In order to demonstrate to China the "bona fides" of the United States as an ally, and in direct violation of the US Congress-imposed sanctions on Pakistan, Nixon sent military supplies to Pakistan, routing them through Jordan and Iran,Shalom, Stephen R., [ The Men Behind Yahya in the Indo-Pak War of 1971] ] 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. When Pakistan's defeat in the eastern sector seemed certain, Nixon sent the USS "Enterprise" to the Bay of Bengal, a move deemed by the Indians as a nuclear threat. The "Enterprise" arrived on station on December 11, 1971. On 6 December and 13 December, the Soviet Navy dispatched two groups of ships, armed with nuclear missiles, from Vladivostok; they trailed U.S. Task Force 74 into the Indian Ocean from 18 December 1971 until 7 January 1972. The Soviets also sent a nuclear submarine to ward off the threat posed by USS "Enterprise" in the Indian Ocean. [ [ Cold war games] ]

American policy towards the end of the war was dictated primarily by a need to restrict the escalation of war on the western sector to prevent the 'dismemberment' of West Pakistan. U.S. State Department, [] ] Years after the war, many American writers criticized the White House policies during the war as being badly flawed and ill-serving the interests of the United States. [The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissenger and American Foreign Policy by Jussi M. Hanhimeaki Page 156, Published by Oxford University Press US]

The Soviet Union sympathized 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 friendship treaty signed in August 1971.


The war ended with the surrender of the Pakistani military to the allied forces of India and Bangladesh, jointly known as the Mitro Bahini. Bangladesh became an independent nation, the world's third most populous Muslim state. Loss of East Pakistan demoralized the Pakistani military. President Yahya Khan resigned, to be replaced by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Mujibur Rahman was released from a West Pakistani prison, returning to Dhaka on January 10, 1972.

The extent of casualties in East Pakistan is not known. R.J. Rummel cites estimates ranging from one to three million people killed.Rummel, Rudolph J., [ "Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900"] , ISBN 3-8258-4010-7, Chapter 8, table 8.1 ] Other estimates place the death toll lower, at 300,000. On the brink of defeat around December 14, the Pakistani Army, and its local collaborators. systematically killed a large number of Bengali doctors, teachers and intellectuals,cite news
first =
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title = 125 Slain in Dacca Area, Believed Elite of Bengal
url =
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work = New York Times
publisher =
location = New York, NY, USA
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pages =
page = 1
date = December 19, 1971
accessdate = 2008-01-04
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quote = At least 125 persons, believed to be physicians, professors, writers and teachers, were found murdered today in a field outside Dacca. All the victims' hands were tied behind their backs and they had been bayoneted, garroted or shot. These victims were among an estimated 300 Bengali intellectuals who had been seized by West Pakistani soldiers and locally recruited supporters.
archiveurl =
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] cite journal
last = Murshid
first = Tazeen M.
authorlink =
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date = 2
year = 1997
month = December
title = State, nation, identity: The quest for legitimacy in Bangladesh
journal = South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies,
volume = 20
issue = 2
pages = 1–34
publisher = Routledge
location =
issn = 14790270
doi = 10.1080/00856409708723294
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] part of a pogrom against the Hindu minorities who constituted the majority of urban educated intellectuals.Khan, Muazzam Hussain (2003), [ "Killing of Intellectuals"] , "Banglapedia", Asiatic Society of Bangladesh] [Shaiduzzaman (December 14, 2005), [ "Martyred intellectuals: martyred history"] , "The Daily New Age", Bangladesh] Young men, especially students, who were seen as possible rebels were also targeted.

The cost of the war for Pakistan in monetary and human resources was high. In the book "Can Pakistan Survive?" Pakistan based author Tariq Ali writes, "Pakistan lost half its navy, a quarter of its airforce and a third of its army." 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, 1000 Navy and 800 PAF. [ Huge bag of prisoners in our hands] The Liberation Times] The remaining prisoners were civilians - either family members of the military personnel or collaborators (razakars). The Hameedur Rahman Committee Report instituted by Pakistan lists the Pakistani POWs as follows:

The war resulted in one of the largest surrenders of forces since World War II. Although India originally wished to try some 200 prisoners for war crimes for the brutality in East Pakistan, the government eventually acceded to releasing all prisoners as a gesture of reconciliation. The Simla Agreement signed the following year, also resulted in control of Pakistani territory (more than 15,000 km²) that had been captured during the war being given back to Pakistan, in order to create a "lasting peace" between the two nations and to affirm that India had no territorial ambitions.

Important dates

*March 7, 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.
*March 25, 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.
*March 26, 1971: Major Ziaur Rahman declares independence from Kalurghat Radio Station, Chittagong. The message is relayed to the world by Indian radio stations.
*April 17, 1971: Exiled leaders of Awami League form a provisional government.
*December 3, 1971: War between India and Pakistan officially begins when West Pakistan launches a series of preemptive airstrikes on Indian airfields.
*December 6, 1971: East Pakistan is recognized as Bangla-Desh by India.
*December 14, 1971: Systematic elimination of Bengali intellectuals is started by Pakistani Army and local collaborators.
*December 16, 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 Aurora of Indian Army at the surrender. Bangladesh gains victory
*january 12,1972: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman comes to power

Military awards

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


Recipients of the Param Vir Chakra:
* Lance Naik Albert Ekka (Posthumously)
* Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon (Posthumously)
* Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal (Posthumously)
* Major Hoshiar Singh


Recipients of the Bir Sreshtho
* Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir (Posthumously)
* Lance Naik Munshi Abdur Rouf (Posthumously)
* Sepoy Hamidur Rahman (Posthumously)
* Sepoy Mostafa Kamal (Posthumously)
* ERA Mohammad Ruhul Amin (Posthumously)
* Flight Lieutenant Matiur Rahman (Posthumously)
* Lance Naik Nur Mohammad Sheikh (Posthumously)


Recipients of the Nishan-E-Haider:
* Major Muhammad Akram (Posthumously)
* Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas (Posthumously)
* Major Shabbir Sharif (Posthumously)
* Sowar Muhammad Hussain (Posthumously)
* Lance Naik Muhammad Mahfuz (Posthumously)



Further reading

* An Army Its Role and Rule (A History of the Pakistan Army from Independence to Kargil 1947-1999). Muhammad Ayub ISBN 0-8059-9594-3
* D K Palit "The Lightning Campaign: The Indo-Pakistan War 1971" Compton Press Ltd (1972), ISBN 0-900193-10-7
* J R Saigal "Pakistan Splits: The Birth of Bangladesh" Manas Publications (2004), ISBN 81-7049-124-X
* J Hanhimaki "The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy" Oxford University Press (2004)


* "Border", a 1997 Bollywood war film directed by J.P.Dutta. This movie is an adaptation from real life events that happened at the Battle of Longewala fought in Rajasthan (Western Theatre) during the 1971 Indo-Pak war. imdb title|id=0118751|title=Border

* "Hindustan Ki Kasam", a 1973 Bollywood war film directed by Chetan Anand. The aircraft in the film are all authentic aircraft used in the 1971 war against Pakistan. These include MiG-21s, Gnats, Hunters and Su-7s. Some of these aircraft were also flown by war veterans such as Samar Bikram Shah (2 kills) and Manbir Singh. imdb title|id=0154591|title=Hindustan Ki Kasam

* "1971 - Prisoners of War", a 2007 Bollywood war film directed by Sagar Brothers. Set against the backdrop of a prisoner"s camp in Pakistan, follows six Indian prisoners awaiting release after their capture in the 1971 India-Pakistan war.

External links

* [ Video of General Niazi Surrendering]
* [ A complete coverage of the war from the Indian perspective]
* [ Actual conversation from the then US President Nixon and Henry Kissinger during the 1971 War] - US Department of State's Official archive.
* [ Indian Army: Major Operations]
* [ Pakistan: Partition and Military Succession USA Archives]
* [ Pakistan intensifies air raid on India BBC]
* [ A day by day account of the war as seen in a virtual newspaper.]
* [ The Tilt: The U.S. and the South Asian Crisis of 1971.]
* [ "December 16, 1971: any lessons learned?" By Ayaz Amir] - Pakistan's Dawn (newspaper)
* [ India-Pakistan 1971 War as covered by TIME]
* [ Indian Air Force Combat Kills in the 1971 war (unofficial), Centre for Indian Military History]
* [ Op Cactus Lilly: 19 Infantry Division in 1971, a personal recall by Lt Col Balwant Singh Sahore]
* [ All for a bottle of Scotch, a personal recall of Major (later Major General) C K Karumbaya, SM, the battle for Magura]

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