The India-Pakistan War
Of 1971: A Modern War
SUBJECT AREA History
Author: KYLE, R.G., Major, Royal Canadian Artillery
Title: Indian-Pakistan War of 1971: A Modern War
Publisher: Marine Corps Command and Staff College
Date: 14 March 1964
This paper examines the origins, conduct and results of
the war between India and Pakistan of 1971 from which the
nation of Bangla Desh emerged. The study compares the
development of religion, culture and economy in East and
West Pakistan which led to the frustration of Bengali
nationalism within the "Islamic Nation" founded in 1947.
The role of the military government from 1958 to 1971 is
also examined to show how its activities further alienated
the people of East Pakistan and contributed to both the
rebellion there and the weakening of its own military
The second part of the study examines the development
of guerrilla war in East Pakistan between March and December
1971. The Political and Military organization of the
insurgents is analysed along with the counter-insurgency
actions of the government forces. The effects of the war on
India and the policies that nation developed to deal with it
are also analyzed. The roles played by the United States,
China, the Soviet Union, and the United Nations in the
conflict are studied.
The study goes on the analyze the military operations
of India and Pakistan during the fourteen days of
conventional war between them. Finally, conclusions are
drawn concerning the conditions which precipitated the
conflict and the reasons for the success of the Bengali and
No primary sources of information were available for
this study. Therefore, the author relied heavily on
articles in military journals as well as several books on
WAR SINCE 1945 SEMINAR
The India-Pakistan War of 1971
A Modern War
Major Rodney G. Kyle, Royal Canadian Artillery
2 April 1984
Marine Corps Command and Staff College
Marine Corps Development and Education Command
Quantico, Virginia 22134
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. Origins of the Conflict 2
II. Rebellion and Repression 18
III. The 14-Day War: 3-16 December 1971 38
IV. Conclusion 55
I. Map of West Pakistan-India Frontier 1971 57
II. Map of East Pakistan 1971 58
This study is concerned with a guerrilla war fought by
two peoples who had joined together enthusiastically to form
the new nation of Pakistan just twenty-five years before.
It is also concerned with the short, violent conventional
war fought by India and Pakistan which resulted in the birth
of the new nation of Bangla Desh. The conflict was
influenced by both the legacies of ancient India and the
contemporary interests of world politics. The study may
interest the reader concerned with the techniques of modern
guerrilla and conventional war, but the study should also
lead the reader to conclude that we cannot understand modern
conflict without understanding the historical environment in
which it occurs.
Unfortunately no primary sources of information were
available for this study. Information was gathered from
military journals and several books on the subject.
I would like to thank Lieutenant Colonel Donald F.
Bittner, USMCR, staff historian of the Marine Corps Command
and Staff College for his help in finding source material
and his many helpful suggestions to improve a very rough
first draft. A special thanks also must go to Mrs. Pam
Lohman who had to transform this work to typescript. Any
errors, however, are entirely the responsibility of the
ORIGINS OF THE CONFLICT
When Pakistan was formed in 1947, it was a result of
Islamic nationalism of the Moslems of India. Islam had been
introduced to the Indian sub-continent following the Afghan-
Turkish conquest in the 13th century. A large part of the
native population in the area of East Bengal was peacefully
coverted from Hindu to Islam in the following two centuries.
In the 16th century the Moslem sultanate of Bengal was
absorbed into the north Indian Mughal empire. The Moslem
rulers of the empire were non-Bengali. Their culture was
based on Arabic and Persian influences, and the Urdu
language. Socially, Bengal was divided into a Bengali
Moslem peasantry and a Persianized Urdu speaking ruling
In 1764 the English East India Company succeeded the
Mughals as the government of Bengal. The British rule
encouraged the rise of the Hindu commercial class in Bengal
while the former Urdu-speaking Moslem rulers and landowners
were displaced from their positions of power. In this
climate Bengali culture during the 19th century developed in
a new direction led by the Hindu elite and influenced by the
emerging middle-class of Bengali-speaking Moslems. The
Bengali-speaking Moslems became increasingly conscious of
their ethnic identity and nationalism throughout the 19th
century. For their part, the British were gradually
loosening restrictions on local institutions and government:
Hindu dominated schools and the secular university of
Calcutta played their part in developing Bengali identity
among the Bengali-speaking Moslems. To counter the
continuing loss of position and status, in 1906 the Urdu-
speaking Moslems established the first modern political
movement among the Moslems of India called the All-India
Moslem League. 2/
The concept of a separate state of Pakistan did not
develop until the 1930's when India grew closer to self-
government. By 1937 there were two political parties in
Bengal which formed a coalition provincial government. The
first was a radical peasants and tenants party backed by
Bengali-speaking Moslems, while the other was the more
conservative Moslem League representing the Urdu-speaking
Moslems. This government proposed the "Pakistan Resolution"
calling for the regions of Northwest and Eastern zones of
India where there was a Moslem majority to be grouped into
independent states that would be autonomous and sovereign.
A federation of 12 to 14 states with strong local
governments was envisioned.
Bengal became a war zone during World War II. As well,
in 1943 a famine took more than two million lives. The
destruction and sacrifices of these catastrophes increased
the nationalism and solidarity of the Moslem population in
Eastern India. Support for the "Pakistan Resolution" and
the Moslem League swelled. On August 14, 1947, the nation
of Pakistan was created from the regions of India having a
Moslem majority. Two states, Bengal in the East and Punjab
in the West, were divided into Hindu and Moslem regions.
Only the Moslem sections were included into Pakistan.
Pakistan itself had two wings separated by 1,000 miles of
The partition of Bengal led to the restoration of power
to the traditional Urdu-speaking Moslems who had led the
Moslem League. However, this elite could only be sustained
by the active support of the Urdu-speakers who controlled
West Pakistan. While the Moslem League had sustained Moslem
nationalism in Bengal during the previous decade, it could
not provide a focus and support for the nationalism which
continued to be a potent force among Bengali Moslems. 3/
In East Pakistan, the Bengali-speaking Moslem middle-
class was an important social force. This class comprised
small land owners, professionals and traders. They had a
deep loyalty to Bengali culture, and respect for
parliamentary tradition and the rule of law. In West
Pakistan, land holdings were larger and concentrated in the
hands of fewer people. Power was essentially vested in a
plutocratic and feudal system. West Pakistan had a
population of 42.9 million in an area six times larger than
East Pakistan: East Pakistan had a population of 50.8
million (1961 census). The two parts of Pakistan were
separated by about 1,000 miles and, because of hostilities
with India, it was impossible to maintain land or air
communications across the intervening Indian territory. Air
and sea communications routes were 3,000 miles around the
southern tip of India. The two wings of Pakistan had
a religious belief in Islam in common, but the significant
geographic and social differences increasingly divided the
two wings. 4/
When Pakistan was formed in 1947, it was to be an
Islamic nation. However, the political institutions of the
new nation and the way they would function were left
undefined. The East and West wings could not agree on a
constitution defining the political institutions before the
deadline date for independence. The constitution was left
to be sorted out by the new nation itself, but the different
political traditions and aspirations of the East and West
wings were to be the source of serious, continuing friction.
The British had ruled India (including the territories
making up Pakistan) with a strong central government under
the Viceroy. However, the province of Bengal had developed
a provincial democratic parliamentary system much more
advanced than that of the northwestern provinces. For a
viable constitution these two traditions had to be
reconciled within the concept of the Islamic nation. As
well, the British since 1905, had designed the provincial
representative institutions on the basis of separate
electorates for members of the main religious groups --
Moslem and Hindu. West Pakistan had the majority of Moslems
(42.9 million) in the new nation since about one fifth of
the population (10 million of 50.8 million) of East Pakistan
was Hindu. If Pakistan was to continue the tradition of
separate electorates, then West Pakistan would dominate.
But if a single electorate was constituted, then East
Pakistan would dominate while owing its control to its Hindu
minority. Thus, from the beginning, the Islamic nation
concept involved friction between the nationalism and power
of different cultural and social communities within the
For the next seven years, the National Assembly in
Karachi wrestled with the drafting of a constitution.
However, by 1952 Bengali nationalism was reasserting itself
in a number of political parties, the most important being
the Awami League led by Sheikh Mujib-ur Rahman.
In provincial elections in 1954 the conservative Moslem
League was swept from power in East Pakistan by a coalition
of Bengali nationalist parties. When the new government
leader, Fazlul Haq, of East Pakistan made a speech
supporting the reunification of the old province of Bengal,
the national government in Karachi dismissed the provincial
cabinet and imposed Governor's rule. Any large increase of
non-Moslem population in East Pakistan (such as that of West
Bengal) would have further unbalanced the power between East
and West Pakistan as well as brought a real threat of war
with India. With the endless constitutional debate and
steady deterioration of the cohesion of Pakistan, the
President of Pakistan dismissed the National Assembly.
Under threat of imposition of military rule a cabinet with
members drawn from various sections of political opinion was
appointed and tasked to frame a constitution.
By 1956 a constitution had been drafted which included
the concept of parity and equal status between the two
communities of East and West Pakistan. This concept had the
support of most leaders in East Pakistan. While the
arrangement did not go as far as the original resolution of
1937 which called for "autonomous and sovereign" states, it
did maintain a political balance between East and West.
However, West Pakistan comprised fourteen states of the old
India of which the Punjab was the largest it would dominate
the affairs of West Pakistan: the politicians in the West
could not agree to accept this arrangement. Although the
constitution was proclaimed law, elections were never held.
In 1958 the President, Islamabad Mirza, abrogated the
constitution, and he was soon deposed by the Army Chief of
Staff, General Ayub Khan, who proclaimed martial law. The
army had moved to fill the power vacuum created by the lack
of workable political institutions. 6/
The military government of General Ayub concentrated
power toward a central executive government. A new
constitution was proclaimed in 1962 replacing sovereignty of
the people with the sovereignty of Allah. Effective
electoral power was given to an equal number of nobilities
from both wings of the nation, but the national and
provincial legislatures were given only minor powers. Most
powers were concentrated in the presidential executive
located in Karachi. General Ayub had created an autocratic
government in the tradition of the Urdu-speaking Moslems.
The Bengali movement for autonomy of East Pakistan was left
virtually without influence or power.
In the period 1960-1970, the Bengali's felt dominated
economically as well as politically by West Pakistan. East
Bengal lacked natural resources, was remote from main trade
routes, and was limited by a large expanding population
which was difficult to feed. The main exports were jute and
tea. Traditionally, these crops were exported to West
Bengal in exchange of manufactured goods. After partition
in 1947, the economic dependence on West Bengal was shifted
to West Pakistan. Here the central managers controlled the
foreign exchange earned by the exports as well as foreign
aid and foreign investment. In West Pakistan, the per
capita income was 61% higher than in East Pakistan. The
Bengalis resented the faster growth and higher incomes of
the West. They tended to blame the much higher proportion
of West Pakistanis in the civil and armed services and many
of the professions for diverting wealth to the West which
was generated in the East.
As resentment was growing, India and Pakistan went to
war over Kashmir in 1965. This conflict ended in stalemate
but it demonstrated the vulnerability of East Pakistan. The
complete cessation of economic activity with India hurt East
Pakistan and reinforced the Bengalis sense of economic
domination from West Pakistan. 7/
The resentment toward West Pakistan fed growing support
for the Awami League. By 1967 the League had adopted a six-
point manifesto aimed at economic and political autonomy for
East Pakistan. According to the manifesto the central
government should only retain control of foreign affairs and
defense while the provincial government should control
economic, taxation, trade and foreign aid policies.
The economic expansion in West Pakistan was also
producing social strains there. Radical socialists competed
with the traditional land-owning elites on which the
government and army were based. By 1968, strong support for
Ali Bhutto's radical Peoples Party emerged in the West wing.
The party's support was based on social justice for the
"common man" and hostility toward India. It was also
opposed to any action which would reduce the political and
economic status of West Pakistan.
In the rising tide of opposition to his policies,
General Ayub called a conference of political leaders to
resolve the most pressing conflicts. However, no settlement
was reached. General Ayub resigned on 26 March 1969 to be
replaced by General Yahya Khan, Commander-in-Chief of the
army. The constitution was again suspended. Pakistan had
reverted back to the position it was at in 1958.
General Yahya quickly promulgated a set of decisions
aimed at reducing political tensions in both wings of the
country. The first addressed the major grievance of East
Pakistan: national elections would be held by December 1970
based on a common electorate in both wings to give East
Pakistan a majority of seats. The second regrouped the 14
political regions of West Pakistan into four provinces more
equal in political power to the Punjab. Later General Yahya
expanded on these decisions with an outline for the transfer
of power from military government to constitutional
a. A new constitution had to be prepared by
the national assembly within 120 days after being
called into session.
b. The constitution had to conform to certain
principles which included: a provision that the
territorial integrity and national solidarity of
Pakistan should be respected; and a federation
should be established in which provinces would
have maximum autonomy but, the federal government
would have adequate powers to carry out its
responsibilities for external and internal affairs
and to preserve the independence and territorial
integrity of the country.
c. To ensure that the constitution conformed
to the principles, it had to be approved by the
With these decisions, General Yahya probably intended
to achieve some popular support for the military regime
after the long period of confusion of General Ayub's rule.
The guidelines for the constitution also gave protection to
the central power of armed forces. With the cooperation of
the Bengali members, the army could thwart Mr. Bhutto's
radical Peoples Party in West Pakistan. 8/
These guidelines were generally acceptable to the
civilian political leaders in both the East and West. As
the election approached, the two most active parties were
Sheikh Mijib's Awami League and Ali Bhutto's People's Party.
The results of the election, however, sent shock waves
through the nation. Of the 313 total seats in the assembly,
the Awami League took 167, a solid majority, all from the
East. Mr. Bhutto's party took 85 seats, all in the west. 9/
The Islamic parties of the old elite were decisively
defeated in both wings, and with this defeat went any hopes
the old elite and the army had of influencing the actions of
the assembly. With a parliamentary majority the Awami
League did not need the army or the old traditional parties
to win support for a draft constitution reflecting the
Bengali concept of autonomy within Pakistani federation.
Admittedly, President Yahya would have final approval of the
constitution, but the results of the election clearly
reflected an overwhelming demand for reform. The President
could draw little comfort from the opposition of Ali Bhutto
in the Assembly. The Peoples Party was equally anxious to
draft a constitution which limited the traditional powers of
the army and the Moslem elites. Again power was split
between the two geographic regions of the nation. 10/
The strong position of the Awami League persuaded many
supporters that there need be no retreat from the manifesto
adopted four years earlier demanding virtual economic
sovereignty for East Pakistan. This degree of autonomy was
unacceptable to the military government as well as Ali
Bhutto's party. There was stalemate again.
The military government of General Yahya was highly
centralized but not particularly sensitive to the political
currents of the civil population. Senior officers held key
positions in both the civil and military administrative
systems. These systems were largely parallel and often
competitive for power. At the top, Yahya held the offices
of Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, Chief Martial Law
Administrator, President and Supreme Commander, Minister of
Defense and Minister of foreign Affairs. Yahya
theoritically had enormous scope for initiative, but the
elite of the army had considerable power which Yahya had to
take into account along with the political factions of the
country. Within the army, opinion generally belonged in one
of three positions: the center, including Yahya, hoped to
transfer power to a civil government headed by Sheikh Mujib
(Awami League) while retaining a special position for the
armed forces; the right, including many senior officers,
hoped to retain the power of the armed forces and opposed
any move toward more autonomy of the provinces and the
social policies of Mr. Bhutto's People's Party; finally, the
left, including many junior officers, combined a strong
nationalist feeling with social opinion leaning toward Mr.
Bhutto's party. The left and the right grew toward a
consensus opposed to any concession to the Awami League
which would weaken the power of the central government. 11/
General Yahya appears to have been unable to reconcile
the widely differing views both within the armed services
and the various political factions. Although Sheikhs
Mujib's party had decisively won the election and therefore
felt it had the right to form the national government, it
could do nothing until the President called the assembly
into session. This Yahya refused to do until the Sheikh
softened his stand on autonomy as stated in the Awami
Leaguer's manifesto. The League, sensing power, refused to
give any concession. Talks between President Yahya, Bhutto
and the Sheikh continued through January 1971, but no
agreement was reached. Finally, on February 13, 1971 Yahya
summoned the Assembly to meet on March 3, 1971. Bhutto
immediately announced his party, with 85 seats, would
boycott the session unless all parties reached a consensus
on an outline constitution before the Assembly met. On
March 1, 1971, President Yahya agreed with Mr. Bhutto and
announced that the Assembly session was postponed
The postponement of the Assembly session was followed
by widescale rioting and demonstrations throughout East
Pakistan. Sheikh Mujib called a series of general strikes
to demonstrate that East Pakistan would be ungovernable
unless the Assembly was called into session. 13/ It is
unlikely that the civil disorder came as a surprise to the
government for it had been reinforcing the military
garrisons in East Pakistan since mid-February. However,
throughout March, Yahya and Mujib engaged in a complicated
series of negotiations in which some concessions were made.
But on March 25, 1971, Yahya suddenly broke off talks and
left for Islamabad. At the same time the army, which had
been brought up to strength of 40,000 in the East, moved
against the Bengali police, Bengali-manned army units and
other paramilitary forces. Sheikh Mujib was arrested along
with many other Awami League leaders. Newspaper offices
were seized and university halls attacked and occupied. It
seemed that Yahya had used the last session of negotiations
as pretext to allow time for the army to be brought up to
sufficient strength to overwhelm Bengali opposition. 14/
The drive for political and economic autonomy of the
Bengali people entered a new phase. The efforts to win
power through the election process and parliamentary system
were a complete failure. The central military government
was incapable of reconciling the aspirations of the Bengalis
with social reform pressures of the West Pakistanis and the
traditional elitism of the Urdu-speaking Moslems. Military
repression of the Bengali nationalist movement followed.
The Bengali Moslems had a common religion with the Urdu-
speaking Moslems of the West, but social and political
traditions, as well as language and economic base, were
quite different. When Pakistan was formed as an Islamic
nation in 1947, there was no consensus on the form its
political institutions should take. The Moslem states in
the West were governed by traditional elitists who
considered strong federal government essential to preserve
Islamic ideals. The Bengali Moslems' aspirations for more
democratic institutions responsive to regional politics
would not be accommodated by those in the West. At the same
time, demands for social reform in the West by lower-classes
After more than ten years of political stalemate, the
armed forces, in particular the army, seized power to break
the political deadlock. The officers of the army were
largely drawn from the traditional Moslem elite of the West.
Their administration was highly centralized and emphasized
the economic development as well as the social welfare of
the West and the Urdu-speaking traditional Moslems. This
administration only added to the frustration of the Bengalis
who increasingly saw East Pakistan as an economic and
cultural colony of the West. Indeed, the poorer classes of
people of the West also became increasingly disaffected as
they received little benefit from the economic and social
policies of the army administration. By 1971, after 12
years of military rule, Pakistan was even further from
political unity than it was in 1958.
The years of military rule also had a deleterious
effect on military capability. Government administration
detracted from the professional education of the officers as
well as the combat training of the army as a whole.
Political factions appeared in the army which probably
detracted from the cooperation and trust essential to an
effective military force. When open conflict erupted in
March 1971, the armed forces were forced to disarm and
remove Bengali officers and men. These actions must have
had a serious negative effect on the efficiency of the
services' war fighting capability.
In summary, the common religion of Islam could not
overcome the deep divisions of geography, culture and
political goals. Pakistan moved toward insurrection and
1/ Robert Jackson, South Asian Crisis: India,
Pakistan and Bangla Desh. (New York: Praeger, 1975)
2/ Ibid., p. 10.
3/ Ibid., p. 14.
4/ Ibid., p. 15.
5/ Ibid., p. 16.
6/ Ibid., p. 18.
7/ John G. Stoessinger, Why Nations Go to War, 3rd ed.,
(New York, St. Martin's Press, 1982), p.
8/ Jackson, pp. 22-23.
9/ Ibid., p. 24.
10/ Robert LaPorte Jr. "Pakistan 1971: The Disinte-
gration of a nation," Asian Survey. 12, No. 2 (Feb 1972),
11/ Jackson, pp. 25-27.
12/ LaPorte, p. 100; Jackson, pp. 27-28.
13/ Jackson, p. 28.
14/ Ibid., p. 33.
REBELLION AND REPRESSION
When Pakistan's army struck on the night of March 25,
1971, all Awami League leaders were arrested, killed or fled
into exile to India. Sheikh Mujib was arrested and flown to
West Pakistan to await trial on unspecified charges.
President Yahya stated in a radio broadcast the next day
that the Sheikh's "action of starting his non-cooperation
movement is an act of treason." 1/ Disorder and confusion
reigned in Dacca and other parts of East Pakistan. Many
civilians were killed as the army struck violently to clear
barricades in the cities. The Dacca University was shelled
and occupied; this resulted in many casualties. Police and
Bengali soldiers in Dacca were disarmed and detained. 2/
The army became an army of West Pakistanis and was viewed by
Bengalis as an occupying force.
Outside Dacca the army attacked Bengali officers and
men of the armed forces. The army then moved against other
paramilitary organizations such as the police, border
security forces and the militia. In some cases, the attacks
lasted several days but almost everywhere there were heavy
Bengali casualties and destruction. The Bengali military
and police units were scattered throughout the country and
many members began to withdraw toward the borders sabotaging
bridges and rail links where possible. The actions were
brutal and had elements of a cultural war: the army
attacked Bengalis, while Bengalis murdered members of the
Urdu-speaking minorities. By the end of April 1971, the
army had secured the major towns in East Pakistan and
organized resistance ceased. However, the nucleus of an
armed and trained guerrilla force had escaped into India and
to remote areas on the border. At the border Indian units
welcomed the fleeing Bengalis but India played no part in
the resistance at that time. 4/ As April drew to a close,
the attack by West Pakistan on the Eastern wing had
successfully stopped the immediate possibility of armed
revolt. However, the population was subdued but remained
passively hostile. The army reacted to this hostility with
increasing brutality and destruction of civilian property
continued. Civilian refugees began to pour into India.
As news of the uprising and repression in East Pakistan
spread in India, there was considerable public pressure on
the Indian Government to intervene. On March 29, 1971, the
Indian parliament passed a resolution pledging sympathy and
support for the people of East Bengal in their struggle for
the transfer of power to their legally-elected
representatives. The parliament expressed confidence that
"... the historic upsurge of 75 million people of East
Bengal will triumph." 5/ This resolution represented a
change in Indian policy toward Pakistan. Previously, India
had respected the unity of Pakistan in order to protect her
own unity, which had been also threatened by regional
factions and demands for autonomy.
Indian support to the rebels in the following weeks
consisted of assisting voluntary efforts to help the East
Pakistan cause and of encouraging escaped Bengalis to form a
provisional government. India, however, withheld formal
recognition of this government-in-exile. These cautious
actions were probably the result of military advice that
India would not be prepared for military action till after
the monsoon season ended in September. 6/
In response to India's statement of support for the
Bengalis, Pakistan protested that India was interfering in
Pakistan's internal affairs. The apparent object of this
diplomatic effort was to gain international support to
oppose any Indian intervention. But on April 2, 1971,
Russia publicly appealed to Yahya to quickly put an end to
the repression in East Pakistan. Islamabad replied that the
situation was under control and normal routine was being
established. Also on that date, the United States expressed
concern for the human suffering and the need for multi-
national assistance. President Nixon was probably concerned
that the balance of power in Asia would be upset and he was
anxious not to jeopardize the effort to develop closer
relations with China. 7/ The U.S. needed a stable Asia and
support of China to implement the planned withdrawal from
Although slow in coming, on April 13 China expressed
support for President Yahya's efforts. Chou En-lai stated
that should India attack Pakistan, China would fully support
the Pakistani people and government to safeguard "State
Sovereignty" and national independence. The phrasing was
important as it did not state full support for the unity and
integrity of the nation as Pakistan wanted. From April
onwards, China provided economic and military assistance
appropriate to their statement of support; that is,
sufficient to guarantee only that in a war with India the
Western wing would survive, but not necessarily the Eastern
wing. Both India and the Soviet Union had long standing
disputes with China. China's interests would be served by
continuing to have Pakistan interposed between the U.S.S.R.
and India. Should West Pakistan cease to exist, then China
would be surrounded by unfriendly neighbors. On the other
hand, continuing rivalry between Pakistan and India over
East Pakistan would divert India's attention away from her
border with China. Thus survival of West Pakistan was
important to China, while the dispute in East Pakistan would
add to the rivalry between India and West Pakistan to ensure
that India's attention would be diverted from her Northern
border with China.
At the United Nations, Secretary General U. Thant asked
Pakistan to allow United Nations relief agencies to act in
East Pakistan while recognizing that the situation was an
internal matter of Pakistan. President Yahya firmly refused
any outside intervention. 9/ He probably believed that his
policy of counter-insurgency was sufficient to reestablish
By May 1971, organized resistance in East Pakistan had
been crushed. Pakistan diplomacy appeared successful as
most countries viewed the affair as an internal problem.
However, the flow of refugees into India had turned to a
flood. India claimed that the refugees (mostly Bengali
Moslems) were arriving at a rate of 60,000 per day and
now totaled 1.5 million. These people moved mostly into
West Bengal and were costly to India in food and clothing;
furthermore, they were causing a severe economic dislocation
in a province already impoverished. In this situation,
India could do little more than provide indirect support to
the Bengali government-in-exile and provide sanctuary,
training and arms for the guerrilla forces. Diplomatically,
India stressed that whether or not the problem was an
internal one for Pakistan, the refugees were becoming an
internal problem for India: Pakistan must be responsible
for developing conditions for the safe return of the
India's diplomatic efforts began to get results.
Britain and the United States declared no new aid would be
extended to Pakistan until the government in Islamabad
cooperated with international relief agencies; however,
United States aid already approved would continue.
Pakistan's economy was weak. There was a shortage of
foreign exchange and exports from East Pakistan had slowed
significantly. 11/ Pakistan needed aid and needed the
return of the economic base of East Pakistan.
Thus in mid-May Pakistan informed the United Nations of
its willingness to accept relief aid if the activity was
coordinated by Pakistani officials. Within a week Yahya
appealed to the refugees to return and announced he would
soon reveal a plan for the orderly transfer of power to the
representatives of the people. Refugee reception centres
were set up and a general amnesty announced on June 10,
1971. The shift in Pakistani policy eased tensions in East
Pakistan. Many influential members of the Awami League
signed a declaration accepting the concept of national unity
and supporting the reintroduction of separate electorates
for Hindus and Moslems. To gain support of the right-wing
factions of the army, Yahya proposed that a new constitution
be drafted by a committee of experts rather than the
National Assembly. Although India now reported more than
six million refugees, the flow slowed considerably and she
was being pressured to accept international assistance for
the repatriation of refugees. 12/
By June, India had become distrustful of United
Nations' actions to repatriate refugees. When Pakistan
shifted ground to accommodate United Nations' actions, India
rejected the proposal for posting United Nations observers
on her border. 13/ India was probably concerned that East
Pakistan would return to the pre-crisis situation with
little or no gain toward self-determination of East Bengal.
Public opinion in India's turbulent eastern provinces also
favored severing Pakistan's link with East Bengal as an
opportunity to weaken a dangerous enemy. India, therefore,
insisted that Pakistan must come to a political solution of
the crisis founded on self-determination for East Bengal
before social and economic aid should be extended. On the
other hand, the United Nations' approach was to put social
and economic recovery in place before a political solution
should be attempted. The United States clearly supported
the U.N. approach which would return the South Asian balance
of power to the pre-crisis condition.
During May and June, leaders of the Awami League who
had fled to India continued to develop the Bangla Desh
movement (as they now called East Pakistan) politically and
militarily. The government-in-exile was nominally headed by
Sheikh Mujib, but because he was under arrest in West
Pakistan, the real head was Tajuddin Ahmid, the prime
The stated goal of the movement was the independence
of East Pakistan; its unannounced objective was to gain
political power for the Awami League. 15/ To this end, the
government-in-exile tried to exclude Bengalis representing
left-wing and communist movements. The government-in-exile
remained composed principally of Awami League members but
its military arm, the Mukti Fanj, eventually incorporated
armed groups organized by other political factions. 16/
The government-in-exile pursued three broad strategic
programs to achieve its goal. These were:
(a) organizing the support of the population of East
(b) gaining favorable international support; and,
(c) disrupting the economic strength of Pakistan
through attacks on the lines of communication in East
To translate the disaffection of the Bengalis into
supportive action for the Bangla Desh movement, an
underground was organized to publicize its goals. Insurgent
propaganda emphasized the atrocities of the Pakistani army
and described the army as an occupation force restoring the
colonial rule of West Pakistan. This program succeeded to
get support in the form of volunteers as well as
information, supplies and concealment in the rural areas.
In the urban areas, the Bengalis were encouraged to boycott
schools, offices and factories to further disrupt the
economy. The insurgents also used terror tactics to
intimidate civil servants and factory managers to keep their
facilities closed. Furthermore, Bengali leaders who openly
supported Pakistan unity or collaborated with the army were
assassinated selectively to discourage others. 17/
To influence the international community, the main
effort emphasized recognition for the Bangla Desh government-
in-exile. Many Bengalis who were with Pakistani foreign
missions defected and set about publicizing the legitimacy
of the Bangla Desh movement. Although not initially
successful in obtaining formal recognition, these diplomats
developed popular sympathy for the Bangla Desh movement.
The Mukti Fanj was used primarily in an offensive role
to attack the lines of communication and to disrupt the
military and economic strength of East Pakistan. The
monsoon season of June to September favored guerrilla
tactics. Two-thirds of the country was water soaked
limiting mobility to roads, railways and river craft. The
roads and railways ran close to the border, crossing many
bridges vulnerable to attack. The India-East Pakistan
border itself was 1,400 miles long with no natural
obstacles. The interior of East Pakistan could be reached
easily by guerrillas from the border area by river and delta
The Mukti Fanj mounted small, deep raids from their
sanctuaries in India and remote border enclaves.
Detachments of the Pakistani army were attacked causing
casualties which were duly reported by the foreign press.
These reports conflicted with Pakistani claims that the area
was under control and thus tended to undermine international
support for Pakistan. However, the attack on communications
was much more successful and had immediate effects.
Railways were largely inoperable beyond 30 to 50 miles from
Dacca. Roads were cut isolating the principal towns and
ports. The Pakistani army was left isolated in the urban
areas while the major export crops of jute and tea could not
be moved from the rural areas to markets. 19/
As July closed, the military situation in East
Pakistan was worsening. The monsoon was restricting army
mobility while the Mukti Fanj (renamed the Mukti Bahini)
mounted an increasing number of small raids aimed at
sabotage and terror. The army was forced to conduct
viscious counter-insurgent tactics which increased the
hostility of the disaffected population.
After a lull in June, refugees in large numbers again
poured into India. President Yahya continued to press for
the United Nations to force India to withdraw her support to
the Bangla Desh rebels and to decrease border tension to
induce more refugees to return home. He also stated that if
India tried to seize a base in East Pakistan for rebel
operations there would be general war. This was followed by
reports of Pakistani military build-up along the West
Pakistan border with India. 20/
Pakistani diplomacy at the United Nations, supported by
the U.S. was having an effect. U Thant recommended raising
substantial relief aid for East Pakistan. The resources
would be allocated for the refurbishment of transportation
systems as well as food and clothing. India remained
opposed to this plan as well as the U.N. proposal for
representatives on the border to facilitate passage of
refugees back to East Pakistan. It is now clear that India
was determined to see East Pakistan independence and would
not agree to any measures which increased West Pakistan's
strength there. By continuing to support the Bangla Desh
movement, India was becoming increasingly isolated at the
U.N. Her policy also implied eventual direct military
intervention since she could not support the enormous number
of refugees and ignore public support for intervention
Up to the end of July, the Soviet Union had tried to
maintain a balanced approach to India and Pakistan in an
effort to increase her influence on the sub-continent.
However, when the United States and China moved toward
closer mutual relations and both supported the Pakistani
position, Moscow concluded Treaty of Peace, Friendship and
Cooperation with New Delhi on August 9. The Treaty had
little effect on India militarily, but it gave support for
her position at the United Nations Security Council. The
Soviet Union opposed every proposal for any kind of
intervention which might allow Pakistan to get a political
settlement unacceptable to India, i.e., denial self-
determination for the people of East Pakistan. 22/
During August, President Yahya continued to try to win
some support within the population of East Pakistan as well
as satisfy the "hard-liners" in West Pakistan. On August 9,
Yahya announced that Awami League members who would support
Pakistani unity would be allowed to take their seats in the
National Assembly, while the remainder of the unfilled seats
would be filled by by-elections to be held at end-November.
About half the Awami League delegates elected in December
1970 signed a document agreeing to this move. Yahya also
announced that Sheikh Mujib would be tried by military court
on charges of "waging war against Pakistan." These two
proposals were a key compromise of the political factions of
In September more positive aspects of Yahya's plan
emerged. General Tikka Khan, who was the prime proponent
for military repression, was replaced as Governor of East
Pakistan by a civilian, and press censorship was officially
lifted. On September 5, a general amnesty was granted to
all civilians and members of the armed forces alleged to
have committed crimes since March 1. A number of detainees,
mostly politicians aligned with the Awami League were
released. 24/ These moves were countered by the government-
in-exile which remained committed to complete independence.
the Mukti Bahini intensified its propaganda aimed at the
Bengali population. As well, assassinations of candidates
standing for election were increased. For her part, India
would not provide assistance for refugees wanting to return
to East Pakistan. These actions were largely successful in
discouraging any popular Bengali support for the authorities
in Dacca and Islamabad. Candidates failed to stand for 18
out of 78 seats of the Assembly available and no significant
number of refugees returned from India. 25/
India also increased its support to the Mukti Bahini
military operations by providing artillery fire across the
border for the guerrillas and stopping the Pakistani army
from pursuing them into Indian territory. With their lines
of withdrawal more secure the guerrillas undertook deeper
raids into East Pakistan to destroy bridges, roads and army
posts. The increased military activity put further pressure
on the army to repress the actions and divereted effort from
rebuilding the economy and reestablishing civil order.
On October 12, Pakistan proposed to India mutual troop
withdrawals and posting of United Nations observers in the
border areas. Although India refused, Pakistan went ahead
and withdrew its army to stronger positions 10-12 miles
behind the border. 26/ This action was indicative of the
success of the guerrillas in their attacks against the
isolated Pakistani outposts.
At the same time Pakistani diplomacy emphasized the
requirement for United Nations action to restrain India from
supporting the rebels of East Pakistan. Pakistan continued
to argue that India was interfering in her internal affairs.
New Delhi's position was that the problem was not an "India-
Pakistan" problem, but strictly a Pakistani one for
Islamabad to correct. Therefore, United Nations' action was
inappropriate Pakistan had only to create conditions in
East Pakistan of peace and security for the refugees to
return home. 27/ While New Dehli's argument had a
legalistic logic, it must have been clear that Pakistan
could not create conditions of peace while fighting
guerrillas armed and trained in India. India obviously had
little desire to see East Pakistan survive as a province of
her rival in Islamabad.
While the Soviet Union consistently supported Indian
positions at the United Nations, in October Moscow pressured
New Delhi to soften her policy on Bangla Desh independence.
As a result, the Indian Foreign Minister announced that
India was committed only to a political solution acceptable
to the already elected representative of East Pakistan.
With many of these representatives in exile, their leader,
Sheikh Mujib, under arrest in West Pakistan it would have
been unreasonable that these representatives would demand
anything less than political automony for East Pakistan. In
any case, President Yahya refused to negotiate with them.
India returned to her previous position of demanding self-
determination for Bangla Desh. New Delhi had won a
propaganda victory and persuaded the Soviet Union to
continue to support her, all without any material or
While Pakistan probably could have restored order
eventually in East Pakistan, President Yahya realized he had
little hope of prevailing without outside help if India
invaded there. He, therefore, tried to persuade China to
increase her commitment to the security of all Pakistan:
this the Chinese refused to do. Peking remained committed
to support Pakistan only to the extent required to ensure
the survival of West Pakistan as a nation. Despite public
pronouncements from Islamabad that China would supply all
the weapons Pakistan would need in a future conflict with
India, the Indians never appeared to be in any doubt as to
the true nature of China's commitment. When war came in
December, several Indian divisions were withdrawn from the
Sino-Indian border and moved into East Pakistan. 28/
As November drew to a close, Pakistan could no longer
tolerate Indian military actions in the border area.
Shelling and tank fire from the Indian army continued to
inflict casualties on Pakistani posts and provide support
guerrilla operations. Islamabad viewed the conflict as
India's responsibility and this was endorsed by the United
States who, on November 30, suspended licenses for arms
exports to India. 29/ On December 3, 1971, Pakistan struck
India with air and ground attacks across the border from
The period from March to September was marked by the
rapid deterioration of the political situation in East
Pakistan. When confronted by demands of the elected
representatives of the Awani League for economic and
political automony, the central military government in
Islamabad reacted with a ruthless and brutal repression
which ultimately failed. Islamabad appears to have
seriously underestimated the strength and the organization
of the Bengali nationalist movement embodied in the Awami
League. Faced with the arrest of over half its leadership,
the remaining Awami League leaders went into exile in India
with even firmer resolve to win independence. From there
they were able to quickly transform the party organization
into a credible government-in-exile with a military arm to
prosecute guerrilla warfare. The actions of the Islamabad
government worked to the advantage of the Bengali resistance
by providing the elements of a successful revolution.
By arresting and detaining Bengali leaders Islamabad
indicated to the world at large and the Bengalis, in
particular, that no political compromise was possible. The
ruthless and brutal purge of Bengalis from the armed forces
succeeded in sending a trained and dedicated cadre of
soldiers into exile in India where they were available to
the Bangla Desh government-in-exile as a cadre for the
guerrilla force. At the same time, Pakistani military
operations caused such destruction and intimidation of
civilians that millions also fled to India where they were
available and willing to support the Bangla Desh movement.
Little attempt was made by the Pakistan government to
encourage these refugees to return home. It is possible
that the Islamabad government consciously followed a policy
of forcing large numbers of civilians out of East Pakistan
in order to reduce the population to below that of West
Pakistan. This would ensure that in future governments West
Pakistan would hold a majority of seats in the National
Assembly and could protect its privileged position in the
nation. In any case, these destitute refugees provided a
large pool of manpower opposing the West Pakistani
India saw the conflict as an opportunity to weaken her
major rival in South Asia. Pakistan had humiliated India in
the war over Kashmir in 1965. India at that time had had to
divide her forces between East and West while maintaining
considerable forces on her northern border with China. New
Delhi was determined to not be defeated again by Pakistan.
Breaking East Pakistan from the remainder of the nation
would greatly simplify her defense problem. India,
therefore, adopted the policy of supporting the Bangla Desh
movement while preparing her own armed forces for war with
Pakistan should intervention be necessary. The independence
of East Pakistan was pursued consistently and with skill
throughout the period.
Indian public opinion largely supported New Delhi's
policy. The burden of millions of refugees in India's most
populous and impoverished region was costly and caused
social unrest. Furthermore, most Indians saw Pakistan as a
threat which would lead to war eventually in any case.
When India's goal appeared in danger of being thwarted
by United Nations' intervention, New Delhi quickly found the
necessary Security Council veto by concluding a treaty with
the Soviet Union. This treaty did not place any military
obligation on either party, but only pledged cooperation.
For the Soviet Union the treaty demonstrated to the world
its increasing influence in South Asia while for India the
treaty gave her what she needed most -- an ally with veto
power in the Security Council.
The Awami League which formed the leadership of the
Bangla Desh movement was thus provided all the essential
elements to prosecute its guerrilla war for the independence
of East Pakistan. The league had safe havens in India from
which to organize politically and militarily. The arrest
and detention of the popular leader, Sheikh Mujib, provided
tangible and symbolic evidence of the persecution of the
Bengalis by the West Pakistani. The widespread destruction
of personal property and the economic deterioration in East
Pakistan gave the Bangla Desh movement an enormous pool of
manpower willing to resist the Pakistani authorities. The
Bengali soldiers who had escaped formed a trained and
dedicated nucleus for a guerrilla force. Finally, the
support of India in form of arms and training allowed the
guerrillas to move to the offensive quickly and effectively.
By December, it became apparent to Islamabad that it
was not regaining control of East Pakistan. The guerrillas
were striking deeply into East Pakistan in greater strength.
India was deploying raids across her border with East
Pakistan to support the guerrillas. Pakistan, therefore,
mounted an attack on December 3 aimed at destroying as much
Indian combat power as possible before she herself was
attacked by India.
1/ "Presidents Broadcast," Pakistan Affairs, Special
Issue, (Washington), No. 18, March 31, 1971.
2/ Robert Laporte Jr. "Pakistan 1971: The Disin-
tegration of a Nation," Asian Survey, 12, No. 2 (February
1972), p. 102.
3/ Robert Jackson, South Asian Crisis: India, Pakis-
tan and Bangla Desh, (New York, Praeger, 1975), pp. 34-35.
4/ Ibid., p. 35.
5/ Bangla Desh Documents, (New Dehli: Government of
India, 1971), p. 672.
6/ Jackson, p. 38.
7/ Ibid., p. 42.
8/ Ibid., p. 173.
9/ Ibid., p. 43.
10/ David H. Bayley, "India: War and Political Asset-
tion," Asian Survey, Vol. 12, No. 2., February 1972, p. 91.
11/ Jackson, p. 48.
12/ Ibid., pp. 52-54.
13/ Ibid., p. 61.
14/ M. Rashiduzzaman, "Leadership, Organization, Stra-
tegies and Tactics of the Bangla Desh Movement," Asian
Survey, Vol. 12, No. 3, March 1972, p. 187.
15/ Ibid, p. 193.
16/ Jackson, p. 57.
17/ Rashiduzzaman, p. 195.
18/ Jackson, p. 59.
19/ Rashiduzzaman, p. 196. See also Chopra, p. 59
and Jackson, pp. 60-61.
20/ Jackson, p. 68.
21/ Ibid., p. 69.
22/ Ibid., p. 73.
23/ Ibid., p. 80.
24/ Ibid., p. 81.
25/ Rashiduzzaman, p. 198.
26/ Jackson, p. 92.
27/ Ibid., p. 82
26/ Ibid., p. 96.
29/ Stroessinger, Why Nations Go to War, 3d ed., St.
Martin's Press. New York, 1982, p. 134.
THE 14-DAY WAR: 3-16 DECEMBER 1971
When general war opened on December 3, India and
Pakistan had unequal military capacities. India had
developed an arms industry with aid from the Soviet Union
and the West which was capable of producing major weapons
such as tanks and aircraft. India also had received and
continued to have access to military equipment from Moscow.
On the other hand, Pakistan's industry was much less
developed. She had been unable to get arms when cut-off by
the West and Russia in the summer of 1971. China had
provided military supplies, but these could not redress the
The relative strengths of the armed forces of the two
countries are shown in Table 1. It must be noted that India
maintained considerable army forces guarding the Himalayan
border with China which reduced the forces available for
combat with Pakistan. 2/
Early in the counter-insurgency phase of the conflict,
Pakistan had purged Bangali units from the armed forces.
Many Bengalis who belonged to predominantly West Pakistan
units had defected: those who remained were not trusted and
the combat effectiveness of Pakistani units suffered as a
result. The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) was particularly
affected because many of the ground crew had been Bengali.
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The officer corps of all three Pakistani services had
been politicized, especially at the general officer level,
by years of military government. The need for political
balance in the government often overrode the requirements
for ability in many senior military appointments. This
resulted in poor leadership and incompetence as well as lack
of cohesion and trust. By 1971, the chiefs-of-staff system
had been modified so as to be almost unrecognizable. Yahya
Khan retained control of army operations in addition to his
duties as President and supreme Commander of all the
services. The structure was overly centralized and
dominated by the army. Not surprisingly, communications and
cooperation were poor between General Headquarters co-
located with the army at Rawalpindi, and the PAF and navy
located at Peshawar and Karachi respectively. 3/
The Indian system emphasized the distinction between
government and the armed services. Each service had equal
status and was controlled by a civilian minister of the
cabinet responsible to parliament. The service chiefs were
members of a chief-of-staff committee. A joint planning
staff provided coordination. This system was well-suited to
respond to civilian management. 4/
Pakistan's strategy tried to involve the United
Nations to prevent India from intervening militarily. But
when it became apparent that this strategy could not prevent
war, Pakistan attacked from the West. Yahya probably
considered East Pakistan indefensible in the long run, but
he hoped to gain sufficient Indian territory in the West
which could be traded for East Pakistan territory in the
negotiations following the cease-fire. The land battle in
the West was thus crucial for Pakistan.
Indian strategy was to act quickly in the East to
decisively defeat Pakistani forces there while defending
Indian territory in the West. This strategy reduced the
danger of China intervening as it clearly did not threaten
the existence of West Pakistan. 5/ A quick decision in the
East would ensure an independent nation in East Bengal
before international action could be mobilized to separate
the Indian and Pakistani armies there and preclude the
decision India sought.
When the PAF struck at 1747 on December 3, Pakistan
attempted to disable the superior Indian Air Force (IAF) by
a preemptive strike. Airfields at Amritsar, Srinagar,
Avantipur, Pathankot and Faridkot were attacked; however,
the strike failed to achieve any significant success. The
IAF had dispersed their aircraft to hardened shelters on a
large number of airfields where only a direct hit could
damage them. The late afternoon forced the attack to be
brief as it could not be sustained in darkness. Not only
were too few airfields struck for too short a time, but only
30 percent of the available aircraft were used. The
aircraft may have had a low serviceability or the PAF may
have attempted to save aircraft since they could not be
easily replaced. In any case, from this raid onwards, the
IAF dominated the air-war. 6/ On December 4, the IAF flew
over 500 sorties on tactical and strategic targets in
Pakistan. In 14 days of war, the Western Air Command of IAF
alone flew over 4,000 sorties. 7/ The IAF claimed 94
aircraft, while the PAF claimed 81. This air campaign
demonstrated again the value of mass and boldness: the IAF
influenced the war significantly with relatively small
losses while the PAF flew far fewer sorties with greater
losses and less effect. 8/
The border between West Pakistan and India followed no
natural topographical feature, but it had been inherited on
the basis of the old pre-1947 borders. There Pakistan
deployed ten infantry divisions, two armoured divisions,
various brigades and almost all its combat aircraft. The
general deployments are shown in Appendix I. The order of
battle of the Indians has not been disclosed, but it was
probably comparable. 9/
On December 3, the Pakistani 26 Infantry Brigade
attacked east from Kahuta toward Punch in northern Kashmir.
They had made virtually no progress against Indian ground
defenses and heavy air attacks when the offensive was
terminated two days later. On December 9, a second attack
toward Punch was again thwarted by IAF bombing. The Indians
then made a series of small attacks which secured several
Pakistani posts north and west of Punch. Further north in
the area of Kargil, the Indians secured all the Pakistani
outposts which overlooked the Zoji La Pass. These actions
were conducted at night at elevations above 16,000 feet at
sub-zero temperatures. 10/
To the south, the area of Chhamb was an important
communication link to all parts of Kashmir. The II (Pak)
corps attacked on December 3 with four infantry and one
armored brigade with eight artillery regiments in support.
After four days, they had succeeded in driving two Indian
infantry battalions out of their prepared defense to
positions across on the east bank of the Munnawar Tawi
River. Two days later the Pakistanis took the town of
Chhamb and established a bridgehead on the east side of the
river. On December 10 the Indians counter-attacked, sending
the Pakistanis back across the river. In the next two days,
units of II (Pak) Corps recrossed the river two more times
only to be forced to withdraw. By December 12, when the
sector stabilized, the Indians estimated they had lost 17
tanks and 440 men killed while the Pakistanis had lost 36
tanks and 1350 men killed. 11/
In the Punjab, the Sialkot-Shakargarh salient juts into
India. The Indians launched an attack there to relieve
pressure on the Chhamb area. They attacked the salient on
two axes: one from the north to cut the road between
Shakargarh and Zafarwal, the other from the east with
Shakargarh as the objective. Good Pakistani defensive
positions and extensive mining made progress slow, but by
the time of the cease-fire on December 16, the Indians had
secured about 1000 square kilometers of the salient. 12/
South of the Shakargarh salient in the area of Dera
Baba Nanak and Fazilka, the Indians expected a major
Pakistani offensive. Both sides fought local engagements in
effort to gain favorable position. However, no major
offensive was attempted. Although the 1 (Pak) Armoured
Division was available to strike, lack of air cover probably
kept it from entering the battle. 13/
Actions in the Sind-Rajasthan sector were aimed a
drawing strategic reserves of both sides down from the other
northern sectors. A Pakistani force of one infantry
brigade, supported by a reinforced armoured regiment,
crossed the border near Ramgarh on December 4. Without air
cover, the Pakistanis were caught in the open and lost an
estimated 34 tanks and 100 other vehicles in one day before
withdrawing. 14/ On December 5, while Pakistani armour was
being destroyed north in the desert, the Indians captured
Gadra and moved southwest on to Nagar Parkar and the Rann of
Kutch. This advance had possibilities of cutting the main
north-south lines of communication through Hyderabad to
Karachi. Indian progress was slow, but by the time of the
cease-fire 11 days later they had advanced to Naya Chor
and had captured 4,700 square kilometers of Pakistani
land. 15/ Its quite probable that the Indian advance in the
Rann of Kutch was deliberately slow in order not to
threaten seriously West Pakistan and thus arouse Chinese
At the time of cease-fire the Pakistanis had not
achieved any of their objectives. They had no large tracts
of Indian territory to use as bargaining chips for East
Pakistan. India had been able to deploy similar military
strength to a battle which, for them, was defensive. Indian
air superiority allowed them flexibility while negating any
Pakistani local ground concentration.
The 14-day war was the first full-scale Indian naval
war. India's fleet was much superior to that of Pakistan
and was well prepared when war came on December 3. The
Indian navy was able to defend the coast while blockading
East Pakistan and attacking shore targets in support of
ground operations. 16/
Pakistan's surface fleet had neither air cover nor
weapons to defend against India's missile boats. Therefore,
it stayed in Karachi harbour while submarines were given the
task of destroying India's aircraft carrier and cruiser.
They were unsuccessful: on December 4, Dafne-class
Pakistani submarine was sunk by a carrier escort in the Bay
of Bengal while a second submarine was sunk off Visakhapatna
harbour. The only Indian loss was the frigate Kukri sunk by
a sumbarine in the Arabian Sea on December 9. 17/
India's main naval support effort was in the Bay of
Bengal where a carrier task force blockaded the sea
approaches to East Pakistan. Six merchant ships and
"numerous" small craft were captured. Carrier based
aircraft struck assembly points of small boats in the Ganges
delta area, preventing the escape or reinforcement of
Pakistani army elements. The establishment of air
superiority early in the war allowed the ships freedom to
maneuver to attack shore targets at Chittagong, Cox's Bazar,
Chalna, Kulna and other economic and military targets. 18/
These actions had a significant effect on the collapse of
But the decisive theater of the war was East Pakistan
shown on the map at Appendix 2. The area is divided by
three major river systems into four parts with Dacca, the
capital, at the center. The Jamuna River runs north to
south cutting the country in half. West of the Jamuna the
Padma (Ganges) River flows west to east to join the Jamuna
west of Dacca. South of the Padma lies the South-Western
Sector with the major towns of Kushtia, Jessore, Khulna and
Chalna. To the north of the Padma the North-Western Sector
contains the towns of Rangpur, Dinajpur, Bogra and Rajshahi.
The Surma-Meghna River flows southwest from Sylhet joining
the Jamuna south east of Dacca and dividing the remainder of
the country into the Northern Sector and Eastern Sector.
India deployed six infantry divisions and various
supporting troops on all sides of East Pakistan. Supporting
the Indian force were eight battalions of Mukti-Bahini and
many irregular Bengali soldiers. 19/ To force a quick
decision, India had to strike deep toward Dacca. Since the
trafficability of most of the region is poor, the combat
forces were lightly equipped but they were well trained and
were reinforced with engineers to assist in river crossings.
The Indian forces were deployed as follows: II Corps
comprising of two infantry divisions was tasked to advance
eastward through the South-Western Sector in the general
direction of Dacca; XXXIII Corps with one infantry division
and two brigades was tasked to attack to the Bogra area in
the Northwestern Sector and then on to Dacca; 101
Communications Zone with one brigade was to strike south
through the Northern Sector toward Dacca; and, IV Corps in
the Eastern Sector had three divisions with missions to
advance westward to Dacca. 20/
Opposing the Indians, Pakistan deployed five divisions
with two armoured regiments and supporting artillery. The
forces were deployed forward in strong points based on towns
near the border with light forces screening to the border.
In the Southwestern Sector the Indian II Corps advanced
on three axes. Nine (I) Division struck southeast bypassing
Jessore to the south then moved on the Kulna, Chalna and
Barisal. A second element of 9 (I) Division passed north of
Jessore on December 5 and, moving cross-country, took
Jheneida two days later. A third column composed of 4 (I)
Division moved eastward on the right bank of the Padma and
took Kushtia with its important railway bridge after heavy
fighting on December 11. The Pakistani forces based in
Jessore withdrew piecemeal without a fight when they found
themselves cut-off by the advancing Indian columns. By
December 15, the resistance in this sector had
collapsed. 21/ The Indians had demonstrated that they could
move rapidly across the marshy ground and numerous streams.
Good training and assistance of Mukti-Bahini guides allowed
them to outflank the major strong points which then
In the Northwestern Sector, XXXIII (I) Corps advanced
southeast on three axes, bypassing strongly defended areas
at Hilli, Dinajpur and Rangpur. Bogra was capatured on
December 13, cutting-off the defenders further to the north.
In this sector the Indians again proved they could move
quickly around static defenses to cut the routes of
withdrawal and reinforcement. Even though the Pakistani
army continued to fight from their strong points they could
not stop or eject the Indians. 22/
The Northern Sector provided the best approach to
Dacca for there are no major river obstacles. However, the
Indians used only two brigades in this sector. This force
took Jamalpur early, but was held up at Mymensingh until
December 11 before moving south to Tangail, 46 miles from
Dacca. The Indians dropped a parachute battalion into
Tangail on December 11 to cut the withdrawal route of
Pakistani forces to the north. On December 12, resistance
at Tangail crumbled and by December 16 Indian units were in
the outskirts of Dacca. 23/
In the Eastern Sector three Indian divisions faced two
Pakistani divisions. The 8 (I) Division advanced southwest
from Karimgan, reaching Maulvi Bazar on December 6. The
Pakisani garrison at Mualvi Bazar withdrew to Sylhet where
the elements continued to fight for some days. Meanwhile,
the main force of 8 (I) Division continued to Ashuganj on
the Megna River. The 57 (I) Division struck west from
Akhaura reaching Ashuganj on December 9. The 23 (I)
Division bypassed Comilla with one column moving south
toward Chittagong while the main body proceeded west to
reach the Megna River. Four days later the Indians were
within 12 kilometers of Dacca. 24/ After artillery had
fired on Dacca on December 15, the Pakistanis requested a
cease-fire and, on December 16, General Niazi, commander of
Pakistan's forces in Dacca, signed an unconditional
surrender. The war ended and Bangla Desh was a reality.
At the beginning of December, Islamabad had realized
that the Indians were massing to attack into East Pakistan.
Although Pakistan had approximately 40,000 troops deployed
there, the preceeding months of guerrilla war had taken its
toll. The Pakistani army's morale there had been weakened
by terrorist activity and the consistent hostility of the
civilian population. The terrain itself reduced mobility
and forced the army to deploy in strong points near the
larger towns where they would control the major road and
railway networks. These strong points were not mutually
supporting and there were insufficient forces to fill the
gaps between them. At best the Pakistani forces could delay
the likely Indian attack to gain sufficient time for an
international intervention to pressure India to stop. If,
as was entirely possible, no international intervention
materialized, then Pakistan would need to take Indian
territory elsewhere which could then be traded for the
return of East Pakistan during cease-fire negotiations. To
do this Yahya had to mount a swift, violent offensive into
India from West Pakistan. In the 14-day conventional war
Pakistan's strategy completely failed for a number of
Firstly, the Pakistani forces needed air superiority
and they failed to achieve it. The PAF tried a surprise pre-
emptive attack on the Indian Air Force (IAF), but through
poor intelligence and planning failed to strike Indian
airfields in sufficient numbers or depth. IAF operations
were never seriously challenged. In the following days of
the war, the PAF could not or would not provide sufficient
sorties to gain even local air superiority to support the
ground forces even though aircraft were available. It is
probable that the PAF command thought it necessary to avoid
loss of aircraft so they would be available to counter an
Indian offensive into West Pakistan should it arise. It
appears that the Pakistani high command were not aware of
Yahya's objectives of gaining Indian territory as a defense
for the integrity of Pakistan as a whole.
Secondly, the Pakistani army attacked along a very
broad front of the western Indian border. But nowhere did
they mass sufficient forces to ensure a rapid breakthrough.
Generally, the points of attack were in terrain unsuited for
wide maneuver and hence mobility and speed could not be
developed to gain significant amount of Indian land.
Although battles were fiercely contested at battalion and
brigade level, the attacks were only loosely coordinated at
the corps and army level, and hence, lacked unity.
Thirdly, the effect of the Indian naval blockage was to
completely isolate West from East Pakistan. Combined with
Indian domination of the air, there was no possibility of
reinforcing or withdrawing army forces in East Pakistan.
This could only have further reduced morale and the will of
the soldiers there to resist. As well the Indian navy was
able to carry the war directly to Karachi while the
Pakistani navy could not venture out without risking
The Pakistani navy was simply not equipped to take on
the missiles and aircraft of the Indian fleet in order to
protect its own or commercial ships. Thus, West as well as
East Pakistan was isolated from its major sea supply routes.
The state of the navy was indicative of the neglect for
reality of the military government in Islamabad.
Lastly, the Army in East Pakistan underestimated the
ability of the Indians to move forces through the sodden
terrain of Bengal. The Pakistanis had deployed in strength
in the towns while leaving the rural areas relatively
unprotected. The Indian army, supported by Bengalis with
local knowledge, quickly outflanked these strong points.
With no strategic reserve available, the Pakistanis could
not block the Indian's advance. When the strong points were
surrounded, there was simply no place for the defenders to
go and they surrendered in thousands. 25/ The speed of the
Indian advance helped relieve Indian's logistic effort of
improving roads, bridges and railways necessary to move
large quantities of supplies for slower, more deliberate
operations. Their forces were lightly equipped to move
quickly through to Dacca.
In summary, the conventional phase of the war was one
of limited objectives by both sides. However, the
Pakistanis could not properly coordinate their strategy or
their forces to realize success. On the other hand, the
Indians produced a simple but flexible plan which they
executed with determination and skill. East Pakistan fell
much more quickly than Islamabad had anticipated and there
was no time for international intervention. In the West the
Indians defended successfully while making minor gains in
the South. Their actions were entirely consistant with
their objective of ejecting Pakistan from Bengal without
inviting intervention from other nations, particularly
1/ Jackson, p. 107.
2/ Accounts vary. At least eight mountain divisions
remained guarding India's northern border. See Jackson, p.
107; Chopra, pp. 53-54; and Ravi Kaul, "The Indo-Pakistan
War and the Changing Balance of Power in the Indian Ocean,"
United States Naval Institute Proceedings, No. 14, May 73,
3/ Jackson, p. 108.
4/ Ibid., p. 108.
5/ Ravi Rikhye, "Why India Won: The 14 Day War," Armed
Forces Journal, 109, April 1972, p. 39.
6/ Sir Robert Thompson, ed., War in Peace, (New York:
Harmony Books), 1982, p. 225.
7/ Jackson, p. 122.
8/ Thompson, p. 225.
9/ Ibid., 226.
10/ Jackson, pp. 116-119.
11/ Rikhye, p. 40.
12/ Ibid., p. 40.
13/ Jackson, p. 120.
14/ Thompson, p. 227. See also Jackson, p. 120.
15/ Jackson, p. 121.
16/ Kaul, p. 188.
17/ Ibid., p. 191.
18/ Ibid., pp. 188-189.
19/ Jackson, p. 133.
20/ Ibid., p. 133.
21/ Chopra, p. 56.
22/ Ibid., p. 56.
23/ Ibid., p. 58.
24/ Jackson, p. 142.
25/ Chopra, p. 58.
The course of events which shaped the conflict between
India and Pakistan in 1971 had their origins in history made
many years before. The concept of a single Islamic nation
on the Indian sub-continent had brought the peoples of East
and West Pakistan together in the aftermath of British
colonial rule. But the concept was not powerful enough to
hold the nation in the face of differing race, language,
culture and geography.
When the autocratic rulers in the western wing denied
the democratic aspirations of the Bengalis while continuing
a policy of apparent economic domination, resentment was
inevitable. The established rulers had fashioned a severely
centralized government which was incapable of harmonizing
the political and social forces emerging in the western as
well as the eastern wing of the nation. Consequently
military repression of the Bengalis was implemented without
a serious attempt to rectify the causes of the grievances.
The millions of refugees who poured into India caused
serious economic and social problems in one of her most
unstable slates, West Bengal. The Indian government, with
considerable support from the public, seized this
opportunity to decisively weaken her most dangerous rival.
By skillfully managing her diplomatic affairs, while
encouraging the Bangla Desh movement, India won time to
prepare for military intervention while preventing wider
international intervention damaging to her aim. And clearly
her aim was to reduce the power of Pakistan by promoting the
autonomy of East Bengal.
China considered Pakistan, in particular West Pakistan,
vital to restricting Soviet influence on the sub-continent.
Should both India and Pakistan be drawn into the Soviet
sphere, China's borders would be threatened on all sides.
With India and Pakistan rivals, the threat to China from
India would be much reduced. For similar reasons, the
Soviet Union was initially trying to steer an even course in
the India-Pakistan dispute. However, when rebuffed by Yahya
in July 1971, Moscow quickly saw the chance to increase her
influence with India.
When conventional war finally came in December,
Pakistan found herself unable to defend the east or
successfully gain in the west. Pakistan's complete failure
in the air was most damaging. Her armies and navy lacked
information available from reconnaissance. Both the army
and navy could not maneuver without incurring damaging
losses from the Indian Air Force.
In the end, India prevailed because she was able to
maintain the initiative both politically and militarily,
guided by a simple but realistic and flexible strategy.
Click here to view image
Bayley, David H. "Inida War and Political Assertion."
Asian Survey VII, No. 2 (February 1972): pp. 87-96.
A political and social analysis of India during the
crisis of 1971.
Chopra, Maharay K. "Military Operations in Bangla
Desh." Military Review, LTT, No. 5 (May 1972)
A good description of the military operations from
an Indian viewpoint. Includes map.
Jackson, Robert. South Asian Crisis: India, Pakistan
and Bangla Desh. New York: Praeger Publishers,
A thorough discussion of the history of Bengal
nationalism and the international politics of the
Kaul, Ravi. "The Indo-Pakistan War and the Changing
Balance of Power in the Indian Ocean." U.S. Naval
Institute Proceedings (May 1973): pp. 173-195.
A detailed description of naval operations of the
war from the Indian point of view.
LaPorte, Robert Jr. "Pakistan in 1971: The Disinte-
gration of a Nation." Asian Survey XII, No. 2,
(February 1972). pp. 97-108.
A political analysis of Pakistan during the 1971
Rashiduzzaman, M. "Leadership, Organization, Strate-
gies and Tactics of the Bangla Desh Movement."
Asian Survey XII, No. 3 (March 1972): pp. 185-200.
Rukhye, Ravi. "Why India Won: The 14-Day War."
Armed Forces Journal, 109 (April 1972) pp. 38-41.
An analysis of the success of India in war 3-16
December 1971. Gives force ratios and deployments
of India and Pakistan.
Thompson, Sir Robert. ed. War in Peace: Conventional
and Guerrilla Warfare Since 1945. New York: Harmony
Provides short summary of the background and conduct
of the war. Includes maps.
Stoessinger, John G. Why Nations Go to War. 3d ed.
New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982.
Chapter 5 provides analysis of the political cur-
rents and leaders involved in the 1971 crisis. In-
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