INDO-PAK WAR, 1971
In the history of India, this was perhaps as righteous a war
as any fought by her, a war in which right triumphed over wrong.
– Kushwant Singh
The mantle of implementing the Tashkent Agreement fell on Prime minister Indira Gandhi. She initiated several steps to normalize relations with Pakistan. On 15 August 1968, she offered to sign a no-war pact with Pakistan. She also proposed the creation of a joint-machinery for going into the outstanding issues between the two countries. General Yahya Khan succeeded Ayub Khan on 3 March 1969. The march of events in 1970 overshadowed the significant steps taken by her to normalize relations between the two neighbours.
Events and Circumstances Leading to War
The creation of Pakistan, a nation in two separate parts – West Pakistan and East Pakistan – separated by 1,200 miles of Himalayan peaks and Indian territories was “a geographical aberration”.’ Since 1947, West Pakistan had subjected and dominated East Pakistan, politically and economically. Though West Pakistan geographically bigger in size, East Pakistan had larger population. Yet the latter was treated as a colony by the former, The West developed at the cost of the East.’ The geographical anachronism, deliberate discrimination and wauton neglect carried seeds of seccesion.
Birth of Awami League
When India was partitioned in 1947, the basis for separation was religion. But the common religion, Islam, could not cement the Urdu speaking West Pakistan with the Bengali speaking East Pakistan. In 1949, Pakistan adopted Urdu as the national language and the people of East Pakistan resisted the move without success. The result was the birth of Awami League. In 1956, the League demanded due share in the political and economic life of Pakistan. Next Year, the East Pakistan Assembly adopted a resolution demanding autonomy. Thirteen years of military rule kindled in East Pakistan a desire and demand for
Military Regime in Pak, 1969
In 1969, Field Marshall Ayub Khan was ousted from power, thanks to Bhutto agitations. A military coup led by General Yahya Khan resulted in military dictatorship in Pakistan. Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples’ Party led the opposition and demanded establishment of democracy in West Pakistan. Such a demand gained momentum. Simultaneously, Sheikh Mujibur Behman launched a campaign for democracy with autonomy in East Pakistan. India’s general support for these democratic movements was interpreted as interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan. Mujibur Rehman was accused of being an agent of the Government of India. He was implicated in the Agarthala conspiracy case.
Pak Elections, 1970
Sandwiched between the democratic demand of Bhutto in West Pakistan and autonomy agitation by Mujibur Rehman in East Pakistan, General Yahya Khan announced general elections in Pakistan on 5 October 1970. India welcomed the announcement. When Chittagong was worst hit by cyclones in November 1970, India offered air-force relief to East Pakistan. But the Yahya military regime spurned India’s humanitarian offer and postponed the elections to 7 December to the disappointment of the East Pakistanis. Eventually elections were held as announced in December 1970. Mujibur Rehman’s Awami League won a landslide victory in both the Provincial Assembly and in the National
Assembly of Pakistan.
Indian Plane Hijacked, Jan.1971
Soon after the elections, protracted negations were held in Dhaka among
General Yahya Khan, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to finalise
the future political arrangements. As negotiations were in progress, an Indian
Airlines aircraft was hijacked to Lahore and destroyed by Pak agents and Kashmiri
militants (Jan.1971). In retaliation, India suspended over flights of all Pakistan
aircrafts – both civilian and military – from 3 January 1971. Tension between the
two countries escalated.
Liberation Movement in East Pakistan, March, 1971
Following the breakdown of the tripartite negotiations, Mujibui Rehman’s Awami League launched a massive mass civil disobedience movement on 8 March 1971 in East Pakistan. The peaceful protest was ruthlessly repressed. The army was let loose on the unarmed people. The Marital Law Administrator of East Pakistan suppressed the popular uprising by imposing curfew and use of force. On 15 March Mujibur Rehman declared independence of Bangladesh. He was promptly arrested in the midnight of 21-22 March and flown to West Pakistan. However, his senior colleagues managed to escape, went underground,
and constituted the Provincial Government of Bangladesh on 28 March 1971.
Reign of Terror
A reign of terror was let loose in East Pakistan. The Pak military oppression of its own citizens in East Pakistan continued unabated. Villages were destroyed, crops burnt and innocent people were killed. The indiscriminate laughter degenerated to genocide. The army indulged in barbaric brutalities.
As military crackdown escalated the peaceful protest turned to armed struggle. The Youth wing of the Awami League spear-headed the armed Insurrection. The situation became volatile when Mujibur Rehman was given death sentence in a trial for high treason, though the sentence was not executed. The freedom fighters constituted themselves into a guerrilla liberation army and fought against the Pakistan armed forces. Bengali defectors from the Pak army joined hands with the youth wing of the Awami League. The secessionist
movement spread like wild fire. There was civil war in East Pakistan.
India’s Support, April 1971
India was supportive of the struggle for democracy in Pakistan. When the birth of the Republic was announced on 17 April 1971 by the Awami League Government in exile, India welcomed it. General President Yahya Khan gave a call to his people to be prepared for a war against India. For the next eight months, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi followed a for-pronged strategy to meet the situation: 1) to give sanctuary to the Bangladesh Government in exile; 2) to provide food, clothing, shelter and medical aid to refugees; 3) to
keep the army in red alert to meet any eventuality; and 4) to complete the
military operation, if necessary, before the big powers intervene.”
Indo-Soviet Treaty, Aug.1971
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi established contacts with all major powers of the world, visited the USSR, USA and Germany to persuade these countries to pressurize Pakistan to stop massacre of East Pakistanis and restore normalcy. When the Western response was negative, Indira Gandhi signed the lndo- Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Co-operation on 7 August 1971. The Treaty, in essence, provided for defence co-operation and mutual defence assistance in case either party being subjected to threats to their territorial security. “It was one of the best kept secrets in Indo-Soviet relations”.
U.N. Resolution, October 1971
The US President, Richard Nixon, supported the Pak regime. The US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, visited India, met Indira Gandhi and dissuaded her from supporting the secession struggle. But she refused to budge as she considered the US attitude “normally justifiable and politically unacceptable”. Indo-Soviet Treaty added fuel to fire. The US and its European supporters, therefore, brought before the UN General Assembly a resolution on the East Pakistan crisis. The Assembly in October 1971 voted against the
liberation struggle and against India. Stung by the unsupportive stance of the
West, Indira Gandhi supported the struggle with redoubled resolve, courage
Influx of Refugees
The refugee factor loomed large and was real. In order to escape from the ‘reign of terror’ millions of refugees crossed the border and poured into India. All of them were accommodated on the border districts of Assam, Meghalaya, Bihar, Bengal and Tripura. They were provided with food, clothing, shelter and medical aid.’ The refugees had been housed and fed by India for nearly a year.
On 3 December 1971, General Yahya Khan ordered a preemptive strike on Indian Air Force bases in Indian Punjab and in Jammu and Kashmir. Eight military air fields in Western India were attacked. Next day Pakistan notified that she was in a state of war with India. Indian army led by the Chief of the Army Staff, General Manekshaw launched counter-attack on Pakistani air fields. “The liberation struggle of East Pakistan freedom fighters metamorphosed into a full-scale war between India and Pakistan”.
Emergency was declared in India. Indian army swung into action in East Pakistan. Ably led by Lt.General J.S.Aurora, the army joined by Mukti Bahini, pushed through East Bengal, reached the capital Dacca and surrounded the Pakistani garrison. On the Western Front, the Pakistani army attempt to cross across Kashmir was frustrated. The US tried to avert the defeat of Pak forces through the UN Security Council resolutions, but they were vetoed by the Soviet Union. China did not intervene as expected by Pakistan. Western
powers stopped short of diplomatic support to Pakistan. On 9 December US President Nixon ordered the US 7th Fleet into the Bay of Bengal, led by the air craft carrier Enterprise, under the pretext of evacuating American and European citizens from East Pakistan! Indira Gandhi resolutely stood her stand. On her request, Soviet Union dispatched its fleet from Vladivostok to the Bay of Bengal.
On 13 November, General Maneckshaw issued an ultimatum to his Pakistani counterpart. On 16 December, the Pak Army was in East Pakistan. Lt.General Aurora, sorrounded Dacca and defeated the Pak army. About 93 thousand pak troops were then brought to India as Prisoners of War (POWs). Dacca surrendered on 17 December. India declared unilateral cease fire in the Western Sector. Pakistan agreed to the cease fire and released unconditionally Mujibur Rehman on 8 January 1972. Four days later, Mujibur Rehman assumed power in Bangladesh. Indira Gandhi with humility heartily thanked the defence forces for diligently discharging their duty, pledged the nation’s help to the people of Bangladesh, and extended a hand of friendship to the neighbour Pakistan.
Impact of the War
The war of 1971 produced far-reaching impact in the South Asian
subcontinent, India and Pakistan: 1) The war radically altered the sub-continental
structure. In the place of two countries, there emerged three independent
sovereign states – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. 2) The war was a personal
triumph for Indira Gandhi. Gender barrier was broken and she was hailed as
heroine, Durga, Shakti, Liberator of Bangaladesh, and Empress of lndia! 3) The
war wiped out the sad memory of 1962 defeat in the India-China war and restored
India’s self-respect and pride. 4) The war had an indelible impact on India’s
Muslim minority. “For the first time since 1947, there was virtually no sympathy
for Pakistan”. 5) It delivered a death-blow to the Two-Nation theory and the
underlying principle of religion as the basic factor of a nation. 6) It demonstrated
the inherent strength of Indian secularism. 7) The war had strengthened India
to assert its independence in international relations. 8) It also imposed a heavy
burden on the Indian economy. 9) A new-state Bangladesh – had been created
as the result of a popular mandate. 10) Pakistan came under a civilian rule under
Z.A.Bhuto after a lapse of nearly fourteen years. II) The refugee problem was smoothly solved, all the ten million refugees were sent back home. 12) As a fall- out of the out of the war, the Congress won a majority in all the states in the elections held in March 1972.
Simla Agreement, 1972
The Indo-Pak war ended but peace had to be restored. Pakistan not reconciled to the humiliating defeat it suffered in the war. It was yet to accord recognition to Bangladesh. The problem of Prisoners of War (POWs) remained to be solved. On 31 December 1971, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi called for negotiations with Pakistan. In January 1972, the new Prime Minister of Pakistan Z.A.Bhutto expressed his willingness for talks with his Indian counterpart. The emissary level talks were held in April 1972 at Mushri. Theil
the Simla Summit was held at the hill station of Simla from 28 June to 3 July 1972.
From the beginning of the Simla Summt, Indira Gandhi was keen on finding a solution to the seemingly irresolvable Kashmir problem. She insisted on a full settlement of all problems between India and Pakistan. But “President Butto was equally insistent that the Kashmir issue be kept out of the final settlement”. Several draft treaty proposals were prepared calling for bilateralism the exclusion of third parties, the renunciation of force, the conversion of the Kashmir cease fire line into an international boundary and the resolution of the Kashmir issue. “In retum Bhutto and his party amended or flatly rejected each
proposed draft treaty that the Indian delegation presented to them”. Affect five days of hiccups, wranglings and mutual concessions, on 3 July 1972, Bhuttu and Indira Gandhi signed the historic Simla Agreement.
The crucial clauses of the Simla Agreement are: I) India had agreed to return return 5,000 square miles of occupied Pakistani territory, sans some strategic points in Kashmir, mainly in the Kargil sector. 2) India had also agreed to return the 93,000 Pakistani Prisoners of War with the approval of the Bangladesh government. 3) India and Pakistan would restrain in future from use of force. All outstanding issues between the two countries would be resolved bilaterally 5) Indian and Pakistani forces shall be withdrawn to their respective sides of the international border, and 6) In Jammu and Kashmir, the line of control result in from the cease fire date of 17 December 1971, shall be respected by both side Mutual recognition of the Line of Control (LOC) was a major breakthrough.
Pros and Cons
The Simla Agreement was praised as well as blamed. It was praised because 1) It proposed for peaceful settlement of all Indo-Pak issues and disputes through bilateral negotiations. 2) The repudiation of the use of force for settlement of disputes amounted to a no war pact. 3) The provision for troops withdrawal and exchange of territories won in war was designed to secure military disengagement on the borders. 4) The agreement over the line of actual
control and ceasefire rendered the presence of U.N. Observers in Kashmir redundant. 5) The clause for ratification of the Agreement by both sides gave legal base, and 6) The Simla
Agreement was made without any outside help.
The Agreement was blamed because I) It failed to resolve the immediate repatriation of the Prisoners of War (POws). 2) It mentioned Kashmir but failed to find a final settlement of Kashmir issue. 3) It had nor clinched a direct no war pact. 4) It had not made any provision for a joint machinery for effectively handling the Indo-Pak relations. 5) The Agreement was at best a piecemeal hotch-potch arrangement for it failed to secure a package deal to solve pending issues and 6) It envisaged no guarantee that Pakistan would reduce its military
expenditure. However, it must be pointed out that the Simla Agreement provided
basis for all subsequent talks, dialogues and negotiations between India and Pakistan. In this sense, the year 1972 may be called a Year of Triumph.
After the Indo-Pak war of 1971, Indira Gandhi’s position seemed unassailable. Her war victory won the admiration of all. She was the undisputed leader of her party, government and the nation. Congress was solidly behind the Government was stable with a two thirds majority in the Lok Shaba and country hailed her as its heroine. She was at the pinnacle of power and eulogized as “The greatest leader India had ever had”.