1971 Bangladesh liberation war was fought primarily between Indian armed forces ( for and with the support of Mukti Bahini) and the Pakistani armed forces almost 50 years ago. In this article, we will discuss what led to this war, what happened during the war, and what were the consequences.
The seed of separation of Bangladesh was sown long before, back in 1948 when Mohammad Ali Jinnah declared “Urdu, and only Urdu” would be the federal language of Pakistan. The East and West Pakistan were both culturally and geographically separated from each other. West Pakistan’s attempt to suppress the Bengali culture and tradition and impose Urdu over the people of East Pakistan proved to be detrimental.
Though East Pakistan was bigger in terms of population, it continued to be exploited and dominated by West Pakistan. Bengali’s economic, social, and political rights were suppressed. The leaders of the west never focused on the development of the east and thus concentrated all the resources to west Pakistan leading to exploitation of the east. All these disparities and discrimination caused agitation among the Bengalis in the east.
The dismissal of the victory of Awami League ( led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman) on 25 March 1971 in the elections in East Pakistan by General Yayah Khan ( Dictator of Pakistan at that time) followed by the violent crackdown on the Bengalis in form of Operation SearchLight proved to be the last nail in the coffin.
(This topic will be discussed thoroughly in separate article)
The Bangladesh Liberation War
Today Bangladesh is a sovereign and independent country. On Thursday night, West Pakistani armed forces suddenly attacked the police barracks at Razarbagh and the EPR headquarters at Pilkhana in Dacca. Many innocent and unarmed have been killed in Dhaka city and other places in Bangladesh. Violent clashes between E.P.R. and Police on the one hand and the armed forces of Pakistan on the other are going on. The Bengalis are fighting the enemy with great courage for an independent Bangladesh. May Allah aid us in our fight for freedom. Joy BanglaSheik Mujibur Rehman on 25th March 1971
The declaration of Independence of Bangladesh by Sheik Mujibur Rehman resulted in a civil war in the country. On one side was the Pakistani forces who brutally suppress the Bengalis by mass murders, rapes, and whatnot. On the other side were the Bangladeshi rebels who later organized themselves as Mukti Bahini.
The Inhuman genocide in East Pakistan resulted in a refugee crisis in India. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi tried to convince the world to intervene to stop this genocide but all the western powers neglected to term this genocide as an “internal matter of Pakistan”.
As PM Indira Gandhi and the Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev came closer along with strengthening Indo-soviet relations, the 1971 Bangladesh crisis also became the Battleground for the Cold War.
As the world watched the genocide in silence, Indira Gandhi decided to set an example. The orders to invade Bangladesh were issued much before in August 1971. However, General Sam Manekshaw’s (aka Sam Bahadur) advice to PM proved to be instrumental. the monsoon in August would have prevented the advancement of the Indian Army in Bangladesh which could have altered the result of War. Instead, the Indian Army began training and aiding Mukti Bahini. A guerrilla war continued.
The three services were prepared to strike Pakistan in December. Although skirmishes had already begun in November. However, Pakistan declared war with pre-emptive strikes on the northwestern Indian airfields on the night of 3rd December. PM Gandhi made the historic address to the nation and a full-scale war was launched.
“I speak to you at a moment of grave peril to our country and our people. Some hours ago, soon after 5:30 P.M. on Dec. 3, Pakistan launched a full‐scale war against us.
The Pakistan Air Force suddenly struck at our airfields in Amritsar, Pathankot, Srinagar, Avantipur, Utterlai, Jodhpur, Ambala and Agra.
Their ground forces are shelling our defence positions in Sulemankhi, Khemkaran, Poonch and other sectors.
Since last March we have borne the heaviest of burdens and withstood the greatest of pressure and a tremendous effort to urge the world to help in bringing about a peaceful solution, in preventing annihilation of an entire people whose only crime was to vote democratically.
But the world ignored the basic causes and concerned itself only with certain repercussions.
The situation was bound to deteriorate, and the courageous band of freedom fighters have been staking their all in defence of the values for which we also have struggled and which are basic to our way of life.
Today, the war in Bangla Desh has become a war on India, and this imposes upon me, my Government and the people of India an awesome responsibility. We have no other option but to put our country on a war footing. Our brave officers and jawans are at their posts, mobilized for the defence of the country. Emergency has been declared for the whole of India. Every necessary step is being taken, and we are prepared for any eventualities.
I have no doubt that it is the united will of our people that this wanton and unprovoked aggression of Pakistan should be decisively and finally repelled. In this resolve, the Government is assured of the full and unflinching support of all political parties and every Indian citizen.
We must be prepared for a long period of hardship and sacrifice. We are a peace-loving people, but we know that peace cannot last if we do not guard our freedom, our democracy and our way of life. So today we fight, not merely for territorial integrity, but for the basic ideals which have given strength to this country, and in this alone we can progress to a better future. Aggression must be met and the people of India will meet it with fortitude and determination, with discipline and the utmost unity.”Indira Gandhi’s historic speech addressing the nation on 3rd December 1971.
On 4th December, the Indian Navy made a bonfire of Karachi harbour. The army received overwhelming support from Bangladeshi people. The fighting continued on both the fronts as well as the naval front till 16th December.
The Fall Of Dhaka & Birth Of Bangladesh
On 16th December 1971, the Pakistani army was forced to sign a humiliating instrument of surrender. Pakistan made a record of surrendering 93000 troops. East Pakistan was liberated and a new nation “Bangladesh” was born.
Against all odds, India helped Bangladesh. Indian armed forces displayed tremendous valour and made sacrifices along with their Bangladeshi brothers in arms. Entire Bangladesh was liberated in 2 weeks. This war proved the importance of preparedness and local support. The Bangladeshi people’s support boosted the morale of the Indian armed forces. This victory was not only the victory of one nation, This victory was the victory of humanity and the victory of goodness over evil.