Indo-Pakistani War of
The Bangladesh Liberation War was a nine month long conflict between the people of then East Pakistan and the military rulers of Pakistan, which ended in two week long armed conflict between Mukti Bahini aided by India against Pakistan in December of 1971. India intervened on behalf of East Pakistan, later Bangladesh, in its civil war with West Pakistan.
The war began as the Pakistani Civil War. A conflict between the traditionally dominant West Pakistanis and the East Pakistanis whose Awami League party had won the most seats in the 1970 Pakistani election and who claimed the right to form the government. The largely West Pakistani military was called in by President Yahya Khan.
After several days of rioting on the morning of March 25 the citizens of Dhaka woke to discover the city shut down by the military. Mass arrests of dissidents began, and attempts were made to disarm the East Pakistani members of the armed forces. The Awami League was banned and its members began to flee into exile in India.
As the month progressed the situation developed into a full scale civil war. The West Pakistani army began killing thousands and the East Pakistanis armed themselves forming Mukti Bahini guerilla group.
Ziaur Rahman, a major in the Pakistani army formed a government in exile in India and proclaimed an independent Bangladesh. The East Pakistan Rifles, an elite paramilitary force defected and joined the rebellion.
As the massacres in East Pakistan escalated an estimated 10 million refugees fled into India causing financial hardship and instability in that country. The Indians were also shocked at the brutality that included mass rapes and maimings.
The United States, long a close ally of Pakistan refused to condemn the massacres and wanton genocide taking place in East Pakistan arguing it was an internal matter. The country continued to ship arms and supplies to Pakistan.
Indira Gandhi launched a diplomatic offensive in the early fall of 1971 touring Europe and was successful in getting both the United Kingdom and France to break with the Americans, and block any pro-Pakistan directives in the United Nations security council. Gandhi's greatest coup was on August 9 when Gandhi signed a twenty year treaty of friendship and cooperation with the Soviet Union, greatly shocking the Americans, and providing India with insurance that the People's Republic of China would not get involved in the conflict. China, an ally of Pakistan, had been providing moral support, but little military aid, and did not advance troops to its border with India.
The Pakistani military succeeded by the end of the summer in securing almost all of East Pakistan, forcing the guerilla groups to operate from India but suffered severe casualties in the process. As the flow of refugees swelled to a tide, the economic costs for India began to escalate. Nor could it ignore the genocide being conducted in East Pakistan. India then provided support including weapons and training for the Mukti Bahini, and began shelling military targets in East Pakistan.
By November war seemed inevitable, a massive build up of Indian forces on the border with East Pakistan had begun. The Indians just wished to wait for winter, where the drier ground would make for easier operations and the Himalayan passes would be closed preventing Chinese intervention. On November 23 Khan declared a state of emergency in all of Pakistan and told his people to prepare for war. He claimed that one Pakistani soldier was equal in valour to ten Indians and hence the defeat of the Hindus was inevitable. Frivolity apart, this view also ignored the fact that India's professional Armed forces- whilst predominantly Hindu, also represented India's diversity and had significant numbers of Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and members of other faiths- Jews and Parsis, for example, serving in them.
On December 3 the Pakistani air force launched sorties on eight airfields in northern India. It was based on the Arab- Israeli six day war and the success of the Israeli preemptive strike. The Indians had anticipated such a move and the raid was a resounding failure. The next day the Indian forces responded with a coordinated and massive air, sea, and land assault on East Pakistan. Against the West the India military mounted smaller probing attacks designed to pin down Pakistani forces. In the East a five pronged land assault quickly routed the Pakistani forces. The Indians repeatedly broke through Pakistani defenses and outflanked and outfought the Pakistani defenders. On December 16 the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan surrendered. The next day Indira Gandhi announced a unilateral cease fire, to which Pakistan agreed.
The war led to the immediate independence of East Pakistan as Bangladesh, cutting Pakistan's population in half. The rout embarrassed the Pakistani military and Yahya Khan resigned to be replaced by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
The Indian forces had taken 93,000 POWs. India originally wished to try them for war crimes for the brutality in East Pakistan, but eventually acceded to releasing them as a gesture of reconciliation.