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Indo-Pak War of 1971 was the ‘War of the Century’

New Delhi, Dec.16 (ANI): The India-Pakistan War of 1971 is fit to be called the war of the century. It was a war in which the Indian Army defeated a well armed Pakistan Army, in a matter of 12 days, secured the surrender of the Pakistan Army in its eastern wing, took 92,000 soldiers as prisoners of war and helped to create the new nation of Bangladesh.

There has been no war in the 20th century, which can claim a similar achievement.

This was the conclusion arrived at a seminar organized by the Centre for Land Warfare Studies which had a look back at the India-Pakistan War of 1971 after 41 years. Participating in the seminar were army, naval and air force officers who had participated in the war as young officers. The seminar was also addressed by diplomats and retired officers from Bangladesh.

It was interesting to listen to the officers who had participated in the war as young company commanders and fought along with the Mukti Bahini. Many of them participated in the war with the feeling that they were privileged to fight in such a conflict so early in their careers and spared no effort in achieving the objectives allotted to them. The support given to them by the Mukti Bahini overwhelmingly enthused them.

Lt. Col (Retired) Sajjad Zahir, the project director of the Bangladesh Army History project, indicated that people of various towns still remember the Indian officers by name, but had no opportunity to got not opportunity to remain in touch with them after attaining independence.

For the first time in 41 years, the officers had an opportunity to participate in a gathering together to narrate what they had accomplished. Speaking at the seminar, was Lt. Gen. S.S. Mehta, who as a young officer led the only tank column into Dacca, Major General L.S. Lehl, who commanded a mountain division during the war, Wing Commander (Retired) Vinod Neb, who conducted sorties over Bangladesh and shot down one Pakistani Sabre jet on December 4.

As the Public Relations Officer of the Army, in the Directorate of Public Relations, I had the opportunity of closely working with army headquarters, particularly with the office of the Chief of Army Staff; General S.H.F.J. Manekshaw, who later rose to become a Field Marshal.

The army was viewing the situation in East Pakistan closely, ever since Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, won the elections in its East Pakistan with 162 seats. He should have become the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Instead, he was threatened with arrest. General Tikka Khan was sent to Dacca by the military ruler General Yahya Khan. The Pakistan Army cracked down on freedom fighters in the Eastern Wing in March.

I recall that I was with the army chief in Pune on March 23, when General Manekshaw was called to Delhi immediately. There were suggestions that the Indian Army should move into East Pakistan soon. Sam Manekshaw told Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that the Army would require time to prepare for a war rather than rushing into it. He also pointed out that we should wait till winter to go to the aid of freedom fighters in East Pakistan. Mrs. Indira Gandhi accepted the suggestion and we saw the armed forces making preparations for a conflict in East Pakistan.

The crackdown by General Tikka Khan saw over 5 million refugees enter India in a matter of months, and refugees were still pouring in. Camps were established to accommodate them. Indira Gandhi visited the United States and Western countries and appealed to them for exercising pressure on Pakistan to halt the crackdown, but to no avail.

Meanwhile, India entered into a treaty with the Soviet Union in August. The treaty strengthened India’s position against the threat of Chinese and American support to Pakistan if large scale hostilities broke out. The approaching winner with snow blocking the Himalayan passes also meant a reduced Chinese threat from the north.

I recall visiting army and air force units along with Defence Minister Jagjivan Ram and He told the troops to be ready for a war, which was certain to break out with Pakistan. On my suggestion that we should not say that Pakistan had committed aggression against India, Jagjivan Ram coined the phrase ‘demographic aggression’ to describe the sending of millions of refugees to India.

I had also accompanied Sam Manekshaw during his visit to forward troops to meet the commanders and troops and urge them to be ready to fight a war with Pakistan.

What we expected happened on December 3. The Pakistan Air Force struck our air bases at Agra, Jullunder and Pathankot. I was asked to take a press party on the third evening to show them the damage caused to the runways in Jullundur and Pathankot.

Soon after, our armed forces moved into East Pakistan. In the western sector, the strategy was to hold the border and move into West Pakistan. The Indian Army won significant victories in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan sectors. It neutralisd a Pakistani attack in Longewala in the Rajasthan sector and grounded a regiment of tanks.

In East Pakistan, the strategy was to avoid attacking the towns which were heavily defended, but move towards Dacca. Troops were moved from the Chinese border into East Pakistan. Over 6,000 men were airlifted by helicopters across Meghna which unnerved Pakistan Army commanders. India also airdropped a regiment of the Para Brigade at Tangail on 12th December.

During the first three days of the war, the Indian Air Force was able to neutralize Pakistan airbases in the Eastern Wing. The Seahawks on board INS Vikrant struck Pakistan bases at Chittagong and Cox Bazar. The Pakistan submarine Ghazi, which was stalking the INS Vikrant was sunk off Vishakapatnam at the beginning of the war itself; and Indian naval missile boats attacked harbours in the West.

In a remarkable show of strength, the Indian Army had tanks entering Dacca on 13th, the Air Force bombing the Governor’s house , and paratroopers arriving at the doorsteps of Dacca.

The Chief of Staff of Eastern Command Major General J.F.R. Jacob, who later became a Lt. Gen., flew into Dacca with a surrender document, which promised that if Lt.General A.A.K. Niazi surrendered, India would ensure that the surrendered troops would be sent back to Pakistan safely. In the battle of wits, Major General Jacob could make Lt. Gen. Niazi sign the surrender document in Dacca on December 16.

The War of the Century was over.

The question is still asked as to why India remains reluctant to observe December 16 as Vijay Divas in a fitting manner. Armed forces personnel feel it is not fair to the memory of men who laid down their lives for the glory of the country in 1971.

By I. Ramamohan Rao, former Principal Information Officer of the Government of India. email; [email protected] com. (ANI)

By I. Ramamohan Rao