The Bangladesh Liberation War, also known as the Bangladesh War of Independence, or simply the Liberation War in Bangladesh, was an armed struggle and revolution triggered by the rise of the Bengali nationalist, self-determination movement in East Pakistan and perceived injustices by western Pakistanis. The war coincided with the 1971 Bangladesh genocide and resulted in the independence of Bangladesh. [Source: Wikipedia]

After eastern Pakistanis were robbed of an election victory, East Pakistan declared its independence as Bangladesh on March 26, 1971, but was then placed under martial law and occupied by the Pakistani army, which was composed entirely of troops from West Pakistan. In the ensuing civil war, some 10 million refugees fled to India and hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed. India supported Bangladesh and in December 1971, sent troops into East Pakistan. Following a two-week war between Pakistan and India, in which fighting also broke out along the India-West Pakistan border, Pakistani troops in East Pakistan surrendered. [Source: Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., The Columbia University Press]

The war began after the Pakistani military junta based in West Pakistan launched Operation Searchlight against the people of East Pakistan on the night of March 25, 1971 in which nationalist Bengali civilians, students, intelligentsia, religious minorities and armed personnel were sought out and systematically killed. The junta had annulled the results of the 1970 elections and arrested Prime minister-designate Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Both rural and urban areas across East Pakistan saw extensive military action. Air strikes were used to suppress acts of civil disobedience that formed following the 1970 election crisis. Fighting was particularly intense in Dhaka, Chittagong, Comilla, Sylhet, Jessore, Barisal, Rangpur and Khulna. The Pakistan Army, which had the backing of Islamists, created radical religious militias — the Razakars, Al-Badr and Al-Shams — to assist it during raids on the local populace. Urdu-speaking Biharis in Bangladesh were also in support of Pakistani military.

The war changed the geopolitical landscape of South Asia, with the emergence of Bangladesh as the seventh-most populous country in the world. Due to complex regional alliances, the war was a major episode in Cold War tensions involving the United States, the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China.

East Pakistan Military in the 1971 Bangladesh War

The largely Punjabi army was in a politically untenable position in East Pakistan, which had voted overwhelmingly for an autonomist party. Once it became clear that a compromise between the civilian leaders of West Pakistan and East Pakistan was unattainable, Yahya Khan was forced to choose between the two sides, and his actions were seen by the Bengalis of the East Wing as favoring the interests of West Pakistan, which were hardly distinguishable from those of the armed forces. Yahya Khan decided to postpone indefinitely the convening of the new National Assembly, which would have been dominated by Bengalis. It was feared that a government dominated by East Pakistani interests would cut back sharply on military prerogatives and roll back the dominance of Punjab in national affairs. Within days, unrest spread throughout East Pakistan. Bengalis went on strike and stopped paying taxes. Bengali autonomists became separatists. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Army elements in East Pakistan were strengthened in the spring of 1971 and were used to suppress Bengali recalcitrance. The task was undertaken with ferocity; killing, rape, looting, and brutality were widespread and resulted in the flight of nearly 10 million refugees to India over six months. International outrage was growing and forced the Richard M. Nixon administration in the United States to halt its attempts to reopen military supply lines to Pakistan.*

The army was generally successful during the spring and summer of 1971 in restoring order in East Pakistan, but increasing Indian support of the antigovernment Bengali guerrillas known as the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Force) began to shift the balance. When Indian troops finally intervened directly in December, there was no hope of stopping them. Even though the garrison in East Pakistan had been reinforced, national strategy was still based on the assumption that Pakistan could not simultaneously defend both wings of the country against an Indian attack; hence, an attack in the east would be countered in the west. On December 3, Pakistani forces began hostilities in the west with attacks on Indian airfields. They had little success, and within twenty-four hours India had seized air superiority, launched attacks against West Pakistan, and blockaded the coast. Pakistani forces in East Pakistan surrendered to the Indian army on December 16, and India offered a cease-fire. In the face of superior force on all fronts, Pakistan had little choice but to accept the breakup of the country.*

Violence During the 1971 War in Bangladesh

Maybe one million died during the 10 month civil war. About ten million fled to India. Another 30 million were displaced within Bangladesh. No accurate estimate can be made of the numbers of people killed or wounded or the numbers women of raped, but the assessment of international human rights organizations is that the Pakistani crackdown was particularly alarming in its ferocity. Many Bangladeshis refer to the atrocities committed by the Pakistani army as genocide, an assertion backed up by many academics.

"A real genocide took place," Moudud Ahmed, a Cambridge-educated lawyer and friend of Mujibur told Newsweek. "The army killed Bengalis, thinking they were inferior, disobedient, uncultured and uneducated. They killed their fellow Muslims. They raped Muslim women. And Bhutto watched it all begin from his hotel suite...The next day he flew back to Karachi and announced, 'Allah has saved Pakistan."

Members of the Pakistani military and supporting militias engaged in mass murder, deportation and genocidal rape. The capital Dhaka was the scene of numerous massacres, including Operation Searchlight and the Dhaka University massacre. Sectarian violence broke out between Bengalis and Urdu-speaking immigrants. Supporters of West Pakistan systematically sought out political opponents and executed Hindu men on sight.

Pakistani Atrocities in the War of Liberation

During the 1971 hundred of thousands of Bengali civilians were killed, women were raped by Pakistani army soldiers, and businesses were looted. At the universities in Dhaka. professors were murdered, dormitories were bombed and books were burned. Rich families fled the terror in the cities and hid in isolated villages in the countryside.

Thousands of Bengali women were raped by Pakistani troops. Rape is the ultimate dishonor to Muslim and Hindu women. The victims included girls as young as 11 years old who were imprisoned for months and raped repeatedly by Pakistani soldiers. Pakistani troops reportedly raped 200,000 Bengali women. Nobody knows how many women were assaulted but some estimate the number was in the hundreds of thousands.

At Commilla Barracks outside of Dhaka perhaps 100,000 civilians were killed Pakistani troops and Bengali and Bihari collaborators and the buried in mass graves. The Pakistani army cracked down hard on Hindus who were believed to be supported by India. Over 8,000 of the 30,000 Hindu residents in Dhaka's Shakharipatti neighborhood died during the war.

Beginning of the 1971 War of Liberation

General elections held in December 1970 splintered relations between the eastern and western wings of Pakistan. The Awami League, which advocated autonomy for the more populous Bengali East Pakistan, took nearly all the the East Pakistan seats to gain a majority in Pakistan legislature as a whole. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), founded by Ayub Khan's former Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, won a majority of the seats in West Pakistan.

On March 25, 1971 the Federal Pakistani Army was called into East Pakistan (Bangladesh) to restore order after negotiations between East Pakistan and West Pakistan broke down. At midnight Pakistan’s leader Gen. Agha Mohammed Yahya Kahn initiated a brutal crackdown called Operations Searchlight. The Pakistani army cracked down particularly hard on intellectuals, Awami League members, and Hindus.

On March 26, 1971, following a bloody crackdown by the Pakistan Army, Bengali nationalists declared an independent People's Republic of Bangladesh. The same day Sheik Mujibur Rahman, the leader of the Awami League was arrested for political activities and unwillingness to compromise on the issue of provincial autonomy. Other Awami League leaders fled to India and established a government in exile. Civil war began. As fighting grew between the army and the Bengalis, an estimated 10 million people in East Pakistan fled to India. On April 17, 1971, Bengali nationalists formed a provisional government in an area bordering India.

Operations Searchlight: March 25 Crackdown and Terror Campaign

On March 25 and 26, 1971, the Pakistani army carried out a systematic execution of several hundred people, arrested Mujib for treason, and imprisoned him in the west. The Awami League was declared illegal, an action which drove its leaders into India. A million East Pakistanis crossed the border into India as refugees.

Tikka Khan's emergency plan called Operations Searchlight was put into effect. Roadblocks and barriers appeared all over Dhaka. Mujib was taken into custody and flown to the West Wing to stand trial for treason. Universities were attacked, and the first of many deaths occurred. The tempo of violence of the military crackdown during these first days soon accelerated into a full-blown and brutal civil war. The editor of an English language newspaper told William Ellis of National Geographic, "We took the first shell from the Pak Army tank. That was on the first night, on March 25. I had refused to obey an order to stop publishing news unfavorable to the army. “

The March 25 terror campaign launched by the Pakistan Army was calculated to intimidate the Bengalis into submission. Within hours a wholesale slaughter had commenced in Dhaka, with the heaviest attacks concentrated on the University of Dhaka and the Hindu area of the old town. Bangladeshis remember the date as a day of infamy and liberation. The Pakistan Army came with hit lists and systematically killed several hundred Bengalis. Mujib was captured and flown to West Pakistan for incarceration. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989 *]

One reporter who escaped the censor net estimated that three battalions of troops — one armored, one artillery, and one infantry — had attacked the virtually defenseless city. Various informants, including missionaries and foreign journalists who clandestinely returned to East Pakistan during the war, estimated that by March 28 the loss of life reached 15,000. By the end of summer as many as 300,000 people were thought to have lost their lives. Anthony Mascarenhas in Bangladesh: A Legacy of Blood estimates that during the entire nine-month liberation struggle more than 1 million Bengalis may have died at the hands of the Pakistan Army. *

To conceal what they were doing, the Pakistan Army corralled the corps of foreign journalists at the International Hotel in Dhaka, seized their notes, and expelled them the next day. The West Pakistani press waged a vigorous but ultimately futile campaign to counteract newspaper and radio accounts of wholesale atrocities. One paper, the Morning News, even editorialized that the armed forces were saving East Pakistanis from eventual Hindu enslavement. The civil war was played down by the government-controlled press as a minor insurrection quickly being brought under control. *

On March 26, Yahya Khan outlawed the Awami League, banned political activity, and reimposed press censorship in both wings. Because of these restrictions, people in West Pakistan remained uninformed about the crackdown in the east and tended to discount reports appearing in the international press as an Indian conspiracy.

Massacres Around Dhaka University on March 25 and 26, 1971

Describing the massacres around Dhaka University on the night of March 25, 1971 in Dhaka, Simon Dring wrote in the Daily Telegraph, "At Iqbal Hall, the headquarters of the militantly antigovernment student' union, the bodies were still smoldering in their burnt-out rooms, others were scattered outside and more floated in the nearby lake. An art student lay sprawled across his easel. Seven teachers died in their quarters and a family of 12 were gunned down as they hid in an outhouse.

"At another hall the dead were buried by soldiers in a hastily dug mass grave and then bulldozed over by tanks...People living near the university were caught in the crossfire too, and 200 years of shanty houses alongside the railway were destroyed. Army patrols also razed a nearby market area running down between the stalls, killing their owners as they slept.

"By 2:00am on the 26th fires were burning all over the city. But the worst was yet to come. At noon, columns of troops poured into the old section of the city, where people lived in a sprawling maze of narrow, winding streets. For the next 11 hours they proceeded to systematically devastate large areas of the old town, where Sheik Mujib has some of his strongest support."

One old man told the Daily Telegraph, "They suddenly appeared at the street. Then they drove down it firing into the houses. Soldiers carrying cans of petrol followed the leading units. Those who tried to escape were shot. Those who stayed were burnt alive."About 700 men, women and children died that day between noon and 2:00pm.The same was repeated in at least three other areas....As they left, the soldiers took those dead they could away with them in trucks and moved onto the next target."

Eyewitness Reports of the March 1971 Crackdown

Ratan Barua reported: “On 25th March 1971, I was visiting my Chandanpura; the house was right opposite of Chittagong College. At about 11 pm, the peaceful still night of the port city Chittagong was suddenly shattered by the thundering cannon fire shots coming from the direction of the seaport, and failing to sleep or even lie down in bed and with spiraling tension, I came out of the house to join hundreds on the streets. I, among others, went straight to raid the Kotowali Police Station, collected some arms and weapons, and reached Madunaghat early in the morning the following day and registered myself with the Madunaghat freedom fighters’ temporary camp. Because I used to live in the nearby village, I was assigned the task of buying the food items from the village bazaars and cooking them for the freedom fighters living in the camp. I gathered few people from the village and dutifully carried over the assignment of preparing foods along other tasks assigned to me by the camp.” [Source: Bangladesh Study Group, Kean University, October 18, 2009, Bangladesh Genocide Study Group ]

Syed Hasan Mamun Ph.D. said: “On a morning of March 26, 1971; some of the bravest and most enlightened sons of Bangladesh made their supreme sacrifice for the cause of dignity and freedom. Teachers, student, professionals, were picked up from their residences, blindfolded and taken in front of Iqbal Hall and British Council, Dhaka University. They were tortured and slaughtered. Selective killing went on side by side with mass killing. The history of Bangladesh has been made by the brave people who sacrificed their lives in 1971.The mass killing at Dhaka University Teachers Quarter, apartment 12 F, is one of the thousands "My Lai Massacres" in Bangladesh.

“My elder brother Shaheed Syed Shahidul Hasan, who was 28 years old and was an organizer of liberation movement in greater Dhaka, along with another young University lecturer was brutally shot to death by Pakistani Military in side the teachers’ apartment while they were having breakfast. Later Pakistani Army took the martyrs’ bodies in front of British council and finally to Iqbal hall premises where the dead bodies of students and teachers were laid side by side. The martyrs’ bodies lay for two days until the curfew was withdrawn for few hours on 27th March. The bodies were then recovered and identified by the relatives and friends. My brother, Shahidul Hasan, was laid to rest forever in a near by graveyard. The mass and indiscriminate killing of the people of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) started on the night of March 25, 197. My brother was a victim of that mass killing.”

They Killed My Father Inside the Hospital

Ziauddin Ahmed, M.D. wrote: “My father Dr. Shamsuddin Ahmed was chief and Professor of Surgery at Sylhet Medical College in 1971. He was always involved in many humanitarian activities and organizing medical profession throughout his life. When the Pakistani army started the Genocide on 25th march of 1971 the whole city was overwhelmed. The main medical college hospital was filled with people with bullet injuries. Panic stricken people including all the doctors of medical college started evacuating the town. My father decided to stay in the hospital with the wounded but sent his family including his old mother away to the village. My mother, the principal of the Women’s College decided to stay at home, so if needed she could go to the hospital in case of any the hospitalized patients required help. [Source: Bangladesh Study Group, Kean University, October 18, 2009, Bangladesh Genocide Study Group ]

“One young physician, an ambulance driver and a male nurse also stayed with him in the hospital to take care of the causalities. The genocide and killing intensified in the city and more injured people started filling the hospital. My father and his team had to remain inside the hospital for continuous 3 days due to curfew. On April 9th the Pakistani army entered the hospital and shot my father point blank including the other members of the team and some patients inside the hospital. Next 3 days due to curfew nobody knew what had happened.

“During few hours of curfew break, my father’s uncle went in search of him and found him and others dead inside the hospital compound. He with the help of some family members and friends hurriedly buried them inside the hospital compound. The life changed suddenly to my mother, my grandmother and five of my siblings. My father was the only son and my grief stricken grandmother died within a year. My mother became very sad and kept herself very busy with her college and raising us single handedly. She never talked about those days until very recently. My brother and sisters still find very painful to reminiscence any memory.”

And Then He Was Gone

Maroof Jahangir wrote: “On March 30th 1971, my father left our house and never came back. My father Colonel Jahangir was a physician and was the commanding officer (CO) of 40th Field ambulance. Among his other responsibility he was also the Chief Martial Law Administrator for Zone B which included Chittagong, Noakhali, and Sylhet area. He was a forbearing person, respected by his colleagues and loved by everyone that knew him. [Source: Bangladesh Study Group, Kean University, October 18, 2009, Bangladesh Genocide Study Group ]

“In the late afternoon of 29th of March 1971, I heard heavy gunfire that went on for approximately an hour. It was just horrible to me, and I still do not have the words to express that moment. My father left for his office, but a few moments later he came back and told us to pack up so that we can leave for safety. We dressed up in some rugged clothes, packed extra canned milk for my 14 months old sister and moved from our house to another house that was on the bottom of the hill, closer to the main road and the escape route. But alas later on that evening, our house was surrounded by the army. The cantonment area of the cities of Comilla and Brahmanbaria were being bombed, as a result we were not able to go anywhere. We slept in our traveling clothes.

“Next morning our neighbor who was also the Commanding Officer of Comilla Military Hospital sent a vehicle for my father along with escorts to take him back to the hospital “for help”. By that morning all the soldiers of 40th Field Ambulance and the remaining soldiers of 4th Bengal had been slaughtered. My father was in the operating room, when he was again called away on the pretext of having to preside over an important judicial issue.

“Col, Yahiya, the OC of Punjab Regiment, who later served as the Brigade Commander for Comilla came and took my father from the operating room. He had my father confined and the next morning got him executed along with twenty-eight other Bengali officers. The charge against my father was “sympathizing with the enemy ‘India’.” We the family members were all rounded up and imprisoned at the local School where we kept until about the middle of May 1971, I had the occasion to see Col Yahiya around that time, and I enquired of him of my father, He Told me “He has been sent to West Pakistan” for official business, I said” but he has none of his daily necessities with him”, He said “Don’t worry the Army provides everything, but you can get a Bag ready for him and I will send it to him at the appropriate opportunity.” In reality, my father had been killed way before that time.

Bangladesh Independence is Declared

On March 26, the Awami League declared East Pakistan an independent nation. The Bangladeshi Declaration of Independence was proclaimed from Chittagong by members of the Mukti Bahini — the national liberation army formed by Bengali military, paramilitary and civilians.

Major Ziaur Rahman, a political unknown at the time, proclaimed the independence of Bangladesh from Chittagong, a city in the southeast of the new country. He would become president of Bangladesh in April 1977. A Bangladeshi government in exile was formed in Calcutta.

On March 7, 1971, the independence of Bangladesh had been declared by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at Suhrawardy Garden in Dhaka. Yahya Khan called Rahman a traitor. The civilian government of Bhutto came to power in West Pakistan. By April the Bengalis were in open conflict with the Pakistani military.

Bangladesh’s Army and Provisional Government

Ziaur Rahman and others organized Bengali troops to form the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Force) to resist the Pakistan Army. The East Pakistan Rifles, a paramilitary force, mutinied against the Pakistan army and joined the revolutionary forces.

The Mukti Bahin was formed by the Bengali military, paramilitary and civilians. The East Bengal Regiment and the East Pakistan Rifles played a crucial role in the resistance. Led by General M. A. G. Osmani and eleven sector commanders, the Bangladesh Forces waged a mass guerrilla war against the Pakistani military. The Mukhti Bahini was largely trained and armed by Indian forces. They battled Pakistani troops throughout the country in guerrilla skirmishes and liberated numerous towns and cities in the initial months of the conflict. [Source: Wikipedia]

After the March 1971 crackdown the Awami League was declared illegal, which drove its leaders into India where they formed the Constituent Assembly of Bangladesh in Exile. On April 17, 1971, a provisional government was formed in Meherpur district in western Bangladesh bordering India with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was in prison in Pakistan, as President, Syed Nazrul Islam as Acting President, and Tajuddin Ahmed as Prime Minister.

The Provisional Government of Bangladesh was moved to Calcutta as a government in exile. Bengali members of the Pakistani civil, military and diplomatic corps defected to the Bangladeshi provisional government.

Refugees, India and George Harrison

More than 250,000 refugees crossed into India in the first few days of the war. The influx continued over the next six months and reached a total of about 10 million. As fighting grew between the army and the Bengali mukti bahini (“freedom fighters”), the refugees, many of them Hindu Bengalis, sought refuge in the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal. Many ended up in Calcutta. Millions were displaced within Bangladesh. Thousands of Bengali families were interned in West Pakistan, from where many escaped to Afghanistan. Bengali cultural activists operated the clandestine Free Bengal Radio Station. Nearly all the Bangladeshi refugees in India returned to Bangladesh after liberation.

At the time Time magazine reported: “India's worst fear is that many of the refugees will refuse to go back to East Pakistan under any conditions. Nearly 8,000,000 of them are Hindus, who were singled out by the Moslem military for persecution. Pakistan, moreover, claims that only 2,000,000 Pakistani refugees are in India — a figure that corresponds to the number of Moslems who have fled. This coincidence may suggest that even if there were a settlement, the Pakistanis would refuse to permit the Hindus to return. A confidential report recently submitted to Mrs. Gandhi's Cabinet concluded: "The most alarming prognosis is that not even 10 percent of the Hindu evacuees may choose to go back. If this becomes a reality, it might be disastrous for West Bengal's economy, and this economic disaster is bound to bring in its train serious sociopolitical problems of perhaps unmanageable dimensions." Dire forecasts are confirmed by a World Bank report. India's economic development, the report said, could be seriously stunted by the cost of the refugees. That cost” could exceed “all of India's 1971-72 foreign aid for development.” [Source: Time, December 6, 1971]

India, which was led by Indira Gandhi, provided substantial diplomatic, economic and military support to Bangladeshi nationalists. The refugee pressure in India in the fall of 1971 produced new tensions. Indian sympathies were with East Pakistan. After the tragic events of March, India became vocal in its condemnation of Pakistan. A propaganda war between Pakistan and India ensued in which Yahya threatened war against India if that country made an attempt to seize any part of Pakistan. Yahya also asserted that Pakistan could count on its American and Chinese friends. At the same time, Pakistan tried to ease the situation in the East Wing. Belatedly, it replaced Tikka, whose military tactics had caused such havoc and human loss of life, with the more restrained Lieutenant General A.A.K. Niazi. A moderate Bengali, Abdul Malik, was installed as the civilian governor of East Pakistan. These belated gestures of appeasement did not yield results or change world opinion. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989 *]

Relations between Pakistan and India, already tense, deteriorated sharply as a result of the crisis. On March 31, the Indian parliament passed a resolution in support of the "people of Bengal." In April an Indian parliamentary resolution demanded that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi supply aid to the rebels in East Pakistan. She complied but declined to recognize the provisional government of independent Bangladesh. The Mukti Bahini, formed around regular and paramilitary forces, received equipment, training, and other assistance from India.

Superpower rivalries further complicated the situation, impinged on Pakistan's war, and possibly impeded its political resolution. Senator Ted Kennedy in the United States led a congressional campaign for an end to Pakistani military persecution; while U.S. diplomats in East Pakistan strongly dissented with the Nixon administration's close ties to the Pakistani military dictator Yahya Khan.

The plight of millions of war-ravaged Bengali civilians caused worldwide outrage and alarm. George Harrison organized the world's first benefit concert, for East Pakistan refugee children, at Madison Square Garden in New York City in December 1971, about the time the was warpping up. Among those that appeared at the show were Bob Dylan, Ravi Shankar, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Ali Akbar Khan and Ringo Starr. In his song Bangladesh, Harrison sang
“Bangladesh, Bangladesh
Where so many people are dying fast.
And it sure looks like a mess
I've never seen such distress”

Early Fighting in the 1971 Bangladesh War

The East Pakistan Rifles, a paramilitary force, mutinied and joined the revolutionary forces. Nevertheless, the Pakistan Army pressed its heavy offensive and in early April controlled most of East Pakistan. Bangladesh Forces waged a mass guerrilla war against the Pakistani military. They liberated numerous towns and cities in the initial months of the conflict. The Pakistan Army regained momentum in the monsoon. Bengali guerrillas carried out widespread sabotage, including Operation Jackpot against the Pakistan Navy. The nascent Bangladesh Air Force flew sorties against Pakistani military bases. By November, the Bangladesh forces restricted the Pakistani military to its barracks during the night. They secured control of most parts of the countryside.

In the fall, military and guerrilla operations increased, and Pakistan and India reported escalation of border shelling. On the western border of East Pakistan, military preparations were also in evidence. On November 21, the Mukti Bahini launched an offensive on Jessore, southwest of Dhaka. Yahya Khan declared a state of emergency in all of Pakistan on November 23 and asked his people to prepare for war. In response to Indian military movements along and across the Indian-East Pakistani border, the Pakistan Air Force attacked military targets in northern India on December 3. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Time magazine reported: For several months, Indian troops and Pakistani forces have been engaged in almost daily border skirmishes. In the past two weeks, Indian forces, working with the Bengali guerrillas, have stepped up pressures against Pakistan's troops in the east; in retaliation the West Pakistanis have been rampaging through Bengali villages in kill-and-burn raids, slaughtering some 2,000 people in the vicinity of Dacca alone. [Source: Time, Dec. 13, 1971]

Guerilla Activities by the Mukti Bahini

The Mukti Bahini ('"Freedom Fighters") described themselves "as small in number but a determined force.” Many of the members were students who fled to India, where they received military training, and then returned to join guerilla groups that blew up bridges and power stations and ambushed soldiers, dispatching some in the "nights of the long knife." Many Bengali members of the Pakistani army refused to attack their fellow countrymen, switched sides and joined the Mukti Bahini.

The Mukti Bahini tried to show it could penetrate the Pakistani army's tightest security by planting a bomb in the Inter-Continental Hotel in Dhaka. The 28-pound plastic explosive bomb was placed in a locker at the hotel and blew up the men's bathroom. Getting the bomb inside was more trouble than had been anticipated. The first guy that was supposed to plant it drank too much and passed out. A child who carried it in forgot to stick in the detonator.

The 21-year repairman, named Mohammed Habibul Alam, who planted the bomb told National Geographic, "Many Pak officers used to come here to drink and gather intelligence from informers... People carry bags when they come into a hotel, so that the way the explosives were brought in — in a bag...The package was set to go off in 15 minutes, so I crossed the street and waited with my camera to get a picture of the explosion."

But definitely some paid a high price just being fighters. On “The Price My Father Paid for Being a Freedom Fighter,” Salim Reza Pathen wrote: “My father Mr. Golam Kibria Pathen was working in Bata Shoe factory at Tongi, adjacent to Dhaka City in 1971. We are from Brahmmon Baaria of greater Comilla area. Since the beginning of the liberation war my father actively involved himself in the march towards freedom. He helped the freedom fighters and allied force, sheltered them in our house and later he turned to freedom fighter and fought against Pakistani army. Almost at the end of the liberation war- on 4th December, around noon time, a Pakistani Army Major came to the Bata Shoe factory and shot my father point blank in front of his British Manager and killed my beloved father. I was only 7 years old at that time and I was the eldest son of the family. With the wink of an eye we became orphan! Without having our father we had to struggle all through our life to survive. We could not recover from that loss. Later, one of the freedom Fighters Mr. Masud, who was known to us, found my father’s dead body at the bank of the Bhirab River.” [Source: Bangladesh Study Group, Kean University, October 18, 2009, Bangladesh Genocide Study Group ]

Pakistan Army Attack on Temporary Camp in Madunaghat on April 15, 1971

Ratan Barua wrote: On 15 April 1971, the Pakistan Army attacked and took over the temporary camp in Madunaghat. In order to survive, I left the area. Because I was a freedom fighter, my family paid the price as the army could not find me where I used to be. The Pakistani soldiers first killed my older uncle Dr. Ramesh Barua by firing bullets at him as he lived near by the monastery. The soldiers captured my other uncle, Bankim Barua and took him to their temporary army camp at Madunaghat. After few days of brutal torture the soldiers killed my uncle by stabbing him with bayonets and threw his dead body into the nearby Halda River. While all these incidents took place, I was hiding myself inside a bush in the village. I came out of the bush at night went straight to my uncles’ house and with the help of a few neighbors; I buried the dead bodies of my uncle instead of cremating per Buddhist custom, and went into hiding again. [Source: Bangladesh Study Group, Kean University, October 18, 2009, Bangladesh Genocide Study Group ]

On 21 April, I went to another village to look for one of my friends. When I reached my friend’s house a man named Jalal accidentally tracked me down. He used to serve in Pakistan army during 1965. Jalal saw me entering my friend’s house. He went straight to the Madunaghat army camp and returned to the village with Pakistanis soldier riding on their jeep. The whole village panicked watching the Pakistani soldiers entering the village in their jeeps. I, along with my friend became aware of the situation and exited through the backdoor of the house. We hid ourselves under water of a small pond that was filled Page | 8 with hyacinths, merely breathing by raising the tips of our noses above the water. When the Pakistani soldiers attacked the village, all but two women fled from their homes to safety. These women were a mother of about 55 years and her daughter who was between 19 to 21 years.

Massacre in Barisal

Dr.Abdul Baten, a wounded freedom fighter, wrote: “During the March, 1971, I was a First year College Student in Barisal.... First week of April my friend Kutub and Eyasin told me that they were leaving from our student hall (Dorm) for safety. They advised me to leave the dorm as well. April 16th we heard the news that Pakistani Army was moving toward Barisal. We prepared to move to our village home in Mehendigonj, 30-35 miles north of Barisal City. [Source: Bangladesh Study Group, Kean University, October 18, 2009, Bangladesh Genocide Study Group ]

“On 17 of April around 1 p.m., we went to Barisal steamer ghat (pier) to catch a steamer to go to my village. Suddenly Pakistani Air Force fighter planes started bombing toward innocent people. People started to take shelter where ever they could. I took shelter in a near by tin shade building. Some time the sound of shell-fire was suppressed by the sound of bomb explosions. In few minutes Barisal steamer pier transformed into a bloody war field. I don’t have the words to express the bestiality and barbarity that was perpetrated on Barisal steamer (ghat) pier area and adjoining residential areas, for a period of 30 minutes.

“We gave up all hope for our life, and were waiting for death to come. I even thought that I was dead. After the air raid stopped, I saw with my own eyes 15-20 dead bodies around me, some of the people were still alive but wounded. The smoke and fire, the smell of gun powder and the stench of burning corps all transformed the area into a fiery hell. I was so terrified that I could not even think of what I should do. I tried to escape from that area, I crawled about 500 feet and then run to Sadar road. I saw Mr. Quddus also running toward Sadar road. I asked him for a safe place. He told me to go with him to his village Taltoli 4-5- mills away from Barisal city. We found a rickshaw escaping that area and moving fast towards Kawnia, Amanatgonj. We jumped to that moving rickshaw and asked the rickshaw puller to take us to Taltoli. When we reached in Taltoli around 3pm, and we heard the sound of shells burst and guns firing nearby. The rickshaw puller did not take any money. We took shelter and hid near a very old graveyard under a tree on the farthest side, about 1000 yards from the bank of the river Kitton Khola.

“The Pakistani Navy gun boats started firing towards our location. From my hiding place I could see some Pakistani troops land on the bank from the gun boats with light machine guns and semi automatic rifles and surround the area. Just as fish are caught in a net, so too were the people of that area. The army forced everyone, including men and women and children to line up in an open field near the bank of the river Kitton Khola. At first young men between the ages of 20 and 30 were lined up separately and were shot to death on the spot. Then the Pakistani troops shot the rest of the people. From my hiding place I witnessed the mass murder that was taking place. The gunfire lasted for 1 hour. Afterwards the army proceeded towards Barisal town. The smell of fresh gun powder was everywhere. The air became heavy. I heard some children crying. Later we escaped from the graveyard. There were piled up dead bodies on the open field, blood streamed into the river, it became a river of corpse. I tried helping the wounded as much as possible with Mr. Quddus and some other villagers. I was there until dark, and then Mr. Quddus showed me the way to go to my village and helped me to find a boatman to cross the river. Thereafter I started to walk to my village home. On the way home I also saw dead bodies floating in the river.

“After walking for 2 days and 3 nights I reached my village. My family was happy to see me alive. I found my cousin Dr. Altaf and his family had escaped from Dhaka massacre and joined our family. He informed me that about 50,000 people were killed on 25th of March in Dhaka. He saw thousands of dead bodies floating down the river on the way home to Barisal too. On April 27th the Pakistani army came to our area Mehendigonj, burned many houses and looted numerous. I learned my high school friend Tofael Khondekar (Manik) was taken by Pakistani army and killed. Since I narrowly escaped my death, I decided to join the fight for liberation as a freedom fighter. To this day I still have the nightmares of Barisal massacre.”

Three Days in the Death-Cave of the Pakistani Army

Saleh Mustafa Jamil wrote: “In 1970 I was the cultural secretary of Chhatra League at Dhaka College. Our house was the center for the publicity of Awami League during the election of 1970.” During the war “My assignment in Dhaka was to give publicity about the liberation movement, to maintain the contact and to collect food for freedom fighters. As for the publicity about the war, I delivered leaflets (both in Bengali and in English) to the American Consulate and I sent letters and white winding-sheet to the chairman of Peace committee in old town of Dhaka. [Source: Bangladesh Study Group, Kean University, October 18, 2009, Bangladesh Genocide Study Group ]

“It was 21st November, and the time was around 1 pm in the afternoon. The notorious Pakistani army raided our house. There were over 50 soldiers. They broke into our house and were looking for my third brother. They messed up the entire house. A Pakistani soldier made 10 to 11 people of our house to line up on the compound of the house. One of his fingers was on the trigger of the automatic gun. He was about to shoot us and was just waiting for the order. Then they took my brother for interrogation. Our mother fainted after our brother’s capture. We started to live in our third sister’s (Mrs. Mahfuza Khanam, who was the then ex VP of DUCSU (1967-68)) house, in Purana Paltan with our mother. From next day, we started the process of getting our brother free. On 22nd November at noon I suddenly saw a number of soldiers came in a jeep. They had already captured my father and were looking for me. I thought that it was the end of my life. I went with them, got on the jeep after biding farewell to my mother.

“I was taken to a three storied building of Tejgaon Dram factory (PM hostel). Major Salek had his office on the ground floor. The torture chamber was at the first floor. The captives were taken to the third floor. I was put in a kitchen with my brother, Kalu mia- the owner of the tea-stall of our area, a textilebusinessman of New Market, a chakma (a tribal man) and a child freedom fighter. I was interrogated in the afternoon. I had nothing to hide from the Pakistany Army. They knew about my activities, they knew everything. In the evening I was taken to Rampura with the many soldiers who were in about 5 to 6 trucks. Ashraf and all other people of our camp were sitting in the saloon, which was on the entrance of a lane. When they saw me with the soldiers, they disappeared from there. The soldiers searched the house for the weapons. The soldiers could not find any weapon; they did not find Ashraf or any other of the group. Nobody else was at home except three women. The soldiers took me to the neighboring mosque to identify Ashraf’s father. I had an eye contact with Ashraf’s father; however, I told the soldiers that I could not find him there. He was not there. The soldiers searched the place but could not find anything there.

“After returning to the camp they ordered me to write down everything I knew. I wrote down what they already knew. At night I was taken once again to the major. I was told to tell everything that I knew. As I told the major that I was unable to say anything else, I was sent to 1st floor. I was ordered to put my feet on the grill of window, to have my face down on the floor while pressing my hands on the floor. I followed the order and immediately somebody started to beat me on my back and on my waist with a thick leather belt. I was beaten by iron and wooden sticks also. After a few blow I lost my consciousness. After a while I regained my consciousness. Those who supervised the torture looked very strange. They were very tall and they were black in complexion. At night they made me stand on a high voltage current.

“This was the way they continued their torture on me day and night. I had nothing more to tell them. On 23rd I was taken to Rampura again. Nothing new was found. Ashraf and his family had already left their house. Interrogation and the similar kind of torture were going on for the three days I spent in that camp. On 27th November My father, my eldest brother (Saleh Mustafa Kamal) and the youngest brother- in-law (Barrister Shafique Ahmed, now the Minister of Law, Justice & Parliamentary Affairs, Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh) was some how able to free me and my brother. Only three of us were rescued alive from that death-cave. I still feel the torture on me. The pain on my waist is permanent now. I have to carry it for the rest of my life.”

India Enters the 1971 Bangladesh War

The refugee pressure in India in the fall of 1971 produced new tensions. The West Pakistani blamed India for stirring up the conflict. India supported Bangladesh in the conflict. It was in their interest to weaken their rival Pakistan by dividing it in two. Pakistan and India had fought a war in 1965, mainly in the west over Kashmir. Finally India firmly allied itself with Bangladesh, which it had recognized on December 6, and during a two-week battle (December 3–16) defeated the Pakistani forces in the east.

India joined the war on December 3, 1971, after Pakistan launched preemptive air strikes on North India. The Indian army then entered Bangladesh, engaged Pakistani military forces with the help of the Mukhti Bahini. On December 4 India began an integrated ground, naval, and air invasion of East Pakistan. The Indian army launched a five-pronged attack and began converging on Dhaka. The subsequent Indo-Pakistani War witnessed engagements on two war fronts.

On December 4, 1971, the Indian Army, far superior in numbers and equipment to that of Pakistan, executed a 3-pronged pincer movement on Dhaka launched from the Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, and Tripura, taking only 12 days to defeat the 90,000 Pakistani defenders. The Pakistan Army was weakened by having to operate so far away from its source of supply. The Indian Army, on the other hand, was aided by East Pakistan's Mukti Bahini (Liberation Force), the freedom fighters who managed to keep the Pakistan Army at bay in many areas. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989 *]

Time magazine reported: “Prime Minister Indira Gandhi went before Parliament in New Delhi and acknowledged that Indian troops had entered East Pakistan "to repulse a Pakistani attack" near the border. She also corroborated the report that India had shot down three Pakistani Sabre jets....As far as troop strength goes, the Pakistanis are outnumbered by more than two to one in the east. In the west, both countries are reported to have about 250,000 men deployed along the border for an almost even balance. India's overall troop strength is about 980,000 compared with Pakistan's 392,000, but an estimated eight mountain divisions are on guard along India's borders with China. In materiiel, India also has the edge: of its 1,450 tanks, about 450 are Russian medium tanks, and about 300 Indian-made Vijayanta tanks. India has 625 combat aircraft, including some 120 MIG-21 supersonic fighters and eight squadrons of Indian-made Gnats. For its part, Pakistan has about 1,100 tanks, including 200 American Patton tanks, 225 Chinese T-59s, and numerous old American Shermans and Chaffees of limited utility. Pakistan's 285 combat aircraft include two squadrons of Mirage 111 fighters and eight squadrons of American F-86 Sabres. [Source: Time, December 6, 13, 1971]

Indian intervention tipped the scales in favor of the Bangladesh rebels. With air supremacy achieved in the eastern theatre and the rapid advance of the Allied Forces of Bangladesh. After India invaded the Pakistani army quickly surrendered. Indian forces closed in around Dhaka and received the surrender of Pakistani forces on December 16. Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi proclaimed a unilateral cease-fire on December 17.

India Attacks East Pakistan Forces in Bangladesh

In early December 1971, Time magazine reported: “The first warning that a serious clash had occurred came in an announcement over Radio Pakistan. India, it said, "has launched an all-out offensive against East Pakistan without a formal declaration of war." That charge proved to be false; it was not a full-fledged war — yet. On the other hand, it was certainly not a trifling skirmish, as Indian spokesmen at first euphemistically described it. [Source: Time, December 6, 1971]

“For months, border battles had broken out almost daily between troops of the two nations. The conflict that finally erupted last week along the 1,300-mile frontier was plainly big enough to raise the specter of a major conflagration on the subcontinent. The presence of Indian troops on Pakistan's soil escalated the dispute between the two nations to the point where full-scale war could erupt at any moment — a war that could also cause an uncomfortable confrontation of the major powers.

“Rigid restrictions on news coverage by both governments made the exact shape of the conflict murky, but it was clear that battles had occurred at roughly half a dozen sites along the border. At week's end, a combination of Indian regulars and Bengali Mukti Bahini (the East Pakistani liberation forces, which oppose West Pakistan's rule over the East) had captured portions of five areas, totaling perhaps 60 sq. mi. of real estate. All along the border, artillery exchanges and firefights kept the situation tense and dangerous through the week. Scene of the biggest battle was a slender salient of India that points sharply into East.

“Pakistan some 20 miles west of the Pakistani city of Jessore, an important railhead that leads to key ports on the Bay of Bengal. Early last week, according to a Pakistani general, one battalion of Indian regulars operating alongside a battalion of Mukti Bahini crossed the Indian border point of Boyra. From there, camouflaged with netting and supported by tanks and heavy artillery, they thrust northeastward along a U-shaped front into East Pakistan. After the Indians and guerrillas had moved about six miles inland and seized the village of Chaugacha, Pakistani resistance halted the advance. In the counterattacks that followed, the first tank battle of the war broke out. In ten hours of fighting, Pakistani forces said, they destroyed eight Indian tanks and damaged ten others; they admitted losing seven tanks. Next day, Pakistani forces called up an air strike, sending four Sabre jets on Indian positions. Indian Gnats, lightweight jet fighters, intercepted the planes within Indian territory, and shot down three of them. Two of the Pakistani pilots who bailed out were captured by Indian forces.”

Reporting from Boyra, William Stewart wrote: "Refugee camps are scattered along the road, but there are no soldiers in sight. “In fact, not until we reach the small city is there any sign of fighting. We sit down in a semicircle in front of the briefer — Lieut. Colonel C.L. Proudfoot. In a blazing Bengal sun are three Pakistani tanks (U.S.-made Chaffees) and an odd assortment of captured materiel:

“American machine guns and Chinese ammunition. Proudfoot explains that Pakistani tanks have been probing the border near Boyra since Nov. 17. On the night of Nov. 20-21, he said, a number of tanks were heard approaching Boyra. The tanks reached and began firing on Indian positions. A squadron of 14 Indian tanks (Soviet-made PT 76s) crossed into East Pakistan to outflank the Pakistani squadron. The battle raged four or five miles into East Pakistan. When the smoke cleared, three Pakistani tanks had been trapped in India, and another eight were reported destroyed. The Indians claimed a loss of only one tank."

“The Indian and Pakistani accounts differed in a number of details. Initially, Pakistani spokesmen in Islamabad told of 100,000 and then of 200,000 Indian troops pouring across the border at half a dozen points. Those figures were considerably exaggerated. Major General M.H. Ansari, Pakistan commander in the Jessore sector, told newsmen that the Indian guerrilla forces had lost 200 to 300 dead and twice as many wounded, but that they had managed to recover all the bodies; that would be quite a feat under any circumstances. Ansari showed journalists a letter stamped "14th Punjab Regiment" and an Indian soldier's diary picked up in the course of the fighting.”

Airstrikes in India and Pakistan

Time magazine reported: Darkness had just fallen in New Delhi when the air-raid sirens began wailing. In the big conference room at the Indian government's press information bureau, "Gentlemen," said the briefing officer, "I have to tell you that this is not a practice blackout. It is the real thing. We have just had a flash that the Pakistan air force has attacked our airfields at Amritsar, Pathankot and Srinagar. This is a blatant attack on India." The war even reached to the Bay of Bengal, where naval skirmishes occurred, and to the outskirts of major cities in both countries as planes bombed and strafed airfields. Having teetered on the edge of all-out war for many weeks, India and Pakistan had finally plunged over, and the rest of the world was powerless to do anything but watch in horror. [Source: Time, Dec. 13, 1971]

“As usual, the two sides offered substantially differing accounts — and both barred newsmen from the battlefronts. According to Indian sources, the Pakistani attack came at 5:47 p.m., just as dusk was falling. The sites seemed selected for their symbolic value as much as their strategic importance: Agra, site of the Taj Mahal; Srinagar, the beautiful capital of Kashmir; Amritsar, holy city of the Sikhs, India's bearded warriors. Forty-five minutes after the air attack, Pakistani troops shelled India's western frontier and were reported to have crossed the border at Punch in the state of Jammu.

“Prime Minister Indira Gandhi said "Some hours ago, soon after 5:30 p.m., on the third of December, Pakistan suddenly launched a full-scale war against us." She announced that the Pakistan air force had struck eight Indian airfields, and that ground forces were shelling Indian defense positions in several sectors along the western border. "I have no doubt that it is the united will of our people," she said, "that this wanton and unprovoked aggression of Pakistan should be decisively and finally repelled."

“According to the very different Pakistan version, regular Indian army troops on the western frontier had moved earlier in the afternoon toward seven posts manned by Pakistani rangers. On being challenged, the Indians opened up with small arms, and the Pakistani rangers began firing back. Normally, border forces of both countries follow a gentlemanly procedure for handling firing across the frontier; they meet and talk it over. "In this case," reported a Pakistani officer, "when our rangers approached their opposite numbers, they were surprised to find regular troops and they were fired upon." The Indians mounted attacks with artillery support two hours later, he claimed, and Indian jet planes provided support. Pakistan planes then fanned out to strike at India's airfields, one of them 300 miles deep inside India. Radio Pakistan made no mention of the Indian border attack until India announced that Pakistan's planes had struck, but it wasted no time in acknowledging its bombing missions. "We are at liberty now to cross the border as deep as we can," a Pakistani army officer said. A Foreign Ministry representative added that Pakistani troops were "released from any restraints.

“Some six hours after the Pakistani air raids, India hit back in force, bombing eight West Pakistani airfields including one at Karachi. Some time after midnight, Pakistani and Indian planes tangled in dogfights over Dacca in East Pakistan. When asked to account for the six-hour delay in India's response, Lall joked that there had been some difficulty in getting the air force to move. It did appear that India was taken by surprise: nearly every senior cabinet official was out of the capital at the time, including Mrs. Gandhi, who was in Calcutta. During the night, Pakistani planes repeatedly attacked twelve Indian airfields. On the ground, Pakistan launched attacks along the western border.

Fighting Between India and Pakistan in Mid December

India attacked East Pakistan and Pakistan, where India aided and organized anti-Pakistan resistance fighters, On December 12. 1971, India invaded East Bengal and the Indian Navy and Air Force blockaded the port in East Pakistan, stranding Pakistani soldiers in Dacca with no source of supplies. Vessels bringing supplies to the Pakistani army were mined and sunk in shallow Chittagong harbor by guerilla scuba divers.

Time magazine reported “Newsmen, including TIME'S Louis Kraar, reported Pakistani military movements at Sialkot, about eight miles from the Indian border. Kraar saw commandeered civilian trucks carrying fuel tins, portable bridges and other supplies. A train loaded with military vehicles chugged by, and wheatfields bristled with camouflaged gun emplacements. Families were moved out of the army cantonment at Sialkot, and civilian hospitals were advised to have blood plasma ready beside empty beds.

“The first major city to fall was Jessore. TIME'S William Stewart, who rode into the key railroad junction with the Indian troops, cabled: "Jessore, India's first strategic prize, fell as easily as a mango ripened by a long Bengal summer. It shows no damage from fighting. In fact, the Pakistani 9th Division headquarters had quit Jessore days before the Indian advance, and only four battalions were left to face the onslaught."Nevertheless, two Pakistani battalions slipped away, while the other two were badly cut up. The Indian army was everywhere wildly cheered by the Bengalis, who shouted: 'Jai Bangla!' and 'Indira Gandhi Zindabad! [Long Live Indira Gandhi!].' In Jhingergacha, a half-deserted city of about 5,000 nearby, people gather to tell of their ordeal. The Pakistanis shot us when we didn't understand,' said one old man. 'But they spoke Urdu and we speak Bengali.' " [Source: Time, December 20, 1971]

“All week long, meanwhile, the Pakistani regime kept up a running drumfire about Pakistan's jihad, or holy war, with India. An army colonel insisted there were no Pakistani losses whatsoever on the battlefield. His reasoning: "In the pursuit of jihad, nobody dies. He lives forever." Pakistan radio and television blared forth patriotic songs such as All of Pakistan Is Wide Awake and The Martyr's Blood Will Not Go Wasted. The propaganda was accompanied by a totally unrealistic picture of the war. At one point, government spokesmen claimed that Pakistan had knocked out 123 Indian aircraft to a loss of seven of their own, a most unlikely kill ratio of nearly 18 to l. Islamabad insisted that Pakistani forces were still holding on to the city of Jessore even though newsmen rode into the city only hours after its liberation.

“As the fate of Bangladesh, and of Pakistan itself, was being decided in the East, Indian and Pakistani forces were making painful stabs at one another along the 1,400-mile border that reaches from the icy heights of Kashmir through the flat plains of the Punjab down to the desert of western India. There the battle was being waged by bearded Sikhs wearing khaki turbans, tough, flat-faced Gurkhas, who carry a curved knife known as a kukri in their belts, and many other ethnic strains. Mostly, the action was confined to border thrusts by both sides to straighten out salients that are difficult to defend. The battles have pitted planes, tanks, artillery against each other, and in fact both materiel losses and casualties appear to have run far higher than in the east. Most of the sites were the very places where the two armies slugged it out in their last war in 1965. Yet there were no all-out offensives. The Indian army's tactic was to maintain a defensive posture, launching no attacks except where they assisted its defenses.”

Final Fighting Between India and Pakistan in Mid December

Within 12 days, Pakistan lost half of its Navy, a quarter of its Air Force and a third of its army, and 300 square mile of territory. The Indian pincer movement moved much more rapidly than was earlier believed possible. Its success was largely attributed to decisive air and naval support.

On action in the last week of fighting, Time reported: “The breakaway of Pakistan's eastern wing became a virtual certainty when the Islamabad government launched air strikes against at least eight Indian airfields two weeks ago. Responding in force, the Indian air force managed to wipe out the Pakistani air force in the East within two days, giving India control of the skies. In the Bay of Bengal and the Ganges delta region as well, the Indian navy was in unchallenged command. Its blockade of Chittagong and Chalna harbors cut off all reinforcements, supplies and chances of evacuation for the Pakistani forces, who found themselves far outnumbered (80,000 v. India's 200,000) and trapped in an enclave more than 1,000 miles from their home bases in the West. [Source: Time, December 20, 1971]

“There were even heavier and bloodier battles, including tank clashes on the Punjabi plain and in the deserts to the south, along the 1,400-mile border between India and the western wing of Pakistan, where the two armies have deployed about 250,000 men. Civilians were fleeing from the border areas, and residents of Karachi, Rawalpindi and Islamabad were in a virtual state of siege and panic over day and night harassment raids by buzzing Indian planes.

“Pakistani troops were said to be retreating to two river ports, Narayanganj and Barisal, where it was speculated they might make a stand or alternatively seek some route of escape. They were also putting up a strong defense in battalion-plus strength in three garrison towns where Indian forces reportedly had encircled them. The Indians have yet to capture the major cities of Chittagong and Dinajpur. Neither army permitted newsmen unreserved access to the contested areas, but on several occasions the Indian military command did allow reporters to accompany its forces.

“The bloodiest action was at Chhamb, a flat plateau about six miles from the cease-fire line that since 1949 has divided the disputed Kashmir region almost equally between Pakistan and India. The Pakistanis were putting up "a most determined attack," according to an Indian spokesman, who admitted that Indian casualties had been heavy. But he added that Pakistani casualties were heavier. The Pakistanis' aim was to strike for the Indian city of Jammu and the 200-mile-long Jammu-Srinagar highway, which links India with the Vale of Kashmir. The Indians were forced to retreat from the west bank of the Munnawar Tawi River, where they had tried desperately to hold on.Except for Chhamb and other isolated battles, both sides seemed to be going about the war with an "old boy" attitude: "If you don't really hit my important bases, I won't bomb yours." Behind all this, of course, is the fact that many Indian and Pakistani officers, including the two countries' commanding generals, went to school with one another at Sandhurst or Dehra Dun. India's commanding general in the east, Lieut. General Jagjit Singh Aurora, was a classmate of Pakistan's President Yahya. "We went to school together to learn how best to kill each other," said one Indian officer.

"To an outsider," TIME'S Marsh Clark cabled after a tour of the western front, "the Indian army seemed precise, old-fashioned and sane. The closer you get to the front, the more tea and cookies you get,' one American correspondent complained. But things get done. Convoys move up rapidly, artillery officers direct their fire with dispatch. Morale is extremely high, and Indian officers always refer to the Pakistanis, though rather condescendingly, as 'those chaps.' "

Pakistan Surrenders, Bangladesh is Born

Thirteen days after the Indian invasion the Pakistani army surrendered on December 16, 1971. and Bangladesh — meaning “Bengal country” — was born, The war ended when 93,000 Pakistan troops surrendered to India. India helped Bangladesh win the war and bring it to an end quickly. "Without the help of the Indian army," a 21-year Bangladeshi freedom fighter named Mohammed Habibul Alam told National Geographic. "It might have taken us another two or three years to do the job, but it would have been done."

Sovereignty was achieved on December 16, 1971 when the commander of the West Pakistani army commander Gen. A.A.K. "Tiger" Niazi surrendered in floodlight Dhaka racecourse, ending the War of Liberation. The Indian army withdrew and left the new nation of Bangladesh under the control of the Awami League.

In mid December, Time magazine reported: “Jai Bangla! Jai Bangla!" From the banks of the great Ganges and the broad Brahmaputra, from the emerald rice fields and mustard-colored hills of the countryside, from the countless squares of countless villages came the cry. "Victory to Bengal! Victory to Bengal!" They danced on the roofs of buses and marched down city streets singing their anthem Golden Bengal. They brought the green, red and gold banner of Bengal out of secret hiding places to flutter freely from buildings, while huge pictures of their imprisoned leader, Sheik Mujibur Rahman, sprang up overnight on trucks, houses and signposts. As Indian troops advanced first to Jessore, then to Comilla, then to the outskirts of the capital of Dacca, small children clambered over their trucks and Bengalis everywhere cheered and greeted the soldiers as liberators. [Source: Time, December 20, 1971]

“Thus last week, amid a war that still raged on, the new nation of Bangladesh was born. Pakistanis, with their armies in retreat, said they would honor the ceasefire provided India did. The Indians, with victory in view, said they "were considering" the ceasefire, which meant they would stall until they had achieved their objective of dismembering Pakistan.

“As Indian infantrymen advanced to within 25 miles of Dacca late last week and as reports circulated that 5,000 Indian paratroopers were landing on the edges of the beleaguered eastern capital, thousands fled for fear that the Pakistani army might decide to make a pitched stand. Daily, and often hourly, Indian planes strafed airports in Dacca, Karachi and Islamabad. Some 300 children were said to have died in a Dacca orphanage when a piston-engine plane dropped three 750-lb. bombs on the Rahmat-e-Alam Islamic Mission near the airport while 400 children slept inside. Earlier in the week, two large bombs fell on workers' shanties near a jute mill in nearby Narayan-ganj, killing 275 people.

“Forty workers died and more than 100 others were injured when they were caught by air strikes as they attempted to repair huge bomb craters in the Dacca airport runway. India declared a temporary moratorium on air strikes late last week so that the runway could be repaired and 400 U.N. relief personnel and other foreigners could be flown out. It was repaired, but the Pakistanis changed their mind and refused to allow the U.N.'s evacuation aircraft to land at Dacca, leaving U.N. personnel trapped as potential hostages. The International Red Cross declared Dacca's Intercontinental Hotel and nearby Holy Family Hospital "neutral zones" to receive wounded and provide a haven for foreigners.

“Demoralized and in disarray, the Pakistani troops were urged to obey the "soldier to soldier" radio call to surrender, repeatedly broadcast by Indian Army Chief of Staff General Sam Manekshaw. "Should you not heed my advice to surrender to my army and endeavour to escape," he warned, "I assure you certain death awaits you." He also assured the Pakistanis that if they surrendered they would be treated as prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention. To insure that the Mukti Bahini would also adhere to the Geneva code, India officially put the liberation forces under its military command.

“Pakistani prisoners were reported surrendering in fair numbers. But many others seemed to be fleeing into the countryside, perhaps in hopes of finding escape routes disguised as civilians. "In some garrison towns stout resistance is being offered," said an Indian spokesman, "and though the troops themselves wish to surrender, they are being instructed by the generals: 'Gain time. Something big may happen. Hold on.' " He added sarcastically that the only big thing that could happen was that the commanders of the military regime in East Pakistan might pull a vanishing act.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Bangladesh Tourism Board, Bangladesh National Portal (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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