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The Bangladesh Liberation War ( Muktijuddho) was an armed conflict pitting West Pakistan against East Pakistan (two halves of one country) and Indiamarker, that resulted in the secession of East Pakistan as the independent nation of Bangladeshmarker.

The war broke out on 26 March 1971 as army units directed by West Pakistan launched a military operation in East Pakistan against Bengali civilians, students, intelligentsia, and armed personnel who were demanding separation from West Pakistan. Bengali military, paramilitary and civilians formed the Mukti Bahini (or liberation army) and used guerrilla warfare tactics to fight against the West Pakistan army. Indiamarker provided economic, military and diplomatic support to the Mukti Bahini rebels leading Pakistan to launch Operation Chengiz Khan, a pre-emptive attack on the western border of India which started the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.

On 16 December 1971, the allied forces of the Indian army and the Mukti Bahini decisively defeated the (West) Pakistani forces deployed in the East resulting in the largest surrender, in terms of the number of POWs, since World War II.

Background

In August 1947, the Partition of British India gave birth to two new states named India and Pakistan. Pakistan was declared as an Islamic state, India being a secular country with equal rights for citizens from all religions. The new nation of Pakistan included two geographically and culturally separate areas in the east and the west of Indiamarker. The western zone was popularly (and for a period of time, also officially) termed West Pakistan and the eastern zone (modern-day Bangladesh) was initially termed East Bengal and later, East Pakistan. It was widely perceived that West Pakistan dominated politically and exploited the East economically, leading to many grievances.

On 25 March 1971, rising political discontent and cultural nationalism in East Pakistan was met by brutal suppressive force from the ruling elite of the West Pakistan establishment in what came to be termed Operation Searchlight.

The violent crackdown by West Pakistan forces led to East Pakistan declaring its independence as the state of Bangladesh and to the start of civil war. The war led to a sea of refugees (estimated at the time to be about 10 million) flooding into the eastern provinces of India. Facing a mounting humanitarian and economic crisis, India started actively aiding and organizing the Bangladeshi resistance army known as the Mukti Bahini.

East Pakistani grievances

Economic exploitation

Although East Pakistan had a larger population, West Pakistan dominated the divided country politically and received more money from the common budget.

Year Spending on West Pakistan (in crore Rupees) Spending on East Pakistan (in crore Rupees) Amount spent on East as percentage of West
1950–55 1,129 524 46.4
1955–60 1,655 524 31.7
1960–65 3,355 1,404 41.8
1965–70 5,195 2,141 41.2
Total 11,334 4,593 40.5
Source: Reports of the Advisory Panels for the Fourth Five Year Plan 1970-75, Vol. I, published by the planning commission of Pakistan (Quick reference: crore = 107, or 10 million)


Political differences

Although East Pakistan accounted for a majority of the country's population, political power remained firmly in the hands of West Pakistanis. Since a straightforward system of representation based on population would have concentrated political power in East Pakistan, the West Pakistani establishment came up with the "One Unit" scheme, where all of West Pakistan was considered one province. This was solely to counterbalance the East wing's votes. Ironically, after the East broke away to form Bangladesh, the Punjab province insisted that politics in West Pakistan now be decided on the basis of a straightforward vote, since Punjabis were more numerous than the other groups, such as Sindhis, Pashtuns, or Balochs.

After the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan's first prime minister, in 1951, political power began to be concentrated in the President of Pakistan, and eventually, the military. The nominal elected chief executive, the Prime Minister, was frequently sacked by the establishment, acting through the President.

East Pakistanis noticed that whenever one of them, such as Khawaja Nazimuddin, Muhammad Ali Bogra, or Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy were elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, they were swiftly deposed by the largely West Pakistani establishment. The military dictatorships of Ayub Khan (27 October 1958 – 25 March 1969) and Yahya Khan (25 March 1969 – 20 December 1971), both West Pakistanis, only heightened such feelings.

The situation reached a climax when in 1970 the Awami League, the largest East Pakistani political party, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won a landslide victory in the national elections. The party won 167 of the 169 seats allotted to East Pakistan, and thus a majority of the 313 seats in the National Assembly. This gave the Awami League the constitutional right to form a government. However, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (a Sindhi), the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, refused to allow Rahman to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Instead, he proposed the idea of having two Prime Ministers, one for each wing. The proposal elicited outrage in the east wing, already chafing under the other constitutional innovation, the "one unit scheme". Bhutto also refused to accept Rahman's Six Points. On 3 March 1971, the two leaders of the two wings along with the President General Yahya Khan met in Dhakamarker to decide the fate of the country. Talks failed. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called for a nation-wide strike.

On 7 March 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman delivered a speech at the Racecourse Ground (now called the Suhrawardy Udyanmarker). In this speech he mentioned a further four-point condition to consider the National Assembly Meeting on 25 March:

  1. The immediate lifting of martial law.
  2. Immediate withdrawal of all military personnel to their barracks.
  3. An inquiry into the loss of life.
  4. Immediate transfer of power to the elected representative of the people before the assembly meeting 25 March.


He urged "his people" to turn every house into a fort of resistance. He closed his speech saying, "Our struggle is for our freedom. Our struggle is for our independence." This speech is considered the main event that inspired the nation to fight for their independence. General Tikka Khan was flown in to Dhaka to become Governor of East Bengal. East-Pakistani judges, including Justice Siddique, refused to swear him in.

Between 10 and 13 March, Pakistan International Airlines cancelled all their international routes to urgently fly "Government Passengers" to Dhaka. These "Government Passengers" were almost all Pakistani soldiers in civilian dress. MV Swat, a ship of the Pakistani Navy, carrying ammunition and soldiers, was harboured in Chittagongmarker Port and the Bengali workers and sailors at the port refused to unload the ship. A unit of East Pakistan Rifles refused to obey commands to fire on Bengali demonstrators, beginning a mutiny of Bengali soldiers.

Military imbalance

Bengalis were under-represented in the Pakistan military. Officers of Bengali origin in the different wings of the armed forces made up just 5% of overall force by 1965; of these, only a few were in command positions, with the majority in technical or administrative posts. West Pakistanis believed that Bengalis were not "martially inclined" unlike Pashtuns and Punjabi; the "martial races" notion was dismissed as ridiculous and humiliating by Bengalis. Moreover, despite huge defence spending, East Pakistan received none of the benefits, such as contracts, purchasing and military support jobs. The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 over Kashmirmarker also highlighted the sense of military insecurity among Bengalis as only an under-strength infantry division and 15 combat aircraft without tank support were in East Pakistan to thwart any Indian retaliations during the conflict.

Language controversy

In 1948, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's first Governor-General, declared in Dhaka (then usually spelled Dacca in English) that "Urdu, and only Urdu" would be the sole official language for all of Pakistan. This proved highly controversial, since Urdu was a language that was only spoken in the West by Muhajir and in the East by Biharis. The majority groups in West Pakistan spoke Punjabi, while the Bengali language was spoken by the vast majority of East Pakistanis. The language controversy eventually reached a point where East Pakistan revolted. Several students and civilians lost their lives in a police crackdown on 21 February 1952. The day is revered in Bangladesh and in West Bengalmarker as the Language Martyrs' Day. Later, in memory of the 1952 killings, UNESCOmarker declared 21 February as the International Mother Language Day in 1999.

In West Pakistan, the movement was seen as a sectional uprising against Pakistani national interests and the founding ideology of Pakistan, the Two-Nation Theory. West Pakistani politicians considered Urdu a product of Indian Islamic culture, as Ayub Khan said, as late as in 1967, "East Bengalis... still are under considerable Hindu culture and influence." But, the deaths led to bitter feelings among East Pakistanis, and they were a major factor in the push for independence.

Response to the 1970 cyclone

The 1970 Bhola cyclone made landfall on the East Pakistan coastline during the evening of 12 November, around the same time as a local high tide, killing an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 people. Though the exact death toll is not known, it is considered the deadliest tropical cyclone on record. A week after the landfall, President Khan conceded that his government had made "slips" and "mistakes" in its handling of the relief efforts for a lack of understanding of the magnitude of the disaster.

A statement released by eleven political leaders in East Pakistan ten days after the cyclone hit charged the government with "gross neglect, callous indifference and utter indifference". They also accused the president of playing down the magnitude of the problem in news coverage. On 19 November, students held a march in Dhaka protesting the slowness of the government response. Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani addressed a rally of 50,000 people on 24 November, where he accused the president of inefficiency and demanded his resignation.

As the conflict between East and West Pakistan developed in March, the Dhaka offices of the two government organisations directly involved in relief efforts were closed for at least two weeks, first by a general strike and then by a ban on government work in East Pakistan by the Awami League. With this increase in tension, foreign personnel were evacuated due to fears of violence. Relief work continued in the field, but long-term planning was curtailed. This conflict widened into the Bangladesh Liberation War in December and concluded with the creation of Bangladesh. This is one of the first times that a natural event helped to trigger a civil war.

Operation Searchlight

A planned military pacification carried out by the Pakistan Army — codenamed Operation Searchlight — started on 25 March to curb the Bengalimarker nationalist movement by taking control of the major cities on 26 March, and then eliminating all opposition, political or military, within one month. Before the beginning of the operation, all foreign journalists were systematically deported from East Pakistan.

The main phase of Operation Searchlight ended with the fall of the last major town in Bengali hands in mid-May. The operation also began the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities. These systematic killings served only to enrage the Bengalis, which ultimately resulted in the secession of East Pakistan later in the same year. The international media and reference books in English have published casualty figures which vary greatly, from 5,000–35,000 in Dhaka, and 200,000–3,000,000 for Bangladesh as a whole.

According to the Asia Times,

At a meeting of the military top brass, Yahya Khan declared: "Kill 3 million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands."
Accordingly, on the night of 25 March, the Pakistani Army launched Operation Searchlight to "crush" Bengali resistance in which Bengali members of military services were disarmed and killed, students and the intelligentsia systematically liquidated and able-bodied Bengali males just picked up and gunned down.


Although the violence focused on the provincial capital, Dhakamarker, it also affected all parts of East Pakistan. Residential halls of the University of Dhakamarker were particularly targeted. The only Hindu residential hall — the Jagannath Hall — was destroyed by the Pakistani armed forces, and an estimated 600 to 700 of its residents were murdered. The Pakistani army denies any cold blooded killings at the university, though the Hamood-ur-Rehman commission in Pakistan concluded that overwhelming force was used at the university. This fact and the massacre at Jagannath Hall and nearby student dormitories of Dhaka University are corroborated by a videotape secretly filmed by Prof. Nurul Ullah of the East Pakistan Engineering Universitymarker, whose residence was directly opposite the student dormitories.

Hindu areas suffered particularly heavy blows. By midnight, Dhaka was literally burning, especially the Hindu dominated eastern part of the city. Time magazine reported on 2 August 1971, "The Hindus, who account for three-fourths of the refugees and a majority of the dead, have borne the brunt of the Pakistani military hatred."

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested by the Pakistani Army. Yahya Khan appointed Brigadier (later General) Rahimuddin Khan to preside over a special tribunal prosecuting Mujib with multiple charges. The tribunal's sentence was never made public, but Yahya caused the verdict to be held in abeyance in any case. Other Awami League leaders were arrested as well, while a few fled Dhaka to avoid arrest. The Awami League was banned by General Yahya Khan.

Declaration of independence

The violence unleashed by the Pakistani forces on 25 March 1971, proved the last straw to the efforts to negotiate a settlement. Following these outrages, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman signed an official declaration that read:

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 Dhaka.
Many innocent and unarmed have been killed in Dhaka city and other places of 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 Bangla.


Sheikh Mujib also called upon the people to resist the occupation forces through a radio message. Mujib was arrested on the night of 25–26 March 1971 at about 1:30 a.m. (as per Radio Pakistan’s news on 29 March 1971).

A telegram containing the text of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's declaration reached some students in Chittagong. The message was translated to Bangla by Dr. Manjula Anwar. The students failed to secure permission from higher authorities to broadcast the message from the nearby Agrabad Station of Radio Pakistan. They crossed Kalurghat Bridge into an area controlled by an East Bengal Regiment under Major Ziaur Rahman. Bengali soldiers guarded the station as engineers prepared for transmission. At 19:45 hrs on 27 March 1971, Major Ziaur Rahman broadcast announcement of the declaration of independence on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur. On 28 March Major Ziaur Rahman made another announcement,which is as follows:

This is Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendro.
I, Major Ziaur Rahman, at the direction of Bangobondhu sheikh Mujibur Rahman, hereby declare that the independent People's Republic of Bangladesh has been established.
At his direction, I have taken command as the temporary Head of the Republic.
In the name of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, I call upon all Bengalis to rise against the attack by the West Pakistani Army.
We shall fight to the last to free our Motherland.
By the grace of Allah, victory is ours.
Joy Bangla.
Audio of Zia's announcement (interview - Belal Mohammed)


The Kalurghat Radio Station's transmission capability was limited. The message was picked up by a Japanese ship in Bay of Bengalmarker. It was then re-transmitted by Radio Australia and later by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

M A Hannan, an Awami League leader from Chittagongmarker, is said to have made the first announcement of the declaration of independence over the radio on 26 March 1971. There is controversy now as to when Major Zia gave his speech. BNP sources maintain that it was 26 March, and there was no message regarding declaration of independence from Mujibur Rahman. Pakistani sources, like Siddiq Salik in Witness to Surrender had written that he heard about Mujibor Rahman's message on the Radio while Operation Searchlight was going on, and Maj. Gen. Hakeem A. Qureshi in his book The 1971 Indo-Pak War: A Soldier's Narrative, gives the date of Zia's speech as 27 March 1971.

26 March 1971 is considered the official Independence Day of Bangladesh, and the name Bangladesh was in effect henceforth. In July 1971, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi openly referred to the former East Pakistan as Bangladesh. Some Pakistani and Indian officials continued to use the name "East Pakistan" until 16 December 1971.

Liberation war

March to June

Leaflets and pamphlets played an important role in driving public opinion during the war.


At first resistance was spontaneous and disorganized, and was not expected to be prolonged. But when the Pakistani Army cracked down upon the population, resistance grew. The Mukti Bahini became increasingly active. The Pakistani military sought to quell them, but increasing numbers of Bengali soldiers defected to the underground "Bangladesh army". These Bengali units slowly merged into the Mukti Bahini and bolstered their weaponry with supplies from India. Pakistan responded by airlifting in two infantry divisions and reorganizing their forces. They also raised paramilitary forces of Razakar, Al-Badr and Al-Shams (who were mostly members of Jamaat-e-Islami and other Islamist groups), as well as other Bengalis who opposed independence, and Biharimarker Muslims who had settled during the time of partition. The Bangladesh government-in-exile was formed on 17 April at Mujib Nagar.

June – September



Bangladesh forces command was set up on 11 July, with Col. M A G Osmani as commander in chief, Lt. Col. Abdur Rab as chief of Army Staff and Group Captain A K Khandker as Deputy Chief of Army Staff and Chief of Air Force. Bangladesh was divided into Eleven Sectors each with a commander chosen from defected officers of Pakistan army who joined the Mukti Bahini to conduct guerrilla operations and train fighters. Most of their training camps were situated near the border area and were operated with assistance from India. The 10th Sector was directly placed under Commander in Chief (C-in-C) and included the Naval Commandos and C-in-C’s special force. Three brigades (11 Battalions) were raised for conventional warfare; a large guerrilla force (estimated 100,000) was trained.

Guerrilla operations, which slackened during the training phase, picked up after August. Economic and military targets in Dhaka were attacked. The major success story was Operation Jackpot, in which naval commandos mined and blew up berthed ships in Chittagongmarker on 16 August 1971. Pakistani reprisals claimed lives of thousands of civilians. The Indian army took over supplying the Mukti Bahini from the BSF. They organised six sectors for supplying the Bangladesh forces.

October – December

Also See: Pakistan Army Order of Battle December 1971 and Mitro Bahini Order of Battle December 1971

Bangladesh conventional forces attacked border outposts. Kamalpur, Belonia and Battle of Boyra are a few examples. 90 out of 370 BOPs fell to Bengali forces. Guerrilla attacks intensified, as did Pakistani and Razakar reprisals on civilian populations. Pakistani forces were reinforced by eight battalions from West Pakistan. The Bangladeshi independence fighters even managed to temporarily capture airstrips at Lalmonirhatmarker and Shalutikar. Both of these were used for flying in supplies and arms from India. Pakistan sent 5 battalions from West Pakistan as reinforcements.

Indian involvement

Illustration showing military units and troop movements during the war.


Major battles



Wary of the growing involvement of India, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) launched a pre-emptive strike on India. The attack was modelled on the Israeli Air Force's Operation Focus during the Six-Day War. However, the plan failed to achieve the desired success and was seen as an open act of unprovoked aggression against the Indians.

Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi declared war on Pakistan and in aid of the Mukti Bahini, then ordered the immediate mobilisation of troops and launched the full-scale invasion. This marked the official start of the Indo-Pakistani War.

Three Indian corps were involved in the invasion of East Pakistan. They were supported by nearly three brigades of Mukti Bahini fighting alongside them, and many more fighting irregularly. This was far superior to the Pakistani army of three divisions. The Indians quickly overran the country, bypassing heavily defended strongholds. Pakistani forces were unable to effectively counter the Indian attack, as they had been deployed in small units around the border to counter guerrilla attacks by the Mukti Bahini. Unable to defend Dhaka, the Pakistanis surrendered on 16 December 1971.

The speed of the Indian strategy can be gauged by the fact that one of the regiments of Indian army (7 Punjab now 8 Mechanised Inf Regiment) fought the liberation war along the Jessore and Khulna axis. They were newly converted to a mechanised regiment and it took them just 1 week to reach Khulna after capturing Jessore. Their losses were limited to just 2 newly acquired APCs (SKOT) from the Russians.
Indian Army's T-55 tanks on their way to Dhaka.
India's military intervention played a crucial role in turning the tide in favour of the Bangladeshi rebels.
India's external intelligence agency, the RAW, played a crucial role in providing logistic support to the Mukti Bahini during the initial stages of the war. RAW's operations, in then-East Pakistan, was the largest covert operation in the history of South Asia.

Pakistani response

Pakistan launched a number of armoured thrusts along India's western front in attempts to force Indian troops away from East Pakistan. Pakistan tried to fight back and boost the sagging morale by incorporating the Special Services Group commandos in sabotage and rescue missions.

The air and naval war

The Indian Air Force carried out several sorties against Pakistan, and within a week, IAF aircraft dominated the skies of East Pakistan. It achieved near-total air supremacy by the end of the first week as the entire Pakistani air contingent in the east, PAF No.14 Squadron, was grounded due to Indian airstrikes at Tejgaon, Kurmitolla, Lal Munir Hat and Shamsher Nagar. Sea Hawks from INS Vikrant also struck Chittagongmarker, Barisalmarker, Cox's Bazarmarker, destroying the eastern wing of the Pakistan Navy and effectively blockading the East Pakistan ports, thereby cutting off any escape routes for the stranded Pakistani soldiers. The nascent Bangladesh Navy (comprising officers and sailors who defected from Pakistani Navy) aided the Indians in the marine warfare, carrying out attacks, most notably Operation Jackpot.

Surrender and aftermath

Indian Lt.
Gen J.S.
Aurora and Pakistani Lt.
Gen A.A.K.
Niazi's signatures on the Instrument of Surrender.


On 16 December 1971, Lt. Gen A. A. K. Niazi, CO of Pakistan Army forces located in East Pakistan signed the instrument of surrender. At the time of surrender only a few countries had provided diplomatic recognition to the new nation. Over 90,000 Pakistani troops surrendered to the Indian forces making it largest surrender since World War 2 Bangladesh sought admission in the UN with most voting in its favor, but China vetoed this as Pakistan was its key ally. However, the United States was one of the last nations to accord Bangladesh recognition. To ensure a smooth transition, in 1972 the Simla Agreement was signed between India and Pakistan. The treaty ensured that Pakistan recognized the independence of Bangladesh in exchange for the return of the Pakistani PoWs. India treated all the PoWs in strict accordance with the Geneva Convention, rule 1925. It released more than 90,000 Pakistani PoWs in five months.

Further, as a gesture of goodwill, nearly 200 soldiers who were sought for war crimes by Bengalis were also pardoned by India. The accord also gave back more than 13,000 km² of land that Indian troops had seized in West Pakistan during the war, though India retained a few strategic areas; most notably Kargilmarker (which would in turn again be the focal point for a war between the two nations in 1999). This was done as a measure of promoting "lasting peace" and was acknowledged by many observers as a sign of maturity by India. But some in India felt that the treaty had been too lenient to Bhutto, who had pleaded for leniency, arguing that the fragile democracy in Pakistan would crumble if the accord was perceived as being overly harsh by Pakistanis.

Reaction in West Pakistan to the war

Reaction to the defeat and dismemberment of half the nation was a shocking loss to top military and civilians alike. No one had expected that they would lose the formal war in under a fortnight and there was also anger at what was perceived as a meek surrender of the army in East Pakistan. Yahya Khan's dictatorship collapsed and gave way to Bhutto who took the opportunity to rise to power. General Niazi, who surrendered along with 93,000 troops, was viewed with suspicion and hatred upon his return to Pakistan. He was shunned and branded a traitor. The war also exposed the shortcoming of Pakistan's declared strategic doctrine that the "defence of East Pakistan lay in West Pakistan". Pakistan also failed to gather international support, and were found fighting a lone battle with only the USA providing any external help. This further embittered the Pakistanis who had faced the worst military defeat of an army in decades.

The debacle immediately prompted an enquiry headed by Justice Hamdoor Rahman. Called the Hamoodur Rahman Commission, it was initially suppressed by Bhutto as it put the military in poor light. When it was declassified, it showed many failings from the strategic to the tactical levels. It also condemned the atrocities and the war crimes committed by the armed forces. It confirmed the looting, rapes and the killings by the Pakistan Army and their local agents although the figures are far lower than the ones quoted by Bangladesh. According to Bangladeshi sources, 20,000 women were raped and over 3 million people were killed, while the Rahman Commission report in Pakistan claimed 26,000 died and the rapes were in the hundreds. However, the army’s role in splintering Pakistan after its greatest military debacle was largely ignored by successive Pakistani governments.

Atrocities

During the war there were widespread killings and other atrocities – including the displacement of civilians in Bangladesh (East Pakistan at the time) and widespread violations of human rights – carried out by the Pakistan Army with support from political and religious militias began with the start of Operation Searchlight on 25 March 1971.

Bangladeshi authorities claim that three million people were killed, while the Hamoodur Rahman Commission, an official Pakistan Government investigation, put the figure as low as 26,000 civilian casualties. Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report, chapter 2, paragraph 33 The international media and reference books in English have also published figures which vary greatly from 200,000 to 3,000,000 for Bangladesh as a whole. A further eight to ten million people fled the country to seek safety in India.Rummel, Rudolph J., "Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900", ISBN 3-8258-4010-7, Chapter 8, Table 8.2 Pakistan Genocide in Bangladesh Estimates, Sources, and Calcualtions: lowest estimate two million claimed by Pakistan (reported by Aziz, Qutubuddin. Blood and tears Karachi: United Press of Pakistan, 1974. pp. 74,226), all the other sources used by Rummel suggest a figure of between 8 and 10 million with one (Johnson, B. L. C. Bangladesh. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1975. pp. 73,75) that "could have been" 12 million.

Rayerbazar killing field photographed immediately after the war, showing dead bodies of intellectuals (Image courtesy: Rashid Talukdar, 1971)
A large section of the intellectual community of Bangladesh were murdered, mostly by the Al-Shams and Al-Badr forces, at the instruction of the Pakistani Army. Just 2 days before the surrender, on 14 December 1971, Pakistan Army and Razakar militia (local collaborators) picked up at least 100 to 300 physicians, professors, writers and engineers in Dhaka, and executed them, leaving the dead bodies in a mass grave.. There are many mass graves in Bangladesh, and more are continually being discovered (such as one in an old well near a mosque in Dhakamarker, located in the non-Bengali region of the city, which was discovered in August 1999). The first night of war on Bengalis, which is documented in telegrams from the American Consulate in Dhaka to the United States State Department, saw indiscriminate killings of students of Dhaka University and other civilians.

Numerous women were tortured, raped and killed during the war; the exact numbers are not known and are a subject of debate. Bangladeshi sources cite a figure of 200,000 women raped, giving birth to thousands of war babies. The Pakistan Army also kept numerous Bengali women as sex-slaves inside the Dhaka Cantonment. Most of the girls were captured from Dhaka Universitymarker and private homes.

There was significant sectarian violence not only perpetrated and encouraged by the Pakistani army, but also by Bengali nationalists against non-Bengali minorities, especially Biharis.

On 16 December 2002, the George Washington University'smarker National Security Archive published a collection of declassified documents, consisting mostly of communications between US embassy officials and United States Information Service centers in Dhaka and India, and officials in Washington DC.name=sajit-gandhi>Gandhi, Sajit, ed. (16 December 2002), The Tilt: The U.S. and the South Asian Crisis of 1971: National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 79 These documents show that US officials working in diplomatic institutions within Bangladesh used the terms selective genocide and genocide (see The Blood Telegram) to describe events they had knowledge of at the time. Genocide is the term that is still used to describe the event in almost every major publication and newspaper in Bangladesh., although elsewhere, particularly in Pakistan, the actual death toll, motives, extent, and destructive impact of the actions of the Pakistani forces are disputed.

Foreign reaction

USA and USSR

The United States supported Pakistan both politically and materially. U.S. President Richard Nixon denied getting involved in the situation, saying that it was an internal matter of Pakistan. But when Pakistan's defeat seemed certain, Nixon sent the USS Enterprisemarker to the Bay of Bengalmarker, a move deemed by the Indians as a nuclear threat. Enterprise arrived on station on 11 December 1971. On 6 December and 13 December, the Soviet Navy dispatched two groups of ships, armed with nuclear missiles, from Vladivostokmarker; they trailed U.S. Task Force 74 in the Indian Oceanmarker from 18 December until 7 January 1972.

The Nixon administration provided support to Pakistan President Yahya Khan during the turmoil.


Nixon and Henry Kissinger feared Soviet expansion into South and Southeast Asia. Pakistan was a close ally of the People's Republic of Chinamarker, with whom Nixon had been negotiating a rapprochement and where he intended to visit in February 1972. Nixon feared that an Indian invasion of West Pakistan would mean total Soviet domination of the region, and that it would seriously undermine the global position of the United States and the regional position of America's new tacit ally, China. In order to demonstrate to China the bona fides of the United States as an ally, and in direct violation of the US Congress-imposed sanctions on Pakistan, Nixon sent military supplies to Pakistan and routed them through Jordan and Iran, while also encouraging China to increase its arms supplies to Pakistan.

The Nixon administration also ignored reports it received of the genocidal activities of the Pakistani Army in East Pakistan, most notably the Blood telegram.

The Soviet Union had supported the Bangladeshis, and supported the Indian Army and Mukti Bahini during the war, recognizing that the independence of Bangladesh would weaken the position of its rivals - the United States and China. It gave assurances to India that if a confrontation with the United States or China developed, the USSR would take counter-measures. This was enshrined in the Indo-Soviet friendship treaty signed in August 1971. The Soviets also sent a nuclear submarine to ward off the threat posed by USS Enterprise in the Indian Oceanmarker.

China

As a long-standing ally of Pakistan, the People's Republic of Chinamarker reacted with alarm to the evolving situation in East Pakistan and the prospect of India invading West Pakistan and Pakistani-controlled Kashmirmarker. Believing that just such an Indian attack was imminent, Nixon encouraged China to mobilize its armed forces along its border with India to discourage such an eventuality; the Chinese did not, however, respond in this manner and instead threw their weight behind demands for an immediate ceasefire. China did, however, continue to supply Pakistan with arms and aid. It is believed that had China taken action against India to protect West Pakistan then the Soviet Union would have taken military action against China. One Pakistani writer has speculated that China chose not to attack India because Himalayanmarker passes were snowbound in the wintry months of November and December.

United Nations

Though the United Nations condemned the human rights violations, it failed to defuse the situation politically before the start of the war. The Security Council assembled on 4 December to discuss the volatile situation in South Asia. USSR vetoed the resolution twice. After lengthy discussions on 7 December, the General Assembly promptly adopted by a majority resolution calling for an "immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of troops." The United States on 12 December requested that the Security Council be reconvened. However, by the time it was reconvened and proposals were finalised, the war had ended, making the measures merely academic.

The inaction of the United Nations in face of the East Pakistan crisis was widely criticized. The conflict also exposed the delay in decision making that failed to address the underlying issues in time.

Nomenclature

This conflict is referred to by many different names, some of which carry political connotations:

"Bangladesh War" is a common name for this conflict, but this term is also used for the eastern front of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 war, and is generally understood to be coterminous with The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 (see below).

"Bangladesh War of Independence" is the most commonly used name outside of the Indian subcontinent. It is a common name formally used to describe many other successful secessionist wars (see list of War of Independence).

"Bangladesh Liberation War" (Mukti Judhho in Bangla) is officially used in Bangladesh by all sources and by Indian official sources. The proponents claim that having won 167 out of 169 seats of East Pakistan, the Awami League had a popular mandate to form a democratic government, and this gave Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, as the leader of the party, the right to declare independence of the country. In Bangladeshi eyes, since Major Ziaur Rahman claimed independence on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, an independent Bangladeshi government was in existence as early as 26 March 1971, and therefore the war was fought by this government for the liberation of its territory.

This nomenclature is politically preferred by both India and Bangladesh for a few reasons:

  • It gave India the right to enter the war in support of Bangladesh without breaching United Nations laws that prevent countries from interfering with other countries' internal affairs.
  • Members of East Bengal Regiment were able to fight Pakistan Army without being treated as mutineers since they were fighting under command of a Bangladeshi Government.
  • It eased Indian diplomatic efforts to gain support for the recognition of Bangladesh as a country.


"Pakistani Civil War" describes either the period of March 26, 1971 to December 16, 1971 or the period of March 26, 1971 to December 3, 1971. However, it is rejected by Bangladeshis who dislike the association with an internal struggle of the state of Pakistan.

"Indo-Pakistani War of 1971" is most commonly used to describe the period between December 3, 1971 and December 16, 1971. The Indian Army does not explicitly use the term to describe the war in their Eastern Front at any point. Instead, India only refers to the war on the Western Front as the Indo-Pakistani War. (Note that the Indian Parliament recognized the People's Republic of Bangladesh as an independent country on the 6 December 1971.)

The proponents of this terminology also question validity of the declaration of Bangladeshi independence since there was no foreign government that acknowledged the independence; thus the war was effectively between Indian Army and Pakistan Army.

See also



Footnotes

  1. Genocide in Bangladesh, 1971. Gendercide Watch.
  2. Emerging Discontent, 1966-70. Country Studies Bangladesh
  3. Anatomy of Violence: Analysis of Civil War in East Pakistan in 1971: Military Action: Operation Searchlight Bose S Economic and Political Weekly Special Articles, 8 October 2005
  4. The Pakistani Slaughter That Nixon Ignored , Syndicated Column by Sydney Schanberg, New York Times, 3 May 1994
  5. Crisis in South Asia - A report by Senator Edward Kennedy to the Subcommittee investigating the Problem of Refugees and Their Settlement, Submitted to U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, 1 November 1971, U.S. Govt. Press.pp6-7
  6. India and Pakistan: Over the Edge. TIME 13 December 1971 Vol. 98 No. 24
  7. p44
  8. Library of Congress studies
  9. Demons of December — Road from East Pakistan to Bangladesh
  10. Pg 166-167
  11. Al Helal, Bashir, Language Movement, Banglapedia
  12. Sarmila Bose Anatomy of Violence: Analysis of Civil War in East Pakistan in 1971: Military Action: Operation Searchlight Economic and Political Weekly Special Articles, 8 October 2005
  13. Salik, Siddiq, Witness To Surrender, p63, p228-9 id = ISBN 9-840-51373-7
  14. From Deterrence and Coercive Diplomacy to War - The 1971 Crisis in South Asia. Asif Siddiqui, Journal of International and Area Studies Vol.4 No.1, 1997. 12. pp 73-92.
  15. Virtual Bangladesh : History : The Bangali Genocide, 1971
  16. "Joy" is Bengali Word that means win
  17. J. S. Gupta The History of the Liberation Movement in Bangladesh Page ??
  18. The Daily Star, 26 March 2005 Article not specified
  19. Virtual Bangladesh
  20. Annex M (Oxford University Press, 2002 ISBN 0-19-579778-7)
  21. India, Pakistan, and the United States: Breaking with the Past By Shirin R. Tahir-Kheli ISBN 0-87609-199-0, 1997, Council on Foreign Relations. pp 37
  22. Pakistan Defence Journal, 1977, Vol 2, p2-3
  23. Bangladesh Liberation Armed Force, Liberation War Museum, Bangladesh.
  24. India - Pakistan War, 1971; Introduction By Tom Cooper, with Khan Syed Shaiz Ali
  25. Bangladesh: Out of War, a Nation Is Born
  26. Indian Army after Independence by Maj KC Praval 1993 Lancer p317 ISBN 1-897829-45-0
  27. Section 9. Situation in the Indian Subcontinent, 2. Bangladesh's international position - Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan
  28. Guess who's coming to dinner Naeem Bangali
  29. http://www.sacw.net/article524.html
  30. 54 Indian PoWs of 1971 war still in Pakistan - Daily Times - Leading News Resource of Pakistan
  31. The Simla Agreement 1972 - Story of Pakistan
  32. Defencejournal, Redefining security imperatives by M Sharif - Article in Jang newspaper, General Niazi's Failure in High Command
  33. White, Matthew, Death Tolls for the Major Wars and Atrocities of the Twentieth Century
  34. Many of the eyewitness accounts of relations that were picked up by "Al Badr" forces describe them as Bengali men. The only survivor of the Rayerbazar killings describes the captors and killers of Bengali professionals as fellow Bengalis. See 37 Dilawar Hossain, account reproduced in ‘Ekattorer Ghatok-dalalera ke Kothay’ (Muktijuddha Chetona Bikash Kendro, Dhaka, 1989)
  35. Asadullah Khan The loss continues to haunt us in The Daily Star 14 December 2005
  36. DPA report Mass grave found in Bangladesh in The Chandigarh Tribune 8 August 1999
  37. Sajit Gandhi The Tilt: The U.S. and the South Asian Crisis of 1971 National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 79 16 December 2002
  38. East Pakistan: Even the Skies Weep, Time Magazine, 25 October 1971.
  39. U.S. Consulate (Dacca) Cable, Sitrep: Army Terror Campaign Continues in Dacca; Evidence Military Faces Some Difficulties Elsewhere, 31 March 1971, Confidential, 3 pp
  40. U.S. Consulate in Dacca (27 March 1971), Selective genocide, Cable (PDF)
  41. Editorial " The Jamaat Talks Back" in The Bangladesh Observer 30 December 2005
  42. Dr. N. Rabbee " Remembering a Martyr" Star weekend Magazine, The Daily Star 16 December 2005
  43. Shalom, Stephen R., The Men Behind Yahya in the Indo-Pak War of 1971
  44. The Pakistan Army From 1965 to 1971 Analysis and reappraisal after the 1965 War by Maj (Retd) Agha Humayun Amin


References

  • Pierre Stephen and Robert Payne: Massacre, Macmillan, New York, (1973). ISBN 0-02-595240-4
  • Christopher Hitchens “The Trials of Henry Kissinger”, Verso (2001). ISBN 1-85984-631-9
  • Library of Congress Country Studies


Further reading

  • Ayoob, Mohammed and Subrahmanyam, K., The Liberation War, S. Chand and Co. pvt Ltd. New Delhi, 1972.
  • Bhargava, G.S., Crush India or Pakistan's Death Wish, ISSD, New Delhi, 1972.
  • Bhattacharyya, S. K., Genocide in East Pakistan/Bangladesh: A Horror Story, A. Ghosh Publishers, 1988.
  • Brownmiller, Susan: Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, Ballantine Books, 1993.
  • Choudhury, G.W., "Bangladesh: Why It Happened." International Affairs. (1973). 48(2): 242-249.
  • Choudhury, G.W., The Last Days of United Pakistan, Oxford University Press, 1994.
  • Govt. of Bangladesh, Documents of the war of Independence, Vol 01-16, Ministry of Information.
  • Kanjilal, Kalidas, The Perishing Humanity, Sahitya Loke, Calcutta, 1976
  • Johnson, Rob, 'A Region in Turmoil' (New York and London, 2005)
  • Malik, Amita, The Year of the Vulture, Orient Longmans, New Delhi, 1972.
  • Mascarenhas, Anthony, The Rape of Bangla Desh, Vikas Publications, 1972.
  • Matinuddin, General Kamal, Tragedy of Errors: East Pakistan Crisis, 1968–1971, Wajidalis, Lahore, Pakistan, 1994.
  • Mookherjee, Nayanika, A Lot of History: Sexual Violence, Public Memories and the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, D. Phil thesis in Social Anthropology, SOAS, University of London, 2002.
  • National Security Archive, The Tilt: the U.S. and the South Asian Crisis of 1971
  • Quereshi, Major General Hakeem Arshad, The 1971 Indo-Pak War, A Soldiers Narrative, Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Rummel, R.J., Death By Government, Transaction Publishers, 1997.
  • Salik, Siddiq, Witness to Surrender, Oxford University Press, Karachi, Pakistan, 1977.
  • Sisson, Richard & Rose, Leo, War and secession: Pakistan, India, and the creation of Bangladesh, University of California Press (Berkeley), 1990.
  • Totten, Samuel et al., eds., Century of Genocide: Eyewitness Accounts and Critical Views, Garland Reference Library, 1997
  • US Department of State Office of the Historian, Foreign Relations of the United States: Nixon-Ford Administrations, vol. E-7, Documents on South Asia 1969–1972
  • Zaheer, Hasan: The separation of East Pakistan: The rise and realization of Bengali Muslim nationalism, Oxford University Press, 1994.


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