Bangladesh liberation: Remembering the 1971 war and events that led to it
Today (March 26) is Bangladesh's Independence Day. The events that led to Bangladesh's liberation in 1971 and role played by India in it changed the course of sub continent's history. It is worth recalling what happened in 1971 which forced India to enter the war which eventually led to the freedom of Bangladesh from Pakistan.
After 1947's partition of India, Pakistan was created. The Dominion of Pakistan comprised two geographically and culturally separate areas to the east and the west with India in between. West Pakistan (which is today referred to as Pakistan) lay on the western border of India while East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) shared a border with West Bengal.
Although the population of the two zones was close to equal, political power was concentrated in West Pakistan and it was widely perceived that East Pakistan was being exploited economically, leading to many grievances. On 25 March 1971, after an election won by an East Pakistani political party (the Awami League) was ignored by the ruling (West Pakistani) establishment, rising political discontent and cultural nationalism in East Pakistan was met by brutal suppressive force from the ruling elite of the West Pakistan establishment.
Indian Army fought war on both fronts
The violent crackdown by the Pakistan Army led to Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declaring East Pakistan's independence as the state of Bangladesh on 26 March 1971.
India's Navy and Air Force were also involved in the war
During the night of 25 March, the Pakistani military junta led by Yahya Khan launched Operation Searchlight (a sustained military assault on East Pakistan) and held Rahman in military custody. Sheikh Mujib however, before his arrest made the Proclamation of Bangladeshi Independence on March 26. The Pakistan Army, with help from supporting militias, massacred Bengali students, intellectuals, politicians, civil servants and military defectors in the 1971, this is also called as Bangladesh genocide.
Celebrations after victory
This led millions of Bangladeshis to take refuge in India. Alarmed by this, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi concluded that instead of taking in millions of refugees, India would be economically better to go to war against Pakistan. At the same time, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) launched a pre-emptive strike on Indian Air Force bases on 3 December 1971. Following this India declared a full-fledged war on Pakistan on both the fronts. Indian Army, under the leadership of Sam Manekshaw, inflicted heavy damage on Pakistani troops on both Western and Eastern theaters.
The war lasted for 13 days and culminated in Pakistan Army's Lt. Gen AAK Niazi signing on the surrender documents in presence of Lt. Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, General Officer Commanding-in-chief of Eastern Command of the Indian Army.