The 1971 Indo-Pak War began on 3 December, when Pakistan carried out strikes on Indian airfields in the western sector. India retaliated by midnight, marking a decisive response which would end the war end in barely 13 days, on this day, 16 December, in 1971. India’s victory in the war led to the creation of Bangladesh, the eastern part of undivided Bengal which had decided to join Pakistan in 1947.
Here is what you should know about the 1971 Indo-Pak War
- The build-up to the 1971 Indo-Pak War began much before the two met on the battlefield. The trigger was Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s Awami League registering a resounding victory in Pakistan’s national assembly elections held in December 1970.
- Stung by the victory of East Pakistan’s Bengali majority, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Army Chief Yahya Khan came together to have the national assembly session postponed.
- This move added to the discontent already simmering in East Pakistan over the manner in which West Pakistan always received priority. Angry people took to the streets in protest.
- The Pakistani army used guns and artillery against the unarmed civilian protestors in a brutal crackdown. This triggered a massive exodus into India, raising concerns about law and order and the cost of looking after these refugees.
- Public opinion in India was increasingly in favour of a military action against Pakistan. With major international powers, particularly the United States, saying that this was an internal problem, India decided that it was time to take action.
- Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, who was the Indian Army chief, resisted the government’s suggestion to attack Pakistan around mid-1971. He wanted to wait till the armed forces were totally prepared.
- The 1971 Indo-Pak war began with Pakistan attacking Indian airfields in the western sector on 3 December 1971. India, ready by now, retaliated swiftly. It attacked Pakistani positions, including those in East Pakistan, on midnight the same day.
- India won a famous victory less than a fortnight after the war started. On 16 December 1971, Pakistan’s Lt Gen A A K Niazi signed the instrument of surrender in Dhaka in the presence of India’s Lt Gen A S Aurora.
- Four Param Vir Chakra awards were announced after the war. Those who were honoured for their gallantry were 2/Lt Arun Khetarpal, Lance Naik Albert Ekka, Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon and Major Hoshiar Singh.
- The 1971 Indo-Pak War will also be remembered for Operation Trident carried out by the Indian Navy. On 4 December, which is celebrated as Navy Day, India attacked – and defeated – Pakistan in its naval stronghold, the Karachi Harbour.