1971 war: India’s greatest triumph

It was not a war of choice, but India redrew the world map and liberated Bangladesh. Forty years on, Hindustan Times looks at the momentous fortnight when our soldiers delivered a decisive victory. Battles that won the war | 14 day war

india Updated: Dec 16, 2011 13:14 IST
Pakistani Air Force,1971 war,Bangladesh’s liberation

"The Pakistani Air Force and ground troops this evening launched a massive attack on the western front stretching from Jammu and Kashmir to Rajasthan."

Hindustan Times readers woke up to these words — and war — on December 4, 1971. In a dramatic escalation of tensions, the Pakistani Air Force struck at Amritsar, Pathankot, Srinagar, Ambala, Agra and other important towns the previous evening, plunging India into its third war in nine years.

The Pakistani air assault on December 3 was the most visible spark that triggered the war for Bangladesh’s liberation. But with the Pakistani army’s brutal crackdown in its East, 10 million refugees pouring into India and a rapidly deteriorating security situation in the subcontinent, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her generals had prepared for the inevitable in the months leading to December.

Battles that won the war


14 day war

Senior Indian Army officers have stressed the important role played by the Mukti Bahini. Lt Gen JFR Jacob(retd), the chief of staff of the Eastern Command, writes in his book Surrender at Dacca: Birth of a Nation: "Their (Mukti Bahini’s) guerrilla operations isolated the Pakistanis, hampered their movement and were largely responsible for lowering their morale."

In sheer military strength, the odds were clearly in India’s favour.

While Indian troops, backed by air support and effective Naval blockades of key ports in East Pakistan, raced to Dacca, the Pakistani resistance quickly crumbling, the Indian strategy to deter any cross-border adventurism in the West was largely successful.

With Indian soldiers a few miles away from Dacca’s doorsteps, India’s military leadership pressed their Pakistani counterparts to surrender and avoid further bloodshed.

Pakistan surrendered. Bangladesh was born.

First Published: Dec 16, 2011 10:21 IST