Indo-Pakistani War of 1971

From Academic Kids

The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 was a military conflict between India and Pakistan. The war is closely associated with Bangladesh Liberation War (sometimes also referred to as Pakistani Civil War). There is an argument about exact dates of the war. However, war on India's Western front during the period between 3 December 1971 and 16 December 1971 is called the Indo-Pakistani War by both the Bangladeshi and Indian Armies.



The Indo-Pakistani conflict was sparked by the Bangladesh Liberation War, a conflict between the traditionally dominant West Pakistanis and the majority East Pakistanis. That civil war ignited after the 1970 Pakistani election, in which the East Pakistani Awami League party won 167 of 169 seats in East Pakistan and 313 in total. Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman presented Six Points and claimed the right to form the Government. After the leader of the Pakistan People's Party, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, refused to give premiership of Pakistan to Sheikh Mujib, President Yahya Khan called in the military, which was made up largely of West Pakistanis.

Mass arrests of dissidents began, and attempts were made to disarm East Pakistani soldiers and police. After several days of strikes and non-cooperation movements, Pakistani military cracked down on Dhaka on the night of March 25, 1971. The Awami League was banned; many members fled into exile in India. Mujib was arrested and taken to West Pakistan.

On 26 March 1971, Ziaur Rahman, a rebellious major in the Pakistani army, declared the independence of Bangladesh on behalf of Sheikh Mujib. In April, exiled Awami League leaders formed a Government-in-exile in Boiddonathtola of Meherpur. The East Pakistan Rifles, an elite paramilitary force, defected to the rebellion. A guerrilla troop of civilians, the Mukti Bahini, was formed to help the Bangladesh Army.

India's involvement in Bangladesh Liberation War

On 27 March 1971, Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, expressed full support of her Government to the Bangladeshi struggle for freedom. The Bangladesh-India border was opened to allow the tortured and panic-stricken Bengalis safe shelter in India. The governments of West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura established refugee camps along the border. Exiled Bangladeshi army officers and voluntary workers from India immediately started using these camps for recruitment and training of freedom fighters (members of Mukti Bahini).

As the massacres in East Pakistan escalated an estimated 10 million refugees fled to India causing financial hardship and instability in that country. The United States, long a close ally of Pakistan continued to ship arms and supplies to Pakistan.

Indira Gandhi launched a diplomatic offensive in the early fall of 1971 touring Europe and was successful in getting both the United Kingdom and France to break with the United States, and block any pro-Pakistan directives in the United Nations security council. Indira Gandhi's greatest coup was on 9 August when she signed a twenty year treaty of friendship and cooperation with the Soviet Union, greatly shocking the United States, and providing India with insurance that the People's Republic of China would not be involved in the conflict. China, an ally of Pakistan, had been providing moral support, but little military aid, and did not advance troops to its border with India.

Operation of the Mukti Bahini caused severe casualties to the Pakistani Army, which was in control of all district headquarters. As the flow of refugees swelled to a tide, the economic costs for India began to escalate. India began providing support including weapons and training for the Mukti Bahini, and began shelling military targets in East Pakistan.

India's official engagement with Pakistan

By November war seemed inevitable; a massive buildup of Indian forces on the border with East Pakistan had begun. The Indian military waited for winter, when the drier ground would make for easier operations and Himalayan passes would be closed, preventing any Chinese intervention. On 23 November Yahya Khan declared a state of emergency in all of Pakistan and told his people to prepare for war.

On 3 December the Pakistani air force launched sorties on eight airfields in north-western India. This attack was inspired by the Arab-Israeli Six Day War and the success of the Israeli preemptive strike. The Indians had, however, anticipated such a move and the raid was not successful, and Indian Air Force launched a counter-attack quickly achieving air superiority. On the Eastern front, the Indian Army joined forces with the Mukti Bahini to form the Mitro Bahini (Allied Forces) and the next day the Indian forces responded with a coordinated and massive air, sea, and land assault on East Pakistan. On the western sector the Indian Army quickly made some initial gains, including capturing around 5,500 sq. miles of Pakistan territory and then settled down, keeping the Pakistani Army pinned down. (Gains made by India in Pakistani Kashmir and Pakistani Punjab sector were later given up voluntarily by India in the Shimla Agreement signed in 1972, as a gesture of goodwill). The Indian Army described its activities in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) as:

"The Indian Army merely provided the coup de grace to what the people of Bangladesh had commenced--active resistance to the Pakistani Government and its Armed Forces on their soil."

Missing image
A newspaper cover (1971)
Missing image
The Instrument of Surrender signed by Pakistan on 16 December 1971

On sea, the Indian Navy proved its superiority by the success of Operation Trident, the name given to the attack on Karachi's port. It also ensured in the destruction of 2 destroyers and one minesweeper. It was followed up with Operation Python which was also successful. The Indian Air Force conducted 4,000 sorties in the west and destroyed the small air contingent in the east taking out the Dhaka airfield. Faced with a systematic onslaught, the Pakistani military capitulated in just under a fortnight. On December 16 the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan surrendered. The next day the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi announced a unilateral ceasefire, to which Pakistan agreed.

American Involvement

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations George H. W. Bush branded the Indian action as "aggression" at the time.The United States became apprehensive that should Pakistan's armed forces in the east collapse, India would transfer its forces from there to attack West Pakistan, which was an ally in the Central Treaty Organization. This was confirmed in official British secret transcripts declassified in 2003 BBC ( As a gesture of solidarity, on 10 September 1971, an American task force headed by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Enterprise was despatched from the Gulf of Tonkin to the Bay of Bengal. On 6 and 13 December, the Soviet Navy dispatched two groups of ships, armed with nuclear missiles, from Vladivostok; they trailed U.S. Task Force 74 in the Indian Ocean from 18 December until 7 January 1972. (2)


The war led to the immediate surrender of Pakistani forces to Mitro Bahini (the Allied Forces), composed of Mukti Bahini and Indian Army. Bangladesh became an independent nation, and the second most populous Muslim country. Loss of East Pakistan embarassed the Pakistani military and Yahya Khan resigned to be replaced by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was released from West Pakistani prison and returned to Dhaka on January 10, 1972.

The exact cost of the violence on the people of East Pakistan is not known. R.J. Rummel cites estimates ranging from one to three million people killed. Other estimates place the death toll as low as 300,000.

On the brink of defeat around December 14 the Pakistani Army and its local collaborators systematically killed a large number of Bengali doctors, teachers and intellectuals. Young men, who were seen as possible rebels, were also targeted, especially students.

Missing image
A Pakistan stamp depticting the 90,000 PoWs in Indian camps
The cost of the war for Pakistan in monetary and human resources was high. In the book Can Pakistan Survive? Pakistan based author Tariq Ali writes, "Pakistan lost half its navy, a quarter of its airforce and a third of its army." India took 93,000 prisoners of war that included Pakistani soldiers as well as some of their East Pakistani collaborators. It was one of the largest surrenders after World War II. India originally wished to try them for war crimes for the brutality in East Pakistan, but eventually acceded to releasing them as a gesture of reconciliation.

Important Dates

Important battles

See Also

Bangladeshi Armed Forces and Mukti Bahini (Guerrilla)

Indian Army

Pakistani Army


External links


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools