Golden jubilee of India’s greatest victory

Harsha Kakkar The Golden Jubilee year of India’s greatest victory, the 1971 war over Pakistan, has commenced. There is no doubt that it was India’s finest hour, wiping from memory the defeat of 1962. It was a period when the politicomilitary leadership worked in tandem and the political hierarchy had complete faith in its armed forces. It was possibly the only period when there was no interference in the military’s internal affairs. The Indian forces had time to prepare, create logistics infrastructure, train, and gather requisite intelligence on the enemy. The involvement of the Mukti Bahini at every stage of the battle, provided the forces with latest intelligence, routes to adopt to bypass enemy localities and support from the local population. These were battle winning factors. The navy and air force were integrated into the planning and the forces functioned as a cohesive organization. Backing them was a resolute national leadership. Strategically, the plan was simple, from an all-out offensive in the East to a defensive approach in the West. The reality is that India facilitated what was destined to happen, Bangladesh breaking free from the clutches of a dominating West Pakistan. The refusal to accept Bengali as a state language of Pakistan in the early years after Partition, economic disparity between the two parts, the hegemony of the West Pakistani ruling elite, martial laws, and a demeaning attitude towards Bengali culture and its population soured relations between the two parts. Things came to a head in December 1970, when the Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won the national elections but Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), headed by Bhutto, refused to yield power. In March 1971, using violence as an excuse, the Pakistan Army intervened to crush nationalist sentiments in the east. It recruited local pro-Pakistan Bengalis and non-Bengalis, including members of the Islamic organisation, Jamaat-e-Islami, for its operations against Bengali factions. As violence escalated throughout the summer, large numbers of refugees streamed into India. New Delhi had no option but to intervene militarily to resolve the crisis and end the bloodletting. War ended on 16 Dec 1971 when the Pakistan army in the East surrendered to Indian and Mukti Bahini forces. It has been fifty years, since India, jointly with the Mukti Bahini and local Bangladeshis, backed by residents of border villages created the first independent country post the second world war. Have Pakistan and India learnt from this war? The creation of Bangladesh was an insult which the Pak army has never overcome. It twisted history books seeking to project a different story to its debacle. An article titled, ‘What is the most blatant lie taught through Pakistan textbooks,’ of 09 Dec 2019, published in the Dawn, states that India exploited Hindu teachers and there were internal conspiracies of the ruling elite of Bangladesh, also pushed by India. There is no mention of its genocide and failure to hand over power to the elected government. The creation of Bangladesh resulted in Pakistan becoming an implacable enemy for whom Balkanisation of India by whatever means is an article of faith. The Pakistan army now has a smaller nation to defend. Pakistan also knew that it could never match Indian military might and hence adopted a nuclear approach to stall future Indian military operations. It also knew that Kashmir could never become a reality till there was an internal uprising. Thus, was born support to secessionist movements on the back of its policy of seeking to bleed India with a thousand cuts. Its support to the Khalistan movement and creation of terrorist groups to operate in Kashmir, seeking its merger with Pakistan, rather than independence, were a result of this. Blasts in Mumbai and other parts, as also the parliament attack was aimed at destabilizing India hoping such terrorist attacks would lead to religious strife within the country. This policy collapsed post the cross-border and Balakote strikes. Pakistan’s nuclear bluff had failed, and it knew that India would strike at will. Pakistan is now facing immense pressure ranging from economic to diplomatic, including FATF and moving away of its traditional support base in the Middle East. While it is mending relations with Bangladesh, it has yet to apologize for its atrocities in the country, an aspect the current Bangladesh government continues hinting at. Within the country, Pakistan has failed to learn lessons from its handling of its Eastern part. The violence it unleashed against its populace was the basic factor for the Bangladesh uprising. It is repeating the same in Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The levels of insurgency and anger against the state is on the rise in these two provinces. It is only a matter of time when the situation will rise to similar levels as Bangladesh pushing Pak onto another civil war. The Indian decision to exploit the uprising, when considered in hindsight, was ideal. With Pak-China bonhomie and an increasingly belligerent and offensive China, defending India’s strategic Siliguri corridor would have always remained a military nightmare, had Bangladesh not been created. With Pakistan beholden to China, naval bases in East Pakistan to China would have been a reality. The war set aside Indian defeat in 1962 and rose Indian stature globally. However, failure to exploit the success of the war and the large number of Pakistani POWs, by resolving the Kashmir tangle, has left the two nations as enemies fighting for the same. Integration of the forces, evident in 1971, is now being implemented. Have the armed forces, ever, post 1971, possessed the level of freedom to act is a mute question, as also is trust on the forces from the polity. The fear of a coup had blocked integration of the forces for almost seventy years. While relations with Bangladesh have witnessed ups and down, depending on the political party in power, it has never been of a nature of threat as it was in pre 1971 period. India as the bigger and more powerful nation must be at the forefront in nurturing ties. Internally, on 16 Dec 2021, the nation must join hands to celebrate the golden jubilee of India’s greatest victory since independence. The national public, born well after the war, must be educated on the manner the national polity and the armed forces joined hands to bring about this victory. It was India’s golden hour, and it deserves a national celebration. Planning for this momentous celebration must commence early. The heroes who fought the war must be felicitated. That is the minimum that the government can do. The author is Major General (Retd)