Col J P Singh, Retd
16 December remains etched in the military mind of the nation. Lot of things happened that day. It was on this day in 1971 that Indian Army inflicted a crushing defeat on the Pakistan Army. It happened because India went to war with full preparation and the nation had a military genius like Field Marshal Manekshaw at the helms. History was re-written that day. It is the day when Pakistan lost its Eastern Wing. A new country was born. The world map changed. Indian Army changed it. It is that historic day when India broke Pakistan’s will to fight, defeated its army decisively and avenged its grouse of 1947 and 1965. On this day, Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Arora, GOC-in-C Eastern Command of Indian Army, accepted history’s greatest military surrender post World War II. 93,000 soldiers of Pakistan Army surrendered before the Indian Army on this day by laying down their arms. On this day ‘Instrument of Surrender’ was offered by Lt Gen A K Niazi, C-in-C of Pakistan Army in East Pakistan before Gen Arora at Dacca. Historic picture above shows monumental ‘Document of Surrender Signing Ceremony’ by top military brass of barring sides. 1971 surrender epitomizes the glory of Indian Army. The decisive military victory over the Pak military took the world by surprise. US rushed its 7th Naval Fleet into Indian Ocean in support of Pakistan. Irrespective of its arrival in the Bay of Bengal, Indian political and military leadership stood like a rock against American threat. Credit for Indian victory of 1971 goes to Indian Armed Forces’ lightning offensive in the East in synergy with Mukti Vahini. This day stands written in Golden Letters in the annals of Indian History. This victory has become a monumental heritage of the Indian Army warranting glorious celebrations. Tiger Division celebrates ‘Victory Day’ by a wreath laying ceremony at the Tiger War Memorial. Earlier large number of veterans, notably of 1971 war, used to be called for the ceremony. The practice seems to have been curtailed for the past many years. Otherwise also 1971 war is getting consigned to oblivion. Today nation is obsessed with terrorism. As the time passes and the terrorism continues to rule the roost, the coming generation may become oblivious to great military ethos, campaigns and heritage. In the 2nd week of November I was at Danapur, my Regimental Centre, where preparations were underway for Platinum Jubilee Celebration and Colour Presentation by Army Chief on 19 November. I had carried my medals for renewal. I was shocked to hear from the regimental tailor and contractor that they didn’t have 1971 war ribbons, which they said may at best be found in Gopinath Bazar, Delhi Cantt. Like the antique greatest war ribbons, as the time passes, I fear our great military heritage nearing extinction.
Coming back to 1971, India got an opportunity to teach Pakistan a lesson when, in its first ever democratic general election in 1970, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s party, Awami League, won the election decisively but Punjabi dominated polity of the Western Wing refused to hand over power to Bengalis. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, leader of Pakistan People’s Party, with lesser number of seats in National Assembly, was sworn in as Prime Minister. This led to political discontent and social unrest in East Pakistan. Civilians, politicians, students and intelligentsia came out on the streets asking military regime to honour the results of the election. This cultural nationalism was brutally suppressed. An armed conflict broke out between East and West resulting in the secessionist movement. Pak Military action led to upsurge of refugees, estimated to be about 10 million, flooding into the eastern provinces of India. Facing a mounting humanitarian and economic crisis, India started actively aiding Eastern Wing resistance army known as Mukti Vahini. Pakistan launched a pre-emptive attack on India on 3 December, which triggered the Indo-Pak War, a divine opportunity to teach Pakistan a lesson.
The catastrophic events of 1971 in East Pakistan left civilised world aghast seeing a professional army resorting to inhuman, merciless and harsh methods to crush a civil disorder and subsequently be humbled by the same people whom they felt could be suppressed and crushed with the use of their illusory military might. Detailed analysis of 1971 war suggests that a military solution was applied to a political problem. Knowing Pak soldiers, it is hard to believe that their will to fight was so decisively smashed by the Indian Army that they reached a breaking point rather too early. One answer to the intriguing queries has been mentioned above besides which it was basically a political problem for which a political solution should have been applied instead of blundering a military misadventure. Gen Yahya Khan, the Chief Martial Law Administrator, thus became responsible for the dismemberment of his country.
There are many lessons from the 1971 war for the Indian leadership. It stands out that political environments in East Pakistan did not warrant the adoption of a course of action which could willy-nilly gave India a chance, even the remotest, or an excuse to intervene militarily. It should have been realised that, if by any chance, India attacked East Pakistan, the pro-independence elements in East Pakistan would sabotage Pak military capacity to fight. In that case Pak Army would not only be fighting the Indian Army but also the rebellion led by Mukti Vahini and the civilian saboteurs. It would have been obvious deduction that India would be waiting for an opportunity to exploit a political situation which could be used to enter East Pakistan. That is exactly what happened. Indian Army was offered an opportunity on the platter. Army exploited it to the hilt to inflict deep wounds on the psyche of Pak nation. They will carry the scars of these wounds to the eternity. This would justify our revenge of 1947 and 1965 Wars. So long as we keep celebrating Victory Day gloriously, their wounds will never heal despite the variety of balm that they may apply on their wounds by unleashing terrorism. India should do everything to make the irritant adversary to pay a price for its nefarious activities including the option of further dismemberment. In this context statement of Raksha Mantri on ‘no first use’ of nuclear weapons and that of Home Minister on further dismemberment are note worthy.
Seeing recurrences of deadly terrorist attacks on military camps, notably Nagrota, killing 2 officers and 5 soldiers; people tend to compare army of 1971 & Kargil War, which inflicted crushing defeats on Pak army, with current setbacks. They feel bewildered when they see well fortified army camps breached and casualties inflicted. It becomes difficult to convince that in a suicidal attack such setbacks are likely more so when abetted by other favorable factors. Local support to the terrorists is no secret. It takes effort to tell that we have carried out similar attacks across the LoC. We do not publicise such successes. Surgical Strike was made exception under compelling circumstances. After the 71 war, while at Poonch, men would wish to walk across to Rawalpindi and pick up Benazir Bhutto. That was the state of morale. Today I think, had we attempted, we would have probably succeeded. I wish to assure my civilian friends that so long as morale of the armed forces is high, it can win any and every war, even proxy, irrespective of the adversary.
India released all Pak PoWs in good faith. Pakistan, on the other hand, released only 617, holding back 54 who are still languishing in its jails. India should have used the leverage of 93000 PoWs to get POJK vacated. A rare opportunity was wasted. The Indian leadership was taken for a ride into believing Pak sincerity. Despite assurances Pak never abided by its promises, written or verbal. Fruits of a hard-fought victory in the battlefield were frittered away on the negotiating table by the generous leadership. Hajipir, Chhamb and 93000 prisoners were given away without any strategic gains. Pakistan has hurt us the most. She should never be trusted. Whenever an opportunity arises, Pakistan must be humiliated. Celebration of Victory Day with great pomp and show is one such way besides which grand size hoardings of ‘Surrender Ceremony’ be erected outside the Pak High Commission and many other prominent places in J&K and Delhi.
Col J P Singh, Retd