The Role of Indian Army in Bangladesh Liberation War:
It is an obvious fact that Pakistan has been a traditional enemy of India. Consequently, it is not surprising that India took the opportunity of weakening Pakistan by supporting the Bangladesh liberation movement. From the month of September, the Indian army gradually started to participate directly in the Liberation War. Initially the support was limited to indirect fire support (artillery support) to Mukti Bahini units. From November, the Indian army was permitted to conduct operations up to 10 miles inside Bangladesh territory. This was to clear Pakistan army positions from the borders areas in preparation for the December war.
Prior to the involvement of the Indian army, the BSF was primarily responsible to provide support to Mukti Bahini units. They also assisted in the training of Multi Bahini. However, Indian army was not involved in the initial stages.
The final war in December was primarily fought by the Indian army units. The Mukti Bahini units were responsible to provide second tier support to the Indian formations. Take, for example, Akhaura. It was the Indian army that led the main attack. Our (Mukti Bahini) responsibility was to encircle the enemy so that they could not escape of reinforced.
The same thing happened at Ashuganj. It was the Indian army that was tasked the capture of Ashuganj and it was they who suffered the bulk of the casualties. I feel ashamed at our ungratefulness as a nation. Is it not possible to acknowledge the Indian martyrs during our victory celebrations—those who sacrificed their lives in the foreign soil of Bangladesh? Are we afraid that acknowledging Indian assistance will make our contributions less significant?
It is also a fact that a friend, over time, can become an enemy—an object of apprehension. Nevertheless, the contribution are history and cannot be changed.
I think the current generation must resist any attempts at distorting history.
India’s involvement in Bangladesh Liberation War:
On 27 March 1971, the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, expressed full support of her government to the Bangladeshi struggle for independence. The Bangladesh-India border was opened to allow the Bangladeshi Refugees 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 the recruitment and training of Mukti Bahini guerrillas.
The refugee problem
As the violence in East Pakistan escalated, an estimated 10 million refugees fled to India, causing financial hardship and instability in the country. The United States, a long and close ally of Pakistan, promised to ship arms and supplies to West Pakistan.
Indira Gandhi launched a diplomatic offensive in the early autumn 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. Gandhi’s greatest coup was on 9 August when she signed a twenty-year treaty of friendship and co-operation with the Soviet Union, greatly shocking the United States, and decreasing the possibility that the People’s Republic of China would become 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.
“I do not want to say that the refugee problem is a small one-9,000,000 people can never be small, no matter where they are-and certainly to have 9,000,000 extra people at a time when you can ill afford to look after your own people is not an easy task. But the problem of Bangla Desh is not merely the problem of the refugees in India. It is a far deeper problem and one which affects us in many ways. The refugees have highlighted the problem for us in India because they have posed not only a tremendous economic burden, they have created social problems, political problems and, above all, the question of the security, the stability and the integrity of India. We are equally concerned with the tragedy which is taking place outside of our country. Rarely has the world witnessed the sort of atrocities and barbarities which we hear described by the refugees who are daily pouring in.
People have asked me how long can India manage? Actually that date has long since been passed. I feel that I am sitting on the top of a volcano and I honestly do not know when it is going to erupt. So the question is not of how restrained we are today, but of what will happen across the border. We think this is the responsibility of the international community to see that a way out is found. Obviously, the best way, the most humane way, is to have a political settlement and that political settlement can only be with the elected leader of the people of Bangla Desh, and with the elected and accepted representatives of that country.”
Indian Support of Mukti Bahini Guerrillas
Initially, the Indians are likely to confine their actions to expressions of sympathy for and perhaps support to East Bengalis. They will watch closely for signs as to the strength and prospects for success on the part of East Bengal dissidents. If the evidence indicates to the Indians that the East Bengal independence movement has reasonably good prospects for success, the GOI may do any of several things: tolerate privately provided cross-border assistance to the East Bengalis. This assistance could range from propaganda support to weapons and explosives; permit East Bengal dissidents to use India as a refuge and to conduct cross-border activities from within India; covertly provide supplies, including weapons, and perhaps some training, to East Bengal dissidents. (Indian Reaction to Pakistan Events, Mar. 29, 1971)
In addition to its concern about the refugee problem, the GOI has been taking steps to support the Bengali struggle for independence in the face of the military successes of the Pakistan Army. The BSF has established camps at which 10,000 Bengalis are reportedly receiving training in guerrilla and sabotage tactics. Limited quantities of arms and ammunition continue to be provided to the Bengali separatists and some Indian forces have infiltrated into East Bengal to provide assistance and training to the separatists. (Contingency Study for Indo-Pakistan Hostilities, May 25, 1971)
Choudhury admitted that attacks by Mukti Bahini forces against police stations in rural areas seemed to be continuing at a high level but asserted that at least now police were fighting back rather than dropping their rifles and running. … Referring to Dacca, he said bombings and sabotage were a major headache for his forces. Recalling press item three days ago announcing capture of young Bengali carrying explosives, IG said man was part of three man team designated to disrupt SSC (matriculation) examinations. He said young man was found with impressive supply of grenades adn other explosive devices, all with Indian markings. Man admitted to membership BM and to having been trained at Argatala before undertaking mission. (Status of East Pak Police, July 23, 1971)
Two successive batches of insurgents have now completed training in India and have boosted number and quality of infiltrators. Number of Mukti Bahini have received training at Dehra Dun and been commissioned as officers. Additional numbers are now in training at various Indian centers. Meanwhile extremist elements including Naxalites have taken advantage of opportunity to step up their own activity, on the other hand, Hamid said, Mukti Bahini are not so successful as they would like to have people believe. (Conversation with Pak Army Chief of Staff: East Pak Situation, Aug. 11, 1971)
Acting Secretary Johnson called in Indian Ambassador Jha August 23 to discuss USG concerns about reports of GOI intention to step up its support to Mukti Bahini and to express USG hope that GOI could use its influence with Mukti Bahini to discourage and prevent attacks on relief facilities and personnel in East Pakistan. Jha in response indicated historical tradition of anarchic violence in Bengal and physical and poltiical difficulties which GOI would face if it tried disarm guerrillas. Jha stressed dangers of radicalization of Mukti Bahini. (Indian Support to Mukti Bahini, Aug. 12, 1971)
The Mukhti Bahini runs the day-to-day risks in the struggle against the Pakistan Government and now has more immediate contact with the people of East Bengal than the Bangladesh Government (Awami League), whose members are in India. Thus, the Mukhti Bahini might have been able to convince the Awami League of the need to broaden the BDG’s base. Bangla Desh: A “National Liberation Front” Emerging? Sept. 21, 1971 (Image courtesy Paul Wolf)
They also portrayed 69 Indian-sponsored insurgent training camps bordering East Pakistan, with an estimated total of 30 – 50 thousand rebels in training. (Pak Military Intelligence Briefing for Congressman Frelinghuysen, Oct. 1, 1971)
Although India had not started the crisis, it was, for reasons of its own, supporting guerrilla activity in East Pakistan, even though this was denied. (Memorandum of Conversation with Foreign Secretary Douglas-Home (Great Britain), Oct. 3, 1971)
We now have specific report (Calcutta 2605 – protect source) to effect that Mukti Bahini plans to inject as many as 40,000 armed men across border by October 15, with additional 20,000 to follow by end October. This action reportedly would be accomplished with support diversionary actions by Indian Army to keep Pak Armed Forces off balance while infiltration took place. We are not convinced that intensified guerrilla activity will achieve results compatible with India’s interests. (Risks of War in Indo-Pak Confrontation, Oct. 7, 1971)
Mukti Bahini (MB) sources informed Australian Deputy High Commissioner (protect) that MB has about 28,000 EBRS, EPRS, police, locally-recruited militia (Ansars) and veterans; 40,000 men in camps being trained for conventional war; and 35,000 men who have completed guerrilla training and are already active; latter reportedly supposedly scattered among 69 base camps and 100 sub-bases throughout province. (Pakistan Internal Situation, Oct. 9, 1971)
[I]nitially, insurgence was weak. Indians needed several months to train Mukhti Bahini. Mukhti Bahini have conducted border crossings, and we are satisfied there is active Indian involvement in Pakistan fighting. This is mixed operations, with about four times more Indians than Mukhti Bahini. Indians have publicly acknowledged their direct involvement during last 48 hours. Minister of Defense has said Indian troops are permitted to cross border and go far enough into East Pakistan to quell artillery. (India-Pakistan Briefing for Yugoslav, Nov. 30, 1971)
Indian military Intervention: December 3-December 16
Image Credit: Wikipedia
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 by snow, 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 the evening of Sunday, 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. At, 5:30 PM that day, General Yahya Khan ordered the Pakistan Air Force to bomb Indian Forward Airbases. Pakistan started flying sorties towards India within fifteen minutes of the order. Pakistan launched attacks against eight Indian airfields on the Western front including Agra which was 300 miles (480 km) from the border. These attacks could only achieve partial success. Unlike the Israeli attack on Arab airbases in 1967 which involved a large number of Israeli planes, Pakistan flew no more than 50 planes to India. Indian runways were non-functional for several hours after the attack. But these attacks gave India a good reason to launch an attack against Pakistan. India started flying sorties to Pakistan by midnight. On the Eastern front, the Indian Army joined forces with the Mukti Bahini to form the Mitro Bahini (“Allied Forces”); the next day the Indian forces responded with a massive coordinated air, sea, and land assault on the West Pakistani Army in East Pakistan.
Yahya Khan counter-attacked India in the West in an attempt to capture territory which might have been used to bargain for territory they expected to lose in the east. The land battle in the West was crucial for any hope of preserving a united Pakistan. The Pakistan Army faced a crushing defeat at Battle of Longewala, where a 2000-3000 strong assault force of the 51st Infantry Brigade of the Pakistani Army- backed by the 22nd Armoured Regiment was kept on hold by the Indian ‘A’ company of 120 odd soldiers of the 23rd Bn,Punjab Regiment.The Indian Army quickly responded to the Pakistan Army’s movements in the west and made some initial gains, including capturing around 5,500 square miles (14,000 km²) of Pakistan territory (land gained by India in Pakistani Kashmir and the Pakistani Punjab sector were later ceded in the Shimla Agreement of 1972, as a gesture of goodwill).
At 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 resulted in the destruction of 2 Pakistani destroyers and a minesweeper, and was followed by the similar Operation Python. The waters in the east were also secured by the Indian Navy. The Indian Air Force conducted 4,000 sorties in the west while its counterpart, the PAF put up little retaliation, partly because of the paucity of non-Bengali technical personnel. This lack of retaliation has also been attributed to the deliberate decision of the PAF High Command to cut its losses as it had already incurred huge losses in the conflict. In the east, the small air contingent of Pakistan Air Force No. 14 Sqn was destroyed resulting in Indian air superiority in the east. The entire campaign was a true blitzkrieg, exploiting weakness in the enemy’s positions and bypassing opposition, resulting in a swift victory. Faced with insurmountable losses, the Pakistani military capitulated in just under a fortnight. On December 16, the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan surrendered. The next day India announced a unilateral ceasefire, to which Pakistan agreed.
India wasn’t architect of Bangladesh
B. Raman, former deputy chief of India’s external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing, better known as RAW writes in his book ‘The Kaoboys of RAW’:
‘India’s role was more of a facilitator than a creator. It was a war jointly won by India and the people of East Pakistan’.
‘Without the desire and the will of the people of Bangladesh, there would have been no Bangladesh. Their sacrifices for their cause were immense. How many were brutally killed by the Pakistan Army!
‘How many Bengali intellectuals were massacred by the Pakistan Army and by terrorist organisations such as Al Badr and Al Shams created by the ISI! It is their sacrifice which laid the foundation for an independent Bangladesh.
What India did under the leadership of Indira Gandhi was to make sure that their sacrifices were not in vain. (Source)
The Longest Bridge During 1971 War
Two Engineer Regiments of Bengal Sappers constructed a 1384 feet long composite floating bridge comprising Bailey Pontoon and Folding Boat Equipment over the Madhumati River during Bangladesh Operations in 1971. This was the longest operational bridge ever built after World War II. Entire bridging equipment available in the Theatre was used up and the bridge was ready on 16 December 1971.
* On when did India got involved in the liberation of Bangladesh: unofficially from April and officially, much later.
* The liberation fighters were trained by India from the 13th of April.
* On why was the Commander in Chief of the Bangladesh Army, General MAG Osmani, absent at the Pakistan Army surrender ceremony: The fact is, he was in Sylhet. He was in a helicopter that was shot at by the Pakistan army. So he couldn’t attend the ceremony. It’s not our fault. He should have been there. We wanted him there. Khondkar attended in his absence.
* The freedom fighters and the East Bengal Regiment, who with their limited resources fought a mighty regular army, earned the liberation of Bangladesh and it was their love for the country that made them victorious. We helped them, we were brothers in arms. But it was their fight, they fought it. They fought with passion and they achieved what they fought for.
* Homage to a hero – Haroon Habib, Dhaka Bangladesh
Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Arora, who passed away recently on 03 May 2005, is fondly remembered in Bangladesh for his role as the commander of the India-Bangladesh joint forces in the 1971 Liberation War.