UPSC Exam Preparation: This Day in History – Dec 16

16 December 1971

Pakistan surrendered to Indian forces in the Indo-Pakistan war.


What happened?

The Indo-Pakistan war that started on 3rd December 1971 ended 13 days later with Pakistani surrender to Indian forces that also signified the end of the Bangladesh Liberation War and led to the creation of a new country Bangladesh.

Background

  • After India’s partition into India and Pakistan after independence in 1947, Pakistan was a country separated into two geographical wings placed on either side of India. The eastern wing on India’s eastern side was called East Pakistan.
  • East Pakistan had a predominantly Bengali population and there was a big cultural rift between the eastern and western wings of Pakistan.
  • Bengalis in the eastern wing felt their culture was being belittled by the Urdu-speakers of the west and there were major protests in East Pakistan for language and culture rights. They also protested against the racial discrimination faced by many Bengalis from the West Pakistanis.
  • The Bangladesh Liberation War started in March 1971 when Pakistani supremo General Yahya Khan launched Operation Searchlight whereby the government hunted and eliminated Bengali civilians, students, intelligentsia and religious minorities. The west Pakistani establishment refused to acknowledge the election results which would have facilitated the Awami League led by Bengali leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Instead, Mujibur was arrested and flown to West Pakistan.
  • During the course of Operation Searchlight, lakhs of people in East Pakistan were murdered and this enraged the local population and the leaders, as well as alarmed the international community.
  • Mujibur Rahman was now demanding independence of East Pakistan.
  • Due to the brutalities inflicted by the Pakistani army on the people, lakhs of Bengalis were pouring into India as refugees.
  • Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, decided to intervene in the Bangladeshi freedom struggle, both to aid the people of a country fighting for liberty, and also to protect India’s own borders in the western front.
  • India started preparing for war and also trained people among the refugees who were part of the Mukti Bahini, the Bangladeshi resistance movement composed of civilians and paramilitary forces.
  • India was pulled into the war on 3rd December when Pakistan launched surprise air attacks on 11 airfields in India including in Agra, 480 km from the western border.
  • That very evening, India responded with air strikes on Pakistan. The war was conducted on two fronts. The purpose on the western front was to protect India’s territorial integrity and on the eastern front was to capture Dacca, the capital of East Pakistan.
  • India carried out the war using all three forces of the military. Pakistani forces were not prepared to face the better-equipped Indian forces in this war.
  • The Indian army penetrated the east Pakistani borders and joined forces with the Bengali liberation forces. The Indian Navy blockaded East Pakistan and the air force obliterated the small Pakistani air contingent in East Pakistan.
  • Pakistan faced immense losses and the Indian forces were able to secure a swift victory.
  • The war ended on 16 December when the Instrument of Surrender was signed between the Indian commander of the eastern front forces Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora and his Pakistani counterpart Lieutenant-General A.A.K. Niazi. About 90000 Pakistani POWs were taken in by India.
  • Indira Gandhi declared in the Parliament, “Dacca is now the free capital of a free country. We hail the people of Bangladesh in their hour of triumph. All nations who value the human spirit will recognize it as a significant milestone in man’s quest for liberty.”
  • China and Iran criticised India’s decision to intervene in the war. Soviet Union supported India. The United States, who was an ally of Pakistan, stood with that country during the war politically, morally and economically. The US administration led by President Nixon chose to conveniently ignore the genocide of Bengalis in East Pakistan by the Pakistani authorities and this was widely condemned by the international media.
  • Bhutan became the first country to recognise Bangladesh.
  • Mujibur Rahman became the first President of Bangladesh.
Also on this day

2012: The Delhi brutal gang rape of “Nirbhaya” occurred leading to the victim’s death a few days later and widespread protests throughout the country against sexual violence.