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‘50th anniversary of 1971 India-Pakistan war’

  • Category
    History & Culture
  • Published
    23rd Dec, 2020

India is observing the 50th anniversary of the 1971 War with Pakistan, also known as the Bangladesh Liberation War.


India is observing the 50th anniversary of the 1971 War with Pakistan, also known as the Bangladesh Liberation War.


  • The War was fought under the leadership of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and chief of army staff (COAS), General Sam Manekshaw.
  • On 25 March 1971, the Pakistan Army, led by Lieutenant General Tikka Khan, launched Operation Searchlight to quell the rebellion in East Pakistan.
    • Massive human rights violations were reportedly perpetrated by the Pakistan Army during this operation.
  • The hostilities between India and Pakistan formally began on December 3, 1971, when the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), launched pre-emptive air strikes on 11 Indian airfields.
  • Addressing the nation the same evening, PM Indira Gandhi called the air strikes “declaration of war against India.”
  • While the Indian Air Force (IAF) responded with initial retaliatory strikes the same night, PM Gandhi ordered a “full-scale” invasion of Pakistan.
  • Thus officially commenced the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971.

What led to the war?

  • The conflict took place in the backdrop of tensions between Pakistan (also known then as West Pakistan) and the Bengali majority East Pakistan, which was closer to India then it was to Pakistan.
  • The Bangladesh Liberation War was going on for months as the Bengali nationalists and Mukti Bahini guerrillas in East Pakistan fought to break away from the dominance of West Pakistan.
  • India entered the war only after Pakistan Air Force (PAF) conducted aerial strikes on 11 Indian air stations.
  • The war spread out across the eastern and western fronts.
  • All three divisions of the Indian Armed Forces – Army, Navy and Air Force – engaged in clashes with their Pakistani counterparts.

Outcome of the war

  • The war came to an end in less than two weeks on December 16, 1971, with the Eastern Command chief of the Indian Army, Lt Gen JS Aurora, making the Eastern Command chief of the Pakistan Army, Lt Gen AAK Niazi, sign the instrument of surrender.
    • As a result of the surrender, around 93,000 Pakistani troops were taken as prisoners of war (PoW) by India.
  • The 13-day duration of the war also makes it one of the shortest wars in history.
  • The war ended with a decisive victory for India, and resulted in the creation of Bangladesh, which was then known as East Pakistan.
    • East Pakistan became Bangladesh, with Awami League leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, becoming its first President in January 1972, as well as its second prime minister in 1974. Mujib, who was assassinated in 1975, is the father of current Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina.

Where do Delhi-Dhaka ties stand now?

  • With Bangladesh, India’s relations are robust and progressing well. However, there remains some issues.

Some unresolved issues are:

  • Border issue: The border remains sensitive.
  • Water issue: Water remains another difficult issue. Bangladeshis have observed the tug-of-war on the Teesta water-sharing issue between the Centre and state. 
  • Citizenship issue: India’s controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) have created a negative impression in Bangladesh of India’s intent.
  • China factor: The China factor also adds another dimension to the ties. 

Despite some domestic scepticism, both countries understand the importance of cultivating strong bilateral relations.

Where does India’s Pakistan policy stand?

  • Pakistan has always been an important part of national politics – a position that flows not only from history but also Islamabad’s continued support for terror activities.
  • India-Pakistan relations in the Modi years hit a nadir as militants attacked an Indian Army brigade headquartersin Uri, Kashmir on September 18, 2016 killing 17 soldiers.
    • In response, India troops crossed the Line of Control on September 29.
  • In February, 2019, over 40 Central Reserve Police Force jawans were killed in Pulwama, Kashmir by a car bomber – one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in India. 
    • 12 days later, on February 26, Indian Air Force crossed into Pakistan for what the government called a “non-military preemptive strike” on a terrorist camp of the Jaish-E-Mohammed, which had taken responsibility for the Pulwama attack.

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