Outgoing Pak Army Chief Gen Bajwa calls 1971 Indo-Pak War a political failure. What was it?

Mohammad Bilal
Mohammad BilalNov 24, 2022 | 15:44

Outgoing Pak Army Chief Gen Bajwa calls 1971 Indo-Pak War a political failure. What was it?

Pakistan's former Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa said that Pakistan's loss in the 1971 war against India was because of political not military failure. Photo: Getty Images

Pakistan’s outgoing Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Qamar Javed Bajwa has rekindled the debate on the India-Pakistan war of 1971, and has called it a political failure instead of a military failure for the country.

General Bajwa, who is set to retire on November 29 as the COAS, said that the number of Pakistani soldiers fighting the Indian Army was not 92,000 but 34,000, the Dawn reported. He said that these 34,000 soldiers were outnumbered by an Indian army of 2,50,000 and 200,000 members of Mukti Bahini. 

“Against these heavy odds, our army fought bravely and gave exemplary sacrifices which were acknowledged by the then Indian Army chief Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw,” Bajwa said.

However, nearly 50 years after the war, the narrative of the India-Pakistan war, also known as the Bangladesh war, has been changing.

While Indian people remember it as a victory over Pakistan and revenge for the 1947 partition, Pakistan calls it the Fall of Dhaka or dismemberment of Pakistan.

Here are the five key facts you must know about the 1971 Indo-Pak war:

1. Urdu vs Bangla: One of the biggest reasons why conflict erupted between West Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was the linguistic differences between the people from the two sides.

  • The Urdu speaking Pakistani population asserted they have a superiority over Bangla speaking Bangladeshis. 
  • The East Pakistani Muslims looked upon the West Pakistanis as a predatory foreign ruling classes. They hated the shunning of their language, Bangla, and also complained that their agricultural wealth was drained and fed to the Western Pakistan.

2. Mujibur Rahman’s Awami League’s demand: When the elections in Pakistan were held in 1971, Mujibur Rahman’s National Awami League swept the elections in East Pakistan side winning 167 of the 169 seats. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) could only win 88 of 144 seats in West Pakistan.

  • After the win, tensions between the two sides grew further, as Mujib now demanded control over foreign reserves of East Pakistan and perhaps issuing its own currency. 
  • In January 1971, President Yahya Khan and Bhutto travelled to East Pakistan and met separately with Mujib but he remained stern on his demands.
  • Throughout East Pakistan, offices and shops stayed shut. Even railway stations and airports had closed down.
  • Clashes between the police and demonstrators increased. 
  • By March 25, 1971, the talks fell and Yahya Khan declared a war on Mujib. The Awami League leader was arrested and was taken to a secret location in West Pakistan.

3. Pakistani Army’s brutality: As the tensions increased, Pakistan army trained and raised band of local loyalists called Razakars who started fighting the Bengali rebel fighters. 

  • On March 25, 1971, in an operation called “Operation Searchlight”, the Pakistani army with Razakars began a brutal massacre that lasted for nine months. 
  • The atrocities committed included sexual violence against Bengalis, a majority of them being Bengali Hindu women and girls. Many Bengali intellectuals were also killed by the army.
    An Indian soldier during the India-Pakistan war 1971. Photo: Getty Images


4. Indian Army and Mukti Bahini retaliate: As the violence increased, many Bengali refugees started migrating to India. By the end of May, three-and-a-half million refugees and by the end of August, 8 million refugees were in India from Bangladesh.

  • Refugee camps were spread on the borders of West Bengal, Tripura and Meghalaya. 
  • Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister and she had been closely observing the developments in East Pakistan.
  • The Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) set up in 1968 was tasked with detailing reports about the development in East Pakistan.
  • So, by the summer of 1971, India was already training Bengali guerilla fighters known as the Mukti Bahini. These fighters were 20,000 in number and nearly all of them were officers and soldiers of the once united Pakistani army.
Indian troops advancing into the East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in December, 1971. Photo: Getty Images
  • By December of 1971, the Pakistani Amy was on its back foot after an intense fighting with the Indian Army. The morale of the West Pakistan was also down because of the civil war that had broken where the Bengali guerrillas had been attacking the West Pakistan army.
  • On December 6, 1971, the government of India officially revealed an intention it had long kept, which was the formation of new nation state to replace the East Pakistan.

5. The surrender: On the night of December 13, 1971, the Indian Army bombed the house of governor of Dhaka. The same night, Pakistan Army chief General Niazi received a message from Yahya Khan to lay down the arms.

  • On the morning of December 15, 1971, Lieutenant General JS Aurora of the Indian Army’s Eastern Command flew into Dhaka to accept a signed instrument of surrender.
  • Pakistan’s 90,000 soldiers surrendered to the Indian Army.
Pakistani army officially surrenders to Indian army on December 16, 1971. Photo: Getty Images
Last updated: November 24, 2022 | 15:44
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