India's Bangladesh war revisited
1971 India Pakistan war is more popularly known as “Bangladesh Liberation War”. Nearly four decade ago on December 3, 1971 war broke out between India and Pakistan. Being part of this war, sweet and bitter memories are still fresh in my mind. Determination of Bengali speaking people of West Pakistan for freedom lead to emergence of a new sovereign nation we call now “Bangladesh”. On the anniversary day of our young nation let us not forget the sacrifice made by our older generation and all those who laid down their life for independence we enjoy today.
The war lasted over duration of nine months. History of mankind witnessed very large scale suppression, atrocities on Bengali speaking citizens of “East Pakistan”. This oppression led to exodus of approximately 10 million refugees and the displacement of 30 million people to neighboring India.
In March 1971, Pakistan Army launched a military operation “Operation Searchlight” against Bengali speaking civilians, students, intelligentsias' even armed personnel, who wanted that the Pakistani military junta accept the results of the 1970 first democratic elections of Pakistan that will allow separation between East and West Pakistan. Upset military government of Pakistan Army targeted Bengali speaking civilians, minorities and noncombatants in West Pakistan. Army committed rapes as well as other crimes. In response to “Operation Searchlight” Bengali politicians and army officers announced the declaration of Bangladesh's independence. On 26 March 1971 Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared East Pakistan's independence as the state of “Bangladesh”. With declaration of independence, Bangladesh, Mukti Bahini was formed that included military, paramilitary and civilians. Because resources available to newly formed “Mukti Bahini” were meager to fight strong Pakistan army so “Mukti Bahini” resorted to guerrilla warfare against Pakistani forces. The Pakistan Army engaged themselves in the systematic genocide and atrocities of Bengali nationalists and civilians, intellectuals, youth and religious minorities. India being the neighbor was caught in a situation where it could not be a silent and mute spectator of the whole situation. Huge number of refugees, man, women and children, old and young were crossing border every day to take refuge in India. Refuges were completely exhausted were in dire need of help to get food, medicines, shelter and protection.
Faced with humongous humanitarian and economic crisis, India started to aid Mukti Bahini by training and organize support to Bangladeshi resistance. In need of the hour India provided economic, military and diplomatic support to Bengali nationalists, and the Bangladesh government-in-exile was set up in Calcutta.
On December 4, 1971, Pakistan launched pre-emptive air strikes on northern India. This led to start of an all out war between India and Pakistan. Pakistan, overwhelmed by two war fronts i.e. East and newly open west front could not sustained India's might, Pakistan's defenses soon collapsed. On 16 December, the Allied Forces of Bangladesh and India defeated Pakistan in the east forced Pakistan to accept defeat and surrender. The surrender of Pakistan resulted in the largest number of prisoners-of-war since World War II.
This was clear from the beginning that newly formed Mukti Bahini needed support in terms of training military personals, food and supplies, providing them with uniforms, arms and ammunitions, logistic support etc. Army training camps for Mukti Bahini were located at various strategic locations in Assam and Tripura.
Writer is as an Ex. Army officer, Artillery, served the Indian Army, during the Bangladesh war served at Eastern and Western sector. Author is Privileged to shares some recollections of those days. Some of these memories are painful and some not so good.
Refugees were fleeing into India via all possible routes, to escape famine and ravages of Pakistan army. When they crossed borders they met with Indian forces. Refuges were young and old, ladies and children's completely exhausted as they had spend several days and nights, until spotted by Indian troops and moved to a safer place so that they can be looked after. These influxes were over whelming for Indian civil and military authorities. On arrival on Indian soil, food, shelter and basic medical facilities by no means can be said adequate to serve that large number of people. Experience was simply over whelming.
Well before the war started Mukti Bahini freedom fighters were trained in strictly guarded camps run by the Indian army personals. Officer and other ranks gave military and survival training to Bangladeshi volunteers. After completing their training they were required to go back to what was known as “East Pakistan” and support for freedom movement. Training camps were in remote areas of Assam and Tripura. Camp administrators were always worried that some undesirable element can infiltrate into the camp in disguise of freedom fighters and harm trainees or camp itself. Writer, while working as instructor remember an eye opening incident. In almost all cases returning volunteers soldiers were provided “Personal weapon” to protect themselves and fight as Mukti Bahini soldier. Based on the need of the fighting Bangladeshi army many of them were required to come back to base camp (as they were trained soldier and know routes and territory). Often they were required to deliver supplies, arms and ammunitions etc. to Mukti Bahini fighting on the ground. As stated above, all incoming and outgoing soldiers were under the watchful eyes of our intelligence unit to keep unwanted elements or those who on behest of enemy may foil our efforts to support to Mukti Bahini. One of these days an intelligence report came in that they suspected a traitor among “freedom fighters”. One of the recruit returned to training camp without his “Personal Weapon” i.e. his
rifle. He narrated his story that in the cover of darkness while crossing the border, back into “West Pakistan” his party were ambushed by Pakistani troops and all men in the party were killed in action. He explained in detail how brave were his team member, and how he alone survived by pretending “dead” and hiding in a drain for several days. He narrated to curious trainers that how challenging it was to cross border and return to base camp. We believed his story. But when the story was repeated second time with some more twist, intelligence officers knew that it was not true. One night he was quietly picked up for questioning. In the unit everyone was told that he was on a special mission. No one saw him again.
Period before the war was relatively difficult. On Indian side of our eastern border, situation was very tense. We were neither in war nor in peace. It is hard for soldier to wait without action. We all knew war may break any time and we will be in action. A month before the war broke out we were asked to move closer to border. On December 3, we received our orders to move and we were in war with Pakistan. This move was massive and swift. We continuously advanced into enemy territory. Advancing through paddy fields, marshy land for about 36 hour virtually no much resistance came from enemy. Very few casualty in our unit. On December 6, 1971 at about sunset time we were on the out skirt of Komilla. It was hard to see anything in the darkness. We prepared our own defenses. Following morning as we advanced what we saw was hard to believe, in paddy fields, in drains, everywhere dead bodies, men women and children's bodies were scattered all over, all of them civilians. God alone knows how long they were rotting. As soldier we know that in war many of us will not return home but It was hard to believe that these innocent people were subjected to torture and death from their own country's army. No army can have a high moral if they inflict such an insult and injury on innocent civilian. Following day we were asked to prepare to move to western borders as Pakistan was building pressure in Punjab and Rajsthatan. We were on the move to Rajasthan and this is where we heard of cease fire and surrender of Pakistan army.
The writer is as an Ex. Army officer, Artillery, served the Indian Army, during the Bangladesh war served at Eastern and Western sector.