The 1971 India-Pakistan War, or Bangladesh Liberation War, is also referred to as ‘The Lightning Campaign’. For, since the first direct military confrontation began on December 3, 1971, it took only 13 days for the war to end. The war, which saw a well-synchronised action of forces from the Indian side, came to an end on December 16, 1971, with the Pakistani General Lt Gen AAK Niazi signing the ‘Instrument of Surrender’ in Dacca in presence of Indian General Lt Gen J S Aurora. To understand how the war progressed and how India emphatically won it, it is necessary to understand the chronology of events of this 13-day war. The most important events must be told if not all the developments, statements, broadcasts, diplomatic happenings, military actions, heroic tales, and anecdotes. Here are the date-wise excerpts of the war sourced from the archives of Press Information Bureau, India, and some other resources:-
December 3 – 5.45 PM -- Pakistani Air Force launches premeditated air strike on Indian airfields at Amritsar, Pathankot, Srinagar, Avantipur, Uttarlai, Jodhpur, Ambala, and Agra. Also, Pakistan Army shells Indian positions in Sulaimanki, Khem Karan, Poonch, and other Sectors. Prime Minister, Defence Minister, Finance Minister of India return to Delhi from tour. Emergency meeting of Cabinet held at night on Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s return from Calcutta. President V V Giri proclaims ‘State of Emergency’. 11.50 PM – Indian Air Force launches retaliatory attacks on Pakistani airfields at Chanderi, Shorkot, Sargodha, Murid, Mianwali, Masroor (near Karathi), Risalwala (near Rawalpindi), and Changa Manga (near Lahore).
December 4 – In a broadcast to the nation, Prime Minister announces about Pakistan launching full-scale war against India. She says, “Today a war in Bangladesh has become a war on India… I have no doubt that by the united will of the people, the wanton and unprovoked aggression of Pakistan should be decisively and finally repelled… Aggression must be met and the people of India will meet it with fortitude, determination, discipline and unity.” Pakistan makes formal declaration of war with India. In Ferozepur sector, one Paki brigade supported by air, armour and artillery, attacks Indian territory near Hussainiwala. The Indian forces repulse the attack with heavy casualties to the enemy. In Eastern sector, Indian troops move into Bangladesh at several points, and in concert with Mukti Bahini, liberate many areas. Western and Eastern fleets of the Indian Navy go on mission to seek and destroy enemy warships and out the maritime line of communication between West Pakistan and Bangladesh.
December 5 – Indian forces repulse Pakistani attacks at Longewala, Amritsar and Chhamb sectors, Kasba near Poonch. Western Naval Task Force of the Indian Navy sends to the bottom of the sea two Pakistani destroyers – Khaibar and Shahjahan. The task force also bombards Karachi harbour installations. In Bay of Bengal, the Indian Navy knocks out enemy submarine (Ghazi), and launches attacks on Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar.
December 6 – India repulses more attacks of Pakistan. Indian naval craft pound military targets at Khulna, Chalna, and Mangla ports, attack Chittagong airfield and military installations in surrounding areas. Mukti Bahini enters Lalmonirghat. Chhamb evacuated. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi announces in Parliament India’s recognition of the ‘Gana Praja Tantri Bangladesh’. Pakistan breaks off diplomatic relations with India.
December 7 – Jessore airfield captured. Indian troops and Mukti Bahini enter Jessore cantonment, liberate Jessore city. Indian troops land in Sylhet by helicopter. Sylhet and Maulvibazar liberated.
December 8 – General SHFJ Manekshaw, Indian Chief of Army Staff, calls on officers and men of Pakistan occupation forces in Bangladesh to surrender to the Indian Army in view of their ‘hopeless position’. India repulses another Pakistani attack in Chhamb sector, inflict massive casualties. Indian troops and Mukti Bahini liberate Comilla and Brahmanbaria. UN General Assembly votes resolution calling upon India and Pakistan to cease fire immediately and withdraw forces to their own territories.
December 9 – Indian Defence Minister announces in Parliament the sinking of Pakistan’s largest submarine US-built ‘Ghazi’ off the coast of Vishakhapatnam on the night of December ¾. Indian troops in concert with Mukti Bahini liberate Chandpur and Daudkandi. Western Naval Fleet task force bombard entire Makran coastline from Gwadar to Karachi and set ablaze the vital fuel installation in Karachi harbor.
December 10 – Laksham is liberated. Pakistani Commanding Officer there surrenders with his officers and 416 men. In Kutch sector, Virawah is captured 10 miles north of Nagarparkar and Vingoor. India guarantees safe conduct for planes from several countries to evacuate foreign nationals from Karachi, Islamabad, and Dacca.
December 11 – Maj Gen Rao Farman Ali, Military Adviser to the Governor in East Pakistan, asks UN Secretary General U Thant for help in repatriating troops and West Pakistani civilians and seeking assurance of their safety until evacuation was arranged. However, General Yahya Khan, President of Pakistan, countermands Ali’s message. General SHFJ Manekshaw, Indian Army chief, broadcasts message to Ali, speaks of futility of resistance and calls for surrender of Pakistani occupation forces. Mukti Bahini, in concert with the Indian troops, liberates Hilli, Mymensingh, KUshtia, and Noakhali. Indian troops repulse Pakistani attack in Chhamb sector.
December 12 – Indian paratroopers dropped in sizeable strength to mount an assault on Dacca.
December 13 – Indian troops surround Dacca. General SHFJ Manekshaw sends third successive message to Maj Gen Rao Farman Ali, reemphasises necessity to prevent ‘shedding of innocent blood’ and repeats offer of just treatment for the troops.
December 14 – Dr A M Malik, Governor of East Pakistan, signs his resignation after the Indian Air Force strikes leave the Governor’s House in Dacca devastated. Other highest officials of Pakistani administration in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) resign from their posts and seek protection in the Red Cross neutral zone. Bogra is liberated. Brigadier Kader, Commanding Officer, Pak Infantry Brigade, along with to Lieutenant Colonels and one Major surrender near Dacca. Haripur petroleum and gas refinery is captured intact. Jagjivan Ram, Defence Minister of India, informs the Parliament about losses of tanks, aircraft, and warships suffered by both the countries, also gives casualty figures. Soviet Union uses its veto for the third time to block US resolution calling for immediate Indo-Pakistani cease-fire and troops withdrawal.
December 15 – Lt Gen AAK Niazi, Commander of the West Pakistani occupation forces in Dacca, asks for the Indian Army chief for ceasefire. In response, General SHFJ Manekshaw directs him to surrender with the men under his command by 9 AM on December 16, 1971. As a token of good faith, air action over Dacca is suspended from 5 PM.
December 16 – Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi announces that West Pakistani occupation forces in Bangladesh had surrendered unconditionally in Dacca at 4.31 PM. She announces unilateral ceasefire on the Western front with effect from 10 PM on December 17, 1971. Lt Gen AAK Niazi signs the ‘Instrument of Surrender’ on behalf of the Pakistan Eastern Command. Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, GOC-in-C of the Indian and Bangladesh forces in the Eastern Theatre, accepts the surrender. Dacca becomes the free capital of a free country – Bangladesh. (Compiled by Kartik Lokhande) ■