Bangladesh Liberation War
The Bangladesh Liberation War, which lasted nine months and ended on December 16, 1971, was fought between India and Pakistan. The war resulted in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh’s independence from the erstwhile province of East Pakistan.
The West Pakistani army launched Operation Searchlight against the people of East Pakistan on March 25, 1971. Many Bengali citizens, intellectuals, students, politicians, and members of the armed forces were slain in the operation.
The secular leaders led the fight. The Bangladeshi victory was heralded by secularists as the triumph of secular Bengali nationalism over religion-centered Pakistani nationalism.
The battle shaped the Bangladeshi people’s worldview to the present day. It shaped Bangladesh’s sense of nationalism and shaped their current Constitution.
What is the background behind the formation of East Pakistan and West Pakistan?
- Partition of British India(1947): Before obtaining independence, British India was divided into two major religious communities: Hindus and Muslims. During the decolonization process, the leaders of the Indian National Congress, which represented the largely Hindu people, and the All-India Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, which represented the Muslim minority, were unable to reach an agreement on a single undivided state. As a result, Britain chose to divide the country into two distinct dominions.
- The Two-Nation Theory: According to Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League, Hindus and Muslims were two different nations with independent religious, cultural, and political identities. They thought that Muslims should have their nation, which became Pakistan.
- Partition into Two Dominions: The Dominion of Pakistan was established on August 14, 1947. It was, however, geographically separated into two regions that became known as West Pakistan and East Pakistan. West Pakistan was in India’s western territory, whereas East Pakistan was in the eastern sector.
- Geographic divide: The geographical divide was mostly caused by the enormous expanse of northern India that separated the two predominantly Hindu provinces. The two wings were approximately 1,600 kilometres apart, making transport and communication difficult.
- Diverse Populations: West Pakistan was mostly Punjabi, including ethnic Pashtuns and Baloch, whilst East Pakistan was predominantly Bengali. There were linguistic, cultural, and ethnic disparities between the two regions. In East Pakistan, Bengali was the most widely spoken language, but Urdu was the official language in both wings of Pakistan.
- Economic discrepancies: Economic discrepancies arose during the establishment of Pakistan. West Pakistan, notably the Punjab region, got a disproportionate amount of government resources and spending, resulting in severe economic inequality. This fostered additional unrest in East Pakistan.
- Political representation: East Pakistan felt underrepresented in the central government and bureaucracy, which were mostly dominated by West Pakistanis, despite its bigger population. As a result, political tensions arose, as did calls for greater autonomy.
- Language Controversy: In 1948, the central government declared Urdu to be Pakistan’s sole official language, sparking protests in East Pakistan, where Bengali was spoken by the majority. The Bengali Language Movement arose as a result of the language conflict.
What are the events that led to Operation Searchlight?
- Political History:
- The war sprang from Pakistan’s political dynamics. East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (now Pakistan) were the country’s two physically and culturally separate areas.
- East Pakistan was economically disadvantaged, and there was a major difference between the two wings in resource allocation and political representation. West Pakistan held the majority of political power and governance.
- Language movement:
- Urdu was declared the sole official language of Pakistan by the federal government in 1948. This move was met with great opposition in East Pakistan, where the majority of people spoke Bengali. The Language Movement began in 1948 and culminated on February 21, 1952, when police opened fire on protesting students and civilians in Dhaka. This occasion is now remembered as International Mother Language Day.
- Economic Inequalities
- Economic discrepancies between Pakistan’s two wings spurred greater resentment in East Pakistan. The development strategies of the central government were perceived to favour West Pakistan, resulting in severe economic inequality.
- General Elections in 1970:
- The 1970 general elections were a watershed moment. The Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won the elections with a landslide victory, securing an outright majority in the national parliament.
- Despite this electoral win, West Pakistan’s ruling elites were hesitant to hand over control to the Awami League.
- Election Results Not Recognized:
- West Pakistan’s central government, commanded by President Yahya Khan, refused to accept the results of the 1970 elections. The Awami League’s victory in East Pakistan granted it the authority to establish a national government, but West Pakistani leaders refused to transfer control.
- Political Disagreement:
- East and West Pakistan became embroiled in a political struggle that resulted in a stalemate. The central government was hesitant to hand over control to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and negotiations between the two parties fell through.
- Speech delivered on March 7, 1971:
- Sheikh Mujibur Rahman delivered a historic address on March 7, 1971, advocating for civil disobedience and non-cooperation with West Pakistani authorities. This speech is seen as a watershed moment in the conflict’s development.
- Operation Searchlight:
- The Pakistan Army began Operation Searchlight on the night of March 25, 1971. The goal of this military operation was to put an end to the Bengali independence movement and destroy opposition in East Pakistan.
- The operation included a large crackdown on Bengali citizens, students, and political leaders, as well as severe brutality, deaths, and atrocities.
- How was India involved in the Liberation War of Bangladesh?
- Humanitarian and Refugee Aid:
- As the turmoil in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) erupted in the aftermath of Operation Searchlight in March 1971, millions of refugees rushed into India in search of protection from the carnage and atrocities. India offered these refugees with humanitarian aid, including food, shelter, and medical care.
- Support for the Bengali Independence Movement:
- India provided political and diplomatic support to the Bengali nationalist movement, recognizing the validity of their independence cause.
- International diplomacy:
- India began diplomatic efforts to secure worldwide support for the Bengali cause. On several international venues, it emphasized the Pakistan Army’s human rights breaches and crimes in East Pakistan.
- Armed Struggle:
- The Pakistan Army began an attack on India’s western border in December 1971. This attack was interpreted as an intentional attempt to lure India into the conflict and redirect its focus away from the situation in East Pakistan. As a result, India joined the war in support of Bangladesh.
- 1971 Indo-Pakistani War:
- On December 3, 1971, the Indian military launched a coordinated operation against West Pakistan in reaction to the Pakistani attack in the west and to help the Bangladesh Liberation War in the east.
Who were Mukti Bahinis?
- In the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, Mukti Bahini was a Bengali military unit that fought against the Pakistan Army. The Liberation Army of Bengal, Bangladesh Forces, and Freedom Fighters were other names for the outfit.
- After Bangladesh’s independence was declared on March 26, 1971, Mukti Bahini was created by Bengali regulars and civilians. The group was originally known as the Mukti Fauj. It evolved into a big organization of armed and trained individuals loyal to Bangladesh’s provisional government.
- Mukti Bahini was crucial in the battles of Sylhet, Garibpur, and Boyra. Mukti Bahini was the forerunner to the establishment of the Bangladesh Defense Force.
When did Pakistan Surrender and What was the Instrument of surrender?
- Context: The capitulation occurred in Dhaka, the capital of East Pakistan, after a 13-day struggle between the Indian Army and the Mukti Bahini (Bangladeshi liberation fighters) on one side and the Pakistan Army on the other. Political and ethnic tensions between East and West Pakistan had fueled the violence for months.
- Fall of Dhaka: In the days leading up to the capitulation, Indian forces encircled Dhaka, the Pakistani Army’s last stronghold in East Pakistan. The city was besieged. The formal surrender ceremony was held at the Dhaka Race Course (now known as the Suhrawardy Udyan) in Dhaka.
- Key Figures present:
- Lt. Gen. A.A.K. Niazi: He was the commander of Pakistani forces in East Pakistan and represented the Pakistan Army.
- Lt. Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora: He was the commander of the joint forces of India and Bangladesh and the mastermind behind the military campaign.
- Major General J.F.R. Jacob: He was instrumental in arranging the surrender conditions.
- Instrument of Surrender: The Instrument of Surrender was a written document that formalized the Pakistan Army’s surrender. Lt. Gen. Niazi signed on behalf of the Pakistan Army, and Lt. Gen. Aurora signed on behalf of the Indian Army and the Mukti Bahini. The following were the essential terms of the Instrument of Surrender:
- Pakistani army surrendered in Dhaka and throughout East Pakistan.
- Cease-fire orders have been issued.
- Protection of Pakistani military men held as POWs.
- The release of Bangladeshi and Indian POWs detained by Pakistan.
- Historic Moment: The signing of the Instrument of Surrender was a watershed milestone in the Bangladesh Liberation War. It represented the Pakistani Army’s formal surrender and the founding of Bangladesh as an independent nation.
What were the responses of foreign countries to the Indian Intervention?
- USSR (Soviet Union):
- The Soviet Union backed India’s participation and the cause of Bangladesh’s independence wholeheartedly. They offered India diplomatic and moral support.
- The USSR’s support was perceived as an attempt to counter the influence of the US, which supported Pakistan.
- The United States:
- The US initially supported Pakistan during the battle, owing to its Cold War stance and partnership with Pakistan. Pakistan received military and economic assistance from the United States.
- However, as the scope of the humanitarian situation in East Pakistan became obvious, and proof of atrocities committed by the Pakistan Army emerged, the United States faced internal and international pressure to reverse its position. The United States eventually changed its attitude and urged for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
- Throughout the war, China was a staunch supporter of Pakistan. They considered Pakistan to be an ally and India to be a regional rival.
- China even assisted Pakistan with diplomatic assistance and arms. During the conflict, this caused tensions between India and China.
- The United Kingdom:
- Both India and Pakistan had historical relations with the United Kingdom. Initially, the United Kingdom, like the United States, supported Pakistan.
- However, as the conflict progressed and reports of atrocities became public, the United Kingdom supported a peaceful ending and began to distance itself from Pakistan’s conduct.