Friday, 11 November 2016

India Pakistan war 1971: Reminiscences

The 1971 war is considered to be modern India’s finest hour, in military terms. The clinical professionalism of the Indian army, navy and air force; a charismatic brass led by the legendary Sam Maneckshaw; and ceaseless international lobbying by the political leadership worked brilliantly to set up a famous victory. After two weeks of vicious land, air and sea battles, nearly 100,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendered before India's rampaging army, the largest such capitulation since General Paulus' surrender at Stalingrad in 1943. However, it could all have come unstuck without help from veto-wielding Moscow, with which New Delhi had the foresight to sign a security treaty in 1970.

During the second week of July, 1971, Kissinger arrived in Beijing, where he heard the words by then Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai: “In our opinion, if India continues on its present course in disregard of world opinion, it will continue to go on recklessly. We, however, support the stand of Pakistan. This is known to the world. If they [the Indians] are bent on provoking such a situation, then we cannot sit idly by.’

Pakistani Aircraft destined to East Pakistan flew taking a round of India via Sri Lanka, since they could not fly over Indian sky. This forced Pakistan to get its aircrafts refueled on the way. Sri Lanka eager to help Pakistan, allowed Pakistani aircrafts for refueling at the Bandaranaike airport.

As India had decided to go on with the war, and Indira Gandhi had failed to gain American support and sympathy for the Bengalis who were being tortured in East Pakistan, she finally took a hard move and on August 9, signed a treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation with Soviet Union. In the perspective of Washington, the crisis ratcheted up a dangerous notch, India and the Soviet Union have signed a treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation. It was a shock to America as this was what they feared, expansion of Soviet influence in South Asia. They feared that involvement of Soviet Union could sabotage their plan.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi decided to tour most of the Western capitals to prove Indian stand and gain support and sympathy for the Bengalis of East Pakistan. On November 4th and 5th she met Nixon in Washington. Nixon straight forwardly told her that a new war in the subcontinent was out of the question. The next day, Nixon and Kissinger assessed the situation. Kissinger told Nixon: ‘The Indians are bastards anyway. They are plotting a war.’ The pressure increased in East Pakistan, which attracted Indian attention. Indians were preparing for war and were concentrated on the Eastern front. To divert the pressure, on December 3, in the dark of night, even before India could attack East Pakistan, Pakistan opened western front and air raided six Indian Airfields in Kashmir and Punjab and thus began the war.

India was reeling under  the refugee influx and yet it dared not attack East Bengal, because then  the world opinion would call it the aggressor. An excuse was necessary and Pakistan had now conveniently provided it. The war on the East Bengal front was weighed in favour of India. Though to start with some hard knocks were taken, it was a smooth march - the whole population of East Bengal was against Pakistan.

Indira Gandhi in her meeting with Kissinger in New Delhi in July 1971 explaining deteriorating situation in East Pakistan and warned if the US Government and US President cannot control the situation military action by India is imminent.

On December 4, just one day after Pakistan raided Indian airfields in Kashmir and Punjab declaring war on India, America’s proxy involvement in the war was becoming clear. Thinking that the Soviet Union might enter the war if they come to know this, which could cause a lot of destruction to Pakistan and American equipment given to Pakistan, US ambassador to the United Nations George H W Bush [later 41st president of the United States and father of George Bush] introduced a resolution in the UN Security Council, calling for a cease-fire and the withdrawal of armed forces by India and Pakistan. Believing India can win the war and Indira Gandhi being determined to protect the interest of Bengalis, Soviet Union vetoed out the resolution, thus letting India fight for the cause. Nixon and Kissinger pressurized Soviets to a very extent but luck did not support them.

US sympathized with Pakistan, because of various reasons. Among them two reasons were that: firstly, Pakistan belonged to American led military Pact, CENTO and SEATO; secondly, US believed any victory of India will be considered as the expansion of Soviet influence in the parts gained by India with the victory, as it was believed to be a pro Soviet nation, even though they were non aligned.

In a telegram sent to US Secretary of State Will Roger, on March 28, 1971, the staff of the US consulate in Dhaka complained, ‘Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy. Our government has failed to denounce atrocities. Our government has failed to take forceful measures to protect its citizens while at the same time bending over backwards to placate the West Pakistan dominated government… We, as professional public servants express our dissent with current policy and fervently hope that our true and lasting interests here can be defined and our policies redirected in order to salvage our nation’s position as a moral leader of the free world.’

Less well known is Russia’s power play that prevented a joint British-American attack on India. But a lesser known fact is the Russian hand in this, when USA and UK had threatened to invade India to relieve pressure off East Pakistan (Now Bangladesh).

The CIA reported to the US President that Indian Prime Minister believes that the Chinese will never intervene militarily in North India, and thus, any action from China would be a surprise for India and Indian military might collapse in tensed situation caused by fighting in three different fronts (East, North and West). Hearing this, on December 9, Nixon decided to send the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal to threaten India. The plan was to Surround India from all four sides and force them to retreat and leave East Pakistan.

USA had moved its nuclear powered aircraft Carrier "Enterprise" into Indian Ocean with the explicit purpose of blackmailing and pressurising India so as to prevent collapse of Pakistan Army. UK's aircraft carrier "Eagle" had also joined Enterprise. While the British ships in the Arabian Sea would target India’s western coast, the Americans would make a dash into the Bay of Bengal in the east where 100,000 Pakistani troops were caught between the advancing Indian troops  and the sea. To counter this two-pronged British-American threat, Russia dispatched a nuclear-armed flotilla from Vladivostok on December 13. Russia’s entry thwarted a scenario that could have led to multiple pincer movements against India.

Besides moral support and help from USA, China and UK, the Pakistani military was being bolstered by aircraft from Jordan, Iran, Turkey and France.

Read Nixon Kissinger conversations during the course of war.

In fact, the myth of Chinese activity was also communicated to Pakistan’s army to boost their moral, to keep their will to fight and hope alive. Lieutenant General A A K Niazi, the Pakistani army commander in Dhaka, was informed: “NEFA front has been activated by Chinese, although the Indians, for obvious reasons, have not announced it.” But Beijing never did.

The Seventh Fleet, which was then stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin, was led by the 75,000 ton nuclear powered aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise. The world’s largest warship, it carried more than 70 fighters and bombers. The Seventh Fleet also included the guided missile cruiser USS King, guided missile destroyers USS Decatur, Parsons and Tartar Sam, and a large amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli.

Standing between the Indian cities and the American ships was the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet led by the 20,000-ton aircraft carrier, Vikrant, with barely 20 light fighter aircraft. The Indian Air Force, has just wiped out the Pakistani Air Force within the first week of the war, was reported to be on alert for any possible intervention by aircraft from the Enterprise.

However, India did not panic. It quietly sent Moscow a request to activate a secret provision of the Indo-Soviet security treaty, under  which Russia was bound to defend India in case of any external aggression.

Russian Chief Commander’s order was that their submarines should surface when the Americans appear. It was done to demonstrate to them that they had nuclear submarines in the Indian Ocean. So when Rusiians subs surfaced, Americans recognised them. In the way of the American Navy stood the Soviet cruisers, destroyers and atomic submarines equipped with anti-ship missiles. They encircled and trained their missiles at the Enterprise. They blocked them and did not allow them to close in on Karachi, Chittagong or Dhaka. At this point, the commander of the British carrier battle group communicated to the Seventh Fleet commander: “Sir, we are too late. There are the Russian atomic submarines here, and a big collection of battleships.” The British ships fled towards Madagascar while the larger US task force stopped before entering the Bay of Bengal. Ultimately, the Soviets formed a ring around US naval forces thereby not allowing  the fleet to get close to Bangladesh hence helping India in securing the liberation of Bangladesh.

Indian Prime Minister went ahead with her plan to liberate Bangladesh despite inputs that the Americans had kept three battalions of Marines on standby to deter India, and that the American aircraft carrier USS Enterprise had orders to target the Indian Army, which had broken through the Pakistani Army’s defences and was thundering down the highway to the gates of Lahore, West Pakistan’s second largest city. The bomber force aboard the Enterprise had the US President's authority to undertake bombing of the Indian Army's communications, if necessary.

Despite Kissinger’s goading and desperate Pakistani calls for help, the Chinese did nothing. Soviets had factored in the possibility of Chinese intervention. The Chinese know that the Soviet Union would act in the Sinkiang region, if the Chinese were to become directly involved in the conflict. Soviet air support may also be made available to India at that time.

To make matters still easier the Indian Air Force had no  opposition and bombed General Niazi’s official bungalow. The panic and the utter helplessness at being bombed from above by enemy planes, it was inevitable that Niazi  surrendered without much time.

On December 14, General A.A.K. Niazi, Pakistan's military commander in East Pakistan, told the American consul-general in Dhaka that he was willing to surrender. The message was relayed to Washington, but it took the US 19 hours to relay it to New Delhi. Files suggest senior Indian diplomats suspected the delay was because Washington was possibly contemplating military action against India.

The violation of human rights on a massive scale as “selective genocide”—and the complete disregard for democracy were irrelevant to Nixon and Kissinger. In fact, the non-democratic aspects of Pakistani dictator Yahya Khan’s behaviour seemed to be what impressed them the most. As evidence mounted of military atrocities in East Pakistan, Nixon and Kissinger remained unmoved.

Nixon and Kissinger phoned Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev and asked for guarantees that India would not attack West Pakistan. Nixon was ready to link the future summit in Moscow to Soviet behaviour on this issue. The Soviets could not see why the White House supported Pakistan, who they believed had started the war against India. Brezhnev, puzzled at first, was soon enraged. Several years later, Brezhnev still reacted angrily and spoke spitefully about American behaviour.

A new country named Bangladesh was formed, which was recognized by the whole world and by Pakistan in the following year with Shimla Agreement.

The 1971 war victory is a tribute to India’s amazing plurality. The entire war planning was conducted by Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw (a Zoroastrian); the Eastern Army that liberated Bangladesh was headed by Chief of Staff of the Indian Army's Eastern Command Jacob-Farj-Rafael Jacob (a Jew); the head of ground forces in the east was General Jagjit Singh Aurora (a Sikh); the man who set alight Karachi for a week was Chief of Staff of the Indian Navy, Admiral H.M. Nanda (a Hindu); and the  entire team was given ample freedom for their military operations by a Hindu Prime Minister.

Pakistan and India had put those sad memories behind  
since the past should not control the future of both the countries.

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