New Delhi: Today, we are observing the anniversary of the conclusion of the 'War of the Century' in 1971, which saw the surrender of 93,000 Pakistani troops to the Indian Army and the Mukti Bahini in Dacca, and the emergence of a new nation, Bangladesh.
India could achieve this in spite of the support that Pakistan had of the United States of America. Recent documents that have come to light indicate that U.S. President Richard Nixon was on the phone with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger trying to find out how to save Pakistan even though it attacked Indian airfields, which Nixon felt 'was a reckless act that prompted India to declare war.'
Kissinger in his reply said 'If they lose half their country without fighting, they will be destroyed. They may also be destroyed this way, but they will go down fighting'. The U.S. then decided to continue its support Pakistan.
Earlier , following Pakistan's crackdown on the Eastern Wing , Prime Minister Indira Gandhi went on a tour of West European countries, Britain and the United States of America to make them aware of the scale of the crackdown by the Pakistan Army on its eastern wing and its impact on India, as millions of refugees poured in.
When Indira Gandhi could not prevent Western countries, particularly the USA from supporting Pakistan, she sent External Affairs Minister Swaran Singh to Moscow to conclude the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union. The treaty was signed on August 9, 1971.
When the war broke out on December 3, Nixon was upset and contacted Kissinger and recalled that even though he had 'warned the b...ch' (referring to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi) against taking action against Pakistan. He said Pakistan had given an accuse to India to declare war on Pakistan by bombing Indian air fields . He wanted to help Pakistan and asked Kissinger to approach France, China and some West Asian states to send fighter aircraft to help Pakistan.
The Chinese did not react to the message. India attacked Pakistan Army concentrations in East Pakistan and troops converged from West Bengal, Meghalaya and Tripura. India also air dropped paratroopers from the Para Brigade on Tangail, who proceeded towards Dacca.
During the first week of the War, Indian Air Force attacked East Pakistan air bases and the Navy blocked access to the Pakistani ships by taking control of the Dacca and Chittagong ports. The United States still did not give up its efforts to support Pakistan.
On December 10, the Indian Intelligence intercepted an American message that the US Seventh Fleet, which was based in the Gulf of Tonkin, led by the nuclear-powered USS Enterprise, which had on board 70 fighters and bombers to proceed towards the war zone. Nixon persuaded the British Navy to join in the U.S. effort.
India's eastern fleet, which was commanded by Vice Admiral N.Krishnan, asked the Government of India to give him the orders to defend, and the Indian Air Force got itself ready to counter any attack by U.S. aircraft from the USS Enterprise.
What prevented them the U.S. threat from materialising was the dispach of a number of nuclear armed flotillas from Vladivastok on December 13 in an effort that the Americans and British from getting closer to Ïndian military objects' They also encircled the U.S. Fleet . The records, recently unclassified, disclosed the conversation between the British Fleet Commander and the U.S. Seventh Fleet Commander : 'Sir, we are too late. There are Russian atomic submarines here and a big collection of battleships'. The US Fleet could not come close to Karachi, Chittagong or Dhaka. The Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral S.M. Nanda and the Chief of the Air Force, Air Marshal P.C. Lal were in close touch with the developing situation.
India also used psywar techniques to expedite the conclusion of the war. The Chief of Army Staff, General S.H.F.J. Manekshaw, in a broadcast directed against Pakistani soldiers, told them that if they surrendered to the Indian Army, their security will be guaranteed, and they would be evacuated from East Pakistan, looked after in India and sent home safely.
He also assured them that they will be guarded against attack by hostile elements in East Pakistan. India also air dropped pamphlets conveying this along with surrender documents at Pakistani military bases and troop concentration.The impact was immediate.
On December 14, on hearing that soldiers from the Indian Para Brigade , dropped at Tangail, were nearing Dacca Lt.-Gen A A K Niazi in his interaction with Major General J.F. R Jacob , Chief of Staff of the Eastern Command'who had flown into into Dacca -- said he was willing to surrender. He also conveyed this message to the American Consul General in Dacca , who conveyed it to Washington.
On December 16 the surrender took place in the Dacca Race Course. Lt Gen A A K Niazi surrendered to Lt. Gen J.S. Aurora, GOC-in-c of the Eastern Command of the Indian Army. The news of the surrender was announced by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in Parliament.
We saw Army Chief General Sam Manekshaw, carried by crowds when he arrived at the South Block. During the war, I had the privilege to work as the Public Relations Officer of the Indian Army, and involve myself in all communication efforts before and during the war . I too felt a little taller that day.
--By I. Ramamohan Rao
(I. Ramamohan Rao is a former Principal Information Officer to the Government of India)