The Story of Pakistan's Surrender in 1971 War
The surrender of East Pakistan has indeed been a tragic blow to the nation of Pakistan. With it Pakistan stood dismembered and the image of Armed Forces as a competent fighting force also stood shattered. Yet what was not brought into light was the gross weakness, incompetence and neglect of professional duties of senior army commanders including the ruling military junta of Yahya Khan.
Now that the Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report has been declassified (only a small part of it) we can piece together the causes and events which led to the capitulation of Army Eastern Command leading to a painfully humiliating surrender, which is perhaps the first and only public surrender in history and the subsequent creation of Bangladesh.
References to Hamoodur Rahman Supplementary Report to back up the authenticity of arguments made and the facts stated have been quoted in square brackets [pg--] where required.
Reasons of 1971 War.
Seeds of hatred and grievance were sown long ago and nurtured during the two Martial law periods.
- In selecting Urdu as the only national language, West Pakistanis neglected the rich Bengali culture.
- East Pakistanis had minimum share in Government jobs, Army, civil services and etc.
- Budget allocated for East Pakistan gradually reduced in proportion over the years following independence, development occurred in West but East Pakistan lagged behind.
- Army's prolonged involvement in counter insurgency operation throughout East Pakistan only helped to alienate local people's sympathies.
Inherent Weakness of the Pakistan Army in 1971.
- Pakistan Army Eastern Command was heavily outnumbered and was clearly not in a position to face the vastly superior Indians. It had only 4 divisions and 2 independent brigades; 2 of which lacked their services arms. Only one armored squadron was available.
- General Niazi had failed to anticipate the looming threat of an all out Indian invasion in spite of enormous Indian build up around the border and repeated warnings from GHQ. As a result no preparations were made beforehand, Niazi did not even bother to revise his battle strategy. All he did was to hastily raise two ad-hoc divisions namely 36 and 39 by committing his reserves.
- Foundations of this defeat were already laid in 1958 when army took over the country. Prolonged involvement in Martial Law duties and internal security roles had a devastating impact on the professional capabilities of top ranking officers. Their involvement in civil administration, restoration of law and order and to revive economic activity in provinces detracted them from looking after their units and formations simply because they did not have enough time left.
While learning the art of politics they gradually became distant from their primary function of soldiering.— Extracts from page 12
- The Report accuses General Niazi for things as low as smuggling of pan and nocturnal visits to places [pg 15 ] there were other glaring cases of moral lapse among the officers posted in the highest ranks in East, which had a direct impact on qualities of leadership and determination displayed by officers in 1971. Men given such a disreputable way of life could not hardly be expected to lead the army to victory.
Pakistan Air force in 1971 War.
Pakistan Air force in the East only had a single base with a single runway. Only one squadron of 12 F-86 sabres was available and almost the same number of pilots. There was no high level radar, only a low level radar which could see up to 20 - 25 miles, thus PAF only had 4 minutes time to scramble interceptors when it received alert from low level radar. Initially PAF efficiently provided all sort of air support to Pak army during anti insurgency operations. 3 out of 12 aircraft were already down before the outbreak of war thus PAF had only 9 aircraft against India's 10 squadrons. Dhaka runway was protected by light anti aircraft artillery which had a range of 7000 ft and this was not sufficient to provide ample protection against Indian Canberra bombers, consequently Dhaka runway was extensively cratered and the Entire PAF was grounded by 6 December. All pilots were evacuated to Burma.
In all the PAF shot 11 Indian aircrafts during the 3 day combat phase from 3 - 6 December.
Blunders of Yahya Khan
Yahya Khan, Chief Martial Law Administrator at that time played a major role in aggravating the worsening political situation in East. Though under Yahya, free and fair elections were held in 1970, their results were astounding. Sheikh Mujib's Awami League had won a complete majority in East Pakistan while Bhutto's PPP had a complete majority in West Pakistan. West Pakistani politicians were not willing to accept a Bengali led government. Yahya should have honored the outcome of elections but swayed by the ill-advice of self centered West Pakistani politicians, he postponed the first national assembly session due to be held in Dhaka on 2nd March. This infuriated East Pakistanis, and subsequently violence ensued throughout the province.
Yahya also abolished the one unit system which revived provincial rivalries. In doing so he undid what was achieved with great effort.
Yahya failed to negotiate with Sheikh Mujib and declared military action on 26 March.
Flawed Military Strategy of the Pakistan Army
Operational Instruction given by Easter Command were to maintain a "forward defensive posture" by building fortresses and strong points consisting of major towns and district headquarters all around the province. These were expected to be made self sufficient in terms of logistics and men. They were also expected to act as jumping off points to attack enemy from flanks or from behind if bypassed. Dhaka was also to be converted into a fortress and defended at all costs.
Thus 25 fortresses and 9 strong points were envisaged around the border. Troops involved in the counter insurgency operation were to fall back to these fortresses in the event of Indian Invasion and were to hold the enemy with delaying actions.
The fortress concept was utterly inappropriate to counter the huge Indian invasion from all sides in the hostile conditions prevailing in East Pakistan at that time on account of following reasons.
- Their were neither enough men nor the equipment to properly man all of these fortresses. There were only 29 battalions at Niazi's disposal clearly not enough to fulfill the requirement.
- Evidence shows that these fortresses did not have protective defenses capable of withstanding armored attacks. [pg 71]
- Their were no reserves with any of the local commanders to strike the enemy from behind if bypassed.
- Due to hostile local population and Mukti bahini conducting guerrilla raids and ambushes, it was not possible that tropes could move freely in order to mutually support other fortresses or withdraw to Dhaka triangle if overpowered.
- In most cases the withdrawal was a disorderly retreat leaving weapons and equipment behind.
Big rivers posed serious hurdles in movement and while all sort of local watercraft was extended for the Indians, our troops couldn't locate their ferries when they retreated across Jamuna river!
Niazi had ordered that no retreat was to take place until 75% casualties are suffered which caused significant loss to the army. Further their were no logistical arrangements made for the troops to fall back to Dhaka if it was threatened by the enemy and consequently none of our brigades could retreat to take up the defenses of Dhaka.
Had General Niazi focused on concentrating its troops around Dhaka behind the big rivers and other natural obstacles he could have defended it for a much longer time.
The Traditional Concept
The traditional concept adopted by Pakistan army was that defense of the East lies in the West.
On 3rd December western front was opened by Pakistan by preemptive air strikes on IAFs froward airfields. It hoped that by gaining territory on the western side it will trade it back to compensate for the territory lost in the East in an event of cease fire.
Unfortunately the delay in opening the western front and the half-hearted and hesitant manner in which it was ultimately opened only hastened the catastrophe in East. India now had the excuse to invade East and Army offensive in West could not even capture Amritsar or Jammu while the Indians had almost captured Dhaka including most of the countryside. Accepting ceasefire without significant captured territory meant nothing next to a surrender.
Events Of 1971 War, Eastern Front
On 21st November 1971 India in collaboration with Mukti Bahni started guerrilla raids inside Pakistani territory and on 3rd December it invaded East Pakistan in naked aggression with 7 divisions, 3 brigades and several Mukti brigades along-with with full complement of service arms.
Indians realizing the importance of Dhaka as the military and political lynch pin advanced orderly towards it from all directions by passing and avoiding confrontations by Pakistani fortresses wherever possible. Main Indian thrust came from the Eastern Sector which provided shortest possible rout to Dhaka.
By 6th December entire PAF was grounded owing to extensive cratering of Dhaka runway by Indian bombers. The enemy had already achieved mastery of air.
On the fourth day of all out war on 7th December major fortresses of Jessore and Jhendiah in western sector and Brahmanbaria in Eastern sector were shamefully abandoned without a fight. 107th brigade withdrew to Khulna thus being isolated from Dhaka, while 57th brigade after abandoning Jhendiah retreated and made no contribution to war. On 8th December Commillia fortress was isolated by encirclement from all sides. On 9th December 2 more fortresses of Laksham and Kushtia were abandoned. 97th brigade remained isolated in Chittagong and made no contribution. Entire 39th division thus disintegrated, the same day Indians had reached the Meghna river after overcoming increasingly sporadic and dispirited resistance, stage was now set for the invasion of Dhaka.
Pakistan's 14th division could do nothing to halt the Indian advance as two of its brigades 313th and 202nd were trapped by encirclement in the remote town of Sylhet, while 27th brigade stood demoralized.
Even Hilli where a determined battle had been fought was abandoned on 10th December though elements of 205th brigade held on to the village of Bogra till the end.
93rd brigade retreating from Meymansingh to protect the capitol Dhaka got entangled with Indian paratroopers and disintegrated along the way.
The Final Moments before Surrender
By 14th December Indians had reached within few miles of Dhaka, none of the Pakistani Brigade could arrive to take up the defenses of the Capitol. Only 36th brigade (original garrison) was present.
General Niazi had been painting a desperate picture of the situation in his messages to president by sending overly exaggerated and unduly pessimistic reports. GHQ Rawalpindi however insisted to hold on to Dhaka at least until the United Nations Security Council gave its decision.
On 14th December President sent a signal to Niazi (exact wordings quoted).
"For Governor and General Niazi from President. Governor's flash messages to me refers you have fought a heroic battle against overwhelming odds the nation is proud of you and world full of admiration. I have done all that is humanly possible to find an acceptable solution to the problem. You have now reached a stage where further resistance is no longer humanly possible nor it will serve any useful propose. You should now take all necessary measures to STOP FIGHTING and take all necessary measures to preserve the lives of all armed force personal all those from west and loyal elements meanwhile I have moved UN to URGE India to to stop hostilities in East Pakistan forthwith and guarantee the safety of all armed force and all other people likely to be target of miscreants."
This radio message was sent as unclassified and thus was clearly intercepted by the Indians. With this desperate message our weakness was thoroughly exposed both in front of Indian generals and the rest of the world. It had a very damaging impact on our case in the UN Security Council. It was difficult to see how we could expect to secure any success there with this open confession of our weakness and clear willingness to accept any terms in ceasefire. Even friendly nations could hardly help after this.
General Niazi asserts that this message was an order for him to surrender, however carefully examining the tone of this message it can be concluded that in fact Niazi was only authorized to surrender and not ordered for it (keeping in mind the exaggerated reports sent by him to GHQ) if he in his own judgement felt that it was impossible to fight.
At the time of surrender Niazi according to his own estimates had 26,400 troops in uniform and he could have held out for no less then two weeks because the enemy required a week to gather its forces around Dhaka and another week to reduce the Fortress. He could have died a hero if he had done so but he had already lost the will to fight and had suffered a complete moral collapse. [pg 74]
Set aside his military failures he instead made history for India! by presenting a guard of honor to victorious Indian general and agreeing to surrender in public.
On 15th December therefore, through US diplomatic channels Niazi proposed a cease fire to Indian General Manekshaw which was accepted and as we had mentioned earlier in those circumstances this equaled an unconditional surrender.
What, in your opinion was the ultimate cause of surrender in East Pakistan?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 StormsHalted