Pakistani General A A K Niyazi signing the surrender document
In the beginning of 2019,US State Department released Volume XI of the “Foreign Relations of the United States” devoted to the “South Asia Crisis, 1971”. This 929-page publication has documents like the “Minutes of Henry Kissinger's Secret Visit to China in July 1971” as well as scores of freshly declassified material available for the first time to the public, less known angles of Indo-Pak War and role of the nascent friendship between the United States and China.
Another document which throws light on said war is “Hamidur Rahman Report” ordered by the Government of Pakistan under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto which points out the defeat in war with brutal frankness in thus: “Due to corruption, lust for wine and women and greed for land and houses; a large number of senior Army Officers, particularly those occupying the highest positions, had not only lost the will to fight but also the professional competence necessary for taking the vital and critical decisions demanded of them for the successful prosecution of the war”.
According to National Security Adviser to the President of America, Dr Henry Kissinger; “When President Richard M Nixon assumed office, our policy objective on Indian Subcontinent was, “To avoid adding another complication to our agenda”.
Unfurling events and involvement of Field Marshal Yahya Khan, Marshal Law Administrator of Pakistan, as a secret mediator between US and China had bid impact on US Policy. This Chinese Factor compelled Nixon to change his stand and therefore, even before actual fighting/war, Nixon Administration tilted toward Pakistan. This tilt ultimately culminated in dispatch of their Eighth Fleet with its Flag Ship Nuclear Aircraft Carrier USS Enterprise to Bay of Bengal to intimidate Indian Government under Mrs Indira Ghandhi.
Side by side, this also involved encouraging China to make Military Moves on Indian Northern Front with an assurance to China, “If China threatened India and the Soviet Union moved against China in support of India, the United States would protect China from the Soviet Union”. China though agreed in principal, chose not to initiate any military Action. This wise move by China, avoided crisis on the subcontinent which might have developed in to World War III in form of Nuclear Confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union.'
“South Asia Crisis, 1971” gives out background of the conflict from US Point of View. Richard. Nixon's position was clear: 'We should just stay out, like in Biafra, what the hell can we do?' Report also points out that everybody did not agree with him. In a telegram sent on 28 March 1971, staff at the US Consulate in Dhaka made it clear that “Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy (in East Pakistan). Our government has failed to denounce atrocities (on people of East Pakistan). 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”.
When US Secretary of State Will Rogers received this cable, he apprised President Richard Nixon that “Dacca (Dhaka) Consulate is in open rebellion.' This did not change President’s opinion: “People who bitch about (our involvement in) Vietnam, bitch about it because we intervened in what they say is a Civil War. Now some of the same bastards want us to intervene here (when) both (are) Civil Wars.' Even before beginning of conflict, Nixon Administration knew that “Prospects were poor, Pakistani Army would not be able to exert effective control over East Pakistan”.
President Nixon believed India will support Mujibur Rahman. The CIA had reported to the President that “India would foster and support Bengali insurgency and contribute to the likelihood that an independent Bangladesh would emerge from the developing conflict”. Therefore, to counter this possibility, President Richard Nixon had started establishing contacts with China through Pakistani President, Field Marshal Yahya Khan.
On a Note dated 28 April, 1971, forwarded to President, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger had defined America’s “Future Policy Option towards Pakistan”. President has replied in a handwritten note: “Don't squeeze Yahya at this time”. Yahya Khan was not to be squeezed because he was in the process of arranging Kissinger's first secret meeting to China. The events of the following months and the US position should be seen in this perspective.
In May, 1971, Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi wrote to President Richard Nixon about the “Carnage in East Bengal and the flood of Refugees burdening India”. After this, Indian Ambassador to US Mr L K Jha, had warned Henry Kissinger in writing that, “India might have to send back some of the refugees as guerillas (in East Pakistan to help Mujib)”, President of America put his comments on the note saying, “By God we will cut off economic aid (to India)”.
In a conversation with his National Security Advisor a few days later, US President said “Goddamn Indians' are preparing for another war”, on which Henry Kissinger retorted “They are the most aggressive goddamn people around”.
In second week of July, 1971, Henry Kissinger went to Beijing. There in a conversation he was told by then Chinese Prime Minister Chou En Lai: “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”.
Kissinger answered that “Chou should know that the US sympathies also lay with Pakistan”. On Kissinger’s return from China; in a meeting of the National Security Council, Nixon continued his India bashing, “The Indians are a slippery, treacherous people”.
The Report points out that “In the perspective of Washington, the crisis ratcheted up a dangerous notch on 09 August,1971, when India and the Soviet Union signed “A Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation”. It was a shock for Washington as they saw a deliberate collusion between Delhi and Moscow.
As the time went by, situation in Sub Continent deteriorated and many more refugees poured in India. Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi decided to tour Western Capitals to explain the Indian stand. During the course of her tour, she met President Richard Nixon in Washington on 04/05 November 1971, when he opined that “A new war in the subcontinent was out of the question”. On next day, Nixon and Kissinger assessed the situation wherein Kissinger told Nixon: “The Indians are bastards anyway. They are plotting a war”. In the course of events, Pakistan Air Force launched an attack on nine Indian Airfields in Kashmir and Punjab on 03 December 1971 to divert the pressure applied by the Mukti Bahini on the Eastern Front. Third Indo-Pak War has just begun.
On 04 December 1971, US Ambassador to the United Nations George H W Bush (later 41st President of the United States) introduced a resolution in the UN Security Council calling for a Cease Fire and immediate withdrawal of Indian Army. This resolution was “Vetoed” by the Soviet Union.
The following days witnessed a great pressure on the Soviet President Leonad Breznev from the Nixon Kissinger duo to get India to withdraw. Breznev did not pay any heed to this pressure tactics by Americans. On same day, CIA reported to the President; “She (Indira Gandhi) hopes the Chinese (will) not intervene physically in the North; however, the Soviets have warned her that the Chinese are still able to "rattle the sword" in Ladakh and Chumbi areas”.
It was very clear to American National Security Advisor that Indira Gandhi wanted the dismemberment of Pakistan. On 09 December1971, CIA warned President Richard Nixon that “East Pakistan was crumbling” and that was when the President decided to send Eighth Fleet with is Flag Ship, Nuclear Aircraft Carrier USS Enterprise into Bay of Bengal to threaten India.
On 11 December 1971, briefing was held for the Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi in Operational Room where COAS, General S H F J Manekshaw and CONS, Admiral S M Nanda were present. During the course of the presentation, Admiral Nanda intervened and said: “Madam, the US 8th Fleet is sailing into the Bay of Bengal”. Nothing happened; the briefing continued. After sometime, Admiral repeated, “Madam, I have to inform you that the 8th Fleet is sailing into the Bay of Bengal”. Mrs Gandhi cut him off immediately: Admiral, I heard you the first time, let us go on with the briefing”.
All officers in War Room were stunned. But morale of those present in War Room and those who later heard this later was tremendously boosted by the Prime Minister's attitude for she had demonstrated her utter contempt for the American bluff.
On same day, President Richard Nixon instructed Henry Kissinger to ask the Chinese to move some troops toward the Indian frontier; “Threaten to move forces or move them, Henry, that's what they must do now”. This was conveyed to Huang Hua, Chinese Ambassador to United Nations with the assurance that “US would be prepared for a military confrontation with the Soviet Union if the Soviet Union attacked China”.
Until the last day of the war, Pakistan expected its Chinese savior to strike, but Beijing never did. Myth of the Chinese intervention is also visible in the secret Pakistani dispatches. 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”.'
President Richard Nixon analysed the situation as; “If the Russians get away with facing down the Chinese and the Indians get away with licking the Pakistanis...we may be looking down the gun barrel”. Finally, on afternoon of 16 December 1971, Lieutenant General A A K Niazi surrendered to Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora in front of lacs of people at Dhaka Race Course Ground.
President Richard Nixon and his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger congratulated themselves for achieving their fundamental goal, preservation of West Pakistan. They were also happy for having “scared the pants off the Russians”.
This American Report does not mention two things which I, as a young participant in this war, had the honour to witness; Tibetan participation in the conflict and participation of Bangla Desh ”Kilo Flight” in War.
After the debacle of 1962, the Government of India had recruited some Tibetans youth in the eventuality of another conflict with China. The Special Frontier Force was trained in Chakrata in Uttar Pradesh. In 1971, SFF was sent to East Pakistan to prepare for the arrival of regular Indian troops. Their saga is one of the least known parts of the Bangladesh war. Late October 1971, an AN-12 airlifted Tibetans who later assembled at Demagiri close to the India-East Pakistan border.
On the other side of the border were the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Armed with Bulgarian-made assault rifles, the SFF of which I was also a part, was given the task of organising guerrilla raids across the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Opposite the SSF, in thick jungles and leech-infested marshes, was stationed a Pakistan Brigade, including a battalion of its elite Special Services Group. Indian army knew this brigade was a threat to one of its corps preparing to advance on Dhaka.
During second week of November, Operation Eagle began. Leaving Demagiri in canoes, the Tibetans commandos entered East Pakistan. The SFF then started overrunning one Pakistani post after another. By the time the war was officially declared, the Tibetans had already been inside East Pakistan for more than three weeks. Using both their Bulgarian rifles and native knives, they advanced swiftly. On 16 December 1971, SSF was 40 km away from Chittagong port, having successfully managed to neutralise Pakistani Brigade. Unfortunately, 49 Tibetans lost their lives for a nation which was not theirs.
So, on 28th September, 1971 at Dimapur, Nagaland in India, the Bangladesh Air Force was formed by aircrafts given by the IAF. A DC-3 Dakota given by the Maharaja of Jodhpur, a DHC-3 Otter aircraft and an Alouette-3 helicopter formed the Bangladesh Air Force. Dakota aircraft flew from the old 5000 feet long Dimapur runway and carried 10 bombs of 226 kgs for low level bombing, while a bomb rack was installed to hold 5 bombs of 1000 pounds each. The bombing operation from these aircraft needed an officer to manually push the bombs off the rack after the pilot informed him.
This Dakota aircraft was used in night time bombing inside Bangladesh as the PAF was unable to strike back at night time.DHC-3 Otter Aircraft was armed with 7 Rockets under the wings and could deliver ten bombs of 11.5 kgs each, which were rolled out from the aircraft by a makeshift door. The Otter was used in the first air strike of the Kilo Flight inside Bangladesh against Pakistani forces.
The Otter flew from Kaliasahar airport in India and flew up to the Chittagong airport and blew up two fuel tanks and damaged the fuel Depot. They were met with Pakistani AA fire but they made it out after the raid and flew back to base. The Alouette-3 helicopter was armed with 14 rockets attached to it's pylons with a twin barrel .303 Browning MG installed underneath it's main helicopter pod. The helicopter floor had a 1 inch steel plate welded to it's floor. This helicopter flew in an airstrike on the Godnail Depot of the PAF, blowing out 5 fuel tanks with rockets. They had flown there all the way from near the border close to the Bangladeshi town of Akhaura and after the airstrike, they returned to Teliamura in India.
These first missions of Kilo Flight were before 04 December 1971, a day later the official battle of the Indo-Pakistan war had actually began. After 04 December, the Otter aircraft flew missions in airstrikes on Shylet, Comilla, Narsingdi and Daudkandi. The Alouette-3 helicopter attacked on Pakistani troops retreating from Shylet towards the Bhairab and was also met with ground fire. Also on the air lift of Indian troops across the Meghna river- the first airlift of the IAF Kilo Flight was also a part of the air cover. The Otter aircraft was the first aircraft to land on the Tezgaon airfield after 17 December.
The release of the State Department volume on the 1971 conflict is a posthumous homage to the courage of the Indian Army which despite heavy odds and the might of the United States freed Bangladesh from Pakistani clutches. Some aspects are still missing to make the puzzle complete. (A) Indian history from the Ministry of Defence does not detail the political compulsions of Indira Gandhi's government; (B) Operation involving the Tibetan Special Frontier Forces in the Chittagong Hill Tracts is virtually unknown, and, (C) . Chinese involvement from the Chinese point of view remains unexamined.
Like the Henderson Brooks' report on the 1962 border war with China, it may take a few decades more to be revealed.