On the map, Bangladesh looks like the head of a female stag with stunted horns pointing towards Siliguri, and its narrow neck is represented by the Agartala bulge. The country is landlocked on three sides: by the Indian states of West Bengal in the west; West Bengal and Meghalaya in the north; Tripura and Mizoram in the east, and Burma in the lower regions opposite Cox’s Bazaar. The southern portion is open to the Bay of Bengal.
Three major rivers flow through Bangladesh, and they are so broad that it is difficult at places to see one bank from the other. Before they empty into the Bay of Bengal, they form vast deltas that run far inland, almost reaching the heart of the country. Most of the inland traffic consists of steamers and boats plying on these rivers, which are dotted with inland ports handling sizable quantities of commercial goods and passenger traffic.
The Brahmaputra, known as the Jamuna in Bangladesh, runs from north to south and divides the country roughly in the middle.
The Brahmaputra, known as the Jamuna in Bangladesh, runs from north to south and divides the country roughly in the middle. The western half is again divided in two at the waist by the Ganga or Padma running northwest to southeast and joining the Jamuna north of Faridpur. The Meghna flows from the northeast parallel to the eastern border with India and joins the Jamuna south of Dacca. Thus Bangladesh is divided by these rivers into four distinct regions or sectors :
(a) Northwestern sector : includes the general areas of Dinajpur, Rangpur and Rajshahi north of the Ganga and west of the Jamuna.
(b) Southwestern sector : includes the general areas of Jessore, Khulna, Faridpur and Kushtia lying south of west of the Ganga and Padma.
(c) Northern sector : covers the general areas of Dacca, Tangail and Mymensingh lying between the Jamuna and the Meghna.
(d) Eastern sector : lies east of the Meghna and includes the general areas of Sylhet, Comilla and Chittagong.
With the exception of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and Sylhet, the countryside is generally flat and lowlying paddy land, waterlogged and intersected by numerous rivers and rivulets. The southern regions are covered by a large number of hills or lakes and swamps. The monsoon breaks in full force by the middle of May and runs into the first week of October. The main crops are paddy and jute.
Bridging these mighty rivers would call for great engineering skill and effort.
The road and rail systems generally run north to south between the rivers and serve the main towns. A peculiar feature common to both are the numerous ferries linking various segments. Bridging these mighty rivers would call for great engineering skill and effort. Only two rail and road bridges existed for trans-sector traffic, Hardinge Bridge joining the northwestern and southwestern sectors near Ishurdi and Pabna, and the Bhairab Bazaar bridge connecting the northern and eastern sectors near Ashuganj.
There were a few arterial roads and a number of subsidiary ones, both metalled and unmetalled. Much of the surface communication was by inland water transport. The airport for international traffic was at Dacca, which was connected with other sectors by subsidiary airfields near the main urban centres. These fields were fit for short-landing aircraft and were well served by the internal flights of Pakistan International Airlines.
Much of the surface communication was by inland water transport.
The lowlying countryside, heavy monsoon rains, paucity of surface communications and mighty rivers combined to make Bangladesh a military planner’s nightmare. The Indian Army’s advance in this terrain, especially in the context of a short and swift campaign, needed vast engineering resources in the way of bridging equipment, assault and river craft and other requirements which could not be mustered even by pooling the entire country’s resources. Those who had fought in Burma in World War II knew the problems of fighting in lowlying paddy land, and as a result of this doubted our chances of quick success in the quagmire of Bangladesh.
From the early 1960s, the Indian high command had been forced to have contingency plans for defence against Pakistan in the west and east and against China in the north. On account of China’s active political support to Pakistan, the spectre of having to fight on three fronts had always been present. The Chinese did not come in on Pakistan’s side in the 1965 Indo-Pak hostilities, but they issued an ultimatum and we were forced to retain almost all our troops facing them in their operational locations.1 A similar situation now faced the country, except that we would have preferred to localise the hostilities to Bangladesh. The military planners had therefore to think how best we could achieve our aims within the resources available.
The lowlying countryside, heavy monsoon rains, paucity of surface communications and mighty rivers combined to make Bangladesh a military planners nightmare.
It would be worthwhile here to take a look at India’s strength vis-a-vis its potential enemy. In the west, Pakistan had about ten infantry and two armoured divisions, two independent armoured brigades, two artillery brigades, two independent infantry brigades and a couple of armoured regiments. The infantry divisions included the two being raised to replace 9 and 16 Divisions sent out to reinforce their Eastern Command in Bangladesh. Against this, India had 12 infantry divisions, one armoured division, three artillery brigades, two independent infantry brigades, two armoured brigades and one independent para brigade. Thus India had a marginal advantage in infantry, but this was offset by Pakistan’s edge in armour.