Bypassing the Pakistani defensive positions completely threw Niazis forward posture of balance, and he was never able to recover from it.
To complicate matters, a number of clearing operations were undertaken in the interior. Three noteworthy operations were organised: one to clear both sides of the Brahmaputra from Nagalbari Chat to Phulchari Ghat; the second to flush out guerillas of the Siddiqui group from the general area of Tangail-Mirzapur; and the third in Dacca city itself and in its vicinity. This resulted in a wide dispersal of troops and consequently loss of cohesion. Deployed on the forward posture along the border in a thin, long line, Niazi’s troops were getting into fixed positions, thus losing the ability to manoeuvre and obtain freedom of action. The sector reserves envisaged in the operational plan had by now been dissipated, and the original concept of fighting from strong points had gone by the board.
Meanwhile, the Indian Army had absorbed some good lessons from these preliminary engagements to modify suitably its original tactical plans. It was realised that wherever troops attacked fortified defensive positions the Pakistanis fought with courage and rare doggedness, as at Hilli and Kamalpur. The attacking troops suffered heavy casualities, and took inordinately long to clear the opposition.
It became apparent that the orthodox concept of step-by-step reduction of fortified defensive positions would not only prove costly in casualities but in time as well, and this was not acceptable in the context of the short war envisaged in the Indian operational plan. The solution therefore suggested itself that for speedy victory bypassing fortified positions was imperative. The collapse of the Pakistani Army in the eastern wing could only be achieved by out manoeuvring it and not by set-piece battles.
The collapse of the Pakistani Army in the eastern wing could only be achieved by out manoeuvring it and not by set-piece battles.
In this regard, the policy of provocative occupation of sensitive areas paid off. Niazi reacted very violently, launching repeated and often hurried counterattacks, suffering heavy casualties and causing his troops to lose their spirits well before the start of the actual war. For instance, Niazi lost 13 tanks and three aircraft in the Bayra battle besides large numbers of men, which he could ill afford, especially because of the precarious and long sea routes to his parent bases.
These initial Mukti Bahini operations helped the Indian Army, which got to know the Pakistani pattern and concept of fighting. In some instances, the initial ingress helped to cross obstacles close to the start lines well ahead of the opening of hostilities. The complete switchover from the original concept of direct to indirect approach, later explained as an “expanding torrent,” was itself a great achievement for a tradition-bound orthodox army. This switchover laid the foundation for the eventual Indian victory. Bypassing the Pakistani defensive positions completely threw Niazi’s forward posture of balance, and he was never able to recover from it.
Pakistani aircraft appeared over the forward Indian airfields, and started taking warlike action in the style of the preemptive Israeli attack on Egypt in 1967.
The day after the Bayra battle, Yahya Khan appealed to the UN once again saying: “I am addressing this message to you with a deep sense of urgency in view of the grave situation which has arisen in my country as a result of unprovoked and largescale attacks by Indian armed forces on various parts of Pakistan.” The Indian spokesman, replying to his charges of Indian aggression, said: “It is Bengali guerillas who are described as the Indian Army.”
At a banquet held in honour of a visiting Chinese delegation led by Li-Shui-ching, Minister of Machine Building, Yahya Khan declared almost prophetically: “In ten days time I may not be here in Pindi. I may be fighting a war.” The war did come off within this period, triggered by the gradual escalation of pressures exerted by the Mukti Bahini. On 2 December, a battle raged in the general area of Akhaura in defence of Agartala, headquarters of the Indian state of Tripura. Mrs Gandhi visited refugee camps in Calcutta on 3 December. She told a mass rally in the city: “India stands for peace, but if a war is thrust on us we are prepared to fight.” Denying the accusation that India was out to dismember Pakistan, she added: “No country would want an unstable neighbour… But at the same time India cannot ignore the fact that it has hrice been attacked by Pakistan.” And she conveyed in no uncertain terms that “India could no longer be pressurised and prevented from doing what she considered to be in her national intrest.” Obviously referring to American and other international pressures, she declared: “Today India can stand on her own legs if all foreign aid is stopped. We are not dependent on anyone, and we have the strength to overcome all difficulties.”
When Mrs Gandhi was informed in Calcutta, she flew at once to Delhi to address the nation. “The war in Bangladesh has become a war on India,” she said.
The same day, at 5.30 p.m., Yahya Khan opted for allout war against India. Pakistani aircraft appeared over the forward Indian airfields, and started taking warlike action in the style of the preemptive Israeli attack on Egypt in 1967. The first news of it trickled in at Army Headquarters after about five to ten minutes through the wife of an officer of the Military Intelligence Directorate who was visiting her parents at Amritsar. She vividly described the strafing of an air force radar station as seen from her bedroom window. The Chief received the news with his usual nonchalance and remarked to the officer giving him the tidings: “Don’t look so scared, sweetie. Do I look worried?”
How unexpected the timing of this war was to New Delhi may be judged from the fact that the Prime Minister was visiting Calcutta, Defence Minister Jagjivan Ram was visiting his constituency in Bihar, Finance Minister Chavan was in Bombay, and President Giri was attending a reception on the lawns of Parliament House when an air alert was sounded at 5.45 p.m. When Mrs Gandhi was informed in Calcutta, she flew at once to Delhi to address the nation. “The war in Bangladesh has become a war on India,” she said. Proclaiming a state of emergency, she assured the nation that the wanton and unprovoked aggression by Pakistan will be repelled.” As she spoke, Indian forces both on the western and eastern fronts were engaged in war. This was the culmination of the gradual escalation which started with the Pakistan crackdown in East Pakistan on 25 March.