Military & Aerospace

1971 War on the Western Front: Observations, Comments and Lessons
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It was appreciated that in the West, Pakistan’s strategy would be to secure significant territory in Jammu and Kashmir which she could retain after the war and at the same time to launch a major offensive in the plains area of Jammu, Punjab or Northern Rajasthan with a view to capturing important territory and inflicting maximum possible destruction on India’s Armed strength. Such a strategy would prevent India from going all out in East Pakistan, providing time for intervention by United Nations/other friendly powers and compensates for any Pakistani losses there. The Indian strategy was to undertake a major offensive in the East and adopt a posture of offensive defence in the West. Such a strategy would enable liberation of East Pakistan and at the same time prevent Pakistan from making any significant gains in the West.

In the implementation of the strategy, Pakistan really launched two worthwhile offensives, one in the hill area of Punch and the other in the plains area of Chhamb. The Punch offensive made little progress mainly due to Pakistan not pressing home the attacks; and dogged resistance and timely reinforcements by the Indians. The Chhamb offensive partially succeeded, but was not fully exploited. Although the Indians initially did not organize themselves effectively for offensive in this sector (Chhamb) and lost grip, ultimately, they adopted a more aggressive posture and regained control. According to later reports, apart from these two offensives, Pakistan had planned a major offensive in the Fazilka-Ganganagar area with her Southern strategic reserve, with a view to securing objectives in depth and inflicting attrition on the Indian Armed Forces, However, this offensive did not materialize, as Pakistan had split up the available reserve, in order to reinforce the Sialkot Sector against the Indian offensive in the Shakargarh bulge, and also to reinforce the Sind Sector. Thus, Pakistan gained nothing worthwhile in the West; and at the same time lost her Eastern Wing. Although she had the initiative and was the first to strike in the West, she could not implement her strategy with determination and vigour and thus failed. In this connection, it would be worth quoting what Maj. Gen. Fazal Muqeem Khan said in his candid book, “Pakistan’s Crisis in Leadership”:

“It appeared only logical that in the event of an attack on East Pakistan, the Army would seize the initiative in West Pakistan immediately at the start of hostilities and launch an offensive with a view to capturing maximum possible Indian territory of strategic and political significance. At the same time, the Army was to deny similar territory in Pakistan to India. This was the mission, to achieve which the planners worked day and night and they succeeded in producing a very good plan indeed’.

“The plan, it appears, revolved around a counter offensive to be launched by a Corps with an armoured division and two infantry divisions. After its initial attack, if need be, this force was to be reinforced with more infantry and armour as a result of regrouping. The remainder of the Army was to perform mainly a holding role.

“…There appears to have been heated discussions on the timing of launching the counter offensive. One school of thought presumably led by the Chief of the General Staff, believed that the reaction to an Indian invasion of East Pakistan must start with an all-out offensive by the strike Corps, but it seems that he did not persist sufficiently in getting his view point accepted. The second school maintained that holding formations must first carry out preliminary operations to fix the enemy and to divert his attention to these operations in order to facilitate the subsequent launching of the offensive.

The plan approved was the latter one, consisting of preliminary operations followed by counter-offensive.

“…The plan produced by the General Staff, on the whole, was a good plan by any standard of judgement. It was most creditable for the planners that in face of Indian superiority, they had been able to muster so much reserve. The plan itself was bold, simple and easy to implement. There was also a tinge of gamble in it but all this suited the Pakistani character. General Yahya Khan called it a unique plan. The officers who knew the plan were most enthusiastic about it and were certain that it would succeed if launched on time and as a whole.”

Later on, Fazal Muqeem Khan continues:

“In short the preliminary plan had created a favourable situation for the counter-offensive to be launched. It would also be remembered that this was the most crucial time for our troops in East Pakistan where a success in West Pakistan would have galvanized the hard pressed garrisons in East Pakistan. No orders had however been issued to the reserve Corps for launching their counter offensive.

“…From December 7 onwards the pressure to launch a counter-offensive started mounting on the COS Army. The Director of Military Operations and his Deputy continued warning him that time was slipping by and gradually the initiative was being snatched away by India … After 33 Division had been split — a most unwise decision – the counter offensive plan had been revised and in anticipation of orders to launch the operation, the DMO and his Staff sat for whole night on December 12 and produced the operational instructions for the revised counter offensive plan. At last on December 13, at 9 A.M. the COS gave his approval for the attack to go ahead. Operational instructions were at once placed before him and after his signature, were flown by special air courier to all concerned. The attack was to go on the morning of December 16. Later it was postponed for 24 hours.

“On the evening of December 16, during a normal briefing, the COS abruptly said: ‘freeze Tikka’, and the loyal staff ‘froze’ the offensive without any argument. This was the same time when the President was broadcasting to the nation that, by accepting a ceasefire in East Pakistan they had lost only a battle and not the war and was assuring the people that war would continue.”

As far as the Indian strategy was concerned, in the East, it was a complete success, in that, East Pakistan was fully liberated and a new country Bangladesh was created In the West, the strategy of offensive defence comprised largerly remaining on the defensive all along the front and launching a few offensives, with a view to tying down the Pakistani forces and preventing them from making any worthwhile gains. Thus, in Jammu and Kashmir, largely, local offensives were undertaken to improve the defensive posture and these had generally succeeded. In the plains sector opposite Jammu-Pathankot-Gurdaspur, it was planned to launch a major offensive towards Gujarat-Marala Headworks-Shakargarh Bulge with a view to securing the line up to the Marala-Ravi link canal. This would remove the threat to the lines of communication of Jammu and Kashmir, and at the same time he down the Pakistani GHQ reserve in the North. In the Punjab, an adequate reserve comprising 1 Armoured Division was retained to counter any actions of the Pakistani Southern GHQ reserve and to undertake an offensive if an opportunity offered itself. Further South, in Rajasthan, a limited offensive was undertaken with a view to tying down the Pakistani forces in the area. In the implementation of the strategy, the Indians could have been more aggressive and vigorous. Due to the Pakistani attack in the Chhamb Sector, the planned offensive towards Gujarat and Marala Head works could not take place. In the Shakargarh Bulge, while the possibility of a Pakistani riposte was always there, it is for consideration whether a concentrated and deeper thrust, would not have automatically engaged the Pakistani reserve and thus prevented them from undertaking a counter offensive elsewhere. At the same time, it must be remembered that Pakistan could concentrate greater armour strength in the Sector.

While 54 Infantry Division was reasonably aggressive, the same cannot be said of the other formations of the Corps. All that was achieved was that, only the main covering position was contacted and engaged, and the Pakistani reserve did not really come into play. In the Punjab, there is no excuse for the reverses in the Ferozepur and Fazilka areas; and the situtation could have become quite dangerous, if the Pakistanis had fully exploited the opportunities that came their way. Further South in the Rajasthan Sector, it is for consideration whether a stronger offensive in one of the two Sectors (Jaisalmer of Barmer) and a basically defensive posture in the other Sector, would not have been more advantageous. As it happened, the main defences at Nayachor were contacted, but the Green Belt could not be reached. In the other Sector (jaisalmer), what could have developed into a very embarrassing situation, was prevented by the timely and effective counter-action by the Indian Air Force.

On the whole, the Indian strategy in the West generally succeeded, in that it prevented the Pakistanis from achieving their objectives. However, the results could have been more worthwhile, if the strategy was more vigorously implemented.

It will be recalled that the United States Seventh Fleet entered the Bay of Bengal towards the later stages of the campaign, ostensibly, to help in evacuating the Pakistani army from the East. It came to light later that the American intention in despatching the Fleet, was to send a message to the Indians, that they would not tolerate overrunning or dismembering of West Pakistan by the Indians, after completing their task in East Pakistan. Mr. Henry Kissinger, the United States Secretary of State, revealed this, in unambiguous terms in his Book, ‘The White House Years’: “In explaining the purpose of the fleet movement to Me! Laird, I pointed out that we recognized the Indian occupation of East Pakistan as an accomplished fact; our objective was to scare off an attack on West Pakistan,” The Anderson papers also bring out this aspect. However, it must be clarified, that the Indian intention was never to prosecute major offensive operations in the West or dismember West Pakistan. Right from the outset, it was made clear that the Indian intention was only to help the Bengalis liberate themselves in the East. Thus, as soon as the task in the East was accomplished by the Indian Armed Forces, the Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi announced a ceasefire on December 17 and terminated all operations. Under the circumstances, it is somewhat intriguing that the United States should have chosen to interfere in the war at all. The tilt towards Pakistan, culminating in the despatch of the Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal, created such an adverse impact on the Indian mind of American intentions, that it cannot be erased for a long time to come. When an oppressed people were .struggling for liberation from what they considered to be foreign yoke and when India had explored all possible avenues to avert war, the American stand of supporting the oppressor (Pakistan) became difficult to understand for the Indians.

Defensive Operations

As has been brought out earlier, Pakistan launched major attacks in really two Sectors, namely Punch and Chhamb. It has also been brought out that the role of the Indian Forces in Jammu and Kashmir was basically defensive. Different lessons emerge in the two Sectors, in Punch, it was a successful defensive battle, while in the Chhamb Sector, the planning and conduct of the defensive battle left much to be desired.

In the case of Punch, Pakistan concentrated and launched a force of over a division, with a view to capturing Punch. Apart from normal intelligence reports, the concentration of the forces could be observed by the defenders over a period of time; and hence, it could be stated, that they were forewarned. As far as the Pakistani plan of attack was concerned, they had quite rightly assessed the ground of tactical importance and planned for its early capture. If they had succeeded, they could have made things difficult for the Indian side. However, in the execution of the plan, they did not display adequate determination and aggressiveness. They had also not taken measures to interfere with the movement of the Indian reserves. Their infiltration operation which preceded the main attack, also did not achieve its objective.

On the other hand, the Indian side, having got timely warning of the enemy’s likely intentions, took necessary measures to reinforce Punch, in good time. 33 Infantry Brigade of 39 Infantry Division was inducted into the Sector although it meant depriving 39 infantry Division of Its punch. Prior to the arrival of this Brigade, the local Brigade (93 Infantry Brigade), was somewhat thin on the ground, defending a large sized Brigade Sector, with little depth. However, as troops of 33 Infantry Brigade started arriving, the important localities were reinforced and necessary depth was provided on the major approaches. As far as the conduct of the battle was concerned, the defenders on the important Picquets such as Picquet 405, gave a tough fight and repulse repeated onslaughts. They were assisted by their battalion and Brigade Commanders, by timely reinforcements of their localities or counter attacks as required. As far as the enemy’s infiltration operation was concerned, although initially it succeeded, the infiltrators were thrown out by successful attacks launched by the defenders, with the reinforcements that they received, such as the attack by 13 Mahar on Thanpir. Thus, by a combination of good intelligence, timely reinforcement and effective fighting, the Indian Forces frustrated the Pakistani attempt at capturing Punch.

In the case of Chhamb, the Pakistani intention of launching a major attack was not known to the Indians. One of the units (8 Jammu and Kashmir Militia) which was holding ground, had been reporting about enemy activities, but it would appear that a careful assessment was not made by the higher formation. Thus, Pakistan was able to concentrate a division plus, including Armour and Artillery, and launched these forces into an attack, more or less surprising the defender.

As far as the defender was concerned, as has been brought out, the original plan was to initially occupy defences further behind in the Troti-Dhon Chak area; and at the outbreak of hostilities, to launch an attack with 10 Infantry Division towards Gujarat. Subsequently, even after the task was clarified by no less a person than the Chief of the Army Staff on November 1, 1971, a forward posture to defend the Chhamb area was not adopted till December 1. As the Division was obsessed with its offensive task, it did not make the necessary defensive preparations, to be able to take on an attack by the enemy, in case he launched the offensive first. The deployment of the Division was defective, there was no overhead protection to the defences and there were inadequate minefields. Thus, when the attack did come on. December 3, 1971, the Division was ill-prepared to counter it. Pakistan was, therefore, able to gain some initial success aid at one time, the position of 10 Infantry Division looked desperate.

However, due to the timely intervention by the Corps Commander and launching of determined counter-attacks, the enemy was halted generally on the line of the Munawarwali Tawi river. Otherwise, the enemy might well have succeeded in advancing to and capturing Akhnoor, which could have created an uneviable situation for the Indians, in that he could have cut off the entire area to the West of Chenab river from the rest of India.

The only other area where Pakistan launched a fairly sizeable offensive and succeeded, was in the Fazilka area. Here, he basically used the holding formation for the attack. However, due to inept fighting by the local formation, the enemy was able to make some worthwhile gains. After considerable difficulty, the enemy was held from making further advances. It later transpired that Pakistan was to launch a major offensive in this area with its GHQ reserve.

Offensive Operations

The main offensives were undertaken by the Indian Forces opposite the Jammu and Rajasthan Sectors. These were launched by 1 Corps and Southern Command respectively. Neither of the offensives went in as originally planned; and had to be curtailed due to enemy initiatives and commitment/depletion of offensive forces in the defensive battle. In the case of 1 Corps, an Infantry Brigade each, had to be sent to Punch to restore the situation in that place and to Ramgarh Sector for the effective defence of that area. In the case of Southern Command, 12 Infantry Division’s offensive had to be called off due to the enemy action in the Longewala area: and only 11 Infantry Division could undertake its planned offensive.

As far as 1 Corps was concerned, the aim was to remove the threat to India’s logistic base at Pathankot and to the vital communications into Jammu and Kashmir. The Corps was to advance into Pakistan territory and capture area Zaffarwal-Dhamthal-Narowal-Pasrur; and to destroy maximum Armour of the enemy. Along with 1 Corps, 26 Infantry Division and 10 Infantry Division of 15 Corps, were also to undertake offensives into Pakistan. However, as has been brought out, one of these had to be given up (10 Infantry Division), while the scope of the other had to be reduced (26 Infantry Division and 1 Corps), due to enemy action.

While 1 Corps had superiority in infantry, Pakistan had an edge in armour. Further, although 1 Corps initially had a defensive task but was ordered to go on the offensive at the outbreak of the war, the formation all along had to cater for a likely offensive by the enemy with his 6 Armoured Division and an infantry division, anywhere in his Sector, particularly in the Ramgarh area, as its (l Corps) own offensive was to take place East of the Degh Nadi. Further, two Brigades of its 39 Infantry Division had to be committed to defensive tasks elsewhere (Punch and Ramgarh respectively).

Consequently, major changes had to be made in the original offensive plans of 1 Corps, in that, 39 Infantry Division had only one Brigade available to it for its offensive. Further, when the offensive was launched by the Corps, it had to contend with extensive minefields, of which adequate information was not available, nor the requisite mechanical resources to get through them speedily. As a result, the advance of the Corps became slow and sluggish. When the progress was not satisfactory, the Corps had to switch over 2 Independent Armoured Brigade to 36 Infantry Division Sector. However, this did not help much either, in speeding up the advance. Infantry divisions did not have the integral Armour and Regiments of the Independent Armoured Brigades to undertake this role. More concentrated use of Armour would no doubt have resulted in accelerating the pace of advance. Further, the enemy had gained time to reinforce the Sector with two brigades from his Southern Force. The net result was that 1 Corps could not secure even Zaffarwal or Shakargarh, leave alone, get to the depth objectives. However, it was able to achieve its primary aim of making the logistic base at Pathankot and the line of communications into Jammu and Kashmir, secure.

It was found in these operations, that Pakistan had made aggressive use of her Artillery and sometimes of her Armour also. Further, the minefields laid by her Engineers prevented speedy or deep advance into her territory. It was also found that Indian infantry could not hold on to its objectives in many cases, due to inability of Armour to fetch up within a reasonable time frame.

As far as the offensive in Rajasthan was concerned, as has been brought out, only 11 Infantry Division could undertake its task. Though reinforced with a Brigade from 12 Infantry Division, it could not get up to the green belt. However, the Division was able to secure up to Parbat Ali, which considering the difficult nature of the terrain, is a reasonable achievement. These operations have brought out what considerable scope exists for operations in the desert, provided suitable equipment was available.


As the Indian Forces were to adopt a basically defensive stance in the Western Sector, the availability of accurate intelligence with regard to the enemy deployment and reserves, became all the more important. The location of enemy formations which were assigned a defensive role, was generally available. However, what was more important was the location and movements of Pakistan’s reserves. It is these reserves that would he used by the enemy either to mount an offensive or a counter-offensive.

It was generally known that Pakistan had earmarked forces for defensive operations as under:–

  • Jammu and Kashmir – two Infantry Divisions, including 12 Infantry Division (one regular and five POK Brigades) and 23 Infantry Division (two regular and two POK Brigades). As shown, these divisions had additional brigades, and some of the brigades had more than the normal quota of battalions. In addition, the Karakoram and Gilgit Scouts were available for defence of the Northern areas.
  • Sialkot Sector – Pakistan 1 Corps with two Infantry Divisions (8 Division of four brigades and 15 Division) and an Independent Armoured Brigade (8).
  • Lahore Sector – Pakistan 4 Corps with 10 and 11 Infantry Divisions and 3 Independent Armoured Brigade.
  • Multan Sector – Pakistan 2 Corps with one Infantry Division (33) and two Independent Brigades (25 and 105).
  • Sindh Sector – 18 Infantry Division with two Armoured Regiments under command.

It was also known that Pakistan had certain reserves available. These were 6 Armoured Division and 17 Infantry Division grouped under her 1 Corps; and 1 Armoured Division and 33 Infantry Division grouped under her 2 Corps during peace time. At this time, 17 and 33 Infantry Divisions were reported to be under raising. In addition, Pakistan also had 7 Infantry Division, which could be used either with 1 or 2 Corps, or in Jammu and Kashmir. Information with regard to the location and movement of all these reserves was vital, as the employment of the Indian Forces depended on these. However, intelligence in this regard was either not forthcoming, or was faulty. It was reported that 7 Infantry Division had moved to Hajipir area, whereas itwas discovered much later that it had moved to the Changa Manga forest South of Lahore. Similarly, the location of 1 Armoured Division was not known for a long time after the war commenced. Equally, the movement of some Pakistan infantry brigade from the Southern area to the Sialkot Sector in the North during the war, came as a surprise.

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After the war started, identifications and other information obtained through radio intercepts or interrogation revealed that the troops launched in the Punch Sector belonged to 12 Infantry Division. Similarly, it came out that in the Chhamb Sector, elements of 23 Division and 17 Division were launched with some Armour from 6 Armoured Division, in addition to the integral Armour. However, no information was available with regard to Pakistan 1 Armoured Division and 7 infantry Division, for a longtime. Much later, that is, during the later stages of the war, it came to light that these formations were to be launched on a major offensive in the Fazilka-Ganganagar Sector. Fortunately for the Indians, their own 1 Armoured Division was suitably located to take on this threat, if it had materialized. After the war, it came to light that Pakistan planned to launch a sizeable offensive in the Amritsar Sector also, but for various reasons, this did not materialize.

The Army’s resources of intelligence, only enabled it to obtain information of the forces immediately opposite. It had no way of finding out information of forces located in depth and interior areas. The only agency which had the resources to obtain such information was the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). For the future, it is essential that this agency organizes itself effectively, to obtain reasonably accurate and timely intelligence, of the location and movements of enemy formations. Needless to stress, the entire plan for war and its outcome depend for their success to a considerable extent on such intelligence.

Employment of Amour

The main point that came out in this war was that Armoured Formations should be employed concentrated, in order to get the best results. For various reasons which have been brought out, this could not be achieved. Otherwise, 1 Corps might have secured at least some of its planned objectives. Certain other points that emerged are also important. It was necessary chat infantry divisions had their own integral Armour, so that Armoured Formations are not depleted for supporting them. Employment of Armour by night also needs to be fully exploited. The tank fleet was getting old and out of date. This aspect also needed attention. It was also necessary that Armoured Formations had the necessary mechanical means for speedily negotiating minefields and crossing ditches and water obstacles.


Pakistan Artillery had heavier calibre weapons and used these with considerable effect. They also used air burst shells very effectively. As in the 1965 Conflict, infantry found it difficult to stand againt the devastating fire of Pakistan Artillery in some cases. The need for a heavy calibre long range weapon was felt much in the Indian Forces. Equally, while available air defence Artillery was effectively used, the need for more up-to-date weapons to take on modern aircraft got highlighted. The need for a well coordinated air defence system was also apparent. It was also obvious that if Armoured Formations were to undertake longer advances, suitable self-propelled Artillery was provided to them.


As in any other wars, Engineer tasks in this war were numerous and there were never enough Engineers to undertake these. While in the East, the main problem was the crossing of various water obstacles, in the West, it was mainly the clearance of gaps in the extensive minefields laid by the enemy. Available Engineers had to work under great pressure with the inadequate equipment at their disposal. The need for better mechanical means of laying and lifting mines, for canal crossing equipment, for better bridges, and for adequate and more effective mines came out clearly time and again. Equally, the need for track laying equipment in the desert got highlighted.


In the case of formations moving into their operational areas from outside, the need for a previously established system of telephone communications was felt in every case. However, this aspect needs to be considered in relation to security of operational plans, also. The need for more modern equipment was also highlighted.


A major point that came out with regard to Infantry was its ability, or otherwise, to hold on to ground captured, against the inevitable counter-attack by the enemy with Armour. Since own Armour could not fetch up due to minefields, the vital need for equipping the Infantry with effective anti-tank weapons was highlighted. However, despite this, the need for Armour fetching up as early as possible, cannot be over stressed. Infantry Formations also needed integral Armoured Regiments. As in the case of other Arms, the need for more modern weapons within Infantry units was also apparent.


The build-up of formations in their operational areas took considerable time. In the case of this war, as events could be somewhat anticipated, the long period of build up did not aversely affect the operations. However, as much warning may not be available in a future war, it is necessary to ensure that the build up takes place within the available period. One of the ways of overcoming the problem to some extent, is to locate formations suitably during peace time, without prejudicing the security aspect in any case, the necessary infrastructure has to be created in the railways. Equally, requisition of adequate civilian transport in time has to be facilitated by the Civil Authorities, as the transport available to the Army can never he adequate for the moves of entire formations forward at short notice. The development of logistic areas forward, without compromising security, also needs attention.

Army-Air Cooperation

While the strategy in the East was to eliminate the Pakistan Air Force, in the West, it was to contain the threat from the Pakistan Air Force. As such, the close support available to the Army was somewhat limited. Further, Pakistan positions in defence were well concealed and camouflaged; and, therefore, the desired results could not be obtained. However, when Pakistan Armour and guns could be spotted in the open, as during the counter attacks in the Sialkot Sector or during the attack in the Longewala area, the Air Force dealt with the targets very effectively. For the future, in the event of offensive operations, particularly in the plains, the need for a reasonable amount of air effort being made available to the Army, cannot be over emphasized. Equally, this would also be necessary to frustrate enemy’s major offensives. As far as reaction time of the Air Force to immediate close support demands was concerned, while it was initially about two hours, it improved to one and half hours as operations progressed, which was reasonable. Efforts should be made to further reduce this time lag. The need for adequate air photograph coverage and for a proper organization to deliver photographs to the demanding formations in time, also got highlighted in this war.

The air lift capability available was very limited. The need for adequately augmenting this, in order to exploit the third dimension, also came out.


After the reverses suffered in the 1962 War, the Indian Army concentrated much more on training. The 1965 War provided it with further battle experience. Thereafter, there was even more emphasis on training for war. As such, when the Army took the field in the 1971 War, it felt confident and generally equipped itself well. On the other hand, it was noticed that there was a decline in the standard of training and morale of the Pakistan Army. Perhaps, this could be attributed to its continuous involvement in Martial Law and Civil Administration. It appeared that the leadership suffered even more, because of this reason.

A number of useful tactical lessons emerged from this War, both on defensive and offensive operations, particularly the latter. These were disseminated to formations and units: and need constant attention.

The Indian Navy

In this War, the Indian Navy had an opportunity to show their mettle, for the first time after Independence; and they carried out their role in a commendable manner. In the East to start with, the Pakistani submarine Ghazi was sunk off the Visakhapatnam Port on night December 3/4, 1971. The Eastern Fleet established a naval blockade of East Pakistan and made it impossible for Pakistan to move any troops or equipment by sea. Aircraft from INS Vibrant attacked shore targets such as the airfield at Cox’s Bazar, harbours of Chittagong, Khulna, and so on, and military installations, and inflicted serious damage. The Pakistani Navy in the East was completely paralysed In the West, the Western Fleet mounted daring raids on Karachi Harbour and inflicted considerable damage. On December 4/5, Pakistani destroyer Khyber, a mine sweeper and a merchant ship carrying ammunition were stink by a Task Group under Commander K.P. Gopal Rao. On December 8, oil installations in Karachi were destroyed and some ships in the harbour damaged by a Task Group under Rear Admiral Kuruvilla. This created absolute panic in the Pakistani Navy, which remained bottled up in the Karachi area for the rest of the war. The navy lost one ship, INS Khukri under Captain M.N. Mulla, when it was hit by torpedos on December 9.

The Indian Air Force

In this War, the IAF developed its full potential and played an important role in the victory of the Indian Armed Forces, in the East, air supremacy was achieved within the first few days and the Army was able to carry out its operations with impunity as far as the enemy Air Force was concerned. Some dose support was provided to the ground forces; and heliborne operations were carried out which speeded up the defeat of the enemy. For the first time in war,the potential of the third dimension was highlighted.

In the West, the Air Force was able to create a generally favourable air situation. The enemy’s major air bases were attacked interdiction was carried out and considerable damage was inflicted on the PAF and other targets. At the same time, air defence of own territory was also ensured. As far as close support was concerned, as brought our earlier, this was found to be limited. In view of the vulnerability of ground forces, particularly armoured and mechanized forces in the open, a method must be found to better exploit the flexibility that the Air arm enables, to provide adequate dose support to the Army. It has to be remembered that many a time, such support may prove to be crucial to the outcome of an important battle, whereas other missions, though necessary, could wait temporarily for short periods. Overall, the IAF acquitted itself admirably in this war. The first Param Vir Chakra of the Air Force was awarded to Flying Office Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon posthumously for valour of a high order.

Para-Military Forces

Generally, the BSF guards the borders in peace time. Army formations are located well away from the borders, except in Jammu and Kashmir, where they are deployed on the Line of Control. In the event of a war, the BSF is placed under the Army’s operational control, so that the plans could be better coordinated and all available forces could be made effective use of. During peace time, the BSF attends training with the Army formations and its employment is integrated in the Army plans. It was found that there was avoidable delay in placing BSF under the Army’s operational control. This only results in confusion and delay in the preparations for meeting the enemy’s initial onslaught; and should be avoided. It was found that in Jammu and Kashmir, where the BSF is always under the operational control of the Army, the coordination was much better.


In this War, the leadership in the case of Pakistan proved to be inadequate to meet the requirements of a crisis situation. The country was under a military dictatorship, and Yahya Khan was certainly not the person who could provide imaginative, astute and dynamic leadership to the country. At the Army level, the Chief, Abdul Hamed Khan did not have either the requisite professional competence or the leadership qualities, particularly mental robustness, resilience and moral courage, to handle the war. In the East, Niazi proved to be professionally inadequate, lacking in character and unable to inspire and motivate his command. Tikka in the West was a professional who commanded the confidence of his subordinates, but the test of battle eluded him. At the divisional and lower levels, some of the commanders were competent and brave, while others provided indifferent or weak leadership.

On the Indian side, the country was fortunate in having a Prime Minister who had a clear perception of national interests and understanding of defence, had political acumen and confidence in her abilities, and was decisive; and provided excellent leadership throughout. Manekshaw the Chief of the Army Staff who was also Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, was a professional to the core, possessed vision, inspired confidence amongst all ranks: and provided brilliant leadership.

Aurora in the East was competent, was a good coordinator and motivator, was up and about most of the time; and ensured speedy completion of his task. Candeth in the West was cool, inspired confidence and moved around a lot, keeping a grip on the war. The Corps Commanders generally measured upto their tasks, with Sagat Singh being easily the most dynamic, aggressive and able commander, who never gave any respite to the enemy; and whose conduct of the war is worth emulation at any time. The field commanders at all levels generally displayed professional skill, dynamism, courage, audacity and self-reliance of a high order. Compared with the wars that were fought earlier, the victory in this war could be ascribed in a large measure to the excellent leadership provided by the officers. This is an aspect that needs constant attention in the future; and it must be ensured that the right type of leaders come up.

Leadership in the Navy and Air Force was just as effective. Nanda and Lai led their Services with distinction. Kohli and Krishnan dominated the high seas. Engineer and Dewan accomplished their tasks with credit. The subordinate commanders at different levels proved to be skilful, dedicated and courageous.

Pakistanis Views

This study will be incomplete without incorporating views expressed by several knowledgeable Pakistanis, who had made deep analyses of the 1971 War and the ‘reasons for debacle’ of Pakistan. A gist of some of these views are given in the succeeding paragraphs.

Maj. Gen. Fazal Muqeem Khan in his book ‘Pakistan’s Crisis in Leadership’, considers that there were political, economic, sociological and military reasons for the defeat of the Pakistani Armed Forces in the 1971 War.

    • He considers that, on the political side, the country ‘failed to produce viable and popular institutions and allowed self-seekers to thrive on colonial types of governments’. He feels chat ‘the country’s intellectuals and the university, college and school teachers failed to create a proper background for unity. The people docilely tolerated incompetent and corrupt governments and tried to salve their consciences by blaming others for their own short comings. They frittered away their energies on regional and local Issues and showed little interest in, and no vision for, the national problems and the unity of the country’. He feels ashamed that the country was ‘not able to produce a workable constitution’
    • He considers that, ‘economic development was planned and carried out without any regard to socio-economic conditions, and the mass of the people consequently did not benefit. The economic policies were particularly unsuited to the socio-economic conditions in East Pakistan.‘
    • On the social side, he feels that, social development was ignored and did not keep pace with economic development. We took short cuts by borrowing Western social institutions and norms which could not be grafted on Pakistani conditions. Society lost its old stability and divided itself into compartments. The state, based on an ideology, had strayed away from it.’ He feels that ‘regionalism started overpowering nationalism.’
    • He laments that defence was kept exclusively in the hands of a few and never came under public scrutiny. No lessons were learnt from past mistakes. ‘This also generated a false image of our military potential which led to national complacency. The nation remained untrained Tor war and unprepared to fight for its integrity.’ He feels that the people and their leaders had no conception of military affairs; nor could they comprehend the interrelationship of politics, diplomacy and military force. Successive governments were too dependent on the army to deal with internal security problems, so much so, that some of them had to rely on the army for their survival. This, in turn, politicised the army, particularly at the higher level. Training and discipline of the army suffered in consequence-, and this was reflected in the performance of the Army in the war.
    • In 1971, he feels that military means were used to solve an entirely political problem. There was confusion between political and military aims. In fact, he stresses that there was no national aim. ‘The country was least prepared to go to war, which should have been avoided by all means.’ There were short-falls of weapons and equipment. There were no Joint Service plans. Ineffective coordination resulted in uneconomical or incorrect use of the available resources. The High Command was indecisive. Inadequate time was given to Field Commanders to launch operations. ‘Defection and treachery of the East Pakistani personnel’ also resulted in leakage of plans. ‘The one single factor that contributed most to our debacle in December, 1971, was the failure of planned and integrated war effort at the national level.’

Lt. Gen. M. Attiqur Rahman in his book ‘Our Defence Cause’ has also made an analysis of the 1971 War. He feels that the grand strategy that, ‘the battle of East Pakistan would be fought in West Pakistan’ was generally correct, as available troops could fight concentrated, with all the backing of the industrial defence base and the main base for recruitment for the army’s manpower. He considers that if this were the strategy, more forces should not have been sent to East Pakistan. Further, the planned major offensive in the West never came through. Perhaps, the GHQ was waiting for the Indians to commit their armoured formations first. In the meantime, in East Pakistan, Indians ‘broke through the thin crust of the Pakistani forces, made deep penetrations, isolated areas of resistance, and quickened the pace by using heliborne forces, all with the assistance of complete air superiority and helped all along the way by Bengali dissidents’. He generally blames the High Command for the debacle. ‘A certain amount of coordination was lacking in the direction of military efforts. The President, who was also Commander-in-Chief, perforce had to leave many decisions to his Chief of Staff. The Chief of Staff did not or could not assume all the responsibilities of the Commander-in-Chief. The Principal Staff Officers were hardly on speaking terms with each other. While it is true to say there are few friends at the top, the state of affairs at the top of the army beggared description.’

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After the war, the then President of Pakistan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto appointed a high level Commission, to investigate the causes of Pakistan’s surrender and recommend action against those responsible. This Commission comprised Mr. Justice Hamoodur Rehman, the Chief Justice of Pakistan as Chairman, with a judge of the Supreme Court and Chief Justice of the Sindh and Baluchistan High Court as Members. The Commission is reported to have submitted its preliminary report in July 1972 and Anal report in November 1974. This was not made public either by Bhutto or by General Zia-ul-Haq who succeeded him; but extracts from a copy reported to have come to the notice of an Indian journalist (J.N. Parimoo), have been published in The Times of India (October 2, 1988) and illustrated Weekly (October 23, 1988), Some of the relevant points revealed by the report are as under:–

    • It was Pakistan that started the war on the West Pakistan Front.
    • The friends of Pakistan, namely, USA, China and Iran, made it clear that they would not be able to directly get involved in the war, in order to help Pakistan. The mutual Assistance Treaty signed between India and USSR in August 1971 complicated matters. Pakistan should have taken the case to the UN in November 1971 itself, when a satisfactory solution ordering a ceasefire might have been obtained from the Security Council.
    • It says, ‘the concept, therefore, that the defence of East Pakistan lies in West Pakistan remained valid and if there ever was need to invoke this concept it was 21st of November 1971 when the Indian troops had crossed the East Pakistan borders in naked aggression. Unfortunately, the delay in opening the Western front and the half-hearted and hesitant manner in which it was ultimately opened only helped in precipitating the catastrophe in East Pakistan.’
    • There was lack of proper appreciation of the developing enemy threat in the Eastern Theatre.
    • The atrocities committed by the Pakistani Armed Forces on the Bengalis in general were shameful. Even senior Pakistani officers wanted Bengalis, and in particular Hindus, to be killed during internal security operations. The Bangladesh authorities are reported to have told the Commission that ‘the Pakistani Army had killed three million Bengalis and raped two lakh East Pakistani women’, which the Commission apparently thought was ‘highly exaggerated and fanciful’.
    • The Commission is reported to have found several senior officers guilty of criminal neglect of duty in the conduct of war both in East and West Pakistan. Through successive years of Martial Law Administration, these commanders had become depraved, morally corrupt and professionally incompetent. They had lost the will, the determination and the competence to fight… They furthermore brought about a situation in East Pakistan which led to a civil disobedience movement, armed revolt by the Awami League and subsequently to the surrender of our troops in East Pakistan and dismemberment of Pakistan… These commanders have brought disgrace and defeat to Pakistan by their subversion of the constitution, usurpation of political power by criminal conspiracy, their professional incompetence, culpable negligence in the performance of their duties, and physical and moral cowardice in abandoning the fight when they had the capability and resources to resist the enemy.’ The Commission apparently recommended the public trial of some of the officers and courtmartial of others.
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