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1971 India Pakistan War: Role of Russia, China, America and Britain

It was in the year 1971 when the two South Asian rivals declared war on each other, causing a great loss to the lives, property and territory in case of Pakistan.
“As the topic sounds controversial, before we begin we would like to tell that every information in this article is sourced. The article was written after a detail analysis of various sources. All the relevant and immediate sources are listed at the end of the Article.”

Before 1971, Bangladesh used to be a part of Pakistan as East Pakistan. According to Najam Sethi, a well respected and honoured journalist from Pakistan, East Pakistan always complained that they received less development funds and less attention from the West Pakistan (Punjabi) dominating government. Bengalis in East Pakistan also resisted the adoption of Urdu as the state language. The revenue from export, whether it was from the Cotton of West Pakistan or Jute of East Pakistan, was handled mainly by West Pakistan. Lastly, in an election conducted just some months before the war, the victory was gained by the East Pakistani leader and still he was not given the power, thus fueling the movement in East Pakistan.

Background

Countries Involved in 1971 War, Click to Enlarge

Pakistani army started its operation in East Pakistan to contain the movement and anger among the Bengalis. It is reported that the army was involved in mass killing of public and mass rape of women. India was aware of this and was only waiting for a trigger to start the war. India started receiving huge number of refugees which became unmanageable, pushing it to intervene in the situation. The situation soon attracted the attention of many other countries. Thus the war later was not only between India and Pakistan, but many countries were involved in 1971 Indo Pakistani war (War of Liberation of Bangladesh) directly or indirectly.

In May, Indira Gandhi wrote to Nixon about the ‘carnage in East Bengal’ and the flood of refugees, burdening India. After L K Jha (then the Indian ambassador to US) had warned Kissinger that India might have to send back some of the refugees as guerrillas, Nixon commented, ‘By God, we will cut off economic aid [to India].’

A few days later, when the US president said ‘the goddamn Indians’ were preparing for another war, Kissinger retorted ‘they are the most aggressive goddamn people around.’

US and China Connection, A Little Known Fact

(All Excerpts and Sources from 929 page long Volume XI of the Foreign Relations of the United States)

US sympathized with Pakistan, because of various reasons. Among them two reasons were that: firstly, Pakistan belonged to American led military Pact, CENTO and SEATO; secondly, US believed any victory of India will be considered as the expansion of Soviet influence in the parts gained by India with the victory, as it was believed to be a pro Soviet nation, even though they were non aligned.

In a telegram sent to US Secretary of State Will Roger, on March 28, 1971, the staff of the US consulate in Dhaka complained, ‘Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy. Our government has failed to denounce atrocities. 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.’

This brought China in the picture. US needed help from China and the messenger was Pakistan. US approached China very secretly on this issue, who was more than welcoming as it believed that their relations with US could improve from this onward.

During the second week of July, 1971, Kissinger arrived in Beijing, where he heard the words by then Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai: “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.’ On this, Kissinger responded that China should know that the US also backs Pakistan on this issue.

Indira Gandhi, the Indian prime minister in those times decided to tour most of the Western capitals to prove Indian stand and gain support and sympathy for the Bengalis of East Pakistan. On November 4th and 5th she met Nixon in Washington. Nixon straight forwardly told her that a new war in the subcontinent was out of the question.

The next day, Nixon and Kissinger assessed the situation. Kissinger told Nixon: ‘The Indians are bastards anyway. They are plotting a war.’

The pressure increased in East Pakistan, which attracted Indian attention. Indians were preparing for war and were concentrated on the Eastern front. To divert the pressure, on December 3, in the dark of night, even before India could attack East Pakistan, Pakistan opened western front and air raided six Indian Airfields in Kashmir and Punjab.

The CIA reported to the US President that Indian Prime Minister believes that the Chinese will never intervene militarily in North India, and thus, any action from China would be a surprise for India and Indian military might collapse in tensed situation caused by fighting in three different fronts (East, North and West).

Hearing this, on December 9, Nixon decided to send the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal to threaten India. The plan was to Surround India from all four sides and force them to retreat and leave East Pakistan.

On December 10, Nixon instructed 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.’ China feared any action on India might attract Soviet aggression. At this, US assured China that any action taken by Soviet Union will be countered by US to protect China.

Pakistani army had somehow maintained their position and resisted Indian advancement. They believed China is preparing to open the Northern front which will slow down or completely stop the Indian advancement. In fact, the myth of Chinese activity was also communicated to Pakistan’s army to boost their moral, to keep their will to fight and hope alive. 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.” But Beijing never did.

In Washington, Nixon analysed the situation thus: ‘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.’ Nixon was not sure about China. Did they really intend to start a military action against India?

Soviet Union / Russian Role in the Indo Pakistan 1971 War.

As India had decided to go on with the war, and Indira Gandhi had failed to gain American support and sympathy for the Bengalis who were being tortured in East Pakistan, she finally took a hard move and on August 9, signed a treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation with Soviet Union.

The State Department historian says, ‘in the perspective of Washington, the crisis ratcheted up a dangerous notch, India and the Soviet Union have signed a treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation.’ It was a shock to America as this was what they feared, expansion of Soviet influence in South Asia. They feared that involvement of Soviet Union could sabotage their plan.

On December 4, just one day after Pakistan raided Indian airfields in Kashmir and Punjab declaring war on India, America’s proxy involvement in the war was becoming clear. Thinking that the Soviet Union might enter the war if they come to know this, which could cause a lot of destruction to Pakistan and American equipment given to Pakistan, US ambassador to the United Nations George H W Bush [later 41st president of the United States and father of George Bush] introduced a resolution in the UN Security Council, calling for a cease-fire and the withdrawal of armed forces by India and Pakistan. Believing India can win the war and Indira Gandhi being determined to protect the interest of Bengalis, Soviet Union vetoed out the resolution, thus letting India fight for the cause. Nixon and Kissinger pressurized Soviets to a very extent but luck did not support them.

Video Translated by : Ella Salomatina, The World Reporter.

On 3rd December, 1971, the World was shaken by another war between India and Pakistan. Pakistani airforce raided Indian cities and airstrips. The Indian PM, Indira Gandhi, brought the country in the state of emergency and ordered Indian army to reflect the aggression. Fierce military operations developed on the ground, in the air and in the sea.

Historic document: “Confidential. December, 10, 1971. Moscow. For the DM Marshal Andrey Grechko.

According to the information from our ambassador in Delhi, in the very first day of the conflict the Indian destroyer ‘Rajput’ had sunk a Pakistani submarine with deep bombing. On December, 4 and 9, the speed boats of India had destroyed and damaged 10 Pakistani battle ships and vessels by Soviet anti ship P-15 missiles. In addition 12 Pakistani oil storage were burned in flame.”

Britain and Soviet Confrontation

Confidential – The Commander of the Military Intelligence Service Gen. Pyotr Ivashutin.

“The Soviet Intelligence has reported that the English operative connection has come nearer to territorial India, water led by an aircraft carrier “Eagle” [On December 10]. For helping friendly India, Soviet government has directed a group of ships under the command of contr-admiral V. Kruglyakov.”

Vladimir Kruglyakov, the former (1970-1975) Commander of the 10th Operative Battle Group (Pacific Fleet) remembers:

“I was ordered by the Chief Commander to track the British Navy’s advancement, I positioned our battleships in the Bay of Bengal and watched for the British carrier “Eagle”.

But Soviet Union didn’t have enough force to resist if they encountered the British Carrier. Therefore, to support the existing Soviet fleet in the Bay of Bengal, Soviet cruisers, destroyers and nuclear submarines, equipped with anti ship missiles, were sent from Vladivostok.

In reaction English Navy retreated and went South to Madagascar.

Soon the news of American carrier Enterprise and USS Tripoli’s advancement towards Indian water came.

V. Kruglyakov “ I had obtained the order from the commander-in-chief not to allow the advancement of the American fleet to the military bases of India”

We encircled them and aimed the missiles at the ‘Enterprise’. We had blocked their way and didn’t allow them to head anywhere, neither to Karachi, nor to Chittagong or Dhaka”.

The Soviet ships had small range rockets (only upto 300 KM). Therefore, to hold the opponent under the range, commanders ran risks of going as near to the enemy as possible.

“The Chief Commander had ordered me to lift the submarines and bring them to the surface so that it can be pictured by the American spy satellites or can be seen by the American Navy!’ It was done to demonstrate, that we had all the needed things in Indian Ocean, including the nuclear submarines. I had lifted them, and they recognized it. Then, we intercepted the American communication. The commander of the Carrier Battle Group was then the counter-admiral Dimon Gordon. He sent the report to the 7th American Fleet Commander: ‘Sir, we are too late. There are Russian nuclear submarines here, and a big collection of battleships’.

Americans returned and couldn’t do anything. Soviet Union had also threatened China that, if they ever opened a front against India on its border, they will receive a tough response from North.

Role of Sri Lanka

Pakistani high commissioner in Colombo, Seema Ilahi Baloch said in her speech addressed to Lanka-Pakistan business council in Colombo in June, 2011 that Pakistan can never forget the help which Sri Lanka offered to Pakistan during the 1971 war between India and Pakistan.

“We in Pakistan cannot forget the logistical and political support Sri Lanka extended to us in 1971 when it opened its refueling facilities for us,” she said.

Pakistani Aircraft destined to East Pakistan flew taking a round of India via Sri Lanka, since they could not fly over Indian sky. This forced Pakistan to get its aircrafts refueled on the way. Sri Lanka eager to help Pakistan, allowed Pakistani aircrafts for refueling at the Bandaranaike airport.

The war ended with the surrender of Pakistani army as they missed American help due to quick Russians who blocked both America and China from preventing India to advance. With this, a new country named Bangladesh was formed, which was recognized by the whole world and by Pakistan in the following year with Shimla Agreement.

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