An Atlas of the 1971 India - Pakistan War
The Creation of Bangladesh
John H. Gill
National Defense University
Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies
The 1971 War is the most recent major India-Pakistan conflict and the most important in the confrontational relationship of the two South Asian rivals.
India’s dramatic victory not only brought Bangladesh into being and reduced Pakistan by half, it also resulted in the formalization of Soviet-Indian ties in a prewar treaty, generated enduring suspicion in US-India relations, and launched Pakistan’s nuclear program on the course that ended with its weapons’ tests in May 1998.
Similarly, the accord signed between the two combatants at Simla in July 1972 has been a touchstone of Indian foreign policy for thirty years, framing interaction with Pakistan as well as relations with external powers.
These dramatic results notwithstanding, many of the fundamental issues of the subcontinent remained unresolved.
Pakistan was traumatized, but even India, as the years have passed, has found itself not entirely satisfied with the outcome: questions of national identity and the pertinacious Kashmir problem have retarded progress in the region for the past three decades.
Moreover, the India-Pakistan dynamic has moved no closer to balance, the relationship between a struggling middle power and a potential major power remains a dangerous rivalry rather than a partnership of reconciled neighbors.
In addition to these underlying considerations, the 1971 War has become a key facet of the complex lens through which decision makers in New Delhi and Islamabad view themselves, their bilateral relations, and their interaction with the rest of the world.
The 1971 War thus continues to reverberate today at the highest levels of national policy in South Asia.
Abiding bitterness over the war within Pakistan’s military leadership, for example, was a contributing factor leading to the Kargil incursion in 1999; latent but visceral mistrust between Pakistan and Bangladesh concerning alleged atrocities during 1971 resurfaced in the fall of 2000; aspects of the conflict featured prominently during the July 2001 India-Pakistan summit in Agra; Pakistan’s President General Pervez Musharraf offered regrets for the events of 1971 during a visit to Bangladesh in August 2002; and the war featured in acrimonious Indian state election campaigning in Gujarat during December 2002.
The present study concentrates on the military operations of the 1971 War. It does not pretend to encompass the complex weave of domestic and foreign policies of the two belligerents except
insofar as these influenced the actions of their armed forces.1 Rather, this atlas is intended to provide policy makers, diplomats, military analysts, and historians a ready resource for objective study of the war and for comparison of operations during 1971 with previous and subsequent events.
Every effort has been made to utilize the best available public sources, but any errors of interpretation or analysis, of course, are the author’s alone.