The USI-VoW Seminar Held on 09-10 Oct 2021

The USI-VoW Seminar Held on 09-10 Oct 2021

1971 — The War Which Shaped The Subcontinent

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the war between India and Bangladesh. A delightful and informative two-day event on military history and strategy, focusing on the 1971 war, was conducted at United Service Institution of India (USI), a national security and defence services think tank based in New Delhi, India on October 9th and 10th, 2021. The festival was a part of several literature and arts festivals that Valley of Words (VoW), a literary organization based in Dehradun, conducts annually. This episode on military history and strategy was first among many theme-centric festivals that VoW is going to pull off in the coming weeks. It brought together army veterans of India and Bangladesh, diplomats and authors to the table, to provide a hindsight view of the 1971 war.

The event, which smacked of reminiscence for most, gathered together a number of military veterans of the 1971 war with Pakistan. With memories of the loss of their brother in arms, many veterans including a renegade of the East Pakistani army, Lt. Col. Quazi Sajjad Ali Zahir, who supported the Indian army’s war efforts in the 1971 war, talked about the gruesome war of 1971. There were veterans who carried the bloody mark of the liberation of Bangladesh, including Maj. Gen. Ian Cardozo, who lost a leg in the military campaign.

Yet emotions didn’t overwhelm the military veterans’ portrayal of the strategies used against the Pakistani army in Bangladesh. The event kicked off with some book releases including “A Western Sunrise: India’s War with Pakistan” by renowned military historian Shiv Kunal Verma, “Watershed 1967: India’s Forgotten victory over China” by Probal Dasgupta and “Yoon Janma Bangladesh” by V.K. Gaur.

The two-day event was packed with sessions on understanding what kind of state Pakistan is, which in power-politics parlance is considered like any other state, a unit of analysis. The common sense of the speakers at the event was that Pakistan is occupied with a certain kind of system called the military-industrial complex. Most of the army generals were of the view that Pakistan is a ‘garrison state’ and there can be no headway in conversations with Pakistan to stabilize relations. However, Ambassador TCA Raghavan stood out among the panelists including Lt. Gen. PJS Pannu, Lt. Col. Sajjad and Ambassador Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, and drawing from his time as the High Commissioner of the Indian embassy in Pakistan, argued that Pakistanis are courteous in their behaviour and have a “goodwill about India”. He underlined that India-Pakistan relations can’t be victims of the past and the political leaders of the present must not yield to the past.

Some sessions like the one on “The Salience of Geography” dived into understanding the geographical fault lines that led to the creation of Pakistan. This session invoked theories of geopolitics such as Heartland theory and Rimland Theory. Every panelist including Maj Gen BK Sharma along with Dr Sanjeev Chopra, Shiv Kunal Verma and Aarti Tikoo Singh took a deterministic view of geographical fault lines, meaning geographical divisions that are driving the political dynamics of India-Pakistan relations.

Other sessions titled “Factors Drawing India into Conflict” made observations about how India inadvertently finds itself in the conflicts of its smaller neighbours. Some panelists like Lt Gen Ashish Singh and Lt Gen Nirbhay Sharma argued that India can’t deny the inevitability of its “big brother” stature in the South Asian region.

The most heartwarming session was on the Bangladesh liberation war, which included stories of gory violence and manslaughter witnessed by one of the panelists from Bangladesh Col. Sajjad Ali. In conversation with Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia and Ambassador Vikram Doraiswami. Col. Ali talked about his life as a renegade, and shockingly, carries a “death sentence valid till now”.

Other sessions focused on Indian and Pakistani perceptions towards East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh). The panelists included Lt Gen PJS Pannu who was in conversation with Christine Fair and Ambassador Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty. Outlining the role of the deep state in Pakistan, Fair talked about the strategies that Pakistan used on East Pakistan.

The last session of the first day was bookmarked by a bilingual session, chaired by L.S. Bajpai. It was a moving session on the way Bangladesh was formed and the role of Mukti Bahini in the liberation. The session was focused on the discussion of the celebrated book by V.K. Gaur, “Yoon Janma Bangladesh”. Dr, Sanjeev Chopra pointed out that there is a lack of vernacular accounts on the India- Bangladesh war which was mirrored by V.K Gaur, one of the panelists and authors of “Yoon Janma Bangladesh”. Another panelist, Lt Col. B.B. Singh noted the frailties of Mukti Bahini and the popular perception that how the fighters of Mukti Bahinis were incapable and wanting.

The second day started with personal accounts of air and naval operations against Pakistan during the 1965 and 1971 wars. Air force veterans and navy veterans recounted their experiences of commanding the operations and hurdles that they faced. From the air force AVM Manmohan Bahadur, Sqn Ldr Rana Chinna narrated stories to the audiences and the conversationalist Jagan Mohan, Sqn Ldr Pushp Vaid respectively. The naval operations were narrated by Admiral Anup Singh and Admiral Shekhar Sinha who were both in conversation with Sandeep Unnithan.

Furthermore, another session on India’s global image during 1971 was portrayed by Ambassador Akbaruddin who was in conversation with Alok Bansal. Ambassador Akbaruddin underlined the fact that India’s campaign against Pakistan was overshadowed by an era of great power competition rather than great power cooperation. He pointed out that India’s efforts were criticized by almost every great power while smaller powers like Yugoslavia supported India’s war efforts. He also pointed out that India being a non-aligned nation provided it with greater flexibility during the great power competition of the Cold War.

Another interesting session hosted Sir Mark Tully, a noted journalist of BBC, based in Delhi. Sir Tully narrated his story as a non-partisan journalist who had reports from both India and Pakistan. He underlined the importance of independent journalism in a war situation. And most importantly doing “balanced reporting” in a situation of continued hostilities.

The last day also brought in popular media to understand the role of media and film in inculcating nationalism among the masses. This included narration of stories by Maroof Raza and the discussion of the movie Border on 1971 war in presence of its director J.P. Dutta.

The Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, appreciated the support of Mukti Bahini and Col. Ali in the war against Pakistan. He said that Mukhti Bahini had set the stage for the Indian Army to achieve victory in such a short time and the war was fought in a coalition by the people of Bangladesh and the Indian armed forces.

He mentioned that “India’s intervention in East Pakistan was because of the tyranny that was imposed on the people of then East Pakistan by the Pakistan armed forces. Ten million refugees started pouring into India.” Recalling the five Paise stamps that were used to provide support for the food and shelter needs of the refugees, he mentioned that every Indian contributed to the war and not just the military. “At a time when India itself was surviving on PL-480 assistance, Indians had the courage to provide for the food and shelter of the refugees overflowing from Bangladesh because of the tyranny they were facing”.

While reflecting on the 1971 war, Gen. Rawat drew attention to the future of warfare. The war in Bangladesh was fought as a theatre battle. It was possible to form this theatre as the three forces had adequate time from April 1971, when the political leadership had given clear commands for the war, till December 1971 when the war was actually executed. Taking lessons from the war, he said that future wars, if fought, would also need the creation of theatres to carry out operations in a joint manner. The army, airforce and navy can no longer fight in individual silos.

Gen Rawat concluded that the 1971 war was a success because of the manner in which the three forces had integrated, the coalition that Indian defence forces had formed with the Mukti Bahini and clear support to the Indian defence forces from the political leadership of the time.

With this valedictory address by General Bipin Rawat, the two-day event on the 1971 war was concluded.

Creation of Pakistan- construction of fault lines

Here are the excerpts from the session titled “Creation of Pakistan- construction of fault lines”

1. The salience of geography

The first session titled ‘The Salience of Geography’ set the tone of the event. It went into the debate of whether geographical divisions are deterministic of the fate of a nation. Each panellist invoked theories of geopolitics such as the Heartland theory of Mackinder, Rimland theory of Spykman and the book “The Revenge of Geography” by firebrand author Robert Kaplan to understand how far geographical divisions were instrumental in understanding the 1971 war between India and Pakistan. Major General B.K. Sharma, director of USI, set the stage for the discussion by invoking Kaplan and underlined the significance of geography. He said geography “is not only the physical attributes of the land, but it also includes the resources, people, politics, trade and conflicts, which are all impacted by modern technology.”

For Major Gen. Sharma, India is “quintessentially a rimland state” whose influence extends to the heartland and the waters of the Indo-Pacific. He also cursorily pointed out the inroads that China is making into the South Asian region.

This session dived deep into the ontology of Pakistan’s geographical reach extending up to Bangladesh, formerly called East Pakistan. Major General Sharma explained that the creation of Pakistan has its roots in the two-nation theory that advocated the partition of Muslim majority areas of western and eastern parts of India to make it a whole body polity for the Muslim League. Major General Sharma also asked the panellist to comment on the colonial cartographic lines of the Radcliffe line and Macmohan line and what impact they had on the 1971 war.

In this background, Dr Sanjeev Choopra, patron of VoW, invoked the constructs of India as a “civilisational state” and “nation-state” to gaze at the map of India. He pointed out that the “nation-states ought to recognise the salience of geography”. Taking a deterministic view of geography, Dr. Chopra argued that politics should pay lip service to the geographical boundaries of a nation, although he didn’t explicitly mention any examples to that end.

On the impact of geography on the 1971 War, Shiv Kunal Verma, a military historian, author of the bestselling book “1962: The War that Wasn’t”, argued that the Indian army was blindsided and unaware of the geographical terrain of both West Pakistan in the 1965 Indo-Pak war and East Pakistan in the 1971 war. Based on his correspondence with Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, who led the invasion of East Pakistan, he said that Gen. Manekshaw had no idea about the terrain of East Pakistan. Gen. Manekshaw wasn’t eyeing for Dhaka and was happy with whatever inroads he had made into East Pakistan.

For Shiv Kunal Verma both Radcliffe Line and Macmohan Line are strategic lines rather than geographical lines.

Meanwhile, Aarti Tikoo Singh took a contrarian position from the above three panellists and said that nations can overcome the constraints of geography. She gave the example of China and Pakistan, the immediate neighbours of India, which have done that through their imperialistic policies in the South China sea and Gilgit-Baltistan respectively.

Later she underlined how much stakes geography has in the conundrum of Kashmir. Sandwiched between three nuclear powers, Kashmir, Tikoo said that the Indian state was unable to make the most out of the geographical opportunities that the region provided in the aftermath of the 1971 war. Essentially, Tikoo wanted India to be imperialistic and to behave like Pakistan and China, by capturing Pakistan occupied Kashmir and further deep into the Pakistani heart.

2. Pakistan- A garrison state

The Session was moderated by Lt Gen PJS Pannu and with the gracious presence of  Ambassador Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty (Retd.) and Ambassador TCA Raghavan (Retd.) in dialogue with Lt Col Quazi Sajjad Ali Zahir Bir Protik (from Bangladesh). The panellists shared their perspectives, facts, historical opinions, and personal experiences on Pakistan’s status as a garrison state and its incapacity to operate along the lines of modern democracy.

The key historical event of the Indo-Pak conflict of 1971 was used to shed light on the issue. Ambassador Raghvan claimed a lack of structural coherence among ruling mindsets regarding how to build national sovereignty that goes far beyond being subject to national security. Ambassador Chakravarty, who stood next to him, followed by bringing up the perceptions of East Pakistan and West Pakistan in relation to each other, which crossed the borders of nationalism and legitimate statehood.

Later, Lt. Col Sajjad spoke on India’s valiantly fought and triumphant 1971 war and explained how the man behind the gun not only kills life and humanity in war but also assassinates history, which must be integrally preserved and passed on with pride, saying, “Let’s love history, if you don’t love history, it will hail, it will hate you, and fall apart.”

3. Factors drawing India into conflict

The session welcomed keynote speakers Lt Gen Nirbhay Sharma and Lt Gen Arun Sahni, both of whom are well-known for their immense knowledge and experience in the field of defence and in India’s relations with its neighbours. Lt Gen Nirbhay Sharma discussed the factors that led to India’s engagement in the 1971 war. He expressed his thoughts on the war’s political, economic, and humanitarian dimensions. He added that India’s engagement in the East-West Pakistan dispute was motivated by the threat to our national security and the country’s genuine desire to avoid wars. Even after two decades of conflict, Lt Gen Arun Sahni emphasised, the emotional bond that Pakistanis and Indians have are still alive.

4. Bangladesh national movement and liberation war

This session featured a discussion between Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia and Col Sajjad Ali. Ambassador Vikram Doraiswami, India’s High Commissioner in Dhaka, was also invited. Session attempted to highlight the Bangladesh Liberation Movement and the Liberation War. Bangladesh was liberated after a great deal of suffering. In 1971, the movement devolved into genocide. However, the movement’s origins can be dated back to 21 February 1952, when students at Dhaka University began protesting. Col Sajjad Ali discussed the entire history of the genocide, demonstrating how it was planned for the aim of obtaining power. He related his own storey of how he and his family were affected by the genocide.

Ambassador Vikram Doraiswami delivered the closing remarks, emphasising the importance of building peace between India and Bangladesh through bilateral and transregional cooperation.

Perception: 1971 — The war which shaped the subcontinent

Here are the excerpts from the session titled “Perceptions”

1. Western Pakistan’s Designs on East Pakistan: Campaign, Objectives and Strategy

The session was moderated by Lt Gen PJS Pannu, inviting Ambassador Pinak Chakraborty, High Commissioner to Dhaka 2007-09, former Deputy High Commissioner to Dhaka 1999-2002. The session commenced with critical questioning of the ulterior motives of the creators and patrons of Partition 1947, trisecting the country with two factions of Pakistan on either side. The acumen, prudence and judgement behind governing two culturally different wings under single religious monogamy became a geographical requirement of the Colonial empire of the British for slicing the region.

Ambassador Chakraborty gave an overview of the notably well-documented report presented in the archives of the Imperial British during the Partition of 1947, vocalizing the two units of Pakistan, underlining the prospect of its easternmost section to merge with the Union of India. The leaders of Bengal, including the pioneers of the Muslim League were against the division of Bengal owing to its strong cultural ties and religious harmony. They had put forward a proposal to Pt. Nehru, asking for the possible merger. To this the former Prime Minister said “I don’t mind while it stays within the territory of India”. Jinnah, on the other hand, was not very happy with the enclave provided to him to govern. His obsession with Calcutta being constituted under the Pakistani dominion went downhill with mainly the Hindu leaders rebuffing his game plan. The 1872 census painted a paradoxical picture with the Muslim majority population residing in the east of Bengal.

The quasi-democracy struggled with the internal political problems morphed into other issues with leaders like Yaya Khan advocating for Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s leadership on one hand and Zulfikar Ali determined not to bestow him with that position of honour. Christian Fair argued that the design of rupturing India was not in the higher calling of the Imperial government as they had ploughed their resources to strengthen and defend the frontiers from the incoming attacks from the Soviet Union through Afghanistan. The primary reason for partition can adhere to the withdrawal of Congress leaders when the British launched an attack on Germany on behalf of India, which led to the imprisonment of Congress leaders with the Muslim leaders taking the centre stage to put forward their petitions and proposals. She put forward a strong argument stating that Pakistan may have lost that particular battle, however, it did win the war in the long run as it does not have to bother about trivial matters and is a successful rent seeker from International communities and global forums.

2. India’s compulsions and outlook on East Pakistan, Objectives and strategy

The session invited Shri Iqbal Malhotra in conversation with highly decorated military leaders namely PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM Lt Gen Nirbhay Sharma, former Governor to the states of Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh and AVSM, SM Maj Gen Ian Cardozo who had profound knowledge on the workings of Pakistan in its Eastern faction.

Shri Iqbal Malhotra highlighted how the 1971 Bangladesh war not only holds remarkable dominance in the chapters of Human Rights Violation but also the emergence of military hard power into foreplay shaking off the ideals of non-violence and NAM, thereby strongly establishing itself as one of the superior amongst the armed race. Grabbing the centre of attention amidst world politics, the former prime minister Mrs Indira Gandhi showing compassion, opened India’s doors to welcome ten million refugees from East Pakistan, providing them with a safe space to address as a home, after the staggering aftermath of heinous and abominable past.

Maj Gen Ian Cardozo addressed the compulsion for India to engage in the diplomatic, political and social aspects of the war was a major operational move taken by Mrs Gandhi. Pakistan had carried out an institutional procedure of routine human rights violations, butchering 1 million people, raping lakhs of women and girls, driving off 1o million stateless people to find a sanctuary under the Indian skies within the nearby states of West Bengal, Tripura, Assam and Odisha. Listening to the dreadful stories of pain and agony, measuring the national interests at par, the former prime minister decided to strike the hammer and break Pakistan’s neck by the armed intrusion.

Lt Gen Nirbhay Sharma shed light on how the cold war at its peak shaped the contours of the 1971 war. While Mrs Gandhi pleading at the international forum failed to grab the attention of the Americans, the Soviet Union stood by India as a good old friend, aiding in all forms of assistance both militarily and as a supporter backing India at the UN. While the two global powers were confronting each other, India managed to emerge victorious with the Mukti Bahini and the local natives favouring the Indian advancement of troops. However, it is important to take into consideration the difference in military operational strategy between the Eastern Command at Calcutta and the Indian army Headquarters at Delhi.

Indian Military operations: 1971 — The war which shaped the subcontinent

Here are the excerpts from the session titled “Indian Military Operations”

1. Mukti Bahini and the BSF: Salient Factors in the Liberation of Bangladesh

A bilingual session, chaired by L.C. Bajpai, was a moving session on the way Bangladesh was formed and the role of Mukti Bahini in the liberation. By and large, the session was focused on the discussion of the celebrated book by V.K. Gaur, “Yoon Janma Bangladesh”.

Dr, Sanjeev Chopra pointed out that there is a lack of vernacular accounts on the India- Bangladesh war, and due to that, subaltern perspectives, which are mostly in vernacular, get neglected. V K. gaur’s book was one of the first texts in Hindi that talked about the 1971 war.

V.K Gaur mirrored Dr Chopra’s concern and said that with the lack of vernacular texts for the soldiers, they are not able to get closure with the 1971 war. To this end, Gaur picked up Saurya Gathaye (stories of valor) from his book for the, for instance, the battle fought at Kila Bada by the BSF soldiers wherein nine soldiers fought till the last bullet.

He talked about Rustom, the protagonist of Yoon Janma Bangladesh and his role in training the fighters of Mukti Vahini. Training centers were set up for Mukti Bahini and Bangladeshi youth were trained by the elite Indian military forces to wage a war against the Pakistani army.

He also outlined the role of nation-making of Bangladesh by Rustom. Constitution-making, designing of the Bangladeshi flag and the national song Sonar Bangla were among the few initiatives taken by the BSF under the supervision of Rustom.

Most importantly, he stressed how BSF was involved in humanitarian assistance to the Bangladeshi people who were pouring on the Indian border with East Pakistan from the persecution waged by the Pakistani army. The BSF set up camps for the persecuted Bangladeshis including women and children in the bordering villages and in the words of Gaur “made them feel at home”. The BSF also saved Bangladeshis, perceived as supporters of the Pakistani army, from the wrath of Mukti Bahinis. 

Lt Col. B.B. Singh noted the frailties of Mukti Bahini and the popular perception that the fighters of Mukti Bahinis were incapable and wanting. Although, he didn’t ascribe to the popular perception and highlighted the perseverance of Mukti Bahini in their fight against the Pakistani army. In particular, he mentioned, “Operation Jackpot” codename for three operations undertaken by Mukti Bahini against Pakistan during the climax of the Bangladesh Liberation War. The goal was to attack Pakistani forces and sabotage military and economic assets to demoralize the Pakistani soldiers and disrupt their supply network.

As with any ethnic militia gory violence is rampant and so was true for Mukti bahini. In this regard, Lt Col Singh highlighted the self-destructive tendencies in the Mukti Bahini who would kill their own members and destroy quintessential modes of communication like roads and bridges.

Moreover, Lt Col Singh said that Mukti Bahini appreciated the bravery of the Indian army. For them the Indian army “would lead from the front” which was completely different from how the Pakistani army fought. Although Lt Col Singh repented the fact that Bangladesh, in the aftermath of the liberation of Bangladesh, was shy of honoring the valor of Indian soldiers. Some families of the Indian army, however, were recognized and were called to Bangladesh by the government.

To sum up, this session was rather a warm recollection of anecdotes from the lives of military veterans including BSF and the Indian army.

2. Military lessons of 1971 war

The session was presided by Maj gen B.K. Sharma in dialogue with Lt. Gen V. K. Ahluwalia and Lt. Gen Prakash Menon highlighting the military campaign of the 1971 war. Pakistan was prolific in its military expansions in securing the external limits of East Pakistan, however, they took no heed to bind Dhaka strongly, which was the centre of gravity to the Bengali mass. This was primordially under the impression by the Pakistani government that India’s national interest lies in military ventures only along certain factions at its territorial boundaries and Dhaka, was not on of them. While in the west, Pakistan solely believed in adhering to the principles of offensive defence, it launched attacks in sectors of Poonch, Rajasthan, Chaam with the belief of receiving foreign aid and assistance from the Global superpowers.

The vision of foreign intervention by the USA, UK and China never took off. India’s broad strategy was a classic case with four main strata to introspect coupled with a paradrop at Tangail by the 2nd Battalion of Parachute Regiment, Heliborne Operation at Sylhet and an amphibious landing at Cox Bazar. The greatest force multiplier that caused the Pakistani Army to renounce its defeat in its own heartland within a week and a half was the Mukti Bahini. At the end of the military expedition, 93000 prisoners of war were in India’s control, however, India ended up bartering a huge chunk of territory in return to a relatively small fraction of land being captured by the Pakistanis. An exchange took place, creating the cease-fire line to be the Line of Control (LOC), coaxing the Kashmir conflict issue to remain in place but what emerged more as a concern was a deep feeling of settling the scores for the loss encountered within the psychology of Pakistani military.

Lt. Gen V. K. Ahluwalia recollected his affiliation with the 1971 war where his course mates were stationed at both the fronts, keeping the enemy in check, at the cost of sacrificing their lives, within just three weeks of being newly commissioned officers in the Indian Army. On 22nd Feb of the very year, General Yaya Khan made a shocking move of declaring that the governing power of East Pakistan shall not be handed over to Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s Awami League which caused civil unrest, mass protest and military crackdowns. The leadership of Pakistan was questionable owing to discrimination, deprivation, lack of governance which called for a political solution.

Lt. Gen Prakash Menon spoke about his personal experience on encountering a humanitarian act with a Pakistani military surgeon who didn’t hesitate a bit, saving the life of an Indian soldier who was wounded in the course of military engagements. Each war carries a uniqueness that is permanently etched in the sands of time starting from its political objective, military operational strategies at play, tactical actions which remains relevant to all types of war irrespective of time.

Air operations: 1971 — The war which shaped the subcontinent

Here are the excerpts from the session titled “Air Operations”

1. Air War in the East

The session invited Air Marshal Harish Masand, a decorated 1971 war veteran and a pioneer of the MiG-29 in the Indian Air Force. He is especially known for his writings on airpower and national security matters. The session presented glimpses of the Air Marshal’s encounter in the Bangladesh Liberation War between India and Pakistan. Speaking of actionable intelligence, he said, “due to the lack of reliable photographs of the airfield to operate on, it actually caused a lot of problems initially”. However, many developments have happened since the 1965 war. In the 1971 war, there was better infrastructure like squadrons supporting the army, tactical air centres and qualified fighter pilots. Emphasizing on the importance of air dominance and ending the session, Air Marshal Harish Masand said, “If not the dominance in the air, the Lighting campaign would not have been possible which led to the surrender of Dhaka”

2. Air War in the West

The session invited Mr Jagan Mohan, who has immense knowledge of the Indian Air Force. He talked about roles assigned to the various aircraft. “Texan” Harvard was initially responsible for providing close air support, disrupting supply lines, attacking pillboxes, and installing supports. AVM Manmohan Bahadur talked about the three Vampires lost in the first strike in the war and hence were only equipping the fighter training wing to provide introductory training. He also talked about Vampires being in full swing in capturing point 1.3620 which was right above Kargil. Ending the session, both personalities acknowledged the courage of the officers and airmen who volunteered to participate thus, bringing victory for India.

3. Experiences of first Heliborne Operation

The session invited Sqn Ldr. Pushp Kumar Vaid VrC (Rtd), Flt Crd 110 Helicopter Unit as the keynote speaker. The session invited an additional guest who was none other than General Ian Cardozo, AVSM, SM.

The year 1971 marked a major curve for India given the outrageous war which not only helped India venture into its military capabilities but also gained many ‘first’ experiences. The session’s primary focus stood out in correlation to the Heliborne operations, which were deployed for the first time in the Battle of Sylhet, 1971.

The daunting experiences of 1971 as highlighted by Sqn Ldr. Pushp Kumar Vaid provides an insight into the strategic game adopted by the Indian Air Force to mark a landmark victory back then. He mentioned, “Mi4 helicopter is absolutely the most amazing helicopter that I have flown. Very reliable.” He stressed how they were alerted about the then-incoming war and how the training was completed overnight. The priority was given to the evacuation of casualties however, they left no stone unturned to complete all assigned missions which included dropping loads and providing arms and ammunition.

He reminisced about the sudden ambush he met during his operation in Sylhet and how he and the other air force members dodged bullets to further move ahead with the remaining part of the mission. He went about the entire mission which landed him into earning the prestigious Vir Chakra Award.

General Cardozo shared his remarks on the same, as he was also part of the very first SHPO which was carried out in Sylhet. He highlighted how this was the quickest airborne operation in the history of the Indian Military. The experiences shared by both reiterated the success of the Indian Military and the paramount sacrifices that were made to write the glorifying history of India and its military.

Diplomacy and statecraft: 1971 — The war which shaped the subcontinent

Here are the excerpts from the session titled Diplomacy and statecraft”

1. India’s Global Image and Responses

“1971 was a very momentous year” underlined Alok Bansal, one of the panelists at the session titled “India’s global image and responses”. He dealt with the question of what made 1971 a momentous year. Alok Bansal gave some pointers: Pakistan was dangling with the USA, the leader of the western camp during the cold war and China, an ideological companion of Soviet Russia, India started with its initiative of public diplomacy and so on. In the session, the panelists reflected on the international environment during the 1971 war and the outreach made by India to garner international support for its war efforts in East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh).

Yet the diplomatic effort to gain supporters was limited to smaller powers as Ambassador Akbaruddin outlined. He outlined the international environment under which India went on to appeal to the great powers for support in its initiative against Pakistan. “The Cold War was raging. The great power competition was in vogue. International law was focused on state sovereignty rather than these notions of responsibility to protect etc. were not there as part of the lexicon at that stage. Human rights were not part of the discourse” said Ambassador Akbaruddin.

According to him, during the 1971 war, Indian military efforts were scuttled by both the US and China. In fact, it was the first time when the US and China were in camaraderie to oppose the war efforts of India. To this end, Amb. Akbaruddin highlighted how the Chinese first veto in the UNSC was against recognising the independence of Bangladesh.

He pointed out that India’s efforts were criticized by almost every great power. He also pointed out that India being a non-aligned nation provided it with greater flexibility during the great power competition of the Cold War.

Yet the non-aligned nations didn’t come out and support India’s efforts. This was because the zeitgeist of non-aligned nations was sovereignty, new states and non-interference. Therefore, India, alone in its liberation effort of East Pakistan, had to garner the support of the other side of the Cold War camp, which it found in Soviet Russia.

He pointed out the reticence of European countries in accepting the refugees in the aftermath of the 1971 war. European countries outrightly denied any refugees within its borders and asked India to handle it. Amb. Akbaruddin said that this is because “nations act in terms of their interests”. And European countries were acting in their own interest. 

Probal Dasgupta provided the antecedents of the 1971 war in a global context. Anti-war activism and humanitarian crises in the aftermath of the Vietnam war brought humanitarian issues to the fore. In this sense, his position was somewhat contrary to what Ambassador Akbaruddin underlined.

In this backdrop, he said that a number of small countries like Palestine, Israel and East Germany and West Germany, which he called “strange bedfellows”, supported Indian efforts in East Pakistan. 

Although, strangely, he made the connection of Pakistani army oppression of Bangladeshis to the Muslim ummah. For him, this was an effort to fulfil the geographical and political extent of the Muslim ummah. This, he said, was done with the support of the Arab League.

On whether China was lurking behind during the 1971 war, Dasgupta said that China had been war-ravaged with the defeat in 1967 by the hands of India and the invasion of Chinese territory in the Battle of Ussuri of 1969 by Soviet Russia. Along with that, the domestic upheaval was also dominant, with the purging of party members by Mao Zedong. Therefore, Mao was not interested in the 1971 war. Rather, he was busy keeping his own house in order.

2. Perceptions, Information & Media

The session moderated by Lt Gen PJS Pannu invited Sir Mark Tully (BBC India Head since 1964), Subroto Chattopadhyay and Vishnu Shankar (Editor, TV9 Network). The panel presented the personal experience of perceptions, information, media operations and the importance of credibility in presenting news. Starting off the session, Lt Gen PJS Pannu emphasized the importance of media and how media began the next big thing in war. He mentioned that with the coming of the media, war became a war of perceptions. Subroto Chattopadhyay began by showing his appreciation for the Indian military personnel and highlighted the need of sharing stories of their achievements from the war. The next speaker Vishnu Shankar spoke of how the 26/11 incident changed the workings of media, how media became more responsible as it shaped the perceptions of people. Sharing encounters from his reporting days in BBC, Sir Mark Tully said, “BBC strikes for balance in presenting news always”.

Managing future conflicts: 1971 — The war which shaped the subcontinent

Here are the excerpts from the session titled “Managing future conflicts”

1. Role of World and Regional Fora

Underlining the regional conflict complex in South Asia, LT Gen JS Lidder, set the background for the discussion. He said “the India-China-Pakistan triangle remains at the heart of South Asian conflict.” Meanwhile, he argued that the role of the US as a power balancer has reduced since its retrenchment. And, great powers like China and Russia are trying to fill the void left by the US.

Ambassador Asoke Mukerji pointed out that the territorial factor as a “trigger” for South Asian conflict is still perpetual. While at it, he also focused on the crunch of resources like water sharing as a causal factor for the emergence of conflict in South Asia. Lastly, Ambassador Mukerji said that the “bread and butter” issue will be the third trigger in the regional conflict. To this end, he bemoaned the lack of regionalisation in South Asia. He also highlighted the Afghanistan conundrum, as being one of the factors that might impact the region. Further, he mentioned linguistic nationalism as a primary factor that might trigger conflict in the region, for instance, the 1971 War.

Maj. Gen. Dhruv Katoch highlighted the multidimensionality of the conflict in South Asia. According to him, not only territory but ideologies, ethnicity, energy and existential factors affect the regional conflict.

2. Deterrence and Conflict Prevention

The session moderated by Major General Dhruv Kotch invited Lt General JS Lidder, Ambassador Asoke Mukerji, Shri Arvind Gupta and Lt. General Prakash Menon. The course of the session was divided amongst the four speakers with Lt. General Lidder beginning the discussion.

He begins with how the term ‘deterrence’ has changed over time since the world wars and how it is a perception battle given the nature of conflicts that have evolved over the ages. He said, “Capability comes with political resolve and political resolve is a perception today.” The question he kept reiterating referred to what exactly needs to be deterred in the present day if at all a crisis is bound to strike a country? An interesting remark made by him stated that deterrence need not be military.

The second speaker was Ambassador Asoke Mukerji. He pinpointed how deterrence is not confined to military power and how non-state actors have taken precedence as witnessed in the case of Afghanistan. Ambassador Mukerji took the issue of technological dimension but of course, what was once there in 1945 as a nuclear bomb has now evolved into cyber threats and even attacks from outer space. Technology will continue to affect people who deal with conflict prevention and thus India’s context was also spoken of. He named India should be more self-reliant and be the master of its activities. He concluded by mentioning that deterrence in the present day must wither away from the traditional conventions for conflict prevention.

The third speaker, Dr. Arvind Gupta opened his remarks with how conflicts have always existed. The key to crack conflict prevention is how to manage them and deal with them given the change of deterrence. The threat scenario has become grand. The literature on deterrence is different from how one perceives it. Taking inspiration from Kissinger’s work on deterrence he draws the attention of the audience towards how people look at deterrence differently and there is an overlap of both political and ideological dimensions. He concluded that since countries live in a realist world, one has to be clear about what deterrence is being talked about. He said, “You can build a scenario, but you can’t control the scenario.”

The last speaker joining this session was Lt. General Prakash Menon who narrated how the essence of deterrence remains to be a combination of defensive and offensive ability. He stressed that one cannot talk about conflict prevention and deterrence without knowing what is conflict? Speaking in terms of India, he highlighted that given the nexus between Pakistan-China and look out for what could be targeted. Conflict requires dialogue and Lt General Menon substantiated this point with the nuclear dilemma. The use of any nuclear weapons comes with a strategic effect and there is a need to understand the political rhetoric.

Stories of valour: 1971 — The war which shaped the subcontinent

Here are the excerpts from the session titled “Stories of Valour”

Narration of stories of valour by Maroof Raza

In this session, Mr Maroof Raza narrated several stories of the valour of the Indian armed forces during the 1971 Indo-Pak war. First, he began by speaking about the Battle of Hilli, which was fought for 19 consecutive days in 1971 in erstwhile East Pakistan. It was a classic example of defence in the history of modern warfare. The battle was the bloodiest fighting in East Pakistan. Then he discusses Operation Trident, an offensive launched by the Indian Navy against Pakistan’s port city of Karachi.

After this operation, the Pakistani side was devastated. The Battle of Longewala, fought during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, followed. Mr Raza spoke about Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri and his brave band of soldiers who led the defence against Pakistani forces at the Indian border post of Longewala. While speaking about the Chachro Raid of 1971, he highlights how Para Commandos brought India victory during the Desert Raids of the 1971 War. During the 1971 war, this successful operation led by Lt Col Bhawani Singh established the Indian Army’s dominance in the desert. Next, the distinguished efforts of Bangladesh Liberation War hero AVM Chandan Singh in the armed forces are highlighted, which earned him the Vir Chakra during the Sino-Indian War and the Maha Vir Chakra during the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War. The tale that followed was about Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla, who chose to go down with the ship after it was hit by a Pakistani submarine during the Indo-Pak war of 1971.

During the same war, Ian Cardozo chose to cut off his leg with a Khukri after accidentally stepping on a landmine. Then he goes on to praise the bravery of Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon, who was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra for defending the Srinagar Air Base alone during the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War. In his final story of valour for the session, Mr Raza mentions the Battle of Basantar as one of the crucial battles fought in the western sector of India during the Indo-Pak War of 1971. Indian troops defeated Pakistan in a hard-fought battle, securing Indian territory in the Punjab/Jammu sector. While concluding his session, Mr Maroof Raza discussed his upcoming book, The Contested Lands (India-China border dispute), which will soon be available for sale to the general masses. The book is very comprehensive and contains detailed accounts of the India-China border disputes since the beginning of the 1900s.

Contribution of Indian Cinema in infusing patriotism

Here are the excerpts from the session titled “Contribution of Indian Cinema in infusing patriotism”

The session was chaired by Lt Gen PJS Pannu, in conversation with his long-term old comrade from the forces Lt Gen Maroof Raza and eminent producer, director and filmmaker Shri J P Dutta. Reflecting on the 1971 Bangladesh war, Lt Gen Pannu recalled his memories etched as a freshly commissioned officer in the Marathas in 1979, on his perceptions of war and patriotism. The sacrifice by the battalions cannot be reinstated through the number of gallantry awards won by the regiments. The medals cannot reimburse the loss of martyrs, the people who gave up their everything for a better future for others.

J.P. Dutta was a pioneer as an Indian filmmaker, who had been working on the sense and taste of military at its best, constituting a trilogy of the wars fought since 1962, bringing the concept of war to the hearts of people. His films have sparked an interest amongst the youngsters to dream of a military career, less explored in those days, and who later went on to become the military marvels and is still serving in the army in the frontline. JP Dutta expressed that his selection of characters to be showcased in the film, simply weighed on the basis of emotional connotation more than judging the relevance of a gallantry award. From visiting the units, asking the Commanding officers with after-action reports, researching his bit and finally scripting the ultimate storyline to recreate the war anecdotes.

Lt Gen Maroof Raza highlighted the importance of putting forward a story in a crisp manner that adheres to the facts as well as portraying the objective of the film. The idea of making documentaries is to revive untold stories amidst the common men, pay homage to both heroes of valour and unsung heroes as it is a common attitude to remember the gallantry awardees. There are a lot of times, unsung heroes are not paid their due credits for their actions, who went way beyond their call of duty, probably the only way for netizens to figure out, are the names etched in the war memorial.

Valedictory address by CDS General Bipin Rawat:1971 — The war which shaped the subcontinent

Here are the excerpts from the valedictory address by CDS General Bipin Rawat

The Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, appreciated the support of Mukti Bahini and Col. Ali in the war against Pakistan. He said that Mukhti Bahini had set the stage for the Indian Army to achieve victory in such a short time and the war was fought in a coalition by the people of Bangladesh and the Indian armed forces.

He mentioned that “India’s intervention in East Pakistan was because of the tyranny that was imposed on the people of then East Pakistan by the Pakistan armed forces. Ten million refugees started pouring into India.” Recalling the five Paise stamps that were used to provide support for the food and shelter needs of the refugees, he mentioned that every Indian contributed to the war and not just the military. “At a time when India itself was surviving on PL-480 assistance, Indians had the courage to provide for the food and shelter of the refugees overflowing from Bangladesh because of the tyranny they were facing”.

While reflecting on the 1971 war, Gen. Rawat drew attention to the future of warfare. The war in Bangladesh was fought as a theatre battle. It was possible to form this theatre as the three forces had adequate time from April 1971, when the political leadership had given clear commands for the war, till December 1971 when the war was actually executed. Taking lessons from the war, he said that future wars, if fought, would also need the creation of theatres to carry out operations in a joint manner. The army, airforce and navy can no longer fight in individual silos.

Gen. Rawat concluded that the 1971 war was a success because of the manner in which the three forces had integrated, the coalition that Indian defence forces had formed with the Mukti Bahini and clear support to the Indian defence forces from the political leadership of the time.

With this valedictory address by General Bipin Rawat, the two-day event on the 1971 war was concluded.

 

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