History: December 3, 1971: Pakistan Starts War with India

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A Brief History

On December 3, 1971, amid the background of the Bangladeshi War of Liberation when East Pakistan was attempting to secede from West Pakistan, the military forces of Pakistan launched a pre-emptive assault against India, attacking airfields and military installations and triggering the Indo-Pakistani War, 13 days of the brink of a far larger disaster.

Digging Deeper

After World War II when imperial nations were forced to give up colonies, the British reluctantly gave India, the largest and richest colony, their long overdue independence.  India was made up largely of a Hindu population, with a large Muslim minority.  Tensions between the 2 religious groups led to a portioning of the country with the Hindu central and southern portion becoming the independent country of India and the northeast and northwest portions becoming the Muslim country of Pakistan, divided by northern India in the middle.

The portion known as East Pakistan rebelled against the domination by the government in West Pakistan, and a war for independence (to become a separate country called Bangladesh) was taking place, creating large numbers of refugees (10 million fled to India) and India helping the Bangladeshi cause.  Meanwhile, China, a traditional enemy of India, was aligned with Pakistan, creating tremendous tension between the 2 most populous countries in the world (India and China), both among the top 10 in size of their armed forces.  Pakistan was partially armed with weapons from the Western alliance of nations, such as the United States of America (US), while India was armed largely with new weapons from the Soviet Union (USSR), who had just signed a military support treaty with India.

The United States was seen by a large segment of the world as being on the “wrong side” by supporting Pakistan instead of supporting Bangladeshi independence.  Pakistan had been brutal in their treatment of the dissident half of their country and had committed numerous acts of barbarism.

Despite lasting only 13 days and being largely ignored by the US population that was more concerned with the War in Viet Nam and racial issues at home, over 38,000 Indians were killed and over 9000 Pakistanis were killed, with another 97,368 Pakistanis captured.  (Compared to US losses of 38,000 killed in the 3 year Korean War.)  Pakistan claimed 130 Indian aircraft destroyed, and India claimed over 40 Pakistani aircraft destroyed.  Perhaps half of the Pakistani Navy was destroyed.  India decisively took the side of the rebels and defeated the Pakistani government forces in East Pakistan/Bangladesh, securing the independence of the new country.

Meanwhile, the US, UK, Soviet Union, and China all had military forces nearby and ready to fight, creating a tense and dangerous Cold War situation.  The decisiveness of Pakistan’s defeat (they lost half their population, half their Navy, a third of their Army and a fourth of their Air Force) led to a cease fire and eventually a peace treaty, though tensions have never been totally resolved between India and Pakistan.  Both India and Pakistan have developed nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, making the next Indo-Pakistani War a potential nuclear conflict, something we hop will be avoided.

The shame of this situation is that the Indian and Pakistani people are ethnically and culturally basically the same people, merely separated by religion, sadly the great divider of people instead of being the great uniter.  Will India and Pakistan have a nuclear war?  Tell us if and when you think this might happen.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.