When the fighting has to stop

Immediately after Bangladesh was freed, Indira Gandhi declared a unilateral ceasefire on the western front.

 Indira Gandhi The “goongi gudiya” of yesteryears suddenly morphed into the invincible goddess Durga.
Written by Inder Malhotra | Updated: May 25, 2014 11:59 pm

Around the time Henry Kissinger, US President Richard Nixon’s national security advisor, was trying unsuccessfully to persuade China, through its ambassador to the UN, Huang Hua, to intervene in the India-Pakistan war in Bangladesh, desperate Pakistani generals, especially Major General Rao Farman Ali, were requesting the UN representatives on the spot to arrange for a ceasefire and bring the war to an end. Confused and contradictory directives from Islamabad were a huge roadblock to this objective, while the ground situation for the Pakistani army was becoming worse by the hour.

At the same time, the Nixon-Kissinger duo ordered the Sixth Fleet to send a naval task force, headed by the nuclear aircraft-carrier Enterprise, with marines on board, to the Bay of Bengal, obviously to support those who were morally in the wrong and militarily doomed to defeat. But by the time these warships could reach anywhere near the scene of action, the game was up.

After tersely denouncing the American attempt to “browbeat” India, Indira Gandhi took a profoundly important decision, of which the country became aware much later. She quietly called in Raja Ramanna, then director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and the premier nuclear scientist of his time, and directed him to start preparing for an underground detonation. This became a reality on May 18, 1974, and India joined the world’s exclusive nuclear club.

On December 16, 1971, no fewer than 93,000 officers and men of the Pakistan army surrendered to Lieutenant General J.S. Aurora, the GOC-in-C of the Indo-Bangladeshi Command. Not since World War II had surrender on this scale taken place, nor has it been repeated afterwards.

Of the scene in Islamabad that day, Pakistani foreign secretary, Sultan M. Khan, has recorded in his memoirs: “The fantasy of the prevailing mood was unbelievable. Despite the stark reality that the military situation in Pakistan was near collapse, the president’s broadcast to the nation on December 16, 1971, promised that resistance would be carried on to the bitter end and there would be no surrender… Knowing that the president was aware that our military capability in East Pakistan was almost nil, I was amazed that his speech was full of Churchillian phrases about resisting the enemy…”

In her office in Parliament House, Gandhi was calmly giving an interview to a Swedish TV crew when her red telephone rang. It was General (later Field Marshal) Sam Manekshaw informing her that the surrender had been signed and sealed. She told the Swedes to wait and walked to the Lok Sabha chamber without any sign of hurry. There her excitement showed when she told the House: “Dhaka is now the free capital of a free country…” The rest of her statement was drowned in wild applause and had to be repeated later.

During the walk back to her office, she told her information advisor, H.Y. Sharada Prasad: “I must order …continued »

First Published on: May 26, 2014 12:53 amSingle Page Format
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