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Explained: How the Indo-Pak War of 1971 began 50 years ago on this day

50 years ago, on the eve of December 3, 1971, Pakistan launched a series of air strikes against Indian air bases, signalling the official beginning of the third Indo-Pak War. Here's a look at how the events of December 3, 1971 unfolded.

Written by Man Aman Singh Chhina , Edited by Explained Desk | Chandigarh |
Updated: December 4, 2021 2:34:10 am
India Pakistan war: Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, GOC-in-C Eastern Command, talks to jawans and officers at Comilla in Bangladesh during the war on December 8, 1971 (Source: PIB)

50 years ago, on the eve of December 3, 1971, Pakistan launched a series of air strikes against Indian air bases in the Western Sector, thus signalling the official beginning of the third Indo-Pak War. This war would lead to the creation of a new country, Bangladesh. Here’s a look at how the events of December 3, 1971 unfolded:

What was the offensive action launched by Pakistan against India on December 3, 1971?

On December 3, 1971, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) launched a series of air raids on Indian Air Force (IAF) air bases and radar stations in the Western Sector, primarily in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana and Rajasthan. Air strikes under the operation, code named Operation Chengiz Khan, were launched by PAF against Pathankot and Amritsar air bases of IAF in the first wave of the attack. The runways of Pathankot and Amritsar air bases were damaged in this attack, as was the radar station at Amritsar. These were subsequently repaired and made operational by the IAF and were used to launch a counter attack on the PAF bases in western Pakistan.

In the second wave of attacks, air bases in Srinagar and Avantipur in J&K were attacked by PAF, but these did not yield significant results and the damage caused was not enough to keep these airfields out of operation. Simultaneous raids were carried out by PAF at the radar station in Faridkot in Punjab, causing it damage.

The third wave of Pakistani air attacks took place on Agra in Uttar Pradesh, Halwara near Ludhiana in Punjab, and Ambala and Sirsa in Haryana. Two B-57 aircraft of PAF dropped bombs on the runway at Agra, but failed to damage it, and this runway was used by the IAF later the same evening for a retaliatory air strike on Pakistan.

PAF air strikes also took place on Uttarlai, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, and Bhuj and Jamnagar in Gujarat.

In addition to these air attacks, the Pakistan Army launched offensive action along the Line of Control in J&K and started artillery shelling of forward positions of the Indian Army.

How did India retaliate to the Pakistan air attacks?

The IAF retaliated by launching air attacks on airfields and radar stations of the Pakistan Air Force. These attacks were launched on Murid, Mianwali, Sargodha, Chandher, Risalewala, Rafiqui and Masroor in west Pakistan. Air raids were also launched in east Pakistan on Kurmitola, Chittagong, Jessore and Tejgaon.

Heavy damage was reported on the runways of Sargodha and Masroor air bases, rendering them non-operational for the next few days. In the Eastern Sector, the IAF obtained total air superiority in a matter of two days, as the offensive air action by IAF as well as Indian Navy and Mukti Bahini air elements subdued the Pakistan air and naval forces.

What was the offensive action taken by Pakistan Army on Dec 3, 1971?

The Pakistan Army attacked Indian positions in Poonch, Kargil and Chhamb on December 3, 1971 in a bid to establish its superiority over certain areas, and pose a threat to the Srinagar-Leh highway and Akhnoor and Jammu in J&K. The Pakistan Army also resorted to artillery shelling at forward Indian positions in Punjab and Rajasthan, and a day later on December 4, launched an ambitious attack in Laungewala sector in Rajasthan which was thwarted by the Indian Army and IAF with the complete destruction of the Pakistani tanks and attacking forces.

How did the Indian government react to Pakistan’s attack?

Around midnight on December 3, then prime minister Indira Gandhi made an address to the nation on radio informing the country about the attack. Here are some excerpts from her speech:

“I speak to you at a moment of grave peril to our country and our people. Some hours ago, soon after 5.30 pm on December 3, Pakistan launched full‐scale war against us.

The Pakistan Air Force suddenly struck at our airfields in Amritsar, Pathankot, Srinagar, Avantipur, Utterlai, Jodhpur, Ambala and Agra.

Their ground forces are shelling our defense positions in Sulemankhi, Khemkaran, Poonch and other sectors.

Since last March, we have borne the heaviest of burdens and withstood the greatest of pressure and a tremendous effort to urge the world to help in bringing about peaceful solution, in preventing annihilation of an entire people whose only crime was to vote democratically.

… Today, the war in Bangla Desh has become a war on India, and this imposes upon me, my Government and the people of India an awesome responsibility. We have no other option but to put our country on a war footing. Our brave officers and jawans are at their posts, mobilised for the defence of the country. Emergency has been declared for the whole of India. Every necessary step is being taken, and we are prepared for any eventualities.

… We must be prepared for a long period of hardship and sacrifice. We are a peace-loving people, but we know that peace cannot last if we do not guard our freedom, our democracy and our way of life. So today, we fight, not merely for territorial integrity, but for the basic ideals which have given strength to this country, and in this alone we can progress to a better future. Aggression must be met and the people of India will meet it with fortitude and determination, with discipline and the utmost unity.”

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