WHY THE MOVEMENT FOR BANGLADESH
VICTORY HAS A THOUSAND FATHERS. DEFEAT IS AN ORPHAN
Basically there are three main interlocking reasons for this success. These are examined below from a military perspective.
The most important reason is the determination of the peoples of Bangladesh to be free. This aspiration crystallised after Islamabad's military action of 26 March 1971.
A crucial development was the formation of a Bangladesh government-in-exile. It had enough credibility to enjoy popular support within Bangladesh and reach understandings with the host authorities in Delhi.
The exile government adopted a pragmatically innovative strategy. This helped mobilise internal and external forces and resources to bring into existence a spirited resistance movement and expanding guerrilla warfare operations, especially after Indian gunners destroyed 50% of the BOPs by July 1971. This facilitated infiltration and exfiltration.
As in Occupied Europe in the Second World War (WWII), resistance and guerrilla warfare kept the people's hope alive, a priceless asset. But could these two factors alone have led to independence? Probably not, at least in the short-term, to judge by historical evidence.
Guerrilla war is the instrument of the militarily weak against stronger conventional forces. England's Special Operations Executive (SOE) in WW II extensively implemented Churchill's order to set Europe ablaze through spying and sabotage.
This action sustained civilian morale in occupied Europe. But it merely pinpricked the Germans (see SOE 1940-1946 by MRD Foot; and The White Rabbit by Bruce Marshall).
Guerrilla's hit-and-run tactics ensure their survival. These unsettle but seldom defeat regular forces as in the former Yugoslavia and USSR (see Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy Mclean and Soviet Partisan Warfare by Otto Heilbronner).
Guerrillas invariably lose in pitched battles against regulars. Thus, the Wehrmacht (German army) mauled Tito's guerrillas and Soviet partisans in bandit suppression campaigns in 1942, and decimated Gen. Bor-Komarowski's Polish Underground Army in Warsaw in 1944 (while the Red Army 20 miles away didn't lift a finger to help the Poles).
The Viet Cong lost heavily in the Tet offensive of 1968 though this one factor probably more than any other irrevocably turned US public against the Vietnam war (see White House Years by Kissinger). Mao retreated from Kiangsi to Shensi in the epic 16 months Long March of about 5,000 kms when cornered by Chiang's fifth extermination campaign of autumn 1934 (see The Long March by Harrison Salisbury & The Selected Works of Mao Dze Dong). Our own Mukti Bahini (MB) got indifferent results when directly assaulting Pakistani fixed positions. Special forces operating as guerrillas at different scale levels in WW II produced mixed results with little effect on the conflict's final outcome. Stirling's SAS in the Western Desert in 1941-42 destroyed many German and Italian planes on shoestring resources (see Winged Dagger by Roy Farran) Force 136 in Malaysia achieved modest success (see Force 136 and The Jungle is Neutral by Spencer Chapman). Wingate's Chindits and Merrill's Marauders performances in Burma were incommensurate with the resources used (see The Marauders by C. Ogburn and Gideon's Trumpet).
Thus Gen. MAG Osmany's ops plan of September 1971 to send the EBR battalions in small commando groups inside Bangladesh would not have helped much. That's why the sector commanders were lukewarm to this proposal, especially as they wanted to conserve their forces-in-being (see Muldhara 71 by Muyeedul Hasan, a close associate of Tajuddin's).
Cuba excepted, guerrillas are most effective in support of regulars when victory is certain or probable. Thus, the operations of the French resistance (Maquis) and Tito's guerrillas were carefully calibrated and peaked to coincide with Operation Overlord (the Allied invasion of Normandy) in June 1944. The MB's effectiveness increased dramatically from October 1971 when the smell of victory was in the air (see Muldhara 71).
GEOGRAPHY AND DEMOGRAPHY
Lack of geographical contiguity of Pakistan's two wings with the east having the majority of the population is the second reason. The former made national integration impractical, two economies inevitable and military logistics impossible. The latter gave legitimacy to Bengali aspirations.
Geographical contiguity and minority demands rarely spawn successful liberation movements irrespective of the breadth and depth of popular support and participation. This happens because the centre's staying power exceeds the insurgents.
Fatigue eventually overwhelms the rebels. The long-running but unsuccessful insurgencies in Baluchistan, Chechnya, CHT, Kashmir, Nagaland, Mizoram, Sri Lanka and Tibet validate this point. (Note: A successful insurgency becomes national liberation; its participants freedom fighters (FF). A failed one is an insurrection; its members terrorists. One man's FF is another's terrorist. The classic examples are PLOs Yasser Arafat and Israel's Menachem Begin).
But whether this would have spilled over into a successful national liberation movement is an interesting question. The interplay of accommodation, reform, threats and use of force probably would have kept the pot boiling without engendering a fatal explosion beyond the point of no return.
SANCTUARY AND EXTERNAL SUPPORT
These two factors make up the third reason for our successful liberation.
A sanctuary is vital for guerrillas' survival. It gives them time and space to organise political and military resources to defeat the opposition.
Sanctuaries can be internal like Mao's Yenan or Castro's Sierra Madre mountains (see The Cuban Revolution by Tad Szulc). Or they can be external like Yunnan was for the Viet Minh, Nagas (who also rested and regrouped in East Pakistan in 1964) and Mizos; Laos and Cambodia for the Viet Cong; Tunisia for the FLN; and India for the LTTE and MB.
A sanctuary is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for success. The hemorrhaging insurgencies in India's Seven Sisters and Sri Lanka bear this out. The host country and others, preferably a superpower, must give sustained moral and substantial material support sufficient to tilt the balance in the insurgents favour.
PRCs establishment in 1948 gave a big fillip to Ho Chi Minh's Vietnamese. So did Soviet SAMs (Surface to Air Missiles) to Hanoi during the Second Indo-China War (the first was against the French (-see Street Without Joy by Bernard Fall).
Our liberation struggle got boosted after India decided to support the MB initially with arms and training and later with its armed forces under the security umbrella provided by the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty of August 1971.
This combination ensured the success of the Indo-Bangladesh forces under India's Eastern Command (Lt. Gen. JS Aurora).
Aurora's forces enjoyed several advantages. These included: a favourable political and diplomatic environment; time for operational planning, wargaming and logistical build-up; absolute air and naval supremacy; excellent tactical intelligence; substantive and substantial support from guerrillas and local population; and a weary, demoralised and tactically unbalanced enemy with poor command and control and without a cause and the will to fight (see Surrender at Dacca by Lt. Gen JFR Jacob- (he was Aurora's chief of staff - and The Betrayal of East Pakistan by Lt. Gen. AAK Niazi).
If Napoleon's dictum that the moral is to the material as three is to one is relevant, then Aurora's operating environment was a commander's dream.
Eastern Command astutely exploited these assets. With the help from MB and local civilians, it bypassed, infiltrated and set roadblocks to unhinge and destroy the Pakistanis. This was similar to Macarthur's island-hopping strategy in the SW Pacific in 1943-44 during WW II (see American Caesar by William Manchester).
The allied forces conducted no set piece battles. Instead they fought a series of heavy somewhat independent sector skirmishes involving battalion occasionally brigade level forces supported by artillery and air strikes, and occasionally tanks. Extensive mopping-up operations followed these skirmishes.
The Pakistanis surrender of Jessore (abandoned on 7 December, also Pearl Harbour Day), Mainamati and Sylhet without fighting shows their low morale and also their realism in not courting futile martyrdom. Where fixed positions as in Bhaduria, Hilli, Jamalpur and Kamalpur were assaulted, the defenders resisted stoutly.
Eastern Command did a good job. But to describe its operations as a lightning campaign (Blitzkrieg), as do Maj. Gen. DK Palit and Sukhwant Singh, is to exaggerate (see their The Lightning Campaign and Victory in Bangladesh. NB. A contrary exaggeration is the remark by another Indian general to Muldhara's Muyeedul Hasan that the exertions of Aurora's forces after 10 December was comparable to that of a hazardous and extended route march!).
Blitzkrieg's essence is speed. All arms combine to punch holes along a narrow front. These are exploited to become the floodgates for an expanding torrent (Liddell Hart).
Thus tank spearheads of Rommel's 7th. Panzer Division (dubbed Ghost Division by the French) aggressively advanced from Ardennes across the Meuse to Amiens on the Channel coast in May 1940 to cover at times 50 kms a day, leaving its accompanying infantry well behind on occasions. The panzers sowed havoc and confusion in their passage (see Blitzkrieg by Len Deighton).
The Indian Army's equipment, training and outlook plus the Bangladesh terrain made such prolonged and swift movement impractical and unimaginable.
Nevertheless, Aurora's three corps made good gains in the war's early days. This is evidenced by the capture of Jhenidah by II Corps (Lt. Gen. Later Gen. Raina), Palashbari by XXXIII Corps (Lt. Gen. ML Thapan) and the Meghna Bulge river ports of Ashuganj, Daudkandi and Chandpur by IV Corps (Lt. Gen. Sagat Singh) by 9 December.
Thereafter, movement slowed due to terrain difficulties and lagging logistics. thus IV Corps took four days despite negligible opposition to establish an effective bridgehead in Narsingdi because of insufficient amphibious and heli-capability to cross the Meghna.
2 Para of the crack 50 Ind. Para. Bde captured Tangail on 11 December afternoon. It took three days for advance elements of 101 Communications Zone (Maj. Gen. GC Nagra replacing the injured GS Gill on 4 December) to reach the almost defenceless outskirts of Dhaka 90 kms away because of transport constraints.
In retrospect, its clear that Indian ops plan would have been more effective had it allocated more resources including armour to the northern sector under 101 Comm Zone since the country around and north of Tangail is tankable and is the shortest route to Dhaka. The war conceivably could have ended a few days sooner than 16 December. Dhaka became the prime objective after the Seventh Fleet entered the Bay of Bengal. Thus Jacob's criticism of Army HQ's including FM Manekshaw's role in supervising the preparation of the ops plan where Dhaka incredibly was not the main objective is not without merit (Surrender at Dhaka, pp 65-67).
But these episodes and comments don't detract from the allied forces' success. Whether they could have done the job better and faster is of interest to staff colleges, especially Mirpur, Quetta and Wellington.
An interesting statistic is that the fight of the Indian and Pakistani regulars occurred essentially between the so-called martial races. Niazi's troops were all Pms (Punjabi Mussalmans), Pathans and Baluchis. Sixty-one of Aurora's 71 infantry battalions that saw action were Garhwalis and Rajputs (11 bns each), Dogras/Jats/Punjabis and Sikhs (18 bns). Surrender at Dhaka, Appendix 9).
Our liberation struggle was the complex product among others of history and geography, calculated deceit and gross miscalculation by Yahya's junta and our appropriately valiant response.
Iron cuts iron. Regular armies are needed to defeat other regulars. The MB's resistance inside and outside Bangladesh kept hope alive and physically and psychologically softened the enemy. The Bangladesh authorities successfully mobilised domestic irregulars, Indian and EBR regulars and Soviet support. A just cause and the good guys won.