Mainstream Weekly

Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2011 > Indo Pak War of 1971 - Some Not-so-public Facts

Indo Pak War of 1971 - Some Not-so-public Facts

Tuesday 27 December 2011, by Rajindar Sachar


The recently declassified documents of the 1971 war between India and Pakistan have without any doubt established the fact of the absolute tilt of US President Nixon and Kissinger against India.

This hostile aggressive stand taken by Nixon was sought to be justified under the false premise that Indira Gandhi was right from the beginning determined to attack East Bengal. This, however, was a lie and Nixon, above all the people, knew that on the other hand she had tried her best to avoid confrontation with Pakistan. As a matter of fact, Indira Gandhi tried her best to persuade Nixon to intervene at an early stage to help her do so.

In July 1971, Kissinger had a stop-over in India on his secret visit to China. At that time mass fleeing from East Pakistan and terror by the Pakistan Army were creating havoc in West Bengal and the rest of the country. Mrs Gandhi, was obviously under a big strain. She, therefore, invited Kissinger for a private breakfast to be able to discuss the matter urgently.

However, on the previous evening Mrs Indira Gandhi telephoned General Manekshaw, our Army Chief, and told him that she would like him to come and meet her at breakfast the next morning. She did not disclose as to who her other guests were. She further told the General that when he comes for breakfast, he should come in Army uniform. Naturally, the General felt surprised and asked whether he had heard her rightly that she wanted him to come in the uniform at the breakfast, because it was naturally a very strange suggestion. Mrs Gandhi was straightforward and told him: yes, she wanted him to come for breakfast but in uniform. So, General Manekshaw went for breakfast in full uniform and soon they were joined by Kissinger.

At that meeting Mrs Indira Gandhi was persistent in asking Kissinger to plead with Nixon that he should try to restrain Pakistan from what was being done in East Pakistan because the conditions there were becoming intolerable and it was almost becoming impossible for India to remain silent. Kissinger, however, went on prevaricating and would not really give a straight answer. Rather, he tried to underplay the situation. Mrs Gandhi, however, still insisted, but to no avail. Kissinger would not give any assurance that Nixon would do something about it.

Obviously rattled, Mrs Gandhi said if that was the position she may have to do something herself which she was reluctant to do. At this, Kissinger again expressed his inability on his and Nixon’s behalf to do anything and asked her rather ironically as to what she intended to do. At that time she stood up and pointing towards the General (who was in full military uniform) told Kissinger that “if the US Govern-ment and US President cannot control the situation then I am going to ask him (meaning the General) to do the same”.

There was stunning silence for a minute and the sharp message was conveyed to Kissinger in a very stark manner. As a matter of fact, the General was himself surprised and suddenly understood the purpose as to why he had been asked to come in uniform rather than in civilian clothes at apparently a harmless meeting at breakfast. Obviously, Nixon and Kissinger had their egos deflated and were not going to forgive Mrs Gandhi for such an attitude.

MRS GANDHI had no other course but to create world opinion in favour of India. She requested JP, the socialist and legendary hero of the freedom struggle, to go on a world tour to explain India’s case, which JP, the patriot that he was, willingly undertook. But still matters were getting worse; yet India could not directly intervene. Refugees were continuing to pour in from East Bengal. Siddhartha Shankar Ray was in charge of the border. On one of the usual visits by Mrs Gandhi to the border a public meeting was held to reassure the public that the matter was being looked after properly. On this visit to West Bengal she told Ray that after the public meeting she would go back to Delhi, and Ray should stay for some days in Calcutta and come later.

At the public meeting while Mrs. Gandhi was addressing, one of her aides handed her a small paper—she read it and put it in her pocket and continued as usual with her speech. After the meeting ended while going to the airport she told Ray that he should come along with her to Delhi. Ray was a little surprised at this sudden change of his programme. But her followers did not ask questions of Indira Gandhi —there was implicit compliance. After about 15 minutes of flight onward to Delhi, Mrs Gandhi leaned back in her seat, a bit relaxed, took out the paper given to her at the public meeting and told Ray who was sitting next to her: “Here is the information: Pakistan has attacked.” At first blush it would seem strange that Mrs Gandhi should seem relaxed on knowing about the Pak attack. But there was an obvious logic—India was reeling under the refugee influx and yet it dared not attack East Bengal, because then the world opinion would call it the aggressor. An excuse was necessary and Pakistan had now conveniently provided it. Of course, let us be objective—the war on the East Bengal front was weighed in favour of India. As General Arora told me, though to start with some hard knocks were taken, it was a smooth march—the whole population of East Bengal was against Pakistan.

The movements of the Pak Army were leaked in detail by the Mukti Bahini and their volunteers to the Indian Army whose task was thus made smooth (though no doubt India lost quite a few thousand of the armed forces). To make matters still easier the Indian Air Force had no opposition and bombed General Niazi’s official bangalow. As one of the Air Chiefs told me: “You can’t imagine the panic, the utter helplessness at being bombed from above by enemy planes, knowing fully well that you can’t even send one plane to stop them.” It was inevitable that Niazi surrendered without much time.

We, both Pakistan and India, have to put and fortunately have already put those sad memories behind us and are determined to march together on a common course of mutual confidence and benefit from faith in each other to build a bright future for both our countries. The past should not control the future of our two countries.

The author, a retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, was the Chairperson of the Prime Minister’s high-level Committee on the Status of Muslims and the UN Special Rapporteur on Housing. A former President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), he is a tireless champion of human rights. He can be contacted at e-mail:

ISSN (Mainstream Online) : 2582-7316 | Privacy Policy|
Notice: Mainstream Weekly appears online only.