Lasting 13 days, 1971 War covered an infinitesimally short span of history but it is an event that has had lasting consequences, for India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and their inter-se relations.
When the Pakistan Air Force launched pre-emptive strikes on airfields in Western India on December 3, 1971, India responded by formally declaring war in the wee hours of December 4. The speed and scale of victory was due to leadership, logistics, strategy — but also chance and contingency.
It was in 1971 that Pakistan lost half its country, and its forces in the Eastern theatre had to publicly surrender to the Indians at Dhaka. India’s decisive military victory leading to the creation of Bangladesh is seen as the ultimate repudiation of the two-nation theory. Despite having more than 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war, India did not go for a punitive settlement on Kashmir. Wary of making the mistake the winners of the First World War made at Versailles, India treated Pakistan as an equal, with dignity, honour and respect.
The instrument of surrender was signed by Lt Gen A A K Niazi with Lt Gen J S Aurora watching, at Dhaka at 4.55 pm on December 16, 1971. That remains the abiding image of the 1971 War.