On 10 December 1971 the military operation of the Mukti Bahini came under the sole command of the Indian Armed Forces, with the formation of the Mitro Bahini (Joint Command or Allied Forces). Indian GOC-in-C Lt. Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora became the leader of this new allied force. He had to report to the Indian Chief of the Army Staff (Sam Manekshaw) who would in turn report to the acting President of Bangladesh (Syed Nazrul Islam).
The decision to select Indian General Aurora over Bengali General Osmani - who led the muktijuddhas from start of the war - would prove to be a sour point between Bangladesh-India relationship. Many Bengali historians point out that the formation of the Mitro Bahini gave India the necessary legal coverage for the final military onslaught - demonstrating the extent to which India had ensured its domination over the nationalist struggle of Bangladesh. Although the Mitro Bahini agreement described the Indian Armed Forces as 'supporting forces', in reality they had become the sole military authority in the nationalist struggle of Bangladesh. India also played the dominant role in the surrender of Pakistan army in Bangladesh few days later - thereby taking the gloss from the hard fought Bengali victory. In fact, in many literature, the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 is sometime referred to as Indo-Pak War of 1971.
This is a significant factor in understanding the relationship between India, Bangladesh and Pakistan post-1971. Ironically, India's direct military intervention forced the Mukti Bahini to be regarded not as the primary force to bring freedom but rather as the supporting force in the Liberation Struggle.
Even if Indian Army restricted its attacks on the Pakistani posts in border areas, the Pakistan Army would still have soon collapsed. The Indian Army, however, did not wait for the Mukti Bahini to defeat the Pakistan Army, and moved swiftly towards Dhaka.
For all practical purposes, the surrender document sacrificed certain basic interests of Bangladesh at the expense of making room for India so that it could redefine its relationship with Pakistan. It otherwise symbolised the transformation of the nationalist struggle of Bangladesh into an Indo-Pakistan affar.
"Unofficially we are at war," declared General A. A. K. Niazi, West Pakistan's spit-and-polish senior military officer in East Pakistan. But with just whom was a matter of debate. In fact, the enemy appeared to consist of virtually the whole of population of East Pakistan, plus contingents of the Indian army which crossed the border two weeks ago and stayed there. With India's intervention, the already tragic East Pakistan situation slid yet nearer to another futile and exhausting Asian war, this time between two of the poorest nations on earth.
Within days, the Mitro Bahini had overwhelmed the Pakistani forces in the east. The Pakistanis found themselves far outnumbered - 80,000 to Mitro Bahini's 200,000 - and trapped in a land more than 1,000 miles from their home bases in the West.
Pakistan had suffered serious reverses in the western front too. As the total defeat of the Pakistani forces in the east became apparent, President Nixon's US administration was worried of a possible Indian thrust into Western Pakistan, their ally in South Asia. As a preemptive move, President Nixon ordered a Task Foce led by the nuclear-powered aircraft career USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal. The Task Force arrived on station on 11 December 1971. As a countermeasure, the Soviet Navy dispatched two groups of ships from their eastern fleet, armed with nuclear missiles and also a nuclear submarine to trail the US Task Force. Suddenly, the limited war in South Asia apeared to turn into a global confrontation with nuclear dimension.
Air coverage of IAF and the bombardments the Indian Navy unleashed against Pakistani naval posts had encouraging effect on the Mitro Bahini. Pakistani defences were virtually crumbling. The Mitro Bahini was steadily advancing toward Dhaka with the fall of major Pakistan garrisons, one after another, as well as other major cities and towns.
The first major town to fall in Bangladesh was Jhenida, Khulna Division and Lalmonirhat, Rangpur Division on 6 December 1971.
Jhenida was taken by the troops of '9 Dogra', under II Corps, and supported by Tanks. It fell in the afternoon, and a large quantity of equipment and ammunition fell in the Indian's hands. Soon after Jhendia was captured, the nearby town of Kaliganj fell after some fanatical fighting against the enemy.
Instructed by the commander of sector No 6 Wing Commander Khademul Bashar to free Lalmonirhat from Pakistani occupation, the freedom fighters gathered at Bhelabari village in Aditmari upazila on the night of December 3 in 1971. They attacked Pakistan troops at different places, especially in Saptibari, Kulaghat and Ambari areas. During face-to-face fights on December 4 and December 5, over 1,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendered or got captured by the freedom fighters in different areas of Lalmonirhat.
Further south, Jessore became the first major city and district (also called Jessore) to be liberated. It was captured on 7 December 1971 - exactly a year to the time when the general election was held (7 December 1970) in which Awami League won a landslide victory. Jessore, an important communications centre, was heavily fortified by the Pakistan Army and well stocked to fight a last-ditch battle against the Indian 9 Infantry Division commanded by Lt. General Raina. It was the strongest fortress in East Pakistan and in Jessore Airport had the third major airfield in East Pakistan (after Dhaka and Chittagong). However, after two days of intense battle starting on 4 December 1971, the Pakistani army surprisingly vacated Jessore. The Pakistan Army was well entrenched, holding out stoutly and inflicting heavy casualties, and no encroachment on the defence line had yet been effected - therefore it remains a mystery as to why Pakistani General Ansari decided to flee the town in haste and evacuate further south towards Khulna even though his troops had put up a stubborn and determined stand for two days. The Pakistanis vacated Jessore by dawn on 6 December 1971, however, it was not occupied by the Indians till late the following afternoon.
The capture of Jessore was followed by the capture of Sylhet and Noakhali (on the Feni-Chittagong axis) in quick succession. Thus the Mitro Bahini succeeded in closing two more escape routes available to the fleeing Pakistani troops. They could do this because the Mukti Bahini had ample knowledge of the local conditions and could easily pass as harmless civilians when faced by the superior forces. It was with the help of the Mukti Bahini that the majority of Pakistani forces, though still intact, had been successfully isolated in penny pockets at Durgapur, Saidpur, Rangpur, Rajshahi, Khulna, Sylhet, Bhairab Bazar, Mainamati and Chittagong. Dhaka was no longer an unconquerable fortress when the Mitro Bahini reached there.
|Day in December||City / town / area|
|6th||Jhenida (Khulna Division), Lalmonirhat (Rangpur Division)|
|8th||Moulvi Bazar (Sylhet), Sunamganj (Sylhet), Barisal, Comilla, Brahmanbaria, Patuakhali (Barisal division), Chuadanga districts (Khulna division), Magura|
|9th||Sylhet, Chandpur, Daudkandi (Comilla district)|
|10th||Mymensingh, Narail district (Khulna division)|
|11th||Munshiganj (Dhaka division), Kushtia, Noakhali, Hilli (Bogra district), Tangail|
|14th||Bogra, Dinajpur, Sirajganj|
After winning the war, we will have to win peace as well. Shonar Bangla has to be erected on the ashes of a war-ravaged economy. All the sons and daughters of Bangladesh have to engage themselves in the joyous efforts of reconstruction and development.
In response to Mitro Bahini advances, Pakistan tried to fight back and boost the sagging morale by incorporating the Special Service Group Navy commandos in sabotage and rescue missions. The SSG (N) was Pakistan's elite navy force who had proved to be very successful in previous naval attacks in Bangladesh, notably 'Operation Barisal'.
By now, Indian and Bangladeshi 'allied forces' had surrounded most Pakistani brigades and battalions, and cut off access to Dhaka. Indian paratroopers were moving towards the city from Tangail in the north and Narsingdi in the east. Some Indian units were already accepting the surrender of locally-deployed Pakistani units. General Sam Manekshaw, Chief of Staff of the Indian Army, broadcast his first message to Pakistani commanders and troops in the East to surrender.
Cut off from their supply lines, surrounded by hostile Bengalis and without air cover, the Pakistanis swiftly found themselves in an untenable position.
On 11 December 1971 President Syed Nazrul Islam drove to Jessore from Kolkata along with Tajuddin Ahmad and other Bengali leaders to make their first appearance inside Bangladesh territory. Mukti Bahini guerrillas provided the escort.
In Jessore Institute Park, a crowd of several thousand greeted the secessionist leader with shouts of "Joi Bangla" - "Long live Bengal".
The rally took the place of the installation ceremony which had been widely expected since the Indian Government announced its formal recognition of Bangladesh as a self-governing nation. No other country has made any move to recognise the secessionist leaders, and they have been denied the right to address the United Nations Security Council on the situation in East Pakistan.
Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad gave a rousing speech in front of a huge crowd at the Jessore Town Hall where he gave a broad outline of their vision for the new country and promising to frame a Constitution "as early as possible".
No more destruction or no more war. This is the time to rebuild the war-ravaged Bangladesh.
Other prominent members also gave memorable speeches including Syed Nazrul Islam, Phani Bhushon Majumder, Rawshan Ali, Mosharraf Hossain, Tabibur Rahman Sarder, M. R. Akhter Mukul and Zahir Raihan.
Tajuddin Ahmed had directed the then deputy commissioner of Jessore, Waliul Islam, and officer-in-charge of Kotwali police station to take all steps to maintain law and order and take legal actions against perpetrators of crimes "whoever they maybe".
He said Independent Bangladesh would not allow politics in the name of religions and so "the politics of Jamaat-e-Islami, Muslim League and Nejam-e-Islam are declared illegal".
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