By not respecting the verdict of the people in the 1970 elections and by launching the Pakistan army against its own people in East Pakistan, the military leadership had created a crisis of frightening magnitude. Once the political option was discarded by them, they should have foreseen that in the foreseeable future, war with India would be an inevitable consequence of their decision to solve a political problem by military means. Consequently, their focus should have been on the defence of Dhaka (the focal point of strategy for both the armies), and timely offensive action in the west. They did neither.

The Pakistani concept of defending the east from the west was fashioned by geographic compulsions. It was indeed a sound concept as Pakistan’s armed forces were not strong enough to fight on two fronts a thousand miles apart. Doing so would have denuded them of strategic offensive capability on both fronts.

A strategic offensive in late September/early October 1971in Ravi-Chenab corridor in conjunction with an offensive against Akhnur-Jammu, would have severed Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) from the Indian mainland as the Indian forces had not yet fully occupied their battle locations. By doing so, they stood a good chance of taking Kashmir and salvaging East Pakistan. By not acting in time, they stood no chance at all. They let this opportunity pass, and with it, let East Pakistan and Kashmir pass into history. The army’s strategic offensive capability in the west, acquired at great cost to the nation, remained unutilised, which in a short duration war is an unpardonable act. In the event, when Pakistan’s Eastern Command surrendered to India’s Eastern Command, the Pakistan army lost its honour on the battlefield, honour that can be regained only on the battlefield.

On December 3, 1971 Yahya Khan belatedly opened the western front and wasted his assets on operations that had no strategic significance. On December 3 an infantry division was tasked to attack across the Cease Fire Line (CFL) and capture Poonch in IHK. The plan was to create a corridor in the Indian defences along the CFL in Phase 1, then pass the remaining units through the corridor in Phase 2 to capture Poonch. The operation ran into trouble from the start – the Phase 1 units failed to create a corridor, yet the Phase 2 units were ordered to go for Poonch. They too failed, losing 100 officers and men in the process.

On the night of December 4/5 1971, a foot-mobile infantry division set out to capture Jaisalmir. This involved traversing 60 miles of inhospitable desert. The impact of the friction of terrain was soon felt by the division when it got stuck in the sand during the march to the border. The only unit that crossed the border was an armoured unit equipped with Chinese made T59 tanks. It was soon attacked at will by IAF fighters losing 18 tanks and scores of other vehicles in the process. The PAF could not intervene as the area of operations was outside their fighter range. The mission, which could only be undertaken by armoured forces, backed by tracked or desert capable logistic vehicles, and assured air support, was called off less than 24 hours after it began.

On the night of December 13/14 1971, an Indian infantry division penetrated the main minefield ahead of the defences of a Pakistani infantry division and secured a foothold across it which also included the villages of Jarpal and Bara Pind. On December 14, a Pakistani armoured brigade (corps reserve) was ordered by the corps commander to destroy the penetration. The brigade commander was told that the penetration was held by an infantry battalion and a tank squadron (14 tanks) and that the village of Bara Pind was in Pakistani hands. Consequently, in the plan that emerged, Bara Pind was to be used as the jumping off point by the armoured unit for its attack. So, when on December 16 morning, this tank unit was moving towards Bara Pind in order to deploy for the attack, it came under heavy enemy tank and anti-tank gunfire from that village and suffered heavy losses. As a result, another tank unit of the brigade was ordered to attack the penetration from another direction which was more or less frontal. It met the same fate. The armoured brigade was no longer an offensive formation. Sixteen artillery batteries were available to support the counter attack. Only one was used. It later transpired that the enemy had deployed an infantry brigade and a tank regiment plus (60 tanks) in the penetration. It was faulty intelligence, inefficient staff work at brigade, holding division and corps levels, and piecemeal employment of the brigade units that caused the fiasco.

At 8 pm on December 16, 1971 a Pakistani infantry battalion was ordered to capture Jarpal. When their request to delay the attack by 24 hours was denied, at 5:30 a.m. on December 17 the battalion attacked and within 30 minutes lost 150 officers and men including the commanding officer to heavy machine gun fire. The battalion withdrew from the scene of carnage in a bleeding state. Due to some confusion the supporting artillery was expended prior to the attack. What was unknown to the battalion was that it was about to attack a position that 24 hours earlier had knocked out a Pakistani armoured brigade.

In the final analysis, wars are won when superior strategic decisions are taken at the right time, and when the strategic decisions are translated into superior tactical actions at the right point in time and space. The military leadership that can achieve this harmony between strategy and tactics will seldom lose. Sadly, the Pakistani leadership that planned and directed the 1971 war, and conducted battles, was found wanting in this, hence, the mistakes made by them were paid for in blood.

As for the soldiers who fought and died bravely, “theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die”.


The writer is a former armour and

SSG Officer.