A View from Pakistan: Manekshaw’s war

By Commodore (retired) Najeeb Anjum for The Dawn, Pakistan

For 36 years now India's first field marshal has been the icon of heroism.

“ALL QUIET ON THE EASTERN FRONT”, the melodious message continued ringing in the ears across West Pakistan (present-day Pakistan) by the state controlled media even on December 16, 1971 — a date which will live in infamy.

It is a reminder of the failure of leadership at the time as exemplified by Yahya Khan and his coterie in their handling of the worst crisis the country ever faced.

The Indo-Pak war of 1971 culminated in the creation of Bangladesh. Ironically, General Yahha Khan, Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army (re-designated as COAS in 1972) and President of Pakistan at the time of independence was a staff officer at Military Operations Directorate as a major and General SAM Manekshaw, the COAS of the Indian Army was posted as GSO-I as a Lt-Col. It was ordained that these two erstwhile compatriots would fight a full scale war against each other on 1971. Manekshaw showed uncommon ability to motivate his forces, coupling it with a mature war strategy and the war ended with Pakistan's unconditional surrender.

Filed Marshal Sam Hormusji Framjee Jamsetjee Manekshaw MC, popular known as Sam Bahadur joined the first batch of 40 cadets at the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun, on October 1, 1932. He passed out in 1934 and was commissioned in the Royal Scouts and later to the 12 Frontier Force Rifles.

Manekshaw became the 8th Chief of Army Staff, Indian army when he succeeded General Kumaramangalam on June 7, 1969. In Indian Army the principle of seniority is an established norm since the appointment of General (later Field Marshal) Cariappa as the first C-in-C in 1949. When in April 1966 Mrs Indira Gandhi had informed Manekshaw that she had made up her mind to appoint him the next COAS after General Chaudri's retirement, he declined the offer and later succeeded Kumaramangalam after his retirement.

General Manekshaw stood up to Mrs Indira Gandhi, the “Iron lady”, when asked to launch the offensive in East Pakistan in April, 1971. He even threatened to resign. He, at that point made it absolutely clear that he would not like any interference in his tasks and that he would guarantee her 100 per cent su

ccess. The Prime Minister let the COAS who by virtue of his seniority was also the chairman of Chief of Staff Committee to coordinate with other services.

Once the decision to undertake the operation was taken by the government, Sam set about it in earnest with his counterparts in the Navy and Air Force. He closely coordinated and integrated plans of all three services. On the contrary, the C-in-C Pakistan Navy heard the announcement of war on radio. The strategy as decided by Sam was to mount a multi-pronged attack, bypassing strongly held areas, with the aim of capturing maximum territory in the shortest possible time.

Sam set December 4, 1971 as the date for the launch of operation as the figure 4 was a lucky number. After having agreed upon D-Day the chief conveyed the decision to his army commander and the other two services' chiefs. By an Indian account, “On December 3, 1971, at about 4:45pm, Pakistan Air Force jets attacked some forward airfields in India. The day and timing of these attacks left one wondering if our D-Day of December 4 had been compromised”.

Sam's reaction to this was that Pakistan had taken the initiative and Indian operations would now be in response to these actions. Before the Indian troops marched into East Pakistan Sam ensured that the Indian Army did not resort to loot and rape. He also broadcast a message to the troops that, “When you see a Begum, keep your hands in your pockets, and think of Sam”.

Sam was the first Indian officer to reach at Delhi Railway Station to meet the Pakistani POWs. He shared a cup of tea and chatted with them for some time. The POWs were seen shaking their heads, saying that they wished they had generals like this in Pakistan, writes Major-General V K Singh in his book Leadership in the Indian Army.

General Manekshaw was conferred with the rank of Field Marshal on January 1, 1973, and thus became the first of the two Indian Army generals to be awarded this prestigious rank. For 36 years now India's first field marshal has been the icon of heroism for his role in the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. Manekshaw proved beyond any doubt that the generals who leave their legacy through their varied experiences, failures and successes are those who combine military skills with a mastery of dealing with the civilian holders of power.

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  • K Viswanath

    Dear reader,
    It was a joint effort by the Indian Forces to assess and oversee the geographical conditions to plan a matured war strategy.
    The timely intervention of the USSR limited international players in to the field.
    Please read Gen. J F R Jacobs words for a realistic story.

    Ofcourse the Field Marshall was great.But it was a team work victory.

  • farzana

    True, Viswanath, i agree with you. No war is ever one man show.

    I wonder why we, indians keep thumping 1971 war with so much of gusto Although India won this war, i fail to understand what we got out of it.

  • K Viswanath

    My dear Farzana,
    Greetings to you
    1971 war was auspicious for two reasons it liberated the suffering human beings from the agony of fate and of course created a new nation.
    Like the II world war brought about changes in the fields of politics and international relations.
    It was fought on a permutation of 3000:30,000 which we (Indians) won dramatically.
    It can be related to Diego Maradona’s golden goal (1986)where he claims that was god’s hand.
    My salute to all the war heroes’ of 1971.
    Regards
    K Viswanath

  • Not a war monger but we certainly got Sam’s heroism out of it, the precise reason behind the article.

  • Kamran

    As a strategist and planner, one would really appreciate General Manekshaw, for his role in chalking out a foolproof plan to invade the erstwhile East Pakistan. But talking of heroism is an altogether different matter. General went to war with anticipated chances of 100 % success. I don’t know how can one gauge heroism with these guaranteed yardsticks.
    However his amicability, uprightness, and professionalism ought to be acknowledged.

  • Gilly bottle

    @farzana You should not comment on the something if you do not know the ground realities, its very dis-respectable to hear these kinds of comments, specially when you put you life on ….
    It seems like you have few pro-pak feelings, hurt to see that, but then in that case you can always go there live…..

  • Satish chandekar

     No doubt, General Sam was determined and firm executioner and was strongly supported by Mrs Gandhi in 1971. Daring game was played by Gandhi herself by siding with USSR at critical juncture with strong opposition from both US and China in UN at New York. Three vetos used by USSR at critical time in UN for not stopping the war before it reached its end were most valuable.Pakistani army was in defensive role in east Pakistan and was fully geared to resist Indian army tooth and nail.Whole of Dinajpur, Rangpur,Saidpur, Natore and Rajshahi garrisons were not defeated and were in full control till 16 December.Indian advance were badly stopped at Khulna and Indian army got reverses at Kushtia encounter. From Commilla, Feni and  Tangel also, indian army was not advancing as desired.It was at Akhura and Ashuganj, pak army almost stopped Indian advance causing many indian casualities. This is a fact.It was a work of briliant Indian air force that kept on hitting Dacca garrison relentlessly which did not allow Niazi to sleep in continuous 10 nights.Ability of IAF to hit at will at any targets in Dacca associated with guity conscious and with  no help from Chineses and US on ground made Niazi to think of surrender. Pakistani army was totally surrounded in Dacca and everywhere in BD. TIDE WAS REVERSED. AL-SHAM and AL-BADRA were on brink of route by angered Bangalis ( Muktibahini).All Pakistanis could have been butchered by Muktibahini had Indian army not protected them. The only saviour for Pakistani army were Indian army.This factor was major in surrender of Pak army in Dacca in Dec 1971.

  • Satish chandekar

     No doubt, General Sam was determined and firm executioner and was strongly supported by Mrs Gandhi in 1971. Daring game was played by Gandhi herself by siding with USSR at critical juncture with strong opposition from both US and China in UN at New York. Three vetos used by USSR at critical time in UN for not stopping the war before it reached its end were most valuable.Pakistani army was in defensive role in east Pakistan and was fully geared to resist Indian army tooth and nail.Whole of Dinajpur, Rangpur,Saidpur, Natore and Rajshahi garrisons were not defeated and were in full control till 16 December.Indian advance were badly stopped at Khulna and Indian army got reverses at Kushtia encounter. From Commilla, Feni and  Tangel also, indian army was not advancing as desired.It was at Akhura and Ashuganj, pak army almost stopped Indian advance causing many indian casualities. This is a fact.It was a work of briliant Indian air force that kept on hitting Dacca garrison relentlessly which did not allow Niazi to sleep in continuous 10 nights.Ability of IAF to hit at will at any targets in Dacca associated with guity conscious and with  no help from Chineses and US on ground made Niazi to think of surrender. Pakistani army was totally surrounded in Dacca and everywhere in BD. TIDE WAS REVERSED. AL-SHAM and AL-BADRA were on brink of route by angered Bangalis ( Muktibahini).All Pakistanis could have been butchered by Muktibahini had Indian army not protected them. The only saviour for Pakistani army were Indian army.This factor was major in surrender of Pak army in Dacca in Dec 1971.