The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971: Origins, Events & Consequences

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

One of the shortest wars in history, the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 lasted just thirteen days overall. Learn about the conflict and the sweeping changes it brought to southern Asia in this lesson.

War and Peace

Imagine that you're told your nation is at war with another country. You may one day even need to go fight the enemy. Two weeks later, however, the war ends and you're safe again. It may seem strange, but not all wars last for years, and the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 is famous for being one of the shortest wars in history, lasting a grand total of just thirteen days in December of that year. Although it was short, it rewrote the map of southern Asia and still has lasting consequences to this day.

Map of southern Asia with India and Pakistan. Note the nation of Bangladesh on the eastern side.
Map

This was not the first nor the last war fought between India and Pakistan. Ever since the two nations gained independence from the British Empire in 1947, they have had disagreements about borders and what land belongs to which country. The problem is complicated because of the cultural and religious differences of these two nations: India is mostly Hindu, while Pakistan is mostly Muslim, two peoples who have had centuries of fighting and resentment. The core cause of this 1971 war was the Bangladesh Liberation War, which was being fought to free Bangladesh from Pakistan. When Bangladesh declared itself independent, India gave it support, hoping to see its enemy Pakistan weakened as a result.

Fighting the Conflict

The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 began on December 3, when Pakistan launched a series of airstrikes in India, attacking military targets that they believed were going to be sent to help the Bangladeshi rebels. India's military was much larger and more modern than Pakistan and they quickly counterattacked their forces in Bangladesh. Since India surrounds Bangladesh on almost every side, it was not difficult for India's military commanders to get an advantage over the enemy. What's more, India's naval forces kept Pakistan's own ships from reinforcing or resupplying the land forces.

Most of India's main military attacked in the hopes of capturing Dacca, the capital and largest city of East Pakistan. Their attack has been compared to Nazi Germany's blitzkrieg, lightning warfare, because they pushed for a rapid attack and encirclement of Pakistan's forces. India's air force rapidly destroyed the Pakistani fighter jets in the city, while their tanks and soldiers avoided heavily-defended areas to target weak spots, forcing Pakistan to abandon favorable fighting spots. On December 16th, the Indian army encircled Dacca and demanded that the city surrender within just thirty minutes.

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