a memorial for all wars: the Polynational War Memorial


Bangladesh War

Years: 1971-1971
Battle deaths: 50,000 [1]

Nation(s) involved and/or conflict territory [note]
India, Pakistan, Bangladesh

Published prior to 2013 | Updated: 2016-08-10 12:11:47
The political prelude to the war included several factors. Due to the differences between the two states a nascent separatist movement developed in East Pakistan. Any such movements were sharply limited especially when martial law was in force between 1958 and 1962 (under General Ayub Khan) and between 1969 and 1972 (under General Yahya Khan). These military rulers were of West Pakistani origin and continued to favour West Pakistan in terms of economic advantages.

The situation reached a climax when in 1970 the Awami League, the largest East Pakistani political party, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won a landslide victory in the national elections winning 167 of the 169 seats allotted for East Pakistan, and a majority of the 313 total seats in the National Assembly. This gave the Awami League the right to form a government. However, leader of People’s Party of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto refused to allow Rahman to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Instead, he proposed a notion of two Prime Ministers. Bhutto also refused to accept Rahmans’ Six Points. On 3 March 1971, the two leaders of the two wings along with the President General Yahya Khan met in Dhaka to decide the fate of the country. Talks failed. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called for a nation-wide strike.

Military preparation in West Pakistan
General Tikka Khan was flown in to Dhaka to become Governor of East Bengal. East-Pakistani judges, including Justice Siddique, refused to swear him in.

MV Swat, a ship of Pakistan Navy, carrying ammunition and soldiers, was harboured in Chittagong Port and the Bengali workers and sailors at the port refused to unload the ship. A unit of East Pakistan Rifles refused to obey commands to fire on Bengali demonstrators, beginning a mutiny of Bengali soldiers.

Between 10-13 March, Pakistan International Airlines cancelled all their international routes to urgently fly "Government Passengers" to Dhaka. These so-called "Government Passengers" were almost exclusively Pakistani soldiers in civil uniform.

Violence of 25 March

On the night of 25 March, Pakistan Army began a violent effort to suppress the Bengali opposition. In Bangladesh, and elsewhere, the Pakistani actions are referred to as genocide. Before carrying out these acts, all foreign journalists were systematically deported from Bangladesh. Bengali members of military services were disarmed. The operation was called Operation Searchlight by Pakistani Army and was carefully devised by several top-ranked army generals to "crush" Bengalis.

Although the violence focused on the provincial capital, Dhaka, the process of ethnic elimination was also carried out all around Bangladesh. Residential halls of University of Dhaka were particularly targeted. The only Hindu residential hall - the Jagannath Hall - was destroyed by the Pakistani armed forces, and an estimated 600-700 of its residents were murdered. Hindu areas all over Bangladesh suffered particularly heavy blows. By midnight, Dhaka was literally burning, especially the hindu dominated eastern part of the city. Time magazine reported on August 2, 1971, "The Hindus, who account for three-fourths of the refugees and a majority of the dead, have borne the brunt of the Muslim military hatred."

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was considered dangerous and, hence, arrested by Pakistan Army. Awami League was banned by General Yahya Khan. Some other Awami League leaders were arrested as well, while few escaped Dhaka to avoid arrest.

Declaration of independence

Soon after the beginning of the military crackdown in Dhaka on 25 March, M A Hannan made the first declaration of independence over radio. However, this was not heard by many.

A telegram reached some students in Chittagong. They realized the message could be broadcast from Agrabad Station of Radio Pakistan. The message was translated to Bangla by Dr Manjula Anwar. They failed to secure permission from higher authorities to broadcast the message. They crossed Kalurghat Bridge into an area controlled by East Bengal Regiment under Major Ziaur Rahman. Bengali soldiers guarded the station as engineers prepared for transmission. At 19:45 on 26 March 1971, Major Ziaur Rahman broadcast the following message which is considered the official declaration of independence.

This is Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendro. I, Major Ziaur Rahman, at the direction of Bangobondhu Mujibur Rahman, hereby declare that the independent People’s Republic of Bangladesh has been established. At his direction, I have taken command as the temporary Head of the Republic. In the name of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, I call upon all Bengalis to rise against the attack by the West Pakistani Army. We shall fight to the last to free our Motherland. By the grace of Allah, victory is ours. Joy Bangla.

Kalurghat Radio Station’s transmission capability was limited. The message was picked up by a Japanese ship in Bay of Bengal and then re-transmitted by Radio Australia and later the British Broadcasting Corporation.

26 March 1971 is hence considered the official Independence Day and according to all Bangladeshi sources, the name Bangladesh was in effect henceforth. Certain sources, especially of Indian and Pakistani origin, continue to call Bangladesh, East Pakistan until 16 December.


The United States was a major ally of Pakistan, and hence it supported Pakistan in the genocide. Nixon denied getting involved in the situation, saying that it was an internal matter of Pakistan. When Pakistan’s defeat seemed certain, President Nixon sent the USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal and threatened India with a nuclear strike.

Several documents released from the Nixon Presidential Archives[1] (http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB79/) show the extent of the tilt that the Nixon Adminstration demonstrated in favor of Pakistan. Among them, the infamous Blood telegram from the US embassy in Dacca, East Pakistan stated the horrors of genocide taking place in East Pakistan.[2] (http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB79/BEBB1.pdf)

The Soviet Union had sympathized with the Bangladeshis, and supported The Indian Army and Mukti Bahini during the war. It gave assurance to India that if a confrontration with United States evolved, the USSR would provide all necessary support to India.

Pakistani Civil War

This name is mainly used by current day Pakistan Army and by certain unofficial Indian sources. The name describes either the period 26 March 1971 - 16 December 1971 or the period 26 March 1971 - 03 December 1971. The main issue arises from the validity of the declaration of independence on 26 March. This is entirely a matter of political technicality.

Indo-Pakistani War of 1971

This name is used by armies of all three countries to describe the period between 03 December 1971 and 16 December 1971. Indian Army does not explicitly use the term to describe the war in their (India’s) Eastern Front at any point. Instead, India only refers to the war on the Western Front as the Indo-Pakistani War.

Liberation War of Bangladesh

This terminology is officially used in Bangladesh by all sources and by Indian official sources. The proponents claim that having won 167 out of 169 seats of East Pakistan, Awami League had people’s mandate to form a democratic government.

Source: Wikipedia, published under the GNU FDL. Retrieved [dat]


Data Sources

[1] Battle deaths: PRIO Battle Deaths Dataset v3.0 (link) (1946-88) ID: #116
Low: 50,000 High: 250,000

More about sources


NOTE! Nation data for this war may be inconlusive or incomplete. In most cases it reflects which nations were involved with troops in this war, but in some it may instead reflect the contested territory.



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