Bangladesh: Victory Day

Bangladesh celebrates Victory Day on 16 December, the day in 1971 on which Pakistani forces in Bangladesh surrendered to the Indian-Bangladeshi High Command in Dhaka, thus ending the Liberation War.

The war had started nine months earlier, after the Pakistan general election, in which the Bengali nationalist party the Awami League had won 167 out of 169 seats in East Pakistan and thus an absolute majority in the whole of Pakistan. The East Pakistanis had every reason to expect that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Awami League’s leader, would become Pakistan’s Prime Minister; instead he was placed under arrest on 26 March. This proved the final straw for the Bengalis, who had long resented the West wing’s dominance of Pakistani institutions in disregard of the East wing’s higher population and greater share of Pakistan’s economic production. They declared East Pakistan’s secession and independence under the name Bangladesh.

The Pakistani Army – which had controlled Pakistan’s political set-up implicitly or explicitly for most of the quarter-century since independence – unleashed a bloody repression action, “Operation Searchlight”, across East Pakistan, in which numerous atrocities were committed. Estimates of the total numbers killed range from 200,000 to 3 million, with Hindus and educated people suffering particularly heavily.

On 3 December the Pakistan Air Force launched pre-emptive strikes against Indian air bases, fearing an imminent Indian intervention in the war. The attack was largely unsuccessful, and prompted the Indian intervention that had been feared – which rapidly resulted in Pakistan’s total defeat, but not before irregular forces supporting the Pakistani army had murdered over 100 doctors, university lecturers, writers and engineers on 14 December, in a spiteful attempt to cripple the new country’s development.

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