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International Relations

50 years of Bangladesh Independence from Pakistan – How is Bangladesh better off than Pakistan today

50 years of Bangladesh Independence from Pakistan – How is Bangladesh better off than Pakistan today


  • GS2 || International Relations || India & its Neighbours || Bangladesh

Why in the news?

In March 1971 the liberation war for Bangladesh had started which ultimately culminated in the existence of separate country ‘Bangladesh’ which was earlier known as ‘east Pakistan’. The 2021 year marks the completion of 50 years of India- Bangladesh friendship since the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971.

Bangladesh Liberation War:

  • Bangladesh liberation war was started in March 1971 and lasted for nine months.
  • The war ended with Bangladesh officially having its status as an independent nation recognised on 16th Dec 1971.
  • Bangladesh Independence Day is celebrated on 26th March every year to mark the day Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared independence, before the war began.

Bangladesh liberation war, 1971: Background

  • The Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971 was for independence from Pakistan. India and Pakistan got independence from the British rule in 1947. Pakistan was formed for the Muslims and India had a majority of Hindus.
  • Pakistan had two parts, East and West, which were separated by about 1,000 miles. East Pakistan was mainly the eastern part of the province of Bengal.
  • The capital of Pakistan was Karachi in West Pakistan and was moved to Islamabad in 1958.
  • However, due to discrimination in economy and ruling powers against them, the East Pakistanis vigorously protested and declared independence on March 26, 1971 under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman


  • Little commonality between and east and west: Although the people living in East and West Pakistan were both Muslim, they had little else in common with different cultures and language.
  • Fear of being controlled by Minority: Most people in East Pakistan were part of a racial group called Bengali, and were the majority group in Pakistan overall. However they are often degenerated by minority groups in West Pakistan. Over time people living in East Pakistan began to feel more and more controlled by the government in West Pakistan.
  • Economic exploitation: West Pakistan had four provinces: Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and the North-West Frontier. The fifth province was East Pakistan. Having control over the provinces, the West used up more resources than the East. Between 1948 and 1960, East Pakistan made 70% of all of Pakistan’s exports, while it only received 25% of imported money
  • Racial Derogation :Since the very formation of Pakistan, the Western part branded the Eastern as inferior, because it considered the Muslims in the Eastern Wing subordinate due to their social and cultural affiliation with the Hindu population, which were powerful, rich and dominating in East-Pakistan before the partition of the subcontinent.
  • Resentment against poor governance: In 1970 a cyclone hit East Pakistan, causing a lot of damage and the death of 500,000 people.The central government of Pakistan was accused of being slow to respond and this caused further resentment.
  • Political discrimination: Although East Pakistan had the largest population among all the provinces, it had much less political power than West Pakistan. This eventually made the people of East Pakistan rebel.
  • Issue of language: There was also the language issue that kept East Pakistan and West Pakistan in an uneasy status. In 1948, Mohammad Ali Jinnah stated in Dhaka that Urdu was the official language for Pakistan. It caused widespread resentment in East Pakistan.

Immediate Reason of the Bangladesh Liberation War, 1971

  • The Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won a landslide victory in the national elections in 1971 and demanded autonomy for East Pakistan.
  • The party won 160 seats and a majority in the national assembly. This victory also gave it the right to form a government, but Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the Chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party(PPP) refused to let the Sheikh become the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
  • The Sheik gave a speech on March 7, 1971 when he urged the people to turn all their homes into a fort of fighting.
  • He demanded transfer of power to the elected representative before the assembly meeting on March 25.
  • The Pakistani Army Chief Yahya Khan responded by ordering the Army to conduct ‘Operation Searchlight’ in East Pakistan. It was a planned genocide of Bengali people on the 25th of March 1971 .
  • This initiated the war. The Bangladesh liberation war was declared on March 26th, 1971. Soon after, Mujibur Rehman was arrested.
  • A. Hannan, an Awami league leader, is said to have been the first person to read and announce the Declaration of Independence over the radio.

Post war Scenario:

  • On December 16th, 1971, Dhaka fell to ‘Mitro Bahini’, the elite forces of the Mukti Bahini and the Indian army.
  • An “Instrument of Surrender” was signed by the defeated Pakistani General Niazi and by the Indian commander General Aurora.
  • December 16th is recognised as the Victory Day in Bangladesh, while March 26 is recognised as the Independence Day.
  • In 1973 the first parliamentary elections were held and the Awami League won a landslide victory.
  • But in 1975 there was a military coup, where founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most of his family members were killed by young Army officers.
  • Since then, Bangladesh has been relatively peaceful yet sporadic radical movements are seen in the country.
  • All war criminals have been tried by the judiciary and lawfully executed by the Government of Bangladesh in recent years.

India’s role:

After a lot of initial diplomatic efforts to halt the deteriorating situation in East Pakistan, ultimately India launched attacks at Pakistani forces. India contributed to the cause of freedom of Bangladesh in following ways:

  • Military intervention: India directly intervened in East Pakistan and conclusively defeated Pakistani forces in that country. Indian forces also forced the Pakistani Army to sign a humiliating surrender instrument after six months of its rampant atrocities committed by the Pakistani forces.
  • Providing Training, resources and intelligence to Bangladeshi guerrilla forces: India played significant roles in providing resources, training and intelligence support to Bangladeshi guerrilla forces , also known as “Mukti Bahini”. These Mukti Bahini played considerable roles in war against Pakistan armed forces.
  • Diplomatic support: India’s active diplomacy ensured moral support and sympathy to the cause of Bangladesh across the world. It was also India’s able diplomacy that it could prevent the US, which was a staunch supporter of Pakistan back then, from intervening in the situation.
  • Support in rehabilitation and resettlement of refugees: India also was generous enough to host millions of refugees who were facing human rights violations in East Pakistan. The bordering states took special arrangements to ensure immediate relief to the incoming distressed refugees.

Why did India have to intervene in the crisis in East Bengal?

India entered the Bangladesh liberation war as a matter of consequences rather than idealistic preposition. India was faced with following challenges:

  • Large scale refugees inflow in Indian territory: As soon as the war started, Indian territories were flooded with thousands of refugees. Until July 1971, 7.23 million people had taken shelter in India.
    • By December 1971, an additional 2.67 million people entered Indian territory as refugees. It was known to the government of India that 82.3 per cent of the refugees were Hindus.
  • National security: Indian leadership was aware of the fact that most of refugees are Hindus and they could have been assimilated in Indian population easily only to be manifested as Maoists rebels later.
  • Political compulsion: Under the Constitution of India, the Union government of India is constitutionally obliged to protect states from external aggression. And the continuous inflow of refugees was nothing less than foreign aggression.
    • In North East regions of Assam and Tripura, massive political unrest against Bangladeshi immigrants led to a major problem.
  • Pre-emptive attack by Pakistan: After Pakistan launched several pre-emptive attacks on Indian territory on the 3rd of December 1971, India joined Bangladesh in its military efforts against the Pakistani military.
  • Humanitarian cause: India has always stood for the weak and repressed people.
    • During the Bangladesh liberation war, a large-scale human rights violation was taking place in India’s immediate neighbourhood which India could not tolerate.

Way ahead:

Since Bangladesh’s liberation, both countries accord high importance to each other. They have been enjoying a mutually fruitful bilateral relationship. The disputed issues like territorial enclaves, movement across the borders,  New Moore island dispute,, etc. were amicably solved. The present time of Indo-Bangladesh relationship is now facing challenges of new kind such as increasing religious radicalisation in both countries, increasing reported deaths at India-Bangladesh international borders, China’s reportedly growing influence on Bangladesh, etc. These challenges need to be tackled by both countries through mutual cooperation and consultation. Any trust deficit must be resolved at the earliest. The future is indeed very bright for both the most populous countries of South Asia.

Model Mains Question:

  1. Critically examine the reasons that led to India’s intervention in the Bangladesh liberation war, 1971. Was the military intervention absolutely necessary? Explain.