(16 December 2011) — On 16 December 1971, the Indian army forced the ‘unconditional surrender’ of 90,000 Pakistani troops occupying East Pakistan after a decisive 14-day operation in support of the independence movement, giving birth to the nation state of Bangladesh.

At the end of British rule in the Indian subcontinent in 1947, the region east of India was made part of Pakistan, on the basis of their common faith in Islam. However, despite the fact that the two regions on either side of India shared the same religion, deeper socio-cultural differences existed between them right from the beginning. This subsequently gave rise to student movements in favour of greater autonomy for East Pakistan 13 years after the formation of the larger Pakistan state. By 1969, the protest snowballed into a nationwide movement.

In the elections of December 7, 1970 the Sheikh Mujibur Rahman-led Awami League won 160 out of 162 seats in East Pakistan, making Awami League the largest party in the Pakistan National Assembly. But the ruling military leadership of Pakistan blocked the Awami League from forming a government. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared independence from Pakistan and led a mass non-cooperation movement against Pakistani military leadership from 26 March 1971, which is celebrated as Bangladesh’s Independence Day ever since.

The Pakistani military leadership retaliated brutally and massacred thousands of Bengali speaking citizens in Dhaka city over the next several months – forcing up to 10 million people taking refuge in India. A Bangladeshi government in exile was formed during the nine month struggle, even as the Pakistani leadership imprisoned Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in West Pakistan.

In December, India, which provided significant moral and material support to the East Pakistani independence movement, launched a massive offensive against the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan and ended the West Pakistani occupation forces within two weeks. On December 16, 1971, Lt. Gen A. A. K. Niazi, Commanding Officer of Pakistan Army forces located in East Pakistan signed the Instrument of Surrender.

News of surrender of the Pakistan army spread like wildfire across the new country. People danced on the roofs of buses and marched up and down city streets singing the new nation’s anthem, Sonar Bangla (“Golden Bangladesh”). Carrying pictures of their beloved leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, people brought out green, red and gold banners of Bangladesh and hoisted them atop homes and official establishments.

The erstwhile Pakistan Observer newspaper, renamed The Observer, published its first issue in independent Bangladesh on December 18, 1971, with the screaming banner headline “Bangladesh comes into being”. Pakistan eventually recognised Bangladesh in 1974.


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