12/16 – The Pakistani Instrument of Surrender

A Bangladeshi poster commemorating their war for independence. (Flickr)

On this day in 1971, the Pakistan Armed Forces (PAF) signed a formal ceasefire with India and the new nation of Bangladesh in the Pakistani Instrument of Surrender. The agreement ended the Bangladesh Liberation War and the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.

Initial fighting had broken out in Pakistani-occupied Bangladesh in March of that year after PAF officials announced “Operation Searchlight”, a genocidal effort to wipe out Bangladeshi nationalists. Fighting continued until December 3rd when the PAF preemptively attacked Indian military bases. The Indian entry into the conflict on the side of the Mukti Bahini – nationalist rebels in modern-day Bangladesh – quickly ended the conflict. After 13 days of fighting (one of history’s shortest wars), the PAF was forced to take a seat at the negotiation table and ended up ceding control of Bangladesh to the rebels.

One of the long-term consequences of the Pakistani humiliation in 1971 was that country’s pursuit of an atomic weapons programme and covert military capabilities. Fragmented by the loss of Bangladesh, many in the PAF feared that conventional war with India would destroy Pakistan. The ensuing years and decades saw the growth of Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities, threatening stability in the region; additionally, some factions within the country’s intelligence community supported radical Islamist groups in the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Pakistani support for groups that grew from that conflict – such as the Taliban – continued into the 21st century, ostensibly as a means of combating India covertly. If the PAF had resisted attacking India in 1971, it’s possible that one of the most significant players in regional (and global) terrorism would not have grown nearly as powerful as it is today.

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