Brick Lane Circle


Bangladesh Liberation 1971


Between August 1947 and December 1971, Pakistan was a nation made up of two wings. In the late 1950s, they became known as East and West Pakistan. 

March is often described by many Bangladeshis as ‘freedom month’. It was during this month in 1971 that Pakistan reached a crossroad. Would East Pakistan stay in a reformed country with two wings, or forge its separate destiny? 

Pakistan as it existed, was neither an option nor a possibility anymore. Destiny had its own plan, which compelled the Bengalis of East Pakistan to fight for their freedom. 

This journey began when the Pakistan Army started a brutal crackdown on East Pakistan on the night of 25 March 1971. The army's action was designed to put an end to the legitimate demands of the Bengali people, which became a rebellion by then. 

A general election was held in December 1970. The respective seats allocated for the two wings reflected the sizes of their populations. East Pakistan's share was 162 while West Pakistan got 138. The eastern wing with a larger population got more seats.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the leader of Awami League, the strongest political party in East Pakistan. As his party won 160 out of the total 300 east-west combined seats, he should have become the new ruler of Pakistan.

But that would have meant major reforms in the country and a radically changed relationship between the two wings of the nation. The military authorities in Pakistan were not prepared to accept this as a prospect.

There were two realistic options left on the cards at the beginning of March 1971. Either to go for full autonomy or full independence for East Pakistan. To President Yahya Khan, they were both non-viable and constituted just one option: an eventual independent East Pakistan.

The Bengalis were not prepared to settle for anything less than full autonomy. If that were not possible, then they were getting ready to fight for full independence.

Pakistan was born in 1947 with two wings separated by 1,000 miles of Indian territory. Ever since its birth, the new country became paralysed by many unsolvable issues, which only worsened over time. 

The political and economic systems that emerged in Pakistan became a source of distrust in the eastern wing. The establishment of the military dictatorship in 1956 only made things worse. The Bengalis saw the relationship to be colonial-style economic exploitation of East Pakistan by West Pakistan. 

A large-scale student agitation from November 1968 to March 1969 in East Pakistan brought down the military government of President Ayub Khan. General Yahya Khan replaced him and became the new president. He promised to return the country to civilian rule. This helped ease the political temperature in East Pakistan. This paved the way for the 1970 general election. 

West Pakistani leadership saw Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's six-point election manifesto as a blueprint for the virtual independence of the eastern wing through maximum autonomy. This, General Yahya Khan and the Pakistan People’s Party, under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, were not willing to contemplate. 

Instead of a smooth transfer of power, the process became deadlocked with various controversies. This state of affairs lasted for three months until it reached a point of crisis with no return, and the final showdown began on the night of the 25 March 1971.


Analyses and Contexts: How and why explained

1. Daily Mirror - 10 March 1971

‘On the brink’

Gordon Jeffry explored whether the situation in East Pakistan was ‘On the brink’. He wanted to know whether there would be a last-minute compromise or a civil war.

His major points:

  • ‘Pakistan has been a freak since' its creation. It consists of 'an eastern region and a western region divided by more than 1,000 miles of … Indian territory’.
  • The current problems arose due to the economic and political systems in Pakistan. They were responsible for the relative poverty and wealth of the two wings.
  • Kashmir issues added to the problems of Pakistan as a central state with two wings.
  • The cyclone in December 1970 in East Pakistan caused thousands of deaths. The response of the Pakistani authorities to this, failed to impress the Bengalis. The recent explosion of their anger was due to a feeling that the ‘central government' was 'ignoring their plight’.
  • Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s demand for a new constitution would have turned East Pakistan into a virtually independent country.
  • To prevent a showdown, Yahya Khan announced on 9 March 1971 that he would go to the eastern wing to make a final bid to resolve the impasse.

Illustrated London News - 20 March 1971

‘Crisis in Pakistan – International commentary’

Neville Maxwell explored the similarities and differences between two movements. One to create Pakistan in the 1940s and the other to ‘present Bengal demand for autonomy’.

His major points: 

  • “Then religion was the sharp point of division, now it is culture, race and religion'. He thought that 'the emotion, the rhetoric, even sometimes the tactics... of the present Bengal demand for autonomy ring very close to those of the Muslim demand of the 1940s.”
  • Both Yahya Khan and Lord Mountbatten faced a similar problem of how to transfer power to the elected representatives. But there were many differences between them too.
  • Mountbatten had an option of divide and quit in the face of threats of boycotts of the process. The ‘Pakistani army' did not have the same option as it 'is not going away. It has nowhere else to go'. The 'option of “divide and quit”, which Lord Mountbatten had was 'not there for President Yahya’.
  • Yahya Khan’s stated position was the integrity of Pakistan. But there was a longer historical context of Bengal nationalism. This means that it would not be so easy for the Pakistani military ruler to confront what he was facing.
  • West Pakistan looked towards the Middle East for identity and cultural connections. The East Pakistanis wanted to re-establish their relationship with the Bengali people in India.
  • The Bengalis of East Pakistan thought the culture of West Pakistan was more alien to them, but their Bengali culture was part of south-east Asia.
  • Important factors that divided the two wings of Pakistan include:
    • the attempt to ‘make Urdu the national language, to the exclusion of Bengali’
    • the economic disparity and political inequality
  • The demands of the Bengalis amounted to an ‘insistence on de facto independence’.
  • Sheikh Mujibur Rahman refrained from declaring independence. Maulana Bhashani was ‘saying that only a sovereign East Bengal would... satisfy the people’s aspirations’.
  • The positions of the two sides were such that it was ‘hard to see any middle ground for a genuine compromise’.
  • The gulf between the Bengalis ‘demand for autonomy and the soldiers’ commitment to the integrity of Pakistan' was vast.
  • Both sides saw the situation somewhat differently.
  • Yahya Khan judged the movement behind Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to be shallow.  As such, he will be ‘more willing to resort finally to repression if he feels that is the only alternative to secession’.
  • ‘But suppression could only fuel rebelliousness’. The movement in East Pakistan could ‘transfer its leadership to the small radical groups’.
  • Bengali Nationalism has shown itself resilient and irrepressible in the past. As such, 'any short-term victory won now by President Yahya promises to make his – or his successors – final defeat more sure’. 

Daily Mirror - 31 March 1971Mirror scope

‘The Next Vietnam?’ 

Tariq Ali wrote a scathing attack on the Pakistani military action in East Pakistan. He also explored why the ‘present explosion in East Bengal was not unexpected'.

The article provided details of disparities between the two provinces of Pakistan. An example was that although the population of the East was larger than the West, it ‘has not been allowed to exercise political power’.

A litany of reasons was provided to explain the rebellion in East Pakistan: 

  • ‘West Pakistani businessmen have exploited it as a semi-colony'. They 'used the profits to promote industrial development in West Pakistan’. 
  • The ‘Pakistani Army… composed almost exclusively of West Pakistanis'.  The 'Civil Service has discriminated against Bengalis and used racist arguments to maintain Punjabi hierarchy’. 
  • An example of east-west disparity was that there were ‘26,000 hospital beds in the West', and 'only 6,000 in the East’ 
  • The revolt by East Pakistanis and the current explosive situation was due to the ‘mammoth election victory’ of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s nationalist Awami League in the 1970 general election.
  • The ‘Awami League in office would begin to right some of the wrongs’. To prevent this, the racist minority force, invaded the eastern wing.
  • It would be impossible for the Pakistani military to survive in an ‘unfamiliar terrain surrounded by an extremely hostile and embittered people'. They 'speak a different language, have a different culture and possess a vigorous revolutionary nationalist background’. 
  • The geographical and other contexts mean that the Bengalis will ‘force the invading armies out’.

Photo caption: Daily Mirror, 31 March 1971: The New Vietnam by Tariq Ali. Image/article courtesy of

News reports 1

Towards the point of no return

 On 2 March 1971, the Birmingham Daily Post reported that on 1 March 1971, President Yahya Khan of Pakistan postponed the National Assembly. In response, a crowd gathered outside the stadium and stopped a scheduled international cricket match. The players and officials involved were escorted, under protection, to a hotel.

On 5 March 1971, the Belfast Telegraph reported that the Pakistani authorities were reinforcing ‘Dacca’. This was in response to the anger of the people who took to the streets and began to blockade the city. Earlier Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had ‘bluntly’ turned down Yahya Khan’s invitation for talks.

The authorities had cut off communications. The airport was closed, and the police disappeared from the streets. Awami League supporters were patrolling the streets. The Pakistan army guarded key points, supported by two helicopters patrolling overhead.

On the same day, 5 March 1971, the Aberdeen Evening Press thought that Pakistan was on the 'brink of spilt after clashes’. It reported Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s claim that 300 people were killed during the last few days from clashes with security forces. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman also branded President Yahya Khan’s invitation for the round table talk as ‘a cruel joke’. The general strike called by Rahman had turned ‘Dacca’ into a ghost town.

The Birmingham Daily Post simultaneously reported Sheikh Mujibur Rahman saying that the Pakistani army was 'behaving like an occupation force'. He also claimed that soldiers had 'opened machine gun fire on unarmed people’.  ‘At Iqbal Hall of Dacca University, students guarded eight bodies retrieved after overnight firing'. In 'one hospital, there were 13 dead and 60 seriously wounded people. Martial law and a 12-hour curfew were imposed 'after looting, arson, killing in various districts. Effigies and flag were burnt. Hotel Intercontinental was forced to remove English signs’.

On the eve of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's now famous 7 March speech, rumours circulated that he would be making an independent declaration. The Birmingham Daily Post reported on 6 March that President Yahya Khan would be speaking that day. The situation continued to deteriorate. A crowd claimed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to be the founder of Bangladesh. They burnt an effigy of Jinnah and flew a new “Bengal Flag”.

The Sunday Mirror, dated 7 March 1971, published a story with the headline ‘Pakistan won’t split up says leader’. It reported that on the 6 March 1971, Yahya Khan promised that “No matter what happens” he will “ensure the complete integrity of Pakistan’. The purpose of postponing the planned assembly was “to allow time for passions to cool.” The president fixed 25 March as the day for the new Assembly.

On 8 March 1971, the Aberdeen Press Journal reported that ‘East Pakistan leader offers breathing space’. Instead of declaring independence, Sheikh Mujib made new demands during his 7 March 1971 speech. He called for an end to martial law and return to popular rule before he would consider attending the National Assembly. He listed four conditions: end martial law, an enquiry into the killings, troops go back to barracks and transfer of power.

On 22 March 1971, the Birmingham Daily Post produced a report on the continuing escalation under the headline ‘Troops fire on market’.  On 21 March 1971 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman claimed that troops opened fire and killed several people in a crowded market. He did not know the number of casualties. On the same day, the Birmingham Daily Post reported that strict security measures were taken as Bhutto arrived in Dhaka for talks with Yahya.

About 200 people chanted “Bhutto go home,” when he arrived, and “we don’t want you as a guest”. Radio Dhaka  reported that an immediate meeting took place between Yahya and Bhutto after the latter's arrival.

While Bhutto was flying into 'Dacca', Yahya Khan had an unscheduled meeting with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Mujib said that the civil disobedience movement would continue, and the Bengalis were determined to live as free citizens, not as a colony. Bhutto sought clarification and threatened to boycott the scheduled National Assembly. The region was plunged into crisis when Yahya Khan postponed the National Assembly session until 25 March 1971.

News reports 2

On 8 March 1971, the Coventry Evening Telegraph reported that the British Foreign Office urged ‘Britons... to quit East Pakistan’, advising all non-essential British community to leave East Pakistan - women and children to be the priority.

The paper pointed out that there were about 1,000 British people in East Pakistan, of which, 400 were in ‘Dacca’. The British High Commission in East Pakistan made efforts to contact the British community in the country. So far, no incidents involving any British people had been reported. Flights were still operating.

On 10 March 1971, the Belfast Telegraph on ran a story on the arrival of ‘British Refugees from East Pakistan'. About 76 British evacuees were flown back to London via a BOAC VC-10 flight, arriving at Heathrow early in the morning. Most were women and children. Some talked about their ‘fears of civil war’ in East Pakistan.

The situation deteriorated when East Pakistan’s leaders gave new orders to its population. Government taxes and money transfers from East to West Pakistan were to stop. Austrian born Mary Brindle from Osterley, gave an interview to reporters. She said: “No food was coming, and the Government offices and hospitals' closed down.

On 12 March 1971 The Birmingham Daily Post reported on the chaotic scenes of Bengalis trying to leave West Pakistan, who thronged to Karachi airport fearing a bloodbath. It looked like a refugee camp, as the place became cramped with Bengali families and their belongings. The paper provided some examples of chaos and the impact on those trying to leave. In the chaos, some passengers found it difficult to get to their seat on the booked Boeing 707 flight and some were left stranded as the plane took off without them.

The Birmingham Daily Post ran a headline on 16 March 1971: ‘Worst is yet to come, say Britons Leaving East Pakistan'. It reported that the impending crisis has triggered population movements in different directions. RAF Britannia evacuated 119 people from Dhaka and flew them to Singapore on 14 March 1971. “The group included many women and children, and six Roman Catholic Sisters from the Oxford Mission at Barisal, about 160 miles from Dacca.”

The Birmingham Daily Post reported on 31 March 1971 that many French and Yugoslav refugees were evacuated. The USA, Russia and India were reported to be seeking a common approach to help end the fighting.

No British local newspapers published any reports of Hindu refugees leaving East Pakistan for India during March 1971. The Hindu refugee migration became the main feature of the mass population movements during the nine-month war.

News reports 3

East Pakistani responses in BritainPakistan will it be war or peace

For the Pakistanis in the UK from both wings, March 1971 was a very tense month. On 8 March 1971 The Birmingham Daily Post reported a demonstration outside the Pakistan High Commission in London which has taken place the previous day. About 2,000 Pakistanis were protesting against developments in their country of origin.

There was a clash between the demonstrators and the police. The organisers handed in a resolution protesting the position of the Pakistani army leadership. It is likely that this was timed to coincide with the planned 7th March speech of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Later in the month, after the 25th-night crackdown had started British, local newspapers covered two more stories of developments in the UK. On 29 March 1971 The Birmingham Daily Post reported ‘Ten arrests at a meeting to back East Pakistan’. This happened at a gathering of about 6,000 people in Small Heath Park, Birmingham on 28 March. Details of the charges were not revealed. The event was organised to ‘express solidarity with the leader of breakaway East Pakistan, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’.

The Secretary of the Bangla Desh Action Committee, Aziz Ul Haq Bhuia, said at the gathering that 'they were trying to raise a million pound to buy at least 100,000 rifles’. The new flag of Bangla Desh was raised at the event.

On 30 March 1971, The Coventry Evening Telegraph ran a story looking at the 'shattered… dreams’ of two Pakistanis. Fazlul Haque, a senior salesman with Phillips, no longer believed in Pakistan. He was now supporting the liberation efforts of the Bengalis in the eastern wing. Zia Butt, General Secretary of the Pakistan Workers Association, thought that ‘common people in both wings have been exploited’.

East Pakistani responses in Britain Fazlul spoke about how his heart was bleeding at the deaths of his people by the guns of Yahya Khan, describing the latter as ‘the most vile enemy of Pakistan’. He thought although the ‘East Bengalis' were 'not a war-like race' like 'the people of West Pakistan', the desire for 'freedom and liberties were indestructible. No guns and brutal force' were 'enough to conquer the soul and desire of the people’. He claimed that East Pakistan became a colony. The people ‘lived in a dream world', now 'shattered by the bullets of Yahya Khan’s army’.

Zia saw the unfolding story in a different light. He blamed the ‘leader of the majority party in the National Assembly’, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, for ‘not waiting for the political power to come to him through the democratic process'. He thought that Rahman had 'regrettably allowed the situation to get completely out of control’.

In contrast to Fazlu's view that East Pakistan had become a colony, Zia pointed out that 'two heads of state and three prime ministers' of Pakistan were 'East Pakistanis'. There were also 'many ministers in the central government’.

Zia considered the Bengalis to be responsible for their lack of economic development. He claimed that ‘West Pakistani industrialists came to the rescue and established industries in East Pakistan for the benefit of our brethren’. He felt that it was ‘shameful when one brother kills another', but the 'President (Yahya Khan) had no choice but to step in and normalize the situation and transfer the power to the elected representatives of the people’.

Photo captions: Reading Evening Post, 19 August 1971: PAKISTAN Will it be was or peace?
Image/article courtesy of (Top image) 

The Coventry Evening Telegraph, 30 March 1971: Bullets have shattered our dreams v. The Est has neglected its own people.
Image/article courtesy of (Bottom image)

News reports 4

The point of no return
The military action on the night of 25 March

According to the Aberdeen Evening Press on 27 March 1971, ‘at least 10,000 civilians... killed in East Pakistan when troops used tanks and artillery' against the supporters of 'Sheikh Mujibur Rahman'. The newspaper said that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had 'proclaimed independence for the eastern wing of the country’. This report was based on information provided by the Press Trust of India.

On 27 March, the Aberdeen Evening Press also reported that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was 'under arrest and that the situation' was “well in hand”. This was from a broadcast by Radio Pakistan. The Coventry Evening Telegraph on the same day contradicted the Radio Pakistan report, based on information provided by 'India radio monitors'.

According to a 'clandestine broadcast' from East Pakistan, picked up by the Indians, the '51-year old head of the Awami League said he was free’. “The radio quoted the Sheikh as saying he was in the port of Chittagong'.  According to 'unconfirmed reports reaching India', the city was 'under the control of the Awami League'. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman said in the broadcast, “I am in Chittagong.”

On 27 March 1971 the Liverpool Echo reported: ‘Martial law chief killed’. Based on a report from United News of India, ‘that the chief martial law administrator of East Pakistan, Lieutenant-General Tikka Khan, died of injuries received during an attack on his residence in Dhaka by supporter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’. The newspaper pointed out that no other sources had confirmed ‘this latest report’. It also reported that the ‘Pakistan air Force planes today bombed East Pakistan town of Comilla. This was based on 'reliable reports received by the Press Trust of India news agency’.

The People reported on 28 March 1971 that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman promised victory in a day or two to the people of East Pakistan. This was from ‘a clandestine radio broadcast picked up in the Indian capital’. The People pointed out that most of the news about what was going on in East Pakistan was coming from rival sides and that they contradicted each other.

On 28 March 1971 the Sunday Mirror reported that in Jessore ‘1,500 rebels died when they tried to seize the airport'. They were 'clad only in loin-cloths and carrying bamboo staves and daggers’. The ‘conditions of 800 Britons still in East Pakistan' was still 'uncertain’, according to a Foreign Office spokesman in London.

The Aberdeen Press and Journal reported on 29 March 1971 that 'the martial law authorities' claimed that 'the army were in complete control throughout East Pakistan'. But 'radio reports monitored in India said troop reinforcements had been called for’.

On 29 March 1971 the Reading Evening Post reported that “Free Bangla Radio,” monitored in Calcutta announced the establishment of a provisional Government of Bangla Desh (Bengali Nation) under Major Jia Khan, described as the “head of the liberation army.”

'The clandestine station said that Sheikh Mujibur would guide the government from Chittagong. But Radio Pakistan reiterated Sheikh Mujibur was under arrest. The simmering Indo-Pakistan dispute was brought into the crisis, when the Pakistan Government accused India of interference in its domestic affairs. It also charged that India had set up a clandestine radio on a ship in the River Hooghly near Calcutta which was broadcasting concocted stories about the situation in East Pakistan.’

On 30 March 1971 the Birmingham Post reported clashes in 'Dacca' based on information provided by the Press Trust of India. ‘Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s “Liberation Army” and West Pakistani troops' were said to be involved in 'fighting pitched battle in Dacca’. The Pakistan radio contradicted this by claiming that 'all was calm in East Pakistan'. The curfew was now 'relaxed and life returning to normal in the capital’.

Based on reports from the United News of India, the newspaper reported that 'Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’’s Dacca residence had been destroyed by the army'. They also 'used machine guns to kill 75 Awami League volunteers guarding it’.

Foreign correspondents who managed to leave East Pakistan felt that 'the East Pakistan resistance movement could not last long in the face of the well-armed West Pakistani troops’, most of whom were Punjabis.

The last report on the conflict during the month was on the wrecking of ‘E. Pakistan naval base’. On 31 March 1971 the Birmingham Daily Post reported contradictory accounts coming from Indian news media and Pakistan official radio. The Indians reported heavy fighting taking place in East Pakistan. The 'port of Chittagong had been set on fire by artillery shelling and the naval base there wrecked’. Whereas according to Pakistani sources, ‘Dacca and other cities were calm’. More independent, Tokyo’s Kyodo agency's report supported the Indian version of developments in Chittagong. Captains of Japanese ships moored in the harbour reported that ‘big fires had been raging since Monday night and that many bodies were floating in the harbour’.


British government policies

Between 26 March and 16 December 1971, a bloody war raged across East Pakistan.  It was caused by the Pakistani army's violent intervention to put down a Bengali rebellion. The East Pakistanis were demanding the transfer of power based on the December 1970 general election result.

Throughout the war, Britain maintained a neutral position. Members of the government at the same time expressed deep concerns about the conflict and called for an end to the bloodshed in East Pakistan.

On 6 April 1971 the Daily Mirror reported an example of the British neutrality policy. Sir Alec Douglas-Home, the Foreign Secretary, said that Britain had ‘no intention of interfering in Pakistan’s internal affairs’, but that they were making a ‘strong diplomatic effort to end the bloodshed in East Pakistan’.

The paper pointed out the efforts of the Prime Minister, Edward Heath, who had expressed his deep concerns' to President Yahya Khan. The Pakistan ruler was advised to settle the differences through negotiations.

Many British politicians demanded actions to end the carnage. Some visited war-torn East Pakistan and the border areas in India and reported on what that they had observed.

On 16 April 1971, the Kensington Post reported that Bruce Douglas-Mann, Labour MP for North Kensington, had tabled a House of Commons motion, signed by 186 MPs from all parties. It requested the British government to use its influence to end the fighting.

This initiative was undertaken directly in response to ‘members of the small Pakistani community in North Kensington’ calling on the MPs’ support. Bruce Douglas-Mann opposed the neutral position of the British Government, considering it unjustified.

British local newspapers reported three visits to Pakistan by delegations of MPs, who wanted to see for themselves the reality on the ground and how things were unfolding.

British MPs Visits to East Pakistan

Visit No.1

The Daily Mirror and the Birmingham Daily Post reported on 28 and 29 April 1971 respectively, that four British MPs had just returned from a week-long visit to East Pakistan.

Bruce Douglas-Mann MP, the delegation’s spokesperson, said that, based on his observations and what people on the ground had told him, he ‘would like to see Britain recognise Bangla Desh’.

He claimed that there was a genocide taking place in East Pakistan. The Pakistani army was committing ‘indiscriminate killing of men, women and children’. People on the ground had told the visitors that the Pakistanis had a ‘deliberate plan to cut the population’ of East Pakistan as they wanted 'the land and not the people.’

On 15 May 1971, the Belfast Telegraph reported that Rev. Ian Paisley, MP for North Antrim, had made a ‘strong plea on behalf of the people of East Pakistan’. He supported a ‘private member’s motion calling on the Government to use its influence to end the strife'. The motion was also called to 'achieve a political settlement that will respect the democratic rights of the people of East Pakistan’.

Rev. Paisley thought that the apathy about what was happening in East Pakistan shown by those in many circles was a tragedy. He thought that it 'ought to be utterly and totally condemned’. But he rejected drawing any similarities between the conflicts in Northern Ireland and East Pakistan. He thought that ‘no such parallel existed’.

Visit No.2

On 28 June 1971 the Birmingham Daily Post reported that Mrs. Jill Knight, Conservative MP for Edgbaston, Birmingham, had just returned from a nine day ‘unrestricted visit’ to Pakistan. On 31 May 1971 the Belfast Telegraph added that the visit, which left Britain for Pakistan on 11 June 1971, was led by Jill Knight and included James Kilfedder (Unionist, North Down, James Tinn (Labour. Cleveland) and Ernest Armstrong (Labour. North West Durham).

She claimed that ‘there was no evidence of continuing oppression and bloodshed’ and that ‘atrocities had been committed on both sides in the civil war’. The ‘ten thousand Bangla Desh supporters at a mass rally in Birmingham yesterday’, denounced the MP for her report on their ‘on-the-spot investigation in Pakistan’.

But in response to questions by the newspaper, she said, ‘Surely anyone who really cares for the millions who have suffered so much in East Pakistan must recognise that the top priority now for these people is a return to normality’. Her intention was to report objectively, which she believes, she had done.

The crowd passed a resolution “regretting” Mrs. Jill Knight's report. It urged ‘governments throughout the world to recognise Bangla Desh as a sovereign independent State’.

The speakers at the rally included: ‘Mr Justice Abu Chowdhury, special representative of Bangla Desh and city Labour MPs, Mr. Julius Silverman (Aston), Mr. Denis Howell (Small Heath), and Mrs. Doris Fisher (Ladywood).’

Visit No.3

On 1 July 1971 the Coventry Telegraph reported the views of Mr. Toby Jessel, Tory MP for Twickenham, who had just returned from visiting East Pakistan.  He was part of an all-party delegation of four MPs led by Mr Arthur Bottomley (former Commonwealth Secretary) that included Mr Reginal Prentice (Labour) and Mr. James Ramsden (Labour).

He said ‘that the Pakistani Army in East Pakistan has gone far beyond what was necessary to maintain law and order’ and was being ‘uncivilized’. The delegation ‘had seen about 80 children with bullet wounds’. He thought that President Yahya Khan may not be fully aware of the atrocities being committed in the East. During their five days visit the MPs had also visited refugee camps and hospitals in India and met the Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, and the foreign minister. Mr. Swaran Singh.

On 5 July 1971 the Birmingham Daily Post pointed out that Jill Knight and Toby Jessel differed in their assessments of the situation. The safety of East Pakistani refugees returning from camps in India was an example of such a difference.

Jill Knight ‘deplored the constant statements that it was not safe for refugees to return because the authorities were doing all they could to make it safe’. She justified her view on the ground that she was being objective. She said she had ‘deliberately sought out British people’ when she was there because she felt that she could ‘rely on their evidence’.

Toby Jessel differed on this by 180 degrees and said in the House of Commons that ‘it would be wrong to advise refugees to return’.

The next day, the Birmingham Daily Post reported that Jill Knight had ‘written to President Yahya Khan asking for an investigation into the latest allegations about the persecution of civilians in East Pakistan’. She also said that she “could find no evidence that the killing or wounding of innocent people was continuing’.

On 4 August 1971 the Birmingham Daily Post reported that more than 130 MPs from all parties had signed a motion by Mr. John Stonehouse, Labour MP for Wednesbury. It urged that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman should be released from detention in Pakistan. This was a pre-requisite to ensuring an early political settlement “to the massive human disaster in East Pakistan.”

The Birmingham Daily Post reported on 6 May 1971, that Mr. John Stonehouse had been to the region previously. And this was ‘his first assignment’ as ‘the Director of Development for War on Want’ – he visited refugee camps in India, near Calcutta, in April 1971, ‘to assess the needs of refugees’.

Relief Work and The Danger of Famine 

 On 5 May 1971 the Birmingham Daily Post reported that the British Government was planning to use a DC-8 aircraft to fly in supplies to East Pakistan, collected by Oxfam, War on Want, Christian Aid and the Red Cross.

In total, these amounted to ‘three tons of milk powder, a quarter of a ton of vitamin tablets and as many tents as can be packed into the aircraft for people living in camps in East Pakistan'. The government estimated that supplies collected would feed a ‘quarter of a million refugees’ in East Pakistan and a smaller number in India.

The British Government and aid agencies expressed concerns about a possible famine. They thought that it ‘could follow in about four months unless planting takes place quickly before monsoons begin’.

The Prime Minister, Edward Heath, said that Britain should use its influence to find a political solution. He also said that Britain would continue to be involved in providing aid regardless of the ‘political aspects of a country’s national life’. ‘The Prime Minister agreed with another MP about the need for observers'. He said that 'If there were allegations and misrepresentations, the healthiest way of dealing with it was to allow in observers to see for themselves’. 

On 1 July 1971 Coventry Telegraph reported that Mr. Arther Bottomley (Labour, Middlesbrough East) would like to hear some condemnation of the army’s excesses. He was the leader of the delegations of four MPs that visited the conflict region in late June 1971.

Mr. Bottomley said that there was a danger of famine in East Pakistan later in the year. He suggested that the United Nations should act now and take food stocks to the area, under UN supervision, rather than wait until the situation became serious. 

Mr. Reg. Prentice (Labour, East Ham North) described East Pakistan as being “in the grip of fear”. The refugee situation was one of the most terrible of the century. A political solution was imperative. But he thought that this must involve Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He thought that President Yahya Khan's proposal for a solution in a recent broadcast was inadequate. 

On 9 September 1971, the Birmingham Daily Post reported the arrest of British relief workers who entered East Pakistan. ‘Four members of the London-based relief team known as Operation Omega’, were ‘detained as they crossed into East Pakistan'. They are 'to be tried by the Pakistan Army for entering the country illegally'. The individuals were Miss Christiane Pratt, Miss Joyce Keniwell, Mr Ben Crow (all British) and Mr Dane Due, an American. 

The Birmingham Daily Post reported on 13 October 1971 that two 20-year-old relief workers have been jailed for two years by the Pakistani Authorities. They were Mr Gordon Slaven, a Londoner and Ellen Connect, from Philadelphia.

The British government stated that ‘the UN was best able to co-ordinate the international relief effort. It was only through the UN that international relief could be made available on the scale required to avert “a further major human tragedy.” 

The opposition spokesman on foreign affairs, Mr Healey, said: “there is widespread concern at the possibility that millions of human beings and possibly tens of millions may die before Christmas, unless more effective action is taken by the UN”. 

Alec Douglas-Home, the Foreign Secretary, said that he would discuss the matter with the Indian Foreign Minister in New York and thought that it was ‘necessary for both India and Pakistan to co-operate with the UN”. Mr John Stonehouse (Labour. Wednesbury) pointed out that a political solution was impossible unless Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was released. 

On 19 October 1971 the Birmingham Daily Post reported that Britain defended its record of the aid that it had provided to the ‘victims of the East Pakistan tragedy’. On 18 October 1971, the Foreign Secretary announced that a further £8.5m would be ‘made available for relief work among Pakistani refugees in India’. Furthermore, Britain would play its 'full part in preventing the deaths through starvation or disease of hundreds of thousands of people'. He pointed out that this would bring the total contribution of Britain to £16.75m. 

Christian Aid criticized both the British government’s reluctance to respond earlier and the poor responses from wealthy countries around the world. 

On 5 November 1971, the Birmingham Daily Post reported that an ‘appeal went out from the Commons last night for other nations to match British aid to India for refugees from East Bengal’. This was during the ‘third days debate on the Queen’s Speech, when Mr. Godber, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said that ‘Britain had contributed one-fifth of the total aid so far given to India’. 

He also said that Britain was exploring with the UN the ‘possibility of providing 100 Land Rovers, 50 three-ton trucks and a number of dumper trucks each of which could carry two tons of food’ within East Pakistan. But Mr John Stonehouse, Labour MP for Wednesbury, expressed concerns that the ‘vehicles’ could be ‘requisitioned for the Pakistan forces’. If that were to happen then, assured Mr. Godbar, the ‘British Government would make a very strong protest’. 

It was also pointed out that, if needed, the British Government was ready to ‘provide supplies of the cholera vaccine’. 

The opposition spokesperson, ‘Shadow Minister of Overseas Development, Mrs. Judith Hart, said that ‘Britain had special responsibility for the British Commonwealth’. As such, 'without a public exercising of its role by Britain - as private pressure was not enough - other countries could not be expected to respond to the urgent situation in East Pakistan'.

International focus

On 2 August 1971 the Birmingham Daily Post reported that there was a rally by 20,000 Bengalis in Trafalgar Square. It took place the day before under the banner “Recognise Bangla Desh”.

At the event, “Lord Brockway called on the Government' to 'demand an immediate meeting of the United Nations Security Council to end the tragedy of East Pakistan”. He pointed out that there was a ‘real danger of war between Pakistan and India’, which might ‘involve Russia, China, America and Britain’.

Mr. John Stonehouse, Labour MP, who had visited ‘Bangla Desh and refugee camps in India', said that millions could face starvation as ‘the rice crop had not been planted’.  He asked for direct UN action to deal with the situation in what he described as “the worst man-made disaster since Hitler”.

He said that ‘Bangla Desh should be recognized as a sovereign state, and there should be a massive aid programme to save the people and return the seven million refugees to their homes’. At the end of the rally, he ‘led a delegation which handed in a petition at No 10 Downing Street calling on Britain to bring the East Pakistan question before the Security Council’. 

The Birmingham Daily Post reported on 3 August 1971 that the Pakistan government had threatened to quit the Commonwealth. This was in response to ‘protest against Britain’s attitude over the East Pakistan situation’.

A few days later, the Daily Mirror reported, on 5 August 1971, that fifteen Bengali diplomats stationed at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington left their jobs. They ‘asked for political asylum’. The newspaper described seven of them as being top envoys. They claimed that President Yahya Khan’s Government was turning the eastern wing of Pakistan into a “land of death and terror”. 

On 9 September 1971, Birmingham Daily Post reported that the foreign secretary, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, informed the House of Commons that he would have talks with the United Nations. He would be meeting U Thant, UN Secretary-General, in New York the following week to discuss the situation in East Bengal. He also ‘welcomed President Yahya Khan’s proposals for the return of a civilian administration’ and thought that this was a “step towards the development of the restoration of an elected civilian government”. 

On 26 November 1971, the Daily Mirror reported that President Yahya Khan had asked 'Britain to step in’. This was the time that things were moving towards the final showdown, which is clear from the perspectives of hindsight. Border clashes between Pakistan and India were increasing along the eastern wing. The President of Pakistan ‘called on Britain to intervene in his country’s dispute with India’. He requested Britain to use ‘its influence to restrain India' from its “aggressive course”. 

The Daily Mirror pointed out that the call for British help was in response to ‘a series of major incidents along the Bengal border yesterday’. There were no reports on this from the Indian side in the Daily Mirror. According to the Pakistani account that the paper reported, their ‘troops killed 330 Indian soldiers in the attacks, and then followed up with a major counter-offensive’. President Yahya Khan stated that they "wish to avoid conflagration but the situation is leading the two countries to the point of no return”. 

The Daily Mirror also reported that President Nixon had phoned the British Prime Minister, Edward Heath, to discuss the situation. They focused on the ‘border fighting and the crisis brought about by the Bengali rebellion in East Pakistan’. 

On 5 December 1971 the Sunday Mirror reported that there was 'widespread fear in India that China’ was ‘planning to enter the war with Pakistan'. Lieutenant-General Jagjit Singh Aurora, the chief of Indian’s Eastern Command, said that ‘we cannot let our guard down in the North’. 

India claimed that they had used ‘British-made Hunter fighter-bombers' to shoot 'down Pakistani Sabre fighters near Dacca’. 

The Birmingham Daily Post reported on 6 December 1971, that Russia had cast ‘its second veto within 24 hours today to paralyse the United Nations Security Council’s efforts to bring about a ceasefire and troop withdrawals in the Indian sub-continent’. 

The resolution had called for ‘measures for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of their armed forces on the territory of the other side to their own side of the India-Pakistan order’. It was submitted by Argentina, Belgium, Burundi, Italy, Japan, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone and Somali. As an ally of Pakistan ‘China voted for the resolution, along with the U.S. and nine other members’, but Britain and France abstained. 

On 7 December 1971 the Birmingham Daily Post reported that Indian troops were pushing deep into ‘East Pakistan from 15 points’, penetrating as much as 40 miles into the country, and that Mrs Indira Gandhi had recognised ‘Bangla Desh’. The US administration suspended ‘economic aid worth £33 million to India because of its continued military actions against Pakistan. 

The Belfast Telegraph reported on 10 December 1971, that ‘China warned India that it would suffer a shameful defeat if it failed to heed a United Nations call for a ceasefire with Pakistan’. This was made in response to Pakistan’s readiness to ‘accept a UN General Assembly call for a ceasefire with India and mutual withdrawal of troops’. Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, however, rejected Pakistan’s new offer. She ‘declared that India would “take all steps” to establish an independent Bangla Desh in East Pakistan’. 

On 14 December 1971 the Birmingham Daily Post reported that a ‘new initiative by Britain to achieve a ceasefire could take place within the next few days’. However, the British Government would not ‘act hastily’ in this regard due to various uncertainties. 

Earlier, Britain did not want to support any peace move at the UN that did not have the support of Russia. But now, it was making ‘efforts to seek “practical means” of bringing the fighting to an end'. They were seeking to achieve this through discussion with other members of the Security Council’.

The paper pointed out that ‘Russia will not pressure India into accepting a ceasefire until Pakistan’s military effectiveness in East Pakistan has been destroyed’. This could follow ‘after the fall of Dacca’. 

The British Prime Minister was able to arrange a ‘temporary ceasefire around Dacca airport' to enable the 'evacuation of British subjects and other foreign nationals’. This showed that ‘Edward Heath was ‘in close touch with both Mrs. Indira Gandhi and President Yahya Khan’.

The Foreign Secretary, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, congratulated the ‘skill of the Services in airlifting 1,300 people from Dacca, Karachi and Islamabad airports’, which was echoed by the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Denis Healy.




Local British newspapers reported daily on the Bangladesh Liberation War during the whole nine-month-long conflict. The war started in late March 1971 and ended on 16 December of the same year. The purpose of this section is to give a flavour of the war and how local newspapers kept the British people informed. Rather than providing a comprehensive account of these reports, it looks at one or two reports per month.

First three months: April - June 1971

'Resistance in East Pakistan Crumbles Fast’ 

About two weeks into the war, on 13 April 1971, the Coventry Telegraph ran a headline called 'Resistance in East Pakistan Crumbles Fast’. It reported that ‘columns of President Yahya Khan’s Pakistan army’ were ‘fanning out in all directions'. They were 'swiftly advancing' and 'causing the resistance of the ‘Break-away East Pakistan’ to crumble.

According to the newspaper, a ‘reported shipment of Indian arms to the secessionist forces' would be unlikely to 'prolong the... the liberation'. From the perspectives of the newspaper, there was very little sign of ‘preparations for a lengthy guerrilla campaign’.

The newspaper reported the fears of many prominent Awami League leaders of a prolonged conflict. If that were to happen, they thought, the liberation war will ‘inevitably fall under the communist leadership’. One reason cited was that the communists have a tough discipline and they are 'backed by Marxists in neighbouring India’.

‘Bitter fighting in East Pakistan’

On 14 April 1971 the Reading Evening Post, based on information from the Press Trust of Indian, reported that there was 'bitter fighting’ in East Pakistan. There were some losses, some gains and some positions still controlled by the Bengali liberation forces.

‘Pakistan troops had gained control of two towns while Bangla Desh liberation fighters had captured the jute centre of Sylhet. Pakistani Air Force planes bombed and strafed Bengalis as they fought for Sylhet’. But they were 'forced to withdraw to Shalutikor airfield five miles away’.

The Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, was asked about the “open support” of Pakistan ‘announced by China'. She said that this ‘would not deter India from her stand on the issue'. On the question of India recognising ‘Banga Desh', she said, 'the matter would receive due consideration’.

According to the Free Bangla Desh Radio, the ‘Prime Minister of the provisional Government, Mr Tajuddin Ahmed said that: “Our resistance has created a new and bright example in the history of freedom movements. It is an example for all”.

‘Mediaeval butchery in East Pakistan’

Three weeks into the war, on 16 April 1971, the Belfast Telegraph reported an Indian Government official who accused ‘Pakistan of indulging in “savage and medieval butchery” in East Pakistan'. This was in response to certain Pakistani media broadcasting that 'indulged in “false and fallacious propaganda” against India’.

He thought that Pakistan was trying to divert the attention away from what they were doing in East Pakistan to present it as a dispute between India and Pakistan. They would fail to ‘persuade the world' that there was 'no struggle by the 75 million people of East Bengal'. He described the Pakistani action as ‘pre-planned carnage and systematic genocide in East Bengal’.

‘30,000 Migrants Believed Killed’

On 8 May 1971, Belfast Telegraph reported on the non-Bengali victims of the war. They were identified as Biharis who only recently arrived in East Pakistan during the partition of India violence. The welcome they received early on did not last long. When the war started, they became the target of hate. Many Bengalis considered them to be Pakistani collaborators.

The newspaper reported that about 30,000 non-Bengalis were believed to have been killed across East Pakistan since 1 March 1971. Most of them were said to be ‘Moslem Biharis… but many Hindus were also reported massacred’. About ‘90 miles from Dacca,’ a systematic slaughtering ‘between Bengalis and non-Bengalis’ was reported. This ‘left many thousands dead before the order was restored’.

Based on an account of a survivor who told ‘newsmen’ that out of 5,000 non-Bengalis where he lived there were now only ‘25 survivors’. The soldiers who brought the survivor denied ‘that women and children were knowingly killed by soldiers'. But said that 'hundreds of men were killed in the fighting since 26 March’.

The survivor showed his neck wound to the newsmen and described ‘where he said Bengalis shot him through the throat before knifing him and dumping him in the river'. While he was describing how his sister’s breast was mutilated before she was killed, he broke into tears'. He was led away by soldiers who had brought him to speak to the newsman.’

‘Cholera Strikes Again in Bengal’

On 17 June 1971, the Coventry Evening Standard reported that ‘Cholera Strikes Again in Bengal’. This new cholera infection was said to have broken out in a new place in West Bengal as refugees continued to pour out of East Pakistan and into India. Cholera was ‘raging in Burdwan district near the industrial town of the same name, 55 miles north-west of Calcutta’.

The refugee flow that was ‘halted for about 12 days’ had started again. The authorities had earlier announced that they had 'brought the cholera epidemic under control that had already killed 5,000 people'. The new inflow of refugees has not reached the magnitude of ‘the mass flight last month when about 100,000 people crossed into India each day’. India was sending ‘six ministers around the world to seek more aid for nearly six million refugees’.

The mid three months: July-September 1971

'India Accuses U.S. Over Supply of Arms to Pakistan' 

On 13 July 1971 the Belfast Telegraph reported India's strong opposition to the decision by the 'United States... to supply Pakistan with a total of 35 million dollars of military equipment’. Mr Swaran Singh, the Indian Foreign Ministers, considered such action by America ‘in the present context amounted to condonation of genocide in Bangla Desh'. And he ‘left the United States Government with no doubt about the dangerous implications of such a policy’.

According to a ‘highly placed diplomat', the 'Americans have decided to continue to supply Pakistan with arms'. They believe that they will be able to continue to talk to President Yahya Khan and persuade him to accept a realistic political settlement’.

‘Bengali hearts are with Bangla Desh’Bengali hearts are with Bangla Desh

On 17 August 1971, the Aberdeen Press and Journal published a piece called ‘Bengali hearts are with Bangla Desh’. The newspaper's London staff, Ralph Shaw, went on ‘a fact-finding tour' of the divided Pakistan. He wrote that when he was talking to a UN official at the Intercontinental Hotel, he was told that he would be safe there as it was heavily guarded. But this sense of safety was an illusion. It got shattered very soon by the bombing of the ‘men’s lavatory’ by a ‘plastic’ explosive, which also ‘practically destroyed the spacious lobby’.

When he went around the city, he observed fear everywhere. He wrote that ‘recently there was heavy fighting between the Pakistani Army and the East Bengal secessionists. Many people, including a shop keeper and a Bengali government official, also whispered in his ears, “we want Bangla Desh”, and “don’t believe what they say. They all lie… We want Bangla Desh” ‘. 

His roaming of 'Dacca' also took him to the old part of the city. He walked ‘alone in the… narrow, muddy tracks' with 'bullock carts, cows, donkeys, dogs, beggars and the ubiquitous open-faced shops'. He described the place as 'the home of the poverty-stricken masses’.

Ralph Shaw saw ‘Dacca’ at night ‘deserted apart from the police and army patrols’. He observed that the ‘Liberation Fighters’ had ruined the ‘cooking facilities at the Intercontinental recently by blasting the strategic gas pipeline into the city’. They also blew 'up a generating station’, which had ‘plunged a large part of the town into darkness'.

He judged that if left alone the ‘Bengalis' were 'no match for the Pakistani army’. But then it would become a colonial rule on British pattern for the foreseeable future. As  West Pakistan largely depended on draining resources from the East Pakistan economy, he thought, President Yahya Khan would do whatever he can to ‘preserve the integrity of what now a geographical absurdity’.

Photo credit: The Aberdeen Press and Journal, 17 August 1971:  Bengali hearts are with Bangla Desh. 
Image/article courtesy of

‘Honeymoon became nightmare’

On 17 September 1971 The Kent & Sussex Courier ran a story on how a honeymoon became a nightmare for a newly married couple. Mr Martin Crorie who owned an Indian restaurant called Mumtaz in Tonbridge ‘got married to his childhood sweetheart’. Her name was Dolly, and she was twenty years old at that time.

The paper said that they got married in October 1970, but it was only now that the ‘military government in Pakistan finally allowed them to leave their own country’. This suggests that the couple were both East Pakistanis. If so, Martin must have been to the UK earlier, set up a business and gone back to East Pakistan to marry his childhood sweetheart, Dolly. But this is speculation as the newspaper provides no details about their origin. 

The couple reported that they had encountered horrific scenes while trying to flee the ‘avenging West Pakistani troops sent to subdue the breakaway East Pakistan’. This included ‘young children bayoneted, houses burned with families inside, teenage girls violated and murdered’. They faced questions from the army everywhere, saw ‘bodies on the roadside’, and learnt that some of the murdered were thrown into the rivers. 

With the ‘aid of influential friends', eventually, they got a flight from Dacca and Karachi’. There was a final act before they could leave East Pakistan. They had to promise that they ‘would not spread unfavourable propaganda about the army’ when they got back to ‘England’.

The last three months: October-December 1971

‘Pakistan massing forces claim’

On 16 October 1971, the Coventry Telegraph reported that there was an increase in tension along the border between India and Pakistan. Border areas has been experiencing ‘constant artillery attacks for the past fortnight’. A Pakistani 'official... in Dacca' announced that this resulted in civilians from border areas ‘moving to regions deeper insider Eastern Pakistan’. It was also announced that Indian shelling so far has ‘killed 38 villagers and wounded 57 in 34 border villages’.

India ‘said that Pakistani forces appeared to be massing on the border’. This was two days after Mrs Indira Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister, ‘accused Pakistan of threatening to go to war with India’. ‘Pakistani forces had moved closer to the Indian border in both East and West Pakistan', and 'there were indications of a large-scale military build-up in the last few days’. The Indian Defence Ministry said that they were ‘taking necessary precautionary measures’.

'15-hour curfew in capital’ 

On 18 November 1971 the Reading Evening Post ran a headline called ’15-hour curfew in capital’. The curfew was designed to deal with the ‘apparent escalation of guerrilla attacks’ in the city. The guerrillas aimed at a range of targets, including shopping centres, mosques, schools, commercial buildings, public utility and industrial complexes. 

The curfew sought to comprehensively comb the city to stop the ‘sympathetic population’ supporting the guerrillas to slip through the net. As such, on 17 November 1971 troops went ‘house-by-house in search of Bangla Desh guerrillas and arms’. Pakistan radio reported that ‘138 people were detained and four killed when they “resisted arrest”, and that 'people were co-operating in pointing out “miscreants”. The city's population 'had been told to place arms and ammunition in front of houses and no questions would be asked’. 

‘Indians Invade Pakistan’ 

On 4 December 1971 Aberdeen Evening Express reported that India had invaded Pakistan earlier on the same day.

The commander of the Indian forces, Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Arora, said that they had two purposes. To ‘force the surrender of the 80,000 Pakistani troops in the area and establish an independent government of Bangla Desh’. They had orders to attack ‘enemy warship and cut lines of communication between East and West Pakistan’.

Yahya Khan, the ‘West Pakistan President’, said to his people that ‘the present war will be the final war with India’.

The newspaper reported on both sides and perspectives of the war. General Arora had been set no limit on ‘his operations’. But his order was not to ‘cause unnecessary damage to the infrastructure of East Pakistan’. President Yahya Khan said that ‘his country was fighting for its integrity and honour’. He believed that God was on Pakistan’s side in the face of the enemy, the Indian Government, who launched a ‘full-scale war’ on Pakistan. 

‘Indians take key towns in the east’ 

The Coventry Evening Telegraph reported on 7 December 1971 that ‘Indian forces today overran the Pakistani military base at Jessore and captured strategic town in Sylhet'. Jessore was about 80 miles from ‘Dacca’ and contained ‘one of the province’s three main military bases'. It was the 'first major East Pakistan town to fall to India’.

Indian naval aircrafts attacked 'the ports of Khulna, Chalna and Mangla'. They destroyed 'two gunboats' and damaged 'two others’. Pakistan ‘admitted that troops had vacated their position in Benapol’. Their ‘troops were trying to establish alternative positions’. At the same time, sources in India reported that Pakistani troops had ‘launched a “massive attack” on the Kashmir front’.

President Yahya Khan had asked Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of West Pakistan and ‘Nurul Amin, a right-wing East Pakistan political leader, to form a coalition government. Meanwhile ‘a UN spokesman in New York’ reported that ‘military planes had attacked a Canadian C130 Hercules transport’. It was sent to see if it was safe to land in ‘Dacca’ airport to evacuate ‘265 diplomats and officials’. UN efforts ‘to get a ceasefire’ proved unsuccessful.  

‘After 12 days of Indian attack, Now Dacca surrenders’ 

On 16 December 1971 the Reading Evening Post reported that the surrender documents signed after the Pakistan commander, Lieutenant General A. L. “Tiger” Niazi, asked for a senior Indian staff officer to go to the capital of East Pakistan. ‘Major General J. F. R. Jacob, chief of staff of India’s eastern command, arrived by helicopter from Calcutta to receive the surrender'.  

 Joy for Mrs Indira GandhiJoy for Mrs Indira Gandhi

The newspaper reported that ‘Bedlam broke out in the Indian Parliament today as Mrs Indira Gandhi announced that Indian troops entered Dacca this morning. Jubilant members of all parties jumped from their seats and started shouting and pounding their desks in glee’. At the parliament, ‘members from West Bengal, which has strong cultural ties with neighbouring East Pakistan, rushed to phones to order rasagula, the traditional Bengali sweet distributed on festive occasions’. They said, ‘when Dacca falls, we’ll start distributing’.  

‘We'll regain East, pledges Bhutto’ 

On 21 December 1971 the Aberdeen Evening Express reported that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the new president of Pakistan, pledged to regain East Pakistan.  In 'Rawalpindi shortly after taking power' he said 'East Pakistan would be regained and warned of “a house to house fight” if India tried to impose its will.

At a 'news conference following a nationwide broadcast' Bhutto promise 'to restore democracy’. He described ‘West Bengal, the Indian state bordering East Pakistan as a slum: my Bengal, East Pakistan, will not go to the slum of India’. At another point, he declared: “Half of our country is under foreign occupation, but we are not down and out. We will regain it.” Mr Bhutto said new ties must be established with East Pakistan no matter how loose’.

Photo caption :Reading Evening Post, 16 December 1971: After 12 days of Indian attack, Now Dacca surrenders 
Image/article courtesy of