Pakistani
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Dr. Junaid Ahmad |

December 16, 1971, was an ominous day for Pakistan because the Pakistani army’s scattered divisions sandwiched between an internal insurgency supported by Indian war machine and Indian army columns finally decided to surrender. To this day, popular imagination and rhetoric are that 93,000 soldiers of Pakistan surrendered to victorious India and were taken as POWs (Prisoners of War).

But the funny thing is: Pakistan, in December 1971, could not have more than 45,000 soldiers on ground in former east-Pakistan. So where the magical figure of 93,000 came from? 

This highly exaggerated figure is sustained by Indian, Bangladeshi, international and even Pakistani media. Many Pakistani politicians, out of spite for the army, keep on repeating the cliched figure. Ironically, this propagated number has remained unchallenged and is also widely believed in Pakistan, as few accounts have been written to challenge it and today reportedly 65% of Pakistanis are younger than 35 years of age who have no idea of what happened, 45 years ago, in 1971.

But the funny thing is: Pakistan, in December 1971, could not have more than 45,000 soldiers on the ground in former east-Pakistan. So where the magical figure of 93,000 came from?

How many Pakistani troops were in East Pakistan? 

The number of 93,000 soldiers that is talked about has been conflated with civilians. West Pakistani civilians who were present in large numbers in former East-Pakistan were taken over into custody by Indian army to protect them from revengeful Bengali crowds and Mukit Bahni.

The undisputed fact is that Pakistan had only one corps comprising three divisions in East Pakistan during 1971. In fact, when operation search light began on 25th March 1971, the total number of Pakistani troops on the ground were around 27,000. More troops were sent from West Pakistan but they had to arrive through a long circuitous route since India had blocked air route over India taking advantage of the famous “Ganga Hijacking Case” (believed to be a false flag planned by RAW for this purpose)

The three divisions, of Pakistan army, by end November 1971, comprised a total force of 45,000, on books, including combatant and noncombatant troops. Out of these, there were 34,000 combatant troops and the remaining 11,000 were noncombatants, supporting men and CAF personnel. But between six to seven thousand Pakistani soldiers died in the war also.

It was also helpful in putting meat to the story of three million killed, hundreds and thousands of rapes and genocide. An army of less than 40,000, spread over a large theatre of conflict under attack from guerrillas supported by Indian army was hardly in a situation of doing what it was accused of. 

This one Corp was pitched against three corps of Indian Army from the West and North West and another two Corps from the North East and East, a total of five Indian Corps plus 175,000 Indian backed and trained Mukti Bahini and many thousands of Awami League miscreants. When the total number of Pakistan army troops ranged between 34,000 to 45,000 how could 93,000 soldiers surrender?

From time to time, various officers and commentators have attempted clarifying the myth but the power of the first narrative is such that still the figure of 93,000 POW’s sticks in the popular imagination.

According to POW’s, Corps Commander of Eastern Command in 1971.

The total fighting strength available to me [Gen Naizi] was forty-five thousand – 34,000 from the army, plus 11,000 from CAF and West Pakistan civilian police and armed non-combatants”who were fighting against the insurgents. Even if the strength of HL, MLA, depots, training institutes, workshops, factories, nurses and lady doctors, non-combatants like barbers, cooks, shoemakers and sweepers are added, even then the total comes to only 55,000.

Air Marshal Rahim Khan, CNC Pakistan Air Force (1969-1972), had stated:

The number of regular Pakistani troops in East Pakistan never exceeded 33,000-34,000. The rest is just propaganda by India and the Awami League, to magnify their success….”

Air Marshal Zulfiqar Ali Khan, who commanded Eastern Wing of Pakistan Air Forces had asserted the same in these words:

At the maximum, our regular fighting force in East Pakistan in December 1971 stood at 34,000. This figure does not include paramilitary personnel, military police, etc. Even if you include the auxiliaries, the total does not cross 45,000”.

General Akhtar Abdul Rehman. Former Vice Chief of Army Staff, speaking on the 1971 conundrum stated

It was impossible for the 34,000 Pakistani troops in East Pakistan or for that matter any army in the world to fight against the combined strength of 200,000 Indian army and 170,000 Mukti Bahini, If not more, that too in a hostile environment 1200 miles away from West Pakistan …… Keeping into account all this, if the Indians still feel that they achieved a stunning military victory against Pakistan, I can only say they have fallen prey to their own propaganda”.

US congressman, Charles Wilson (famous for Charlie Wilson’s War) in a discussion with Pakistani diplomats in Washington DC remarked.

 “……In 1971, it was certainly not possible for the 35,000 Pakistani troops in Dhaka to fight against the combined strength of 200,000 Indian army and the more than 100,000 Indian-trained Bengali guerillas.”

Another US congressman, Stephen Solarz, commenting on the War of 1971 in June 1989, remarked,

Pakistanis are energetic, vibrant, and resilient. We must not be misled by 1971. It was certainly not possible for the 40,000 odd Pakistani army in Dhaka to fight against much larger Indian army and Indian-trained Bengali Bahinis in a hostile territory ….”

K C Pant, Indian former Defense Minister in September 1994 during a discussion on Indo-Pak relations held in New Delhi, said

Peace is important between Pakistan and India. We respect the professional competence of the Pakistani soldier. Had democracy continued in Pakistan, Islamabad would not have suffered the debacle resulting in the surrender of its 40,000 military personnel to India in East Pakistan”.

Sarmila Bose, the famous Indian Bengali writer and Associate Researcher at Oxford University in her book Dead Reckoning published in 2011, asserts

“…… [I]t appears that while the total figure in Indian custody is about right, to state that 93,000 soldiers were taken prisoner is wrong, and creates confusions by greatly inflating the Pakistani fighting force in East Pakistan”.

Javed Jabbar, former Pakistani Minister of Information in his article, Estranged siblings-Pakistan and Bangladesh40 years later, wrote

Pakistan’s armed forces did not exceed 45,000 troops at optimal levels. The 90,000 prisoners-of-war held by India included over 50,000 non- combatant, unarmed West Pakistani civilians.”

S. M. Hali, a well-known Pakistani analyst in his article, Breaking myths of 1971 Pak-India war writes,

The total strength of Pakistan Army in East Pakistan (in 1971) was 40,000….”

All the aforementioned references point toward one fact that the number of total army personnel who surrendered were far less than 93,000. Whereas my research shows that they were only around 34,000 but in any case, they could not have been more than 40,000. The number of 93,000 soldiers that is talked about has been conflated with civilians. West Pakistani civilians who were present in large numbers in former East-Pakistan were taken over into custody by the Indian army to protect them from revengeful Bengali crowds and Mukti Bahni.

The figure of 93,000 also included children, women, civil administration officials and staff, noncombatant troops such as nurses, doctors, cooks, barbers, shoemakers, carpenters, and others. The higher number talked about was a deliberate attempt to defame and demoralize Pakistani army, to demonstrate to the world extent of the Indian victory. It was also helpful in putting meat on the story of three million killed, hundreds and thousands of rapes and genocide. An army of less than 40,000, spread over a large theatre of conflict under attack from guerrillas supported by Indian army was hardly in a situation of doing what it was accused of.

The total figure, a mix of soldiers and civilians was deliberately floated by Indians, and later by Bangladeshis to support their case for victimization. In Pakistan, a clever Bhutto used this for various reasons of his own politics. No one ever wanted to clarify. In reality, the actual number of Pakistani troops who surrendered on 16th December 1971 was only around 34,000.

Piece by Dr. Junaid Ahmad, Author of ‘Creation of Bangladesh: Myths Exploded.’ Additional comments and editing by Editorial Desk of Global Village Space.

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