50th Anniversary of the Indo-Pak War 1971

Overall, the conclave was an extremely enlightening experience not only on the war with Pakistan in December 1971; but more so the prevailing geopolitical and geostrategic disposition of the nation

Issue: 10-2021By Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (Retd)Photo(s): By IAF
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh formally inaugurating the “Swarnim Vijay Varsh”, a conclave to mark 50 years of the war with Pakistan

The year 2021 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the war between India and Pakistan that was waged in December 1971 by the armed forces of the two nations. The war culminated in a humiliating defeat for the Pakistani Armed Forces deployed in East Pakistan. The Pakistan Army in East Pakistan surrendered to the Indian Army that took 93,000 prisoners of war who were finally released by India over a year after the war. But what was of greater significance was that the war in December 1971 resulted in the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent nation. The Indo-Pak war fought on both the Eastern and Western fronts was one of the shortest wars in the history of warfare. It lasted for just 13 days in which there was full involvement of and support from the Indian Air Force (IAF). The Indian Army penetrated East Pakistan moving on three axes and totally decimated all opposition by the forces of the enemy. The role played by the IAF in the war was indeed exemplary and the employment of air power had a strategic effect on the final outcome of the conflict with Pakistan.


It is on account of this background that the IAF celebrated in grand style the 50th anniversary of the war in December 1971 designated as “Swarnim Vijay Varsh”. The event also described as a ‘Conclave’, was sponsored by Headquarters Training Command of the IAF on behalf of Air Headquarters and was hosted by Air Force Station Yelahanka over three days from October 22 to 24, 2021. The event was formally inaugurated in the afternoon on October 22, 2021 by Rajnath Singh, Minister of Defence who released the brochure and went on to address the gathering in which he said “Today, on the occasion of Vijay Diwas, I salute the valour and bravery of the Indian Army. I remember the sacrifice of our soldiers who wrote a new saga of bravery in the war in December 1971. Their sacrifice is a source of inspiration for all in India and the nation will always revere them”.

The role played by the IAF in the war in December 1971 was exemplary and the employment of air power had a strategic effect on the outcome of the conflict with Pakistan

Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari, Chief of the Air Staff delivered the welcome address. This was followed by an address by General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Defence Staff wherein he focussed on “Higher Direction of War”. The final talk for the day was delivered by Ajay Kumar IAS, Secretary, Ministry of Defence who addressed the gathering on “The Factors That a Nation Needs to Focus On When Involved in the Preparation or War”. With this speech, the proceedings came to an end on the first day of the conclave.


Unlike day one, day two was a full-day programme with eminent personalities addressing the gathering on a variety of subjects as well as participating in panel discussions. The list of personalities and the subjects covered by them included Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa (Retd), former Chief of the Air Staff who covered in detail “Employment of Air Power in the War in the Eastern Sector”. This was followed by address by Admiral Arun Prakash (Retd), former Chief of the Naval Staff who spoke on “Operations at Sea as Part of the 1971 War”. The renowned journalist and TV anchor Maroof Raza spoke on the virtual mode on “National Response to the Crisis in East Pakistan in 1971”. He was followed by Major General Ian Cordozo, a veteran who had taken active part in the operations against East Pakistan in the war in 1971. He spoke on the subject “War in the East – a Saga of Courage”. Harsh Vardhan Shringla from the Indian Foreign Service who is currently the Foreign Secretary in the Government of India, spoke in the virtual mode on the subject “Humanitarian, Political and Diplomatic Facets of the War in 1971”.

The programme for the day post-lunch was a panel discussion on the subject “Events and the Lessons Learnt in the War in the East in 1971”. The participants were Air Marshal Harish Masand (Retd), a fighter pilot of repute who has been honoured during his career in the IAF with a Vir Chakra, Lt General Prakash Menon (Retd) and Rear Admiral Sampath Gopal (Retd). The panel discussion was focused on “The Events and Lessons of the War in 1971”. The panel discussion was followed by a lecture by Commodore Uday Bhasker (Retd) in which the speaker focused on Maritime Security in the Indian Ocean Region: Challenges and Paths of Convergence”. The next speaker was Nitin Pai whose subject of lecture was “Realignment of Contemporary Goals in the Indo-Pacific Region”. Nitin Pai is the Co-founder and Director of the Takshashila Institution, an independent Centre for Research and Education in Public Policy. He is a graduate of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. The talk by Nitin Pai was followed by a lecture by Air Vice Marshal Arjun Subramaniam (Retd), a prolific writer on military and strategic issues. The subject of his talk was “War and Conflict in Independent India: Lessons for a Rising Power”. This was the final lecture for the session on the second day of the conclave.


Day three, the final day of the conclave had some very eminent speakers from the civil domain. The session commenced with a talk by Gopalaswami Parthasarthy who spoke on “Understanding Regional Security Concerns”. Gopalaswami Parthasarthy served in the Indian Army in the period 1963 to 1968 and had attained the rank of Captain when in 1968, he joined the Indian Foreign Service (IFS). During his career in the foreign service, he held several important appointments in nations across the world and was regarded as “the tallest Indian diplomat”. It was particularly significant for the conclave that Gopalaswami Parthasarthy had served as India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan in the period 1998 to 2000.

The next speaker was Air Marshal Anil Khosla (Retd) who dwelt with the topic “Changing Global Scenario: Multilateralism and Flexible Security Cooperation”. This was followed by an interesting lecture in the virtual mode by Shivshankar Menon, a retired officer from the Indian Foreign Service. During his career that began in 1972, Shivshankar Menon had served as the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan and Sri Lanka. He had also done tenures as the Ambassador of India to China and Israel. Currently, he is a Visiting Professor of International Relations at Ashoka University at New Delhi. Shivshankar Menon spoke on “Geopolitical Lessons and Impact of the War in 1971”.

Second part of the morning session began with a talk by Sanjeev Sanyal on the subject “Political – Diplomatic – Military Synergy: Aligning the Keyholes”. Sanjeev Sanyal is an Indian economist and popular historian. Currently, he is the Principal Economic Adviser in the Ministry of Finance, Government of India. A Rhodes Scholar and Eisenhower Fellow, he was Deutsche Bank’s Global Strategist and a Managing Director till 2015. He is the author of several books. This was followed by a talk by Lt General S.L. Narasimhan (Retd) on the subject “Continental Threats: Geopolitical and Overlapping Domains”. The morning session ended with a talk by Air Marshal Anil Chopra (Retd) on “Critical Assessment of India’s Capabilities in Space and Cyber Domain”.

The last item on the third day of the conclave was a panel discussion involving representatives from all the three services on “Integration of Comprehensive National Power” in which the participants were Lt General Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd), Rear Admiral S.Y. Shrikhande (Retd), both speaking on the virtual mode and Air Marshal B. Suresh. The conclave lasting three days ended with a closing address by Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari, Chief of the Air Staff and a vote of thanks rendered by Air Marshal B. Chandra Sekhar, the Senior Air Staff Officer of Training Command, IAF.

Overall, the conclave was an extremely enlightening experience not only on the war with Pakistan in December 1971; but more so the prevailing geopolitical and geostrategic disposition of the nation as also the challenges that the nation will be confronted with in the future.