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11/29/13

India's secret war in Bangladesh - The Hindu

Opinion Lead
Published: December 26, 2011 00:15 IST | Updated: February 11, 2012 15:00 IST

India's secret war in Bangladesh


Praveen Swami

As a grand finale to the victorious role played in the liberation of Bangladesh and to
make their final withdrawal, the Indian Army held a farewell parade at the Dacca
Stadium on March 12, 1972 where the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh
Mujibur Rehman, took the salute. Photo shows Sheikh Mujibur Rehman reviewing
the parade. Photo: The Hindu Archives

Even as the role of the Indian military in giving birth to the new nation is celebrated, the role of its intelligence services remains
largely unknown.

Forty-five minutes before 12.00 pm on December 14, 1971, Indian Air Force pilots at Hashimpara and Gauhati
received instructions to attack an unusual target: a sprawling colonial-era building in the middle of Dacca that had no
apparent military value whatsoever.
There were nothing but tourist maps available to guide the pilots to their target but the results were still lethal. The
first wave of combat jets, four MiG21 jets armed with rockets, destroyed a conference hall; two more MiGs and two
Hunter bombers levelled a third of the main building.
Inside the building the Government House East Pakistan's Cabinet had begun an emergency meeting to discuss
the political measures to avoid the looming surrender of their army at Dacca 55 minutes before the bombs hit. It
turned out to be the last-ever meeting of the Cabinet. A.M. Malik, head of the East Pakistan government, survived the
bombing along with his Cabinet but resigned on the spot, among the burning ruins; the nervous system, as it were,
of decision-making had been destroyed.
For years now, military historians have wondered precisely how the Government House was targeted with such
precision; rumours that a spy was present have proliferated. From the still-classified official history of the 1971 war,
we now know the answer. Indian cryptanalysts, or code-breakers, had succeeded in breaking Pakistan's military
cipher giving the country's intelligence services real-time information on the enemy's strategic decision-making.
India's Army, Navy and Air Force were lauded, during the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of Bangladesh's
independence, for their role in ending a genocide and giving birth to a new nation. The enormous strategic
contribution of India's intelligence services, however, has gone largely unacknowledged.
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11/29/13

India's secret war in Bangladesh - The Hindu

Seven months before the December 3 Pakistan Air Force raid that marked the beginning of the war, India's Chief of
Army Staff issued a secret order to the General Officer Commanding, Eastern Command, initiating the campaign that
would end with the dismemberment of Pakistan.
Operation Instruction 52 formally committed the Indian forces to assist the Provisional Government of Bangladesh
to rally the people of East Bengal in support of the liberation movement, and to raise, equip and train East Bengal
cadres for guerrilla operations for employment in their own native land.
The Eastern Command was to ensure that the guerrilla forces were to work towards tying down the Pak [Pakistan]
Military forces in protective tasks in East Bengal, sap and corrode the morale of the Pak forces in the Eastern
theatre and simultaneously to impair their logistic capability for undertaking any offensive against Assam and West
Bengal, and, finally, be used along with the regular Indian troops in the event of Pakistan initiating hostilities
against us.
Secret army
The task of realising these orders fell on Sujan Singh Uban. Brigadier later Major-General Uban was an artillery
officer who had been handpicked to lead the Special Frontier Force, a secret army set up decades earlier with the
assistance of the United States' Central Intelligence Agency to harry the Chinese forces in Tibet. The SFF, which until
recently served as a kind of armed wing of India's external covert service, the Research and Analysis Wing, never did
fight in China. In Bangladesh, the contributions of its men and officers would be invaluable.
Brigadier Uban whose enthusiasm for irregular warfare was rivalled, contemporaries recall, only by his eccentric
spiritualism later said he had received a year's advance warning of the task that lay ahead from the Bengali mystic,
Baba Onkarnath.
Less-than-holy war
The war he waged, though, was less-than-holy. In July 1971, India's war history records, the first Bangladesh
irregulars were infiltrated across the border at Madaripur. This first group of 110 guerrillas destroyed tea gardens,
riverboats and railway tracks acts that tied down troops, undermined East Pakistan's economy and, the history
says, destroyed communications between Dhaka, Comilla and Chittagong.
Much of the guerrilla war, however, was waged by the volunteers of the Gano Bahini, a volunteer force. The Indian
forces initially set up six camps for recruiting and training volunteers, which were soon swamped. At one camp, some
3,000 young men had to wait up to two months for induction, although the hygienic condition was pitiable and food
and water supply almost non-existent.
By September 1971, though, Indian training operations had expanded dramatically in scale, processing a staggering
20,000 guerrillas each month. Eight Indian soldiers were committed to every 100 trainees at 10 camps. On the eve of
the war, at the end of November 1971, over 83,000 Gano Bahini fighters had been trained, 51,000 of whom were
operating in East Pakistan a guerrilla operation perhaps unrivalled in scale until that time. In the Chittagong Hill
Tracts, Brigadier Uban sent in Indian soldiers or, to be more exact, CIA-trained, Indian-funded Tibetans using
hastily-imported Bulgarian assault rifles and U.S.-manufactured carbines to obscure their links to India. Fighting
under the direct command of RAW's legendary spymaster Rameshwar Kao, Brig. Uban's forces engaged in a series of
low-grade border skirmishes.
Founded in 1962, the SFF had originally been called Establishment 22 and still has a road named after it in New
Delhi, next to the headquarters of the Defence Ministry. The organisation received extensive special operations
training from the U.S., as part of a package of military assistance. In September 1967, the control of these assets was
formally handed over to RAW and used in Bangladesh to lethal effect.
From December 3, 1971, Brig. Uban's force began an extraordinary campaign of sabotage and harassment. At the cost
of just 56 dead and 190 wounded, the SFF succeeded in destroying several key bridges, and in ensuring that Pakistan's
97 Independent Brigade and crack 2 Commando Battalion remained bogged down in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Some 580 members of Brig. Uban's covert force were awarded cash, medals and prizes by the Government of India.
November 1971 saw the Indian-backed low-intensity war in East Pakistan escalate to levels Pakistan found intolerable
pushing it to act. On December 3, Pakistan attempted to relieve the pressure on its eastern wing by carrying out
strikes on major Indian airbases. India retaliated with an offensive of extraordinary speed that has been described as
a blitzkrieg without tanks.
Rejecting an offer for conditional surrender in the East, the Indian forces entered Dacca on December 15. Prime
Minister Indira Gandhi promptly ordered a ceasefire on the western front as well: if I don't do so today, she said of
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India's secret war in Bangladesh - The Hindu

the decision to end the war, I shall not be able to do so tomorrow.


How important was the covert war to this victory, and what cost did it come at?
India's new communications intelligence technologies were clearly critical; three decades on, the government would
be advised to make fuller accounts public, and publicly honour the anonymous cryptanalysts who achieved so much.
The 1971 war history records that their efforts meant several important communications and projections of the
Pak[istani] high command were intercepted, decoded and suitable action [was] taken. Indian communications
interception, the history states, even prevented a last-minute effort to evacuate the Pakistani troops from Dacca,
using five disguised merchant ships.
The role of irregular forces, though, needs a more nuanced assessment. There is no doubt that they served to tie down
Pakistani troops, and derail their logistical backbone. They were also, however, responsible for large-scale human
rights abuses targeting Pakistani sympathisers and the ethnic Bihari population. There is no moral equivalence
between these crimes and those of the Pakistani armed forces in 1971 but the fact also is that the irregular forces
bequeathed to Bangladesh a militarised political culture that would have deadly consequences of its own.
India's secret war in Bangladesh would have served little purpose without a conventional, disciplined military force to
secure a decisive victory a lesson of the utility and limitations of sub-conventional warfare that ought to be closely
studied today by the several states that rely on these tactics.
Keywords: Bangladesh War, 1971 war, liberation of Bangladesh, Special Frontier Force, India-Bangladesh relations
Printable version | Nov 29, 2013 11:12:23 PM | http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/indias-secret-war-inbangladesh/article2747538.ece
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