India and Pakistan were antagonistic dating from their independence from Britain. Religion was the paramount issue in separation of the two states. The Hindu leaders of India wanted to keep India united, but Muslim leader Mohammed Ali Jinnah insisted on independence and ultimately got his way. On 14 August 1947, the Empire of India was divided into independent India and Pakistan. With a hasty British departure, millions of Hindus and Muslims endeavored to reach their chosen state's territory. Chaos ensued in which perhaps 800,000 Muslims and 200,000 Hindus died. In addition to this vast sectarian violence, tensions developed over India's blocking of payments that were to be made to Pakistan from joint assets left by the British. Another pressing issue was the future disposition of several disputed territories. The latter included Junagadh, Hyderabad, and Jammu and Kashmir. Junagagh and Hyderabad were predominantly Hindu states with Muslim leaders. They were quicky absorbed by India. The dispute over Jammu and Kashmir was not so easily resolved, however. There, the Hindu Maharajah Hari Singh ruled a largely Muslim nation. He vacillated between India and Pakistan before signing the Instrument of Accession on 26 October 1947 by which he agreed to join Kashmir to India. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru accepted this arrangement, while Pakistani Governor-General Ali Jinnah refused to do so.
The partition agreement called for the division of military assets on the subcontinent between India and Pakistan. India was to receive two-thirds and Pakistan one-third of these resources. It did not work out that way. India received the vast bulk of the armor and aircraft assets, and Pakistan secured most of the larger naval vessels. The military officers of both states had all been trained by the British, but few had experience at higher command. Technically, British Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck commanded both armies.
Fighting began with an uprising in Kashmir, supported by Pakistani Azad Kasmiri tribesmen. India quickly airlifted troops to Kashmir. At first the Indians were successful, securing the provincial capital of Sringar at Shalateng on 7 November, but with Indian forces overextended, the Pakistanis triumphed at Jhangar on 24 December. By the beginning of 1948 and with the war stalemated, India asked for United Nations (UN) mediation.
As the UN-brokered talks slowly went forward, India made military progress against both the irregulars and increasing numbers of Pakistani regular forces who crossed into Kashmir to take part in the fighting. The Indian Army was victorious at Naushera on 6 February, Gurais on 22–27 May, and Zojila on 19 October. Nonetheless, about 30 percent of Kashmir—some 5,000 square miles—remained in Pakistani hands at the time the cease-fire went into effect on 1 January 1949.
The UN had called for a plebiscite over Kashmir. However, India refused to hold this vote, and tensions over Kashmir continued. Indeed, Kashmir remained the principal cause of animosity between India and Pakistan throughout the Cold War.
The second war broke out in 1965. In April of that year, Pakistan's president and military ruler, General Muhammad Ayub Khan, began military operations in the Rann of Kutch where the frontier was poorly defined. Within several weeks the fighting had escalated into full-scale hostilities in which the Pakistanis appeared to have the upper hand until monsoon rains suspended the fighting. Indian Prime Minister Lal Shastri then agreed to a mediated settlement. Emboldened by this, President Ayub Khan planned Operation grand slam, an operation to cut the road linking India to Kashmir and isolate two Indian Army coups in the Ravi-Sutley corridor. In August border clashes occurred in both Kashmir and Punjab as both sides violated the Kashmir cease-fire line. On 24 August, Indian forces launched a major raid across the cease-fire line.
In retaliation for the Indian raid, Ayub Khan launched Operation grand slam on 1 September 1965. Both sides carried out air attacks against the other, not only in the Punjab but in Indian raids on Karachi and Pakistani attacks on New Delhi. Indian forces soon took the offensive, invading Pakistan. The Indians won a major armored battle at Sialkot and reached Lahore, in the process destroying 300 tanks. There was no fighting at sea during the war.
On 27 September, with the British and U.S. governments undertaking diplomatic efforts and the People's Republic of China (PRC) threatening military attacks on India, both sides agreed to a cease-fire in which Indian forces occupied large stretches of Pakistani territory. In January 1966, both sides agreed to a peace settlement at Tashkent in the Soviet Union that reestablished the cease-fire line as it had been in 1949. However, Pakistan was forced to sign an agreement never to use force against India.
The third war occurred in 1971. Since independence, the more numerous Bengali people of East Pakistan had been dominated by West Pakistan. Increasing violence and unrest in Pakistan led Ayub Khan to resign in March 1969 and turn over power to another general, Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan.
In 1970 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman formed the Awami League, which sought autonomy for East Pakistan. In December 1970, the Awami League won an absolute majority in general elections for a Pakistani National Assembly called to draft a new constitution. Instead of allowing Sheikh Rahman to take power, the Pakistani government of President Yahya Khan jailed him. Rioting broke out in East Pakistan. Yahya Khan declared martial law on 24 March 1971 and began major repression in East Pakistan that, in the view of some observers, amounted to genocide. Perhaps 10 million refugees fled into India.
With Indians demanding that their armed forces intervene, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi appealed unsuccessfully to world leaders to end the repression in East Pakistan. During June–November 1971, India and Pakistan exchanged artillery fire and conducted small raids across the border against each other. Meanwhile, on 9 August 1971, India concluded a Treaty of Friendship with the Soviet Union. Alarmed by the West Pakistani actions in East Pakistan, the United States terminated arms shipments to Pakistan on 8 November.
Meanwhile, East Pakistani refugees calling themselves the Mukti Bahini and supported by India engaged the West Pakistani forces. This goaded Pakistan into taking the first hostile action against India, a Pakistani Air Force strike against eastern India on 22 November, followed by major air attacks from West Pakistan against the principal Indian air bases on 3 December. The Pakistanis hoped thereby to achieve the same surprise garnered by the Israeli Air Force against Egypt in the 1967 War, but the Indians were well aware that they were goading the Pakistanis to war and were well prepared, with the result that the air strikes were largely unsuccessful.
The Pakistani air attacks on 3 December marked the official beginning of the war. India was concerned that the PRC, with which it had fought a border war in 1962, might seek to take advantage of the situation to invade northern India. Indian forces were ready and had at least three times the strength of the 90,000 West Pakistani forces in East Pakistan. Moving swiftly and well-supported by air force and naval units, the Indians launched an invasion from the north and west. During 14–16 December, Indian forces captured Dhaka (Dacca).
On the western front, on 4 December Pakistani forces invaded Jammu and Kashmir and registered gains of up to 10 miles into Indian territory until they were halted. During 5–6 December the Soviet Union supported its Indian ally by vetoing UN Security Council resolutions calling for a cease-fire and forcing Pakistani Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to work through the dilatory UN General Assembly. On 6 December India officially recognized the independence of East Pakistan as Bangladesh. On 15 December, with the fighting in East Pakistan all but over, the UN General Assembly demanded a cease-fire there. An embittered Bhutto left the UN and returned to Pakistan. Indian troops also recaptured some of the territory in Kashmir and the Punjab lost to the Pakistanis earlier, and they invaded West Pakistan in some places in Hyderabad and the Punjab.
Meanwhile, the Indian Navy neutralized Pakistani naval units on the first day of the war. The Indian Eastern Fleet completely controlled the Bay of Bengal, blockading East Pakistan. Indian antisubmarine warfare units sank the Pakistani submarine Ghazi, which tried to ambush the Indian aircraft carrier Vikrant. The Indian Western Fleet sank the Pakistani destroyer Khaibar and a minesweeper off Karachi, in the largest surface action in the Indian Ocean since 1945. Indian surface units then shelled and rocketed the naval base at Karachi. Pakistan's only naval success in the war came when the submarine Hangor torpedoed and sank the Indian frigate Khukri.
In Dhaka on 16 December Pakistani commander Lieutenant General A. A. K. Niazi officially surrendered to Indian commander General S. H. F. J. Manekshaw, effectively ending the war. On 17 December both sides accepted a cease-fire agreement. In the war, Indian losses were some 2,400 killed, 6,200 wounded, and 2,100 taken prisoner. India also admitted that it had lost seventy-three tanks and forty-five aircraft. Pakistan, however, lost more than 4,000 dead and 10,000 wounded, along with 93,000 prisoners (the latter figure included some of the wounded). On 20 December Yahya Khan resigned, and Bhutto replaced him as president. Bhutto promptly placed Yahya Khan and senior Pakistani generals under arrest.
The last Indian troops were withdrawn from Bangladesh in March 1972, and on 19 March India and Bangladesh concluded a Treaty of Friendship. On 3 July 1972, India and Pakistan formally concluded peace at Simla, India. President Bhutto signed for Pakistan and Indira Gandhi for India. Both sides agreed to a general troop withdrawal and restoration of the prewar western border but postponed action on settlement of the dispute over Kashmir and the return of Pakistani prisoners of war (POWs). India did not agree to the release of the POWs until August 1973, with the last of them returning to Pakistan in April 1974.
Other crises also threatened to produce wider conflicts. In 1984, war nearly broke out over India's belief that Pakistan was involved in the Sikh insurgency. This crisis was headed off by diplomacy. Fighting initiated by a local Indian commander also occurred in 1987 but was contained. However, tensions over violence in Kashmir have continued into the twenty-first century.
Melissa Hebert and Spencer C. Tucker
Das, Chand N. Hours of Glory: Famous Battle of the Indian Army, 1801–1971. New Delhi: Vision Books, 1997.; Ganguly, Sumit. The Origins of War in South Asia: The Indo-Pakistani Wars since 1947. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1994.