The Western Front

Indira Gandhi’s decision to hold the Indian Army back from Peshawar in 1971

01 July 2018
GETTY IMAGES
GETTY IMAGES

AS AFTERNOON TURNED to evening on 16 December 1971—shortly after Pakistani forces surrendered to the Indian Army in East Pakistan—Prime Minister Indira Gandhi called a large meeting in the Cabinet Room, in the South Block of the Secretariat Building that housed her offices. Those present included the defence, foreign, finance and home ministers—all the senior members of the cabinet committee on security—as well as their secretaries, the chiefs of all three armed services, the head of the Research and Analysis Wing, and the cabinet secretary. Also in attendance were four of the prime minister’s closest advisers—PN Haksar, her principal secretary, PN Dhar, her secretary, G Parthasarathi, my father, then formally serving as the vice chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, and myself, her science and technology adviser.

Indira Gandhi, as the prime minister of India, was assured of the support of the Soviet Union. Yahya Khan, heading a military government in Pakistan, was backed by the United States.. AFP/GETTY IMAGES Indira Gandhi, as the prime minister of India, was assured of the support of the Soviet Union. Yahya Khan, heading a military government in Pakistan, was backed by the United States.. AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Indira Gandhi, as the prime minister of India, was assured of the support of the Soviet Union. Yahya Khan, heading a military government in Pakistan, was backed by the United States.
AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Indira Gandhi, as the prime minister of India, was assured of the support of the Soviet Union. Yahya Khan, heading a military government in Pakistan, was backed by the United States.. KEYSTONE/GETTY IMAGES Indira Gandhi, as the prime minister of India, was assured of the support of the Soviet Union. Yahya Khan, heading a military government in Pakistan, was backed by the United States.. KEYSTONE/GETTY IMAGES
Indira Gandhi, as the prime minister of India, was assured of the support of the Soviet Union. Yahya Khan, heading a military government in Pakistan, was backed by the United States.
KEYSTONE/GETTY IMAGES

Opening the meeting, Gandhi asked General Sam Manekshaw, the chief of army staff, how long he would take to reach Peshawar. In the west, as in the east, Pakistan’s defences had been shattered since the war began, on 3 December. Indian forces had complete superiority in the air over West Pakistan, and had taken significant territory on the ground. Maneskhaw’s army had surrounded Sialkot, in Pakistani Punjab, and was poised to breach that massive military fortification, the Ichhogil Canal. From there, the way to Peshawar cut north-west, through the Pakistani capital at Islamabad and the Pakistan Army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi.

“Three days, madam,” Manekshaw shot back. Gandhi seemed a bit surprised at the promptness of his response, and remarked that Manekshaw seemed very sure of himself. The general replied that as he and his commanders had watched developments in the east, they had known that this question would come, so they had done their homework and were ready.

Ashok Parthasarathi was the science and technology advisor to the former prime minister Indira Gandhi.

Keywords: Indira Gandhi Soviet Union Peshawar 1971 War PN Haksar
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