The month of Victory: Standoff in Dhaka

On December 13, 1971, the Liberation Forces, their Indian allies, and the Pakistani occupation army all gathered in and around Dhaka ahead of the decisive showdown after nine months of bloody war.

Indian forces approached Dhaka from three sides, and an Indian spokesperson declared that they would have a strong position around the capital in 24-48 hours, according to a media report from 1971.

Gen SFHJ Manekshaw, the Indian Army chief of staff, made a third appeal to Pakistani Commander Maj Gen Firman Ali, urging him to surrender.

“Your garrisons are within the range of my artillery now,” Gen Manekshaw told the commander.

While military forces headed towards Dhaka, many civilians began leaving the capital out of fear of fighting to come.

Bir Bikram Major General (retd) Moinul Hossain Chowdhury in his book “Ek General-er Nirab Shakhay” said: “Pakistani soldiers were gathering in Dhaka from several places and taking positions. I became very tense and thought there would be street fighting to capture Dhaka. This type of war is dangerous for both sides and also for civilians.”

He also wrote of intense competition between the allied forces to see who could reach Dhaka first.

“On December 13, Brigadier Mishra commanded me to stay in Narsingdi, but I could not bring myself to follow the order and marched with my battalion that night,” Maj Gen Moinul said.

He added that they were pushed to reach the capital as quickly as possible by the thought of how Allied Forces during World War II competed to see who could capture Berlin first.

One group from the Liberation Forces reached and began crossing the Balu and Shitalakkhya Rivers just 8-10km away from Dhaka. They soon found that Pakistani troops had set up stern defenses on the eastern bank of the Balu River, as well as at Khilgaon and Basabo.

In light of the Pakistani defenses, the Liberation Forces adopted a change in tactics.

Two groups approached the capital from the north and the west, taking a position about 25km away from Dhaka, while two brigades of the 57th division advanced from the east.

Another brigade led by General Gandharv Nagra and paratroopers in Tangail moved towards Dhaka from the northern side. The 4th division crossed the Madhumati River and reached the bank of the Padma River.

General Nagra reached Tangail at around 9:00 pm. He met two Brigadiers — Kler and San Singh – at Wapda rest house to discuss the next course of action.

He praised freedom fighters as their efforts had helped clear the way for the advance.

“If they [freedom fighters] did not help us, we would not have been able to come all the way here without facing any battles. We would have been tired due to the fighting and skirmishes,” Gen Nagra told the brigadiers.

The allied Liberation Forces in the northern region started to advance towards Bogra from Govindaganj. A Pakistan regiment with cannons and tanks was waiting in Bogra and provided stiff resistance.

The allied force eventually cordoned Bogra town in the evening. At midnight, three battalions attacked from the north, south, and north-eastern sides.