Golden opportunity lost! Why did Indira Gandhi release 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war in 1972?!

Today India faces hell of problems not just with corruption, poverty or scams, but also border issues. Some of the grave mistakes committed by Nehru and his family still continues to haunt India and we have not been able to find solution even after 70 years of Independence.

One such mistake is the Kashmir issue which has today become a mammoth problem to India with infiltration, separatists movement and has become a hub of terrorists. India had various opportunities to solve the Kashmir problem, but Jawaharlal Nehru never showed any commitment to solve the problem but rather surrendered before UN and Pakistan to appease few sections of society.

It was no different with his daughter Indira Gandhi. It was in the year 1971, when India decided to free Bangladesh from Pakistan’s brutality and genocides and the Indian army lead by Field Marshal Manekshaw attacked the Pakistani army in a spine chilling operation.  The Pakistan army instead of surrendering escalated the situation and planned to rope in US and China to their support. They wanted to bring UN intervention just like Kashmir and ultimately make Bangladesh a disputed territory.

However, the Indian army was in no mood to forgive them and conducted massive air strikes and established complete superiority over Pakistan’s army. The 5-division of the India army attacked from 3 directions and took control of all choke points. They used defensive approach and by passed all the Pakistani posts and attacked them from rear end. This strategy was one of the most successful and was also adapted by Israelis against Egyptian forces.

In just 15 days, the Indian army reached Dhaka and ultimately Pakistan had no way out and had to surrender to Indian forces. What bothered Pakistan the most was the capture of 93,000 Pakistani soldiers who were declared Prisoners of War (POW)!

It was a gold mine to India with 93,000 Pakistani soldiers in Indian custody.  The first thought which came to many intelligence officers and Army personal’s mind was to use these Pakistani soldiers and close the Kashmir issue for once and for all. Many advised Indira Gandhi to send back the Bangladeshi refugees to their country after they received freedom from Pakistan and use the situation to solve the Kashmir problem. India was in complete dominant position and could have put a strong bargain and forced Pakistan to bow down once again. Pakistan was in such grave situation that their military dictator, General Yahya Khan took responsibility for the defeat and tendered his resignation.

But Indira Gandhi had other plans!

Indira Gandhi, like father, was not interested to solve the Kashmir issue and was more worried about Bangladeshi leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was in Pakistan’s custody and was sentenced to death by Pakistan’s military court on charges of treason. But the advice was to first solve India’s problems and then find a diplomatic solution to the Bangladeshi leader’s release.  But Indira Gandhi was in no mood to take advice and was ready to pay any price for the release of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for unknown reasons!!!

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was appointed as the chief martial law administrator of Pakistan after General Yahya Khan resignation. He was to arrive from Washington to Pakistan via Heathrow, London. Indira Gandhi who came to know about his plans arranged a secret meeting with Bhutto in London. She persuaded a lady called Laila who happened to be old friend of Bhutto to convince him to release Bangladeshi leader.

After Laila passed the message to Bhutto, Bhutto had replied…

“Laila, I know what you want. I can imagine you are [carrying a request] from Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Do please pass a message to her, that after I take charge of office back home, I will shortly thereafter release Mujibur Rahman, allowing him to return home. What I want in return, I will let Mrs. Indira Gandhi know through another channel. You may now go.”

It was very clear that Bhutto wanted back the 93,000 POW in return to which Indira Gandhi officially agreed.  But that was not the only demand Bhutto had in mind, the Kashmir issue which was taken up by Lal Bahadur Shastri during Tashkent Declaration, had made Pakistan agree to India’s demands that both countries will settle their disputes through peaceful means, not attempt to change the existing status quo by force, and not even indulge in propaganda for changing it. This had given India an upper hand.

But Indira Gandhi who had agreed to release 93,000 POW to Pakistan signed the Shimla Agreement on August 2, 1972, and agreed to an unwanted condition by Bhutto changing the earlier stance of Lal Bahadur Shastri and signed that…. the two Prime Ministers will meet to find a final solution to the Kashmir problem.  Shastri who with great difficulty achieved final and unalterable stance in Kashmir issue was betrayed by Indira Gandhi who made the Kashmir issue tentative and negotiable which again gave an upper hand to Pakistan.

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Finally, on January 8, 1972 Mujibur Rahman was released by Pakistan and he became the Prime Minister of Bangladesh only to be brutally assassinated by Pakistani ISI agents just three years after his coronation!

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Indira Gandhi’s decision to let free 93,000 POW was a golden opportunity lost and India could neither solve the Kashmir issue, nor were able to save Mujibur Rahman.

Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw words after Shimla Agreement….


: Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh Liberation & Pakistan: A Political Treatise.

Aishwarya S**