Keyword: Bangladesh Liberation War
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In August 1947, the Partition of India gave birth to two new states named Pakistan and India. Areas containing the Muslim-majority became Pakistan while areas with Hindu majority states became India. The new nation of Pakistan included two geographically and culturally separate areas in the east and the west of India. The western zone was popularly (and for a period of time, also officially) termed West Pakistan and the eastern zone (modern-day Bangladesh) was initially termed East Bengal and later, East Pakistan. It was widely perceived that West Pakistan dominated politically and exploited the East economically, leading to many grievances.
On the 25 March 1971, rising political discontent and cultural nationalism in East Pakistan was met by brutal suppressive force from the ruling elite of the West Pakistan establishment in what came to be termed Operation Searchlight.
The violent crackdown by West Pakistan forces led to East Pakistan declaring its independence as the state of Bangladesh and to the start of civil war. The war led to a sea of refugees (estimated at the time to be about 10 million) flooding into the eastern provinces of India. Facing a mounting humanitarian and economic crisis, India started actively aiding and organizing the Bangladeshi resistance army known as the Mukti Bahini.
A planned military pacification carried out by the Pakistan Army — codenamed Operation Searchlight — started on 25 March to curb the Bengali nationalist movement by taking control of the major cities on 26 March, and then eliminating all opposition, political or military, within one month. Before the beginning of the operation, all foreign journalists were systematically deported from East Pakistan.
The main phase of Operation Searchlight ended with the fall of the last major town in Bengali hands in mid-May. The operation also began the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities. These systematic killings served only to enrage the Bengalis, which ultimately resulted in the secession of East Pakistan later in the same year. The international media and reference books in English have published casualty figures which vary greatly, from 5,000–35,000 in Dhaka, and 200,000–3,000,000 for Bangladesh as a whole.
According to the Asia Times,
At a meeting of the military top brass, Yahya Khan declared: "Kill 3 million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands." Accordingly, on the night of 25 March, the Pakistani Army launched Operation Searchlight to "crush" Bengali resistance in which Bengali members of military services were disarmed and killed, students and the intelligentsia systematically liquidated and able-bodied Bengali males just picked up and gunned down.
Although the violence focused on the provincial capital, Dhaka, it also affected all parts of East Pakistan. Residential halls of the University of Dhaka were particularly targeted. The only Hindu residential hall — the Jagannath Hall — was destroyed by the Pakistani armed forces, and an estimated 600 to 700 of its residents were murdered. The Pakistani army denies any cold blooded killings at the university, though the Hamood-ur-Rehman commission in Pakistan concluded that overwhelming force was used at the university. This fact and the massacre at Jagannath Hall and nearby student dormitories of Dhaka University are corroborated by a videotape secretly filmed by Prof. Nurul Ullah of the East Pakistan Engineering University, whose residence was directly opposite the student dormitories. 
Hindu areas suffered particularly heavy blows. By midnight, Dhaka was literally burning, especially the Hindu dominated eastern part of the city. Time magazine reported on 2 August 1971, "The Hindus, who account for three-fourths of the refugees and a majority of the dead, have borne the brunt of the Pakistani military hatred."
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested by the Pakistani Army. Yahya Khan appointed Brigadier (later General) Rahimuddin Khan to preside over a special tribunal prosecuting Mujib with multiple charges. The tribunal sentenced Mujib to death, but Yahya caused the verdict to be held in abeyance. Other Awami League leaders were arrested as well, while a few fled Dhaka to avoid arrest. The Awami League was banned by General Yahya Khan.
During the war there were widespread killings and other atrocities – including the displacement of civilians in Bangladesh (East Pakistan at the time) and widespread violations of human rights – carried out by the Pakistan Army with support from political and religious militias began with the start of Operation Searchlight on 25 March 1971.
Bangladeshi authorities claim that three million people were killed, while the Hamoodur Rahman Commission, an official Pakistan Government investigation, put the figure as low as 26,000 civilian casualties. The international media and reference books in English have also published figures which vary greatly from 200,000 to 3,000,000 for Bangladesh as a whole. A further eight to ten million people fled the country to seek safety in India.
A large section of the intellectual community of Bangladesh were murdered, mostly by the Al-Shams and Al-Badr forces, at the instruction of the Pakistani Army. Just 2 days before the surrender, on 14 December 1971, Pakistan Army and Razakar militia (local collaborators) picked up at least 100 to 300 physicians, professors, writers and engineers in Dhaka, and executed them, leaving the dead bodies in a mass grave.. There are many mass graves in Bangladesh, and more are continually being discovered (such as one in an old well near a mosque in Dhaka, located in the non-Bengali region of the city, which was discovered in August 1999). The first night of war on Bengalis, which is documented in telegrams from the American Consulate in Dhaka to the United States State Department, saw indiscriminate killings of students of Dhaka University and other civilians.
Numerous women were tortured, raped and killed during the war; the exact numbers are not known and are a subject of debate. Bangladeshi sources cite a figure of 200,000 women raped, giving birth to thousands of war babies. The Pakistan Army also kept numerous Bengali women as sex-slaves inside the Dhaka Cantonment. Most of the girls were captured from Dhaka University and private homes.
On 16 December 2002, the George Washington University's National Security Archive published a collection of declassified documents, consisting mostly of communications between US embassy officials and United States Information Service centers in Dhaka and India, and officials in Washington DC. These documents show that US officials working in diplomatic institutions within Bangladesh used the terms selective genocide and genocide (see The Blood Telegram) to describe events they had knowledge of at the time. Genocide is the term that is still used to describe the event in almost every major publication and newspaper in Bangladesh., although elsewhere, particularly in Pakistan, the actual death toll, motives, extent, and destructive impact of the actions of the Pakistani forces are disputed.