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Lt General K S Brar (retired)

December 16, 1971.

A birthday like few others in the history of the human race - for on that day, a new nation was born.

A nation fathered by oppression and arrogance and torn loose, all bloody and squalling, from the womb of war...

And it all began with a routine lights out, as correspondents both Indian and foreign sipped tea and nibbled biscuits in the briefing room of the Press Information Bureau in New Delhi.

Newsmen cribbed, in the time honoured tradition of the tribe, that they couldn't see to write anything down... and then the cool, steady voice of the briefing officer cut in: "Gentlemen, I have to tell you that we have just had a flash - the Pakistan air force has attacked our airfields at Amritsar, Pathankot and Srinagar. This is war!"

If the actual hostilities began with a blackout on December 3, its genesis also owes to a blackout - of the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the people of East Pakistan by the military regime of its Siamese twin, West Pakistan. After years of neglect and oppression, the people of East Pakistan, under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and his Awami League, had begun a fight for greater autonomy.

The spark was lit when, in the nation's first free elections, the Awami League swept to a stunning majority, in the process threatening the supremacy of the government of Pakistan. For President General Yahya Khan and his military commanders, this was the signal for a flat out bid to crush the League and, with it, the demands for autonomy.

As oppression mounted and the people of East Pakistan fought back, India found itself willy nilly drawn into the conflict as millions of refugees streamed across the border and sought refuge in India.

For India, then, the equation was simple - if the terrible economic and human burden of sheltering 10-plus million refugees was to be removed, the only way to do so was to ensure the creation of an independent nation out of East Pakistan - the nation of Bangladesh, as the Awami League had already dubbed it.

And so India began extending overt help to the guerrillas of the Mukti Bahini, as the Bangla guerillas called themselves - and from that point on, war was inevitable.

And when it came, it was short, crisp, decisive. Pakistan launched the initial strike, but the Indian armed forces, under General Sam Maneckshaw's overall command and the leadership on the ground of Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, struck back with stunning force, first establishing total air supremacy and then, with Air Chief Marshall P C Lal's Indian Air Force providing the umbrella, steamrollering the Pakistan forces both to the West and the East.

Thirteen days after it began, Lt General Aurora was accepting the surrender of General A A Niazi and the Pakistan forces in Dacca. And Bangladesh - a pretty hefty baby, all of 78 million strong and ranking eighth in the world in terms of population - was born, India itself being first to recognise the government of Mujibur Rehman.

Twentyfive years later, we remember that war and the 20,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives in it so that many millions more of us could live in peace by Chat Specials featuring two heroes of that conflict.

On Friday, December 13, Lt General Aurora will appear on the Chat to relive memories of the epochal battle for Bangladesh.

On Monday, December 16, Lt General Kuldeep Singh Brar, AVSM, PVSM, Vir Chakra, will appear on the Chat. General Brar -- then a colonel and decorated for his bravery in that war -- led his regiment, the First Mahratta, into Dacca, among the first Indian troops to enter that city.

It is an occasion you cannot afford to miss!