Yahya Khan, was a Pakistani military leader, martial law administrator was one of the key players in escalating hostilities between India and Pakistan. In early March 1971 under his orders, 300 Biharis were slaughtered in Chittagong alone. The Government of Pakistan used the ‘Bihari massacre’ to justify its deployment of the military in East Pakistan on March before the start of Operation Searchlight.
General Yahya’s strategy was to delay the National Assembly as much as he can enabling both Mujibur and Bhutto to arrive at a broad constitutional outline within and frame it in a period of 120 days. He urged Zulfikar Bhutto to go to Dhaka and have talks with Mujib. The talks reach no consensus as Bhutto claimed that they have agreed on 5 and a half points only from Mujib’s Six Point Program. In such a situation Yahya announces in radio that the National Assembly would be held on 23 March, 1971.
On the 23rd of November, Yahya Khan declared a state of emergency in all of Pakistan and told his people to prepare for war with India. India responded by starting a massive build-up of Indian forces along all borders to achieve a high-state of preparedness. He ordered the West Pakistani army to concentrate on the western theatre assuming that all of Indian forces would be concentrated on East Pakistan. His orders were to – capture Jaisalmer air base and cripple Ramgarh base. He tried to protect Pakistan’s integrity and to hold India by Ayub’s strategy – “The defence of East Pakistan lies in the West”.
At a meeting on the 30th of November, Yahya Khan decided that Pakistan’s Air Force would strike India using the Israeli strategy of preemptive surprise air attacks to neutralize enemy air capability.
The date was set on 3rd of December, on Friday or Jum’ah, the holiest of days for the muslims. Strike time was set at 5:45 pm when the IAF control centres were changing shifts.
At the height of the war by December 14, 1971 Yahya Khan sent a message to Lt.General Niazi telling him to take necessary measures to stop the fighting and preserve the lives of the armed personnel. His message read: “You have now reached a stage where further resistance is no longer humanly possible nor will it serve any useful purpose. It will only lead to a further loss of life and destruction. You should now take all necessary measures to stop fighting.” Zulfikar Bhutto taunted Yahya Khan that if he continued doing nothing about the situation he would be ‘lynched by the people’.