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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Why India is concerned about Bangladesh?

The 1971 War: How it began

Executive Director, SAPRA India Foundation

The men who created Pakistan believed in the idea that men of different religions are incapable of coexistence. They declared that the Hindus and Muslims of India constituted two separate nations and must live separately. This first led to the creation of Pakistan in 1947 and then to its dismemberment 24 years later.

The second event was triggered by the fact that the rulers who dominated Pakistan refused to accept the numerically superior Bengalis from the eastern half of their nation as their equals.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Awami League leader, who had secured the most votes in the 1970 Pakistani parliamentary election, was a Bengali. He was not allowed to form a government or become prime minister of his country. Why? Because the exclusivist establishment of West Pakistan did not consider Bengalis their equals.

Pakistan at that time was ruled by the military dictator, General Yahya Khan. He had seized power in 1969 and was promoting an ambitious Sindhi politician named Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Together they hoped that they could somehow ensure West Pakistan retained power and that the eastern wing remained a colonial appendage.

Yet, General Yahya Khan would have no political settlement and sent his somewhat psychotic junior, General Tikka Khan to 'deal' with the Bengalis. This precipitated one of the worst crises in the history of the Indian subcontinent. It also led to genocide in East Pakistan and the exodus of millions of starving Pakistanis into India.

Tikka Khan felt the Bengalis could be cowed down easily by the Pakistani army.

On March 25, 1971, he ordered an army crackdown in East Pakistan. Mujibur Rahman and his family were jailed. The same day, the Pakistani army began airlifting two of its divisions plus a brigade strength formation to East Pakistan.

Attempts to disarm Bengali troops were not entirely successful and within weeks of the March 25 massacres, many former Bengali officers and troops of the Pakistani army had joined Bengali resistance fighters in different parts of East Pakistan. They were supplemented by Mukti Bahini guerrillas.

The Pakistani army conducted several crackdowns, leading to massive loss of civilian life. The details of those horrific massacres, in which defenceless people were trapped and machine-gunned, is part of Bangladeshi history. Survivors compare it to the Nazi extermination of Jews.

Refugees were pouring into India and horrified public opinion in this country wanted an end to the genocide in neighbouring East Pakistan. Appeals to the Pakistani leadership proved futile and ultimately the then prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi, ordered her charismatic army chief, General S H F J Manekshaw, to prepare for war. The aim was to help the East Pakistani freedom fighters defeat the Pakistani army and declare independence. #

When Sam quoted chapter and verse to Mrs Gandhi on 5 December 2006

President Richard Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger had only one question for the United States chief of army staff who had just returned from India: how long will it take the Indians to liberate East Pakistan?

General William C Westmoreland, who was shown around the garrisons in West Bengal and elsewhere in the country by his Indian counterpart General Sam Manekshaw, did not hesitate: ''one-and-a-half months to two months, sir,'' he replied.

The conflict ended in only 13 days giving birth to Bangladesh and upsetting US calculations.

''What is it Sam that you did not show me,'' Gen Westmoreland, who got a thorough dressing down from Nixon, later asked the Indian war hero. Interestingly, the American general did not know that for Manekshaw, at that time it was only a thin line between getting promoted or being sacked.

''I have seen several angry women, including my wife. But never one like Mrs Gandhi,'' said the field marshal while releasing last evening in Delhi the book, Liberation and Beyond: Indo-Bangladesh relations , written by J N Dixit, former foreign secretary.

It was the afternoon of April 29, 1971. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had called an urgent cabinet meeting. Those present were Defence Minister Jagjivan Ram, Agriculture Minister Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, Finance Minister Y B Chauhan, External Affairs Minister Sardar Swaran Singh, and a special invitee, army chief Gen. Sam Manekshaw.

''What are you doing?'' a fuming Mrs Gandhi asked the general, throwing reports of refugee influx from East Pakistan send by the West Bengal Chief Minister, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, on the table, Manekshaw recalled.

''I want you to walk into East Pakistan,'' Mrs Gandhi told her army chief. ''That means war,'' the general said. ''I don't mind if it is war,'' was Mrs Gandhi's characteristic reply.

Manekshaw was unruffled by the outburst. ''Have you read the bible?'' he asked the PM in his usual breezy manner. ''What has the bible got to do with this?'' Swaran Singh intervened. ''In the beginning there was darkness. God said let there be light and there was light. He then divided light from the darkness,'' Manekshaw quoted the Genesis to impress upon the ministers that the army was not prepared for a sudden war.

''I have only 30 tanks and two armoured divisions with me. The Himalayan passes will be opening anytime. What if the Chinese give an ultimatum? The rains will start now in East Pakistan. When it rains there the rivers become oceans. I guarantee 100 per cent defeat,'' Manekshaw told Mrs Gandhi, disapproving the idea of an immediate attack.

Mrs Gandhi, who adjourned the meeting to 1600 hrs held back Manekshaw, who was the last man to leave the room. ''Shall I send in my resignation, on grounds of health, mental or physical?'' he asked. Mrs Gandhi finally gave her army chief the time he wanted to elaborate his strategy.

Seven months and four days later the war began when Pakistan president Gen. Yahya Khan lost patience and ordered his forces to attack Indian troops near the border on the evening of August 3, 1971. Manekshaw had by then amassed two brigades within the border for going in the next day.

Thirteen days later Bangladesh was born marking one of the high points in Indian diplomacy: in nine months the country was able to isolate the US, bring Western Europe on to our side and win over the world media.

Manekshaw was at his evocative best when he recalled his acquaintance with President Yahya Khan when the latter had worked under him in the military operations directorate of the British Indian Army just before partition.

Yahya Khan, then a colonel, was impressed by Manekshaw's James motorcycle which he had bought for Rupees 1400. ''I told him that he could have the vehicle for as much. He said he would give only Rupees 1000. I said okay,'' Manekshaw recalled.

''But I don't have a thousand rupees now, I will send it to you later,'' Yahya Khan said. It was August 13, 1947. Twenty-one years later Yahya Khan became the president of Pakistan. ''I never received the Rupees 1000, but he gave me the whole of East Pakistan,'' Manekshaw said amid thunderous applause.

Liberation and Beyond, (pp. 317, Rs.395), published by Konark, captures the defining moment in the sub continent's history and deals with politics and diplomacy during the war and the task ahead.

The blurb of the book says it also answers many questions often raised: why was the founder of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, keen that India should return Pakistani prisoners of war to Islamabad? Why did he not hold war crime trials against Pakistani military officers? Why did Indo-Bangladesh relations start deteriorating while Mujibur Rahman was still in power?

Dixit, who headed the special division in the external affairs ministry to deal with the political dimensions of the East Pakistan crisis in 1971, was later sent by Mrs Gandhi as the first head of the Indian mission in newly-liberated Bangladesh. #

Should India have helped liberate Bangladesh? on December 05, 2006

Thirty-five years after India helped liberate Bangladesh, relations between the two nations are strained. Relations between Dhaka and Islamabad, on the other hand, continue to improve, particularly after Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf made an indirect apology for the atrocities of 1971.

Many politicians now in power in Dhaka had opposed independence, and some even plaintively note that had they not declared independence, they would have been a nuclear weapons State now.

Many Indian observers have slammed then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for not having negotiated a settlement on Kashmir in return for the 93,000 Pakistani POWs captured after the war.

Indian concerns now include illegal migration, support for rebels in the northeast, increasing Bangladeshi links with Pakistan's ISI and terrorist acts in India, regular border skirmishes, and the general anti-India mood in Bangladesh. #

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