THE context of the masterful escape of Major Manzur, Major Ziauddin and Captain Taher from Pakistan into India to participate in the Bangladeshi war of liberation was set by the early involvement of India in the struggle. During May–June 1971, the Indian approach was a mix of low-level military aid and a higher level of diplomatic activities in favour of Bangladeshi partisans. ‘The Indian attempt to fight East Bengal’s political and diplomatic war by proxy had some success.’ As a result of Indian lobbying, the Aid to Pakistan Consortium in its meeting of 21 June 1971 refused to give ‘commitments of any new aid’ to Pakistan. The United Kingdom and other western countries (though not yet the United States) discontinued sale and supply of arms to Pakistan. The magnitude of international relief assistance for the East Bengali refugees in India also increased considerably and the United Nations began to become more closely involved in the problem through its role in the relief efforts in East Bengal. But the Indian authorities began to have growing doubts regarding the effectiveness of international diplomacy and the efforts of the United Nations in forging out a desirable solution to the East Bengal problem. ‘Hence on the one hand, India emphasised her military preparedness in the contingency of an Indo-Pak war over Bangladesh while on the other she made clear the nature of the solution that she deemed desirable. In the third week of June the Indian defence minister asked the Indian armed forces to be “ready”. On 29 June the Indian Foreign Minister said that India “would reject any makeshift plan for the transfer of power which does not take the elected leader of East Bengal, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, into account”. The Indian minister thus not only articulated India’s reply to the Pakistani military regime’s plan to arrive at a political settlement in East Bengal bypassing the Mujib-led Awami League but also the Indian disapproval of any actual or potential international acquiescence in the implementation of such a plan.’ (Mizanur Rahman Shelley, Emergence of a New Nation in a Multi-polar World: Bangladesh, Academic Press and Publishers Library, Dhaka, April, 2007, enlarged edition, p 65).
WE THE Bengalis in West Pakistan did not have a complete access to all the information about developments in the eastern wing. We also did not have comprehensive knowledge of the reports about the relevant events in the media. The Pakistani press and the electronic media were rigidly controlled by the ruling junta. Nevertheless, the international media especially the BBC, the VOA and other European channels reached distant bits and pieces of information to us. We used to grab whatever news items we could from the international press photocopied and shared these confidentially with Bengali friends and colleagues. These gave us hope and encouragement. We looked forward to increasingly greater international support to the cause of Bangladesh.
I remember that during this phase or the latter we found an article on Bangladesh conflict by the Bengali-Indian Nirad C Chaudhuri in a British newspaper. This veteran writer from Kishoreganj, Bengal was well-known to us from our early teens. His popular works, Autobiography of an Unknown Indian and Continent of Circe were widely read by the sub-continentals, especially the Bengalis. Portions of his writings reflected his differentiation between Hindu and Muslim Bengalis. In his article that he wrote in the British newspaper in 1971 revealed an unkind and communal tilt of mind towards Bangladesh’s war of liberation. Among other things, he pointed out that this violent struggle was a fight between Bengali and non-Bengali Muslims. As such, he suggested that India should not have anything to do with it. Moreover, he also posed ‘sarcastically’ they (Bengalis of Bangladesh) are proposing to call their country Bangladesh. In that case he asked, what will be the name of our territory (the land of West Bengalis in India)?
I distinctly recollect the disappointment and frustration it created among the younger Bengalis in Islamabad-Pindi. Even more senior Bengalis were annoyed. Mujibul Haque, then a joint secretary to the central government of Pakistan (and later education and cabinet secretary of Bangladesh), remarked with angry sarcasm, ‘You see the intelligence of very high intellectuals is so fine that you need a microscope to discern it. To the unaided eye it appears to be non-existent. As has happened in the case of Nirad Chaudhuri!’
At this juncture, we were also impatient about the slow pace and what appeared to us as much too cautious approach of India to the Bangladeshi question. As to the people in strife-torn East Bengal so also among the stranded Bengalis in Pakistan, there had been an unprecedented and almost sudden change of attitude towards India. The implacable enemy since 1947 had been, so to say, transformed into a welcome friend in consequence of the genocidal atrocities of the Pakistani army in the east at the behest of their myopic leaders. The Bengali expectations from India increased gradually as history marched forward and the third phase of Indian involvement in the Bangladeshi war began.
The third phase: involvement and intervention
DURING July, the military option in the solution of the East Bengal problem became more prominent in the thinking of the Indian authorities. In the first half of July, the idea that India should take limited military steps to impart territoriality to the émigré Bangladesh government began to be publicly aired. On July 13, 1971, the western press published the summary of the avowedly confidential document entitled ‘Bangladesh and India’s National Security — the Options for India’, prepared by the director of India’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, Subrahmanyam. The report deliberately leaked out to the world press, advocated Indian military intervention in East Bengal to help separation from Pakistan. It argued that by such preemptive military moves, India could ensure its security by preventing a radically left-oriented (probably Maoist and Pro-Chinese) leadership from being installed in power in a free Bangladesh. The publication of the Subrahmanyam report was probably designed to underscore India’s preparedness to intervene militarily in East Bengal unless Pakistan found or was compelled to find a ‘political solution’ of the East Bengal problem acceptable to the East Bengali nationalists as well as to India.
To be continued.
Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley, founder chairman of the Centre for Development Research, Bangladesh and editor of the quarterly Asian Affairs, is a former teacher of political science at Dhaka University (1964-1967), former member of the erstwhile Civil Service of Pakistan (1967-1980) and former non-partisan technocrat cabinet minister of Bangladesh (1990).
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Opinion