Liberation War of Bangladesh: Actions, reactions and inactions of foreign powers – VII

by Nurul Kabir | Published: 00:05, Jul 16,2018 | Updated: 14:54, Aug 13,2018


UNDER the circumstance, Japan ‘initially’ resolved to regard the Bangladesh war, as Anwarul Karim, a prominent pro-liberation Bengali activist in Japan, would later say, as an ‘internal problem’ of Pakistan and observed ‘it would not be wise for Japan to involve itself in a conflict of such a nature’.84 Japan, therefore, first advocated for a negotiation between East and West Pakistan through the United Nations and, then, after the breakout of war between India and Pakistan over the Bangladesh issue, for a UN-negotiated settlement between New Delhi and Islamabad. That Tokyo was not interested in politically supporting the Bangladesh cause became evident when Japanese Finance Minister, Takeo Fukuda, who was also the acting Foreign Affairs Minster at the time, told the visiting Indian minister for education and social welfare, Siddharta Shankar Ray, in Tokyo on June 8 that ‘it would not be appropriate for Japan to intervene [in the Bangladesh crisis] at this moment’.85 Besides, despite Japan’s positive response to Indian Prime Minister’s official request for financial assistance to address refugee problem, the Japanese foreign affairs ministry was opposed to giving ‘direct aid to India’ for that ‘would jeopardise Japan’s political neutrality in the current internal strife in East Pakistan’ and suggested that the aid be extended through the United Nations.86 The opposition political establishments of Japan also appeared to have maintained a ‘neutral’ role. An opposition Socialist Party lawmaker, K Nishimura, who had visited the Bengali refugee camps in West Bengal in July and found Islamabad to be blamed for the crisis, argued that ‘the United Nations should intervene to start fresh negotiations between West Pakistan authorities and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for political settlement in the trouble-torn Bangla Desh’.87 The Japanese Communist Party, which was critical of Tokyo’s inadequate amount of humanitarian aid for the Bengali refugees in India and observed that Islamabad’s ‘military oppression’ in East Bengal is the source of the sub- continental crisis, also argued in the first week of December for ‘political neutrality’ in the armed conflict in the region and urged the ‘world’s socialist nations not to assist either party in the Indo-Pakistan war’ on the Bangladesh issue.88
However, a significant section of the Japanese intelligentsia and opposition political camps, supported by a good number of media organisations, stood for the cause of Bangladesh while a section of the Bengali expatriates played an important role in mobilising Japanese public opinion in support of the Bangladesh cause. The Bangladesh Solidarity Front set up by Professor Tsurushia and the Japan-Bengal Friendship Association led by Professor Tsuyoshi Nara undertook various programmes, including publishing pamphlets, organising conferences, holding public meetings and collecting funds for supporting the Bangladesh’s liberation struggle, on the one hand, and mounting pressure on the government to stop providing financial aid to the guilty military regime of Islamabad, on the other. It was partly due to such public campaigns by the groups in question and subsequent sympathy generated among Japanese people towards the Bangladesh cause that the government of Japan had at one stage refused to entertain Islamabad’s request for ‘fresh aid’. However, to the last, the Japanese government pursued the policy of ‘neutrality’ and ‘reconciliation’ between the warring countries in the sub-continent, which got evident when Japan, along with Italy, proposed a resolution in the United Nations on December 13, only two days before the Pakistan Army accepted defeat in Bangladesh, seeking measures for ‘reconciliation’ among the parties involved.

Crude cases of conditional supports
THAT their own political, ideological and strategic interests were prime considerations for different countries in taking side in the conflict over the Bangladesh cause got clearly evident in the efforts of two particular countries, Israel and East Germany, providing prompt but not that veiled ‘conditional supports’ for India vis-à-vis Pakistan.
The ‘Zionist’ Israel had its political and ideological interests in dismembering ‘Islamic’ Pakistan and, thus, forging alliance with ‘Hindu/Un-Islamic’ India in order to broaden its global front against the ‘Muslim’ world by and large supporting the cause of Palestine. Not surprisingly, ‘from the early days’ of its inception in 1968, the Indian external intelligence agency ‘RAW had a secret liaison relationship with the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency’.89
Notably, India had recognised the state of Israel in 1950 and maintained informal relations at different levels, but was still reluctant to establish formal diplomatic relations with the country in the fear that it might ‘jeopardise the large amount of its citizens working in the Arab States of the Persian Gulf, who were helping India maintain its foreign-exchange reserve’.90 However, India secretly received weapons from Israel during its war with China in 1962 and that with Pakistan in 1965.91
Meanwhile, as Bangladesh’s liberation war commenced after Pakistan’s genocidal military campaign against the Bengalis on March 25, 1971, the government of Israel expressed its supports for the Bangladesh cause while its parliament adopted a resolution on July 2 condemning the Pakistan Army’s ‘brutal and massive destructions’ of Bangladesh, on the one hand, and expressing solidarity with the Bangladesh movement and sympathy towards the Bengali refugees in India, on the other.92 Besides, the Israeli Red Cross announced food and other assistance for the Mukti Bahini as well as Bangladeshi refugees in India. Bangladesh’s government-in-exile, however, rejected the proposed Israeli assistance.93 However, despite rejection by the Bangladesh authorities, the Indian government resolved to take the Israeli help and, as Raghavan finds out, requested ‘in the summer of 1971’ for some ‘vital weapons and ammunition — especially mortars to support the Muktibahini’s operations’ against the Pakistan Army. Israel responded positively.
Sholo Zabludowicz, managing director of Establishments Salgad, a Liechtenstein-based arms manufacturing firm producing weapons for Israel, also an old acquaintance of PN Haksar, Personal Secretary to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was instrumental in supplying weapons requested by India. The firm did not have adequate stocks to meet Indian demand while whatever stocks were available with the firm were ‘destined for Iran’.
Under the circumstance, Zabludowicz ‘diverted weapons produced for Iran to India’, sought some weapons from the Israeli army and ‘prevailed upon’ Israel’s Prime Minister Golda Meir ‘to release additional quantities [of weapons] from Israeli Defence Force’s stocks’.94 The weapons were airlifted to India in mid-September 1971. Golda Meir asked Zabludowicz in the last week of September to inform her Indian counterpart that the former believes that ‘Mrs Indira Gandhi will know how to appreciate our help’. Golda Meir hinted at Israel’s aspiration for establishing ‘official diplomatic relations’ with India, which would eventually be established in 1992 and the two countries would forge best of relations over the next two decades.95
The German Democratic Republic, popularly known as the socialist East Germany those days, on the other hand, almost unilaterally came forward to actively sympathise with the Bangladesh war as early as April 1971, but it tagged its ‘recognition for Bangladesh’ to Delhi’s step for establishing ‘official diplomatic ties’ with Berlin. Srinath Raghavan writes, “By dangling the prospect of diplomatic recognition for Bangladesh, East Germany sought to coax India into formally recognizing East Germany as a quid pro quo.”96
Delhi allowed Berlin to have trade missions in India in 1954, but it was still not in a position to formally recognise East Germany by annoying the Federal Republic of Germany, West Germany in other words. West Germany was insisting India for the past two decades on its not recognising ‘another German state’. However, in order to secure East Germany’s cooperation against Pakistan in 1971, Delhi assured Berlin that it would give a second thought to the latter’s request once India was out of the political quagmire in the sub-continent over the Bangladesh issue. Subsequently, East Germany provided supports for the Bangladesh cause in 1971 and India officially recognised East Germany in 1972.

Most ‘Muslim’ states back Pakistan
MOST countries of the ‘Muslim’ world generally supported Pakistan’s unity and territorial integrity that amounted to opposition to efforts of Bangladesh’s liberation from Pakistan. They were also very critical of India for the latter’s active support to the liberation forces of Bangladesh.
The initial supports and sympathies of most ‘Muslim states’ towards Islamabad was inspired by the latter’s ceaseless propaganda that East Pakistan’s efforts for national liberation was instigated by ‘Hindu’ India. The Muslim states in question, therefore, found it a political responsibility of the ‘Muslim ummah’ to defend the territorial integrity of ‘Muslim’ Pakistan, which was, again, an old alley on many an international and regional forum, against the alleged conspiracy hatched by the ‘Hindu’ state. Evidently, they failed to recognise the fact that the (West) Pakistan authorities had launched and carried out a genocidal military campaign, coupled with rapes and looting, in the Muslim-majority East Pakistan in the name of Islam and the unity of Muslim Pakistan.
Abu Mohammad Delwar Hossain, a Bangladeshi researcher on the ‘role of the Muslim world’ during Bangladesh’s liberation war, observes that the ‘Muslim’ states broadly displayed three kinds of attitudes towards Bangladesh’s efforts to liberate itself from Pakistan. The first group, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya, Jordan and Turkey not only sympathised with Pakistan and found justified the West’s military action in the East to retain ‘its territorial integrity’ but also provided active political and diplomatic supports against Bangladesh’s liberation war. The second group of ‘Muslim’ states, such as Algeria, South Yemen, Sudan, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq and Syria supported Pakistan’s efforts to keep its territorial integrity, but did not fully approve its military massacre of the people of Bangladesh. The third group, such as Somalia, North Yemen, Chad, Nigeria, Tunisia, Mauritania and Senegal either maintained a posture of neutrality or kept silent about the Bangladesh war.97
Two South East Asian ‘Muslim’ states, Indonesia and Malaysia, were for the territorial integrity of the two warring wings of Pakistan, but they did not support the (West) Pakistan Army’s military actions in the East, nor did they offer any effective assistance for the West to subjugate the East, as some Arab and African ‘Muslim’ states did.
Be that as it may, the governments of most ‘Muslim’ states in question ultimately stood against the dismemberment of Pakistan and, thus, Bangladesh’s national independence, which found a clear expression in their votes in the UN General Assembly session on December 7, 1971 for an American resolution seeking withdrawal of Indian and Pakistani troops from each others territory without resolving the Bangladesh issue.
The Organisation of Islamic Conference, a 22-member body of ‘Muslim’ states, consistently asserted that the conflict between East and West Pakistan was an ‘internal affair’ of Pakistan, projected Bangladesh’s national liberation war as a mere Indian conspiracy and supported the repressive military regime of West Pakistan throughout the war. The OIC started officially supporting the military regime of Yahya Khan in three days of the latter’s genocidal campaign in East Pakistan on March 25. The Secretary General of the OIC and former President of Indonesia, Tenku Abdur Rahman, said in a public statement on March 29 that ‘East Pakistan crisis is an internal affair of Pakistan and that no foreign country should interfere with the internal matter of Pakistan’.98
Aware of the situation, Bangladesh’s Government-in-exile and the government of India made concerted efforts to remove misgivings generated out of Pakistani propaganda in the ‘Muslim’ world that Bangladesh movement was instigated by the Hindu India to weaken the ‘Islamic’ Pakistan. Side by side with the repeated clarifications issued by the Bangladesh’s Government-in-exile that the struggle for Bangladesh’s independence had nothing to do with any religion, rather it was a legitimate movement for the democratic right to self-determination of the people of East Pakistan vis-à-vis the years of neo-colonial exploitation by West Pakistan. Indian authorities also undertook extensive diplomatic measures to undo the Pakistani propaganda.
The acting President of Bangladesh’s Government-in-exile, Syed Nazrul Islam, sent an official telegram to the OIC on the eve of its conference in Jeddah on June 25, explaining that Bangladesh’s war was consequent of West Pakistan’s repeated betrayal to the cause of the East and that it began after West Pakistan’s final betrayal to the people’s electoral verdict and that it was a legitimate response to the unjust war imposed by the West on the people of the East and that it was the West’s military junta which was killing the Muslims of the East in the name of Islam and, finally, urged the OIC leaders to use their good office to stop genocide in and secure the independence of Bangladesh. President Islam wrote: “Eighty per cent of a total 75 million people of Bangladesh are Muslims. The people of Bangladesh has proclaimed independence only after the traitor Yahya regime had imposed an unjust war in disregard of the people’s electoral verdict. They have already killed a million people. More than 60,00,000 people have been forced to leave the country and take refuge in India. The invading forces of West Pakistan have destroyed mosques. They have killed imams as well as pious Muslims offering prayers inside the mosques.”99 He also said in the telegram that ‘the warlords of West Pakistan are bent upon perpetrating the worst crime in human history while trying to cover their guilt under the holy name of Islam’ and urged the OIC to ‘use its influence and authority to put an immediate end to the genocide in Bangladesh’ and ‘support’ Bangladesh’s ‘independence’.100
To be continued.

Nurul Kabir is editor of New Age.

Notes and References
84 Anwarul Karim is cited in Sukumar Biswas, Japan and the Emergence of Bangladesh, Agamee Prakashani, Dhaka, 1998, p 243
85 Sukumar Biswas, Japan and the Emergence of Bangladesh, Agamee Prakashani, Dhaka, 1998, p 207
86 Ibid, p 245
87 Ibid, p 246
88 Ibid, p 247
89 See Jayshree Bajoria, RAW: India’s External Intelligence Agency, 2008,, accessed on May 29, 2016
90 , accessed on May 20, 2016
91 Srinath Raghavan, 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh, p 182
92 Abu Mohammad Delwar Hossain, Bangladesher Muktijudhha O Muslim Biswa, Sahitya Prakash, Dhaka, 2014, p 15
93 Ibid, p 76
94 Srinath Raghavan, 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh, pp 182–183
95 By 2015, India became the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment while Israel is the second largest defence supplier to India. Besides, India is the third largest Asian Trade partner of Israel. For further details, see, accessed on May 20, 2016
96 Srinath Raghavan, 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh, p 157
97 Abu Mohammad Delwar Hossain, Bangladesher Muktijudhha O Muslim Biswa, pp 9 -10
98 KK Aziz, World Powers and the 1971 Breakup of Pakistan, p 293
99 Syed Nazrul Islam’s letter is cited in Abu Mohammad Delwar Hossain, Bangladesher Muktijudhha O Muslim Biswa, p 54
100 BSJD, Volume-III, p 749

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