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

by Nurul Kabir | Published: 00:05, Jul 23,2018 | Updated: 15:13, Aug 13,2018

 
 

THE Pakistan authorities, however, were not expecting India to officially launch the war, nor did it apprehend that Pakistan would be defeated even if India did. Kissinger, who had all his political sympathy for General Yahya, would later write in his memoirs: “He [Yahya] and his colleagues did not believe that India might be planning war; if so, they were convinced that they would win. When I asked as tactfully as I could about the Indian advantage in numbers and equipment, Yahya and his colleagues answered with bravado about the historic superiority of Moslem fighters.”224 While religious faiths hardly play any role in determining the fate of a war, Yahya’s military junta must also have forgotten that most of the East Pakistanis who were fighting tooth and nail for freedom were also ‘Moslems’ by faith.
Be that as it may, the Indo-Soviet bilateral treaty provided Delhi with a real sense of security against an apprehended Chinese attack on India in case of the latter’s direct conflict with Pakistan over the Bangladesh war. Still, Indira Gandhi undertook a three-week tour of Europe and America in October-November to explain to the formidable western powers the legitimacy of her government’s support for the Bangladesh cause and, thereby, neutralise their support for Pakistan, if not ensuring sympathy in India’s favour, in case of a conflict between the two neighbouring countries in South Asia. The meetings in Washington did not go very well, but talks in some European capitals did augur well. She ‘got the feeling that none of the Western powers would directly help Pakistan in the event of an Indo-Pakistan conflict over Bangladesh’.225 Moreover, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi already had active support of her country’s opposition political camps for dismembering Pakistan by way of helping Bangladesh’s war of liberation. Jay Prakash Narayan Yadav (1902–1979), then prime leader of the Indian opposition political camps, undertook a tour of the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, Germany, France, Sweden, Finland, Japan, Singapore, Egypt, Thailand and Indonesia between May 16 and June 27 with a view to presenting before the government leaders and influential politicians concerned the crises that India had been exposed to over Bangladesh issue due to Pakistan’s military intervention against the electoral mandate of its people.226 Besides, the Delhi-based Gandhi Foundation organised a three-day ‘international conference on Bangladesh’ in September 18–20, which was attended by 150 delegates from 24 countries representing all the continents of the world. The conference adopted a 13-point resolution, suggesting that ‘the political struggle of the people of Bangla Desh should be viewed by the international community as a national struggle for freedom’ and recommending that ‘the Government of Bangla Desh be recognised by the Governments of the world, as Bangladesh has all the geographic, historical, ethnic and linguistic characteristics of a sovereign nation’.227
The leaders of the Bengali communities in Europe and America also continued to mobilise public opinions across the world against the Pakistan Army’s bruatal atrocities on the people of East Pakistan.
Subsequently, a series of developments, such as the Moscow-Delhi peace treaty signed in August, setting up of the five-party Consultative Committee to help Bangladesh’s government-in-exile in September, Mukti Bahini’s continued successes in jeopardising the Pakistan forces within the Bangladesh territory by October and the completion of Indira Gandhi’s tour of the western countries in November, now enabled India to make a decisive militarily intervention in the process of Bangladesh’s liberation war any time.
However, in the face of incessant guerrilla attacks by the Muktis across Bangladesh, the Pakistan forces already got exhausted. They found that ‘everything in Bangladesh was hostile to the Pakistanis’. Many a post-war recollection of the Pakistani commanders reveals that the Pakistan army was so scared of attacks by the Mukti guerrillas that by October they did not want to go out any more, their will to fight was gone and were eager to survive and go home. Again, the Bengali members of the Razakar force, an auxiliary force of the Pakistan army raised in June by both political motivation and military coercion, also started getting deeply scared by the continuous successes of the Muktis in October. They got so scared in October that, as M R Akhtar Mukul notes, “The Razakars of the northern zone, such as those of the some areas of Dinajpur, Rangpur, Rajshahi and Bogra districts started making public proposals of negotiations with the freedom fighters. By then the members of the Pakistan army had stopped going outside their camps and bunkers at night. The responsibility of maintaining law and order during the nights was already imposed on the members of the police and the Razakars. The frightened groups of Razakars therefore proposed that they would not even make any attempt to resist the Muktis to launch night-time guerrilla attacks on the Pakistani military camps, if they are spared of their lives.”228 Besides, in many places, the Razakars started deserting the Pakistan Army in the same month. Providing a couple of examples of the Razakars’ desertion of the Pakistan army in October, Mukul writes: “There were 57 members of the armed Razakar posted with 30 armed police from West Pakistan to stand guard at the Lauhajang Police Station of the Dhaka district. But all this 57 Razakars deserted the West Pakistani police at the night of October 28 and the Muktis launched a successful attack on the police station the next night, leaving all the 30 West Pakistani police dead.”229 The same thing happened in Dhaka’s Nawabganj Police Station the same night. Mukul notes that ‘all the 39 armed Razakars, who were posted to the police station for some time, just disappeared at the night of October 28’ while the Muktis took over the police station in a two-hour operation in the morning October 29’.230
The Mukti advances of the time not only encouraged the sections of the Razakars to desert and defect, but also forced the Pakistan authorities to revew its political course, for this was the time when Yahya, who had found Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to be a traitor and refused to have a talk with him for a political solution of the East-West conflict even a few weeks ago, was now ready to free the Sheikh ‘if the nation demands his release’.231 Yahya’s change of mind was due to the incessant successes of the Muktis in the battlefields of East Pakistan, or in other words, inevitable defeat of the West Pakistani forces in the East that was in sight.

Irresistible Mukti advances:
Pakistan wages face-saving war on India
THAT the Bangladesh’s forces were jeopardising the West Pakistan army and its local collaborators across the East gets evident from an observation by an otherwise critical Indian diplomat, J N Dixit, who writes: “By mid-November, Mukti Bahini groups had intensified their operations sufficiently all over Bangladesh to make the Pakistani military command a trifle desperate.”232 By the end of November, it became crystal clear to all concerned that the defeat of the (West) Pakistan Army in the East was just a matter of time.
Under the circumstance, General Yahya’s military junta took a face-saving step to project its approaching defeat to be one not to Bangladesh’s Mukti Bahini, rather to ‘a superior power’ — India in the present case. The Kathmandu-based Nepal Times rightly predicted on November 30, “The one-sided war waged by the rulers of Pakistan inside what was once a part their own territory, provoked a resistance which culminated in a well-organized [liberation] war within a few months. […] The Pakistani army has been finding it increasingly difficult to fight its own people. But it wants to be defeated at the hands of a superior power, not at those of the people’s resistance movement known as the Mukti Bahini. And for Pakistan, that superior power could be none other than India.”233
Hence, Pakistan launched a series of air strikes in a number of northern airfields in India at 5:30pm on December 3, engaging the latter in an official war. Initially, Pakistan forces launched a ‘two-pronged’ attack in the disputed territory of Kashmir and succeeded in occupying more than 50 square miles of the Indian-held territory in Chhamb, but lost some of its territory to India in the further north of Kashmir. Pakistan also launched a serious attack along the Punjab border facing Lahore and occupied some territory in Husainiwala.
The hawkish military junta in Islamabad gave an impression to the people of West Pakistan as wells as its foreign backers that it ‘hoped to relieve the East wing by action in the West’, without visualizing that the professed ‘hope’ of re-establishing some authority in East Pakistan would be shattered in just less then three weeks.
While Bangladesh’s government-in-exile and the Indian government were working to garnering international supports against Pakistani genocide in Bangladesh, India was also preparing for, what Indira Gandhi says, an ‘actual war’ with Pakistan soon; but the political establishment in Delhi was not quite expecting Pakistan to start the war, at least, in the first week of December. In this regard, Asoka Raina, a former R&AW official notes: “Pakistan’s action was unexpected, as far as timing was concerned. The Prime Minister [of India] was away in Calcutta, the Defence Minister Jagjivan Ram was out of capital visiting his constituency in Bihar, the Finance Minister was away in Bombay and president V.V. Giri, was attending a reception on the lawns of Parliament House.”234
But General Yahya did order the attack and Indira Gandhi received the information in the airspace while returning to Delhi from Kolkata in the evening. Delhi was, in fact, happy about Pakistan beginning the war, for the R&AW believed that ‘in spite of the Mukti Bahini’s growing strength, it would be unable to take on the Pakistani army over a long period’.235
India’s happiness over Pakistan’s ‘first’ official attack found expression in DP Dhar’s wordings of the message of the attack that he communicated to his colleagues on the prime minister’s entourage: “The fool has done exactly what one had expected.”236
India, in fact, had planned to launch the ‘formal war’ on December 6237 and, therefore, ‘India was greatly relieved and pleasantly surprised when Pakistan […] ordered the […] strike at major Indian air installations […] on 3 December’.238
That India was not expecting Pakistan to launch the first attack, at least not in the first week of December, also found an expression in the recollection of the military event by Marshal PC Lal, India’s Chief of Air Staff in 1971, who admits that the Pakistanis ‘caught our Army on the wrong foot’ in the evening of December 3, because the Western command of the Indian Army resolved on November 30, and subsequently ordered on December 1 that the forces in Chhamb, which were ready for launching strikes, now ‘should be to on the defensive’.239 He, then, argues that ‘the [Indian] Army’s changeover from the offensive to defensive at the last moment was the principal cause of the initial reverses suffered by it’.240 Nevertheless, Pakistan’s ‘first attack’ offered India a justified ground for waging the ‘actual war’ that the latter had been preparing for since April.
However, on her return to Delhi the same evening, Indira Gandhi, therefore, took no time to declare: “The war in Bangla Desh has become a war on India.” The Indians fought ‘defensive’ battles in Kashmir and the Punjab, but retaliated in the southern Rajasthan sector, eventually occupying some 5,000 square miles of the Pakistani territory in Hyderabad. They rather concentrated mainly on the military campaign in Pakistan’s eastern theatre. In this regard, Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley writes, “The full weight of Indian military superiority was thrown behind the Indian campaign in East Bengal. In this theatre, eight Indian divisions including specially trained Mountain Divisions and several tank regiments faced Pakistan’s four divisions consisting of some 35 infantry battalions and an armoured regiment.”241 Earlier, in the first week of December, ‘the eight-battalion strong Bengali Niyamita Bahini (Regular Force) was integrated with the Indian forces under a joint Allied Command led by [Indian] General [Jagjit Singh] Aurora’.242

Indian limited military objectives:
Mukti refusal to stop before total victory
THE Delhi-based Indian military establishment did not have any plan to capture Dhaka, or win the ‘whole’ of Bangladesh soon; its aim was rather to ‘establish a base’ in some part of Bangladesh near the Indian border for the Awami League to conduct its liberation war to create ‘a possible state’ Martial PC Lal recollects, “[T]he objectives of the 1971 war were, as defined by the Chiefs of Staff and by each respective Service Chief [of India], […] was to gain as much ground as possible in the east to neutralize the Pakistani forces there to the extent we could and to establish a base, as it were, for a possible state in Bangladesh.”243 The other objective for ‘liberating a part of Bangladesh’ was, as the Indian defence ministry records reveal, to make sure that the Bangladeshi ‘refugees could be sent to live under their own Bangladesh government’.244
To be continued.
Nurul Kabir is editor of New Age.

Notes and References
224 Henry Kissinger, White House Years, p 861
225 Talukder Maniruzzaman, The Bangladesh Revolution and Its Aftermath, Second edition, Third impression, The University Press Limited, Dhaka, 2009 [1980], p 122
226 Afsan Chowdhury, Bangladesh: 1971, Volume - III, Mowla Brothers, Dhaka, 2007, p 205
227 For details of the resolutions, see Bangladesh Documents, Volume Two, pp 185–187
228 M R Akhtar Mukul, Ami Bijay Dekhechi, Sixth Print, Sagar Publishers, Dhaka, 1984, pp 249–250
229 Ibid, p 250
230 Ibid
231 See General Yahya Khan’s interview in Newsweek on November 8, 1971. Also, Bangladesh Documents, Volume Two, p 123
232 J N Dixit, Liberation and Beyond: Indo-Bangladesh Relations, p 86
233 BSJD, Volume-XIV, pp 652–653. Also, Bangladesh Documents, Volume Two, pp 152–153
234 Asoka Raina, Inside RAW: The Story of India’s Secret Service, Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi, 1981, p 58
235 Ibid
236 J N Dixit, Liberation and Beyond: Indo-Bangladesh Relations, p 89
237 Richard Sisson and Leo E Rose, War and Secession: Pakistan, India and the Creation of Bangladesh, p 213
238 Ibid, p 214
239 Marshal PC Lal, My Years with the IAF, Lancer Publishers, New Delhi, 2008 [1986], p 229
240 Ibid, p 232
241 Mizanur Rahman Shelley, Emergence of a New Nation in a Multi-polar World: Bangladesh, p 75
242 Ibid
243 Marshal PC Lal, My Years with the IAF, p 171
244 Srinath Raghavan, 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh, p 238

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