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

by Nurul Kabir | Updated at 02:54pm on August 13, 2018

The Foreign Affairs Minister of Indonesia, Dr Adam Malik, publicly stated on March 27 that whatever was happening between the two wings of Pakistan was the ‘internal affair’ of the country and announced on April 7 that ‘no foreign country has any right to interfere with such internal affair of any country’.120 The foreign minister publicly said on April 25 that his government was ‘opposed to the breaking of Pakistan’.121 Nevertheless, Indonesia continued to remain uninvolved in the conflict and maintained by and large a ‘neutral posture’ over the issue.
Meanwhile, a significant sections of Indonesian opposition political parties, press, intelligentsia and student community, all having experiences of fighting colonial powers for national independence for years, stood for the Bangladesh cause from the beginning and that too in clear defiance of their government’s official posture of neutrality. A section of the Bengali expatriates in Indonesia, organised under a banner called Amara, had played a significant role in mobilising Indonesian public opinion in favour of the Bangladesh movement.122
Some 200 Indonesian students staged demonstration in front of the Pakistan embassy in Jakarta, right on April 7, protesting at the Pakistan Army’s killing of Dhaka University teachers and students on March 25.123
Then, on April 15, the Detkarta Times wrote: “Politicians, teachers, students, doctors, engineers and even unarmed civilians including women and children, are wiped out in East Pakistan. Will the Muslim world in general suffer this? Does Islam permit killing of unarmed Muslims by armed Muslims? Can Islamic principles justify the suppression by a majority of a minority demand for social and economic justice?
Muslim states should act quickly and see that good Muslims are not massacred by fellow Muslims. The International Islamic Organization should also not be silent spectators in the present situation in East Pakistan but should do whatever is possible within their limited strength to stop the genocide and restore peace in the region.”124
Moreover, a three-member Indonesian delegation of the opposition camp, comprising Dr Natsi, a former foreign affairs minister of Indonesia, Dr Mohammad Roem, a senior politician, and Prof Abu Hanifa, a former Indonesian ambassador to Brazil and Italy, attended the September 18–20 International Conference on Bangladesh in Delhi despite active dissuasion by the (West) Pakistan mission in Jakarta. Roem told the conference, “I do not agree that Bangladesh is a domestic problem of Pakistan. […] If a situation in some country is a threat to international peace, it cannot remain an internal problem. It is clear that the situation in East Pakistan is a threat to international peace. […] There is no reason why the United Nations and Security Council should not interfere.”125
Such active supports of the sections of Indonesian opposition camp, intelligentsia, media and the student community towards Bangladesh’s liberation struggle played an important role in keeping the Indonesian government from actively supporting General Yahya’s military regime even after the latter’s official military actions against India in December.
Following the breakout of war between India and Pakistan in the midst Bangladesh’s liberation struggle on December 3, the president of Indonesia, General Suharto (1921–2008), rather offered his mediation on December 7 for ending war between India and Pakistan. Earlier, the same day, the Indonesia Raya, a Jakarta-based newspaper, wrote: “Reason failed and gun spoke. Pakistan is now sending a special envoy to Indonesia, but the whole world has seen Pakistan’s bad treatment of its people in East Pakistan. […] It is Pakistan which must respect the will of the Bangladesh people and make amends for its mistake.”126 The next day a government spokesperson announced that Indonesia ‘remains neutral in the Indo-Pak war’. General Yahya’s ‘special envoy’ did go to Jakarta for ‘military cooperation’ in Pakistan’s war against Bangladesh and India, but the Indonesian government said that Jakarta ‘would regret any request coming from either of the conflicting countries for military assistance’.127
Malaysia played an identical role. The Prime Minister of Malaysia, Abdul Razak Hussein, publicly stated on April 3 that the ‘developments in East Pakistan were purely an internal matter for the Pakistanis to deal with and no one has the right to interfere’.128 Then, on April 25, the President expressed ‘negative attitude towards Bangladesh’s government-in-exile’.129
Malaysia’s principal opposition party, the Democratic Action Party, however, supported the Bangladesh cause which found the first expression in its press statement, published on April 30, ‘strongly condemning the genocide of the Bengalis’ and in a memorandum to the Pakistan high commissioner in submitted Malaysia demanding ‘stoppage of the genocide’ the same day.130 Besides, three left-wing opposition parties — Partia, Socialist Rayat and Labour Party of Malaysia — publicly supported the liberation war of Bangladesh.
Some eminent Malaysians supporting the Bangladesh cause, V David and Soorian, being two, also actively participated in the international conference on Bangladesh in Delhi in September and criticised the West Pakistani genocide in the East. David said, “This butchery and massacre of the people and this horrible situation need to be condemned and we people from Malaysia will stand with the people of Bangladesh in their just and fair struggle to live as free people.”131
Soorian, a leader of the opposition Democratic Action Party, said that he was ‘a little surprised’ that ‘government leaders’ of Malaysia ‘think that the Bangladesh affair is still an important problem of Pakistan’. He said, “It is difficult to be a passive spectator to the outrageous and macabre inflictions imposed on one race by another as is going on in Bangladesh. What in actual effect Yahya Khan is practising is genocide which has been declared a crime under international law.”132 Soorian also argued in the conference: “Bangladesh, having declared independence, is no longer a part of Pakistan. Bangladesh complies with all international norms and conditions in the set-up of its independence. It has all the requirements of sovereignty that a country requires for such a start.”133
A Malaysian newspaper, Nanyang Siang Pau, wrote on December 9: “The ruthless repression by the West Pakistan army of the rebels in Bangladesh and the failure to take correct steps for restoring peace in time by respecting the result of the election has brought about the present tragedy. It is now too late. The crisis has erupted into war and President Yahya Khan must be held responsible for what happened.”134
Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s government-in-exile, its special envoys and Bengali expatriates in the Muslim world made multi-dimensional efforts to dissuade the ‘Muslim’ states to support the ‘Muslim’ military regime of West Pakistan in killing of innocent Muslims of the East.
Referring to the ‘Muslim’ states’ supports for General Yahya’s military regime, or even silence about the regime’s military massacre in East Bengal, the prime minister of Bangladesh’s government-in-exile, Tajuddin Ahmad, told the weekly Asian Recorder in the first week of August: “It is a tragic error on their part to think that Yahya’s hordes are waging a war of Islamic righteousness in Bangladesh. Their silence, therefore, endorses colonialism and barbarism. Material support to Islamabad puts them on the side of dictatorship.”135
The Indian government also sent a good number of diplomatic missions, ‘usually headed by Indian Muslim leaders’ to most of the major Muslim states in order to ‘diminish support for Pakistan among the Islamic states’. The Muslims-led Indian delegations used to explain to the leaders of the ‘Muslim’ states that the Bangladesh movement had nothing to do with the conflict between India and Pakistan, let alone a ‘Hindu versus Muslim’ dispute in the region; it was rather a result of a prolonged ‘conflict between two hostile Muslim communities’ of the two wings of Pakistan.136
The strategy worked to quite a significant extent, which found an expression in the Muslim world’s lack of enthusiasm in providing substantive support for Islamabad, particularly after the breakout of war between Pakistan and India over Bangladesh’s struggle for independence in December. In this regard, Sisson and Rose writes, “While the Islamic states were virtually unanimous in their rhetorical support of Pakistan once the Indo-Pakistan war had broken out, the degree of substantive military and financial assistance extended to Pakistan by them was much less than it might have otherwise been.”137
The observation appears right in that following the breakout of Pakistan’s war with India on December 3 the Shah of Iran refused to honour a ‘covert pact’ between Iran and Pakistan under the terms of which the ‘air defence of Karachi had been left to Iranian Air Force’. As the Indian Air Force began to bomb Karachi, Pakistan sought Iranian military assistance for the defence of its port city, but the Shah of Iran ‘declined to observe the pact, invoking rebus sic stantibus — a principle of international law that makes international law subject to the essential conditions remaining the same’.138 The Shah argued that ‘understanding had been reached in the context of a bilateral war between Pakistan and India’, but India’s peace treaty with Soviet Union ‘had changed that context entirely’.
Besides, although the Shah of Iran had agreed in the first week of December to a secret ‘US request to send Iranian military equipment to Pakistan, with the United States replacing whatever Iran sent’,139 he finally refused to oblige on the ground that he ‘could not send Iranian aircraft and pilots to Pakistan because he was not prepared to risk a confrontation with the Soviets’.140 The Shah, however, ‘suggested that he could send his planes to Jordan, which in turn could send Jordanian planes to Pakistan’.141 Jordan, as Kissinger reported to President Nixon in the second week of December, provided Pakistan with 17 fighter planes.142
Meanwhile, despite Egyptian president’s professed support for Pakistan, after the breakout of India-Pakistan war in December, as KK Aziz notes, ‘military supplies were flown to New Delhi from Egypt by Soviet-manned aircraft’.143

The critical neighbours
THE governments of the major neighbouring countries in South Asia did not extend support to Bangladesh’s liberation war although politically enlightened progressive sections of the people of those countries had displayed enormous sympathies to the Bangladesh cause. The governments of Sri Lanka and Nepal rather rendered supports to the politico-military establishment of West Pakistan during the war. Nepal continued to provide ‘quiet, but persistent, support’ to the military authorities of Pakistan for most part of the conflicts.144 A Nepali journal, The Critic, even found the Bengali rebellion ‘unjustified’ and hoped that the Pakistani authorities would succeed ‘to put an end’ to East Bengal’s ‘so-called freedom war’. The journal wrote in May 1971: “Unjustified rebellion [of the Bengalis] need to be put down with firm hand, otherwise its germs are cancerously dangerous to all political and social virtues which we value. It may be hoped that the Government of Pakistan will be able to put and end to the sufferings of the people caused by the so-called ‘freedom war’ with iron determination and will.”145
Sri Lanka helped Pakistan by way of allowing Yahya’s military junta to use the Colombo airport ‘as the transit point for Pakistani transport planes carrying Pakistani troops — in civilian garb — between East and West Pakistan’.146 A section of the Sri Lankan press, the Ceylone Observer, for example, also supported Pakistan and projected India’s bid to support Bangladesh movement to be hypocritical, arguing that ‘if the Indians thought it fit to incite secession of East Pakistan they could not in any way oppose the grant of freedom to the Mizos and the Nagas and the right of self-determination to the Kashmiris’.147 The Ceylon Daily News, another Sri Lankan newspaper, however, found a ‘just cause’ behind the Bangladesh movement, but termed Indian assistance for the success of the movement to be suicidal. The newspaper wrote on August 21 that ‘the real political tragedy of the East Bengal masses is that their just cause has found the worst possible champion, India’.148 Nevertheless, Abul Maal A Muhith writes that ordinary ‘citizens’ of Sri Lanka and Nepal ‘spontaneously stood in support of Bangladesh’.149
Be that as it may, Colombo’s assistance to Islamabad’s efforts in suppressing the Bangladesh movement, again, was the result of a trade-off between the two governments of the day. General Yahya’s Pakistani military junta provided the Sri Lankan government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, which was exposed to an armed uprising led by the left-wing Janatha Vimukhti Peramuna of Rohana Wijeweera in April 1971, with an ‘Army Aviation contingent’ in order to ‘assist the Sri Lankan Armed Forces’ to suppress the JVP’s armed insurrection.150 Sri Lankan government of Bandaranaike was now paying off her Pakistani counterpart, albeit at the cost of military masacre of the people of East Bengal.
To be continued.

Nurul Kabir is editor of New Age.

Notes and References
120 Abu Mohammad Delwar Hossain, Bangladesher Muktijuddha O Muslim Biswa, pp 34, 35
121 Ibid, p 36
122 For details see BSJD, Volume-IV, pp 348–415
123 Ibid, p 35
124 BSJD, Volume-XIV, p 571
125 BSJD, Volume-XIII, p 682
126 BSJD, Volume-XIV, p 658
127 Abu Mohammad Delwar Hossain, Bangladesher Muktijuddha O Muslim Biswa, p 41
128 KK Aziz, World Powers and the 1971 Breakup of Pakistan, p 289
129 Abu Mohammad Delwar Hossain, Bangladesher Muktijuddha O Muslim Biswa, p 45
130 Ibid, p 45
131 BSJD, Volume-XIII, p 685
132 Ibid, p 686
133 Ibid, p 685
134 BSJD, Volume-XIV, p 662
135 The Asian Recorder is cited in Abu Mohammad Delwar Hossain, Bangladesher Muktijuddha O Muslim Biswa, p 21
136 Richard Sisson and Leo E Rose, War and Secession: Pakistan, India and the Creation of Bangladesh, p 204
137 Ibid, p 205
138 Mohammad Yunus, Bhutto and the Breakup of Pakistan, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2011, p 36
139 Garry J Bass, The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide, Alfred A Knopf, New York, 2013, p 294
140 Srinath Raghavan, 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh, p 246
141 Ibid
142 Garry J Bass, The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide, p 301
143 KK Aziz, World Powers and the 1971 Breakup of Pakistan, p 283
144 Richard Sisson and Leo E Rose, War and Secession: Pakistan, India and the Creation of Bangladesh, p 208
145 The Critic is cited in KK Aziz, World Powers and the 1971 Breakup of Pakistan, 2016, p 300
146 Richard Sisson and Leo E Rose, War and Secession: Pakistan, India and the Creation of Bangladesh, pp 207–208
147 The Ceylone Observer is cited in KK Aziz, World Powers and the 1971 Breakup of Pakistan, p 298
148 Ibid
149 Abul Maal A Muhith, History of Bangladesh: A Subcontinental Civilisation, p 323
150 Ikram Sehgal, Escape from Oblivion: The Story of a Pakistani Prisoner of War in India, Fourth Impression, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2015 [2012], p 5.
The JVP supremo, Rohana Wijeweera, claimed from prison in 1972 that 15,000 ‘revolutionaries’ had been killed by the state while he revised the casualty figure, after 1977, to be 10,000. Rohan Gunaratna, a Sri Lankan researcher on the country’s abortive April revolution, estimates that ‘between 4,000 and 6,000 [leftists] were killed [by the state] in April 1971, but the strategy of the repression and terror employed by the State to wipe out the radicals and the militants of the JVP was such that it would never be possible to give an accurate record or the numbers killed in that April of 1971’. Rohan Gunaratna, A Lost Revolution?:The Inside Story of the JVP, Institute of Fundamental Studies, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 1990, p. 105)