Military & Aerospace

1971: The Gradual Escalation - I
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“¦she warned that “what began as an internal affair of Pakistan was gradually turning into an internal affair of India, and would soon be turning into an international issue.

She added that “not only India but every country has to consider its interests. I think I am expressing the sentiments of this House and of our people when I raise my voice against the wanton destruction of peace, good neighbourliness and elementary principles of humanity by the insensate action of the military rulers of Pakistan.” She further urged that “conditions must be created to stop any further influx of refugees and to ensure their early return under credible guarantees for their future safety and well being. I say with all sense of responsibility that unless this happens there can be no lasting stability or peace on this subcontinent.”

Voicing the thinking of the hawks in New Delhi, Subrahmanyam pleaded vehemently that the breakup of Pakistan was in India’s interest and that the developments in East Pakistan provided India with the unprecedented opportunity to dismember Pakistan. Obviously answering the Prime Minister’s statement, he said : “We must act in a constructive way and not do anything which adds to to the difficulties of the people there.” He added : “The so-called international forum has not deterred any major power from taking action to protect its interests… A bold initiative on our part to help the struggle in Bangladesh to end quickly and victoriously is therefore called for.”

Voicing the thinking of the hawks in New Delhi, Subrahmanyam pleaded vehemently that the breakup of Pakistan was in Indias interest and that the developments in East Pakistan provided India with the unprecedented opportunity to dismember Pakistan.

As part of Tikka Khan’s crackdown, Mujibur Rahman had been arrested and his fate was not known. Some other leaders had either been arrested or conveniently done away with. A few went underground in East Pakistan, now in the stranglehold of the Pakistani Army. Of the remainder, most followed the refugee trail and reached India completely bewildered. Senior Edward Kennedy of the US described the tragedy thus: “A story of indiscriminate killings and executions of dissident political leaders, students, citizens and civilians suffering and dying. It was a tale of total disruption of administration machinery, compounding an already difficult situation that threatened millions with starvation, epidemics and disasters.”

These events had left gaping holes in the Awami League leadership, and the directing hand of its founder was now missing. Out of these inheritors of East Pakistan’s destiny, a provisicral government in exile was formed on 17 April 1971. Sheikh Mujib was appointed its president in absentia, and Tajuddin Ahmed was nominated prime minister to carry out the functions of government. This provisional government was afforded all the facilities required to continue the struggle for the liberation of Bangladesh from the oppression of the Pakistani Army. The seat of government was named Mujib Nagar, and a radio station was installed to Project the voice of freedom towards those who had stayed behind to organise the Mukti Bahini.

Correspondingly, diplomatic relations between Pakistan and India deteriorated and Pakistan directed the Indian Deputy High Commission in Dacca to be wound up and closed its own mission in Calcutta. Pressures started building up, especially in eastern India, in favour of India’s recognition of the Bangladesh Government, and of Bangladesh as a separate entity. Backed by Jayaprakash Narayan, other political personalities of some stature derided Indira Gandhi for showing weakness in refusing to recognise what had become a “political reality.” The Prime Minister however remained firm on the issue of recognition and categorically stated: “Not yet. At the appropriate time. Leave that to the Government to decide.”

As part of Tikka Khans crackdown, Mujibur Rahman had been arrested and his fate was not known.

What prevented India from giving recognition at this juncture? Political considerations demanded that the viability of an independent Bangladesh should be established both in domestic and international eyes irrefutably before it could be given official blessing. Otherwise, this was likely to be misconstrued as an Indian machination, especially when Yahya Khan and his diplomatic representatives abroad were clamouring for support against Indian interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs. Recognition could have led to immediate rupture of diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan, and might perhaps have precipitated armed conflict between them, with unpredictable international repercussions.

The country’s mood and military capability did not allow such a hasty step at this juncture. It was considered prudent to keep recognition on a low key on the political front while keeping the insurgency going with increasing intensity so as to sap the fighting capability of the Pakistani Army by prolonged and destructive guerilla operations in the inhospitable environment of monsoon rain, slushy terrain and hostile population. Meanwhile, New Delhi could get the exodus from East Pakistan and the resultant economic burden accepted as an international problem. All relief agencies, both official, and unofficial, were geared to achieve this acceptance.

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