After the visit, he stated: “I was depressed to see the situation in which the refugees were coming over to India, which despite its difficulties had taken care of the refugees well.
A UN mission, led by Charles Mace, visited the relief camps to assess the refugee problem at firsthand. After the visit, he stated: “I was depressed to see the situation in which the refugees were coming over to India, which despite its difficulties had taken care of the refugees well.” Mrs Gandhi made it absolutely clear to all concerned that the “cruel tragedy” in East Pakistan was damaging India economically, socially and emotionally. This was no propaganda, nor a figment of anybody’s imagination. The Happenings there were no longer only India’s problem but a worldwide one. She appealed to the international community to appreciate the very critical situation that had developed. Any failure to do so would lead to disastrous consequences. She asserted that any foreign help to Pakistan would be used against the people of Bangladesh.
Senator Kennedy had already warned the Americans that “it is our military hardware, our guns, tanks and aircraft which are contributing to the sufferings, and this is being done in violation of negotiated agreements on the use of US military aid.” Mrs Gandhi made it known that unlike in the past India would not suffer the burden of the deliberate expulsion of such a large number of people by Pakistan without demanding a price for it. She also demanded that Pakistan should halt the terrorism of its army. In a note to Pakistan on compensation, India referred to the relevant provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guaranteed the right of persons to return to their country. Pakistan was reminded that it had shown utter indifference to the fate of the refugees, who were after all Pakistani nationals.
Exasperated by the inaction displayed by the international community, and having gained a breathing space from the onset of the monsoon, Mrs Gandhi assumed a militant tone in her speeches. She rebutted Yahya Khan’s allegation of Indian interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs and affirmed India’s right to retaliate, adding that she was not deterred by threats. She said “if a situation is thrust upon us, then we are fully prepared to fight.” She challenged Yahya Khan’s claim that normalcy was returning to East Pakistan and said “if that is so, Pakistan should immediately call back the refugees.”
Mrs Gandhi made it known that unlike in the past India would not suffer the burden of the deliberate expulsion of such a large number of people by Pakistan without demanding a price for it.
Meanwhile, the flow of refugees into India went on unabated, further burdening the country’s sagging economy and inflaming popular passions. Impartial foreign dignitaries like Kennedy and Mace appreciated India’s concern and attempted to invoke world opinion to make Yahya Khan see reason. A notable contribution, albeit a little partisan towards Pakistan, was made by Prince Sadruddin Agha Khan, then United Nations Commissioner for Refugee Relief, who visited Pakistan immediately after a tour of the refugee camps in India and persuaded Yahya Khan to move in the matter.
On 30 June 1971, Prince Sadruddin rebutted the Pakistani allegation that India was obstructing the return of refugees to East Bengal. This was in answer to Tikka Khan’s allegation, made to a group of visiting members of Parliament from Britain, that left to themselves, 99 per cent of the refugees would come back. A British MP had reported earlier that fear and lack of confidence pervaded the refugees, and that there were no signs that the situation would improve significantly or rapidly. He favoured a political settlement in East Bengal, and felt that this would be the only real incentive to the refugees to return to their homes.
Meanwhile, the flow of refugees into India went on unabated, further burdening the countrys sagging economy and inflaming popular passions.
The Pakistani side of the story is summed up by Fazal Muqeem thus : “As far as the armed forces were concerned, till the end of May 1971 there was a purpose behind the operations—the establishment of the government authority. After that a political solution should have followed, but unfortunately it was not forthcoming. Therefore, from June onwards there was no purpose in a military action and the futility of the fight was becoming obvious. The use of force without the backing of political and diplomatic action was achieving nothing. East and West Pakistan could not be kept together with force alone. If there was any misunderstanding that Bengali nationalism was still confined to a minority of extremists, it should have been cleared by the happenings of the preceding few months.” The President and his advisers were however adamant in keeping East Pakistan under the heel of the military boot.
Fazal Muqeem further describes Yahya Khan’s dilemma thus: “The President had placed himself in an extremely difficult political position. After having declared Mujibur Rahman a traitor, and having dispersed the Awami League higher command, he could not easily fill the vacuum. Whatever the difficulties, he had to move fast to produce a political solution… However, the urgency of the situation seemed to escape the President. Later, he did make a half-hearted attempt to recreate the central authority in the province, but only with the rejected people, and that too when it was too late.”
In response to the Prime Minister’s call, and also in deference to international and humanitarian pressures, Yahya Khan offered to take back the refugees, but with certain stipulations. He said that bona fide Pakistani citizens who had left their homes “owing to disturbed conditions and for other reasons” were welcome to return to their homes in East Pakistan, where, according to him, law and order had been restored and “life was fast returning to normal.” He charged India with circulating highly exaggerated and distorted accounts of events, and this had led to the refugee influx. The number of refugees had been inflated by adding to them the unemployed and homeless in West Bengal.