50 years Celebration of Liberation War of Independence

Published on - December 16, 2021

An Events related to South-Asia

Source: The Indian Express

Context:

The author talks about the Bangladesh Liberation.

 

Editorial Insights:

The year 2021 marks the golden jubilee of the Liberation War of Independence. Bangladesh’s Independence in 1971 not only gave Bangladesh its freedom from the clutches of oppressive East Pakistan but changed the history and geopolitical scenario of South Asia.

 

Liberation of Bangladesh 1971:

For over two decades, resentment had been simmering in East Pakistan at economic exploitation and efforts to deny the natural linguistic, and cultural expressions of a people.

In the general elections of December 1970, the Awami League-led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had won a resounding victory and a majority of the seats for the whole of Pakistan.

But every subterfuge was deployed by President General Yahya Khan, in collaboration with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, to deny the Awami League its right to form the government.

Multiple rounds of discussions led nowhere and, finally, on the night of March 25, 1971, the Pakistan army was let loose on the people of East Pakistan.

Countless were killed and uncounted women violated. Ten million fled for refuge in neighboring India.

Nations big and small met in endless conclaves in the hallowed precincts of the United Nations but provided no respite from the continuing carnage.

Peasants, students, Bengali officers and men of the Pakistan army, paramilitary and police, and common people banded together as the “Mukti Bahini” to free their motherland from the barbaric forces.

India provided arms and training as the freedom fighters kept the occupying forces under relentless pressure.

In a desperate gamble, Pakistan attacked India on December 3. On December 16, 1971, the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan surrendered unconditionally to the joint command of India and Bangladesh.

 

 

India & Bangladesh’s Liberation War:

India’s intervention was not only altruistic in nature but was primarily based on realpolitik, Realpolitik considerations of India:

While the Indian intervention was the key factor that tipped the balance, the intervention was lesser about compassion and more about real politicking.

Dual Front - The Bengali uprising provided India with an opportunity to break Pakistan, which will thereby prevent a duel front war in the future.

Pro-Indian Polity - A non-interventionist civil war would’ve radicalized the Bengali population and sidelined the pro-India centrist Awami League Party.

But the concern was more economic rather than humanitarian as refugees’ numbers were burgeoning had to be fed and accommodated.

The plight of the ten million refugees did have an impact on the Indian government and prompted it to launch a retaliatory action against Pakistan.

 

 

The role played by India in the Formation of Bangladesh:

From India’s point of view, the singular objective of the 1971 war was to contain the unfolding refugee crisis which was reaching alarming proportions by the end of 1971.

Indian military’s swift action led to the creation of a new nation-state in South Asia. All the 3 wings – Army, Air force, and Navy, acted in perfect unison to achieve a swift and decisive victory.

On the political front: wholehearted support from the highest level – PM Indira Gandhi went on a world tour to generate a favorable opinion for the humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh and explained India’s position regarding it.

Also, the Indian govt allowed the formation of a provincial govt in Calcutta.

On the Economic and humanitarian front: India carried the burden of some 10 million refugees from East Pakistan. They were given food and shelter in the neighboring Indian states. India thus prevented a grave humanitarian crisis to the extent possible.

The use of Intelligence agencies provided covert support for finances, equipment, and training to Muktibahini guerillas.

Diplomatic Front: Indira Gandhi’s tour across the world and India’s Treaty of Peace and Friendship with Russia signed in August 1971 helped achieve strategic gains for India and Bangladesh.

To ensure a smooth transition, in 1972 the Shimla Agreement was signed between India and Pakistan. The treaty ensured that Pakistan recognized the independence of Bangladesh in exchange for the return of the Pakistani PoWs.

India treated all the PoWs in strict accordance with the Geneva Convention, rule 1925. It released more than 93,000 Pakistani PoWs in five months.

 

Impact on South Asia:

Apart from the drain of resources due to war and rehabilitation efforts various sanctions were imposed on India by nations such as the USA. Many countries in the world, including the United States, realized that the balance of power had shifted to India in South Asia.

It also strengthened the relation of India with the USSR (India signed a 20-year Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation with the Soviet Union), and also the war established the image of India as a hard power in the South-Asian region.

The liberation increased the influence of India as a power over the NE South Asian region and gave way to the rise of India as a nation with strong defense at a time when only superpowers intervened in armed conflicts of countries.

Further, it gave a boost to India’s Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) in the fight against colonialism, anarchy, and Humanitarian crisis.

Also, the role of India was evaluated in a negative light by smaller states of South Asia in years to come. It was responsible for the creation of SAARC in 1985 as a multilateral safeguard to India’s unilateral might. But India become a new fulcrum of SAARC in the Future.

 

Impact on Bangladesh:

Bangladesh has traveled a long way since 1971. It leads South Asia in almost all social and economic indices.

The per capita income in Bangladesh was 61% below that of Pakistan in 1971, it is today 62% higher, its foreign exchange reserves more than double.

In upcoming years, that the steady improvement in living standards exemplified by the nation’s graduation from least developed to developing, would continue.

A major challenge for Bangladesh in recent years has been jihadi terrorism, often nurtured by external forces.

Unfortunately, this was for a while supported by an elected political party.

The present government has taken strong steps to push back against these forces. But the use of religion for achieving their ends will continue to make this a matter of fraught national importance.

 

Bangla-India relations:

Though the relations with India are currently stable, they have fluctuated over the years.

The conclusion of the Ganga Waters Treaty a quarter-century ago had laid to rest a source of deep discord.

 As both governments justifiably underline the increasing levels of mutual confidence and cooperation, the potential of the relationship, as well as mutual sensitivities and core interests, would need continued attention.

 

Conclusion:

The ultimate accolade for India’s role in creating a new nation is that Bangladesh is today a relatively prosperous country, having made steady progress from the category of a Least Developed Country to a developing country. The creation of Bangladesh — from the ashes of East Pakistan — is presumably India’s finest foreign policy triumph to date.