Monday, December 19, 2011

The 1971 Bangladesh war: a retrospective on the fortieth anniversary

16th December 2011, as the fortieth anniversary of the surrender of Pakistani military and fall of Dhaka to the Indian forces and the Mukti Bahini was overlooked by all the three countries concerned, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. There were no much celebratory emotions in India, Pakistan expectedly ignored its loss of the war and the subsequent partition of their country and for Bangladesh it was like any other normal day of the Gregorian calendar.

That the three countries of south Asia sharing the common heritage, civilization and history and their people forming forty percentage of humanity disregarded the fortieth anniversary of the war clearly exposes the transition that the three countries have been subject to for the last four decades.

As Pakistan is already on the edge of a civil war which may turn to a full fledged one in the near future, the silence on the 1971 war was quite natural. On the Indian side, the country is divided over the war on corruption, the Indian government is under pressure for various reasons and India is on the verge of a financial crisis in the midst of its quest to become one of the economic power houses of the world.

India, a neglected third world country in the backyards of the international community was so triumphant those days that it turned to be the first country to divide a member state of United Nations, something unrealistic even for the then super powers such as United States and Soviet Union. Our then prime minister Ms. Indira Gandhi was projected almost as an avtar of goddess Durga and her popularity was at the highest.

But, on the commemoration of the war from an Indian perspective, we have to have observations on the mistakes that we committed in spite of the advantageous position at the end eof a successful war. We abided by all the international laws, well treated millions of refugees from East Pakistan and fed the ninety thousand or so Pakistani prisoners of war. As an official end of the war Ms. Gandhi had a pact with then prime minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the Simla agreement.

Based on the pact, India exchanged almost one lakh Pakistani POWs for Indian POWs who where minimal in number. The territories conquered were also exchanged with some exceptions such as Kargil. The pact also insisted that all the bilateral issues between India and Pakistan including the Kashmir conundrum would be settled peacefully.

At the end of the war, Pakistan’s dignity, economy and the two nation theory, the very foundation of that country were at stake. Had our leadership taken the stand that captive POWs and conquered territories would be exchanged only upon the settlement over the Kashmir and other bilateral issue, there would have been no option for Pakistan but to agree and India would naturally have had an upper hand. Whether Indians would ever get such an opportunity in future is something that only time can predict.

At the end of the 1971 war Indian foreign policy was still under the influence of what was framed by Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru. Our diplomatic and political visionaries were still unwilling to comprehend that the influence of nehruvianism was the root cause behind the issue of Tibet, the Indo-Chinese border disputes and an ambiguous non aligned foreign policy.

Further, our leaders refused to conceive that a theocracy like Pakistan, vulnerable to military coups, Islamic extremism and political instability would acquire the morality, maturity and integrity in executing the terms and conditions of the Simla pact and the rest is history. The cost of the blunder of our leaders done by the Simla pact was as costly as we brought the Kashmir imbroglio to the UN and binding ourselves to a referendum.

Now that it is four decades down the Bangladesh war, we have to admit historical facts. Besides all the glory that we possess as the land of Gauthama Budha, Emporer Ashoka and Mahathma Gandhi, let us be conscious that foreign policy is not about dogmatism but about pragmatism. Let us hope that we will be cognizant about this reality in utmost honesty and that in future we will no longer be porn to such mistakes in the wake of our experiences from past.

1 comment:

Aaditya.khare said...

Nice perspective...Have also written on the same topic...