The History of India: Modern History: The Liberation of Bangladesh The History of India: Modern History: The Liberation of Bangladesh

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Modern History: The Liberation of Bangladesh

During the partition of India, Pakistan gained independence on 14th August, 1947. Pakistan was created out of Muslim majority regions in the West and the East of the Indian nation. The western zone was officially called West Pakistan and the eastern zone (the now Bangladesh) was named East Pakistan. The capital of Pakistan was established in Karachi in West Pakistan and then moved to Islamabad in 1958.

In the entire period of 1947-71, East Pakistan was suppressed economically, politically and culturally by its western counterpart. While the populations of both the regions were nearly same, in 1950-1970 the overall government spending on East Pakistan was only 34% of what was spent on West Pakistan. Moreover it was felt that much of the income generated by the east was primarily diverted towards fighting wars in Kashmir. The political power also resided with West Pakistan with all national governments and major military leadership coming from there. Due to the differences between the two states, a nascent separatist movement developed in East Pakistan. Any such movements were sharply limited, especially when martial law was in force between 1958 and 1962 (under General Ayub Khan) and between 1969 and 1972 (under General Yahya Khan).

The already tense situation was further aggravated by a tropical cyclone that struck East Pakistan in 1970. It was a particularly devastating year as the deadliest cyclone on record—the Bhola cyclone—struck Bangladesh claiming nearly half a million lives. The apathy of West Pakistan leadership and its failure in responding quickly was a further platform for the Awami League (the leading political party of East Pakistan), that capitalized on this tragedy. In 1970 the political tussle between East and West Pakistan reached its climax. In the national elections held that year the Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, won a landslide victory winning 167 of 169 seats allotted for East Pakistan and hence a majority of the 313 total seats in the National Assembly. This gave Awami League the right to form the government in Islamabad. However, the leader of Pakistan People's Party, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, refused to allow Rahman to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan. On March 3rd 1971, the two leaders of the two wings along with the President General Yahya Khan met in Dhaka to decide the fate of the country. Talks failed. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called for a nation-wide strike.
On 25th march, 1971 the Pakistani army, in order to suppress nationalist feelings in East Pakistan, launched a planned military pacification codenamed Operation Searchlight. The target of the operation was to take control of all major cities and eliminate all opposition political or military within one month. Before the beginning of the operation, all foreign journalists were systematically deported from East Pakistan. The operation began the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities. . The international media have published casualty figures which vary greatly, from 5,000–35,000 in Dhaka, and 200,000–3,000,000 for Bangladesh as a whole, and the atrocities have been referred to as acts of genocide.

Although the violence focused on the provincial capital, Dhaka, the process of ethnic elimination was also carried out all around Bangladesh. Residential halls of University of Dhaka were particularly targeted. The only Hindu residential hall—the Jagannath Hall—was destroyed by the Pakistani armed forces, and an estimated 600 to 700 of its residents were murdered. By midnight, Dhaka was literally burning, especially the Hindu dominated eastern part of the city. By midnight, Dhaka was literally burning, especially the Hindu dominated eastern part of the city.

On March 26, 1971, M. A. Hannan, an Awami League leader from Chittagong, is said to have made the first announcement of the declaration of independence over radio,
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman signed an official declaration that read:
Today Bangladesh is a sovereign and independent country. On Thursday night West Pakistani armed forces suddenly attacked the police barracks at Razarbagh and the EPR headquarters at Pilkhana in Dhaka. Many innocent and unarmed have been killed in Dhaka city and other places of Bangladesh. Violent clashes between EPR and Police on the one hand and the armed forces of Pakistan on the other are going on. The Bengalis are fighting the enemy with great courage for an independent Bangladesh. May God aid us in our fight for freedom. Joy Bangla.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
25 March 1971

March 26, 1971 is hence considered the official Independence Day of Bangladesh and the name Bangladesh was in effect thereafter.

The Path to War:
As the spirit of independence set in, the resistance to the occupying forces from West Pakistan increased. Mukti Bahini, the underground resistance organization, which had been fighting for independence of Bangladesh for a long time became increasingly active. The Pakistani military sought to quell them, but increasing numbers of Bengali soldiers defected to the underground "Bangladesh army". These Bengali units slowly merged into the Mukti Bahini and bolstered their weaponry with supplies from India. On 17 April 1971, a provisional government was formed in Meherpur district in western Bangladesh bordering India with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was in prison in Pakistan, as President, Syed Nazrul Islam as Acting President, Tajuddin Ahmed as Prime Minister, and General Muhammad Ataul Ghani Osmani as Commander-in-Chief, Bangladesh Forces.

As the civil war escalated and the resistance to occupation grew, so did the repression by the Pakistan army. Right from the start of Operation Searchlight and all through the Bangladesh Liberation War, there were numerous human rights abuses in Bangladesh carried out by the Pakistan Army. Bangladeshi authorities claim that as many as 3 million people were killed, with 300,000 to 500,000 being a figure quoted by news outlets such as the BBC for the estimated death toll as counted by independent researchers. The Hindu minority (forming around 15% of the population) suffered the most. According to Time magazine report on 2 August 1971, "The Hindus, who account for three-fourths of the refugees and a majority of the dead, have borne the brunt of the Pakistani military hatred." The reprisals and the civil war led to a sea of refugees, estimated to be around 10 million, flooding into the eastern provinces of India. Sympathetic to the Bangladeshi independence cause and facing a mounting humanitarian and economic crisis, India started actively aiding and organising the Bangladeshi resistance through Mukti Bahini. Most of Mukti Bahini’s training camps were situated near the border area in India and were operated with active support from India. Three brigades (11 Battalions) were raised for conventional warfare; a large guerrilla force (estimated at 100,000) was trained. A large part of the training and arms and ammunition was provided by the Indian army. Three brigades (8 infantry battalions and 3 artillery batteries) were put into action between July – September. After receiving sufficient training, guerrilla operations picked up after August. Targets of economic and military importance were attacked in Dhaka and other major cities. A major success was Operation Jackpot, in which naval commandos mined and blew up berthed ships in Chittagong on 16th August 1971. The Pakistani army’s retaliation was also swift and brutal and thousands of civilians were killed.

Between October-December, the attacks by Bangladeshi conventional army as well as the guerrilla attacks intensified as did Pakistani reprisals on civilian populations. 90 out of 370 BOPs fell to Bengali forces. Pakistani forces were reinforced by eight battalions from West Pakistan. The Bangladeshi army managed to temporarily capture airstrips at Lalmonirhat and Shalutikar. Both were used to fly in in supplies and arms from India. Pakistan sent another 5 battalions from West Pakistan as reinforcements.

The War:
 Pakistan had grown increasingly weary of India’s involvement in what it considered its internal civil unrest. Moreover jingoism and anti India sentiments had increased incessantly in Pakistan fuelled by the ruling party and the military. On 3rd December 1971, he Pakistan Air Force (PAF) launched a pre-emptive strike on Indian Air Force bases. The attack was based on the Israeli Air Force's Operation Focus during the Six-Day War, and intended to neutralize the Indian Air Force planes on the ground. This marked the official start of the Indo-Pakistani War. Mrs Indira Gandhi then ordered the immediate mobilization of troops and launched a full scale invasion. This involved Indian forces in a massive coordinated air, sea, and land assault on both the western and eastern borders. Indian Air Force started flying sorties against Pakistan from midnight of 3rd December. The Indian objective was to prevent Pakistani invasion on the western front while making rapid advances on the eastern front and liberating Bangladesh.

INS Vikrant
The Indian navy under the command of Vice Admiral S.N. Kohli, successfully attacked Karachi's port in Operation Trident on the night of 4–5 December. The operation sank Pakistani destroyer PNS Khyber and a minesweeper PNS Muhafiz and PNS Shah Jahan was badly damaged. 720 Pakistani sailors were killed or wounded, and Pakistan lost reserve fuel and many commercial ships, thus crippling the Pakistan Navy's further involvement in the conflict. After Operation Trident, the Indian navy launched Operation Python when it re-attacked Karanchi port on 8-9 December and further destro reserve fuel tanks and the sank three Pakistani merchant ships. On the eastern front, the Indian Eastern Naval Command under Vice Admiral Krishnan, completely isolated East Pakistan through a naval blockade in the Bay of Bengal. This trapped the Eastern Pakistani Navy and eight foreign merchant ships in their ports. From 4th December onwards, the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant was deployed, and its Sea Hawk fighter-bombers attacked many coastal towns in East Pakistan including Chittagong and Cox's Bazaar. Pakistan countered the threat by sending the submarine PNS Ghazi, which sank en route under mysterious circumstances off Vishakapatnam's coast.

After the initial pre-emptive strike, PAF adopted a defensive stance in response to the Indian retaliation. In the east, the small air contingent of Pakistan Air Force No. 14 Sqn was destroyed, putting the Dhaka airfield out of commission and resulting in Indian air superiority in the east. India flew 1,978 sorties in the East and about 4,000 in the West, while PAF flew about 30 and 2,840. Pakistan lost 72 aircraft and about 65 IAF aircraft were lost. But the imbalance in air losses was explained by the IAF's considerably higher sortie rate, and its emphasis on ground-attack missions.

Mukti Bahini Training 
On ground, Pakistan attacked at several places along India's western border with Pakistan, but the Indian army successfully held their positions. The Indian Army quickly responded to the Pakistan Army's movements in the west and made some initial gains, including capturing around 5,500 square miles (14,000 km2) of Pakistan territory (land gained by India in Pakistani Kashmir, Pakistani Punjab and Sindh sectors was later ceded in the Simla Agreement of 1972, as a gesture of goodwill).  On the eastern front, The Indian Army, far superior in numbers and equipment to that of Pakistan, executed a three-pronged pincer movement on Dhaka launched from the Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, and Tripura. The Indian Army joined forces with the Mukti Bahini to form the Mitro Bahini ("Allied Forces"). The Indians quickly overran the country, selectively engaging or bypassing heavily defended strongholds. Pakistani forces were unable to effectively counter the Indian attack, as they had been deployed in small units around the border to counter guerrilla attacks by the Mukti Bahini. Unable to defend Dhaka, the Pakistanis surrendered on 16th December 1971.

On 16 December 1971, Lt. Gen A. A. K. Niazi, CO of Pakistan Army forces located in East Pakistan signed the Instrument of Surrender. Over 93,000 Pakistani troops surrendered to the Indian forces, making it the largest surrender since World War II.

During the war, the Pakistan Army and its local collaborators carried out a systematic execution of the leading Bengali intellectuals. A number of professors from Dhaka University were killed during the first few days of the war. However, the most extreme cases of targeted killing of intellectuals took place during the last few days of the war. Professors, journalists, doctors, artists, engineers, writers were rounded up by Pakistan Army and the Razakar militia in Dhaka, blindfolded, taken to torture cells in Mirpur, Mohammadpur, Nakhalpara, Rajarbagh and other locations in different sections of the city to be executed en masse, most notably at Rayerbazar and Mirpur.

The After-affects:
In Pakistan, the defeat and dismemberment of half the nation was a shocking loss to top military and layman alike. The myth of the Pakistan Army's might was shattered and the leadership stood exposed. Yahya Khan's dictatorship collapsed and gave way to Bhutto who took the opportunity to rise to power.

Bangladesh sought admission into the UN, Most members voting in its favour but China vetoed recognition, as Pakistan was its key ally. However the United States grudgingly recognized it. To ensure a smooth transition, in 1972 the Shimla Agreement was signed between India and Pakistan. The treaty was a watershed in the history of the South Asian region as it ensured that Bangladesh would be officially recognized by Pakistan and its principal allies in exchange for the return of the Pakistani POWs.

Role of Foreign Nations:
USA and China supported Pakistan both materially and politically. The then president of USA, Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger feared that a weakened Pakistan would help Soviet expansion into south and south east Asia and would weaken the regional position of USA’s new ally, China. During the civil war and the Indo-Pakistan war, Nixon sent military supplies to Pakistan and routed them through Jordan and Iran and also encouraged China to increase its arms supplies to Pakistan. In recent years, Kissinger has come under fire for private comments he made to Nixon during the Bangladesh-Pakistan War in which he described  Indira Gandhi as a " bitch" and a "witch". He also said "The Indians are bastards," shortly before the war.

The Soviets, recognizing that the independence of Bangladesh would weaken both United States and China in south Asia, supported India and Mukti Bahini during the war. The support to India was penned in a treaty signed in August 1971. When Pakistan's defeat seemed certain, Nixon sent the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal, a move deemed by the Indians as a nuclear threat. Enterprise arrived on station on 11 December 1971. On 6th and 13th December, the Soviet Navy dispatched two groups of ships, armed with nuclear missiles, from Vladivostok; they trailed U.S. Task Force 74 in the Indian Ocean from 18th December until 7th of January 1972. The Soviets also sent a nuclear submarine to counter the threat posed by USS Enterprise in the Indian Ocean.

At the end of the war, the Warsaw Pact countries were among the first to recognize Bangladesh. The Soviet Union accorded recognition to Bangladesh on 25th January 1972. The United States delayed recognition for some months, before according it on 8 April 1972.

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