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Bangladesh war

Published : May 06, 2011 00:00 IST

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Two accounts of events of that time from declassified documents.

WARS spawn myths. They are very difficult to explode for two good reasons. The states hold the secrets, and even scholars and the media turn self-righteous chauvinists. Indira Gandhi was not forced by the refugee influx to march into East Pakistan. She had decided on it from the very outset on April 6, 1971, almost nine months before the war in December 1971, as A.K. Ray, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, revealed. The then Army Chief, General Sam Manekshaw, substantially confirmed this at a public meeting on November 16, 1977. He wisely asked for time to prepare.

Nor was the war triggered by President Yahya Khan's aerial attacks on India on December 3. As B.K. Nehru revealed in his memoirs, citing disclosures to him by the Army Commander, India was all set to go to war on December 4 anyway ( Nice Guys Finish Second, page 491). In truth, the war began on November 21 when an Indian armour moved into East Pakistan. India's war aims were not confined to the break-up of Pakistan. All previous post-war accords, whether in 1949 or at Tashkent in 1966, were limited to the restoration of the status quo ante bellum. Why then was Kashmir the core of the Shimla Pact in July 1972? Hitherto, Pakistan had insisted on a Kashmir settlement before other disputes were tackled. In 1972, it was India which insisted on a Kashmir settlement, on its terms of course freeze the status quo.

When B.Z. Khasru's book was published last September, the media went wild with statements that the book showed that India intended also to acquire Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir during the war and balkanise West Pakistan. As a matter of record, Anuj Dhar's book CIA's Eye on South Asia had documents based on a Central Intelligence Agency mole's pillow chats with a girlfriend in the United States Embassy. He was a senior Cabinet Minister, and Indira Gandhi was ever ready to forgive human lapses. Read this: Prime Minister Gandhi told her Cabinet on December 6 that before accepting a U.N. call for a ceasefire there were three objectives that would have to be achieved: to guarantee the establishment of Bangladesh; to liberate the southern part of Azad Kashmir; and to destroy Pakistan's armour and air forces.

The mole's name was deleted when the CIA papers were published, officially. Did she omit the Northern Areas of Kashmir to avoid trouble with China?

Khasru's book goes much further. He has perused the declassified documents and has narrated the story for the reader in readable prose. It is more than a record of international diplomacy. It provides good insights into Sheikh Mujibur Rehman's mind before the army crackdown. He accepted a united Pakistan in which power would be shared between the two wings. On March 3, 1971, Mujib told an Associated Press correspondent in Dhaka that he was willing to share power with Bhutto, each to serve as Prime Minister in his region, to keep Pakistan together,' according to the U.S. Intelligence Bulletin, Indo-Pakistani Crisis: Chronology of Events. Khasru cites other bits of evidence as well. No student of history can afford to ignore this book. It provides photostats of some important documents.

Syed Shahid Husain, a former civil servant who practises law, provides a Pakistani perspective on the basis of his experience in East Pakistan from 1966 until December 1971 and his research. He is honest to the core. Pakistanis accuse Mujib of being a traitor' but he cannot be blamed because his only crime was to win elections. India too cannot be blamed because the crisis was of Pakistan's own making (page 107).

He wrongly exonerates Z.A. Bhutto for creating that very crisis. There is a whole chapter on Nixon's malevolence toward India. The author has consulted declassified documents to write an able work.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated May 06, 2011.)

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