The birth of Bangladesh

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011 12:30:09 by


I found it strange that no group or organisation in India celebrated the fortieth year of Bangladesh’s independence. I consider this odd because India was an active participant in the war that created Bangladesh. I recall that the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was angry over the stream of people pouring into India from East Pakistan but did not know how to stop the exodus. “Thank God, Pakistan has attacked”, she told West Bengal’s chief minister when General Yahya Khan ordered his air force to bombard the Pathankot aerodrome.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has done well in inviting to Dhaka those Indians whom she thinks have helped Bangladesh win its freedom. However, some official ceremony in India would also have been in order to recall the sacrifices of hundreds of jawans and officers. This is needed all the more because Hasina’s likes and dislikes are not on merit but on her subjective assessment. The criterion for selection should have been people’s role in Bangladesh’s freedom movement, not how Hasina feels about them.

Yet her attitude, however whimsical, is understandable, unlike that of Pakistan. It refuses to apologise for the atrocities its army had committed, especially those committed 48 hours before the surrender. Islamabad is justifiably indignant over the killing of its soldiers by Nato forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan has gone to the extent of asking the Americans to leave the airbase they were using to send drones. The US-Pakistan relationship is in a mess because Washington refuses to apologise for the killing of around two dozen soldiers. How does Islamabad explain the contradictory stand, one on Bangladesh and the other on the attack by Nato forces?

Cases against those who opposed the liberation struggle or committed crimes during that time are justified. Hasina has done well to set up a tribunal to try such people. Yet, maintaining objectivity is most important and such cases should not be used to settle personal scores or to victimise political opponents.

Yet whatever Hasina’s lapses, it is great to remember the finest hour of Bangladesh — when it won freedom. That the two wings of Pakistan had very little to share became more and more evident as days went by. For every ill they suffered, Pakistan blamed the west, which in turn developed the feeling that whatever good it might do for the east would remain unacknowledged. General Ayub Khan, then heading Pakistan, said in an interview to me: “I would have told East Bengal in 1962, when a new Constitution was introduced, that if they wanted to go they could do so. It was no use keeping them if they did not want to remain with us.”

This attitude of the West Pakistanis apart, the Pakistanis also felt the geographical distance to the full when, during the 1965 India-Pakistan war, the east was completely cut off. Partly to exploit the feeling of alienation and partly to keep the theatre of war as restricted as possible, India did not attack East Pakistan in 1965.

After the hostilities ended, when the All-Pakistan National Conference met in February 1966 at Lahore, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman spoke of what he said had been the “neglect of East Pakistan”. This was the meeting where he presented his six-point formula, which became the basis for a national struggle.

Tajuddin Ahmad, Bangladesh’s first prime minister, told me at Dhaka that the six-point programme was the “beginning” and “we knew we would become independent one day”.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 20th, 2011.

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