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Bangladesh Liberation War
The Bangladesh Liberation War (two other names are also used occasionally) refers to an approximately nine month long armed conflict between current day Pakistan and Bangladesh. The war resulted in independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan.
Brief overview and figures
- Location: Bangladesh
- Directly involved parties: Bangladesh Mukti Bahini (composed of Bangladesh Army and guerilla groups), Indian Army (formally, after 3 December 1971) and Pakistan Army
- Duration: 26 March 1971 - 16 December 1971
- Casualties: 3 million (official quote from Bangladesh Government and National Geographic)
- Closely associated conflicts: Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 (3 December 1971 - 16 December 1971)
- Result: Independence of Bangladesh
- Number of Prisoners of War: 93,000
Reasons for war
Years before the war
During Partition of India, Pakistan, as a country, gained independence on 14 August, 1947 following the end of British rule over the subcontinent. The division was made based on religious variation. Pakistan was created out of Muslim majority territories in the West and East and India was created out of the vast Hindu majority regions in the centre. The Western zone was popularly (and for a period of time, also officially) called West Pakistan and the Eastern zone (current day Bangladesh) was called East Bengal and later, East Pakistan. The capital of Pakistan was established in Karachi in West Pakistan and then moved to Islamabad in 1958.
West Pakistan (consisting of four provinces: Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and North-West Frontier Province) dominated over the East. Although East was more populous, there was a clear under-spending in the region.
|Year||Spending on West Pakistan (in crore Rupees)||Spending on East Pakistan (in crore Rupees)||Percentage Spent on East|
|Source: Reports of the Advisory Panels for the Fourth Five Year Plan 1970-75, Vol. I, published by the Planning commission of Pakistan|
Between 1948 and 1960, East Pakistan's export earnings had been 70% while it only received 25% of import earning. In 1948 (shortly after independence from Britain), East Pakistan had 11 textile mills while West had 9. In 1971, the number of textile mills in the West had grown to 150 while that in the East had only gone up to 26. A transfer of 2.6 billion dollars (in 1971 exchange rates) worth resources was also done over time from East Pakistan to West Pakistan.
Difference in religious standpoints
One of the key issue was the extent to which Islam was followed. West Pakistan with an overwhelming 97% Muslim population was less liberal (in religious terms) than East Pakistan which was at least 15% non-Muslim (mainly Hindus). The difference was made further clear after Bangladeshi independence, when Bangladesh was established as a secular country favouring the name People's Republic of Bangladesh over Islamic Republic of Bangladesh.
Other factors including language
Close ties existed between West Bengal, one of the Indian states bordering Bangladesh, and East Pakistan as both were composed mostly of Bengalis. West Pakistan viewed East Pakistani links with India unfavourably as relations between India and Pakistan had been very poor since independence.
At one point, an attempt was made to make Urdu, a language that was only spoken in West, the only official language for all of Pakistan, when Bangla was spoken by a majority of people. East Pakistan revolted and several students and civilians lost their lives. The day is revered in Bangladesh and in West Bengal as the Language Martyrs' Day. Bitter feelings among East Pakistanis never ceased to grow, especially with repeated arrivals of military rulers.
The political prelude to the war included several factors. 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). These military rulers were of West Pakistani origin and continued to favour West Pakistan in terms of economic advantages.
The situation reached a climax when in 1970 the Awami League, the largest East Pakistani political party, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won a landslide victory in the national elections winning 167 of the 169 seats allotted for East Pakistan, and a majority of the 313 total seats in the National Assembly. This gave the Awami League the right to form a government. However, leader of People's Party of Pakistan , Zulfikar Ali Bhutto refused to allow Rahman to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Instead, he proposed a notion of two Prime Ministers. Bhutto also refused to accept Rahmans' Six Points . On 3 March 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.
Military preparation in West Pakistan
General Tikka Khan was flown in to Dhaka to become Governor of East Bengal. East-Pakistani judges, including Justice Siddique, refused to swear him in.
MV Swat, a ship of Pakistan Navy, carrying ammunition and soldiers, was harboured in Chittagong Port and the Bengali workers and sailors at the port refused to unload the ship. A unit of East Pakistan Rifles refused to obey commands to fire on Bengali demonstrators, beginning a mutiny of Bengali soldiers.
Between 10-13 March, Pakistan International Airlines cancelled all their international routes to urgently fly "Government Passengers" to Dhaka. These so-called "Government Passengers" were almost exclusively Pakistani soldiers in civil uniform.
Bangobondhu's speech of 7 March
On March 7 1971, Bangobondhu (Sheikh Mujibur Rahman) gave a speech at the Racecourse Ground (now called Ramna Park). In this speech he mentioned a further four-point condition to consider the National Assembly Meeting on March 25 :
- The immediate withdrawal of the martial law.
- Immediate withdrawal of all military personnel to their barracks.
- An inquiry into the loss of life.
- Immediate transfer of power to the elected representative of the people before the assembly meeting March 25.
He urged "his people" to turn every house into a fort of resistance. He closed his speech saying, "The struggle this time is for our freedom. The struggle this time is for our independence."
Violence of 25 March
On the night of 25 March, Pakistan Army began a violent effort to suppress the Bengali opposition. In Bangladesh, and elsewhere, the Pakistani actions are referred to as genocide. Before carrying out these acts, all foreign journalists were systematically deported from Bangladesh. Bengali members of military services were disarmed. The operation was called Operation Searchlight by Pakistani Army and was carefully devised by several top-ranked army generals to "crush" Bengalis.
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. Hindu areas all over Bangladesh suffered particularly heavy blows. By midnight, Dhaka was literally burning, especially the hindu dominated eastern part of the city. Time magazine reported on August 2, 1971, "The Hindus, who account for three-fourths of the refugees and a majority of the dead, have borne the brunt of the Muslim military hatred."
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was considered dangerous and, hence, arrested by Pakistan Army. Awami League was banned by General Yahya Khan. Some other Awami League leaders were arrested as well, while few escaped Dhaka to avoid arrest.
Declaration of independence
Soon after the beginning of the military crackdown in Dhaka on 25 March, M A Hannan made the first declaration of independence over radio. However, this was not heard by many.
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
(Source: "The History of the Liberation Movement in Bangladesh" by J. S. Gupta)
A telegram reached some students in Chittagong. They realized the message could be broadcast from Agrabad Station of Radio Pakistan . The message was translated to Bangla by Dr Manjula Anwar . They failed to secure permission from higher authorities to broadcast the message. They crossed Kalurghat Bridge into an area controlled by East Bengal Regiment under Major Ziaur Rahman. Bengali soldiers guarded the station as engineers prepared for transmission. At 19:45 on 26 March 1971, Major Ziaur Rahman broadcast the following message which is considered the official declaration of independence.
- This is Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendro. I, Major Ziaur Rahman, at the direction of Bangobondhu Mujibur Rahman, hereby declare that the independent People's Republic of Bangladesh has been established. At his direction, I have taken command as the temporary Head of the Republic. In the name of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, I call upon all Bengalis to rise against the attack by the West Pakistani Army. We shall fight to the last to free our Motherland. By the grace of Allah, victory is ours. Joy Bangla.
Kalurghat Radio Station's transmission capability was limited. The message was picked up by a Japanese ship in Bay of Bengal and then re-transmitted by Radio Australia and later the British Broadcasting Corporation.
26 March 1971 is hence considered the official Independence Day and according to all Bangladeshi sources, the name Bangladesh was in effect henceforth. Certain sources, especially of Indian and Pakistani origin, continue to call Bangladesh, East Pakistan until 16 December.
The main War
Formation of Mukti Bahini
Formation of the First Republic
USA and USSR
The United States was a major ally of Pakistan, and hence it supported Pakistan in the genocide. Nixon denied getting involved in the situation, saying that it was an internal matter of Pakistan. When Pakistan's defeat seemed certain, President Nixon sent the USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal and threatened India with a nuclear strike.
Several documents released from the Nixon Presidential Archives show the extent of the tilt that the Nixon Adminstration demonstrated in favor of Pakistan. Among them, the infamous Blood telegram from the US embassy in Dacca, East Pakistan stated the horrors of genocide taking place in East Pakistan.
The Soviet Union had sympathized with the Bangladeshis, and supported The Indian Army and Mukti Bahini during the war. It gave assurance to India that if a confrontration with United States evolved, the USSR would provide all necessary support to India.
End of War
Reaction in West Pakistan to the War
Three names are frequently used to refer to the exact same warfare.
Pakistani Civil War
This name is mainly used by current day Pakistan Army and by certain unofficial Indian sources. The name describes either the period 26 March 1971 - 16 December 1971 or the period 26 March 1971 - 03 December 1971. The main issue arises from the validity of the declaration of independence on 26 March. This is entirely a matter of political technicality.
There is a certain logic used by proponents of this nomenclature. According to them no country accepted Bangladesh's independence declaration and hence the region contemplated continued to be East Pakistan. So, the war was a civil war in effect.
This name is used by armies of all three countries to describe the period between 03 December 1971 and 16 December 1971. Indian Army does not explicitly use the term to describe the war in their (India's) Eastern Front at any point. Instead, India only refers to the war on the Western Front as the Indo-Pakistani War. (Note that Indian Parliament recognized the People's Republic of Bangladesh as an independent country on the 6 December 1971.) There is no verifiable definite claim from the Pakistan Army or Government. Bangladesh clearly uses only the terminology Liberation War of Bangladesh for the war on Bangladeshi territory.
The proponents of this terminology also question validity of declaration of independence of Bangladesh since there was no foreign government that acknowledged the independence. So, according to them, the war was effectively between Indian Army and Pakistan Army.
Liberation War of Bangladesh
This terminology is officially used in Bangladesh by all sources and by Indian official sources. The proponents claim that having won 167 out of 169 seats of East Pakistan, Awami League had people's mandate to form a democratic government. This gave Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the leader of the party the right to declare independence of the country. Since Major Ziaur Rahman claimed status of the temporary Head of the Republic, a Bangladesh government was in existence as early as 26 March 1971. Hence Bangladesh was in existence. There was also a Bangladesh Army which effectively meant the war was not between India and Pakistan but between Pakistan and Bangladesh backed by India.
The terminology is politically preferred by both India and Bangladesh for a few reasons.
- It gave India the right to enter the war in support of Bangladesh without breaching United Nations laws that prevent countries from interfering with other countries' internal affairs.
- Members of East Pakistan Regiment were able to fight Pakistan Army without being treated as mutineers since they were fighting under command of a Bangladeshi Government.
- It made Indian diplomatic efforts to gain support for acceptance of Bangladesh as a country easier.
Four categories of gallantry awards were created after the war to honour those who had demonstrated outstanding bravery in the war. These were: Bir Sreshtho, Bir Uttom , Bir Bikrom , and Bir Protik . Seven soldiers were awarded the ultimate award for gallantry, Bir Sresttho. All seven had given their lives in the war. They were:
- Ruhul Amin
- Jahangir, Mohiuddin (Captain)
- Kamal, Mostafa (Sepoy)
- Rahman, Hamidur (Sepoy)
- Rahman Matiur (Flight Lieutenant)
- Rouf, Munshi Abdur (Naik)
- Sheikh, Nur Mohammad (Lance Naik)
Current day influence of the War
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