Bangladesh Liberation War

conflict that led to the independence of the majority-Bengali country
(Redirected from Bangladesh Liberation war)

The Bangladesh Liberation War (Bengali: মুক্তিযুদ্ধ Muktijuddho), also known as the Bangladesh War of Independence, or simply the Liberation War in Bangladesh, was a revolution and armed conflict sparked by the rise of the Bengali nationalist and self-determination movement in what was then East Pakistan and the 1971 Bangladesh genocide. It resulted in the independence of the People's Republic of Bangladesh. The war began after the Pakistani military junta based in West Pakistan launched Operation Searchlight against the people of East Pakistan on the night of 25 March 1971. It pursued the systematic elimination of nationalist Bengali civilians, students, intelligentsia, religious minorities and armed personnel. The junta annulled the results of the 1970 elections and arrested Prime minister-designate Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The war ended on 16 December 1971 after West Pakistani forces surrendered in East Bengal or Bangladesh.


  • As its most important international backer, the United States had great influence over Pakistan. But at almost every turning point in the crisis, Nixon and Kissinger failed to use that leverage to avert disaster. Before the shooting started, they consciously decided not to warn Pakistan’s military chiefs against using violence on their own population. They did not urge caution or impose conditions that might have discouraged the Pakistani military government from butchering its own citizenry. They did not threaten the loss of U.S. support or even sanctions if Pakistan took the wrong course. They allowed the army to sweep aside the results of Pakistan’s first truly free and fair democratic election, without even suggesting that the military strongmen try to work out a power-sharing deal with the Bengali leadership that had won the vote. They did not ask that Pakistan refrain from using U.S. weaponry to slaughter civilians, even though that could have impeded the military’s rampage, and might have deterred the army. There was no public condemnation—nor even a private threat of it—from the president, the secretary of state, or other senior officials. The administration almost entirely contented itself with making gentle, token suggestions behind closed doors that Pakistan might lessen its brutality—and even that only after, months into the violence, it became clear that India was on the brink of attacking Pakistan.
    • quoted in Bass, G. J. (2014). The Blood telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a forgotten genocide.
  • It was Biblical,” remembers Sydney Schanberg, who reported on the refugees for the New York Times. Schanberg, steeped in the worst horrors of war from Vietnam and Cambodia, goes quiet at the memory of the desperate millions who fled into India. “You don’t tune out,” he says, “but there’s a numbness. Either that or you feel like crying. There was a tremendous loss of life on those treks out.” He remembers, “Their bodies have adjusted to those germs in their water, but suddenly they’re drinking different water with different germs. Suddenly they’ve got cholera. People were dying all around us. You’d see that someone had left a body on the side of the road, wrapped in pieces of bamboo, and there’d be a vulture trying to get inside to eat the body. You would come into a schoolyard, and a mother was losing her child. He was in her lap. He coughed and coughed and then died.” He pauses and composes himself. “They went through holy hell and back.”
    Major General Jacob-Farj-Rafael Jacob, the gruff, battle-hardened chief of staff of the Indian army’s Eastern Command, went to the border to watch the refugees streaming in. “It was terrible, pathetic,” he recalls. The displaced throngs inescapably called to mind nightmare memories of Partition in 1947, not so long before. “It’s a terrible human agony,” says Jaswant Singh, a former Indian foreign minister. “It was as if we were reliving the Partition.”
    • quoted in Bass, G. J. (2014). The Blood telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a forgotten genocide.
  • Swaran Singh, the ordinarily unflappable foreign minister, indignantly told his diplomats, “Artillery, tanks, automatic weapons, mortars, aeroplanes, everything which is normally used against invading armed forces, were utilised and very large-scale killings took place; selective killings of individuals, acts of molestation and rape against the university students, girls, picking out the Awami League leaders, their supporters and later on especially concentrating on the localities in which Hindus predominated.” P. N. Haksar anxiously wrote that “our people have been deeply stirred by the carnage in East Bengal. Government of India have endeavoured to contain the emotions which have been aroused in our country, but we find it increasingly difficult to do this because of the systematic effort on the part of Pakistan to force millions of people to leave their hearths and homes taking shelter in our territory.”5
    • quoted in Bass, G. J. (2014). The Blood telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a forgotten genocide.
  • The Indian government, from Indira Gandhi on down, worked hard to hide an ugly reality from its own people: by an official reckoning, as many as 90 percent of the refugees were Hindus. This skew was the inevitable consequence of Pakistani targeting of Hindus in East Pakistan—what Archer Blood and his staffers had condemned as genocide. The population of East Pakistan was only 16 or 17 percent Hindu, but this minority comprised the overwhelming bulk of the refugees. India secretly recorded that by the middle of June, there were some 5,330,000 Hindus, as against 443,000 Muslims and 150,000 from other groups. Many Indian diplomats believed that the Hindus would be too afraid ever to go back...
    But the Indian government assiduously hid this stark fact from Indians. “In India we have tried to cover that up,” Swaran Singh candidly told a meeting of Indian diplomats in London, “but we have no hesitation in stating the figure to foreigners.” (Sydney Schanberg and John Kenneth Galbraith, the Kennedy administration’s ambassador to India, separately highlighted the fact in the New York Times.) Singh instructed his staff to distort for their country: “We should avoid making this into an Indo-Pakistan or Hindu[-]Muslim conflict. We should point out that there are Buddhists and Christians besides the Muslims among the refugees, who had felt the brunt of repression.” In a major speech, Gandhi misleadingly described refugees of “every religious persuasion—Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Christian.”...
    The Indian government feared that the plain truth would splinter its own country between Hindus and Muslims... And Indian officials did not want to provide further ammunition to the irate Hindu nationalists in the Jana Sangh party. From Moscow, D. P. Dhar, India’s ambassador there, decried the Pakistan army’s “preplanned policy of selecting Hindus for butchery,” but, fearing inflammatory politicking from “rightist reactionary Hindu chauvinist parties like Jana Sangh,” he wrote, “We were doing our best not to allow this aspect of the matter to be publicised in India.” ... Rather than basing this accusation primarily on the victimization of Hindus, India tended to focus on the decimation of the Bengalis as a group.
    • quoted in Bass, G. J. (2014). The Blood telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a forgotten genocide.
  • But when Yahya’s government allowed a World Bank team of seasoned development specialists to tour East Pakistan, their secret report found an “all-pervasive fear.” The infrastructure was devastated, largely because of army campaigns in the big cities and towns. “In all cities visited there are areas that have been razed; and in all districts visited there are villages which have simply ceased to exist.” There were ongoing military strikes, which, even when targeting “Awami Leaguers, students or Hindus,” frightened the whole population. There was a “trail of devastation running from Khulna to Jessore to Kushtia to Pabna, Bogra, Rangpur and Dinajpur.”
    • quoted in Bass, G. J. (2014). The Blood telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a forgotten genocide.
  • Michael Walzer, probably the most distinguished philosopher of justice in war, repeatedly points to India’s Bangladesh war as a canonical example of a justifiable humanitarian intervention, in a radical emergency when there was no other plausible way to save innocent human lives.
    • Bass, G. J. (2014). The Blood telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a forgotten genocide. Epilogue
  • Just as in Egypt, the rise of Islam as a political force and a social trend in Pakistan was not the result of one moment, or even the work of one person—it was a slow build that came in waves and ebbed and flowed. It was sometimes bolstered by weak leaders who used the Islamists to shore up their own legitimacy, like Sadat in Egypt, or even secular, socialist Bhutto, who first introduced the ban on alcohol and instituted Friday as the weekly holiday instead of Sunday. In both Egypt and Pakistan, leaders used religion as a balm after the national trauma of a military defeat. For Pakistan it was the 1971 loss of East Pakistan, today’s Bangladesh. And just as in Egypt before the assassination of Sadat, the relentless work of Islamists in Pakistan had not yet delivered a sea change—they toiled on the margins, and they converted people to their cause one by one. Even when Zia spoke, in the spring of 1978, about his mission to purify the country, Pakistani society was far from being gripped by Islamic fervor. For this to happen it required the incredibly powerful, violent, and moneyed convergence of a number of people and events: Mawdudi’s groundwork over decades, Zia’s rise to power and brutal rule, but also the generous support of Saudi Arabia.
    • Kim Ghattas, Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East (2020)
  • Victory in the Liberation War of Bangladesh was possible without the help of the Indian Army. It might have taken more than one or two years. Because the war of Bangladesh was a war of independence of a nation. If any war is for freedom, then it is not possible to stop that war in any way.
  • Maj. Sahrawat seconds this. ‘Only then did we understand why Col Harolikar had insisted on a khukri attack. It instilled abject fear in the enemy and also cut our casualties in the next battle: our attack on the Sagarnal tea estate. When the Pakistanis heard that the Gorkhas were coming, they fled, leaving their posts unoccupied. If it was not war, it would have counted as a comical scene where we were mounting an assault and they were running away instead of putting up a defence. Their will to fight had been completely broken by the Battle of Atgram. We just went and occupied their posts without any resistance,"’ he remembers.
    • 1971: Charge of the Gorkhas and Other Stories. Rachna Bisht Rawat. Penguin. Pages 200.
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