A Game of Spite

Southasia - - COMMENT -

Bangladesh pre­sented a Lib­er­a­tion War Award to In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi on June 7, 2015. He re­ceived the award on be­half of for­mer In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee who is sup­posed to have played a key role in the ‘lib­er­a­tion’ war that cer­tain el­e­ments in the for­mer East Pak­istan waged to break away from Pak­istan and form Bangladesh. Va­j­payee had made a speech in the In­dian par­lia­ment on De­cem­ber 6, 1971, in which he had said that the friend­ship be­tween In­dia and Bangladesh was like a bond which would not break un­der any pres­sure or be­come a vic­tim of diplo­macy. This was in the back­drop of the then In­dian prime min­is­ter Indira Gandhi deny­ing all along that her coun­try had any role to play in the break-up of Pak­istan and the for­ma­tion of Bangladesh.

It is true that the Ben­gali pop­u­la­tion of East Pak­istan had de­vel­oped a high level of dis­con­tent against the man­ner in which Pak­istan’s cen­tral gov­ern­ment and the army was treat­ing the eastern wing. Both were, con­se­quently, ac­cused by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity of deal­ing with the pop­u­la­tion of East Pak­istan with ob­vi­ous dis­crim­i­na­tion and of not giv­ing them their due rights. A ma­jor in­stance of this was that while Sheikh Mu­jibur Rehman, who was the head of the Awami League, had led a win that amounted to the high­est num­ber of seats in the Pak­istan elec­tions in 1971 and had been de­clared as the fu­ture prime min­is­ter of Pak­istan by Pres­i­dent Yahya Khan, he was still de­nied the PM’s post by the lead­ing West Pak­istani politi­cians, in­clud­ing ZA Bhutto. This un­even at­ti­tude to­wards East Pak­istan and to­wards the demo­crat­i­cally-elected lead­er­ship of the Awami League was con­ve­niently ex­ploited by the anti-Pak­istan el­e­ments in the eastern wing as well as the In­dian lead­er­ship. The fire of an­tag­o­nism against West Pak­istan was thor­oughly stoked by In­dia as it har­boured some kind of hid­den an­i­mos­ity to­wards Pak­istan. The re­sul­tant mass frus­tra­tion of the East Pak­ista­nis and their re­sis­tance move­ment turned into a reg­u­lar war, with In­dia fully and prop­erly in­vad­ing East Pak­istan and help­ing the Mukti Bahini, the lib­er­a­tion army of Bangladesh, to break the eastern wing away. It be­came a sit­u­a­tion on which the In­dian gov­ern­ment and lead­er­ship ea­gerly pounced and en­cour­aged anti-Pak­istan el­e­ments to speed up the for­ma­tion of Bangladesh. In­dia was di­rectly as­sisted in its evil de­signs by the Soviet Union while the United States of Amer­ica, though be­ing a de­fence ally of Pak­istan that was sup­posed to send its forces to help the coun­try in its hour of need, al­lowed the in­va­sion to pro­ceed and Bangladesh to be formed. The US just parked its 7th Fleet at a safe dis­tance in the In­dian Ocean and watched the war from afar.

If the Bangladesh gov­ern­ment to­day ac­knowl­edges the role played by AB Va­j­payee and his com­pa­tri­ots in the so-called ‘lib­er­a­tion’ strug­gle of East Pak­istan and the Ben­gali pop­u­la­tion rec­og­nizes them ac­cord­ingly, it is for good rea­son. No mat­ter how ve­he­mently the In­di­ans may deny that they had any role to play in break­ing up Pak­istan, the very ac­knowl­edge­ment of In­dian hos­til­ity against Pak­istan by the Bangladeshi pres­i­dent and prime min­is­ter is proof of who was aid­ing and abet­ting whom in the sub­con­ti­nent in De­cem­ber 1971. The pre­sen­ta­tion of the so-called ‘lib­er­a­tion’ award to Va­j­payee comes at a time when Pak­istan and China have con­cluded an agree­ment on the build­ing of an eco­nomic cor­ri­dor and the In­dian gov­ern­ment has loudly ex­pressed its rejection of the whole process. The lib­er­a­tion award fur­ther demon­strates that Bangladesh and In­dia deem them­selves as be­ing very close.The peo­ple of Bangladesh are al­ways highly obliged to In­dia for giv­ing them a na­tion of their own. For In­dia, de­mon­strat­ing close­ness to a large na­tion like Bangladesh pro­vides a con­ve­nient counter-poise against the China-Pak­istan equa­tion. In­dia plays the role of Big Brother to BD and is quite happy to throw its weight be­hind the third largest coun­try in South Asia. It is a friend­ship that may not have the same game-chang­ing pro­file as the China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor but it does serve to cre­ate a large block of pop­u­la­tion (that of In­dia and Bangladesh com­bined) and a col­lec­tive mil­i­tary force that could of­fer con­sid­er­able re­sis­tance to the suc­cess of any pro­ject or projects in the neigh­bour­hood. At the same time, while Bangladesh plays cricket with Pak­istan, it is ob­vi­ous that it does not have the bile to tol­er­ate any other game that its for­mer par­ent coun­try may play in the re­gion – and it finds many op­por­tu­ni­ties to spite it.

Syed Jawaid Iqbal

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