1971 – A GLOBAL HISTORY OF THE CREATION OF BANGLADESH
Shahriar Feroze reviews a book which portrays the stellar international cast that shaped the origins and outcome of our struggle for freedom…
IF an author had spent some 74 pages out of a 358 page book on preparing the list of notes, bibliography and acknowledgements, then he must have done some form of serious research. Yes, Srinath Raghavan has done a commendable task by writing 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh. May not be for the first time, but to understand the emergence of Bangladesh through a wider international context never appeared so cohesive and systematically organised. However, 1971 is a narrative about the most significant geopolitical event of the Indian subcontinent since the partition in 1947.
Beginning with a couple of chapters on the historical background of animosity, discrimination and socio-political and economical conditions between the two wings of Pakistan, the writer, from his viewpoint opined – why the creation of Bangladesh was not ‘predestined’ and more of a product of a combination of events and contingency. Whatsoever, his book, though praiseworthy a task, cannot be taken as a final geopolitical analysis. Why, because if you cautiously follow the course of actions that resulted in the creation of the two wings of Pakistan, then flaws and prejudices while drawing its boundaries are starkly noticeable. Culture to food; language to traditions; politics to mannerisms almost nothing except a common religion had only tied the two wings. If it was the religious knot that only mattered, that too was practiced from separate socio-cultural norms. After more than 6 decades it appears that the creation of Pakistan was meant with the intention to collapse – it was only a matter of time. Nevertheless, your choice to agree or disagree with this reviewer is always open.
It’s mainly the geopolitical events related to our liberation war that appeared as the absorbing feature of the book. To be precise, chapters 4 to 9: India’s contribution and role from the very beginning of the military crackdown in East Pakistan, international response to the crackdown; geopolitical strategies played by Soviet, American and Chinese governments, and Pakistani military junta’s repeated failures to justify their heinous acts clearly outlined how the breakup of Pakistan had become a defining moment in shifting of geopolitical strengths. Spellbinding was to follow how Nixon and Kissinger dealt with the Bangladesh cause. Not only had the White House pathetically failed to deal with the breakup of Pakistan, but lacked both vision and strength to gauge the reality in Pakistan. While reading, the US leadership seemed to act out of sheer anti-Indian sentiments instead of well timed and realpolitik lines of action. More Nixon depended on Yahya the more erratic Yahya had grown.
Like facts it’s also a book about decoding myths. The author explained facts behind the Cold War equations, which eventually led the Soviets to form a military pact with India. As explained in the book, the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation did not have an easy birth. Raghavan tells that, it was initially proposed by the Russians in 1969 in order to strengthen their position against the increasing Chinese influence. And the Indian interest was because it wanted to prevent a Soviet entente with Pakistan, but mounting unrest in the then East Pakistan , one way or the other favored India to ink the deal with the former USSR.
Apart from geopolitical events the book is also the tale of India’s relentless diplomatic efforts worldwide encompassing our Liberation War. In particular, chapter 6 called POSTER CHILD AND PARIAH details the global reactions to Anthony Mascarenhas’s first-hand bold reporting of genocide events that had garnered substantial amounts of print and air media coverage in the west. This is supplemented by how international concern for the Bangladesh cause was mobilized by various international humanitarian organizations and how their persistent campaign climaxed till the end of war and of course the concert for Bangladesh story.
What could have been more detailed and organized in the book, is the functions and diplomatic initiatives bestowed on the Mujibnagar government in exile, though bits and pieces about the activities and some key functionaries of the Mujibnagar government is presented in a scattered manner. Also, on the subject of Indian military operations in the east, the author re-defined Indian goals to be modest and had commented that ‘capturing just a certain part of East Pakistani territory was the actual Indian plan in order to create a nascent Bangladesh government. A complete victory was never in the mind of the Indian top brass.’ This is difficult to agree with and rather confusing since Mujibnagar cabinet was formed well within a part of the then East Pakistan long before the Indians had officially declared war on Pakistan. Additionally, it appears impractical to liberate a country partially while helping its freedom fighters to gain independence.
In general Raghavan, by his 1971 has attempted to portray how decolonization, the Cold War and an embryonic globalization interacted as well as intersected with the South Asian crisis in certain ways that were far from predictable. Interestingly, in the end he also stated how the 1971 crisis has a contemporary resonance well beyond the maps of South Asia. Why is it a precursor of the recent conflicts taking place in the Balkans, Africa and the Middle East? This not only makes the story of Bangladesh more accurate but also leads to a new interpretation of our Liberation War in 1971.
However, the fact is, Bangladesh came into reality by waging a full-fledged war against Pakistan. So the room for branding our Liberation War, as an Indo-Pak conflict is not only a crime but an attempt to establish distorted history. Circumstances and military provocations forced India to declare its own war against Pakistan, and that too came at a very later stage. Since the origins behind the 1971 conflict has no direct relation between India and Pakistan so the question ‘why India hadn’t militarily intervened earlier?’ also seems rather weak.
Based on materials collected from the archives of some seven countries and innumerable declassified references Srinath Raghavan has exposed an untold global side of Bangladesh’s struggle for freedom. Most of these archival materials have been made available only recently, such as the papers of the Ministry of External Affairs at the National Archives, the papers of policy makers such as P.N. Haksar, R.K. Nehru, T.N. Kaul, T.T. Krishnamachari and Jayaprakash Narayan at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. Not clear, why Raghavn hadn’t used much reference from books, records and archives in Bangladesh.
The writer is Current Affairs Analyst
DECEMBER 15, 2014