Sunday, September 4, 2011

BANGLADESH: Recognizing Reality

Bangladesh is gaining recognition. Last week Britain, West Germany and ten other Western states formally recognized the new nation, bringing to 29 the number of countries that have established diplomatic relations with the government of Sheik Mujibur Rahman. Britain's decision, Foreign Secretary Sir Alec Douglas-Home told the House of Commons shortly before he left for a visit to India, "recognized the reality of what has happened in the area over the past month, and will be the beginning for us of a new era of friendship and cooperation with all the countries of the subcontinent."

Recognition by Britain, even though it had been expected for some time, was cause for jubilation in Dacca. Smiling, Mujib told newsmen that his country would join the Commonwealth. The alliance is expected to serve as a balance to Bangladesh ties with the Soviet Union, a staunch ally of the Bengalis in the nine-month civil war with West Pakistan.

Not the Last. An unanswered question is what Washington will do about Bangladesh. The State Department said last week that recognition "is not under active consideration," although Administration sources have suggested that the U.S. "would not be the last" to recognize Bangladesh. President Nixon is still angry at India for going to war with Pakistan. The Administration also wants to give Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto time to establish some form of association with Mujib's government—unlikely as that link now seems.

While Bangladesh approached Commonwealth status, Pakistan was quitting it. Then Bhutto flew to Peking, where the Chinese agreed to convert $110 million in loans to Pakistan into grants and to defer payment of a $200 million loan made last year.

For all its diplomatic conquests, Bangladesh was still coping with internal turmoil. In two Dacca suburbs bitter fighting broke out between Bengalis and members of the hated pro-Pakistan Bihari minority. The incident apparently began when some Pakistani soldiers, who had escaped capture by hiding among Bihari sympathizers since the surrender in December, began firing at refugees returning to claim their homes. Troops of the Bangladesh army were sent in to flush them out. In the fighting, at least 100 Bengali troops were reported killed or wounded, as well as an undisclosed number of civilians.

At a huge arms surrender ceremony in Dacca, Mujib pleaded for tolerance and forgiveness for the Biharis. The Mukti Bahini turned in at least 20,000 weapons at the ceremony, and government officials were satisfied that the number of arms yet to be collected from the guerrilla army was small.

Inevitably, however, Bengali passions were further inflamed by new discoveries of atrocities committed by the Pakistan army. No one was safe from the bloodbath; in the last days before the surrender, Pakistani troops killed Indian army prisoners and even their own wounded. In three sites near the city of Khulna, great piles of human skulls and skeletons led observers to estimate that 100,000 people died in that area alone. To determine the full extent of the carnage, Mujib has ordered a house-to-house census throughout the country.