“DURGA ASTRIDE A TIGER”. This is how Atal Behari Vajpayee described Indira Gandhi immediately after India’s lightening victory in the 1971 war, which resulted in creation of Bangladesh. Ironically and now in retrospect, correctly, he led a protest march against Shimla Agreement in 1972. In the best tradition of the Indian State, whatever was won militarily has been thrown away at the negotiating table time after time.
Although creation of Bangladesh was hailed as a defining moment in the history of the sub continent at that time, it is turning out to be a strategic nightmare now. Bangladesh would have been created, perhaps of its own steam, sooner or later. But by our intervention we have created a problem for us with serious strategic disadvantages.
With Bangladesh as its Eastern Wing, Pakistan was always unbalanced. With its severance, Pakistan is now a viable and cohesive entity with its Armed Forces much more capable of not only defending her territory but carrying the war into India as per its doctrine of ‘Offensive Defence’.
By creating Bangladesh, we have made an implacable enemy of Pakistan for whom Balkanisation of India by whatever means has become an article of faith. Even if Kashmir problem is resolved to Pakistan’s satisfaction, its hostility towards India is not going to come to an end. It will find some other means to continue its strategic aim – break up of India. This fact is not understood by many peaceniks and those who believe that people to people contact and mouthing of platitudes will resolve all problems between India and Pakistan.
Bangladesh in the meantime has reached the other extreme. Not only its history has been falsified to eliminate Indian Army’s role in the creation of Bangladesh, it is firmly in the Pakistani camp – lock, stock and barrel. It is indeed tragic. West Pakistan always treated East Pakistan with contempt. It was a strange case of creation of a nation with its two wings thousands of miles apart held together only by a tenuous link of religion. Bangladesh has conveniently forgotten how inhumanly its citizens were treated by West Pakistanis when it was a part of Pakistan. To put things in correct perspective. It may be relevant to quote a passage from C-in-C Bangladesh, General MAG Osmany’s letter to Lt Gen Gul Hassan Khan, C-in-C Pakistan Army in 1972 after the creation of Bangladesh.
“The seventy five million people of Bangladesh were subjected to the most inhuman form of genocide, rape, repression and arson by Pakistani Armed Forces who exhibited not the slightest hesitation in killing their Bengali brother officers and men, unarmed and in cold blood – all aimed at denial of human rights guaranteed by United Nations Charter. Indeed history does not have a single instance of inhuman acts which can equal the bestial treatment meted out to our people between night 25/26 March 1971 to the day before surrender. History’s most ignominous defeat in which some 93,000 professional and very well equipped soldiers led by their officers including a substantial number of General Officers bowed to lay down their arms and were stripped of their badges of ranks is therefore the justice meted by God such as he has always done and promised to do”. Forgetting all the above, Bangladesh is now cozying up to Pakistan compromising even its self respect in the process.
Bangladesh is becoming a safe heaven for all militant groups of North East but it consistently denies existence of militant camps even when presented with irrefutable evidence. Pakistan ISI is also having a field day in Bangladesh carrying out anti India activities in collusion with the militant groups based there. Infiltration from Bangladesh has become alarming with all North Eastern States swamped by Bangladeshis. In future Bangladesh may well claim North East to be an integral part of Bangladesh. A few years ago, when the author was undergoing National Defence College course in Delhi, he discussed this issue with the Bangladesh officer, his colleague on the course. The Bangladesh officer told the author that actually India is mistaken. It is Indians who are infiltrating into Bangladesh in large numbers due to stark poverty in India and are creating law and order problem there. Never before such pearls of wisdom were heard.
Bangladesh has created formidable armed forces, far in excess to its needs, which could well collude with Chinese, should a war with that nation come about in the future.
Instead of we treating Bangladesh Rifles as the rag tag force they are, they are treating our Border Security Force with contempt. Every day there is firing on the borders and abduction of personnel who are then killed in the most inhuman fashion. Even when we wish to erect fence within our territory to check illegal infiltration, Bangladesh takes an offence to it and the worst part is we pause to ponder over their protests. And now they have the temerity to try to stop construction of border fence by firing. And the mighty Indian state with visions of becoming a world power only watches as a disinterested bystander.
Day in and day out, Bangladesh accuses us of diverting Ganga water into Hoogly to save the Calcutta port thereby causing unprecedented drought in that water logged country. The logic should beat anyone but the result is that we have not been able to harness waters of any of the river of North East including the mighty Brahmaputra for irrigation or electricity generation. This is even when a river water sharing treaty was signed with Bangladesh in 1975 when Sheikh Mujib was still alive and subsequent unilateral concessions were given by the Gujral govt to Bangladesh.
Hindu minority in Bangladesh receives the worst treatment, even worse than in Pakistan. No Govt in India has had the inclination, or courage to take it up with the Bangladesh govt. The Indian state is treated more or less like a banana republic by its neighbours. They fear China but have only contempt for us.
Why have things gone wrong? Political handling of the aftermath of 1971 was strangely naïve to say the least. This has been so both with Pakistan as well as Bangladesh. While with Pakistan we missed the golden opportunity to sort out the Kashmir problem, with Banglaesh we were much too generous without an iota of reciprocity. A few legitimate concessions should have been obtained from Bangladesh. First and foremost should have been the treaty of trade and transit across Bangladesh from North Eastern States. The time to cover the distance from Agartala to Kolkata would have been reduced to six hours instead of four days it takes at present. Incidentally such an arrangement existed between India and Pakistan till 1965 war when it was arbitrarily withdrawn by Pakistan. We should have also sorted out the problem of ‘Chits’ or the enclaves of both countries in each other’s territory. These have become an unending headache. Perhaps Siliguri corridor should have been widened with concession elsewhere. Ironclad guarantees should have been obtained with regard to utilization of river waters. This has become an intractable problem now. Bangladesh should also have been asked to give guarantee that its soil will not be used for anti India activity. It was possible at that time since Sheikh Mujib was still in power and Bangladesh was grateful for Indian help not only for creation of their nation but bearing the burden of ten million refugees for eight long months.
What is the way ahead? We need to introspect. Why is it that despite our size, population, economic strength and armed might, our smaller neighbours do not fear us as they do the Chinese. A case in point is the recent case of sabotage of SAARC Summit in Dacca by Nepal. At the instigation of China or perhaps in order to spite India for its stance on restoration of democracy in Nepal, the King insisted on inclusion of China as an observer. The King knew very well that SAARC Charter does not have such a provision. Yet he linked this issue with admission of Afghanistan as a member of SAARC. Thus what we thought was a open and shut case turned out to be a fiasco. Even Bhutan with whom we have a treaty, is conducting negotiations with China on boundary issue keeping us in dark and may well spring a surprise on us to our strategic disadvantage. The case of Bangladesh, specially is sad indeed. It is one of cutting your nose to spite your face. Our foreign policy mandarins may do well to look into their backyard instead of chasing mirages like a seat in the UN Security Council.
Every election time, Bangladesh goes through convulsions. Same is the case now. The two Beghums have reduced the whole election process to a farce. In no democratic country, executive powers are handed over to someone else to conduct elections. Hopefully better sense will prevail and election process, however farcial, will be gone through. We also need to seriously reexamine our policy of investing in individuals rather than institutions. We have learnt nothing from the past. In 1972, Indira Gandhi thought that by making concessions to Bhutto, she will earn his goodwill. What we got instead is a nuclear Pakistan. Similarly in Bangladesh, we put all our eggs earlier in Sheikh Mujib’s basket. With his assassination, we lost all our bargaining power. Thereafter it was Sheikh Hasina’s turn. The result is that whenever Beghum Khalida Zia comes to power, anti Indian forces gain upper hand. Unfortunately in our country foreign policy has been made an exclusive preserve of the ruling party. What we need is greater transparency and greater debate – both within the Parliament as also out side in the media and think tanks. But perhaps it may be too much to expect.