Friday, September 9, 2011

SOUTH ASIA: Painful Adjustment

India, Pakistan and the new war-born nation of Bangladesh last week began the massive task of adjusting to postwar realities on the subcontinent. In Dacca, the first batch of 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war began their journey to prison camps in India; they were marched through the streets in predawn darkness to avoid reprisals from the hostile Bengali population. At the same time, India withdrew 30,000 of its own troops, about half of its forces in Bangladesh; the rest are expected to stay on perhaps another three or four months to keep order and help with reconstruction. Indian and Bangladesh officials laid the groundwork for an even more massive migration—the return home of the 10 million Bengali refugees who had fled to India to escape roughshod repression by the Pakistani army.

In Dacca, the fledgling Bangladesh government swore in five new Cabinet ministers, and announced that it would seek a trade and technical assistance treaty with the Soviet Union to help with reconstruction. Poland and Bulgaria have also offered to enter trade pacts with Bangladesh. A more immediate problem was to prevent a possible massacre of 30,000 Biharis who were in a virtual state of siege within the workers' quarters and factory facilities of a jute mill near Dacca. The non-Bengali Moslems have reaped a whirlwind of anger because many of them collaborated with the Pakistani army throughout the nine-month civil war. Indian troops surrounded the mill to protect them, but food supplies were dwindling and a cholera outbreak was reported. Bengali anger, moreover, was renewed by fresh evidence of massacres conducted by Pakistani troops shortly before the surrender. In 70 villages surrounding Dacca, it was revealed, troops had systematically killed thousands of civilians, then looted and burned their homes.

Indian troops were still patrolling the streets of the Dacca capital last week to keep order, while the Bangladesh administration struggled to organize reconstruction and repatriation. But the man most essential to getting the new nation onto its feet—Sheik Mujibur ("Mujib") Rahman—was under house arrest near Islamabad. He was moved from prison by Pakistan's new civilian President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (see box). Bhutto paid a 30-minute call on the Bengali leader, with the avowed aim of persuading Mujib to accept some form of reconciliation between Pakistan and its former eastern province that would at least preserve a facade of national unity. "It can be a very loose arrangement," he declared, "but it must be within the concept of Pakistan."

Too Dazed. Bhutto meanwhile continued to feed his countrymen's illusions of reunification. "Pakistan is indivisible," he declared. "National honor will be vindicated." On one level, it was probably a necessary fiction, since Pakistanis are still too dazed by their defeat to accept the reality that the eastern province is gone.

There was also a practical side to Bhutto's statements. He needed time to consolidate his own political forces. As one Western diplomat put it, "When you come riding in on a white charger, you have to ride around a while to stay in the saddle."
Bhutto has indeed engaged in some highly visible political showmanship. He swore in his cabinet at 3 a.m.—leading a harried television official to lament: "This is a government of insomniacs"—and dispatched most of the army brass into retirement. He also fired every active admiral in the navy, placed ex-President Yahya Khan under house arrest, and ordered a board of inquiry to ascertain the circumstances of "the military debacle."

For India the most immediate problem now is the orderly return of the refugees. The cost of maintaining the 250 camps scattered mostly along the border areas has declined only slightly from the peak of $4,000,000 daily; the repatriation itself is expected to cost as much as $430 million. One of the biggest camps, for example, is at Mana in the heart of India, and New Delhi must provide long-distance transport for its 300,000 refugees. At a press conference late last week, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi shrugged off reports that some refugees would not return and predicted that most of them will have left by the end of February.

Indian-U.S. relations, meanwhile, remained frosty. Mrs. Gandhi began preparing her countrymen for an end to U.S. economic aid that amounted to $159 million last year. Pointing out that aid consists primarily of loans and credits, she said: "India so far has paid back every cent owed to other countries. If countries want to stop their so-called aid, it will cause us hardship in some areas. But we will manage." Her planning minister, C. Subramaniam, was more blunt. "Even if the United States reconsiders resuming economic aid," he said, "we will not avail ourselves of it."