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Independence of Bangladesh

The role of international media and artists


Published : Monday, 25 March, 2019 at 12:00 AM  Count : 903
Salman Haider

Salman Haider

Salman Haider

The Bangladesh Liberation War was a revolutionary independence war in South Asia in 1971 which established the republic of Bangladesh. The fought between Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) and West Pakistan which lasted over nine months. It witnessed large-scale atrocities, the exodus of 10 million refugees and the internally displacement of 30 million people. The war broke out on 26 March 1971, when the Pakistani Army launched a military operation called Operation Searchlight against Bengali civilians, students, intelligentsia and armed personnel, who were demanding that the Pakistani military junta accept the results of the 1970 first democratic elections of Pakistan, which were won by an eastern party, or to allow separation between East and West Pakistan.

Bengali politicians and army officers announced the declaration of Bangladesh's independence in response to the Operation Searchlight. The Pakistan Army engaged in the systematic genocide and atrocities of Bengali civilians, particularly nationalists, intellectuals, youth and religious minorities. India entered the war on 3 December 1971, after Pakistan launched pre-emptive air strikes on northern India. Overwhelmed by two war fronts, Pakistani defences soon collapsed.

On 16 December, the allied forces of Bangladesh and India defeated Pakistan in the east. During the liberation war broadcasting station 'Swadheen Bangla Betar Kendra' played a crucial role in increasing the moral strength of the Bengali nation. While the freedom fighters fought against the Pakistani occupying forces in the battle fields, the artistes of Radio Station were engaged in another kind of war by keeping the hope of freedom alive among the millions.

International mass media played a vital role in Bangladesh Liberation War. Especially The London Times, The Sunday times, The Guardian, The Sunday Observer, The Daily Mirror and The Daily Telegraph were helping in spreading the news of genocide and expedite cooperation of international community. The concert for Bangladesh which had raised much international awareness was organized by Ravi Shankar and George Harrison in New York in August 1971.

The event was the first-ever benefit concert of such a magnitude and featured a super group of performers that included Harrison, fellow ex-Beatle Ringo Starr. Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russel and the band Badfinger. In addition, Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan - both of whom had ancestral roots in Bangladesh - performed an opening set of Indian classical music. According to Ravi Shankar- "in one day, the whole world knew the name of Bangladesh".

Background of the War:
In August 1947, the official birth of two states Pakistan and India; gave a permanent home for Hindus and Muslims from the departure of the British. The Dominion of Pakistan comprised two geographically and culturally separate areas to the East and the West with India in between.

Although the population of the two zones was close to equal, political power was concentrated in West Pakistan and it was widely perceived that East Pakistan was being exploited economically, leading to many grievances. The violent crackdown by West Pakistan forces led to Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declaring East Pakistan's independence as the state of Bangladesh on 26 March 1971. Pakistani President Agha Mohammed Yahya ordered the Pakistani military to restore the Pakistani government's authority, beginning the civil war. The war led to a sea of refugees (estimated at the time to be about 10 million), flooding into the eastern provinces of India. Facing a mounting humanitarian and economic crisis, India started actively aiding and organising the Bangladeshi resistance army known as the Mukti Bahini.

Language Controversy:
In 1948, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's first Governor-General, declared in Dhaka (then usually spelled Dacca in English) that "Urdu, and only Urdu" would be the common language for all of Pakistan. This proved highly controversial, since Urdu was a language that was only spoken in the West Pakistan. Several students and civilians lost their lives in a police crackdown on 21 February 1952 at Dhaka University. Later, in memory of the 1952 deaths, UNESCO declared 21 February as the International Mother Language Day in 1999.

However, the deaths led to bitter feelings among East Bengalis, and they were a major factor in the push for independence in 1971.

Declaration of independence:
The violence unleashed by the Pakistani forces on 25 March 1971, proved the last straw to the efforts to negotiate a settlement. Following the outrages, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman signed an official declaration that read: Today Bangladesh is a sovereign and independent country. On Thursday night, West Pakistani armed forces suddenly attacked the police barracks at Razarbagh and the EPR headquarters at Pilkhana in Dhaka. Many innocent and unarmed have been killed in Dhaka city and other places of Bangladesh. Violent clashes between E.P.R. and Police on the one hand and the armed forces of Pakistan on the other, are going on. The Bengalis are fighting the enemy with great courage for an independent Bangladesh. May Allah aid us in our fight for freedom. Joy Bangla [May Bangladesh be victorious].

Politics regarding Bangladesh Liberation War:
The two super powers that dominated a largely bipolar world until the early 1990s played a significant role in the liberation war of Bangladesh. One is the Soviet Union and other one is the USA. One the other hand the United Nations was inactive to stop genocide in Bangladesh. The people of Bangladesh fought for their liberation at the height of the cold war.

Among the five permanent members of the Council, United States and China had supported Pakistan, and the Soviet Union had supported our cause, while United Kingdom and France, despite sympathy for our cause, could not openly challenge United States and hence abstained from voting. This deep division among the permanent members had completely paralyzed the Security Council. The neighboring country, India has played a significant role in favour of Bangladesh during liberation war. When Pakistani declared war against India in 22 November 1971, India directly involved in the Liberation War.

India helped Bangladesh because of their strategic foreign policy. The basis of their policy were-

*    The secular basis: India was a secular country, on the other hand Pakistan was Islamic country and Bangladesh wanted to get her independence on the basis of secularism.
*    Cultural basis: The cultural of Kolkata and Bangladesh was the same.
*    Political and psychological basis: The political relation between India and Pakistan were not good in 1971 for the hijacking an Indian Airlines to Lahore by Pakistani agents in early march. In this case the Kashmir Conflict also became the determinant.
*    International political basis: The most significant fact was India made an agreement of peace friendship and cooperation with USSR using the platform of Bangladesh Liberation War.

Around six to seven million East Pakistanis took shelter in India causing demographic pressure in Assam, Tripura and West Bengal. Responding to the large scale influx of refugee, Indian Prime Minister established a separate department to deal with the East Pakistan refugees. Indian intelligence agencies helped in converting captured Pakistani currency into foreign exchange which was utilized by resistance groups for purchasing equipment communication and arms. It is India who brought to light the liberation war in international arena. India first took up the Bangladesh issue in the United Nations as a refugee problem. Their ambassadors to the UN offices at New York and Geneva were instructed to give detailed facture briefings to the ECOSOC, UNCHR and other related agencies about the voluntary critical events in Bangladesh.

The role of Russia (the then USSR):
The response of the Soviet Union to the 1971 crisis in East Pakistan was conditioned by the general Soviet policy with regard to Asia in the 1960s. It was a policy of growing involvement, initially undertaken to contain America's influence in Asia, but increasingly directed at stemming the diplomatic and military as well as ideological advance of China which at that time was emerging as the Soviet Union's principal rival in the Third World. The Soviet Union's close tie with India was a vital factor in shaping the Soviet response towards the East Pakistan crisis in 1971.

The relatively high priority given by the Soviet policy makers to Bangladesh crisis in 1971 was the consequence of their perception of the contemporary world and Asia and the proper Soviet role in both the world and Asian dimensions as a great power. Moscow was concerned about maintaining the stability and security of its ally, India. It wanted to ensure the position of India as the dominant power in South Asia. Bangladesh might have been viewed by the leaders of the Soviet Union as a "fringe responsibility to their Indian interests", but in 1971 it was of considerable importance to them as the first test case of their political and diplomatic abilities in an emerging "triangular world". Thus behind all that happened in the sub-continent over the 1971 Bangladesh struggle "was a power struggle between China and the Soviet Union and a strategic conflict between Moscow and Washington". In South Asia during December 1971 the Soviet Union seemed to have gained most from this three-cornered fight.

The Soviet Union was the first great power to deplore publicly the Pakistani military crackdown on Bengalis. It was also the first major power to officially recognize the State of Bangladesh, which it did within thirty eight days of its de facto liberation from the Pakistani forces. The birth of Bangladesh with India's support and sympathetic Soviet supervision did indeed mark the emergence of the Soviet Union as "the military arsenal and political defender of India with access for [Moscow's] rising naval power to the Indian Ocean and a base of political and military operations on China's southern flank".

Irrespective of the motives and gains of the Soviet Union in its involvement in the Bangladesh war of liberation, it's positive role thus contributed immensely to the historic triumph of Bangladesh.

To be continued.....

Salman Haider is Director- CSIO, Eastern University, Dhaka

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