December 16, 1971 is embedded in the history of Pakistan as a ‘black day’. Despite having ‘common colonizers’, the first twenty-four years of independence gave rise to surprisingly varied ‘political cyclones’, ensuing from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal. India was relatively steady while governing what was left by the British. Pakistan was entangled in the tedious process of constitution-making and abrupt changes in the government allowed the military to intervene in national politics. Field Marshall Ayub Khan’s (first martial law administrator of Pakistan) ‘economic policies’ are accused of burgeoning Bengali resentment. With an Eastern wing located 1000 miles away, administrative efficacy couldn’t be ensured. Results of elections in 1970 explicitly presented the political polarization that had developed. Yahya Khan‘s mediation for bringing Z.A Bhutto and Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman on the same page failed. The weak bondage between the Eastern and Western wing of the ideological state could no longer be sustained by ‘religious cohesive forces’. This divergence received the attention of rival India, which fomented hatred in East-Pakistan. Indira Gandhi and her Congress (R) were returned to power with a massively increased majority. Being a shrewd politician she viewed the hostile Bengalis as chips to avenge the Muslims. Indian instigation coupled with economic disparity and political differences, propelled Bengalis to drift away with their land (now known as Bangladesh). Apart from these causes that gave birth to Bangladesh, the foreign policy orientations also had a decisive role to play during the events of 1971.
Jinnah’s concept of Pakistan predisposed him in favour of democratic states and he considered the US as a partner in ‘defence for democracy’. Pakistan’s anti-communist aspirations made her lean towards the West. Gradually, the pro-American policy became an inevitable choice due to the influx of aid under the CENTO and SEATO pacts. However, the gulf between the two countries widened as the US provided military aid to India during Indochina war of 1962. Furthermore, aid to Pakistan was suspended during the first Indo-Pak War in 1965. This was perceived by Pakistan as ‘betrayal’ on part of the US and as a reactionary measure, windows to the East were opened. ‘Bilateralism’ was the new policy in effect, which aimed at normalising relations with China and the Soviet Union, but not at the expense of offending Western allies. On the other hand, the Indian foreign policy, was inspired by the non-aligned movement. Jawahar Lal Nehru sought to maintain cordial relations with both the USA and the USSR. Internationally, he was viewed as a champion of pacifism and an advocate of the United Nations. The ‘Hindu defeat’ during Sino-Indo war in 1962 distorted Nehru’s image at home as he was held for responsible for not anticipating an attack from China. The military was also stigmatised for not being prepared, but India’s policy of weaponisation and self-sufficiency gained momentum under Nehru. He played the ‘diplomatic cards’ at the right time in order to prepare India for similar conflicts in the future. Without giving up his non-aligned policy he requested the US to equip India with 12 squadrons of fighter jets and a modern radar system. This insightful diplomatic move was later used by Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi.
Adhering to her father’s principle of ‘non-alignment’, Indira proved to be a prudent Prime Minister of India. Being Nehru’s daughter, her exposure to the world was substantial enough to acquaint her with the dynamics of the international politics. She is known as the architect for innovating the ‘decision-making’ process in foreign affairs. Indira Gandhi demarcated the intelligence service into two in terms of their responsibilities. Intelligence Bureau was in-charge of internal intelligence and counter-espionage. External intelligence was entrusted to the newly formed Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Both these services, along with revenue intelligence (which was under the Finance Ministry), were brought directly under the Prime Minister’s control. RAW intensified the separatist sentiment in East Pakistan and instigated the ‘Agartala operation’ in 1966. Politicians in the West Pakistan remained preoccupied with the elections campaign. Nature turned the tides in favour of India as a cyclone of great intensity added to the plight of Bengalis. Indira accused the federal government of remaining indifferent to the needs of the East Pakistanis. As military crackdown was ordered in East Pakistan by Yahya Khan in March 1971, Indira Gandhi found her reasons to gain support of the international community. West Pakistan further worsened the situation with the decision to expel all foreign journalists from East Pakistan. The Western media turned against West Pakistan and was outraged by the military crackdown. Media propaganda by India, constructed the opinion that ‘genocide’ of helpless Bengalis by West Pakistanis was inhumane.
With the international public opinion largely against Pakistan, Indira knew that the time was ripe to appear on the ‘diplomatic chess board’. As her first strategic move, she started negotiating with Moscow to reduce the chances of Chinese intervention. Islamabad failed to realise that its role as a mediator between Washington and Beijing had irked Moscow in the wake of strained Sino-Soviet relations. Indo-USSR friendship treaty was signed in July 1971. Meanwhile, the number of Bengal refugees infiltrating in India were exaggerated by her. To lessen India’s burden, the United States provided $350 million in aid. The pressure fell on Yahya Khan, as expected, he told Washington in October that he was willing to grant full autonomy to East Pakistan. Indira knew that she was heading towards victory on the diplomatic front and that was necessary to ensure the surrender of West Pakistan on battleground.
Before the final blow, she undertook an international tour and visited six countries in Europe and America (Belgium, Austria, Britain, the US, France and Germany) for 20 days from October 24, seeking their understanding on India’s position. From West Pakistan, only one mission led by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto visited China for three days from November 5. Consequently, China was the only country that spoke of India’s gross interference in Pakistan’s affairs after the disaster of 1971. Even the Islamic World was unperturbed by the division of the largest Muslim-population. Shah of Iran had gone the farthest by stating that in case of any future uprising, Iran would annex Balochistan. President Nixon had understood the nefarious designs of Indira Gandhi, but the State Department didn’t allow him to support West Pakistan as public opinion veered against it. Islamabad’s poor diplomatic strategies in the presence of a military Commander-in-Chief (Yahya Khan) and a former Foreign Minister (Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto) brought much disgrace along with the loss of country’s Eastern half. The Indian foreign policy exploited the USSR and the US to the fullest. From the creation of RAW to the persuasion of international community in favour of Bengalis, everything was perfectly executed by Indira Gandhi. Her diplomatic acumen and the comprehensive failure of Pakistan’s foreign policy orchestrated the fall of Dhaka.
- In Memory of East Pakistan