You are here

Aravind asked: How can India justify its intervention in Bangladesh in 1971 when India was following a non-interventionist policy?

  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • P.K. Gautam and Keerthi Sampath Kumar reply: We give below one account on the justification of the 1971 war and creation of Bangladesh.

    The trouble began when the Pakistani Army on March 25, 1971, in complete disregard of the mandate of 1970 general election, launched a brutal crackdown on the civilians in East Pakistan which subsequently led to an insurgency. From March/April 1971, refugees started pouring into India and a situation was reached where it was not economically possible for India to continue to host about 10 million of them. Handling refugees and facing the ire of Washington which openly supported Pakistan, India was in a very precarious position. India had deep apprehensions concerning a long- drawn guerrilla war in East Pakistan with even pro- Chinese influence at a later date if it got protracted. India negotiated the friendship treaty with the then Soviet Union in August and undertook an extensive diplomatic-cum-political campaign to impress upon individual countries on the realities of the situation. The regional stability also was getting worst. Thus, it was in India’ national interest to get over the problem on grounds of humanitarian intervention. Pakistan launched an attack on the Western sector on December 3, 1971.

    Based on the legitimacy of self-defence, India undertook military action. While holding out in the Western sector, the Indian armed forces conducted combined operations with the freedom fighters or the Mukti Bahini and in a quick and decisive way ended the campaign in two weeks time with the surrender of Pakistan’s military in Bangladesh. The war also had the support of the people of India as there was a moral outrage and public sympathy in civil society including that of the French philosopher André Malraux and Seán MacBride of Ireland. Employing excellent diplomatic skills and negotiation strategy, India overcame a number of hurdles in the politics of the UN system during all stages. After the surrender of Pakistani troops, India did not allow UN’s role to be thrust upon it. India favoured only direct negotiations between itself, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It needs to be remembered that India never took undue advantage of over 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war including civilians who were repatriated unilaterally after the Simla Agreement of 1972. According to the Indian tradition, the war was a dharmavijay (just war). In other words, it was jus ad bellum (the justice of resort to war) and its conduct jus in bello (the justice of the conduct of war).

    However historical memory should not lead to an unending bitterness. Issues such as war crimes and trial of guilty members of the Pakistan Army are still pending in Bangladesh. Justice also is due in view of continued ill treatment of innocent Biharis in Bangladesh who may have not sided with the Pakistan Army. Some Pakistanis due to one-sided perceptions may still carry a grudge and wish for revenge against India. Time has come for India not to rejoice crudely over its military success but now to seek better relations. That war was 41 years ago and violent conflict is unlikely to resolve issues in the present age.