Last Friday November 19, along with Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh a large number of MPs and ex-MPs assembled in the Central Hall of Parliament to pay floral tributes to Smt. Indira Gandhi before her portrait.
A question that had been on my mind since some weeks, was : when in 1971 Indiraji decided to help Sheikh Mujibur-Rahman carve out an independent Bangladesh for the Bengalis of East Pakistan, was she also simultaneously thinking of an operation in West Pakistan aimed to achieve two major objectives, namely :
(a) to balkanize West Pakistan, and
(b) to liberate Pakistan occupied Kashmir ?
When I say that this question had been on my mind since a few weeks, I say it because in September, Rupa Publications had sent me a book published by them under the title Bangladesh Liberation War : Myths and Facts. The author of this book is one B.Z. Khasru, described by the cover-flap as, “an award- winning journalist, (who) is publisher and editor of The Capital Express, a financial publication in New York.”
Till now I have never before heard any one else even suggest this. But this book carries ample data to show that whether or not Mrs. Gandhi actually contemplated to achieve these objectives, Washington’s top leaders of those times President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, the President’s National Security Adviser were both convinced that Mrs. Gandhi was seriously thinking of action in that direction, and that the Soviets were likely to help India in achieving its objective.
While U.S. relations with India those days were very bitter, and Nixon strongly disliked Mrs. Gandhi, America had developed a great liking for both Ayub and Yahya. After Gen. Yahya Khan’s meeting with President Nixon at the White House Kissinger seriously probed with Pakistan whether they would be willing to use their influence with China for a U.S.-China rapprochement.
In fact during the Indo-Pak crisis in relation to East Bengal, U.S.A. not only dispatched its nuclear-armed Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal, and warned Moscow “to stop India from destroying West Pakistan”, but also tried hard to make China threaten India against any armed intervention in East Pakistan.
If what U.S. apprehended was what actually had been planned, U.S.A.’s threats and moves really paid off.
In a chapter titled ‘Balkanize’ West Pakistan : Why Gandhi backed off, Khasru writes :
As the Indian military marched into East Pakistan, full throttle, and international efforts to stop the fighting gained momentum at the United Nations, Gandhi found herself between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, if she advanced her campaign to completely crush the Pakistani military in the West as she had promised to her cabinet months earlier, she would face a potential fight with Washington and Beijing and antagonize Moscow, which had wanted to end the war after capturing Dhaka. On the other hand, if she backed off, her colleagues would give her a hard time and India would lose a rare opportunity to permanently cripple an arch enemy.
On 10 December, Gandhi explained to her cabinet that if India accepted the U.N. ceasefire proposal after the Bangladesh liberation, it could avoid further complications with the United States and “might also rule out the current possibility of a Chinese intervention in Ladakh.”
India’s Defence Minister Jagjivan Ram and several other military leaders, however, opposed a ceasefire until India had taken certain unspecified areas of Kashmir and destroyed “the war mechanism of Pakistan.”
Gandhi overruled the opponents, saying that “for the moment India would not categorically reject” the U.N. ceasefire proposal. India would accept a ceasefire after the Awami League regime was installed in Dhaka.
I see no reason to doubt the findings of this author. But after reading this book I do wish some objective Indian historian does research into Indian source material and GOI documents to give the country a version of events as seen from our side, rather than on the basis principally of American sources, as Khasru has done.
On the whole for all interested in recent history of our sub-continent, a very interesting and readable book.
21 November, 2010