‘Friends of Bangladesh’ award
S M Hali
Bangladesh is a sovereign country and has every right to award anyone of its choice for contributing to its “liberation”, whether they are Indians, Americans, Russians, French, Australian, British, Swedes, Sri Lankans, Nepalese or Bhutanese. Conferring the awards 41 years later is Bangladesh’s internal matter, but twisting historical facts to embarrass Pakistan necessitates comment.
On December 15, 2012, the Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajid, bestowed the “Bangladesh Liberation War Honour” upon 60 individuals and two institutions at a function at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in the fourth phase under a plan undertaken by her government in 2011 to honour more than 500 nominees for their support and cooperation to the War of Liberation of Bangladesh in 1971.
Reportedly, Dhaka also plans to honour 11 Pakistanis who stood by it. Among them are the late Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and poet-activist Habib Jalib. The names of the other Pakistani recipients have not been declared. But when the question was posed to Bangladeshi State Minister for Liberation War Affairs Captain (retd) A.B. Tajul Islam and Foreign Minister Dipu Moni at a press briefing before the ceremony, Moni responded that their names would be on the list in the next phase.
It would embarrass Pakistan, whose arm is being twisted by the Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to seek an apology for the alleged war crimes committed by Pakistan Army during the 1971 insurgency; something even her father Sheikh Mujib did not demand, when invited by Bhutto to attend the 1974 Islamic Summit Conference at Lahore.
Declassified US reports, Indian and Pakistani military officers’ accounts, General Niazi’s memoirs and a number of published books and articles, like “Subversion in East Pakistan” by AMK Maswani, “Second Thoughts on Bangladesh” and “Bangladesh Today - Indictment and a Lament” by the distinguished East Pakistani intellectual, Matiur Rahman, and Sarmila Bose’s “Dead Reckoning” specify that both Pakistani forces and Bengali insurgents were responsible for the cold-blooded genocide of civilians and their military counterparts. Yet, taking advantage of a pro-Indian government in Bangladesh, macabre forces are bent upon raking up old scars in order to humiliate Pakistan and appease India.
Although former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and late Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, the co-signatory of the surrender pact with Pakistan’s General Niazi, have been honoured, but prominent omissions from the list of Indian awardees are late Rameshwar Nath Kao, the founder and first Chief of India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), and Major General Shabeg Singh.
Asoka Raina, in his exposé “Inside RAW: The Story of India’s Secret Service”, reveals that the Bangladesh operation, beginning with sowing seeds of dissension, leading to the Agartala Conspiracy, creation of Mukti Bahini and under its garb, conducting guerrilla operations in East Pakistan, damaged the morale of Pakistani troops and RAW won the war for India, even before it began. RAW’s interference in Bangladesh did not end with its liberation.
According to the September 18-24, 1988, issue of Indian weekly Sunday, RAW was on the verge of assassinating Bangladesh’s President General Ziaur Rahman (with Indira Gandhi’s approval) when the Congress government fell. The RAW briefed the new Prime Minister, Morarji Desai, about it, who forbade the murder. General Zia continued to rule Bangladesh, but was assassinated after Indira Gandhi returned to power.
The other glaring exclusion from the list of Indian awardees: late Major General Shabeg Singh was handpicked by the Indian Army Chief, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, and made incharge of the Delta Sector with headquarters at Agartala. He was responsible for planning, organising and directing insurgency operations in the whole of Central and East “Bangladesh”.
All Bengali officers, who had deserted from the Pakistan Army, including Colonel Osmani, Majors Ziaur Rehman and Mushtaq were placed under his command. That is a different story that Zia later became the President of Bangladesh and Mushtaq, the Army Chief, while Shabeg was hunted as a militant and massacred with Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale at the Golden Temple Amritsar in June 1984.
Indian machinations in East Pakistan for its liberation were not out of love for Bengalis, but hatred for Pakistan. Former Indian Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit is on record saying: “We helped in the liberation of Bangladesh in mutual interest, it was not a favour.” The best laid plans go awry and contrary to Indian desire, successive Bangladeshi governments drew closer to Pakistan. But now with a pro-India Prime Minister, a wedge is being drawn between the erstwhile friends - Bangladesh and Pakistan.