Bangladesh Foreign Policy during the provisional government of Bangladesh (March 26th-December 16th 1971)

Bangladesh Foreign Policy during the provisional government of Bangladesh (March 26th-December 16th 1971)

On March 25th night the Pakistani military carried out the planned crackdown in 1971 by the name of “ Operation Search Light” on civilian population.

The people of Bangladesh realized the hypocrisy of negotiations since March 15 with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib by the military dictator-President General Yahya. Sheikh Mujib was arrested on 25th March late at night and flown later to Pakistan. He was charged with treason and was in the custody of the military government.

The people of Bangladesh were surprised and shocked by the brutality of Pakistan army in mass-killing of unarmed civilian population of Bangladesh. Thus began the War of Liberation by the valiant freedom fighters comprising all segments of people, police, para-military and military personnel against the Pakistan occupation army in Bangladesh.

Formation of provisional government of Bangladesh:

Bangladesh formed the provisional government of Bangladesh on 10th April, 1971 in Mujibnagar , a place near Baidyanath, within Meherpur district in Bangladesh which was near a mile from Indian border of West Bengal state.

A Declaration was issued by Professor Yusuf Ali, “Duly Constituted Potentiary by and under the authority of the Constituent Assembly of Bangladesh”. A Part of the Declaration states : “ We , the elected representatives of the people of Bangladesh declare and constitute Bangladesh to be a sovereign People’s Republic…and hereby affirm and resolve that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman shall be the President of the Republic and …. Resolve that the President being unable to enter upon his office, the Vice President Syed Nazrul Islam shall exercise the powers, duties and responsibilities of the President.”

Mr. Tajuddin Ahmed was appointed as Prime Minister and Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed as Foreign Minister.

It seems appropriate that the foreign policy of the provisional government of Bangladesh is described in the following paragraphs

During the whole period of 1971, four main components of foreign policy were pursued among others:
• Release of Bangabandhu Skeikh Mujibur Rahman from the custody of Pakistan government
• Mobilising opinion of foreign governments and people to support Bangladesh’s War of Liberation
• Persuading foreign governments to recognize Bangladesh as a Sovereign State
• Convincing donor-governments not to provide monetary assistance/ aid
to Pakistan which had been carrying out genocide, crimes against humanity and
war crimes against the civilian population of Bangladesh.

Moulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, leader of the Bangladesh National Awami Party, welcomed the Mujibnagar provisional government. He sent messages to the US President Richard Nixon and the Chinese Prime Minister Chou-En-lai, urging them to recognise Bangladesh as sovereign country.

Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury who resigned from the posts of the Justice of the High Court of East Pakistan and Vice Chancellor of Dhaka University was made a Special Envoy of Bangladesh to campaign abroad to achieve the above goals of foreign policy..

It should be mentioned that Justice Chowdhury led the campaign in an effective manner — all over Europe and America, with headquarters in London with an office at 11, Goring Street.

When in the middle of 1971, the Liberation War had gained momentum, Justice Chowdhury decided that the diplomatic activities needed to be increased in foreign countries from London where most countries of the world had representations and therefore a fitting place to project Bangladesh’s cause and people’s sufferings in the hands of the Pakistan occupation army in Bangladesh.

A diplomatic office was opened at 24, Pembridge Garden, Nottinghill Gate, London W.2 and this newly opened mission had become the address of all Bengali diplomats who were resigning from their posts in different capitals of the world. By the end of 1971 about 20 Bengali officers and staff had joined the office in London.

Reactions of key foreign powers to the Liberation War:

India’s Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi could not possibly believe that Pakistan military regime would opt for a military solution to the political crisis in Bangladesh. After all Bangladesh territory was not contiguous to Pakistan and how could Pakistan military junta think that they would be able to contain the revolt after its brutal crackdown on the people of Bangladesh.

Mrs. Gandhi rose to the occasion politically and remained firm in her determination to see justice was done to the people of Bangladesh. Critics say that her motivation was to weaken Pakistan by dismembering it for India’s strategic reasons. Whatever might be her intentions, her resolute campaign on behalf of the people of Bangladesh was remarkable.

The reactions of the US, Soviet Union and China to the military crackdown in Bangladesh appeared to be guided by their self-interests. While the government of the then Soviet Union supported Bangladesh’s War of Liberation, the governments of China and the US supported to Pakistan.

It is interesting to note that many political leaders including Senator Ted Kennedy, the people and the media of the US lent their support to the people of Bangladesh to liberate Bangladesh territory from the occupation army of Pakistan.

Political leaders and people of Bangladesh were puzzled and disappointed by the negative responses of Washington and Beijing to the crisis. It was an irony in history that while the democratically elected President Nixon of the US lent its support to a military dictatorship in Pakistan which was carrying out genocide and crimes against humanity, the communist and totalitarian regime in Moscow lent its support to the just cause of the people of Bangladesh in their struggle for freedom and independence.

China’s reaction disturbed the leaders and the people of Bangladesh. It was thought that China’s principled policy was to support the struggle for freedom from oppression and it was assumed that China would not support Pakistan. However, it seemed that China played its game solely on the basis of its self-interest in South Asia and perceived the crisis as the creation of India to dismember and weaken Pakistan.

Many intellectuals and political leaders from Britain and France have supported the cause of the Liberation War and the British government discreetly showed sympathy with the leaders of Bangladesh who campaigned for Bangladesh from London.

On the other hand, the Islamic world saw the liberation struggle of people of Bangladesh with suspicion and Pakistan was able to prejudice their views on the just War of Liberation.. The freedom struggle of the people of Bangladesh was perceived by them as the disintegration of Islamic Ummah (brotherhood) under the influence of “Hindu” India and therefore they had great reservation on the armed-struggle of the people of Bangladesh from the clutches of Pakistan.

Generally speaking, all Muslims are regarded as part of Islamic brotherhood and the armed struggle (war of independence) by the people of Bangladesh against an ‘Islamic’ Pakistan was perceived as a foreign conspiracy to weaken the solidarity of Islamic Ummah. Even the Muslim community in India kept quiet and did not seem to support the armed struggle of the people of Bangladesh. They perceived the armed conflict against Pakistan as fratricidal.

After a valiant armed struggle for nine months, Bangladesh became a sovereign country on December 16th 1971 when the Pakistani Army General so-called “Tiger” A.A. Khan Niazi surrendered to General J. S. Aurora, GOC –in-C, of the Indian and Bangladesh forces.

Interestingly General Niazi was escorted by General Aurora and Bangladesh Sector 2 Commander Major A.T. M. Hyder to the surrender ceremony at the Race Course ground (Suhrawardy Uddyan) . The signing ceremony was witnessed by the Bangladesh Chief of Staff, Group Capt. (later Air-Vice Marshal) A. K. Khandaker.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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