Saturday, 3 April 2021

Birth of a Nation


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 Liberation of Bangladesh in 1971

On 26 March, Bangladesh celebrated its Independence Day. Fifty years ago, in 1971 the Pakistan army launched an operation in East Pakistan and massacred its own people and this led to the birth of Bangladesh. The 1971 Bangladesh Liberation war was an utter humiliation for the Pakistan army. The Pakistan forces surrendered to the Indian army and East Pakistan became an independent nation. And today Bangladesh is ahead of Pakistan in many fields. Recently on 26 March Bangladesh celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence. Dignitaries from all over the world and neighboring countries, except Pakistan were invited to be present at the celebrations. The Indian PM was the guest of honor at the function.

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On 26 March Bangladesh celebrated 50 years of its existence. The 1971, the 13-day India-Pakistan war led to the birth of a new country. The conflict broke out due to the tensions between Pakistan (West Pakistan) and the Bengali majority East Pakistan after failed political negotiation between Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the elected leader from the elections in East Pakistan and PPP (Pakistan People Party). In reality Mujibur should have been the Prime Minister, but this was not acceptable to the then rulers and people of West Pakistan. Pakistan was ruled by a dictator General Yayha Khan and Bhutto was part of this set up.

Mujibur was arrested and there were protests in East Pakistan. West Pakistan looked down upon the Bengalis. The protests soon turned violent. Pakistan army launched action to suppress the Bengalis. Pakistan army executed a massacre and human rights violations took place with impunity. The world was mute witness to this dastardly act. On 25 March 1971 Lieutenant General Tikka Khan launched Operation Searchlight to end the revolt in East Pakistan by attacking civilians, students, intellectuals and Bengali armed forces.

Thousands of people were killed at random, women raped, homes destroyed, with destruction all round the country. As the violence escalated, a large number of refugees escaped to Indian territory and poured into the bordering Indian states to escape the large scale massacre. Almost about 10 million refugees took shelter in India. It was a burden on the Indian states to provide relief, shelter, food, medicines to such a large number of refugees. The West turned a blind eye though some international media reported the violence and massacre going on here.

After months of continuous conflict between West and East Pakistan, there was every chance it would spill over India and involve India in the conflict. To preempt any Indian support to East Pakistan and keep India occupied on the Western front, Pakistan launched air strikes on 11 Western India airbases. This was a grave mistake by Pakistan. The Indian Air Force retaliated with effective strikes on the same night, crippling the Pakistan forces. This Pakistan action instigated the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to declare a full scale invasion of Pakistan. Thus officially the Indo-Pak war of 1971 commenced. And General Manekshaw was in charge of the Indian army. Backed by a strong political decision by PM Indira Gandhi, General Manekshaw and his other competent Generals with the able support of the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy were able to launch an assault and defeat Pakistan army on both the fronts.

The war came to an end when the Instrument of Surrender was signed by Lt General AAK Niazi in the presence of Lt General JS Aurora on December 16, 1971. As a result, around 93,000 Pakistani troops were taken POWs (prisoners of war) by the Indian army. This was a humiliating defeat which the Pakistan army will never forget. And later during Atal Behari Vajpayee’s tenure as PM, General Pervez Musharaff tried to take revenge in Kargil. And here too they were badly defeated, destroying the morale of the Pakistan army where they had to disown their own men who had died fighting.

Knowing too well USA and Britain was an ally of Pakistan and sensing international ramifications and pressure on India from the West, the thenPrime Minister Indira Gandhi with a great foresight and political acumen signed a defence treaty with USSR. The pact in brief meant any attack on India would be treated as an attack on Russia and vice versa. This took care of any Western intervention in the conflict. Americans sent their Seventh Fleet in to the Indian Ocean and so did Britain send a warship. But realizing the strong Russian fleet was already in the Bay of Bengal, both USA and UK ships backed off avoiding escalating a localized conflict into an international dispute of major powers with a international ramifications.

Pakistan had great hopes, as they were sure of foreign intervention or an UN resolution would bring about a ceasefire and could still hold on to East Pakistan. But the events unfolded very fast. East Pakistan was declared a new nation, Bangladesh, with the Awami League leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman becoming the Prime Minister in January 1972. This was a big blow to the Pakistan rulers. Through the conflict, the Indian forces were assisted by the Mukti Bahini, a Bengali guerrilla resistance movement, which was fighting the Pakistan forces.

Surrender of the Pak army
The new nation faced challenges and turmoil in the following years. Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina was sheltered in Delhi from 1975-1981 after her father Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was brutally assassinated.

India shares the largest land boundary, 4,096.7 km with Bangladesh. Both nations share 54 common rivers. Rabindranath Tagore composed the national anthem of both the countries – Jana Gana Mana, the Indian national anthem and Amar Sonar Bangla, the Bangladesh anthem.

Also read: How Cargo Ship helped win World War-2  *  USS New York

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