We have just remembered Mrs Indira Gandhi - on November 19 - her birth anniversary. This reminds us, the veterans, of the 1971 war and liberation of Bangladesh. Also not very long ago, the media gave full coverage of the long awaited boarder agreement with Bangladesh wherein we have given few hundred acres of land in Assam, the "corridors", to Bangladesh to help their people solve the problem of cultivating their land for which they had to pass through India. Our people also face exactly similar problems in nearby areas there. But what we got in return - not yet certain as the government as well as the media have not spoken much about it. We also read of West Bengal chief minister Mamta Banerjee not permitting the Teesta water treaty as being against the interest of her state. Also blacked out by the media is the unrest and opposition in Assam.
This takes me back, down the memory lane, all the way back to 1971: the birth of Bangladesh.
We all feel very proud of ourselves as a citizen of India when we talk about the 1971 Indo-Pak war and the birth of a new nation - Bangladesh. And we all should be. After all it was a great achievement by our defence forces, our leaders and our people. People because the unity we saw that time is unique – it was not seen earlier since Independence and not later either. We all identified ourselves with the cause - the safety, security and integrity of the motherland in the face of war with Pakistan. Leaders later on have not shown that courage, if at all they possessed any.
What we gained
We, as a nation, got praised the world over for our strength, power and will to defeat any oppression, particularly to wash away the ugly memories of 1962 debacle. We also got Pakistan to come to terms with the Shimla Pact, and we created a new country that would be friendly to us in future and we hoped our all problems in the east were resolved.
What we missed/could have done
1. On Western Front: It is a common knowledge that we went deep into the Pak territory - in Punjab as well as in Sindh. This writer was just a newbie in the Indian Army in the 1971 war (lieutenant) and was posted at the western front (Punjab) and in January 1972, after the ceasefire, have been to what is the now (Pakistan) Police Academy in Lahore as well as a place very near Sialkot where we had advanced and had taken control of the areas. And we all used to discuss the penetration of Indian forces deep in Punjab and Sindh. So, we had a real bargaining upper hand over Pakistan. Lot of us feel that we lost this once a lifetime opportunity- and rightly. I have read Bhutto's memoirs and biography where he says about the Shimla Pact: "We had nothing to gain. Yet I managed to get back our territory, our people (the prisoners of war) and the dignity of Pakistan and what we gave was a promise to resolve the issue peacefully.” We could have pressurised Pakistan to resolve a number of issues including the Indus river water dispute, power projects in J&K, border issues in Runn of Kuchh and so on.
It is now established history, we - our leaders did not think of these while
signing the Shimla Pact. What a great vision!
2. The Eastern front - A New Country born - We the youngsters, as the young officers are called, used to hear from our seniors and discuss a lot of issues which were in air. Let me summarise them - but before that - a brief of Chittgong Hill Tract – an autonomous area - the eastern most part of then East Pakistan.
Chittagong Hill Tract
The early history of the Chittagong Hill Tracts is a record of constantly recurring raids on the part of the eastern hill tribes, and of the operations undertaken to repress them. At the time of partition Chittagong Hill Tracts had a majority non-Muslim population of 97% (most of them Buddhists), but was given to Pakistan. The Chittagong Hill Tracts People's Association (CHTPA) petitioned the Bengal Boundary Commission that, since the CHTs were inhabited largely by non-Muslims, they should remain within India. Since they had no official representation, there was no official discussion on the matter, and many on the Indian side assumed the CHT would be awarded to India.
On August 15, 1947, many of the tribes did not know to which side of the border they belonged. On August 17, the publication of the Radcliffe Award put the CHTs in Pakistan. The rationale was that CHTs were inaccessible to India and to provide some
buffer area to Chittagong (now in Bangladesh), a major city and port; it was also argued that its only approach was through Chittagong.
Two days later, the CHTPA resolved not to abide by the award and hoisted the Indian flag. The Pakistani army dealt with the protest but the problem has not yet been solved.
The last viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, who considered the grant of independence to India as his act of crowning glory, was ambitious to achieve this "superhuman" task in record time. He said that before accepting the post of viceroy he had told King George VI, who was his cousin: "I am prepared to accept the job only on one condition. India must be granted independence by July 1948 and I will not stay there a day longer." Mountbatten came to India in March 1947 and this left him just about 16 months to complete such a gigantic task. In reality, he achieved it in five months, on August 15, 1947 for which he was given so much credit.
Originally, the award of the Boundary Commission was to be made public on August 13. But Mountbatten was reluctant to make this public. According to Philip Ziegler, the author of Mountbatten's official biography, the case of the Chittagong Hill Tracts was uppermost in Mountbatten's mind. "He (Mountbatten) foresaw an Independence Day marred by rancour, Nehru boycotting the ceremonies, India born in an atmosphere not of euphoria but of angry resentment. So Mountbatten decided to announce the award only on 16 August when the celebrations were over.” As Zeigler writes, "India's indignation at the award of the Chittagong Hill Tracts to Pakistan may have been a factor in making up Mountbatten's mind to keep the reports to himself till after independence".
Mountbatten was himself surprised by the ferocity of Sardar Patel's reaction to the issue. Leonard Mosley in his book The Last Days of the British Raj says, "This is a matter for Mountbatten's conscience.”
The Port of Chittagong
The Port of Chittagong is the largest seaport in Bangladesh, located by the estuary of the Karnaphuli river in Patenga, near the city of Chittagong. It is a deepwater seaport dominated by trade in containerized manufactured goods and products. It is one of the two main sea port of Bangladesh - most of the export and import of the country are handled via this port (almost 90%). Compared to Haldia port, this is rated better being
all weather port which gets tides lower and is also a deep sea port - so is capable of handling bigger freight / cargo boats and ships and therefore bigger loads.
NOW THE ISSUE
We used to hear in informal conversations about our chief, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, expressing the advantageous situation we were in and the bargaining power we had. Few important issues we heard and discussed about were:
(a) Doing something about the very narrow Neck near Naxalbari and barter of land (These type of arrangements have precedence world over) - Nepal to Bangladesh is just a few kilometres here, we could have widened this gallery by bartering some land elsewhere with the newborn country. Imagine the strategical importance of this narrow passage - It has two lifeline railway links, national highway linking the northeast with the rest of India, a state highway, co-axial and microwave highways of DOT, an important oil pipeline to Barauni - all condensed within a few kilometres. And one can enter from Nepal - a very porous and practically unchecked boarder - and escape to Bangladesh
after inflicting damage to any or more of these lifelines.
But our leadership did not think of any of this.
(b) Calcatta (Now Kolkata) -Dhaka - Agartalla train link - with permission to run military special trains also: imagine, we would have dominated the new country in all aspects unlike the situation today where BDR fires and kills at will and we do nothing except protests.
(c) Using of Chittagong Port for Indian Defence Forces: it may be of interest to all to note that Kolkata - Chittagong is just over 8 to 10 hours by a ship and Chittagong - Agartalla is less than 150 km, so just about 4 to 5 hours if a good road is planned. This means our forces/troops and essential supplies for all - as Kolkata-Agartalla could be covered in less than 16 to 18 hours as against 6 to 7 days presently. The northeast would not have been that far (including in our minds) our people there would have felt not neglected as they feel now.
(d) We also heard talks of the Army wanting this area to be an independent nation, a correction of the mistake of 1947, a buffer and another India sympathetic people enveloping the newborn country.
(e) Resolving of Farakka, Teesta and Brahmaputra water disputes, proposed Inland waterways from Kolkata to Patna and Guwahati, a number of hydro-electric projects and what all then or immediately after the independence of Bangladesh. Unfortunately, none of these was thought of and addressed to when we had 100% sure chances in our favour.
Wish our leaders had some far vision, or at least listened to those who had (our great chief Sam Bahadur), we would have got something much better than the Shimla Pact and also the eastern neighbour not so unfriendly. It is up to us to praise our leaders of a particular family for all the follies and the subsequent damage to the country.
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