A Tale of Two Cities: Dacca March 12, 1972 and Kabul August 30, 2021
Brig (Dr) Ashok Pathak
Two Events Separated by Five Decades and One and half Thousands Miles

Since the time the US decided to leave Afghanistan the media is full of its coverage and resultant reverberations across the world. Everyone agrees that it is too early to form opinions and even more difficult to predict the future state. But we can compare some hard facts that emerged from Dacca five decades back with those that unfolded on the fateful mid night of 30 August 2021.

This will facilitate forming a clearer perception of how things are. It will help us in questioning some widely accepted and freely peddled narratives on a number of issues that affect India in particular and global geo politics in general. Most importantly the analysis of well-known and documented facts may make us more sensitive to human miseries as a consequence of reckless power politics.

Dacca 12 March 1972

Ceremonial Retreat March Past by First Rajput of Indian Army: “In our heart & (soul) we do not want you to leave. But ours is a free and sovereign country and we must run our own affairs. You leave as friends”. This was Sheikh Mujib Ur Rahman addressing the Indian Army Contingent standing at rest after saluting the Bangbandhu in a packed stadium at Dacca. (New York Times 13 March 1972)1The very next day there was no Indian troop in newly formed Bangladesh. Thus the Indian Military left the nation they had liberated in around four months (3 December 1971 to 12/13 March 1972).

Quick Rewind to the Chain of events that led to the Retreat Ceremony on 12 March 1972General election in Pakistan on 7 December 1970 shocked the Punjabi dominated power structure. Out of 300 seats for the central assembly (162 in the East Pakistan and 138 in the West) Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League won 160 seats2.Thus paving the way for Mujib to be the Prime Minister of Pakistan- something that was unacceptable to the Pakistani establishment. They jailed him.

The Pakistani military launched Operation Search Light on 25 March 1971 massacring their Bengali citizens, humiliating their women3. Refugees started pouring in India in millions. The hue and cry raised by the Indians fell on deaf ears. India mobilized her military and prepared for war with Pakistan to ensure that the refugee influx stops. Pakistan acted first by conducting air attacks on Indian military air fields.

India responded by entering East Pakistan. The war for liberation of Bangladesh had begun. Exactly 13 days after the official declaration of war the marauding army of Pakistan in East Pakistan was brought to their knees 56998 regular troops, 18287 Paramilitary and 16293 civilians of Pakistani establishment in erstwhile East Pakistan surrendered to the Indian commander4. India ensured that Sheikh Mujib was released from the Pakistani prison brought to Dacca via London and New Delhi in a Royal Air Force aircraft5. On 12 January 1972 the Bang Bandhu was sworn in as the first Prime Minister of a secular, democratic nation.

Cost of Bangladesh War and Some Relevant Facts

Estimates from various quarters peg the loss of civilian lives in events leading to formation of Bangladesh between 241000 to 269000. However the Bangladesh authorities declared that a million people were killed and ten million were turned refugees. Pakistani military used rape as an instrument of war. Around 300000 women were raped. Pakistan lost 8000 troops killed and more than 25000 wounded. India lost 3000 troops killed and 12000 wounded6.

Bangladesh economists estimated the cost of recovery from the war damage as $ 3 billion7.

The Brighter Side

Since January 1972 Bangladesh has not looked back. From per capita GDP of around $ 133 in 1971 it now has $1968 in 20208 well above Pakistan ($ 1193 in 2020)9. It remained a secular democracy with regular elections as per the Bangladesh Constitution. It has good relations with India as also with China and other countries. Bangladesh has been much more successful in tackling terrorism in South Asia ranked 33rd compared to Pakistan at 7th and India at 8th ranks.10

Kabul 31 August 2021
The Last American Soldier Leaves Hamid Karzai Air Port Kabul

Mid night 30 August 2021 Major General Chris Donahue commander 82 US Airborne Division boarded the C17 transport air craft of the US Air Force11. As the aircraft took off the Taliban terrorists fired in the air12.

What Brought the Americans to Afghanistan and How the Situation Unfolded

On 24 December 1979 about 30000 Soviet troops entered Afghanistan to ‘stabilize’ the political situation as the Afghans rebelled against the Soviet installed government in Kabul. This event triggered American involvement in Afghanistan with Pakistan gleefully playing a proxy role. Almost ten years later on 15 February 1989 the Soviets left Afghanistan badly bruised by the Mujahedeen actively supported by the American weaponry and covert Pakistan Inter Service Intelligence(ISI) support13. This conflict left ten million civilians dead, ninety thousand Mujahedeen, eighteen thousand Afghan troops and fourteen thousand five hundred Soviet troops killed. Millions of refugees fled to Pakistan, Iran and Qatar. 14

The void created by the Soviets plunged Afghanistan in to civil war. In 1996 the Taliban created by the US through the ISI- called as good Taliban by Pakistan and perhaps the US, took over Afghanistan. By 1999 the US and the NATO realized that the Taliban was not so good. Al Qaeda had already surfaced. The NATO had entered Iraq war. In 2001 on 11 September the Al Qaeda blasted off the twin towers in New York City. President Bush ordered American troops to start operations Enduring Freedom against their ‘good Taliban’. This operation commenced on 18 September 2001 and lasted for the next twenty years till 30 August 2021. Once again Pakistan was the conduit for the NATO operation against the Taliban. During the Soviet invasion Pakistan syphoned off significant part of US aid in finances and military hardware to their own kitty. In operation Enduring Freedom Pakistan played the role of double agent- a fact well known and documented by the US. But the show continued. As the last American soldier left Afghanistan 47245 civilians were killed, the US lost 2448 servicemen, 3846 military contractors, 1144 servicemen of NATO allies, 66000 Afghan Military police and 51191 Taliban fighters died. Millions of Afghanistan citizens were turned refugees fleeing to Pakistan and all other countries they could go to15. Unfortunately no country was willing to accept these refugees. Afghanistan once again came under Taliban.

Comparison of Facts
Similarities
  • Pakistani military was the perpetrator of crime against the hapless Bangladesh citizens in 1971. They repeated this role from 1979 to 2021 in Afghanistan, first in creating terrorists comprising of heavily indoctrinated religious bigots and then enabling them to create mayhem in Afghanistan.
  • The US was caught on the wrong side of liberal democratic values. In 1971 they sided with the military junta of Pakistan involved in massacre of innocent Bengalis. Their Seventh Fleet entered the Bay of Bengal to intimidate India when the Pakistani military capitulated in Dacca16. Fifty years later the US forces betrayed the Afghans who helped them win the War against Taliban. Pictures of Afghan nationals climbing the transport plane on its take off run and falling as the plane took off magnified this monumental betrayal17.
  • As innocent civil population was being killed their property destroyed and women humiliated the UN bodies appeared helpless in bringing an end to this mindless game of destruction in Bangladesh (March to December 71) and then in Afghanistan since 15 August 2021 when Taliban took control over Kabul.
  • In both these episodes women and children were the most affected.
  • Nations claiming leadership of the free world were seen indulging in reckless use of military and economic power at the cost of defenseless population in the aggrieved countries.
Differences
  • Bangladesh operation was short swift and precise. No military operation has achieved so much in such a short time frame with negligible collateral damage. It was an operation characterized by outstanding manoeuvers and masterly psychological warfare coupled with deception. The Chief Of Staff Eastern Command walked into the headquarters of Pakistani top military commanders and martial law administrator and told him that he has only one option- unconditional surrender to the Indian commander in the theatre. Half an hour of most audacious psychological mind game played by Major General (Later Lt General J F R Jacob) broke Lt General AAK Niazi’s will to fight. Little did he realize that when he agreed to surrender only 3000 Indian troops were surrounding Dacca whereas his headquarters were protected by 8000 troops. 18When the Pakistani troops got to know the declaration of surrender they were bewildered since bulk of the Pakistani Army in East Pakistan was intact and fit to fight for another month19.
  • Indian politico military leadership achieved the desired outcome and sustained it for more than four decades. There was minimal post war violence.
  • Pakistan was exposed as a farcical democracy and a rogue state killing its own people.
Major Takeaways
  • Need for popular strong leadership in the host country. Extraordinary success in Bangladesh and monumental failure in Afghanistan bring out the importance of popular and visionary leaders in the host country. Sheikh Mujib was such a leader for Bangladesh. Afghanistan failed in creating the kind of leadership that could bring the internecine tribal wars to an end and protect Afghanistan from the evil designs of Pakistan.
  • Respect for the common citizens. Unarmed and peace loving population of a nation is the most powerful asset. They need to be respected and protected. Pakistan, Russia and the US failed to do so in Afghanistan. India abided by this ethical practice.
  • Minimize collateral damage. Modern wars need to be guided by the concept of precision targeting with minimal collateral damage. This principle was followed in Bangladesh, flouted in Afghanistan. Indian operation in Bangladesh paved the way for return of refugees to their homes. In Afghanistan the effect of Russian, Pakistani and US involvement was the exact opposite.
  • Enable not control. Foreign intervention can at best enable a nation to achieve its goals. Any attempt to control is despised by the target country and it boomerangs in the long run. This has been at display in Afghanistan since 1979.
  • People and the Leadership Matrix Find their Own Solution. External efforts to impose an ideology, religious doctrine and political culture are not known to succeed. Vietnam, Iraq, Hong Kong, Tibet, Iran, Afghanistan are a few current examples. People and leadership matrix finds an equilibrium that is more peaceful and sustainable. Iraq did better under Saddam Hussein, Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh and South Africa under Nelson Mandela. India grew at three time faster pace than what she has been growing under the British Empire and the three percent GDP growth rate has been the lowest for independent India.
End Notes
  1. Sheikh Mujib Ur Rahman Address to the Indian Contingent at the Retreat March Past Dacca India’s soldiers quit Bangladesh (12 March 1972) https://www.nytimes.com/1972/03/13/archives/indias-soldiers-quit-bangladesh-ceremonies-in-dacca-mark-pullout.html
  2. The Watershed Moment in 1970 Elections that broke Pakistan, Raza Naeem 7 December 2020 https://thewire.in/south-asia/elections-that-broke-pakistan-1970-history
  3. The Black Night March 25 , 1971 https://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/the-black-night-73596
  4. S N Prasad , UP Thapliyal “India Pakistan War of 1971 A History”Nataraj Publishing 2014 ISBN 97881582379
  5. How Bangabandu Flew into London ShakhawatLiton 11 January 2016 https://www.thedailystar.net/op-ed/politics/how-bangabandhu-flew-london-199858
  6. 269000 people died in Bangladesh war says new study war https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/rest-of-world/269000-people-died-in-bangladesh-war-says-new-study/articleshow/3147513.cms
  7. Bengali Economist puts cost of recovery from War as $3 billion 6 January 1972 https://www.nytimes.com/1972/01/06/archives/bengali-economist-puts-cost-of-war-recovery-at-3billion-bangladesh.html
  8. Rise of GDP per capita Bangladesh https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD?locations=BD
  9. Per Capita GDP Pakistan 2020 Per Capita GDP Pakistan 2020 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD?locations=PK $1482 in 2018, $1193 in 2020
  10. Global Terrorism Index Top 50 Countries 2020 https://www.statista.com/statistics/271514/global-terrorism-index/
  11. The Last Soldier Leaving Afghanistan- nicknamed Flatliner, was Uniquely prepared for the moment Elisha Fieldstadt 02 September 2021 https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/last-soldier-leave-afghanistan-nicknamed-flatliner-was-uniquely-prepared-moment-n1278260
  12. Taliban Celebrate Victory as Last US Troops Leave Afghanistan https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/8/30/white-house-confirms-kabul-airport-rocket-attack-live-news
  13. Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan 1979https://www.britannica.com/event/Soviet-invasion-of-Afghanistan
  14. The Soviet War in Afghanistan 1979 to 1989https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2014/08/the-soviet-war-in-afghanistan-1979-1989/100786/
  15. Mass Murder in Afghanistan : 40 years of Conflict 18 December 2020 , Meg Cramer , Institute of World Politics https://www.iwp.edu/articles/2020/12/18/mass-murder-in-afghanistan-40-years-of-conflict/
  16. Ibid 4 ‘Seventh Fleet Entered Bay of Bengal’ Pp 407
  17. Chaos Desperation at Kabul as Biden Defends withdrawal from Afghanistan https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/talibans-rapid-advance-across-afghanistan-2021-08-10/
  18. Lt Gen J F R Jacob” Surrender at Dacca Birth of a Nation” Manohar Publishers 1997 ISBN 817304189 New Delhi (Pp 143 to 147)
  19. Major General Hakim Arshad Quereshi“The 1971 Indo Pak War A Soldier’s Narrative” Oxford University Press 2002, ISBN 0195797787

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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