FB   
 
Powered bysps
        Society for Policy Studies
 
 

 
1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh
Posted:Dec 13, 2013
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
Book Review
 
The Past as Present
 
This week, the celebration of the 42nd anniversary of Bangladesh’s liberation from Pakistan is being marred by the recent execution of Abdul Qadir Mollah, a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, convicted of war crimes during the struggle for independence. In most countries, ruling elites share a common understanding on the founding of the nation. In Bangladesh, the construction of such a narrative has proved elusive.
 
It is not just the political classes in Bangladesh that are struggling to come to terms with the meaning of 1971. India and Pakistan too are finding it hard to cope with the consequences of the creation of Bangladesh. Pakistan army’s promotion of anti-India terrorism, the militarisation of the India-Pak border and the introduction of nuclear weapons into the arsenals of the subcontinent can all be traced back to 1971.
 
Gen Yahya Khan’s brutal repression of East Pakistan triggered widespread international revulsion and an extraordinary mobilisation of humanitarian support from around the world by what we now call the global civil society. The passionate debates today about the international community’s “responsibility to protect” people against excessive violence from their governments, in violation of state sovereignty if necessary, was presaged in the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971.
 
The story of the 1971 war has been told before. Srinath Raghavan returns to the subject with one technical advantage and two important new perspectives. There is lot more archival material available today around the world that allows Raghavan to reconstruct the story in greater detail and with many fresh and valuable insights.
 
In bringing to bear new perspectives on the seminal developments of 1971, Raghavan overcomes an important limitation of the traditional historiography — the dominance of the nationalist perspectives in the subcontinent. He chooses instead to write what he calls a “global history of the creation of Bangladesh”
 
In bringing into the story the three forces that shaped the world in the late 1960s and early 1970s — the struggle for decolonisation, the Cold War rivalries among the United States, Soviet Russia and Communist China, and the new wave of globalisation — Raghavan provides a rewarding perspective of the liberation of Bangladesh. He complements the expansive perspective with granular detail of the diplomatic dynamic across the world that shaped the eventual outcomes of the 1971 war.
 
Finally, Raghavan’s most important contribution lies in challenging the widespread belief that Pakistan’s disintegration into two separate was inevitable given its peculiar geographic construct and the reluctance of its elite to address the legitimate demands of its Bengali population. Raghavan argues instead that “far from being a predestined event, the creation of Bangladesh was the product of conjuncture and contingency, choice and chance”.
 
Raghavan argues that the “breakup of Pakistan can only be understood by situating these events in a wider global context and by examining the interplay between the domestic, regional and international dimensions, for much of the contingency stressed in this account flowed from the global context of the time”.
 
The first three chapters of the book deal with the internal dynamic in Pakistan at the end of 1960s that set the stage for the breakdown of political order in the country and India’s reaction to the unfolding crisis next door. The next five chapters deal with the responses in Washington, Moscow and Beijing as well as that of the international community.
 
In the final two chapters, Raghavan returns to the subcontinent to explain how the crisis escalated into full scale war by late 1971 and how it came to an end with the surrender of the Pakistan army in Dhaka.
 
Raghavan’s reflections on the course of the war and its termination challenges the traditional narratives of the war and underlines the importance of the international dimension in explaining the outcomes. He brings the rich narrative with a brief reflection on an important paradox: a war that was won so decisively in such a brief period of time did not produce structural change for the better in the subcontinent. That India could neither build a lasting peace with Pakistan or deepen the partnership with Bangladesh after 1971 underlines the ambiguous consequences of the war.
 
Three years ago, Raghavan published a well-received volume, War and Peace in Modern India that provided a solid account of India’s conflicts in the Nehru years. 1971 is bound to reinforce Raghavan’s reputation as a leading scholar on the security politics of India and the subcontinent.
 
With his two volumes, Raghavan has filled a big breach in understanding the evolution of contemporary India. Historians have avoided exploring the post-1947 terrain and demonstrated little inclination to study issues of war and peace. Political scientists have, in general, tended to be ahistoric in their analyses of India’s engagement with the world.
 
Raghavan’s work, one hopes, will inspire a new generation of scholarship that can historicise the evolution of India’s foreign and security policies and thereby help improve the quality of the current strategic discourse in Delhi.
 
The writer is a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and a contributing editor,
 
The Indian Express, The Indian Express, 14 December 2013 
 
 
 
 
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will be visiting India between 7th and 10th of April and plethoras of agreements are likely to be signed then. Among the various agreements, the two countries will be signing the defence cooperation agreement which  has been getting the most attention. 
 
read-more
The Congress needs to come up with a more aspirational narrative than that of the BJP. The party doesn’t lack talent, but its leadership clearly lacks hunger and enthusiasm required for winning elections, writes Tridivesh Singh Maini for South Asia Monitor.
 
read-more
 If the civil war in Syria continues, it will be impossible to control in the future. To stop the massive humanitarian destruction, necessary steps need to be taken immediately, writes Mohammad Kawsar Ahammed for South Asia Monitor.
 
read-more
Society for Policy Studies in association with India Habitat Centre invites you to a lecture in the Changing Asia Series by by Prof. K. Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India on Health And Development: India Must Bridge The Disconnect Chair: C Uday Bhaskar, Director, Soci...
 
read-more
spotlight image 'Covert military actions or surgical strikes against terror launch pads in Pakistan have limited utility that won't change the mind of the Pakistan Army or the ISI  which sponsor cross-border terrorism
 
read-more
In Dutch politics, alliances are imperative to construct an administration. The post-election government formation is, therefore, a slightly time-consuming process. In due course, a coalition led by the incumbent Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, will surface.  
 
read-more
Japan is a special country in several ways. For centuries, it remained isolated and disconnected with the outside world. But once it opened itself up to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854 by the use of force by Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry of the United States Navy, Japan has never looked back. Japan is a spe
 
read-more
Recently, under the leadership of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, and earlier under the late Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdallah bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud, Saudi Arabia has rolled out a series of women-friendly initiatives.  Recently, under the leadership of Custodian of the
 
read-more
The attacks in London on Wednesday are grim reminders of not just the growing menace of terrorism but also of the urgent need for the global community to join hands in combating it. 
 
read-more
Column-image

India remians the inflexible bête-noir for Pakistan, yet there are few books by Indian authors that have sought to interpret the prodigal neighbour in a holistic, informed and empathetic manner.

 
Column-image

The line that Mortimer Durand drew across a small map in 1893 has bled the Pashtun heart ever since. More than a century later both sides of that line remain restless. But the mystery behind what actually happened on 12 November 1893 has never ...

 
Column-image

What went wrong for the West in Afghanistan? Why couldn't a global coalition led by the world's preeminent military and economic power defeat "a bunch of farmers in plastic sandals on dirt bikes" in a conflict that outlasted b...

 
Column-image

What will be Pakistan's fate? Acts of commission or omission by itself, in/by neighbours, and superpowers far and near have led the nuclear-armed country at a strategic Asian crossroads to emerge as a serious regional and global concern whi...

 
Column-image

Some South African generals, allied with the British forces, sought segregation from the enlisted men, all blacks, after being taken prisoners of war. The surprised German commander told them firmly that they would have to share the same quarte...

 
Subscribe to our newsletter
Archive