As Bangladesh and India celebrate 50 years of Bangladesh’s independence and the golden jubilee of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, with the Prime Ministers of both nations scheduled to address the UN General Assembly this week it is worthwhile to remember the role Indian and Bangladeshi diplomats played at the same UN General Assembly 50 years before.
Although the role of the MuktiBahini and the armed forces in fighting the war of Independence is quite well known,it is also important to bring attention to the diplomatic initiatives taken by India to raise the issue of Bangladesh’s independence on a global platform.
As the war for Independence in Bangladesh broke out in March 1971, Indira Gandhi at the height of the Cold War launched a diplomatic effort to build a case for Bangladesh’s independence though bilateral conversations with leaders of various countries as well as by raising the issue of Pakistan’s atrocities at multilateral platforms such as the United Nations.
50 years ago, on the 27th of September 1971 at the UN General Assembly, the Indian delegation led by the then External Affair Minister, SardarSwarn Singh appraised the world of the atrocities taking place in what was then still East Pakistan. Speaking at the Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly, Swarn Singh spoke of the reign of terror that prevailed. He also called on Pakistan to release Bangobandhu Sheikh MujiburRahman who was then still in Pakistani custody. “The International Red Cross was not allowed to visit the area and all attempts were made, to conceal what was happening in that part of the world. Killing, raping, burning, and looting became widespread “ he said.
According to A.N.D Haskar a foreign service officer who was the Political Counselor at the Permanent Mission in New York, not only did India raise the issue of the crisis in Bangladesh at the UN but also hosted Bangladeshi representatives in New York to further their cause through informal diplomatic meetings. Some of these representatives went on to become important figures in independent Bangladesh.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, toured several capitals around world to garner support for the Bangladeshi cause and yielded positive results as the United Kingdom Britain, East and West Germany, France, Russia, and Poland showed sympathyfor the Bangladeshi cause. Mrs. Gandhi was also successful in getting both the United Kingdom and France to break with the United States, and block pro-Pakistan directives in the United Nations Security Council in the late 1971.
This week 50 years after India called for the release of Sheikh Mujib from Pakistani custody, his daughter Sheikh Haseena will address the UN General Assembly as a democratically elected leader of a large, rapidly rising country with a bright future.