President Yahya in no mood to negotiate

The hot sweltering months of summer passed by. In September, India moved its troops from inside India to the international borders opposite the eastern and western wings of Pakistan, especially along likely conflict routes. This was done to reduce the time required in moving troops and material to their tactical positions vis-a-vis Pakistan. Since Pakistan already had it cantonments close to the border, it had the advantage of quicker reaction over India.

Yahya Khan had completed the deployment of his troops in West Pakistan by about 12 October 1971 while the Indian formations were still on the move. His propaganda machine accused India of a thinly separated armed confrontation which might ignite into a shooting war any moment. In an address to the Pakistani people on 12 October 1971, Yahya Khan complained bitterly about India's attempts at disintegrating Pakistan and the 'war-like concentration' of Indian troops on Pakistan's borders.

During the same time Indira Gandhi made one final attempt to persuade the international community to persuade Yahya Khan to see reason and create a "favourable situation" for the refugees to return to their homes. She first went to Moscow, then returned home. On 23 October 1971 she proceeded on a three-week tour of several Western countries, including the US, France, West Germany, Britain, Belgium, and Australia.

During Indira Gandhi's visit to Washington in mid October 1971, Nixon offered to have the United States assume full responsibility for all refugee camp expenses, but she displayed no interest. By then, of course, New Delhi had already made the decision to take military action and dump 10 million refugees back on a destitute Bangladesh by the end of 1971.

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Indira Gandhi even proposed to meet Yahya Khan, but any potential settlement would mean negotiating with the people of East Pakistan and their elected leader. That meant negotiating with Sheikh Mujib, then in captivity. Unless he was freed, no negotiations were possible as any settlements otherwise arrived at was likely to be misconstrued as having been attained through threatening pressure. Mere absence of fighting would not be enough to convince the refugees to go back home, whom would return only if 'there is a truly Bengali government'.

But Yahya was in no mood to negotiate. In Paris, repeating her offer to meet him, Indira Gandhi commented "But you know his position. How can you shake hands with a clenched fist?".

Before Niazi took over from Tikka Khan on 16 September 1971 it was agreed that the forces would defend the territorial integrity of the eastern region at all costs. The Pakistani defence was organised in tiers with the intention of giving battle at a series of defence lines based in urban areas and river obstacles. The troops, if hard pressed, were to fall back on the defences of Dhaka, where the final battle was to be given. However, post-monsoon, the forces along the borders were increased by Niazi as they suspected that with Indian support the attacks on the border would increase. This meant consuming the troops around Dhaka. Thus, Niazi sacrificed depth in Dhaka for strength of the forward border posture, but this was a fatal mistake for which he was to pay dearly later.

By October 1971, the Mukti Bahini's offensive increased in tempo and geographic scope. While unable to challenge the Pakistani army in urban areas the muktijuddhas were able to carry out hit-and-run attacks and minor sabotages both in the border regions and in the interior, resulting in significant achievements. In most cantonments, including Dhaka, troops were having to confine their movements to daylight hours - seldom venturing out into the countryside except in large columns. This, together with large-scale sabotage activities was beginning seriously to disrupt the occupation government's administrative control in the country. From the border sanctuaries more ambitious operations were undertaken - company strong bands of guerillas mounting hit-and-run raids on isolated detachments of Pakistani troops, ambushes to waylay vehicle columns and patrols. In some districts of Dhaka, Comilla, Noakhali, Faridpur, and Bakarganj, the Mukti Bahini seemed to almost move about at will and had, in other areas, set up systems of parallel administration.

Through elusive methods, and guerrilla warfare the Mukti Bahini succeeded in making the [Pakistani] invaders "blind and deaf", confessed General A. A. K. Niazi, after the Pakistani defeat.

Mukti Bahini impact

Towards the end of October, Mukti Bahini guerillas began to claim "liberation" of strips of territory - both adjacent to the Indian border and in the interior - in Mymensingh, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Rajshahi, Kushtia, Jessore, Khulna and Noakhali districts. In some of these "liberated" areas the Bangladesh government-in-exile sent in administrators to reorganise the administration at village and union levels.

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In response, the Pakistani forces also intensified their campaign. They became tougher in dealing with the local people, and started to use armoured vehicles and aircraft in resisting the advance of the Mukti Bahini.

To aid the Mukti Bahini, the Indians adopted 'forward military postures' and engaged the Pakistani military in the border areas. Thus, the Razakars and other paramilitary and semi-volunteer organisations collaborating with the Pakistani Army was left largely to deal with the Mukti Bahini.

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