Since the British had left, the political landscape of Indian subcontinent turned in to a hotbed of intrigues and tussles. Three Indo Pakistan wars have been waged with vicious ferocity, yet the region is still politically perturbed. Of the three, one war turned out to be a war of liberation of another country, which has, since then battled silent hegemonistic encroachment of India in its affairs through multiple avenues.

BLF: An Indian Satellite

In the paper, 1971 war was between Pakistan and India-Bangladesh allied forces, but behind the scenes, India’s premier intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) had different designs. As the leader of Bangladesh’s struggle for freedom was in prison in West Pakistan in 1971, First Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Tajuddin Ahmed, who led the political wing of the Bangladeshi cause, was not competent enough in RAW’s views to bring the outcome of Pakistan’s breakup into India’s favor.

In order to bog down Tajuddin Ahmed led the movement, RAW clandestinely formed infamous Mujib Bahini (BLF), led by prominent youth leaders of Awami League politics at that time. This organization got direct support from RAW in its clandestine operations, that never seriously aimed at fighting Pakistan Armed Forces, but rather focused on confronting Bangladesh Mukti Bahini (FF). The reason for this parallel force formation by RAW is its lack of confidence in FF. Bangladesh suffered so much shock in the hands of the elements of BLF in later days.

RAW’s goal was to achieve the breakup of Pakistan by the pro-Indian leadership of BLF rather than through nationalistic FF. All of the commanding officers of FF were 1965 war veterans and they were never comfortable with Indian counterparts. Sector Commander Ziaur Rahman (Later Army chief and President of Bangladesh) was a recipient of 2nd highest gallantry award of Pakistan Armed forces during the 1965 Indo-Pak war. Tajuddin Ahmed was viewed as pro-Leftist, which was alarming for Indian policymakers. Both FF and Tajuddin Ahmed led cabinet were outraged to find the nefarious objectives of BLF, which according to the Deputy Commander in Chief FF, was to turn Bangladesh into a “Satellite state” of India.

Cometh independence, cometh trouble

Unable to bear the success of Tajuddin Ahmed, Moni, one of the four leaders of BLF threatened to launch a civil war, if Tajuddin Ahmed did not relinquish. This man, Moni, was a nephew of Bangladeshi struggle of freedom’s undisputed leader Bangabandhu. Moni’s threat was not a hollow one, for he was a commander of an armed outfit backed by RAW. RAW used this influence to subsequently create distance between Bangabandhu and Tajuddin Ahmed and successfully sow discord into Bangladeshi politics.

India was never happy with the formation of a full-fledged professional armed force. To keep Indian influence more assertive, Bangabandhu was convinced to bring the BLF into the mainstream and with the members of it formed another notorious force “Rakkhi Bahini”. Bangladeshi journalist Ghulam Murshid once equated Rakkhi Bahini’s level with the infamous Gestapo, while Pakistani author Anthony Mascarenhas found little differences of it with the Nazi Brownshirts. A number of people either killed or got disappeared into the hands of Rakkhi Bahini was about 30,000 between 25 months of 1972 and 1974. This infamous force was armed and trained under the eyes of General Uban from RAW.

While one batch of BLF enlisted into Rakkhi Bahini, others were fitted into an opposition camp named JASAD, which in turn, sought ideological blessings from an Indian party (Socialist Unity Center of India). This party, which wanted to style itself with Chinese Communist Party with Indian mentoring, resorted to the insurgency, that plunged the war-ravaged country into chaos. JASAD was so far the largest opposition party then, and oddly enough, both the government and opposition had strong insider elements that were strongly influenced by India.

In the midst of doldrums, in 1975, a pro-US coup dislodged Awami League government, that resulted in the tragic and gruesome assassination of the President Bangabandhu and his family. Although the main actors of the coup were pro-US elements, the architect of its path was the JASAD and its imprudent activities.

Aim to Finish Two Birds with One Stone

In 1975, between August 15 and November 7, Bangladesh passed its most tumultuous period since independence. Rumors piled over the country, coups and counter-coups passed on. During this period, the Dehradun trained BLF played the role of villain, donning different jerseys. Same players of BLF were in two opponent groups: JASAD and pro-government Rakkhi Bahini. Senior officers in the army were anxious to bring back discipline, yet none was competent enough to initiate. This situation was ideal for India to see a potential armed force to get into disarray, that will see the capitulation of several illustrious officers.

Operation Panther” was the most undiscussed yet the most overriding episode of Bangladeshi politics, which was a heinous episode in the history of Bangladesh. General Khaled Musharraf, one of the most prolific war heroes of Bangladesh was more inclined to bring back the chain of command in the army, while his ally in the mission, Brigadier Nuruzzaman, the chief of notorious Rakkhi Bahini wanted something more. Dismayed by Khaled’s adamant objective, Nuruzzaman decided to eliminate him. Khaled Musharraf’s illustrious career ended when he was assassinated along with his trusted comrades into the hands of his supposed custodians in the morning of November 7.

Ziaur Rahman ascended into the helm of Bangladesh shortly afterward, but he too had to face unruly JASAD elements in the politics. Zia survived 18 coup attempts but succumbed after the next. But his death also cost the life of another prolific war veteran in General Manzur, who was killed in custody, and an accused of his murder was former army dictator Ershad, who came to power through the silent and tacit support from New Delhi. Nevertheless, Bangladesh battled India backed insurgency in hill tracts during the military rule.

Transition to Democracy: Old Wine in New Bottle

Military rule in Bangladesh ended in 1990, and the era of the Battling Begums began. Prior to the transition to democracy, a pro-Indian intelligentsia community grew up in Bangladesh. This community branded itself as a “torch bearer” of the “spirit of liberation war”, which maintained close collaboration with Awami League in politics. This community has remained so far a bona fide channel for India to project Indian influence in the Bangladeshi political spectrum. The narcissistic intelligentsia community, that spreads from academia, media and cultural field, gave a sound backbone to Awami League to unevenly take on its oppositions. The intelligentsia movement is now resorting to Fascist language to counter their opposition.

India was uneasy with the Bangladesh-Pakistan rapprochement during the reign of Khaleda Zia and was unnerved by the ten truck arms haul in Bangladesh, which was destined to fuel Assam insurgency, which meant, India will never be at ease unless its ally Awami League is brought back into power.

Bangladesh was supposed to move into national elections in 2006, but Awami League launched a violent street agitation, that brought Army again into Bangladeshi politics. The interim government backed by Army failed to resolve the political standoff and had to rely on India for its safe exit. Former Indian president Pranab Mukherjee revealed in his biography, how he ensured the return of Awami League in power by managing the then army chief of Bangladesh in 2008. India’s open support behind Hasina during 2014 controversial elections has set a new example of the most objectionable way of meddling in other sovereign countries matters.

India’s Bangladesh Outlook

Standing in the 21st century, India still relies on its hawkish, medieval, feudalistic foreign policy when it comes to dealing with smaller neighbors. Despite political instability, people of Bangladesh has shown resilience to come to its present state, even surpassing India in terms of various human development index. Bangladeshi people is not willing to grasp the Indian language of bullying, an image of BSF is enough to tarnish Indian image in rural Bangladesh, Indian antiques in handling common river water sharing have turned Bangladeshi feelings towards India into a hostile faculty. Bangladeshi community is looking more towards China and Japan for co-operation and developments.

In a country, where China is gaining upper hand swiftly, and where an election is due later this year, it’s up to India to repeat its 2014 antique and stand behind a regime that routinely silences its critiques. If it does, India must bear in mind, it will make a hostile entity out of its own misadventures. Standing behind vendetta in Dhaka will be an ill-conceived step by world’s largest democracy, which will isolate itself in South Asia. It lost Maldives and Nepal, will it lose Bangladesh?

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.
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Khalid Ibn Muneer is an Independent analyst from Bangladesh having focus on foreign affairs with the special interest in South Asia and Middle Eastern geopolitics.