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What happened to the fate of 93,000 prisoners of war in Pakistan in 1971?

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Written by   73
1 year ago
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The Pakistan Army surrendered in Dhaka on 16 December 1971 and a new history was written at the then Ramna Racecourse Ground. On that historic day, apart from the Pakistani army, the military and civilian administrations of West Pakistan in Bangladesh also surrendered to the joint command of Bangladesh and India. After the surrender of all of them on the 16th, the number of prisoners of war stood at ninety-three thousand.

Fifteen thousand civilian men, women and children were among the ninety-three thousand prisoners of war in Dhaka, according to Pakistani diplomat and expert Samuel Martin Burke. According to researcher Surendra Chopra (1988), there were 56,998 regular army members, 18,287 paramilitary members and 17,376 civilians. Of these 17,000, there are 4,616 police officers, 1,628 government employees, 3,963 West Pakistanis of various ranks who worked in Bangladesh, and about 6,000 women and children. In all, about ninety-three thousand military and civilian people.

Niazi is signing the surrender document;

Who will take the responsibility of prisoner of war?

For the first time since World War II, the world has witnessed such a large number of prisoners of war. At the beginning of this list of prisoners were high-ranking army officers of the Pakistan Army. A large number of prisoners of war ran and kept the victorious force a little ahead. Although under the Third Geneva Convention, prisoners of war are not entitled to such benefits in exchange, prisoners of war must be accommodated with their human dignity and due respect, and torture after surrender is also outside the Geneva Conventions.

Members of the Pakistan Army symbolically surrendered their weapons on December 16 at the then Racecourse Ground;

So, as expected, after Bangladesh became independent, there was the first dispute between the then government of Bangladesh and the Indian administration over the responsibility of ninety-three thousand prisoners of war. The administration of Bangladesh's interim government wanted a special court in Dhaka to try Pakistani prisoners of war for crimes against humanity. In the absence of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the caretaker President, Syed Nazrul Islam, on December 23, 1971 (Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, 1971-72), called on India to extradite the accused military members to Bangladesh and expressed interest in initiating the genocide trial in Bangladesh.

It was not possible for the newly independent Bangladesh

However, considering the situation in Bangladesh, it has not been possible to do so. The whole sky is falling on the head of the caretaker government, the country has a huge number of people in arms. Bangladesh has seen the cries of hundreds of young fighters, with weapons in their hands, people's homes destroyed by Pakistani forces, no one knows where their wives and relatives are. The country's bridges, rail communication is closed, the port is unusable due to landmines. Dhaka's airspace was almost shut down due to retaliatory bombings. All the infrastructures in the territory of Bangladesh are indirectly or directly damaged. Loss of relatives in the territory of Bangladesh and in the refugee camps on the Indian border, the whole of Bangladesh is blowing with the anger of losing relatives. In such a situation, the government of Bangladesh has not been able to keep this huge number of prisoners of war and start the trial. So the Indian Armed Forces took these prisoners of war to India by land and air.

Pakistani troops at a camp in Bangladesh before being transferred to India after 16 December;

Politics started with prisoners of war

Indian diplomat Maharaja Krishna Rasgotra and many other experienced diplomats have opposed the transfer of this large number of prisoners to India. Because on the one hand India is crushed by the pressure of refugees from Bangladesh, on the other hand the maintenance of these prisoners will put India under economic and new international pressure. Rasgotra was of the opinion that as soon as these troops returned to the country, the pressure on Bhutto and the administration would increase, and Pakistan would be held responsible for its failure.

But many high-ranking Indian officials disagreed, with most thinking of India's diplomatic gain if a section of Pakistan's military could be held captive on Indian soil. So they were kept in camps in different parts of India. However, special arrangements are made for high-ranking officials in certain cases. For example, Muzaffar Hussain was the highest civilian officer in East Pakistan at the time, although he was taken prisoner of war. P. He stayed as a guest in Dhar's house.

Pressure on India to take prisoners of war and deal with India

With ninety-three thousand prisoners of war, international pressure began to come on India. According to Article 118 of the Third Geneva Convention (1949), the process of exchanging and releasing prisoners of war must begin without further delay after the end of active conflict on the battlefield.

  • "Prisoners of war shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities" - Geneva Conventions

First, India claimed that these prisoners of war had surrendered to the Bangladesh-India Joint Command. So both India and Bangladesh have a common interest with these prisoners. Indian diplomats were the first to press for the release of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Because Sheikh Mujib has established himself as the undisputed leader in the territory of Bangladesh, the representative of the majority of the people, the issue of POWs remains his and his country's views in resolving the issue.

Diplomatic pressure to release Sheikh Mujib

According to Indian diplomat Shashank Banerjee, the biggest challenge for Indira Gandhi and her cabinet and advisers, known as the 'Kitchen Cabinet', was then. There was a complacency between Indira Gandhi and her close ones over the loss of Nixon-Kissinger-Yahya diplomacy, but new pressure on the POWs and Sheikh Mujib's announcement of a trial in a military court left Indira's kitchen cabinet in a state of disarray. In particular, India was crushed by the huge influx of refugees in West Bengal, and the rise of leftist movements in various parts of India was always on the minds of the Indian central government. The first demand of India was for speedy rule of law in Bangladesh.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was imprisoned in Pakistan during the war;

According to information provided by Shashank Banerjee, during a stopover at London's Heathrow Airport, Indira Gandhi sent a message to Bhutto through her diplomatic channel to think about the release of Sheikh Mujib. It was clear to Bhutto that India had the weapon to claim, and that was a large number of prisoners of war. If Sheikh Mujib is convicted in a Pakistani court, the outcome will affect India, so the message of India is conveyed to Bhutto, the sooner Mujib is released, the better.

After the release of Sheikh Mujib, the release of prisoners of war took a new turn

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was released from prison on January 8, 1972, and talks between Bhutto, Indira and Mujib continued through diplomatic channels. How and when Pakistani prisoners in India will be released. After being released from prison in Pakistan, Sheikh Mujib returned to his country and took the helm of the government anew. He decided to deal with Pakistan with new confidence.

Freed from Pakistan, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took the helm of the country;

According to Surendra Chopra (1988), Sheikh Mujib said that if Pakistan did not recognize Bangladesh, he would not agree to sit at the negotiating table. And without his opinion, the issue of Pakistan's prisoner of war is not being resolved. But it is almost impossible for Bhutto to recognize Bangladesh at that time, because on the one hand, the Islamic parties in Pakistan are angry, the crowd is blowing at their call. On the other hand, the relatives of the captured Indian soldiers are protesting in different directions.

What is the demand of India-Bangladesh in exchange for prisoners of war?

Sheikh Mujib wanted Pakistan to recognize Bangladesh as a sovereign country in the wake of this diplomatic dialogue to return prisoners of war. Besides, the high-ranking army personnel involved in the genocide will be tried in the courts of Bangladesh as well as the international recognition of the inhumane genocide that took place in Bangladesh during the nine-month liberation war.

In nine months, Bengalis have starved to death in refugee camps, victims of genocide by Pakistani forces;

India's Indira Gandhi and her cabinet also aimed to put pressure on Pakistan, especially when a significant portion of the Pakistani army was captured on Indian soil, to find a lasting solution to Kashmir. Samuel Martin Burr, from the University of California Press, cited his research paper, "The Postwar Diplomacy of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971," citing two hidden reasons for India's delay in exchanging prisoners, which did not come to light in the media.

The first is that keeping this huge number of army personnel in check will leave an impression on the efficiency of these members. And the second is that India is keen to negotiate with Kashmir, and if it can be resolved at the negotiating table, it should be good for India.

Indira-Bhutto signed the Shimla Agreement

Bhutto made political trips to Islamic bloc countries such as Iran, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Syria in 1972 to discuss whether Sheikh Mujib could be placed in talks and pressure could be put on India. He has held talks with China, the United States, as well as Muslim-majority countries. However, Bhutto did not benefit much from it. On July 2, 1972, the Indo-Pakistani Bilateral Shimla Agreement was signed. Where the emphasis is on the long-term peace agreement between India and Pakistan.

On 17 December, Pakistan agreed to abide by the new border demarcated along the ceasefire line on the Western Front. Through this agreement, Pakistan took a step forward in recognizing Bangladesh and in return the trial of the genocide committed by the Pakistani forces was also diplomatically suspended due to the influence of Indira Gandhi.

The Shimla Agreement was signed by Indira and Bhutto;

Bhutto returned to Pakistan empty-handed after signing the Shimla Agreement, so he faced strong opposition in the country as well. The failure to address the issue of POWs is also causing outrage among the Pakistani military. He was released on December 5, 1972, when about 20,000 relatives of prisoners of war gathered in Rawalpindi to protest.

Pakistan's diplomatic pressure on Bangladesh

Throughout the period, Pakistan's diplomatic pressure on Bangladesh continued, with Bangladesh being denied membership of the United Nations in 1962 due to a veto by China's close ally Pakistan. Therefore, Bangladesh's journey to international recognition of its sovereignty faced a stalemate.

China's veto at the UN barred Bangladesh from becoming a member in 1972;

Sheikh Mujib and his administration understand that if they do not agree to the transfer of prisoners of war, Pakistan will continue to put pressure on Bangladesh. In an economically collapsed country, speed cannot be brought if it continues.

PN Haksar, India's special envoy to Dhaka, arrived in Dhaka in April 1973, followed by Kamal Hossain, Bangladesh's foreign minister. After that, the return of prisoners of war to Pakistan was announced through a joint declaration of Bangladesh and India. However, war crimes charges were brought against 195 prisoners of war and steps were taken to start the trial, Bangladesh said.

The Delhi Agreement paved the way for the exchange of prisoners of war

The joint declaration provided an opportunity for Pakistan to take back prisoners of war, and paved the way for the Delhi Accord. There are three main clauses in the August 1973 agreement between the three countries.

  • All but 195 detainees will be sent from India to Pakistan.

  • Bangladeshis detained and detained in Pakistan will also be sent back.

  • Arrangements will also be made for the repatriation of the Urdu-speaking Bihari population in Bangladesh to Pakistan.

Pakistan's political circles are still hot with the recognition of Bangladesh, the recognition of Bangladesh means that these Pakistani prisoners will be promoted internationally as prisoners of war. Pakistan claimed that the prisoners had been captured by Indian troops on December 16 from their own territory.

Invitation to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from OIC's 'Islamic Summit'

Sheikh Mujib was adamant about bringing 195 people to justice in the deal, but Bhutto was still giving a diplomatic message through the leaders of the Muslim-majority country whether 195 people could be released in any way. Following this, Sheikh Mujib was invited on the occasion of the OIC's 'Islamic Summit' to be held in Lahore in February 1974. However, he made it clear that he would not set foot in Lahore as a representative of Bangladesh without the recognition of Pakistan.

In this declaration of Sheikh Mujib, the Islamic countries urged Pakistan to normalize relations. However, Pakistan remained adamant in its position, refusing to recognize it, considering various aspects, including legal hurdles. Already, several Pakistani leaders, including Bhutto, have agreed that Pakistan will recognize Bangladesh if arrangements are made for the release of 195 prisoners whose trial Bangladesh is adamant about.

Recognition of Bangladesh by Pakistan and solution of stalemate

Two days before the start of the Islamic Summit, Somalia proposed at a foreign ministerial meeting that a special envoy be sent to ensure Bangladesh's participation. Secretary General of the Islamic Summit Hassan Al Tohmai and representatives from Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon and Senegal came to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in Dhaka without delay.

There Sheikh Mujibur Rahman agreed to compromise on the trial of 195 prisoners of war, Pakistan agreed to recognize Bangladesh. And on 22 February 1974, Pakistan recognized Bangladesh. Pakistan also joined the UN through diplomatic channels and ensured that China did not veto Bangladesh. In 1974, in the presence of the foreign ministers of the three countries, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Sardar Sharan Singh, Aziz Ahmed and Kamal Hossain, it was decided to release 195 prisoners of the Delhi Accord. The signing of the agreement in New Delhi is expected to positively improve relations between the three countries.

In the middle of the front row, Sardar Sharan Singh is holding the hand of Aziz Ahmed on the right and Kamal Hossain on the left;

This was the beginning of the transfer of prisoners of war from various camps in India to Pakistan. The India-Bangladesh-Pakistan diplomatic war over prisoners of war came to an end. The uncertain fate of the Pakistani prisoners of war trapped in India came to an end, one by one everyone started crossing the border. The exchange of Pakistani prisoners of war in India officially ended with General Niazi's return through the Wagah border in Punjab.

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