Birth of a nation

It is generally known that the Soviet Navy had kept a close watch on the US Seventh Fleet when America decided to send a nuclear naval task force into the Bay of Bengal during the Bangladesh War. What is not known is that the USSR sent a very strong message to China and backed it up with the deployment of 40 divisions along the Sino-Soviet border.

At a public meeting in London in September, Indira Gandhi had said: "I am sitting on top of a volcano, and I honestly do not know when it is going to erupt". The eruption came just after sunset on December 3 when Pakistan attacked a number of Indian air force bases. It is no secret, however, that if Yahya hadn't acted that evening, India would have started the military action the next day. The lightning campaign lasted barely a fortnight. On December 16, in Indira's ringing words, Dhaka had become "the free capital of a free country".

Sadly, one must also record that among nations, as among individuals, gratitude is the least lasting emotion. After the initial warmth and friendliness came a time when Bangladesh started drifting away from India. Eventually a stage was reached, especially under the reign of Khaleda Zia, when Bangladesh became a happy hunting ground for Pakistan's ISI and thus a source of terrorist attacks on India.

Now, happily, things have changed. Sheikh Hasina, back in power, is combating terrorism and handing over to India insurgents of its Northeastern region that have enjoyed comfortable sanctuaries in Bangladesh for years. (On November 19, Mujib's killers were given death penalty.) Cooperation in other spheres, hitherto withheld, is also likely. By a coincidence Sheikh Hasina has won the Indira Gandhi Award for International Understanding. This makes the 38th anniversary of the Liberation of Bangladesh only five days away a welcome landmark.

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