Pakistanis have shown remarkable ability to introspect and critique our own internal failures that led to the breakaway of East Pakistan to become Bangladesh 42 years ago this week. Our ability to blame ourselves for the conditions that allowed India to invade us in 1971 speaks loud of the vibrancy of all Pakistanis and our maturity as a nation.
But four decades later it is time to include an important element in the discussion: the role of India in the war. Studying the Indian role is important to size up New Delhi’s current policy toward Pakistan since the drivers of that policy remain the same and there’s no evidence of change. This exercise is especially significant because the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is trying to engage India positively with little reciprocity so far.
New Delhi exploited our internal post-election chaos in 1971 to mount a military invasion across international borders. This action was unprovoked, meaning Pakistan did not initiate hostilities with India. The Indian aggression did not stop at crossing the international border. A proxy terror militia, the Mukti Bahini, created and trained by the Indian military, joined Indian soldiers in crossing the border and engaging us in hostile action.
Indira Gandhi personally signed off the order to create and launch the militia. The terror group started operating at least two years before the actual Indian invasion in 1971. Between March and November of that year, Mukti’s task was to compound the internal Pakistani chaos, feed political violence and identify targets to attack when the Indian army finally made a move.
In the correct perspective, this was not a Pak-India war. Rather, it was Inidra Gandhi’s war, an unprovoked Indian invasion of Pakistan exploiting a strategic opportunity. We had always limited our conflict with India to the international dispute over Kashmir. We never saw this as an existential war with India requiring the destruction of the Indian state and society. But in 1971, New Delhi revealed through action that its policy toward Pakistan is based on seizing any opportunity to end the Pakistani state and devastate the Pakistani society.
India has made it clear through action that it does not see its conflict with Pakistan limited to Kashmir. India’s conflict is larger than this single dispute. A lobby within the Indian ruling elite has viewed Pakistan with reservations from the start, believing in and promoting the notion that Pakistan was created on a territory stolen from India. This is an Indian religious myth that is not backed by any historical fact but it persists.
In recent years India has seen a mushrooming of the number of extremist religious groups that promote this view of how India sees its smaller western neighbour. India has failed to reciprocate unprecedented Pakistani policy concessions since 2004, and has unsuccessfully tried to scuttle Pakistani efforts to get preferential trade concessions from the European Union. Bilateral trade relations remain hostage to Indian desire to get Pakistani concessions without removing indirect taxes and obstacles to Pakistani products reaching the Indian market.
India owes its smaller western neighbour an apology for the unprovoked invasion of our eastern wing in 1971. New Delhi needs to rein in anti-Pakistan hatemongering that is repeatedly evident in Indian elections, and it should sincerely meet Pakistan halfway in resolving outstanding border and water disputes.
Without these actions, there is little chance that any effort by a Pakistani government to grant India undue trade and strategic concessions under foreign pressure would ever succeed.
Peace between Pakistan and India should be a matter of dispute resolution and not arm-twisting and blackmail exploiting Islamabad’s current economic and security problems. This won’t last, and nor would the ad hoc arrangements that ignore the real issues.