Originally Published 2011-12-27 00:00:00 Published on Dec 27, 2011
While enough has come out with regard to the 1971 India-Pakistan conflict, it is imperative to ensure that the humane side of 1971 is brought to the fore, though this may not have any bearing on policy making and future geo-political developments.
1971 war history: Some overlooked issues
Much has been appearing in newspapers about the Indo-Pak war of 1971. The focus has predictably been on the political ramifications of this war which led to the creation of a new country, Bangladesh, on the one hand and the impact this war and the ensuing Simla Agreement had on the Indo-Pak relationship which for the larger part of the four decades ever since has remained strained, with the occasional glimmer of hope. But amidst this macro-analysis of the geo-political implications of this war for South Asia, India and Pakistan and the newly carved out state of Bangladesh.

Due to the pre-occupation with 'relevant issues', not much time has been devoted to some of the interesting 're-unions' between soldiers of Indian and Pakistani army who had served together in the Royal Indian Army. While these re-unions did not take place in the most pleasant of scenarios, but personal rapport between individuals of both the armies definitely did help.

Interviews with retired army officials from both sides of the divide have brought to the fore many facts. Some anecdotes are especially interesting. While the issues highlighted through these anecdotes are known, the efficacy with which they highlight the renewing of connections between friends and acquaintances, during 1971, is something which can not be overlooked.

Lt. General S.K. Sinha, former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir and the in-charge of POWs during the 1971 war, highlights how old bonds/connections were re-established through the war. Sinha knew, for example, knew Lt. Gen. A.K. Niazi, who had served with him in the United Indian Army before 1947. Niazi, who was then a captain in the Rajput Regiment, and Sinha, who was then a captain the Jat Regiment, had served together in Indonesia.

Niazi was not the only one whom Sinha had known pre-partition. Another officer who was a POW was Musharraf Hussain. Hussain had been an officer in the Indian Navy. He and the latter had lived together in the armed forces officers' mess on Zakir Hussain Road in Delhi in 1946. Hussain later opted for the civil service and in 1971 was the Chief Secretary of East Pakistan. He had also surrendered to the Indians and was kept in the camp at Bareilly. Interestingly, Sinha also facilitated the delivery of Hussain's letters to the latter's wife who was in West Pakistan. He even made an exception. Says Sinha, 'as a special case I would have his letter dispatched to Pakistan through the Egyptian embassy which was looking after Pakistan's interests in India in the absence..'

Renewing of old associations did not end here. Sinha narrated another interesting episode: 'After the Simla Agreement in 1972, we returned the prisoners of war without extracting any agreement to resolve the Kashmir issue. A month after the prisoners went back to Pakistan, I was surprised to receive a letter from Mohammad Nawaz, Cabinet Secretary in Pakistan. He had also been in the Indian Army and we had been staff officers together in 15 Corps Headquarters at Batavia, now Jakarta, in 1946. He wrote that he had received good reports about me from the prisoners who had returned. He said he decided to write to thank me and also to renew our old association'.

Major General Ashok K. Mehta narrated how Pakistani POW's were given badakhanas much to the 'chagrin of many Indian cadets'.

Sinha reminisced some other interesting points about how efforts were made to entertain these POWs. 'We arranged for their recreation and sports. Poetry readings (mushaira) and cinema programmes were organised for them. We arranged a cricket match at Roorkee between Pakistani officers and our officers guarding them at the camps.'

While enough has come out with regard to the conflict, it is imperative to ensure that the humane side of 1971 is brought to the fore, though this may not have any bearing on policy making and future geo-political developments. It is an important layer of Indo-Pak history, which once again reiterates that while partition may have led to geographical division, it could not obliterate ties which existed at the individual levels between the peoples -- including army personnel -- of both countries.

It is also imperative that there are many more conversations with individuals of the pre-partition generation who have positive experiences to narrate, because for far too long, the baggage of the 'pre-partition' generation has been used as the primary cause of tensions between both the countries, neglecting numerous other factors.

(The writer is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

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