Recognition of Bangladesh in 1971: Accountability to History

1. Introduction

Bangladesh has fought one of the bloodiest wars ever recorded in human history in 1971. The sacrifice of three million lives, the rape, abuse, and mutilation of over four hundred thousand women and children saw the birth of a new independent nation in the world map in December of that year. Over ten million people fled Bangladesh and became refugees in neighboring India, who clothed and fed them as much as they could for almost ten months.

During that critical juncture in Bangladesh’s history, people from many walks of life showed Bangladesh their support. Many nations tried to assist Bangladesh either directly or indirectly, and part of their assistance and support eventually came in the form of recognizing Bangladesh’s independence. Due to some recent development of events, there seems to be some confusion as to which country recognized Bangladesh’s independence first. The two ‘top contenders’ for this claim are India and Bhutan.

From our motto of accountability to history, the Center for Bangladesh Genocide Research (CBGR) explored this issue in more details and the findings are presented below. It needs to be noted upfront that each recognition made Bangladesh’s fight and existance stronger and Bangladeshis are grateful to each one of them. The purpose of this research is not to promote one agenda (country) over another, rather to provide evidence from history of the events.

CBGR's Findings: India recognized Bangladesh first, on December 6, 1971 around 11 am. Bhutan recognized Bangladesh second on December 7, 1971. We provide the first ten countries' names to recognize Bangladesh at the bottom.

Now that you know the gist, please feel free to read more about the findings and evidence.

2. Bangladesh Government Documents

In the two documents presented below (as images), it can be seen that the Government of Bangladesh's official document from December 8, 1971 reflects India's recognition from Dec 6 of that year, and then from the publication on December 10, 1971, we see about Bhutan. 

BD Government Publication - Dec 8, 1971
BD Government Publication - Dec 10, 1971

Here is a pdf of the official letter written by India's then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to Bangladesh's Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed, dated December 6, 1971. It should be noted here that as soon as India recognized Bangladesh, Pakistan immediately severed all ties with India. Moreover, as a retaliatory measure, the United States - who was directly supporting Pakistan - cut off a significant part of its economic aid to India (New York Times and Los Angeles Times). China followed suit on December 7 and "denounced India's recognition of the rebel Bangla Desh regime, calling it an example of Indian "expansionism" and part of a plot by India to annex East Pakistan," according to the New York Times.

3. Speech of PM Tajuddin Ahmed - Dec 8, 1971

In a major speech given by Bangladesh's Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed on December 8, 1971, it is revealed how India was the first country to recognize our independence. The audio of that speech is given below. Take a listen [courtesy of Simin Hossain Rimi, daughter of Tajuddin Ahmed].

 

If you have problem listening to the above file, you can also listen to it at the SoundCloud website by clicking HERE.

Additionally, the texts of this speech can be read in Bangla and in English. Another useful version of the speech was published on Bangladesh Awami League's official newsletter named "Joy Bangla" on December 14, 1971. Click HERE to see it.

 

4. Newspapers around the world

The documents below are image snapshots of newspapers from around the globe. You can click on the images to get a larger view and then use your keyboard arrows for convenience to browse more. Browsing through them will show that India is the first country to have recognized Bangladesh in 1971.

The Dawn, Pakistan, December 7, 1971
Purbodesh, Dhaka, Dec 7, 1971
Purbodesh, Dhaka, Dec 8, 1971

The Irish Times, December 7, 1971
The Irish Times, December 8, 1971
Chicago Tribune, December 6, 1971
The Christian Science Monitor, December 9, 1971
New York Times, December 8, 1971 - Bhutan Second Country
The Washington post, December 6, 1971

The editorial written by Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury in Bangladesh Awami League's publication "Joy Bangla" from December 10, 1971 also reflects what the world newspapers have shown above.

Apart from these selected few newspapers above, CBGR has an extensive collection of other newspapers including (but not limited to) Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Christian Sciene Monitor, Washington Post, Atlanta Constitution, The Guardian, Hartford Courant, Irish Times, Baltimore Sun, Times of India, Dawn, Pakistan Purbodesh and Pakistan Horizon. CBGR has an archive of these newspapers and more from December 6 to December 9, 1971.

 

5. Books Focusing on Bangladesh's Recognition

These are references of some books that has this issue of recognition discussed in them. Not only do we learn about the treaties between Bhutan and India here, but also about how Bhutan was second only to India in recognizing Bangladesh. There are several other books, and we limited ourselves to these.

1971 War in Pictures, Ministry of Information & Broadcast, India
The War of the Twins, Krisha Chandra Sagar, 1997
Word Word Words - Adventures in Diplomacy, T. P. Sreenivasan, 2008

 

6. The Bhutan Perspective

On September 21, 1971, Bhutan joined the United Nations with direct sponsorship from India. In his book Words Words Words - Adventures in Diplomay Mr. T. P. Sreenivasan (source) wrote, "With a treaty relationship that entrusted its foreign affairs to India, Bhutan really did not have a case to seek membership of the United Nations, but India generously agreed when Bhutan aspired to secure a certain international standing" (p.31). The treaty he talks about here is the Treaty of Friendship that Bhutan and India signed in 1949. So in most matters of foreign affairs and policy, Bhutan followed the lead from India. This is not new for Bhutan as they had a similar treaty with British India from 1910, where British India would guide Bhutan's defence and foreign affairs. So logic dictates that Bhutan would have not taken the first step to recognize Bangladesh's independence without india doing so or having asked Bhutan to do so before them. There is no evidence for the either of those scenarios.

Bhutan itself never claimed they were the first to recognize Bangaldesh. In the documents available from them, either it clearly states Bhutan is the first country after India, or it says Bhutan is among the first countries (plural) to recognize Bangladesh as a sovereign nation. The following images are news reports and other documents regarding Bhutan that appeared in Bangladesh and Bhutan. All the newspapers from 1971 reflect 'Bhutan being second' in terms of recognizing Bangladesh's independence.

Text of the felicitation message sent by His Majesty the Third King of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck - pdf

Third Druk Gyalpo receives Bangladeshi award - Link - pdf

Liberation War Honour to the Third Druk Gyalpo - Link - pdf

Prime minister's visit to Bhutan - Link - pdf

Dainik Bangla, April 17, 1972
Dainik Bangla April, 17, 1972
Bangladesh Observer, April 21, 1972
Bangladesh Observer, April 7, 1972
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bhutan, April 1, 2013

 

7. United Nations General Assembly - Representatives of India and Bhutan

On the twenty-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly, that took place on December 7, 1971, the delegate from Bhutan Mr. Penjor made a passionate plea to the members about the war in the subcontinent. Mr. Lyonpo Sangay Penjor (1928-93) was Bhutan’s first representative to the United Nations. But nowhere in his speech (points 38 - 42) did he raise anything about recognizing Bangladesh’s independence. It is only logical that such a platform would be an idea one to promote Bhutan, has they recognized Bangladesh’s independence. But it was not so.

When Mr. Samar Sen - the representative on India to the U.N. from 1969-74 - took the floor and gave his speech, he was very clear in bringing up the subject on India’s recognizing Bangladesh and becoming the first country to do so. In his presentation (points 151-186). In point number 184, Mr. sen said, “As everyone knows, India recognized the People's Republic of Bangladesh two days ago. If reports are to be believed, yet another State has recognized it, and I am sure more will follow.” As it was the 7th of December after 3 pm in New York City, New York, USA, it was already the 8th of December in India. Mr. Sen’s reference then points to the recognition of India to Bangladesh on December 6, 1971. The latter part of this point also hints at Bhutan, but as nothing was made official by the representative of Bhutan - who perhaps was still not aware of the events from Bhutan happening on Dec 7 - India did not state anything regarding Bhutan.

For the convenience of the readers, we are sharing the entire minutes of that session HERE as pdf.

8. U.S. Documents

A Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) bulletin dated December 8, 1971 (No. 0293/71) that was declassified on May 19, 2003, shows that China was upset with India about India’s recognition to Bangladesh. However no mention of Bhutan was made, and China was not upset with Bhutan. The CIA’s report can be found HERE.

The US Department of State's Research Study report from the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (dated Feb 2, 1971) has been declassified reently. This report is a "chronology of key events in the development of the Indo-Pakistani crisis from December 1970 to December 1971" (source HERE). This report clearly states India's recognition of Bangladesh in December 6, but nothing is mentioned here about Bhutan. As "key events," Bhutan's recognition even at a later date did not make its cut.

The US Foreign Relations Report on South Asia Crisis, in another declassified document from December 7, 1971 showed an urgent message sent from the "Ambassador to Pakistan (Farland) to the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)" (source: US Department of State). In this report, Pakistani President Yahya Khan wrote to U.S. President Richard Nixon about India's recognition of Bangladesh (no mention of Bhutan), pakistani soldiers suffering heavy casulties on the Eastern side, and need for direct/indirect assistance in the war.

We can see that all these documents point only to India regarding India's recognition of Bangladesh on December 6, 1971.

9. Conclusion

Overall, where does all of these information take us? What is it that the evidences establish firmly? We feel we can make the following points from the discussion above.

First and foremost, it becomes abundantly clear that India is the first country to have recognized Bangladesh as an independent nation on December 6, 1971, roughly around 11 am. Contrary to some recent trends, Bhutan did not recognize Bangladesh on the same day after a few hours, but rather on the following day on December 7, 1971. As we stated above, this does not belittle Bhutan's generosity in anyway. The people of Bhutan became Bangladesh's life long friends due to that. But it is in no one's interest to move forward with any unsupported claims.

Second, any confusion that has arisen recently could be due to simple linguistic issues. Some of the documents presented above used the language "Bhutan was the first country, after India . . ." or "Bhutan was among the first countries . . ." and these could have misled some people who are not as skilled in the finer shades of a secondary language. It could have played a mental trick on people as well, where only the "first country" remained stuck in the memory. We are talking about a possibility here.

As the Bangladesh Government's recent press release stated Bhutan as the first country to recognize us, it is completely up to them to provide credible evidence to support that stance. So far we have not come across any evidence supporting that claim. And we have done exhaustive search. However, there is always a possibility that CBGR has overlooked something, and it would be great to have access to what we have missed. This important research would benefit everyone from that surely.

And finally, if what the Bangladesh Government had said resulted from an overlook of information, linguisitic confusion, or a slip of judgment, then this must be rectified. No one should promote something that is unsubstantiated or is known to be false. There is no harm or shame in realizing an omission, accepting it, and taking steps in rectifying it.

After all, we are all accountable to history.

 

10. Footnote: Chronological List of 10 countries recognizing Bangladesh

  • 1. India, December 6, 1971
  • 2. Bhutan, December 7, 1971
  • 3. East Germany, January 11, 1972
  • 4. Poland, January 12, 1972
  • 5. Bulgaria, January 12, 1972
  • 6. Myanmar, January 13, 1972
  • 7. Nepal, January 16, 1972
  • 8. Barbados, January 20, 1972
  • 9. Yugoslavia, January 22, 1972
  • 10. Tonga, January 25, 1972

[Source: United States Congressional Record]