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A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh

Srinath Raghavan

ISBN 9780674728646

Publication date: 11/12/2013

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The war of 1971 was the most significant geopolitical event in the Indian subcontinent since its partition in 1947. At one swoop, it led to the creation of Bangladesh, and it tilted the balance of power between India and Pakistan steeply in favor of India. The Line of Control in Kashmir, the nuclearization of India and Pakistan, the conflicts in Siachen Glacier and Kargil, the insurgency in Kashmir, the political travails of Bangladesh—all can be traced back to the intense nine months in 1971.

Against the grain of received wisdom, Srinath Raghavan contends that far from being a predestined event, the creation of Bangladesh was the product of conjuncture and contingency, choice and chance. The breakup of Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh can be understood only in a wider international context of the period: decolonization, the Cold War, and incipient globalization. In a narrative populated by the likes of Nixon, Kissinger, Zhou Enlai, Indira Gandhi, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Tariq Ali, George Harrison, Ravi Shankar, and Bob Dylan, Raghavan vividly portrays the stellar international cast that shaped the origins and outcome of the Bangladesh crisis.

This strikingly original history uses the example of 1971 to open a window to the nature of international humanitarian crises, their management, and their unintended outcomes.


  • [Raghavan’s] superb analysis of the global intricacies of 1971 uses [a wide] lens with great precision to explain the breakup of Pakistan more convincingly than any preceding account… Raghavan…draw[s] on an impressive array of far-flung and hitherto untapped sources as [he] investigate[s] the strategic ambitions, the moral pressures, the judgments of risk, and the sheer brutality of that pivotal year. [He] show[s] how the most powerful democracy in the world could become complicit in a mass slaughter, and how in turn India—the world’s largest democracy but also one of its poorest and militarily weakest—was pushed to intervene to stop the slaughter. For Raghavan, the origins of the Bangladesh crisis lie in the peculiarities of Pakistan and the intricacies of its politics. It is one of Raghavan’s consistent and convincing arguments that, contrary to retrospective nationalist narratives, there was nothing inevitable about the fact that Pakistan would break violently in half less than a quarter of a century after its creation… Raghavan provide[s] the first authoritative account of the debates among Indian decision-makers, as they weighed the pressures and risks of action to stop the violence… Raghavan’s [book] carries important warnings to Indian decision-makers about the costs of circumspection and delay. Raghavan argues that a swift and early intervention might well have been effective: helping save innumerable lives and much suffering, it would have left Bangladesh less battered and more able to rebuild as a democratic state… Raghavan [has] given us [an] indispensable stud[y] of one of the most sordid and important instances of horror and help.

    —Sunil Khilnani, New Republic


  • Srinath Raghavan is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, and Senior Research Fellow at King’s India Institute at King’s College London.

Book Details

  • 368 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press