India is busy celebrating Swarni Vijay Parv (golden-victory festival) to commemorate its “victory” against Pakistan in the 1971 Indo-Pak War. India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh thinks that this victory is even greater than the two world wars fought. It was “the most decisive” as the “Indian Armed Forces in the 1971 War changed the history and geography of South Asia. The Tribune reported “India rightly claims credit for her ‘politico-military midwife’ role in the creation of an independent Bengali-speaking state in 1971 (How Pakistan lost the plot, The Tribune India December 16, 2020).
Like India’s prime minister Narendra Modi, RSS’s Mohan Bhagwat , too declared “India’s partition on religious grounds a ‘historic mistake’’ (The 1971 Indo-Pak war that led to the creation of Bangladesh tells us that the partition of India on the basis of religion was a historic mistake, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, India today, December 12, 2021). Rajnath Singh added “India has never invaded any country, nor has it ever captured an inch of the land of any other country.” He lies.
India did invade East Pakistan
He makes no bones in a YouTube interview that Indira Gandhi compelled him to attack East Pakistan; He initially delayed the attack in view of impending monsoon. But he later complied with her order. He inter alia admits “The Pakistani forces fought extremely well”.
RAW officers Raman’s and RK Yadav’s disclosures
In a published letter, Yadav made a startling revelation that India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi, parliament, RAW and armed forces acted in tandem to dismember Pakistan’s eastern wing. The confessions in his letter are corroborated by B. Raman’s book The Kaoboys of R&AW. He reminds `Indian parliament passed resolution on March 31, 1971 to support insurgency. Indira Gandhi had then confided with Kao that in case Mujib was prevented from ruling Pakistan, she would liberate East Pakistan from the clutches of the military junta. Kao, through one RAW agent, got a Fokker Friendship, the Ganga, of Indian Airlines hijacked from Srinagar to Lahore. Indian army chief Manekshaw initially refused to carry out Indira Gandhi’s order because of the impending monsoon when rivers flooded in East Pakistan and troops’ movement became difficult. Not only intelligence officers but also officers of armed forces are employed to carry out subversion and sabotage inside Pakistan.
There are several other myths and bitter truths (exposed by Sarmila Bose and others) about the 1971 War.
Some misleading autobiographies
After the failure of the Bay of Pigs, John F. Kennedy told a journalist that, “victory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan.” It’s an old idea. The historian Tacitus (who happened to be fascinated by and a peer of Seneca), once said, “This is an unfair thing about war: victory is claimed by all, failure to one alone.”
Regrettably, the autobiographies of the East Pakistan commanders like AAK Niazi, Abu Bakr Osman Mitha et. al. bear out the victory dictum. Niazi was rueful that he was removed from service. But several of his colleagues went scot-free, He wrote a 13 page application to the then Pak president Farooq Leghari for restoration of his pension (AAK Niazi, The Betrayal of East Pakistan, pp.291-304).. But “the president of Pakistan chose not to reply” (page304, ibid)
Major General Mitha also lamented that his pension was delayed (Major General A. O. Mitha, Unlikely Beginnings A soldier’s life). The greatest tragedy has perhaps been the treatment meted out to Maj Gen Mitha after his retirement was announced on national television. His pension was withheld for seven years and his life was made very difficult (The forgotten hero, Dawn August 2, 2009).
In psychological parlance, such autobiographies are “defence mechanisms” and can’t be quoted as evidence, as the Indian writers including Indian generals and writers do. In his over-ebullience, Niazi alleges Sahibzada Yaqoob ‘opposed the two nation theory” (page 38, Niazi, ibid). Niazi blamed Yaqoob for war plan that “the battle of the East will be fought in the West”.
He blamed General Tikka for”atrocities” (pp.46-47, ibid.) which in fact were figments of his own imagination.
True, in a war the truth is the first casualty. The truth about the casualties, strength of the Pak forces, and several other aspects is well exposed by Sarmila Bose n his book DEAD RECKONING — Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War. Bose says, ‘Many facts had been exaggerated, fabricated, distorted or concealed. Many people in responsible positions had repeated unsupported assertions without a thought; some people seemed to know that the nationalist mythologies were false and yet had done nothing to inform the public. I had thought I would be chronicling the details of the story of 1971 with which I had been brought up, but I found instead that there was a different story to be told’.
She points out thatMujeebur Rehman’s landslide electoral victory did not certify people’s desire to secede from Pakistan. She suggests that the people voted for Mujeeb as they were alienated by neglect of their welfare by the then government. In any case, a huge chunk of population, over 40 percent did not vote. They certainly were not enamoured of Mujeeb’s tactics.
Bose examines specific incidents of violence across East Pakistan from about January 1971 until March 1972. She gives eyewitness accounts of the survivors of the incidents as well as the accounts of the kin of those killed, and of the Pakistan Army officers who had served in East Pakistan at that time. She approaches the subject with the élan of a journalist and the seriousness of an academic.
She discredits the Indian and Bangladeshi claim that the Pakistani Army committed genocide of three million Bengalis. She calls it the “ultimate word-number combination” and a “gigantic rumour”. She deflates the figure to between 50,000 and 100,000. It is not unusual to play with numbers of vested interests. For instance, there is a lot of confusion about the numbers of Jews killed in holocaust.
Bose questions the figures like 300,000 deaths of Bengalis and 200,000 rapes of Bengali women. She says that there were more villains and one cannot single out the Pakistan Army in the whole episode of violence which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. Indian involvement, Bengali forces and Sheikh Mujibur Rehman were equally responsible. She has questioned the figure of 93,000 prisoners of war in Indian custody, when the total Army was not 93,000 in East Pakistan. She has challenged the facts with the records; she had conducted the interviews of people who lived the war.
She highlights individual acts of kindness of Pakistani soldiers, narrating them with poignancy. She shrugs off generalisations about or “demonisation” of rivals epitomized by “Shaala Panjabi” or “Khan sena”.
India’s silent invasion
Forty-five minutes before 12.00 pm on December 14, 1971, Indian Air Force pilots bombed the Government House , Dacca. At that time, East Pakistan’s Cabinet had begun an emergency meeting to discuss the political measures to avoid the looming surrender of their army at Dacca. A.M. Malik, head of the then East Pakistan government, survived the bombing along with his Cabinet , but resigned .
India’s Chief of Army Staff issued a secret order to the General Officer Commanding, Eastern Command, initiating the campaign that would end with the dismemberment of Pakistan.
The Eastern Command was to ensure that the guerrilla forces were to work towards “tying down the Pak [Pakistan] Military forces in protective tasks in East Bengal,” “sap and corrode the morale of the Pak forces in the Eastern theatre and simultaneously to impair their logistic capability for undertaking any offensive against Assam and West Bengal,” and, finally, be used along with the regular Indian troops “in the event of Pakistan initiating hostilities against us” (Praveen Swami India’s secret war in Bangladesh, The Frontline, December 26, 2011).
In July 1971, the first Bangladesh irregulars, trained in India, were infiltrated across the border at Madaripur. This first group of 110 guerrillas destroyed tea gardens, riverboats and railway tracks. These acts tied down troops, undermined East Pakistan’s economy and destroyed “communications between Dhaka, Comilla and Chittagong.”
The Indian forces initially set up six camps with some 3000 volunteers each, for training.
By September 1971, recruitment went up to staggering 20,000 guerrillas each month. Eight Indian soldiers were committed to every 100 trainees at 10 camps. On the eve of the war, at the end of November 1971, over 83,000 Gano Bahini fighters had been trained, 51,000 of whom were operating in East Pakistan — a guerrilla operation perhaps unrivalled in scale until that time. In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Brigadier Uban sent in Indian soldiers or, to be more exact, CIA-trained, Indian-funded Tibetans using hastily-imported Bulgarian assault rifles and U.S.-manufactured carbines to obscure their links to India. Fighting under the direct command of RAW’s legendary spymaster Rameshwar Kao, Brig. Uban’s forces engaged in a series of low-grade border skirmishes..
Rejecting an offer for conditional surrender in the East, the Indian forces entered Dacca on December 15.
Brutality of Indian forces
Swami writes, ‘The role of irregular forces, though, needs a more nuanced assessment. … They were also, however, responsible for large-scale human rights abuses targeting Pakistani sympathisers and the ethnic Bihari population. There is no moral equivalence between these crimes and those of the Pakistani armed forces in 1971, but the fact also is that the irregular forces bequeathed to Bangladesh a militarised political culture that would have deadly consequences of its own’.
Sarmila Bose writes, ‘Many Bengalis, supposed to be fighting for freedom and dignity, committed appalling atrocities; many Pakistani Army officers, carrying out a military action against a political rebellion, turned out to be fine men doing their best to fight an unconventional war within the conventions of warfare. The Bengalis splintered into many fragments, those who wanted an independent Bangladesh, those who supported a united Pakistan, those who desired autonomy but not secession, those who actively fought for whichever side they supported and those who like Doctor Zhivago wanted to ‘just live’ but got caught up in the upheaval nevertheless. There were combatants and non-combatants, victims of violence and its perpetrators’.
Brutality of Bengalis
According to Archer Blood, an American career diplomat, “Indian soil was made available for training camps, hospitals and supply depots for the Mukti Bahini” (freedom fighters) and the Mukti Bahini had a “safe haven to which it could retire for rest, food, medical supplies and weapons”. According to Yasmin Saikia , thousands of Bihari women were raped and tortured by the Mukti Bahini (Women, War and the Making of Bangladesh, page 41).
The pro liberation Bangladeshis deny, minimise or justify the brutalities committed by Bengali nationalists against non-Bengalis and non-nationalists during 1971. However, the post-1971 events testify how the Bangladeshi culture had become brutal.
Within months of the creation of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s Awami League, turned the country into a personal autocracy formalised later as a one party state. In August 1975 Bengali Army officers who had supported the liberation movement assassinated Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and massacred his entire family except for two daughters who were away at the time. Several former freedom fighters and Mujib’s cabinet colleagues were imprisoned and then murdered in jail. So called “international tribunals were set up to execute Awami League opponents, even the elderly and doddering old men.
India’ role in stoking insurgency is obvious. To tarnish Pakistan’s image India has propagated many myths. Some of these myths have been exploded by Sarmila Bose and Praveen Swami. India officially authorised invasion of East Pakistan. Yet it was not declared an aggressor by the United Nations.
The situation in occupied Kashmir is worse than it was in East Pakistan (custodial deaths, fake encounters, rapes, arson, and so on). Even children and women are rounded up and held incognito during cordon-and-search operations. Pakistan is a convenient scapegoat to blame for indigenous insurgency. Orphaned Kashmiri babies are being sold in Indian states. To destroy traditional Kashmir shawl industry, pashmina wool is being exported from Ladakh to Uttar Pradesh.
Saudi-Chinese Friendship: Should India be Concerned?
Saudi Arabia hosted the grand China-Arab summit in December last year and leaders of the two nations deliberated on future trade ties and regional security. The summit happened at a time when USA and Saudi ties are at an all time low. There lies massive uncertainty on global energy markets after the West forced a price cap on Russian oil and Washington is looking guardedly at China’s rising influence in the Middle East.
In Oil trade, China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade more than $87 billion in 2021. Saudi Arabia is China’s top oil supplier, making up 18% of China’s total crude oil purchases. The two countries have deals in refineries, power and military & security.
Africa’s natural resources have long been a Chinese favourite. Every year, China doles out billions in grants and loans to African governments as an inducement to secure raw material deals or to finance the infrastructure projects which are ultimately going to benefit its own companies.
What is India’s position on the China- Arab summit that intends to boost development and cooperation among the two? India would be in a bit of a quandary one may assume as Arabs are their good friends, as they claim; while the Chinese are not. The trio of the China, Arabs and Pakistan (being used as a mere proxy), uniting is bound to be a slight source of worry for India. What is India’s take on this friendship?
From a diplomatic perspective, if their friendship and goodwill is promoted, it’s a good thing but one hopes that this does not undermine Indian interest, as any bilateral relation must not destabilize a third relation. In general when one talks of the Arab world, one thinks of its gargantuan energy power and energy crisis and its management is a global issue right now. With the Ukraine Russia war hanging around the energy crisis, it could be an ‘Energy Security’ thing they are trying to do bilaterally. If a big country like China enters the domain of energy, food etc it could turn out into a fairly big movement in the markets, in terms of prices and availability. India has to reckon by the fact that China is large and when you take out a large chunk of something that is available, that can create a pressure situation for others.
Also the union of China, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan may have certain repercussions on India, as China and India already have problems and those are huge problems, there’s no denying that. Sachin Sawant, Senior leader of the Indian National Congress leader, the country’s main opposition party states that they are already over-exerting their power on India. The Chinese are going on building roads, tunnels and bridges nonstop along the border. India needs to develop stronger guiding principles, when dealing with China and its global intentions are concerned. It is a huge point of worry for India.
India definitely cannot do or say much if two good friends decide to meet, but it does have its set of concerns. If China forges more business alliances with the Arabs in the energy and other sectors, India foresees instability in the markets which may be against its economic interest. It also is wary of the Chinese and Arabs getting together as this is a powerful alliance and its outcome may have a negative impact on Indian interest.
What could be the intentions of China to promote this friendship further and strengthen their relations with the Arabs. How does India look at this union of two economic superpowers? Every country wants to have good friends. They both have global ambitions and one goes about a decade back or lesser, they had invested heavily in Africa. They went there and tried to get hold of all the mines that were of strategic importance to them. They need nickel, gallium etc which are crucial for smart phone manufacturing. So, yes! They would be eyeing many such opportunities in their bilateral ventures.
China is known for its expansionism and they use their financial strength to arm-twist many countries, especially the economically weaker ones. “They are the Shylock kind of money lenders; they keep on lending money at exorbitant rates and then the poorer countries like Pakistan get into that vicious cycle where China takes hold of all their resources at very cheap rates. India is not at all bothered about their befriending the Arabs, because Chinese intentions are well known to the world,” says a concerned Sawant.
India says it is well aware that the Chinese mean business when they talk of befriending the Arabs. Together the two may explore many more avenues of business which strengthen their respective economies. Would their friendship affect India’s foreign policy in anyway? How affected or concerned is the Indian Government with this strategic partnership of China and the Arab nations?
Both Saudi Arabia and China are also part of G-20, and they must work in some areas of convergence that emerge from this global exercise. India closely follows whatever they are doing in terms of multilateral regional matters which impact the well being of all people, and also other matters that are taken up in G20, like climate change, green development and digital economy. India has sufficiently strong relations with the Arabs and its foreign policy will only be affected if China does something that is out of line of its interest.
Sawant reiterates that it is a matter of concern for India. The leader says that the alliance of China with the Arabs is definitely rooted in more trade and greater geo-political ambition. It can harm India. He says that China has this habit of deliberately targeting India’s neighbours, antagonizing them like it has been doing with Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, all in a bid to weaken India. It has been their strategy and India should be worried about that. “India needs to revamp its foreign policy in dealing with China. On one hand we ban their apps but then our imports from them are also growing multi-fold, this has to stop. Even on the Bhutan front India needs to be more proactive in protecting the interests of people in that region,” argues Sawant.
If India looks at the China-Arab partnership through the prism of G20 then, it will jointly work on pressing global issues and is confident of a positive outcome. However, it would expect China to cooperate with it in its G20 endeavours. Does the Indian Government have any certain policy to enhance cooperation and influence in the Mid East Region? Yes, the Middle East is India’s immediate neighbourhood. India has an authentic historical and cultural relationship with them which is now nicely developing into a stronger and closer economic partnership. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is India’s major economic partner; most of its energy comes from there. Also, it has huge Diasporas in the Arab countries who are emerging as investors in India’s growth and infrastructural development.
“Any foreign policy is good until is serves the interest of the country. Just on the basis of how you are welcomed by foreign countries and how we welcome them cannot help determine foreign policy; this is a holistic issue. The Chinese President comes here and enjoys a resplendent welcome but that doesn’t stop their army from attacking us. What exactly we do in the interest of the country will help shape up strong foreign policy with any country. The Arabs, though our good friends will obviously be happy with the trade agreements with China, but we must be wary that it does not harm us or our economy inadvertently,” says Sawant.
In the end, India must be confident of its faith and friendship with the Middle East. Being a long time economic partner of theirs, they also benefit from the fact that Indians living in the Arab nations are a huge plus point for them. While there seems to be a bit of skepticism about the China- Arab ties, India should be confident that this will not come in the way of their strong relations with the other 7 GCC countries.
Taliban and the crisis in Afghanistan
In 2021, the Afghan Taliban took back control of Afghanistan after fighting a rebellion for twenty years. The Taliban reformed and began regaining territory less than 10 years after the American-led invasion that overthrew the previous regime in 2001. In line with a 2020 peace agreement with the Taliban, they staged a swift assault as the US started to evacuate its last forces from Afghanistan.
Even though they promised to preserve the rights of women and communities of religious and racial minorities, the Taliban have enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic law. The Taliban have failed to provide Afghans with sufficient food supplies and economic possibilities as they have evolved from an insurgent organization to a functioning administration.
Numerous instances of human rights violations have been documented by the UN mission in Afghanistan. Because the Taliban scared off journalists and put limits on press freedom, more than 200 news outlets had to close. Activists and protesters have been tracked and forcefully disappeared, and their government has ruthlessly suppressed protests. They also reinstated the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which was previously in place, and enforced laws against actions judged to be contrary to Islam. They instructed judges to apply their version of sharia in November 2022; in the following weeks, authorities resumed public hangings and floggings.
Women’s rights have been undermined. Due to restrictions put in place by the Taliban, girls are not allowed to go to high school, and women are not allowed to go to college or teach there. The group banned women from working for local and international voluntary groups in December 2022. According to estimates from the UN Development Program (UNDP), limiting women’s employment might cost Afghanistan’s GDP up to 5%. Amnesty International reports a substantial increase in the number of women jailed for defying discriminatory rules, such as those requiring women to cover their whole bodies while in public and to only appear with male chaperones. In addition, there are now more child marriages.
The UNDP says that the Taliban’s rule has also taken away the gains that Afghans made in their living conditions in the 20 years after the US invasion. In a study from October 2022, the organization claimed that practically all Afghans were living in poverty. Since the takeover, the economy has contracted by up to 30%, and there have been an estimated 700,000 job losses. More than 90% of individuals are impacted by food insecurity. The problem is getting worse because several countries and international groups have stopped giving aid, which is vital to the economy and public health.
International observers are nonetheless worried that the Taliban pose a danger to national and international security through their funding of terrorist groups, especially Al-Qaeda. Taliban leadership might convert Afghanistan into a haven for terrorists who could launch attacks against the US and its allies, despite Taliban pledges that the country’s territory wouldn’t be used against the security of any other country. The violence has also increased along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, which has always supported the Taliban. Tehrik-e-Taliban, a terrorist organization commonly referred to as the Pakistani Taliban, has gained strength due to the Taliban’s ascent to power. The organization broke off a cease-fire with the Pakistani government in 2022 and began carrying out assaults throughout the nation. Officials from Pakistan have charged the Afghan Taliban with giving the extremists a safe harbor in their country.
For many years, the Afghan government relied on help from a number of countries; according to 2019 World Bank research, contributions from foreign partners funded 75% of the government’s public expenditures. Many of these countries stopped off aid when the Taliban took control, fueling concerns about potential future economic turmoil. Nevertheless, aid rose in 2022 as donors sent more than $2.6 billion. The US has donated more than $1.1 billion in help since the coup. However, according to UN authorities, the pledges fell short of the nation’s humanitarian requirements.
Many Western countries, most notably the US, shut down their diplomatic posts in Afghanistan when the Taliban took power. Diplomatic relations and recognition have been withheld from the Taliban regime, which refers to Afghanistan as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The UN General Assembly has also postponed a decision on who would indefinitely represent Afghanistan at the UN. The Taliban are now being investigated by the International Criminal Court for suspected atrocities, including crimes against humanity, committed against Afghans.
Decoding Donald Lu’s Visit: A Positive Upward in US-Bangladesh Relations?
The U.S Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Donald Lu paid a visit from January 12 to 15. During his brief but swarming itinerary the two parties discussed various issues ranging from diplomatic to political. Interestingly, this is the 11th visit of any U.S high-official in the past two years. The frequent swapping of delegations from the both sides pose a critical juncture between the U.S-Bangladesh relationship. Experts believe that recurrent visits from US high-ups are definitely an auspicious sign between the relationship of the two nations. Therefore, the visit of Donald Lu is an offshoot of the “growing reciprocity and renewed engagement” between Dhaka and Washington.
Needless to say, Bangladesh has a long standing and steady relationship with the US since the latter recognized the former shortly after independence on April 04, 1972. Recently the US-Bangladesh celebrated the completion of 50 years of bilateral relationship and US President Joe Biden termed this as “robust partnership”. Amid such backdrop, it goes without saying that the recent visits signal to a significant positive tie-up between the two parties and the visit can be interpreted in the context of international and domestic backdrop of international politics.
The US is the largest market for Bangladesh’s RMG export. Naturally, the issue of GSP reinstatement plays a key role in bilateral camaraderie. Under such circumstances, Lu’s visit is important to hold talks of economic in the context of Bangladesh’s growing needs, especially after the LDC graduation. Moreover, in the annual Global Firepower 2023 Military Strength Ranking, Bangladesh is placed 40th out of 145 nations. On the other hand, Bangladesh came in 12th place on the GFP review’s list of ‘Strengths on the Rise,’ which emphasizes national military powers based on strong growth patterns until 2023. In this context, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and Acquisition and Cross-servicing Agreement (ACSA) agreement indicates to a deeper and strategic engagement from the US rationale.
Bangladesh’s stands at the heart of a strategic position of the US’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, which aims to counter the increasing footprint of China in the Indo-Pacific region. However, Bangladesh maintains a neutral position in terms of its foreign relations and has been carefully helming without taking any side of any major powers. Washington’s focus on free and fair election is important to maintain a stability in the greater Bay of Bengal neighborhood- an important feat in it’s IPS. Conversely, Bangladesh values economic partnership to sustain her ongoing upward trend. However, at the same time Bangladesh should be careful not to succumb to any pressure, a case in point when the Foreign Minister announced that the US proposed strategy is being vetted under the lens of economic opportunity.
On the domestic fore, arguably, the U.S has been advocating for a free and fair election, upholding democratic values, and condemning extra judicial excesses. However, continuous engagement between the two parties resulted helping to mitigate tensions and create a more positive atmosphere. The crux of Donald Lu’s visit is to reaffirm democratic ideals in state mechanism, rule based international system and Bangladesh to be part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy. Accordingly, Bangladesh has committed to hold a fair election and the recent decline of the controversial RAB’s extrajudicial excesses reported by Human Rights Watch as well as peaceful demonstrations of the opposition have been markedly praised by Donald Lu. From Bangladesh’s perspective rescinding of sanctions, reinstatement of GSP, and more support for Rohingya Refugees were reiterated. More importantly, Dhaka’s impartial foreign policy goals align with Washington’s interest in the South Asian region and it will be of American interest to consider Bangladesh as an important ally in the geopolitical chessboard of the Indo-Pacific region.
However, the visit is also crucial for Donald Lu who is accused of meddling with the internal affairs of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. But, Donald Lu manifested his diplomatic acumen to “manage the fissures of the diplomatic ties’ and “highlight on the areas of convergence” in the recent visit. Evidently, the past year has been tumultuous for South Asian nations, following the collapse of Colombo, the Pakistani Economic Crisis and the revolving debt crisis around the region. Amongst her neighbors, Bangladesh has endured relatively steady political and economic pursuit. Therefore, US needs to formulate a comprehensive South Asian policy to accommodate the interests of the respective nations on its own merit.
Bangladesh’s relationship with the U.S is vital in both economic and political stance. Continued engagement and partnership between the two states is critical for the security of South Asia as well as Bangladesh’s ongoing economic prosperity. On a pragmatic tone, it would take more than just this one visit for Bangladesh to solve these complex geopolitical issues. For now, the visit has symbolized strengthening of U.S-Bangladesh relationship going forward by exonerating the mutual interests to diplomatically resolve pressing bilateral issues and elevation of continuous engagement.
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