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Revisiting war of liberation

Disrespectful role of Nixon and Kissinger in 1971

by Mohammad Amjad Hossain

A NEW light was thrown on the disrespectful and criminal role played by the then US president Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, special assistant to the president on national security, during Bangladesh’s war of liberation in 1971. Certain sensational events were disclosed by Gary J Bass, a professor teaching politics and international affairs at Princeton University, in his latest book, The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and A Forgotten Genocide, which was published from New York this year. This is a research-oriented book on the liberation war of Bangladesh. It revealed how the president of a democratic country along with his special assistant on national security ignored the warning of genocide of innocent people in East Pakistan by president Yahiya Khan’s military junta, particularly on the Hindu community from March 1971 until the dismemberment of Pakistan.
Archer Blood, consul-general of American Consulate in Dacca, East Pakistan, was courageous enough to report genocide in Dacca following ruthless crackdown on the innocent people of Dacca and students of Dacca University on March 25-26 and onward. Blood’s first telegram reporting massacres of innocent people, including student of Dacca University, reached the US state department on April 5. It said ‘a reign of terror began and thousands were slaughtered, innocent along with allegedly guilty. And all in the name of preserving the unity of the country. Those Bengali moderates who wanted to remain within Pakistan were now discredited by the continuing orgy of violence, which had terrorised the populace today but radicalised political leadership for tomorrow. Bengalis would turn to guerrilla warfare to win total independence from West Pakistan. The military had destroyed the county: guardians of nation’s honour and integrity have struck the sharpest blow conceivable against the raison d’être of Pakistan.’ This was a very bold but meticulous analysis at the initial stage of severe political crisis in the erstwhile East Pakistan.
Blood stood by his analysis till his unceremonious departure from his posting in East Pakistan to the state department in Washington DC. His flurry of disturbing reports of the atrocities by Pakistan’s marauding mercenary did not cause any sympathy for Bengali people in the erstwhile East Pakistan from Nixon and Kissinger. Both turned out to be complicit in the genocide. The writer of the book is of the opinion that Nixon was enduringly loyal to Pakistan’s military dictator, General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan. Kissinger remarked about Blood, ‘I can think of a few people in the world who are less maniacal than Arch Blood.’ Blood was subsequently recalled to Washington DC. While Kissinger was in power, he was professionally in exile, excluded from any work relating to foreign policy.
Another whistleblower about Pakistan’s genocide was the late US senator Edward Kennedy of the Democratic Party, who repeatedly told the Senate that ‘Nothing was more clear, or easily documented, than the systematic campaign of terror—and its genocidal consequences—launched by the Pakistan army on the night of March 25.’ Senator Kennedy said, ‘Hindus were being specifically targeted, systematically slaughtered...’ Kennedy blamed the Nixon administration for much of this: ‘America’s heavy support of Islamabad is nothing short of complicity in the human and political tragedy of East Bengal.’ Kennedy was not allowed to visit East Pakistan at the advice of Agha Shahi, permanent representative of Pakistan to the United Nations. I have had the opportunity to see his telegram to the foreign ministry and copy to external publicity in Islamabad where I was posted as an information officer looking after Europe and America, apart from IPEC and RCD. I left Islamabad on August 27, 1971 on two months’ leave to visit East Pakistan and did not return to the post.
Both Nixon and Kissinger were loathsome about the Indian administration of Indira Gandhi on the war of liberation in East Pakistan as has been reflected in the book. From the Indian side, Jayaprakash Narayan, was vocal to help Mukti Bahini to liberate East Pakistan from the clutches of Pakistan army. Young Bengali members of Mukti Bahini were the major strength to help the Indian army advance from two directions — Jessore and Comilla. Mukti Bahini was brought under the control of lieutenant General Jagjit Sing Aurora, the general officer commander-in-chief of Indian army’s eastern command in November. Prime minister Indira Gandhi visited training camps of Mukti Bahini in the first week of November.
Another startling revelation of the book is that many young people within the range of 15 years and below were involved from East Pakistan in the War of Independence. Bangladesh’s political leaders who had sought refuge in India had no clue to organised fighting against Pakistan army.
In this book, only the name of Mizanur Rahman, an Awami League politician and MP who visited some camp of Mukti Bahini, featured prominently. Gary J Bass, however, in his epilogue, gave a bleak picture as soon as Sheikh Mujibur Rahman ran the administration. As PN Haksar, an adviser to Indira Gandhi, and other Indians had warned, Bangladesh’s underdevelopment and poverty proved overwhelming and Mujib’s government quickly sank into corruption. As the Indian foreign ministry noted nervously, the rural poor were hungry, while the middle class were disillusioned as their living standard declined (pp 325-326). The writer also mentioned the two countries’ squabble about border enclaves, bizarre leftovers from partitions: tiny bits of Bangladeshi territory that are inside India and little blobs of Indian Territory located inside Bangladesh. India has separated itself from its neighbour with armed guards and a massive fence with barbed wire, running along most of the border. Since 2000, Indian forces have killed almost a thousand Bangladeshis trying to get across the border. The writer also spoke about present prime minister of Bangladesh, terming her ‘a rather awful one.’ She ‘hassled Nobel laureate who broke new ground in microcredit; corruption is endemic and opposition politicians face arrest or harassment’ (p 326).
Both Nixon and Kissinger were rude to Indira Gandhi for the help her government extended to Bangladesh in the war against Pakistan, but the writer of the book is of the opinion that ‘if an apology from Henry Kissinger was too much to expect, it would be an act of decency for the US government to recognise a special American responsibility to make amends to the Bangladeshi people.’
It is an irony that neither Nixon nor Kissinger expressed regret over the massacres of the people in East Pakistan. Nixon did not mention the atrocities committed in East Pakistan by the marauding Pakistan army while recognising the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on April 4, 1972 in a letter to the prime minister of Bangladesh. Scott Butcher was also quoted by the author in this book, who reportedly drafted the letter for Nixon. Butcher, who worked with Blood and one of the signatories to Blood’s telegram, escaped the wrath of Henry Kissinger. I had the opportunity to see Nixon’s letter on April 6, 2012 which was sent to me by Butcher whom I met at a function held by the Bangladesh ambassador to the US to commemorate 40th anniversary of recognition by America. Blood could not rise and become ambassador apparently because of Kissinger who also assumed the responsibility of the state department during the tenure of president Gerald Ford after the resignation of Nixon from presidency in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
Blood resigned from Foreign Service and landed as the diplomat-in-residence at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania and left this world in 2004 at 81. The American embassy in Dhaka has dedicated its library in the name of Archer Blood. I salute his sagacity and honesty as a diplomat per excellence. Government of Bangladesh may consider naming a road after Archer Blood for the suffering that he endured for warning the government of Nixon administration about genocide activities by Pakistan army in erstwhile East Pakistan. The road may be named near old Adamjee Court in Motijheel where American Consulate was located. Similarly, Bangladesh may consider filing a case in the International court of Justice or the International Criminal Court in The Hague against Kissinger who was an accomplice of Pakistan in 1971.
Mohammad Amjad Hossain, a retired diplomat from Bangladesh and former president of the Nova chapter of the prestigious Toastmasters International Club, writes from Virginia.

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