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“Blood Telegram”: The forgotten genocide

Author: Minhaz Merchant
Publication: The Times of India
Date: October 25, 2013
URL: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/headon/entry/blood-telegram-the-forgotten-genocide

Gary Bass’ new book, “Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide”, could not have been better timed. The book sets the record straight of a disgraceful period in US foreign policy.

The complicity of former US President Richard Nixon and former US Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger in the Pakistan army’s genocide in erstwhile East Pakistan in 1970-71 is described in brutal detail based on recently declassified material.

Former Bangladesh president Begum Khaleda Zia, widow of assassinated former President Ziaur Rahman, has intensified her campaign to oust Sheikh Hasina, daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, founding father of Bangladesh, in the forthcoming January 2014 general election. Begum Khaleda Zia represents fundamentalist Islamist forces who hope to topple the pro-India Hasina government which has curbed jehadi terrorism directed at India from Bangladesh.

After Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s Awami League won a landslide victory in the 1970 Pakistan election, West Pakistan’s Punjabi-dominated army generals and politicians arrested him. Over five lakh East Pakistani Bengalis were massacred by the Pakistan army. Nearly 10 million became refugees. Whole villages in East Pakistan were burnt. The Hindu minority was the main target.

Millions fled to India. As The Economist writes: “Hindus, as a distinct minority, were chosen for annihilation and expulsion. At the behest of Mr Kissinger, Nixon sent military planes and other materiel to Pakistan, even though he knew this broke American law. He deployed an American naval task force to the Bay of Bengal to intimidate India, which had begun helping rebels in East Pakistan. Most extreme, he secretly asked China to send troops to India’s borders.

“Nixon and Mr Kissinger stood with Pakistan, even as they knew of the extent of the slaughter. Their own diplomats told them about it. The centrepiece of Mr Bass’s gripping and well-researched book is the story of how America’s most senior diplomat in East Pakistan, Archer Blood, the consul-general in Dhaka, sent regular, detailed and accurate reports of the bloodshed. Early on he stated that a ‘selective genocide’ was under way.

“Blood and his colleagues protested that America should not support Pakistan’s rulers. Then, 20 of them sent a dissenting telegram (the ‘Blood telegram’ of the book’s title) condemning America’s policy. It was an extreme and idealistic step for a diplomat, whose career was soon cut short. Though the telegram did not change American policy, it rates as an historic document. Such open dissent is extremely rare.

“Nixon, a man of few friends, was notably fond of Pakistan’s military ruler, Yahya Khan, a gruff, dim-witted, whisky-drinking general. By contrast he despised India’s wheedling civilian politicians, reserving a particular dislike for (Indira) Gandhi.”

Nixon stands disgraced over Watergate but his wilful role in the genocide in East Pakistan had not till now received the full historical attention it deserved. Kissinger too has largely escaped opprobrium for turning a blind eye to the genocide. Bass quotes him as saying: “You can’t go to war over refugees.” Nixon, whose dislike for India was visceral, said a “mass famine” was needed to “cut Indians down to size”.

Kissinger shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his mediation that brought the Vietnam war to an end.  Through the 1980s, Kissinger was feted as a global statesman. His firm, Kissinger Associates, advised prime ministers and presidents. He charged, and was paid, a large fee to speak at summits and conclaves, including several in India.

His syndicated column was published in newspapers and magazines worldwide. We too were part of the Kissinger “industry”. Through this period, one of our media group’s publications, Gentleman, a literary and political monthly, published his column for nearly a decade along with columns by I.K. Gujral, Shashi Tharoor, L.K. Advani, Dom Moraes and others. It is a decision I now regret.

It was only years later that details trickled through about Kissinger’s role in the events preceding the Bangladesh war and his malign role in the war itself which ended in 13 days after the surrender of 90,000 Pakistan troops in East Pakistan.

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Why is all this relevant today? Bangladesh under Sheikh Hasina has been a friend of India. If she loses the January 2014 general election to Islamist-nurturing Begum Khaleda Zia, India could soon face a terrorism problem on its eastern border as severe as the one we have today on our western border with Pakistan.

It is in India’s geopolitical interest to strengthen Sheikh Hasina’s hands by resolving the land boundary dispute with Bangladesh which involves swapping land enclaves in each other’s territory that are today a hotbed of smuggling and illegal immigration.

The BJP has opposed this. It should not. Sheikh Hasina has already been snubbed over the Teesta water accord by Mamata Banerjee’s intransigence. That remains a complex riparian issue but the mutual exchange of enclave land is not and must be debated afresh in parliament’s winter beginning December 5. The Constitution amendment bill to implement the India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) needs the BJP’s support. It must offer it.

Statesmanship should overcome partisan politics to safeguard India’s future national security on our eastern borders.

The 1971 Bangladesh war showed how Pakistan’s venality could be defeated by swift, tough Indian military action on our eastern border. The constant ceasefire violations across the LoC on our western border show how we have allowed Pakistan to forget that lesson.

J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah has asked for a stronger response to Pakistani’s LoC violations. I have already spelled out in a previous article what can be done to inflict localised retaliatory pain on Pakistan to deter its adventurism. These include, among others, downsizing diplomatic relations, suspending MFN status and redeploying targeted covert operations.

India should meanwhile support Bangladesh’s current government, led by Sheikh Hasina, as robustly – and successfully – as it did Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1971.
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