He thought she was a warmonger; she thought he was helping along a genocide.
Bass, Gary J. (2013-10-01). The Blood Telegram (Kindle Location 5592). . Kindle Edition.
Among the more brutal events in the 20th century, was the birth of Bangladesh. And this is despite the fact that the holocaust and the partition of India took place in same 100 year span. The mass killings in East Pakistan, as it was then, was especially cold blooded because of two reasons a) the casualness with which people were being murdered b) the lack of reaction of western powers, especially the USA. It is a testament to the brilliance of the perception management of the Pakistanis, that they could, in cold blood, murder their own people and get away with it. I also wonder, if the west, especially the Americans, had clamped down on the sadism and excesses of the Pakistani armed forces at that point in time, would Pakistan have been such a failed state today. While the Germans, for generations, will have to bear the cross of the holocaust, the Pakistanis have gotten away scot free with being tarred with the same brush. There is little spoken about the issue, even less written about it. It is as though the sub-continent – apart from a few troubled souls, want to brush the stigma of targeted killing, ethnic cleansing, mass murder, mass rape, mass displacement, and genocide from our collective consciousness. It allows those in South Asia to slot ‘genocide’ as an activity that happens elsewhere, and it helps the West maintain its image of Pakistan as this cuddly, albeit, misunderstood entity.
Gary Bass‘ book “The Blood Telegram : Nixon, Kissinger & a Hidden Genocide” spares no punches in its description of the bloody events that led up to the birth of Bangladesh, especially, when it looks at the role played by the then US President Nixon, and his Secretary of State Kissinger and their attempts in hushing up the entire event. As the author points out one crucial difference between the events in East Pakistan and other instances of genocide, where the US was a non participant
Pakistan’s slaughter of its Bengalis in 1971 is starkly different. Here the United States was allied with the killers. The White House was actively and knowingly supporting a murderous regime at many of the most crucial moments.
The American tango with Pakistan, says Bass, was due to two reasons. One was that the Americans were using Gen Yahya Khan – an alcoholic megalomaniac, whom Kissinger thought was a moron – as their conduit to establish a working relationship with China, and the second was, rather more petty, that Nixon loathed Indira Gandhi (an emotion that was fully reciprocated) and quite liked Yahya Khan. Ultimately when you take away all the strategy, and the realpolitik (there was an alternative route to mending fences with China), and the lofty terms – it boiled down to less of National Interest and the ‘good of humanity’ at one end, and more of personal animosity and camaraderie at the other.
“I don’t like the Indians,” Nixon snapped at the height of the Bengali crisis.
Late in the book, Bass qoutes Nixon on India
“I don’t want to give you the wrong impression about India. There are 400 million Indians.” Keating corrected him; there were actually 550 million Indians. Nixon was surprised: “I don’t know why the hell anybody would reproduce in that damn country but they do.”
Bass brings alive the interplay between the various nations and their leaders with each other, at the same time as driving home the viciousness of the Pakistani action in East Pakistan, that ultimately led to the birth of Bangladesh. The author notes,
Nixon and Kissinger bear responsibility for a significant complicity in the slaughter of the Bengalis.
It is a crying shame that Nixon and Kissinger were never called to account on the brutalities and scale of murders in East Pakistan.
In the Blood Telegram, the story of the birth of Bangladesh is told at three levels – the story of an American Presidency that wanted to leave the restoration of links with China as its legacy; the story of an India, led by Indira Gandhi that was isolated in its support for the Bengali cause; and a man called Archer Blood, the American counsel general in Dacca, whose relentless bombarding of the State Department with clinical observations of ethnic cleansing, murder and genocide gave the world the first indication of the level of bloodshed taking place in East Pakistan. The narrative moves seamlessly between the machinations at the State Department, Washington; Delhi and the interactions that the Government of India – which did not have the clout that it has now – with various nations and governments – hearing no most of the time; and Archer Blood in Dacca who has to choose between his career and his conscience. The Americans do not come out of this smelling of roses. If anything they look kind of flatfooted and clumsy (not to mention callous & woolly brained) in their decision making. Looking at the world around us today and US decisions, it seems that their penchant for poor decision making persists.
Archer, much to the chagrin of Nixon and Kissinger does not back down from documenting that which was distasteful to his political bosses. A decent man, he goes about his work with precision and the quiet rage of the righteous. He especially highlighted the plight of the Hindus in East Pakistan who bore the blunt of the Pakistani Army blood lust. 6 million Hindus fled East Pakistan. Till date, the numbers of dead, are at best, fuzzy. Entire villages were burnt to the ground, those who escaped to terrified to return. People are burnt alive, shot randomly, men picked out and killed, women raped and murdered – the stories of the genocide are recounted in a chilling matter of fact manner.
Blood finally gets his transfer orders out of Dacca
The chapter that deals with Nixon and Kissinger meeting Indira Gandhi and Haskar – a meeting before the war – is worth its weight in gold. if India, had sold tickets for it then, there may have been no national debt now.
India would win on the battlefield, Nixon said, but a war would be “incalculably dangerous.” With the superpowers involved on opposite sides, it would threaten world peace. Hinting broadly at a possible Chinese attack on India, he told the prime minister that a war might not be limited to only India and Pakistan. Gandhi was blunter— if anything, less tactful than Nixon. Kissinger later wrote that her tone was that of “a professor praising a slightly backward student,” which Nixon received with the “glassy-eyed politeness” that he showed when trying to muscle down his resentment. She ripped into U.S. arms shipments to Pakistan, which had outraged the Indian people, despite her efforts to restrain her public.
The book is a really good read, it is almost as thought i was the fly on the wall while history is unfolding. When the Indian Government goes from nation to nation asking for support, it realizes that this is a battle that it needs to fight alone.
“Mrs. Gandhi went around the world saying this is a genocide ,” says Admiral Mihir Roy of the Indian navy. “Nobody listened to her.”
The relationship between the leaders, their aides and the world at large is reconstructed extremely well. More so, from the perspective of the Americans – who have copious notes and recordings of that era; and less from India – where papers from that era are probably still classified. The isolation of India, although not explicitly stated in the book, comes through very clearly. It was a lone, long battle, with the very real threat of China joining in on the side of Pakistan. When war officially began, it did so when Pakistan bombed Indian on the 3rd of December. Mrs. Gandhi is reported to have said, “Thank God, they’ve attacked us.” In Parliament she said -
“We meet as a fighting Parliament,” Gandhi stormed before the Lok Sabha. “A war has been forced upon us, a war we did not seek and did our utmost to prevent.”
A war that India won, to lead to the birth of Bangladesh.
If the history of the sub continent fascinates you, then this should be on the must read list.