"He thought she was a warmonger; she thought he was helping along a genocide." This might seem like a good plot line for a block buster film, where the hero and heroine, over a period of two hours, realise that their biases and prejudices are just that. In a film, there would be a few songs, some misunderstandings, and a grand reconciliation and everyone would live happily ever after. However, the quote here does not pertain to a film, or even a novel or fictionalised content; it is a description of the frosty relationship between Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India and Richard Nixon, President of America in the crucial months that led up to the Indo-Pak war of 1971, that resulted in the birth of Bangladesh. Author Gary Bass details the events that led up to Pakistan bombing India on the 3rd of December 1971, and the key players, motives and relationships that drove decision making.
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. It is estimated that between 3 lakh and 3 million people were systematically killed in the months leading upto the creation of the new nation. One also wonders 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. America not only stood by silently while the Pakistani army went on a rampage killing, burning, raping and looting , but it also supported the Pakistani Government led by Gen Yahya Khan, with arms, ammunition, and spares. 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. It is fascinating that international policy at such a high level is made on such flimsy foundations.
Gary Bass‘ book The Blood Telegram : Nixon, Kissinger & a Forgotten 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 “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”
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 consul 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 flat-footed 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 Blood is the hero of this story – a career civil servant, who against the explicit wishes of his political bosses – relentlessly documents the carnage and ethnic cleansing in Bangladesh. A decent man, he goes about his work with precision and the quiet rage of the righteous. He especially highlights the plight of the Hindus in East Pakistan who bore the brunt of the Pakistani Army blood lust. Six 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 terrify to return. People were 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.
There are times in life, when you need to be stand up and counted. India – despite her poverty, the hardships that she as a Nation had to face – stood up to be counted. It was possibly India’s finest moment in modern history. If you are interested in history, this is a must-read book.
(The Blood Telegram : Nixon, Kissinger & a Forgotten Genocide by Gary Bass is available at all leading book stores.Tthis is a modified version of the post published on the author’s blog)
The author is Head, Digital Content, Zee Media Corporation; @calamur