1975 put US, India on same wavelength | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, August 14, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, August 14, 2009

1975 put US, India on same wavelength

Soon after the bloodbath of Bangabandhu, family, both countries feared Islamic extremism to rise in many folds

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The religious extremism rattling the nation now was a prospect India and the United States had feared soon after the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Some documents lately declassified by the US Office of the Historian show the apprehension had its roots in the perception that Bangabandhu's killers--all military officers--were “pro-US, anti-Soviet Union, Islamic, and less pro-Indian than the past leadership”.
The August 15 bloodbath in 1975 left Mujib and most of his family butchered and his party in total disarray. It led to the assumption that Pakistan would regain its sway on the nation it sought to subdue only a few years back.
In the context of the cold war dynamics, India and the US were also concerned that China, which recognised Bangladesh only after August 1975, might help radical communist elements to thrive in the newly independent country sliding into militocracy.
The worries were reflected in a conversation between the then US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and Indian external minister YB Chavan.
The US Office of the Historian, which is responsible for preparation and publication of the official historical documentary record of American foreign policy, has transcript of the talk that took place at the US secretary's office on October 6, 1975.
The discussion related to the developments in Bangladesh went like this:
YB Chavan: The new president [Khandker Mustaque Ahmad] has sent us assurances that he was standing by the same policy but we are concerned, in particular, whether the new government will take an extreme Islamic posture. This would create problems for the minority in Bangladesh. If the Hindus again feel insecure, there might be a new wave of refugees.
Kissinger: Is there a large minority group in Bangladesh?
Chavan: About 15%. It is a major factor. So far the new government (after Mujib killing) has given assurances it would follow the same policy as Mujib, but we are naturally worried about the influence of Pakistan on Bangladesh.
Kissinger: What is your impression?
Chavan: They have just announced diplomatic relations. This is a good thing. Even under Mujib we recommended this. We never wanted an exclusive relationship with Bangladesh. Our worry is only this: That they might try to give a different connotation to the situation by giving an Islamic twist to things. Also the Chinese recognised [Bangladesh] only after the coup. Frankly, we are worried. There are radical communist elements in Bangladesh which the Chinese might try to help. Here we hope the US and India will have a common approach.
After a while, Kissinger asked his Indian counterpart, “What is the tendency of the [Bangladesh] military? Is it anti-Indian?"
Chavan replied, "Frankly, there is some anti-Indian tendency, I am sorry to say."
At that point, Kewal Singh, then the secretary of Indian external affairs ministry, chipped in, "Some people hostile to Mujib were brought back. We don't want to give the impression we are concerned but pro-Islamic and pro-radical groups have some strength."
Chavan and Kissinger met the following day as well and talked about Bangladesh.
Almost immediately they got down to serious talking about political ramifications of the August 15 coup d'état.
Yet again, the Indian minister said, "We are worried about Bangladesh. Radical movements are already there. If Pakistan and China converge their efforts, this could pose a problem. This would be a new factor in South Asia which needs assessment."
The secretary of state said, "Previously, the Chinese were opposed to Bangladesh. They were not among Mujib's admirers."
As he asked if India had any advance indication of the coup, his opposite number replied, "None."
Kissinger observed, "People are always complaining that we don't know about things in advance…They should realise that any coup that succeeds must have fooled someone. Mujib just couldn't have imagined that anyone would organise a coup against him. As I understand it, your relations with Bangladesh are now good. What you are concerned about is a future possibility.”
TN Kaul, Indian ambassador to the US then, added, "The danger is Pan Islamism."
At one stage, Kissinger said, "The real worry would be if countries with resources like Saudi Arabia get radical leaders. Then there would be trouble."
Kaul said, "One reason why we banned the Jamaat Islami and RSS is that these parties were getting money from the outside."
The Kissinger-Chavan meeting gives an impression that none of the two countries had prior knowledge of the takeover.
But the US state department's documents suggest quite the contrary. They show that like India, the US had gathered that something sinister was brewing, and it had even informed Bangabandhu about it.
Minutes of a staff meeting headed by Kissinger after August 15 show that the US was well aware of the plot.
There, Kissinger was heard enquiring Alfred Atherton Jr., assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs in 1974-1978, about the assassination.
Atherton said the US had lots of indications in March that some quarters were scheming to kill Mujib.
Kissinger asked, "Didn't we tell him [Mujib] about it?"
The assistant secretary said, "We told him at the time."
As his boss pressed to know if Bangabandhu was told who it was going to be, Atherton answered, "I will have to check whether we gave him the names."
At that moment, William G Hyland, director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, said, "We were a little imprecise on that."
Referring to the US alerting Bangabandhu to the danger of an attack on him, Atherton said, "He [Mujib] brushed it off, scoffed at it, and said nobody would do a thing like that to him."
Kissinger remarked, "He was one of the world's prize fools."
Talking about the coup leaders, Atherton said, "They are military officers, middle and senior officers, who are generally considered less pro-Indian than the past leadership; pro-US, anti-Soviet."
The secretary of state responded, "Absolutely inevitable."
And Atherton went on, "Islamic. They have changed the name to Islamic Republic "
Kissinger said, "That they would be pro-US was not inevitable. In fact, I would have thought at some turn of the wheel they were going to become pro-Chinese, and anti-Indian I firmly expected. I always knew India would rue the day that they made Bangladesh independent. I predicted that since '71."
Major Dalim, one of the on-the-run convicted killers of Bangabandhu, in a radio announcement soon after the killings declared the country would be named "Islamic Republic of Bangladesh".
The declaration which eventually did not materialise was a complete contrast to the secular ideals on which the Bangalees fought for independence from the "Islamic Republic of Pakistan" in 1971.
Though the republic's name was spared a change, its constitution soon lost secular character.
The original charter saw secularism dropped as one of its four fundamental principles. It also had 'Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim (In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful)' in the preamble.
Even more significant was the scrapping of the ban on religion-based political parties.
During the rule of Ziaur Rahman, five parties including Jamaat-e-Islami, which collaborated with the Pakistani occupation forces and committed genocide and numerous atrocities during the Liberation War, were allowed to be in politics again.
The government of independent Bangladesh in its first decision banned these parties that always opposed the nation's independence and thrived on communal disturbances.
In the early 80s, the country's second military ruler HM Ershad introduced Islam as state religion, dealing a death blow to secularism.
The rise of Islamist militancy, once a fear, is now a reality, 34 years after the August 15 carnage.
During the BNP-Jamaat-led rule in 2001-2006, Islamist outfits spread tentacles across the country thanks to patronage from some influential leaders of the ruling alliance.
Though the BNP government woke up to the dangers of militancy towards the end of its tenure, it was too little too late.
Now the task lies with Awami League-led grand alliance that came to power on promises that include the one to root out militancy.
And at the centre-stage in the combat against militancy is Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who herself had been the target of several terrorist attacks.

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