One genocide, one telegram, and two opportunists | The Daily Star
12:05 AM, March 25, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 07:59 PM, March 25, 2017

One genocide, one telegram, and two opportunists

DACCA University Quarter 24, March 25, 1971, Midnight: Professor Abdur Razzak of the International Relations Department of Dacca University lived on the first floor of Building 24 between the flats of Professor ANM Muniruzzamanon on the top floor and Professor Jyotirmoy Guhathakurtaon on the ground floor. At midnight the military broke into Prof Moniruzzaman's apartment; they dragged him down the stairs, bayoneted him, and finally exterminated him –shooting at point-blank range. And then, in a cold-blooded spree his son, his brother, and his nephew were shot. The military broke into Prof Guhathakurta's house, dragged him outside of the building, and asked him his name and his religion, before shooting him.  

San Clemente, California, March 31, 1971, Noon: CIA officer Mr. David Blee was giving a rundown to the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry A. Kissinger, on the East Pakistan situation at the Senior Review Group Meeting. The conversation went thus:

Kissinger: “Did they kill Professor Razzak? He was one of my students.”

Blee: “I think so. They killed a lot of people at the university.”

Kissinger: “They didn't dominate 400 million Indians all those years by being gentle.”

No, they couldn't kill Professor Razzak. Mr. Razzak, mentored by Dr. Kissinger at Harvard, somehow managed to escape the onslaught.

Washington, April 6, 1971, Morning: The US Department of State received a telegram from the Consulate General in Dacca, Archer K. Blood. The cable, later known as The Blood Telegram, created an uproar in the White House. It reached President Richard Nixon, and the vexed president decided to use his overbearing power to silence the chief dissenter, Blood, with an immediate order to oust him from Dacca for his “inexcusable” offense.

What did that telegram contain that it caused so much fury? Well, this excerpt from the telegram unfolds the mystery: 

“Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy. Our government has failed to denounce atrocities. Our government has failed to take forceful measures to protect its citizens while at the same time bending over backward to placate the West Pakistan-dominated government and to lessen any deservedly negative international public relations impact against them. Our government has evidenced what many will consider moral bankruptcy . . .”  [Emphasis added]

The telegram was referring to US backing for West Pakistan's negation of the Awami League victory in general election of 1970, and the subsequent genocide of the Bengalis protesting for autonomy from the west wing. A criticism of the foreign policy of the Nixon Government, this telegram is considered the most strongly worded public document—from the State Department officials to the department itself—that has ever been chronicled. Yet, this brave, courageous, and defiant reporting of Blood could not shake Nixon and Kissinger's unremitting “tilt” towards West Pakistan.

Why would Nixon and Kissinger—despite representing a country that prides itself to be the “moral leader of the free world” and the paragon of principality and lawfulness—unabashedly chose to support the despot, Pakistani military leader Yahya Khan, to engineer one of the grossest genocides of the last century?

Nixon and Kissinger's unwavering support for Yahya is rooted in a clandestine negotiation with China, Pakistan's ally, where the latter would work as a conduit between the two major nations to garner support against the Soviets during the Cold War. Lawrence Lifschultz, a prominent chronicler of that period, has documented this reasoning from Winston Lord, Kissinger's deputy at the National Security Council: "We had to demonstrate to China we were a reliable government to deal with. We had to show China that we respect a mutual friend". Even to a casual reader, this kind of rationalisation is rather unconvincing. At any rate, it is a good contender for the crudest possible act of power play ever. Nevertheless, it raises the question: Why did the USA need help from a military dictatorship to open a channel with a People's Republic, that too at the price of blood bath of the Bengalis?

Prominent British-American journalist late Christopher Hitchenson in his book The Trial of Kissinger concluded that “The Kissinger Policy towards Bangladesh may well have been largely conducted for its own sake, as a means of gratifying his boss's animus against India and as a means of preventing the emergence of Bangladesh as a self-determining state in any case”. Whatever the actual reason(s) maybe, the policy is indefensible on any moral or humanitarian ground. To get an idea of what the US backing meant to Yahya, we must know what his regime's Minister of Information, G.W. Choudhury, had to say:

"If Nixon and Kissinger had not given him [Yahya] that false hope, he'd have been more realistic”. 

However, Kissinger did not stop there. He further looked for some non-existent events of Bengali atrocities to establish his wicked agenda, as Gary J. Bass in his extensively researched exposé The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide puts, “Kissinger looked for massacres committed by Bengalis, to generate a moral equivalence that would exonerate Yahya. It would be convenient for Nixon and Kissinger to be able to say that both sides were equally rotten.” The diplomats demonstrably evidenced theirpalpable abundance of hypocrisy and lack of a scintilla of morality here.  

Nixon and Kissinger may personify astute diplomats and great statesmen to the Americans, but Bangladeshis will always remember them as the opportunists who consciously chose yin over yang—as the morally bankrupt and insensitive world leaders who, in the pretext of power politics and/or personal prejudice towards India, maintained laxity on a massive humanitarian crisis—and as the accomplice who abetted the devil, Yahya, with political, economic, and military assistance and stayed unlawfully complicit in the very genocide that they were supposed to forestall.

The writer is a graduate of Master of City & Metropolitan Planning, College of Architecture + Planning, The University of Utah

Email: sharif.mahmud@utah.edu

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