Gary J Bass’s ‘The Blood Telegram’ is a horrific account of the atrocities perpetrated by the Yahya Khan regime on the people of East Pakistan and how the US can’t deny moral responsibility for the same
By Ankit Saproo
The creation of Bangladesh was one of the most troubled parts of the post-Partition history of Pakistan. The fact that the birth of Bangladesh was preceded by the massacre of hundreds of thousands makes it one of the darkest chapters in the sub-continent’s history. India and Pakistan, the two hostile neighbours, went to a full-scale war for the third time. But the book in question is more than just about the creation of Bangladesh. It’s rather about the insidious role played by the United States in supporting a despotic regime that oversaw the butchering of its own people.
Pakistan was not a single geographical unit. The fact that its eastern part was separated from its western part by almost 1000 miles of a hostile India made the administration of the two parts a herculean task. The division was not only limited to geography. It was ethnic as well. The Bengali population of East Pakistan was always side-lined by the Punjabi-dominated government in West Pakistan which ran it like a pariah state.
On April 6, 1971, a blistering letter was sent to the state department in the United States by a senior diplomat in the Dhaka consulate of the US. The diplomat’s name was Archer Blood, consul-general in the US consulate in Dhaka. The letter was a scathing criticism of US foreign policy in the sub-continent. What did make Blood send such a searing letter of dissent to his bosses in the State Department?
The brutal string of events that saw Pakistan’s crushing of its own citizens started in the March of 1971. The book narrates the unfortunate siding of the US with its long-time ally, Pakistan, and the dictator who ruled it – Yahya Khan.
US President Richard Nixon had a particular hatred for the Indians. As Gary J. Bass points out in his book that the hatred that Nixon harboured for India was in line with how past Presidents viewed India’s policy of Non-Alignment in the Cold War era. New Delhi was always seen more inclined towards Soviet Russia than being neutral.
The fact that most of Pakistan’s weaponry comprised US fighter jets and artillery which was used in the widespread violence in East Pakistan raises some serious ethical questions on the US role in supporting Yahya.
One has to remember that this happened despite the arms embargo that was placed by the Lyndon Johnson administration in the aftermath of the 1965 war between India and Pakistan.
Pakistan was a close ally of the United States of America. But more than a friend, it served as a medium for US efforts to warm up to China.
Nixon and Kissinger wanted to improve ties with China. Henry Kissinger visited China in the July of 1971, facilitated by Yahaya Khan, which led to the historic visit of Richard Nixon to China the following year. Both Nixon and Kissinger could go to any extent to bring China on their side in an era of extreme hostility between the two great powers, US and the Soviet Union.
The idea of Bangladesh was a product of internal disenchantment in East Pakistan. The sentiments of the other half was never paid any heed by the Punjabi-dominated West Pakistan.
The Awami League party, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of current Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, was at the vanguard of protests directed primarily at the betrayal by General Ayub Khan to recognise the mandate of the people in the 1970 democratic elections that gave an overwhelming majority to the Awami League party in the National Assembly.
The book is a brilliant tale of how the world’s most powerful nation overlooked the barbarous brutality of its closest ally in South Asia in a game of one-upmanship. East Pakistan was an addition to a long list of places where Cold War hostility between the US and the Soviet Union was played out.
By his meticulous efforts in unearthing the communications between Washington and Dhaka, Gary J. Bass puts the moral responsibility of the Bangladesh genocide on Nixon, Kissinger and the US state.