The Pioneer May 19, 2005
Was it a mere
coincidence that the day India was mourning the passing away of Lt Gen
JS Aurora, the hero of the 1971 Bangladesh War, the US State Department
released Volume XI of the Foreign Relations of the United States consecrated
to the "South Crisis, 1971"? This 929-page document regroups
a few papers which had already been "declassified" such as
the minutes of Henry Kissinger's secret visits to China in July and
October 1971, as also scores of freshly "declassified" material,
for the first time.
Their publication throws
light on a less known angle: The role of the nascent friendship between
the US and China in the conflict. It provides a fresh piece in the puzzle
of history in addition to the Justice Hamoodur Rahman's Report (ordered
by the Government of Pakistan), the "restricted" Indian Official
History and diverse biographies of retired generals.
An interesting aspect
of the Hamoodur Rahman Report was the analysis of the Pakistani defeat.
It points out that a large number of senior Army officers lost the will
to fight "due to corruption... lust for wine and women and greed
for lands and houses". While the Indian report spends more time
scrutinising the military aspects of the war, the new-found closeness
between Washington and Beijing and the involvement of the Pakistan President
as a secret facilitator is highlighted in American records.
The first US documents
deal with the background to the conflict. Nixon's position was clear,
"We should just stay out - like in Biafra, what the hell can we
do?" But everybody did not agree with him. In a telegram sent on
March 28, 1971, the American staff of the US Consulate in Dacca complained:
"We, as professional public servants, express our dissent with
current policy and fervently hope that our true and lasting interests
here can be defined and our policies redirected in order to salvage
our nation's position as a moral leader of the free world."
When President Nixon
was informed that "Dacca consulate is in open rebellion",
he retorted: "The people who bitch about Vietnam bitch about it
because we intervened in what they say is a civil war. Now some of the
same b......s want us to intervene here - both civil wars." However,
many in Washington believed that India was bound to support Mujibur
Rahman; the CIA had reported: "India would foster and support Bengali
insurgency and contribute to the likelihood that an independent Bangladesh
would emerge from the developing conflict."
Here began the Chinese
saga. In a tightly guarded secret, Nixon had started contacting Beijing.
The "postman" was Yahya Khan. When on April 28, 1971, Kissinger
sent a Note defining US policy options towards Pakistan, Nixon replied
in a handwritten note: "To all hands. Don't squeeze Yahya at this
time." The Field Marshall was not to be squeezed because he was
in the process of arranging Kissinger's first secret trip to China.
A week later Farland, the US Ambassador to Pakistan, was told that Kissinger
was to disappear for two days during an official visit to Pakistan in
order to arrange the details of a visit by Nixon in 1972. The events
of the following months and the US policy should be seen in this perspective.
In May, Indira Gandhi
wrote to Nixon about the "carnage in East Bengal" and the
influx of refugees burdening India. A few days later, when the President
told Kissinger "the goddamn Indians" were preparing for another
war, the latter retorted "they are the most aggressive goddamn
people around." During the second week of July, Kissinger went
to Beijing where he was told by Zhou Enlai: "If they (the Indians)
are bent on provoking such a situation, then we cannot sit idly by."
Kissinger answered that Zhou should know that the US sympathies too
lay with Pakistan.
On his return, during
a meeting of the National Security Council, Nixon continued his India
bashing: The Indians are "a slippery, treacherous people".
On August 9 India and the Soviet Union signed a treaty of peace, friendship
and cooperation. It shocked Washington which saw a deliberate collusion
between Delhi and Moscow.
When Nixon met Soviet
Foreign Minister Gromyko on September 29 in Washington, the US President
urged the Soviet Union to discourage India from starting a war. But
Gromyko believed that Pakistan was the country that needed to be restrained.
During the following months, the situation deteriorated and many more
refugees came to India. The Indian Prime Minister decided to tour the
Western capitals to explain the Indian stand. On November 4, she met
Nixon in Washington, who asked her to withdraw her troops. Indira remained
firm: She was not even ready to accept a mutual withdrawal. When Nixon
and Kissinger assessed the situation, the NSA said: "The Indians
are b......s anyway. They are plotting a war."
On December 3, the
Pakistan Air Force launched an attack on Indian airfields. It was the
beginning of the war. The next day, US Ambassador George Bush (Sr) introduced
a resolution in the UN Security Council calling for a cease-fire and
the withdrawal of armed forces by India and Pakistan. It was vetoed
by the Soviet Union. The following week saw mounting pressure from the
Nixon-Kissinger duo on the Soviets to get India to withdraw, but to
A CIA reports of a
briefing from the Indian Prime Minister, who supposedly told her audience
that she would not succumb to US pressure until "the liberation
of Bangladesh; the incorporation into India of the southern part of
Azad Kashmir and, finally [the destruction] of Pakistani military striking
power". The intelligence report added, "She hopes the Chinese
do not intervene physically in the North." To Kissinger, it was
clear that Mrs Gandhi wanted the end of Pakistan as a state.
On December 9, when
the CIA Director warned the President that "East Pakistan was crumbling",
Nixon decided to send the carrier Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal
to threaten India. He also continued to exert pressure on the Soviet
Union, "Are short-term gains for India worth jeopardising Soviet
relations with the US?" he warned the Soviets. At the same time,
Nixon instructed Kissinger to ask the Chinese to move some troops toward
the Indian frontier. This was conveyed to Huang Hua, China's Permanent
Representative to the UN. The NSA explained that the US would be prepared
for a military confrontation with the Soviet Union if the latter attacked
In Washington, Nixon
analysed the situation: "If the Russians get away with facing down
the Chinese and the Indians get away with licking the Pakistanis...
we may be looking down the gun barrel." Nixon, however, was not
sure about China. Did they really intend to start a military action
against India? Finally, on December 16, Lt Gen SK Niazi surrendered
to Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, the Indian Army Commander. Nixon and
Kissinger congratulated themselves for achieving their fundamental goal:
The preservation of West Pakistan. They were also happy for having "scared
the pants off the Russians".
The release of this
volume is a tribute to the courage of Lt Gen JS Aurora and his men who,
despite heavy odds and the might of the US against them, managed to
free Bangladesh from the clutches of Pakistan. Some aspects are still
missing to complete the puzzle, particularly the secret operations involving
the Tibetan commandos of the Special Frontier Forces in the Chittagong
Hills and Beijing's involvement from the Chinese perspective. Like the
Henderson Brookes Report of the 1962 War, it may take a few more decades
(or even centuries!) to see light of day.