COLD WAR NUANCES OF 1971
Nixon’s lethargy in acknowledging genocide in Bangladesh will always overshadow all the other acts that were in favour of Bangladesh
It is a well-known fact, or I can assume a lot of people are aware, that in 1971, the US government was not in favour of a liberated Bangladesh. At least, the White House was actively against the idea of a dismembered Pakistan.
Declassified records, as mentioned in several books related to the 1971 War of Independence in Bangladesh, state unequivocally that the Nixon administration was unwilling to see dents in their relations with the West Pakistan junta. Pakistan was a key player at that time in improving US relations with China.
Therefore, even after heart-wrenching telegrams were sent by US diplomat Archer Blood from Dhaka about the atrocities committed, the reaction in Washington was diplomatic silence. Blood later on was admonished and, reportedly, his career path made difficult for his candid appraisal of the situation on the ground.
Whatever the case, within the USA, the opinion was split as further declassified papers, mentioned in BZ Khosru’s book, clearly state that a large number of common Americans plus many serving lawmakers opposed the stance of the White House and also resorted to strategic filibustering to delay shipments of weapons to the invading army.
Yet, even after so many years, if a political analyst is asked to comment on the role of the USA and then the USSR during the 1971 war, the former won’t be painted favourably. If you are the devil, then you are vile out and out … no chance for the little virtues to be noticed.
After all, history only remembers decisions made at the top. The fact that many Germans within the German defence system wanted to depose Hitler and end a war begun on lunatic whim is usually brushed aside when WW2 is deconstructed. Anything to do with Hitler’s military might is regarded with suspicion, though efforts were made right within the German military by Claus von Stauffenberg to kill the dictator in what is known as the “20 July plot.”
Come to the Vietnam War, where the US role is still enveloped in infamy. At the height of the Cold War, poking a nose, and then directly getting in warfare, in Vietnam turned the US into the new imperial juggernaut. Within the US, millions of people, imbued by the 60s philosophy of peace and spiritual emancipation, protested, though this hardly did anything to improve the US image globally.
In the then East-Pakistan, a wave of socialist ideals spurred by Fidel Castro’s defiance of the US and relentless struggle of the Vietnamese people had transformed a generation. The 1971 American aloofness only cemented an anti-Western feeling. To be precise, for about a decade after liberation, young men wanting to enter politics had to embrace socialist values and reject what they termed “Markin shamrajjobad” (US imperialism). However, as we step into the 43rd year of independence, maybe history should be interpreted not by acts of the government only but also by humanitarian deeds of the general people.
A recent news of four US Hercules planes helping India transport floods of refugees from the then East Pakistan after the March 26 crackdown, opens up a new hitherto unknown dimension to the compassionate American involvement in the war.
Of course, if we look at the overall picture, Nixon’s lethargy in acknowledging genocide in Bangladesh and the subsequent sending of the seventh fleet will always overshadow all the other acts that were in favour of Bangladesh.
Even then, sometimes good deeds need to be recognised. One cannot forget the role of the American missionaries based in Dhaka, Narinda, and Kaliganj who came to the help of the common people during those turbulent times of hopelessness. Nor can we forget Senator Edward Kennedy who stood at Congress supporting the cause for Bangladesh.
As we approach Victory Day, the role of the USSR during the war cannot and should not be sidelined either. They indirectly hinted that if any superpower entered on the side of Pakistan, the USSR would act, thus ruling out the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh from turning into a major cause for global conflict.
Later, it was the Soviets who cleared the ports of Bangladesh of thousands of planted mines and scuttled ships. Of course, to take a wide-angle perspective, the 70s was the period of high communism-capitalism tensions. Any state-to-state episode of warfare was inevitably caught in the vortex of the ideological divide.
One may ask why these nuances from another era matter so much. After all, the Cold War is over and there’s nothing called the Soviet Union. Well, for starters, accurate history is essential because unless the facts are known, new generations’ understanding of the political evolution of the sub-continent will be distorted.
Just a concluding point, leading Arab countries from where millions of Bangladeshis now send back much needed foreign currency did not recognise Bangladesh’s struggle for independence on the rationale that the movement was aimed at dividing a Muslim country. Saudi Arabia gave formal recognition to Bangladesh in 1975-1976. Today, the Saudi government is a generous friend to Bangladesh.
On the eve of Victory Day, let’s also try to understand a little bit of global politics and how they have evolved, with Bangladesh now firmly secured in the global map as a developing country.
DECEMBER 15, 2014