1971 AND THE AMERICAN OXYMORON
Mahfuz ul Hasib Chowdhury
The glorious Liberation War of 1971 was going on during such a time while the Cold War between the western nations led by the United States and the East European countries headed by Soviet Union (present day Russian Federation) was at its peak. The Vietnam War was also underway at the same time. The resentment that existed among the Bangladeshis over the exploitations enforced by West Pakistan had a severe outburst through the Independence War that started in March 1971. The United States of America and Soviet Union, two formidable superpowers, confronted one another from two absolutely opposite angles as far as the Liberation War of 1971 was concerned.
First, let’s take a look at the US foreign policies of that era. A brief introduction to Guam Doctrine is necessary to elaborate the point. The Guam Doctrine was revealed by the American President Richard Nixon during a press conference hosted in Guam on 25th July 1969. In his discourse Richard Nixon declared that the United States would cooperate only with those nations in terms of defence and development partnership who were allies to the American statesmen during that time. This declaration made it absolutely clear that the Nixon administration would take special care of the countries that were submissive to the White House during those years. Thus the Guam Doctrine came to be known as Nixon Doctrine too. Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States in 1969 and it was a time while the US was fighting a fierce war in Vietnam and the Liberation War in East Pakistan, present day Bangladesh, started in 1971 just after two years Nixon had taken charge of the Oval Office.
Author Robert S. Litwak analysed the way Richard Nixon wanted to envisage the US approach to the third world in his famous book Détente and the Nixon Doctrine. In light of the elaborations by Robert S. Litwak, the Nixon Doctrine principally aimed at reformulating the US security policy keeping view the Vietnam War, the Liberation War of Bangladesh and the burgeoning influence of the Soviet Union. Pakistan has been an ally to the United States for decades and through the ruling hierarchy of Islamabad the Nixon administration sought to curtail the diplomatic aloofness that existed during those years between Washington, Beijing and Kremlin. However, tackling the expansion of the Kremlin-propagated norms and theorems across South Asia and other parts of the world was the prime goal of the Guam Doctrine. Shockingly true that, just to uphold the principles of the Guam Doctrine, the Nixon administration did virtually nothing to prevent the genocide in East Pakistan because allowing West Pakistan to go ahead with whatever it wanted to do with East Pakistan was more important for the White House back then to take care of its international geopolitical interests.
The United States was well aware that what was being done by the Pakistani forces on the soil of East Pakistan was a blatant example of brutality. But still the US party in power back then preferred to remain “cautiously callous”, knowing explicitly about the mass murders being committed by Pakistani soldiers but appearing not to have a lucid vision of the ghastly scenario. It’s an oxymoron officiated by the American big shots for decades and it’s still glaringly in practice.
Though the détente promulgated by Richard Nixon apparently aimed at reducing antagonism with the Soviet Union, but in fact its ulterior motive was to occupy all greener pastures by means of US diplomatic stratagems or military muscles before the Soviet Union could do that, as found in the book by Robert S. Litwak. So, the underlying duplicity of the Nixon Doctrine was not too abstruse to unscramble. After all, global politics is a game played more with humbugs rather than with ideals. Nixon was tricky enough to comprehend this.
According to Détente and the Nixon Doctrine Richard Nixon was deeply concerned about the dissemination of socialism during his tenure as the US President. On one hand he was dealing with the grim war reports coming from Vietnam every now and then while on the other he was troubled by the rising zest for independence among the people of East Pakistan which later on became isolated from West Pakistan and led to the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent state in 1971 through a vehement war that lasted for nine months.
In Rohinton Mistry’s novel Such a Long Journey, the author refers to the US target to keep Pakistan undivided by deterring the independence of Bangladesh. The mindsets of general Indians infuriated by Richard Nixon’s honey-coated diplomacy with Pakistan during those years are reflected in this book through the dialogues of the novel’s characters. The murderous military drive mobilized by the Pakistani Army against the common Bangladeshi people is also stated in this book with a special reference to some ten million Bangladeshis who took shelter in the refugee camps of Indian border provinces. Moreover, in Such a Long Journey Rohinton Mistry recalls the anxiety that gripped Richard Nixon about the alliance between India and Soviet Union, one of the key reasons that made the Nixon administration oppose the Liberation War of 1971. However, all international conspiracies failed to repel the birth of Bangladesh as an independent state under the unwavering and charismatic leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Srinath Raghavan’s book 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh, published in November 2013 by Harvard University Press should also be cited in this regard. According to this book, Richard Nixon was under a tremendous amount of stress placed on him by the general Americans who were outraged by the deaths of thousands of American soldiers in Vietnam. While Vietnam was apparently slipping out of the US clutches, Richard Nixon became desperate to fortify his hold over South Asia by aiding Pakistan. He wanted to keep the American muscles gleaming across South Asia by warding off Soviet influence on this region. The first three chapters of the book address the internal political infirmity in Pakistan during the closure of 1960s that fixed up the stage for the collapse of political harmony in the country and India’s reaction to the worsening crisis next door. The following five chapters focus on the responses to this chain of events that came from Beijing, Moscow and Washington and from other vital quarters of the world. In the last couple of chapters, Srinath Raghavan comes back to the Indian subcontinent to analyse how the political pandemonium of Pakistan mounted to the height of a full-fledged war in 1971 and how it came to an end with the ignominious surrender of the Pakistani Army in Dhaka on 16 December 1971. Srinath Raghavan adds titles to all the chapters of this book which is how the text resembles celebrated books like A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson and Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd.
Howard Zinn, an American scholar and a former professor of Boston University once said, “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.” Inhumanity anywhere is a threat to humanity everywhere. War is the greatest ever peril for humanity on earth. War causes destruction, misery, innumerable deaths; it renders people homeless. If we think about humanity as a body, then war is similar to suicide or an act of self-amputation. A line may be quoted from Winston Churchill, “War is mainly a catalogue of blunders.” War is caused by just one or two diplomatic errors but thousands of people have to put their lives at stake to get the errors corrected. Wise rulers prove their supremacy not by fighting wars, rather by making peace prevail without bloodshed.
It saddens us when we commemorate all those intrepid fighters who gave away their lives to set us free. But they embraced martyrdom like imperishable heroes whose sacrifices have dazzlingly stood the test of time. Simultaneously, there is no epic as moving and as sublime as the Liberation War of 1971.
Mahfuz ul Hasib Chowdhury, Senior Lecturer, Department of English, Metropolitan University, Sylhet
DECEMBER 11TH, 2014