The State Department has for the first time quietly made some of the most startling admissions about the role of the United States in the internal affairs of Bangladesh in the early 1970s.

The State Department has for the first time quietly made some of the most startling admissions about the role of the United States in the internal affairs of Bangladesh in the early 1970s.

The State Department comments, contained in a private letter to a member of Congress, appear to vindicate the thesis of Lawrence Lifschultz that American intelligence agencies initially plotted with right wing elements within the Awami League in an unsuccessful bid to split the party, and later decided on a coup against Mujibur Rahman.

Lawrence Lifschultz is the 32-year-old peripatetic reporter for the Far Eastern Economic Review of Hong Kong whose name became a household word in Indian intellectual circles in the aftermath of l’affaire Griffin. India recently rejected the appointment of George Griffin to the US Embassy in New Delhi.

Lifschultz’s book on Bangladesh, The Unfinished Revolution, had recounted how Griffin had been the front man for covert contacts with dissident members of the Awami League during Henry Kissinger’s infamous “tilt” to Pakistan in 1971.

Lifschultz is usually calm and unflappable with a steady, intense gaze, a low voice. But during an interview with India Today in Washington, there was an edge of excitement to his voice. He finally had evidence of the smoking gun in the Bangladesh tragedy that he has so assiduously researched over the last several years. He has documents showing that American diplomatic officials:

  • Met with members of the Awami League in Calcutta in 1971 – Mujib was then in jail in West Pakistan – in an effort to abort Bangladesh’s independence movement.
  • Had several contacts with the people who perpetrated the coup against Mujib in 1975.

“When I completed the book,” Lifschultz says, “my attitude was that we had 90 per cent of the story. We just could not go any further. The purpose of the book was to open the whole question for others to look at. We didn’t really have the smoking gun. The only evidence we had of prior contacts between the perpetrators of the coup and the American Embassy in Dacca was based on an interview with an unnamed embassy source.”

Lifschultz’s research caught the attention of Congressman Stephen Solarz, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee. Solarz made several inquiries in his official capacity and reported the following to Lifschultz:

  • The State Department “readily admits that it had contacts in 1971 with several Bengali officials who were interested in discussing arrangements that would have allowed Bangladesh to become part of Pakistan. Considering that the dismemberment of Pakistan, a traditional ally of the US, was not in the US interest, the State Department contends that there was nothing either surprising or disturbing about the US trying to negotiate an arrangement with Bengali officials to prevent this outcome from occurring.”
  • With respect to the embassy meetings in the November 1974-January 1975 period with opponents of Mujibur Rahman’s regime, “the State Department once again does not deny that the meetings took place. However, the State Department does claim that it notified Rahman about the meetings, including the possibility of a coup. This would seem to put these meetings in a less conspiratorial light.”
  • “On the crucial question of CIA involvement in the post-January 1975 period, I have not been able to unearth any hard evidence in either direction.” But Solarz admitted that he is not “fully satisfied with all the answers I received” from the State Department. He has since written to the Senate Permanent Committee on Intelligence to launch a “thorough investigation of CIA activities in Bangladesh”.

What is tremendously significant about Solarz’s investigation is that the State Department was forced to break its years of official silence on the issue. The department had little choice. Stonewalling a congressional inquiry can produce the direst of consequences for the executive branch of government.

Besides, Lifschultz’s research was not entirely based on unnamed sources. It drew heavily from an aborted study undertaken by the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace. So a State Department denial would have had to weather a massive array of evidence to the contrary.

But the State Department admissions are carefully crafted. They are designed to give the covert contacts an aura of mundane ho-hummery, to mislead an unwary reader and to obfuscate history. The answers create, in the words of Lifschultz: “The foggy blur behind which crimes and blunders comfortably cower.”

With the precision of a Gurkha wielding a khukri, Lifschultz proceeds to hack down the brambles of confusion that litter the State Department’s explanation. He calls the State Department’s assertion that it was logical for the US to prevent the “dismemberment” of Pakistan “a simplistic and defective parody of the actual events.”

Civil War: Free elections had been held in December 1970 for the first time after more than a decade of dictatorship in Pakistan. The Awami League, based in East Pakistan, had won an absolute majority and Mujib was slated to become prime minister of all of Pakistan. But General Yahya Khan refused to convene the National Assembly, thereby sparking off a revolt in East Pakistan.

On March 25, 1971 Yahya ordered a military crackdown that plunged Pakistan into civil war. The genocidal dimensions of Yahya’s suppression of East Pakistan and America’s continuing support for the Pakistan junta caused a revolt within America’s diplomatic corps.

Twenty US consular officials led by Archer Blood, US consul in Dacca, cabled Washington: “Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy. Our government has failed to take forceful measures to protect its citizens while at the same time bending backwards to placate the West Pak-dominated government…Our government has evidence that many will consider moral bankruptcy, ironically at a time when the USSR sent President Yahya a message defending democracy, condemning the arrest of the leader of a democratically elected majority party – but we have chosen not to intervene, even morally, on the ground that the Awami conflict, in which the overworked term genocide is applicable, is purely an internal matter…private Americans have expressed disgust.”

The State Department’s explanation that the 1971 Calcutta contacts were an effort to negotiate a settlement under which Bangladesh would have remained a part of Pakistan “was absurd in this context,” says Lifschultz. “The situation had gone way beyond such a reconciliation… Mujib’s party had won an absolute majority and the military had refused to accept the results of the elections. After the brutality and repression there would be no going back on a struggle aimed at the establishment of an independent democratic state.”

Absurd: Lifschultz says that Bangladesh accepting a return to Pakistani hegemony through the diplomatic good offices of Uncle Sam is as absurd as “George Washington and the American Continental Congress on the verge of military victory suddenly accepting a return to colonial status on the basis of a last minute repeal of the stamp act.”

Even when Lifschultz is being generous and charitable and agreeing to accept at face value the State Department’s line that the contacts in Calcutta were aimed at bringing about a reconciliation, he encounters nagging inconsistencies.

While the State Department has not named the Bengali “officials” with whom – through Grirtin – it made contact, the Carnegie papers make it abundantly clear that these meetings were with Khondaker Mustaque Ahmed, and his two most favoured proteges, Mahbub Alam Chashi, and Taheruddin Thakur – the “Mustaque Triangle” as it was called.

But as Lifschultz points out, if the US was genuinely seeking a reconciliation, “then the most logical personality to have been approached would have been the prime minister of the provisional government, Tajuddin Ahmed.”

Moreover, such contacts certainly could have been open ones with the US providing its good offices as an intermediary. But Tajuddin was not contacted and the contacts which did occur were made in complete secrecy with great care taken to ensure that the majority leadership of the exiled government knew nothing of the US links to the group led by Khondaker Mustaque Ahmed.

As Lifschultz noted in his book: “Four years later this same trio Mustaque. Chashi and Thakur would arrive together at Bangladesh Radio to announce that Mujib was dead, and that Mustaque had taken over the Presidency of Bangladesh.”

Rahman Intimated: Even more ominous is the evidence that the U S continued contacts with this same group for four years right upto the execution of the 1975 coup. While the State Department now acknowledges the 1974-1975 pre-coup meetings between the US embassy in Dacca and Mujib’s opponents, it also claims that it notified Rahman about the meetings, “including the possibility of a coup”.

Lifschultz, who is planning a follow-up to his first book, has returned from another tour of Bangladesh during which he contacted several sources who were close to Mujib. “I could not find anybody who had been notified about the coup in advance, “he says:” Former members of the Mujib Government were amused. It seems highly unlikely that a man against whom a coup is being planned would be informed about it by the very intelligence circles who were planning it.”

In his letter to Congressman Solarz, Lifschultz asks: “Who in the Mujib Government was informed by our embassy about the possibility of a coup? Was Mujib notified directly of these meetings? If his government was so well informed about the coup, is it not strange that he and his entire family were easily killed and suffered so many casualties ? Are we being presented with an intelligence community tautology here? The coup was an inside job by conservative elements within Mujib’s own party, his own cabinet, and his own national intelligence service – all with an unusual set of past associations with the US.

Now, does the State Department mean the embassy informed one of these individuals of the possibility of a coup? It reminds me of the old story about the US warning the Diem Government (in South Vietnam) in broad terms that there might be trouble when in fact Colonel Landsdale’s unit had a liaison officer at the headquarters of the generals (who were planning the coup against Diem).”

CIA Present:
Lifschultz had learned that some of the pre-coup meetings had been attended by Philip Cherry, CIA station chief at Dacca, and that he had passed this information to George Griffin in Washington and up the line to Kissinger. While Cherry acknowledged having met one of the conspirators socially, he denied that there were any meetings at the embassy. The State Department’s version given to Solarz flatly contradicts Cherry.

A company by the name of Emerald Corporation that operated out of Bangladesh during that period was suspected to be a CIA front. Ostensibly involved in jute exports the company was run by a shadowy figure by the name of Sullivan. The company headquarters were listed in Los Angeles but there was no such corporation there. Another senior “partner” associated with Emerald was identified as having been a CIA man in Saigon.

What sources find highly suspicious is that Emerald employed the wives of Farook and Rashid, two army majors involved in the coup against Mujib. The majors escaped to Bangkok after the assassination in the expectation that they would be given asylum by the US authorities. Following an unexplained mix-up they went to Libya where Gaddafi – who hated Mujib because of Mujib’s secular beliefs – let them stay.

Incidentally, Lifschultz is still trying to track down Griffin for an interview. Griffin has evaded him for three years. Finally, late last month, Griffin returned Lifschultz’s call in Washington and accused’ Lifschultz of smearing him. “He became angrier and angrier, called me unreliable, and denounced me, again and again.” The conversation ended without-an interview.


OCTOBER 26, 2013

About Ehsan Abdullah

An aware citizen..

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