One book I look forward to reading is ‘The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide (Knopf, 2013)’ by Gary J Bass, a journalist turned a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University.
The book is about the genocide that preceded the birth of Bangladesh as a new nation even as the United States under President Richard Nixon and his trusted national security adviser Henry Kissinger cavalierly connived with the murderous regime of what was then West Pakistan under its military dictator General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan. Forty two years after the war I still remember how in Ahmedabad, not that far from Pakistan, the Pakistani general was contemptuously called “Hye Hye Khan.” (Hye is often an expression of shame and disgust).
The synopsis on Random House’s website reads: “Nixon and Kissinger, unswayed by detailed warnings of genocide from American diplomats witnessing the bloodshed, stood behind Pakistan’s military rulers. Driven not just by Cold War realpolitik but by a bitter personal dislike of India and its leader Indira Gandhi, Nixon and Kissinger actively helped the Pakistani government even as it careened toward a devastating war against India. They silenced American officials who dared to speak up, secretly encouraged China to mass troops on the Indian border, and illegally supplied weapons to the Pakistani military—an overlooked scandal that presages Watergate.”
Reading excerpts from the preface the book sets the mood for the whole volume. Bass describes the U.S. role in the Bangladesh war of 1971, particularly that of Nixon and Kissinger, as “one of the worst moments of moral blindness in U.S. foreign policy.” It is justifiably the most stinging indictment of the way Washington handled the slaughter of Bengalis in what was then East Pakistan and now Bangladesh.
The book also chronicles the near vulgar antipathy that both Nixon and Kissinger displayed for India and Indians. “They found no appeal in India, neither out of ideological admiration for India’s flawed but functioning democracy, nor from a geopolitical appreciation of the sheer size and importance of the Indian colossus. Instead, they denounced Indians individually and collectively, with an astonishingly personal and crude stream of vitriol,” the preface says. We all know about how India’s then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was referred to as “the old bitch” during the Nixon-Kissinger conversation in the White House.
The creation of Bangladesh was an act of ballsy gumption by Mrs. Gandhi craftily couched in humanitarian robes. Of course, for Mrs. Gandhi the primary impulse to get militarily involved and eventually soundly vanquish the Pakistani military was humanitarian but she was all too aware of the potential to dismember Pakistan. In perhaps the most egregious case of a retiring colonial power, in this case the British, deliberately dividing its former colony, they left India sitting in the middle of Pakistan flanked on the east and west and separated by over 1600 kilometers of the Indian landmass. There was no case of a major country existing on two separate sides of a giant nation-state. It was a disaster waiting to happen and it did.
Going by the preface, while the book does not seem to spare India and her motivations under Mrs. Gandhi, it primarily reads like a severe and often hurtful castigation of the U.S. conduct during this war. I have sought an interview with Prof. Bass for the IANS wire but if history is any guide, authors from Salman Rushdie to Pankaj Mishra tend to disregard requests from me. I am just not consequential and glamorous enough, I suppose. Let me see if Bass responds favorably.
Irrespective of whether I get an interview, it is important that a book like this is read by young Indians to get a sense of their near contemporary history.