When America looked the other way

(Sealed off as ‘Top Secret’ by the State Department and CIA, now after three decades, 46 declassified documents – some  ‘sanitized’ – and a audio clip of Nixon-Kissinger offer  a compelling peek at President Nixon and his security advisor Henry Kissinger  giving a sly wink to the Pakistan army to kill, rape and terrorize innocent East Pakistanis during the 1971 India-Pakistan crisis)

 Inside the Oval Office, August 2, 1971, an exasperated President Nixon and his national security advisor Henry Kissinger curse India for wanting to pick up a fight with Pakistan. Actually, the timing is skewed for Nixon who has clandestinely taken a shine to Chou En-Lai  facilitated by Pakistan President Gen.Yahya Khan. But the “god-damn Indians”  – as Nixon and Kissinger call them – are giving the Americans a run for their money by refusing to sit and watch silently the two siblings – East and West Pakistan – slug it out with each other.

“We have already given 100 million dollars to India for the refugees (pouring in from E. Pakistan),” Kissinger informs Nixon who is convinced the US is “making a terrible mistake” by heaping dollars on New Delhi. “India is economically in good shape, but no one knows how the god-damn Indians are using this money. They are not letting any foreigners enter the refugee areas. Any foreigners, and their record is outrageous!” keens Kissinger.

The White House conversation comes the day after the Beatle George Harrison and his soul mate Ravi Shankar, the Indian sitar player hold a “Concert for Bangladesh”(months before its birth) to raise money for the refugees escaping the reign of terror unleashed by Pakistan army after Mujibur Rehman’s Awami League has swept the polls in East Pakistan during the 1970-71 general elections but  is now being outlawed.

“So who is the Beatle giving the money to – is it the god-damn Indians?” asks a frustrated Nixon. “Yes,” says Kissinger flatly, adding that Pakistan has also been given $150,000 food aid but the major problem “is the god-damn distribution.” Nixon jumps in, “we have to keep India away”. Kissinger couldn’t agree more: “we must defuse the refugee and famine problem in East Pakistan in order to deprive India (read Indira Gandhi) of an excuse to start the war with Pakistan.”
 “We have to avoid screwing Pakistan that outrageously. It could blow up everything,” concurs Kissinger. And the solution according to him is: “we should start our god-damn lecturing on political structures, as much as we can and while there will eventually be a separate East Bengal in two years (he says it so very casually) but it must not happen in the next six months.”

The man accused of throwing a monkey wrench in Nixon and Kissinger’s plans is Joe Sisco, the distinguished assistant secretary of state for political affairs, famous for his bluntness.

 “He’s a maniac and needs to be stopped,” says an obsessed Kissinger. “Whose side is Sisco on?” questions Nixon. “He’s on the side of Pakistan,” answers Kissinger. “His department is also on the side of Pakistan, but he has his own ideas…” The audio clip gets inaudible at this point.

But the 46 documents continue to tell it as it was.

 As early as May, Sisco sent a memorandum to Nixon warning of a war between India and Pakistan because “(1)continued military repression in the East, (2) the refugee flow into India, and (3) Indian cross-border support to Bengali guerillas (the Mukti Bahini).”

In the widely-circulated ‘Blood’ telegram, American Consul General Archer Blood in Dhaka angrily condemns his country for failing “to denounce the suppression of democracy”; “to denounce atrocities”, and for “bending over backwards to placate the West Pakistan dominated government and to lessen any deservedly negative international public relations impact against them.”

The US ambassador to India Keating insists that, “military aid to Pakistan is just out of the question now while they are still killing in East Pakistan and refugees are fleeing across the border.” He tries to convince Kissinger: “we are on the threshold of better relations with the one stable democracy in that part of the world (India). They are making real progress and want to be more friendly with us.” But all his urgings fall on deaf ears. Nixon’s infatuation with Yahya is too far gone to stop the Pakistan army from killing, raping and looting innocent people in East Pakistan.

“In all honesty, the President has special feelings for Yahya. One cannot make policy on that basis, but it is a fact of life,” Kissinger shuts up Keating on June 3, 1971.

Meanwhile Kissinger , in his memo Military Assistance to Pakistan and the Trip to Peking, July 19, reinforces “It is of course clear that we have some special relationship to Pakistan.”

And Nixon blatantly continues to condone the brutal repression in East Pakistan assuring a Pakistani delegation hastily dispatched to Washington DC, “Yahya is a good friend. I understand the anguish of the decisions which (Yahya) had to make,” and that the US “would not do anything to complicate the situation for President Yahya or to embarrass him.”

Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi,  in a letter to President Nixon on August 14, 1971, notes that the refugee flow has not slowed, and has reached approximately seven million. She questions U.S. efforts to work towards a political solution in East Pakistan as well as American arms transfers to Pakistan.

The declassified documents thus indicate that the U.S. followed a pro-Pakistan line in the UN, in discussions with China, and on the battlefield as well.

A National Security Council Memorandum for Henry Kissinger, Jordanian Transfer of F-104’s to Pakistan, Secret, December 7, 1971, (as war between India and Pakistan wages) includes State Department Cable to Jordan. The first page has handwritten Kissinger note in which he, in reference to the title and secrecy of the issue, suggests “that title should have been omitted.” Saunders discusses Yahya’s request for military equipment from the U.S. and other sources, specifically Jordan. He also observes that “by law,” the U.S. “cannot authorize” any military transfers unless the administration was willing “to change our own policy and provide the equipment directly.” This would rule out any transfer of American military equipment for Pakistan, supplied by the U.S., or any third party.

A summary by George H.W. Bush, December 10, 1971, as US ambassador to the UN describes in detail the meeting between Kissinger and the Chinese ambassador to the UN. Kissinger tells the Chinese that the American position on the issue (supporting Islamabad) is “parallel” to Beijing. However, Bush in his memo does not mince his words about the “Two State Departments”(Kissinger & Sisco turf battle) and also takes issue with Kissinger’s style, in one instance calling him “paranoid and arrogant”.

White House telephone conversations of December 4 and 16, 1971, show Nixon and Kissinger’s knowledge of third party transfers of military supplies(Iran and Jordan) to Pakistan. They also show them following the advice of TV celebrity Barbara Walters, who decides to put out a White House version of the facts involved with the South Asian crisis and “get some PR out on the- – put the blame on India. It will also take some blame off us,” in the words of Nixon.

“Not only did the United States publicly pronounce India as the aggressor in the war, but the U.S. sent the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Enterprise, to the Bay of Bengal, and authorized the transfer of U.S. military supplies to Pakistan, despite the apparent illegality of doing so. American Military assistance was formally cutoff to both India and Pakistan. A combination of Nixon’s emotional attachment to General Yahya and his dislike for Indira Gandhi, West Pakistan’s integral involvement with the China initiative and Kissinger’s predilection for power politics greatly influenced American policy decision-making during this conflict,” concludes Sajit Gandhi, the editor of the declassified documents produced by the National Security Archive, a  non governmental, non-profit institution in Washington DC.

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