Tuesday, March 21st, 2023 12:44:46

Story Of Genocide

Updated: April 19, 2014 5:51 pm

The liberation war for Bangladesh, which culminated in full-scale war between India and Pakistan, was one of the biggest humanitarian crises of the 20th century. In 1971, the Pakistani Army launched a devastating crackdown on what was then East Pakistan, killing thousands and sending ten million refugees fleeing into India. The book The Blood Telegram, India’s Secret War in East Pakistan is about two of the world’s great democracies—the United States and India—faced up to one of the most terrible humanitarian crises of the twentieth century. The slaughter in what is now Bangladesh stands as one of the cardinal moral challenges of recent history, although today it is far more familiar to South Asians than to Americans. It had a monumental impact on India, Pakistan and Bangladesh—almost sixth of humanity—in 1971.

In the dark annals of modern cruelty, it ranks as bloodier than Bosnia and by some accounts in the same rough league as Rwanda. It was a defining moment for both the United States and India, where their humane principles were put to the test. For the United States, a small number of atrocities are so awful that they stand outside of the normal day-to-day flow of diplomacy: the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, Cambodia, Bosnia, and Rwanda. But Pakistan’s slaughter of its Bengalis in 1971 is starkly different. Here the United States was allied with the killers. The White House actively and knowingly supported a murderous regime at many of the most crucial moments. There was no question about whether the United States should intervene; it was already intervening on behalf of a military dictatorship decimating its own people. This stands as one of the worst moments of moral blindness in US foreign policy. Pakistan’s crackdown on the Bengalis was not routine or small-scale killing, not something that could be dismissed as business as usual, but a colossal and systematic onslaught.

The slaughter happened at the same time when US President and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were planning their opening to China—a famous historic achievement that has a forgotten cost. Archer Blood, the United States’ Consul General in Dacca, capital of erstwhile East Pakistan, and his entire consulate sent in a telegram formally declaring their “strong dissent”—a total repudiation of the policy that the US were to carry out in that hour of humanitarian crisis, unfolding in erstwhile East Pakistan. That telegram—perhaps the most radical rejection of the US policy ever sent by its diplomats—blasted the United States for silence in the face of atrocities, for not denouncing the quashing of democracy, for showing “moral bankruptcy” in the face of what they bluntly called genocide. Drawing on recently declassified documents, unheard White House tapes, and meticulous investigative reporting, Gary Bass gives us an unprecedented chronicle of the break-up of Pakistan and India’s role in it. This is a path-breaking account of India’s real motives, the build- up to the war and the secret decisions taken by Indira Gandhi and her closest advisers. The Blood Telegram is a revelatory and compelling work, an essential reading for anyone interested in the recent history of our region.

By Nilabh Krishna

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