This book brings back vivid memories for me as I lived through the 1970-71 East Pakistan crisis as a young man in India. The author shows us a picture of the events leading to the creation of an independent Bangladesh from the vantage points of the US consulate in Dacca and the White House. To a lesser extent, there is also the view from New Delhi, both from the Indian govt and the US embassy. To say the least, I was shocked to read about the visceral hatred that Kissinger, Nixon and Zhou-en-Lai had for India and Indians and the impunity with which Nixon flouted US law in conducting foreign policy. In fact, one can see that Watergate, which happened some 12 months later, was only a matter of time because Nixon had such disregard for the law of his own land.
One is used to foreign policy being conducted by most nations in a dispassionate manner, with their own nations' interests being the prime focus. But here, we see emotions and prejudice and sheer hatred dominating the thinking of both Nixon and Kissinger. Their private oval office conversations border on the extreme with Nixon saying in one place that what India needs is a mass famine and asking why India does not shoot the refugees if they find the millions an unbearable burden. The book says that Nixon was inclined to like the Pak military men because he was treated effusively when he visited them whereas Indian leaders were aloof and proud during his meetings with them in the 1950s. It seems a feudal mindset to make foreign policy decisions based on such flimsy reasons. For his part, Henry Kissinger also comes off as reckless and maniacal as he tries to goad China into threatening India, thereby risking a widening of the conflict into a direct clash between the USSR and the US.
Even though Kissinger himself admits that they would have supported Pakistan whether the 'China opening in 1971' was there or not, the idea has gained currency that the indebtedness to Md.Yahya Khan for enabling the 'China opening' was a major reason for the bizarre hostility of the US towards India and its indifference to the massacre of Bengalis. However, If one looks at history, one can see that the US has constantly been in debt to the Pak military. In the 1950s, the US needed to launch U2 flights over the USSR from Peshawar and so they had to keep Pak in good humor. In 1970-71, it was the 'China opening'. In the 80s, it was because the Reagan administration needed them to bleed the USSR in Afghanistan. The 90s looked as though the indebtedness would be over but then 9/11 happened and the US, in the 21st century, again needed the Pak military to carry on the action in Afghanistan. From India, it looks as though the US view of Geo-politics is such that it will always need to cosy up with the military dictators in Pakistan for some reason or other.
However, it is all not negative news on the US front in 1971. The story won't be complete without the gallant, humane and honest officers in the State Dept, Sen.Ted Kennedy and journalists like Sydney Schanberg of NYT. Archer Blood, the Consul General in Dacca, and his deputies put up a tremendous struggle against the policy conducted by Nixon. In the process, many of them jeopardised their careers for good. Kenneth Keating, the US ambassador to India, was another sterling personality, fighting his own govt's indifference to genocide. Ted Kennedy visited India and toured the refugee centers and fought for the Bengalis in Capitol Hill. In a lighter vein, it so happened that while the massive blood letting and killings were going on in East Pakistan, the three officers in the Dacca Consulate who fought for justice for the Bengalis, were named Blood, Butcher and Killgore!
For me as a person of Indian origin, it was a surprise to read that 90% of all those 10 million refugees from East Bengal were Hindus. This information was never highlighted in the Indian media in 1970-71. I think it was good that they did not because otherwise, we might have had to deal with sectarian groups in India which would have tried to convert the crisis into a crisis for Muslims in India. The other point is that India, for all its proclamations of non-alignment and third-world solidarity, found itself completely without friends from the world at large and was censured in the UN General Assembly. India had to depend on the USSR mostly for diplomatic support and had to fund the refugee relief mainly from its own impoverished masses. India's 'friends' in the Islamic world, like Jordan, Turkey, Iran and Egypt, transferred fighter aircrafts to bolster their Islamic brethern in Pak, even though India had more Muslims than Pakistan in 1971! It shows the deep failure of India's conduct of foreign policy in the early years after independence. The Indian edition of the book has the strange title 'India's Secret war in East Pakistan'. Even for ordinary citizens like me in India in 1971, there was nothing secretive about India's involvement in East Pakistan as early as March 1971. We used to habitually joke that it was probably the Bengal regiment of the Indian army that is euphemistically called Mukti Bahini! Finally, it is a matter of pride for India's pluralist society that the three Generals who conducted and won the war were a Sikh (J.S.Aurora), a Parsi (Sam Manekshaw) and a Sephardic Jew(Rafael-Jacob).
This review won't be complete without a prescient observation from the Indian Muslim scholar, Maulana Azad in 1946, prior to the partition of the sub-continent on religious lines. He said, " The moment the creative warmth of Pakistan cools down, the contradictions will emerge and will acquire assertive overtones. These will be fuelled by the clash of interests of international powers and consequently both wings will separate...After the separation of East Pakistan, whenever it happens, West Pakistan will become the battleground of regional contradictions and disputes within itself".
This book demolishes the carefully choreographed attempts of Nixon and Kissinger in later years to project themselves as great foreign policy wizards. Nixon didn't survive to read this book but Kissinger is still alive and strutting the world as an elder statesman, with eminent journalists fawning over him. I wonder what he would say for himself. The book is extensively researched using new archival material from India and the US and declassified White house tapes. It makes for fast-paced reading and makes important points to ponder for Indians, Americans, Pakistanis and anyone else interested in this chapter of the sub-continent's history.