THE Chinese leadership, which had already developed serious tension with its Soviet counterparts on doctrinal disputes, strategic partnership and nuclear technology, was also willing to develop ties with the United States, for it would not only help gain its legitimate position in the global political and economic order, particularly in the United Nations,174 but also provide diplomatic strength in terms of balancing the Soviet presence in the Asian region. Moreover, the Chinese leadership was ‘apprehensive’ of, which Chou En-lai himself would disclose to Henry Kissinger in July 1971, the dangerous ‘possibility that US, USSR, Japan and even India might collaborate to carve up China’.175 The Chinese leadership, therefore, resolved to welcome the US move for a rapprochement through Pakistan.
President Nixon approached General Yahya Khan in October 1970, by then already president of Pakistan, to convey to the Chinese leadership during his upcoming trip to Peking in November that the White House ‘regarded a Sino-American rapprochement as essential’ and that the United States ‘would never join a condominium against China’ and that Washington was ‘willing to send a high-level secret emissary to Peking’ for negotiations.176
General Yahya successfully did the job that he was assigned to and Nixon received a positive response from Chinese premier Chou En-lai, and thus continued with a series of clandestine exchanges between Washington and Peking, as Chou said in April 1971, ‘through the good offices of President Yahya’. General Yahya would earn so much of confidence of the White House that Nixon informed Chou in May 1971 that ‘for secrecy, it is essential that no other channel [except President Yahya Khan] be used’.177
On receipt of the positive message from Yahya Khan, Nixon and Kissinger ‘relished their coming triumph’, for
‘[t]his, Kissinger told the President, would end the Vietnam War this year’.178 Eventually, it would be through Yahya’s supervision that Henry Kissinger would pay a two-day secret visit to China in July 9–11, 1971, ushering in a new era of Sino-America cooperation having significant impact on the global political and economic order of the day. Hence, the brutal military regime of General Yahya Khan, which launched a genocidal military crackdown in East Pakistan in March 1971, remained a very important ally for both China and the United States throughout Bangladesh’s liberation war. The result was obvious: [West] Pakistan’s politico-military establishment enjoyed continued political and diplomatic, if not military, supports of Washington and Peking in carrying out brutal suppression of the people of East Pakistan.
However, after receiving the Chinese green signal through Yahya Khan in the last week of April, President Nixon had opted for ‘unqualified backing for West Pakistan’ and asked the US officials concerned not to stand in the way of what General Yahya was doing in East Pakistan, which got evident from Nixon’s ‘handwritten note’ on a despatch on the ‘Policy options toward Pakistan’, on April 28, asking all the US officials concerned: “Don’t squeeze Yahya at this time,”179 and in a bid to emphasise his resolve Nixon ‘underlined’ the word ‘Don’t’ as many as ‘three times’.180 The official US reaction to West Pakistan’s atrocious military campaign against the unarmed people of the East, therefore, grew from ‘agonizing silence to studied ambivalence’.
The phenomenon, however, brought in a clear division in the US administration for, in the first place, the Nixon-Kissinger duo kept its China initiative from the rest of the government, including the State Department led by Secretary of State William Rogers. Meanwhile, Rogers and a significant section of the State Department officials, found it in American interest, both moral and strategic, to put certain amount of pressure on Yahya’s military regime to stop persecutions in East Pakistan and reach a political settlement of the ‘East Pakistan crisis’ through a dialogue with the Awami League leadership. But Kissinger, Nixon’s most trusted colleague in the process of clandestine negotiation with China, used to rule out the idea of mounting such pressure on the Yahya’s military regime, by ‘repeatedly’ reminding the senior officials that Nixon ‘does have a special feeling about Yahya; he would be most reluctant to take him on’.181 Besides, a significant section of the US media, a group of influential senators182 and a good number of well-meaning civil society actors protested against Nixon’s policy to defend General Yahya’s military junta, which was carrying out a genocide on the unarmed people of East Pakistan. But the White House remained un-moved, while restraining itself occasionally only under pressure from within and outside the government.
That the Nixon-Kissinger duo placed the United State’s strategic interest in the Asian region above everything else, including Bangladesh’s legitimate right to self-determination, particularly following a murderous military carrying out brutal atrocities against a huge population, did hardly move the duo got evident on several occasions during their ‘situation room’ discussions on the Bangladesh cause.
Archer K Blood, the US consul general in Dhaka, ‘had been flooding Islamabad and Washington with graphic reports of a vicious military action’ for three days since March 25, 1971, ‘only to be answered with a deafening silence’. Then, on March 28, Blood sent a telegram, captioned as ‘selective genocide’, describing the West Pakistan army’s continued massacre of the unarmed civilians in the Dhaka city. “Moreover”, Blood wrote, “with the support of Pak military, non-Bengali Muslims are systematically attacking poor people’s quarters and murdering Bengali [Muslims] and Hindus.” 183 In the face of Blood’s ground-level reports from Dhaka on the West Pakistan army’s butcheries in the East, Henry Kissinger had once told some ‘hesitant’ US state department officials, “No matter what our view may be of the savagery of the West Pakistani troops, we would just be pulling India’s chestnuts out of the fire if we take on West Pakistan.” 184 Subsequently, Kissinger got a cable sent to Blood reminding him that what was happening in Dhaka was ‘primarily an internal matter of the Pakistan Government’.185 Later, Kissinger even professionally punished Blood for the latter’s humanitarian approach reflected in his diplomatic suggestion to restrain General Yahya by way of ousting the man from the US foreign service. Blood would succeed to return to the profession of diplomacy as the deputy chief of mission in New Delhi only after ‘Jimmy Carter was elected in November 1976 and Henry Kissinger, then Gerald Ford’s Secretary of State, was due shortly to leave office’.186
Meanwhile, Kenneth Keating, the American ambassador in Delhi, wrote to Washington: “I am deeply shocked at massacre by [West] Pakistani military in East Pakistan, appalled at possibility these atrocities are being committed with American equipment, and greatly concerned at United States’ vulnerability to damaging allegations of association with reign of military terror.”187 Keating suggested that Washington ‘should promptly, publicly and prominently deplore this brutality’ and ‘announce unilateral abrogation of one-time exception military supply agreement’ with Pakistan and pleaded ‘suspension of all military deliveries under 1967 restrictive policy’ and that the steps should be taken ‘prior to Communist initiatives to exploit situation’. He asserted that ‘this is time when principles make best policies’. But all the Keating’s humane concerns and moral appeal fell on the deaf ears of the American policy makers in the White House. President Nixon found Keating nothing more than the one ‘in love with India’188 and ‘ripped’ off the appeal.
Understandably, the strategic ‘China thought’, in which General Yahya’s [West] Pakistan was an important component, played a crucial role in shaping Nixon administration’s policy towards the liberation war of Bangladesh. Similarly, along with other considerations, China’s ‘Washington thought’ played an important role in shaping Chou En-Lai’s policy towards Bangladesh’s liberation war.
Both China and the United States felt equally indebted to General Yahya Khan for his personal efforts in bringing the two hitherto rival states on the negotiating table, which would find an expression in a bilateral talk in Peking even after Yahya’s ouster from power in Pakistan. During a talk with President Nixon in China on February 23, 1972, Premier Chou En-Lai remarked, “Both of us owe something to Yahya, although he dint show much statesmanship in leading his country, for bringing the link between our two countries.” In agreement with Chou, Nixon said, “He is a bridge.” Henry Kissinger, who was present at the meeting, instantaneously informed Chou that ‘President [Nixon] sent a message to Bhutto that he should treat Yahya well in retirement and we would not look favourably on any retribution’.189 President Nixon’s desperation to support General Yahya found the clearest expression in the former’s talk with Aga Hilaly, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, on July 29, 1971, in which Nixon conveyed that he was ready to ‘help’ Yahya ‘as much as possible’, even ignoring the US public opinion against the idea. Reporting about the contents of the confidential talks with Nixon, Hilaly wrote to Yahya the next day: “He told me repeatedly that he wanted to help you as much as possible and though the entire American public, press and Congress were enraged, […] he would do his best to see that the Congress did not tie up his hands by putting a complete embargo on military and economic aid [to Pakistan].”190 Nixon was even out to influence the US allies to do the same. Hilaly informed Yahya that ‘[h]e was sending messages to friendly governments to similarly avoid succumbing to the pressure of their public opinion and press’.
China, a major Asian power most contiguous to the South Asian region, on the other hand, continued to provide ‘political support’ for the Pakistan’s military junta, for its interest lay primarily in the perpetuation of united Pakistan, particularly in the context of its own strained relation with India those years. For China, a united Pakistan would have served it better by way of providing a check on India. Besides, in the context of ‘political and ideological enmity’ developed with the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, the Chinese leadership started softening its original stance towards its ‘imperialist’ enemy, the United States that is, in those years of the Cold-War era and, therefore, immensely valued Yahya-brokered clandestine negotiation between Washington and Peking. China, therefore, refused to antagonize General Yahya’s military regime, which obviously resulted in the strengthening of West Pakistan’s brutal military campaign against the East’s struggle for national independence.
The Chinese government displayed political complicity in West Pakistan’s military massacre in the East by way of making an official observation that General Yahya Khan’s military campaign against the unarmed people in question was mere ‘an internal affair’ of Pakistan. The Prime Minister of China, Chou En-lai, wrote to President Yahya Khan on April 11: “The Chinese Government holds that what is happening in Pakistan at present is purely an internal affair of Pakistan, which can only be settled by the Pakistan people themselves and which brooks no foreign interference whatsoever. Your Excellency may rest assured that should the Indian expansionists dare to launch aggression against Pakistan, the Chinese Government and people will, as always, firmly support the Pakistan Government and people in their just struggle to safeguard state sovereignty and national independence.”191
To be continued.
Nurul Kabir is editor of New Age.
Notes and References
174 The United States and its allies had been blocking the way for the People’s Republic of China to enter the United Nation for more than two decades until October 1971.
175 FS Aizajuddin, From A Head, Through A Head, To A Head: The Secret Channel between the US and China through Pakistan, p 4
176 Henry Kissinger, White House Years, p 699
177 Ibid, p 724
178 Gary J Bass, The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide, p 114
179 Henry Kissinger, White House Years, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, New York, 2011 , p 856
180 See Memorandum from Dr Kissinger to President Nixon, “Policy options towards Pakistan”, April 28, 1971 in FS Aijazuddin (ed), The White House and Pakistan: Secret Declassified Documents, 1969–1974, pp 242–247
181 Gary J Bass, The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide, pp 113
182 The group of Senators, both Democratic and Republican, included Edward Kennedy, chairman of the Sub-Committee on Refugees and Escapees of the Senate Judiciary Committee; William B Saxbe, member of Armed Services Committee; Walter F Mondale, member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry; William Proximire, chairman of the Sub-committee on Military Aid; J William Fulbright, Edmund S Muskie, Edward W Brooke, George McGovern, Mark O Hatified, Clifford P Case, Fred R Harris and H Scheuer.
183 Archer K Blood, The Cruel Birth of Bangladesh: Memories of an American Diplomat, Third Impression, The University Press Limited, Dhaka, 2006 , p 213
184 Gary J Bass, The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide, p 113. Kissinger found Archer C Blood nothing more than a ‘maniac in Dacca’, Ibid., p 117.
185 Ibid, p 88
186 Archer K Blood, The Cruel Birth of Bangladesh, p 345
187 Ibid, p 215
188 Gary J Bass, The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide, p 214
189 See the Memorandum of Conversation between President Nixon and Premier Zhou En-lai, February 23, 1972, in FS Aijazuddin (ed), The White House and Pakistan: Secret Declassified Documents, 1969–1974, pp 526–539.
190 The text of Aga Hilaly’s letter is cited in FS Aizajuddin, From A Head, Through A Head, To A Head: The Secret Channel between the US and China through Pakistan, p 131
191 The full text of Chou En-lai’s letter to Yahya Khan was published in the April 13, 1971 issue of The Pakistan Times. For now see, FS Aijazuddin (ed.), The White House and Pakistan: Secret Declassified Documents, 1969–1974, pp 129–130.
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