THE group then reached out to other sympathetic groups of Americans beyond Philadelphia, such as the Quakers, ending up being a group of some 30 people of different age and professions — academics, students, social workers and peace activists. They formed committees to handle matters like contacting the press, getting canoes and kayaks, making signs and leaflets, finding communication equipment, handling police and legal liaison, et cetera. The preparations over, they started driving from Philadelphia to Baltimore, with their small boats strapped to the roofs of their cars, in the morning of July 11 while newspapers, radio and television stations began covering the event. They reached the port in the afternoon and went to the harbour pier where the ship was expected to dock and drew up a picket line.
The Padma arrived on July 14, but they kept up global press attention for four days by means of paddling the boats out into the harbour, examining the tides and currents of the harbour and experimenting formations of the ‘fleet’ of boats as to what would be the most effective formation to block the Pakistani freighter, as if they were doing manoeuvres as a naval force does before a sea battle. Embarrassed by the exercise, the US government kept repeatedly denying that Washington was sending any military aid to Islamabad. Taylor later writes that the US State Department issued a statement, claiming that ‘no arms have been provided to the government of Pakistan since the beginning of this crisis’ while ‘we were about to demolish those denials by revealing what really was happening’.208
However, as the Padma appeared in the vicinity of the port, the group paddled their boats into the harbour to get in front of the ship, but the Coast Guard and the police stood in the way. Taylor writes that the police from a large motorboat shouted at them through a bullhorn to turn back, cautioning them that the ‘ship’s wake would flip over our small boats and the enormous propellers would chop us up into little pieces’. Besides, the policeman reminded them that they were breaking harbour regulations and warned them that they would be arrested if they did not turn back. In response, Taylor shouted back: “You have to do what you have to do, but this is a death ship. It is picking up military cargo that will kill thousands of innocent people. We are here to prevent it from docking.”209 Then they paddled ‘as hard as’ they could towards the Padma while the Coast Guards cutters were out to keep them back, shouting — ‘get the hell out of here, the ship won’t stop and you’ll go drown like ants from its suction’. Taylor recollects that a very young paddler, Sally Willoughby, later said, “I was scared, but I was really determined to stop that ship. I think I was really willing to die for this.” None of them had to die, for the police succeeded to arrest them before any such tragedy. However, they suffered one night in the Baltimore city jail and sentenced to one year of suspended imprisonment for violating laws.
Dr AR Mallick, Vice-Chancellor of Chittagong University, who was visiting the United States as a member of Bangladesh delegation to the United Nations those days and pleading for Bangladesh with American intelligentsia at different universities, also went to the spot of the unique protest in Baltimore and ‘saw the stranded ship’ in coast.210
The non-violent protesters did not succeed to prevent the Pakistani ‘death ship’ from anchoring in Baltimore port, but the extensive media coverage of the event for a few days substantially helped mobilise public opinion across the United States, even beyond, in favour of Bangladesh’s legitimate struggle for independence, which, in turn, forced many a Senator and Congressman to speak up against the White House’s policy to support Yahya’s politico-military oligarchy.
Meanwhile, the US Secretary of State, William Rogers, along with a significant section of his associates in the US State Department, was opposed to the Nixingerian policy in South Asia. Kissinger would later admit the critical difference of opinion between the White House and the State Department that surfaced over the Bangladesh issue in mid 1971. He writes, “The gulf in perception between the White House and the rest of the government became apparent in an options paper prepared for the July 23 Senior Review Group meeting. It recommended that if China intervened in an India-Pakistan war, the United States should extent military assistance to India and coordinate its actions with the Soviet Union and Great Britain. Nothing more contrary to the President’s foreign policy could have been imagined.”211
Eager to improve relations with China, the White House resolved not to antagonise Peking by siding with India’s stance to support the Bangladesh cause, for China was on much better strategic and military terms with Pakistan while remaining on hostile terms with India, particularly following a war with the latter in 1962. Kissinger later notes in his memoirs: “[M]y relations with Rogers had deteriorated to the point that they exacerbated our policy differences and endangered coherent policy. […] Rogers was convinced that our course was mistaken. […] I believed that Rogers had no grasp of the geopolitical stakes. The result was bureaucratic stalemate in which White House and State Department representatives dealt with each other as competing sovereign entities, not members of the same team”212 Notably, the Nixon-Kissinger duo made the decision to bring about a détente with China ‘without executive or Congressional consultation213 while the entire State Department, even the Vice-President of the United States, Spiro Agnew, was still in the dark about the Yahya-brokered clandestine negotiation between Washington and Peking. That Agnew was unaware of the ‘development’ found expression in his conversation ‘with a group of reporters’ around the time in which he said that he was against ‘normalising relations with Peking’ and subsequently prevented by Nixon ‘from further comments about China’.214 Rogers was informed about Kissinger’s ‘secret trip’ via Pakistan only at the last moment, even much later than US ambassador in Islamabad, Joseph Farland, who was privately told for practical reasons on May 7.215 Even on Kissinger’s return from Peking, Rogers received a ‘santised’ version of the trip.216 The issue of US-China secret meeting was officially disclosed simultaneously from Washington and Peking on July 15, 1971.
The disclosure of the process of US-China rapprochement, and that too mediated by General Yahya Khan, instantly changed the Soviet Union’s hitherto pursued policy in South Asia, under which it had sought a political resolution of the East Pakistan crisis within the framework of a united Pakistan. The Soviet leadership now assessed that the emerging rapprochement between Washington and Peking to be a phenomenon uniting its two powerful arch-rivals against its own influence on the global political order of the day. The process of the Pakistan-brokered Sino-American rapprochement, therefore, decisively influenced the Soviet leadership to opt for providing active support for the India-backed Bangladesh’s struggle for independence, for it would help Moscow develop a stronger tie with India as an alley in South Asia, which would help the Soviet Union retain, if not enhance further, its influence in the region.
In the newly emerged circumstance, the Soviet interest in South Asia coincided with that of India, for Indian politico-military establishment found the Pakistan-brokered process of Sino-American détente to be a dangerous phenomenon for its own security, not to mention a serious obstacle towards its strategic aspiration for weakening Pakistan by helping Bangladesh emerge independent. For its protection from possible Chinese diversionary military actions in favour of Pakistan over Bangladesh’s liberation war, India found it important to forge a long-term strategic agreement with the Soviet Union. Delhi, therefore, took immediate steps to expedite the diplomatic negotiations, which had begun with Soviet leader Brezhnev proposing ‘Asian mutual security’ understandably to contain China in June 1969, for a long-term friendship treaty with Moscow. Thus, the geo-political interests of Soviet Union and India converged together and, thereby, two states entered into a 12-point Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation in New Delhi on August 9, 1971, under which one state was obligated to provide military support for the other in case of a third country attack against either of the signatory states. Article VIII of the peace treaty reads: “In accordance with the traditional friendship established between the two countries, each of the High Contracting Parties solemnly declares that it shall not enter into or participate in any military alliance directed against the other party.”
Moreover, Article IX of the treaty, which would appear to be the most important deterrent to China for militarily taking side with Pakistan in the latter’s war with India over Bangladesh’s liberation efforts, reads: “Each High Contracting Party undertakes to abstain from providing any assistance to any third party that engages in an armed conflict with the other Party. In the event of either Party being subjected to an attack or a threat thereof, the High Contracting Parties shall immediately enter into mutual consultations in order to remove such threat and to take appropriate effective measures to ensure the peace and security of their countries.”217
Be that as it may, the Soviet Union still continued to maintain a good relation with Pakistan. Professor Anwar Husain points out that the Soviet Union announced ‘only a week after the signing of the treaty with India’ that Moscow would ‘continue to provide financial and technical assistances to Pakistan’.218 Professor Husain also points out that Moscow’s objective in the sub-continent was still different from that of India. While India was for the independence of Bangladesh, dismembering of Pakistan in other words, the Soviet Union was for a ‘political solution’ of the East Bengal crisis by way of ‘installing an Awami League government at the Centre in a united Pakistan’, which found an expression in a joint communiqué signed by Soviet leader Alexei Kosygin and Algerian leader Houari Boumediene in Algiers on October 8 that urged Delhi and Islamabad to ‘adopt peaceful means to maintain Pakistan’s territorial integrity’.219
Extra-careful about the Soviet stance for Pakistan’s unity, India had earlier made a hitherto reluctant exiled government of the Awami League to incorporate the other Bangladeshi political forces, particularly pro-Moscow political parties, into the official process of Bangladesh’s liberation war and, thus, drew Moscow’s political support for the Bangladesh cause. In the process, a five-party Consultative Committee, headed by Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani, was formed on September 8 to advise the Awami League-led exiled government on conducting Bangladesh’s war of liberation. The advisory committee consisted of representatives from the Bangladesh’s government-in-exile, the Awami League, the Communist Party of Bangladesh led by Moni Singh, the National Awami Party led by Professor Muzaffar Ahmad and the Congress Party of Bangladesh led by Manoranjan Dhar. The initiative proved fruitful: Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin (1904–1980), while welcoming Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in Moscow on September 28 said that it was ‘impossible to justify’ Pakistan’s military actions in East Pakistan.220 Besides, during the talks with Indira Gandhi the next day, Leonid Brezhnev observed that ‘there is an element of national liberation present in the situation’ to which ‘Podgorny gave a nod’.221
The Pakistan authorities felt the heat of the Peace Treaty signed between Moscow and Delhi and made an attempt to blackmail the major powers by way of announcing Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s trial in a special military court ‘for waging war against Pakistan and other charges’ on August 9, the day the Peace Treaty was signed in India. The initiative, in fact, backfired, for the world refused to swallow the false allegation against the Sheikh. The London-based Times rightly wrote on August 12, “The charge of ‘waging war against Pakistan’ is, on the face of it, absurd, an inflation in words of a retrospective judgment arrived at by the military leaders whose disastrous policy was put into effect when Sheikh Mujib was arrested.”222
Nevertheless, the politico-military authorities in Islamabad were exposed to further political difficulties after the formation of the multi-party ‘Consultative Committee’, headed by Maulana Bhasani, to advise Bangladesh’s government-in-exile in carrying out the liberation war in the second week of September. The coming together of the political parties, after all, gave Bangladesh’s struggle for independence a ‘national look’, challenging Islamabad’s hitherto conducted false propaganda that the Bangladesh movement was mere an India-sponsored secessionist attempt isolated from the rest of the political forces of East Pakistan. Under the circumstance, the Pakistan’s military junta took a soft approach and made an attempt in the end of September for a negotiated political settlement of the Bangladesh issue by India’s cooperation. But by then the situation had changed qualitatively in favour of India and, therefore, the latter had no longer any reason to accept any solution within the framework of united Pakistan. Stanley Wolpert notes, “In late September, Yahya conveyed a secrete peace plan promising, in effect, immediate implementation of all Six-points to Indira Gandhi through her new ambassador in Islamabad, Jai Kumar Atal. But now that Indira has Soviet backing, she did not bother to respond to such clandestine overtures.”223 While the people of Bangladesh, particulerly the Liberation Forces of Bangladesh fighting the Pakistan Army, had no reason to accept anything short of independence any more, Indira was rather preparing for a war with Pakistan after the monsoon ends in East Bengal.
To be continued.
Nurul Kabir is editor of New Age.
Notes and References
208 Richard K Taylor, “Nonviolent Fighters for Bangladesh Freedom”, http://www.inwardlight.org/bangladesh_blockade.html. Also see, Richard [K] Taylor, “Blockading for Bangladesh”, BSJD, Vol XIII, pp 506–511
210 AR Mallick, Amar Jeeban Katha O Bangladesher Mukti Sangram, Second Print, Agamee Prakashani, Dhaka, 2007 , p 110
211 Henry Kissinger, White House Years, p 865
212 Ibid, p 887
213 Ibid, p 734
214 Ibid, p 713
215 Ibid, p 722
216 Ibid, p 758
217 For the full text of the Treaty, see KK Aziz, World Powers and the 1971 Breakup of Pakistan, pp 248–252
218 Syed Anwar Hussain, Bangladesher Muktijuddhe Brihat Saktibarger Bhumika, Jatiya Sahitya Prakash, 2006 , p 40
220 Mizanur Rahman Shelley, Emergence of a New Nation in a Multi-polar World: Bangladesh, p 95
221 See Muyeedul Hassan, Muldhara:’71, Footnote number 117, p 111
222 The Times article is cited in Kamruddin Ahmad, A Socio Political History of Bengal and the Birth of Bangladesh, p 344
223 Stanley Wolpert, Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan: His Life and Times, Fifth Impression, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2015 , p 161
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