Cold war brinksmanship and the shape of Asia’s politics

The Blood Telegram:  Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide” by  Gary J. Bass.  Knopf Publishers.

In 1971 Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger made secret plans to engage China  in talks that would open that country to the rest of the world.  The  liaison they used to set up the meetings was the military dictator of Pakistan,  Yahya Khan, an ally of the Chinese. It was to have been a diplomatic coup  like no other during the Cold War.
bassAt the same time a democratic election in East Pakistan, what would soon  become Bangladesh, was brutally repressed by Yahya, and a humanitarian disaster  ensued.  Eventually, over ten million people sought refuge in East Bengal,  India, mostly Hindus, targeted by the Muslim majority.  Over three hundred  thousand were killed outright before they could flee.  The Pakistani army  used military hardware that was mostly supplied by the U.S., another irony of  the Cold War in that Pakistan was in the U.S. camp while the largest democracy  in the world, India, was an ally of the Soviets.  Adding to the  complexity was that Richard Nixon and Indira Ghandi, the Prime Minister of  India, hated each other.
Archer Blood, the consul general in Dacca, East Pakistan, sent an urgent  telegram to the administration in Washington assessing the situation, using the  world genocide.  Nixon and Kissinger were reluctant to comply.  They  wanted to give the upcoming talks in China a chance to succeed.  Aid was  sent to the region, but Pakistan continued to receive military shipments.   India, of course, objected, but part of the equation was that Nixon and  Kissinger suspected the Indians of using the situation to destroy Pakistan, both  East and West, and to restore the country to its former borders before the  Partition.
Bass presents his evidence like a trial lawyer, layer by layer, in  such a way that the enormity of the tragedy is undeniable.  Recently  opened tapes and documents support his case.  His book gives a  not-so-pleasant picture of how governments work during crises, all the options  to be considered.  Nixon and Kissinger might have been the masters of  realpolitik, but they left much to be desired in the area of humanitarian  concern.  The ruthlessness of politics is fully explored.
Some of the consequences of the 1971 crisis were that Pakistan lost half of  its country when Bangladesh became independent, both India and Pakistan are now  nuclear powers, owing to their desire not to be bullied by their more powerful  nuclear neighbors, Russia and China, as well as the United States, and that  relations between India and Pakistan , or between India and the U.S., have never  much improved.
Bass is to be commended for not allowing such a devastating humanitarian  crisis to be forgotten.  Unfortunately, this is just one more instance of  the continuing struggle to provide dignity and self-determination to a troubled  world that, for whatever reasons, continues to resist it.
Steve Corrigan
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