In 1971, during the Liberation War of Bangladesh, the course of war depended a lot on the then president of America, Richard M. Nixon and his relationship with Yahya Khan, head of the Pakistani military regime and the international politics of that time.
At that time, 1971, the world was on turmoil, at the peak of the cold war. The major players were America, China, Pakistan, India and Russia. President Nixon and Henry Kissinger of America wanted to improve relationship with China, as a possible ally against Russia, and in this game between the two super powers, Yahya played the role of the broker.
On the other hand China, because of the war of 1962 with India over the border in NEFA, was against India and wanted to see a strong Pakistan against India. Russia was an ally of India but was not openly on any side. China and Russia had tension over the control of Mongolia.
Most of the Islamic countries and the countries supporting Pakistan were against Bangladesh. The countries in tie with India or against Pakistan recognized Bangladesh first.
Recently, after almost 35 years of independence, the NSC (National Security Council) of America has declassified some very interesting documents related to the Liberation War of Bangladesh. These declassified US government documents clearly shows America's policy during the war in 1971.
Not all of the documents are declassified. Numerous materials remain classified by the State Department, CIA and other agencies as well as the Nixon Presidential Materials Project. Nevertheless, the available documents offer useful insights into how and why Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger made important decisions during the war of 1971.
The first part of the documents, from March 1971 to the last of May is a record of the genocide. These documents highlight some particular issues, mainly, the brutal details of the genocide conducted in East Pakistan in March and April of 1971, the killing of teachers and students at Dhaka University, rape of DU students, one of the first "dissent cables" questioning US policy and morality, as Consulate General in Dhaka, Archer Blood writes, "unfortunately, the overworked term genocide is applicable", the role that Nixon's friendship with Yahya Khan and his interest in China played in US policymaking leading to the tilt towards Pakistan., George Bush Senior's view of Henry Kissinger ,illegal American military assistance approved by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger to Pakistan following a formal aid cutoff by the US The refugee situation is also detailed in the eyes of the US government; an estimated ten million Bengalis had fled across the border to India by May 1971.
The second part of the documents shows the desperate effort of Nixon to give military aid to Pakistan and the international ties among the countries supporting Pakistan. In this part the US first recognised "Mukti Bahini" or the freedom fighters as a force to reckon.
US called Yahya friend, India aggressor
By using what Nixon and Kissinger called quiet diplomacy, the US administration gave green light to the Pakistan. In one instance, Nixon declared to a Pakistani delegation that, "Yahya is a good friend." Rather than express concern over the ongoing brutal military repression, Nixon explained that he "understands the anguish of the decisions which (Yahya) had to make." As a result of Yahya's importance to the China initiative and his friendship with Nixon and Kissinger, Nixon declares that the US "would not do anything to complicate the situation for President Yahya or to embarrass him. In a handwritten letter on 7th August, 1971, to President Yahya, Nixon writes, "Those who want a more peaceful world in the generation to come will forever be in your debt."
Not only did the US publicly pronounce India as the aggressor in the war, but also sent the nuclear submarine, U.S.S. Enterprise, to the Bay of Bengal, and authorised the transfer of US military supplies to Pakistan, despite the apparent illegality of doing so and though both the countries were under the arms embargo, US sent arms to Pakistan via third countries - Iran and Jordan.
Excerpts from important documents are placed according to the date so that readers can understand the flow of information and the relevancy of the message at that time.
March 28, 1971, US Consulate (Dacca) Cable, Selective Genocide, Consul General Archer Blood reports they are "mute and horrified by a reign of terror by the Pak Military" in East Pakistan. Blood indicated that evidence is surfacing suggesting that Awami League supporters and Hindus are being systematically targeted by the Martial Law Administrators. He also reports that many DU teachers and MPs have been killed.
On March 28, 1971 NSC official Sam Hoskinson tells Kissinger that events in East Pakistan have taken a turn for the worse. It also acknowledges both American recognition of the "reign of terror" conducted by West Pakistan, and the need to address the new policy issues that have been created as a result of the terror.
From US Embassy (New Delhi) Ambassador Keating expresses his dismay and concern at repression unleashed by the Martial Law Administrators with the use of American military equipment. He calls for the US to "promptly, publicly, and prominently deplore" the brutality.
On Killings at University, A. Blood reports an American's observation of the atrocities committed at Dacca University. "Students had been shot down in rooms or mowed down when they came out of building in groups." In one instance, the MLA set a girls dormitory on fire and then the girls were "machine-gunned as they fled the building."
March 31, 1971: Army Terror Campaign Continues in Dacca; Archer Blood reports that an estimated 4-6,000 people have "lost their lives as a result of military action" since martial law began on March 25. He also indicates that Martial Law Administrators are now focusing on predominantly Hindu areas.
Another Cable reports atrocities in DU, that naked female bodies in Rokeya Hall at DU found "with bits of rope hanging from ceiling fans," after apparently being "raped, shot, and hung by heels" from the fans. "Mass graves reported by workmen who dug", "numerous reports of unprovoked planned killing."
April 6, 1971 US Department of State Cable, USG Expression of Concern on East Pakistan; During a conversation with Assistant Secretary Sisco, Pakistani Ambassador Agha Hilaly told "army had to kill people in order to keep country together."
The first "cable of dissent" by A. Blood, April 6, 1971 US Consulate (Dacca) Cable, Dissent from US Policy Toward East Pakistan, Blood transmits a message denouncing American policy towards the South Asia crisis. The transmission suggests that the US is "bending over backwards to placate the West Pakistan dominated government and to lessen likely and deservedly negative international public relations impact against them." The cable goes on to question US morality at a time when "unfortunately, the overworked term genocide is applicable."
'Don't squeeze Yahya''April 28, 1971, Memorandum for the President, Policy Options toward Pakistan, Secret, 6 pp. (Nixon's handwritten note) Kissinger presents Nixon with US policy options directed towards the crisis in East Pakistan. Nixon and Kissinger both feel the third is the best as it, as Kissinger writes, "Would have the advantage of making the most of the relationship with Yahya, while engaging in a serious effort to move the situation toward conditions less damaging to US and Pakistani interests." At the end of the last page Nixon writes, "To all hands: Don't squeeze Yahya at this time."
Handwritten note from President Richard M. Nixon on an April 28, 1971, National Security Council decision paper: "To all hands. Don't squeeze Yahya at this time - RMN"
May 10, 1971, Memorandum of Conversation (3:05 - 3:30 p.m.) between US and Pakistani officials including Henry Kissinger Agha Hilaly, they discuss the potential for a political solution in East Pakistan. Kissinger indicates Nixon's "high regard" and "personal affection" for Yahya and that "the last thing one does in this situation is to take advantage of a friend in need." On the same day (4:45 - 5:20 p.m.) in a meeting of The President and the Pakistani officials including Agha Hilaly, Nixon expresses sympathy for Pakistan by indicating that "Yahya is a good friend," and in response to the genocide in the East, says he "could understand the anguish of the decisions which [Yahya] had to make." Nixon also declares that the US "would not do anything to complicate the situation for President Yahya or to embarrass him."
Mukti Bahini recognised
May 26, 1971, Department of State, Memorandum for the President, Possible India-Pakistan War, This memorandum denotes three causes that may lead to an India-Pakistan war and also formally recognises Mukti Bahini: (1) continued military repression in the East, (2) the refugee flow into India, and (3) Indian cross-border support to Bengali guerillas (the Mukti Bahini).
June 3, 1971. In a meeting Kissinger indicates that Nixon wants to give Yahya a few months to fix the situation, but that East Pakistan will eventually become independent. Kissinger points out that "the President has a special feeling for Yahya. One cannot make policy on that basis, but it is a fact of life."
July 19, 1971 Memorandum for Dr, Kissinger, Military Assistance to Pakistan and the Trip to Peking, Saunders discusses US Aid to South Asia, noting the connections between US military assistance to Pakistan and Pakistan's role in the China initiative. Kissinger writes, "But it is of course clear that we have some special relationship to Pakistan."
August 7, 1971 , Handwritten Letter from President Nixon to President Yahya, Nixon writes to personally thank Yahya for his assistance in arranging contacts between the US and China. At a time when West Pakistani troops were engaging in a repression of East Pakistan, Nixon told Yahya that "Those who want a more peaceful world in the generation to come will forever be in your debt."
August 11, 1971 Meeting of the President, Henry Kissinger and the NSC Senior Review Group. Nixon says that the Indians are more "devious" than the "sometimes extremely stupid" Pakistanis, the US "must not-cannot-allow" India to use the refugees as a pretext for breaking up Pakistan. Despite the conditions in the East, which Ambassador Blood described as "selective genocide," Nixon states that "We will not measure our relationship with the government in terms of what it has done in East Pakistan."
November 15, 1971, Memorandum for General Haig, Pakistan/India Contingency Planning. The US lets the movement of the nuclear aircraft carrier; the USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal represents possible American involvement in the conflict, especially if it expanded to a superpower confrontation.
December 4 and December 16, 1971, White House, Telephone Conversations between Nixon and Kissinger. These records, in Haig's word "confirm the President's knowledge of, approval for and, if you will, directive to provide aircraft to Iran and Jordan," so that these countries will provide aircraft to Pakistan. Nixon express his desire to, "get some PR out to put the blame on India. It will also take some blame off us."
December 7, 1971, Jordanian Transfer of F-104's to Pakistan National Security Council Memorandum for Henry Kissinger, Includes State Department Cable to Jordan and US Embassy (Amman) cable. First page has handwritten Kissinger note in which he suggests "that title should have been omitted." It expresses that "by law," the US "cannot authorize" any military transfers unless the administration was willing "to change our own policy and provide the equipment directly." This would rule out any transfer of American military equipment for Pakistan, supplied by the U.S., or any third party like Jordan.
December 10, 1971, Event Summary by George H.W. Bush, (Later president of U.S) UN Ambassador Bush describes in a meeting between Kissinger and the Chinese delegation to the United Nations, Kissinger reveals that the American position on the issue was parallel to that of the Chinese. Kissinger disclosed that the US would be moving some ships into the area, and also that military aid was being sent from Jordan, Turkey, and Iran. Some of this aid was illegally transferred because it was American in origin. Bush also reports that Kissinger gives his tacit approval for China to provide militarily support for Pakistani operations against India. Bush expresses his personal doubts about Kissinger's style, in one instance calling him paranoid and arrogant.
December 9, 1971, Department of State Cable, Pakistan Request for F-104'sThe transfer of F-104 planes to Pakistan from both Jordan and Iran is under review at "very high level of USG."
December 14, 1971, Department of State, Situation Report #41, Situation in India-Pakistan as of 0700 hours (EST), The State Department Notes that Eleven Jordanian F-104 fighter aircraft have possibly been sent to Pakistan.
December 15, 1971, Department of State, Situation Report #44, Situation in India-Pakistan as of 0700 hours (EST), Heavy fighting is turning in favor of the Indians, while cease-fire plans continue to be in the works.
Same day, US Embassy (Islamabad) Cable. "The present trickle of Mig-19's and F-104's will not hold off the Indians." Handwriting next to Mig-19's notes "China" and next to F-104's notes "Jordan."
December 16, 1971, Central Intelligence Agency, Intelligence Memorandum, India-Pakistan Situation Report (As of 1200 EST), India has ordered a unilateral cease fire upon the unconditional surrender of West Pakistani forces in East Pakistan. Fighting continues "between Bengalis and scattered "Mujahid/Razakar/West Pakistani elements." Also, the CIA reports that a squadron of American origin, Jordanian F-104's was delivered to Pakistan on 13 December, despite an American embargo on military supplies to both India and Pakistan.
December 29, 1971,US Embassy (Tehran), Cable, F-5 Aircraft to Pakistan, Embassy Iran reports that three F-5A Fighter aircraft, reportedly from the U.S, had been flown to Pakistan to assist in the war efforts against India. A Northrop official matches the aircraft to a group of planes originally slated for sale to Libya, This information suggests that not only did Washington look the other way when Jordan and Iran supplied US planes to Pakistan, but that despite the embargo placed on Pakistan, it directly supplied Pakistan with fighter planes. [concluded]
Sources: National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 79; and Anderson, Jack with George Clifford. The Anderson Papers. (New York: Random House).