A thoroughgoing, long-overdue excoriation of the actors behind the humanitarian crisis that propelled the creation of Bangladesh.
Bass (Politics and International Affairs/Princeton Univ.; Freedom’s Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention, 2008, etc.) largely lets the words of President Richard Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger from White House tapes reveal their perfidious actions on the world stage during the Pakistan-India crisis of 1971-1972. Nixon’s deep distrust of India—which he viewed as an ungovernable cauldron of Soviet-leaning liberals, lefties and hippies—and his longtime support of the military in Pakistan disastrously steered his and Kissinger’s resolve not to stay the hand of Gen. Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan against a dissenting East Pakistan in March 1971. In the terribly divided nation, reeling from a cyclone that had caused a massive loss of life, the democratic elections had trounced Yahya and overwhelmingly elected Mujibur Rahman and his Awami League, who had hinted at autonomy if not succession for the East Bengali entity. Yahya’s ensuing military crackdown instigated a bloodbath against Bengalis and Hindus that was witnessed and carefully documented by the horrified staff at the American embassy in Dacca. Led by ambassador Archer Blood, whose cries of “genocide” were baldly dismissed by Nixon and Kissinger, the embassy sent a collective “dissent cable” to Washington chronicling their alarms. These leaks allowed Sen. Edward Kennedy and others to expose the truth of Nixon’s illegal military supplying to Pakistan. In his tremendously lucid analysis, Bass reveals the cold cunning of all sides in the face of the killing and fleeing of millions of refugees into India, including Indira Gandhi, who turned the humanitarian disaster into political profit. By revisiting these tapes and other primary sources, Bass holds these leaders to a much-needed reckoning.
A deeply incisive lesson for today’s leaders and electorate.