Apr 30, 2012

Musing over Bangladesh ... 1971 saw the Bay of Bengal boiling

With all the 'Coalgate' and 'Porngate' happening closer to home, a bit of fact finding for the antecedent to these scandals took me to 'Watergate' a few fortnights back. And my photograph of the Watergate complex taken few years back found a place on the cloud.

Musing over the past era and the reading about the largest exodus of the sub-continent - a little overshadowed by the 'big brother' partition of India and Pakistan two decades prior, takes you to 1971. It takes you to the much televised interview of Mrs Gandhi to the BBC - where she's asked pointed questions about India's role in Bangladesh. She answered them vehemently, empathy for the stricken neighbours and anger written across her face. The reading takes you to the war of liberation of Bangladesh, it takes you to Yahya Khan, INS Vikrant and the controversial fate of PNS Ghazi. And yes, again the face of the overbearing President pops up.


Although the Americans are divided in their opinion of whether George W Bush was a worse President than Richard Nixon, ask any Indian citizen on the 'wrong' side of 40 - the answer will probably be unambiguous if you are asking (especially) a citizen from the eastern flank. And the reasons are not merely (the now past) 'Red' but also the pain of the line drawn though their backyards (read 'hearts'), separating friends and family and making them citizens of two countries, and then watching their relatives butchered in a manner the Nazis would have probably frowned at.
"Kill three million of them," said President Yahya Khan at the February conference, "and the rest will eat out of our hands." (Robert Payne, Massacre [1972], p. 50.) On March 25 1971 the genocide was launched. The university in Dacca was attacked and students exterminated in their hundreds. Death squads roamed the streets of Dacca, killing some 7,000 people in a single night. It was only the beginning. "Within a week, half the population of Dacca had fled, and at least 30,000 people had been killed..." In her ground-breaking book, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, Susan Brownmiller likened the 1971 events in Bangladesh to the Japanese rapes in Nanjing and German rapes in Russia during World War II. "... 200,000, 300,000 or possibly 400,000 women (three sets of statistics have been variously quoted) were raped ... Hit-and-run rape of large numbers of Bengali women was brutally simple in terms of logistics as the Pakistani regulars swept through and occupied the tiny, populous land ..." (p. 81).
A few documents declassified by the US state department tells the story. The conversation transcript from Nov 1971 after Indira Gandhi's US visit depicts the national security adviser (Henry Kissinger) speaking of India to the then US president, Richard Nixon, at his derogatory best. The boss appreciates the same adding a few expletives for the 'Iron Lady' of India - whom they confess of having drooled over in the past. The infatuation which Mrs Gandhi commanded from many an Indian through the generations seems to turn into a revulsion - the disillusionment from the visit and the failure to intimidate the lady justifying the profanity. In the run-up to the Indo-Pak (Bangladesh Liberation) war of 1971 thereafter, Nixon developed a 'special relation' with the 'handsome' Pak dictator Yahya Khan. This prompted the oversight of the 'Blood Telegram' of 6th Apr 1971 from the US consulate at Dacca (now, Dhaka) after the massacre in March. In fact Nixon's prompt reply was proclaiming the "squeezing rights".
Keating, the US ambassador to India met with similar rebuke for his support for India and the Bengalis.

from Wikipedia - CC license
President Nixon : "We really slobbered over the old witch,..." Kissinger : "The Indians are bastards anyway, they are starting a war there..While she was a bitch, we got what we wanted too. She will not be able to go home and say that the United States didn't give her a warm reception and therefore in despair she's got to go to war." 
Nixon: The Indians need $#?@# what they need really is a $%#@# Kissinger: They’re such bastards.  Nixon: A mass famine. But they aren't going to get that…But if they're not going to have a famine the last thing they need is another war. Let the goddamn Indians fight a war. 
Kissinger: They are the most aggressive goddamn people around there.

In 1971, some 3 million people are estimated to have been killed in the genocide unleashed by Pakistan's military government on East Pakistan, leading to a rush of refugees into India. The cost incurred by India in the year alone spiralled to $600mn, feeding and sheltering some ten million refugees. The bombing by Pak airforce drew India into a swift and decisive war that eventually forced Pakistan's debacle. But all along, the Nixon administration sided with the military establishment of Pakistan over democratic India because of Nixon's fear of India growing as a major power in the sub-continent and the support it enjoyed from arch-rival Soviets. It sided with the side that was morally in the wrong and militarily doomed to defeat. 
Nixon: Our desire is to save West Pakistan. That's all.   Kissinger: That's right. That is exactly right. 
Nixon: All right. Keep those carriers moving now. 
Kissinger: The carriers—everything is moving. Four Jordanian planes have already moved to Pakistan, 22 more are coming. We're talking to the Saudis, the Turks we've now found are willing to give five. So we're going to keep that moving until there's a settlement. 
Nixon: Could you tell the Chinese it would be very helpful if they could move some forces or threaten to move some forces?  Kissinger: Absolutely. 
Nixon: They've got to threaten or they've got to move, one of the two. You know what I mean? 
Kissinger: Yeah. 
Nixon: How about getting the French to sell some planes to the Paks? 
Kissinger: Yeah. They're already doing it. 
Nixon: This should have been done long ago. The Chinese have not warned the Indians. 
Kissinger: Oh, yeah. 
Nixon: All they've got to do is move something. Move a division. You know, move some trucks. Fly some planes. You know, some symbolic act. We're not doing a goddamn thing, Henry, you know that. 
Kissinger: Yeah. 
Nixon: But these Indians are cowards. Right? 
Kissinger: Right. But with Russian backing. You see, the Russians have sent notes to Iran, Turkey, to a lot of countries threatening them. The Russians have played a miserable game. 
While triggering Operation Chengiz Khan on 3rd Dec, where Pakistan faltered and the pair underestimated India's might was the timing. Indira had already toured the globe and mustered the support of UK and France. An UN block of any pro-Pakistani directive attempted by US ambassador George HW Bush (later the 41st President of US) & vetoed by the Soviets gave India the diplomatic edge. A treaty with the Soviets gave insurance from China. Gen Sam Manekshaw was given a go-ahead in April '71 and he had planned and waited till winter when the drier grounds would ease operations and the snow would block a Chinese intervention. Eight mountain divisions stood guard at the Sino-Indian border having learnt its lessons from 1962.  Yahya had gauged that Pak forces could easily resist India for a month. As one of the most tactical battles ever, the war was over in 14 days. The PNS Ghazi late by a week or so in its effort to capsize Vikrant, the Pak FM missing the UN Security Council resolution to force a cease fire by a few days,  the mighty 7th fleet arriving at the 11th hour and the fate of East Pakistan sealed.  After a weeks fighting (on Dec 10), US urged China to join the war promising a backup which they suavely declined. Brezhnev had ordered 40 divisions to mobilise on his border with China at India's request and the 'dragon' kept their eyes gazing northwards. US then sent the Seventh Fleet comprising the USS Enterprise and other destroyers into the Bay of Bengal as a show of strength against the INS Vikrant standing guard. Enterprise was the world's first nuclear powered aircraft carrier, the longest ever. "The bomber force aboard the Enterprise had the US President's authority to undertake bombing of the Indian Army's communications, if necessary." Soviet intelligence reported that a British naval group led by the aircraft carrier Eagle had moved closer to India’s territorial waters.  This was perhaps one of the most ironic events in modern history where the Western world’s two leading democracies were threatening the world’s largest democracy in order to protect the perpetrators of the largest genocide since the Holocaust.  These disturbed Admiral Nanda. In a defence briefing he intervened to mention the imminent arrival of the 7th fleet to Mrs Gandhi. Nothing happened - the briefing went on. After a while the Admiral repeated: "Madam, I have to inform you that the 7th Fleet is sailing into the Bay of Bengal." She cut him off immediately: "Admiral, I heard you the first time, let us go on with the briefing." All the officers present were stunned. Ultimately, their morale was tremendously boosted by the prime minister's attitude. She had demonstrated her utter contempt for the American bluff. "The Americans are on a dry run; call them on-board, and give them enough drinks", she is said to have told him later. And she also sent for Raja Ramanna from BARC and told him to start working on an underground nuclear detonation, for our own show of strength.  Therefore the air strikes on Bangladesh by the Sea Hawks continued unabated from Vikrant. Credit goes to Admiral Nanda to have redirected the steam from the forward machinery due to the cracked catapult boiler of Vikrant. Not a single Sea Hawk was lost in the strikes. Pakistan deployed its flagship Ghazi to intercept and sink Vikrant. It was unaware of being 10 days late since Vikrant had already reached the Andamans from Madras. The 'Champion' (Ghazi) reached Vizag looking for Vikrant led by bogus signal traffic generated by their Indian counterparts and deceived by the Indian ruse de guerre (a private telegram from a sailor from Vizag; and contracts to supply huge quantity of meat and vegetables for an 'arriving' ship at Vizag port). Not finding Vikrant it started laying mines and was sunk by the INS Rajput, not a single soul survived. If the Pak version is to be believed, their mighty Ghazi fell to its own mines without scoring a single hit, so much so for the handling of the famed USS Diablo refitted by the Paks. The same night Indian missile boats ventured into the Pak bastion (Karachi) and downed three ships to avenge INS Khukri. An erroneous BBC report of 5000 paratroopers dropped near Dacca by IAF sent chills down Niazi's spine on 11th Dec. The number was actually a little over 500 and it's still a mystery how the only trusted media at that time made this error. However the hope for chinese aid was so high that Pak army waived at the IAF paratroopers jubilantly while they descended.  Dec 12th saw a desperate Deputy PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, fearing certain defeat, scampering to New York to plead the US and re-convene the UN Security Council which had refused to intervene just the previous week. 
By the time the council deliberated and finalized, the world map had changed. Nobody ever saw the content of the (also) Foreign Ministers speech for the council, ripped apart by himself in frustation over UN inaction. However on the war front, Yahya continued to "hope for Chinese intervention and the American Seventh Fleet any moment". Russia dispatched a nuclear-armed flotilla from Vladivostok on December 13 under the overall command of Admiral Vladimir Kruglyakov, the Commander of the 10th Operative Battle Group (Pacific Fleet). Kruglyakov recalls : “The Chief Commander’s order was that our submarines should surface when the Americans appear. It was done to demonstrate to them that we had nuclear submarines in the Indian Ocean. So when our subs surfaced, they recognised us".
In the backdrop of the US duos hatred for India (conversation below), this Russian deterrence gave Indira the needed confidence to continue.
Kissinger: And the point you made yesterday, we have to continue to squeeze the Indians even when this thing is settled. 
Nixon: We've got to for rehabilitation. I mean, Jesus Christ, they've bombed—I want all the war damage; I want to help Pakistan on the war damage in Karachi and other areas, see? 
Kissinger: Yeah 
Nixon: I don't want the Indians to be happy. I want a public relations programme developed to piss on the Indians. 
Kissinger: Yeah. 
Nixon: I want to piss on them for their responsibility. Get a white paper out. Put down, White paper. White paper. Understand that? 
Kissinger: Oh, yeah. 
Nixon: I don't mean for just your reading. But a white paper on this. 
Kissinger: No, no. I know. 
Nixon: I want the Indians blamed for this, you know what I mean? We can't let these goddamn, sanctimonious Indians get away with this. They've pissed on us on Vietnam for 5 years, Henry.  Kissinger: Yeah. 
Nixon: Aren't the Indians killing a lot of these people?   Kissinger: Well, we don't know the facts yet. But I'm sure they're not as stupid as the West Pakistanis—they don't let the press in. The idiot Paks have the press all over their place. 
A day later (Dec 14th : mourned as Shaheed Buddhijibi Dibosh in Bangladesh today) hundreds of intellectuals including professors, journalists, doctors, artists, engineers, and writers were rounded up blindfolded by the military and executed en masse. An attempt to cripple the education and culture of the Bengalis at the brink of being drubbed themselves. 
Pak perish
On 16 Dec 1971, Gen Niazi alongwith more than 93,000 strong garrison of Pak forces surrendered to the Indians making it the largest surrender after WWII. The dictator who fantasized building a 'Niazi corridor' from Dhaka to Pakistan via Delhi was disgraced. The person incharge of the carnage in Dacca who'd said "Dacca will fall over my dead body" relinquished his position at the fall of merely 1300 men, becoming the object of scorn of the humiliated nation - so ironically having to surrender to his counterpart from the same Indian Military Academy he trained at. 
The tactic to change the requested cease-fire from Niazi to a complete surrender was also dramatic.

Niazi pleas, Manekshaw sets deadline

As the Pak commanders, though surrounded and asked to surrender, were still quibbling, expecting an US bailout or dreaming about a final Chinese intervention (as promised by their western counterparts) - a flight of MiG-21 supersonics roared past the governor's office, shooting a line of holes on its roof, but without damaging the structure or killing him - not at all lethal, but completely unnerving. It scared the wits out of Niazi and in no time he agreed to surrender. Incidentally, that brilliant precision-strike, by a squadron of pilots who had never before flown supersonic planes, was more precise than the laser-guided bombing of Al-Jazeera office in Kabul by US satellite-guided warjets 30 years later.

Aurora looks on

An entire generation of Pakistanis await to avenge 1971. The Pak CJ Hamidur Rahman's Report later blamed the entire Pak army brass. "Fattened (Pak Army), corrupted and brutalised by power ... just wasn't in any position to take on the Indian Army in adverse circumstances ... brought a bad name for the Pakistan Army and alienated the sympathies of the local population by their wanton cruelty and immorality against our own people". Bhutto ordered every copy of the Hamidur report to be burnt.
Noting the lessons of war, Major General Hakeem Arshad Qureshi - a 1971 war veteran wrote in his book: " We must accept the fact that, as a people, we had also contributed to the bifurcation of our own country. It was not a Niazi, or a Yahya, even a Mujib, or a Bhutto, or their key assistants, who alone were the cause of our break-up, but a corrupted system and a flawed social order that our own apathy had allowed to remain in place for years. At the most critical moment in our history we failed to check the limitless ambitions of individuals with dubious antecedents and to thwart their selfish and irresponsible behaviour. It was our collective ‘conduct’ that had provided the enemy an opportunity to dismember us." Qureshi's words cannot be denied by Pakistan - he is a Sitara-i-Jurat awardee - Pakistan's second highest military award.
The Nazis were tried for massacring the Jews, the Khmer Rouge, Saddam Hussein, Serbian militants, all faced international courts - only the Pakistani army got away with murder, rape and loot. The fortnight of Dec 1971 marks India’s ‘crowning glory’ since the final outcome of the conflict was a result of well-executed military strategy, diplomatic success and intelligence breakthrough backed by a bold political leadership.
 

The two most powerful women of the world ... and the 'perfect' wars of 1971 and 1982.
References :
  1. Yahya's telegram to Nixon, Nov 1971
  2. Indira's BBC interview on Bangladesh
  3. Bush worse than Nixon
  4. Historical rankings of Presidents of the United States - wikipedia
  5. Nixon's dislike of Indira
  6. Nixon's 'illegal' support for Pakistan - says USA4kids
  7. Mrs Gandhi on timing and the 7th fleet
  8. Naval Review (UK)
  9. Indo-Pak 1971 war
  10. Russian deterrence
  11. Encyclopedia of India, Pakistan & Bangladesh
  12. We never learn - Qureshi
  13. Events of 1971