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Dhaka Tribune

The Blood telegram: Case for an American apology

We often forget that the US, one of our closest allies, still owes an apology for the actions of President Richard Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger

Update : 07 Dec 2023, 09:52 AM

Parvez Musharraf may have fallen from favour in Pakistan but Bangladeshis still have a reason to like him. As the only Pakistani head-of-state to personally apologize to Bangladesh for the atrocities committed during the 1971 liberation war, he went further than other Pakistani governments.

As Bangladesh is still living with the repercussions of the war and the demons of the 1971 atrocities, as seen from the reactions to the ongoing war crimes tribunals, a comprehensive apology from Pakistan earlier would have been helpful in overcoming the trauma of the war.

However, as a nation, we often forget that the US, one of our closest allies, still owes an apology for the actions of President Richard Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger.

Nixon’s government overtly supported the Yahya regime during 1971 and infamously went as far as to deploy the Seventh Fleet at the Bay of Bengal in the closing stages of the war.

Despite a public outcry throughout the nine month war, Nixon and Kissinger downplayed the interests of Bangladeshis not only because of their traditional alliance with Islamabad, but also because Kissinger was negotiating to build a better relationship with China using Bhutto as a back channel to Beijing.

Moreover, Nixon and Kissinger shared a strong dislike for India’s premier Indira Gandhi whom they regarded as a Soviet ally.

The extent the duo went to in thwarting Bangladesh’s freedom became more widely known in 2003, when several transcripts of conversations between Nixon and Kissinger were declassified.

The Nixon administration had no reason to not be aware of the atrocities committed by the Pakistani army, as they had been highlighted early in the war by Archer Blood, the US consul general in Dhaka who sent a famous private telegram (declassified in 2003) to the US State Department, deploring US backing and supplies for the Yahya regime in East Pakistan.

Part of the famous Blood Telegram dated April 6, 1971 reads: “Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy. Our government has failed to denounce atrocities. Our government has failed to take forceful measures to protect its citizens while at the same time bending over backwards to placate the West Pakistan dominated government and to lessen any deservedly negative international public relations impact against them.

Our government has evidenced what many will consider moral bankruptcy...But we have chosen not to intervene, even morally, on the grounds that the Awami conflict, in which unfortunately the overworked term genocide is applicable, is purely an internal matter of a sovereign state.

Private Americans have expressed disgust. We, as professional civil servants, express our dissent with current policy and fervently hope that our true and lasting interests here can be defined and our policies redirected.”

Archer Blood’s actions, in sending details of massacres committed by the Pakistani occupation forces in Dhaka during March 1971, went against the Nixon-Kissinger policy and he was removed from his post.

Despite the information reported, which was also covered by global media, Nixon and Kissinger continued to supply arms to Yahya even after the US Congress imposed an embargo on US arms exports to Pakistan.

They secretly commanded US allies (Iran, Jordan and Turkey) to supply their stock of American produced ammunition and weapons to Pakistan in return for indirect reimbursements.

To cut a long story short, the Nixon Presidency went against US laws to directly and indirectly assist the supply of American weapons used to decimate Mukti Bahini and other innocent Banaglis. His taped Oval Office conversations confirm he was knowingly acting in this manner to suppress democracy in East Pakistan to order to follow the perceived strategic needs of his foreign policy.

In a private letter to Yayha Khan dated August 7, 1971, the US president went a long way to keep Yahya happy, going as far as telling him: “Those who want a more peaceful world in the generation to come will forever be in your debt.’’

The moral bankruptcy in supplying arms and ammunition to Pakistan’s army during 1971 should surpass the Watergate in historical memory but is often forgotten in historical retelling.

Thus, very few Americans today know about America’s reprehensible actions to thwart the independence and freedom of Bangladesh. America, as a nation, has often suffered from historical amnesia in relation to its foreign policy and Bangladesh in 1971 is no exception.

Even though there is a tendency that new presidential administrations do not take blame for the actions of its predecessors, declassified documents pertaining to the extent of US involvement in Bangladesh Liberation War, make clear the American government does owe Bangladesh a long-due apology just like Pakistan.

This would not only help Bangladeshis, but allow everyone to praise the many Americans who came forward to help Bangladesh in 1971 when their government was actively working to foil our independence.

Bangladesh owes a lot to great Americans like Edward Kennedy and Archer Blood. Our nation will forever cherish their contributions and those of ordinary Americans from all works of life who expressed their disgust at the injustice inflicted on Bangladeshis.

Shafin Fattah is a freelance contributor.

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