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Uncovering A Dark Chapter

P.R. Chari

By Gary J. Bass
Random House, Delhi, India, 2013, pp. xxv 500, Rs. 599.00


Two admissions need initially to be made.   The first is that the sanguineous-sounding Blood Telegram refers to a cable sent by Archer Blood, Consul General in Dacca (now Dhaka) on 6 April, 1971 to the US State Department drawing attention to the inhuman atrocities being perpetrated by Pakistani troops in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) on the local Bengali population. Probably unprecedented in diplomatic history the Blood Telegram was endorsed by the US consulate staff and other American officials in Dhaka at that time, it expressed ‘strong dissent’ against the Nixon-Kissinger controlled US policy of supporting the Pakistani regime in Islamabad in this pogrom against its own Bengali population. The author believes that this cable ‘perhaps the most radical rejection of US policy ever sent by its diplomats’—blasted the United States for silence in the face of atrocities, for not denouncing the quashing of democracy, for showing ‘moral bankruptcy’ in the face of what they bluntly called ‘genocide’. This issue has not gone away, despite over four decades having elapsed since 1971. A tribunal was set up by its Awami League Government in 2009 which had sentenced to death leaders of the right wing Jamait-e-Islami Party (JeI) for atrocities committed during East Pakistan’s independence struggle in 1971. In truth, the JeI had joined the Pakistan Army in committing mayhem against the hapless population.     The second admission is that this reviewer (then serving as a Deputy Secretary on the General Staff side in the Ministry of Defence) was involved in the ‘secret war’ that escalated into the India-Pakistan conflict in 1971, leading to the excision of East Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh. The circumstances and the times transformed that lowly post into one that provided a window on the day-to-day, year-long, efforts to prepare for the looming war of 1971, and the political events that led to its unfolding.   The contours of the events in 1971 have been extensively chronicled by scholars and military officials in India, Pakistan and the United States. The December 1970 elections in Pakistan brought into power the Awami Party and Mujibur Rahman in East Pakistan, while the Pakistan Peoples’ Party headed by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto gained a majority in West Pakistan. Political power, however, shifted from the West to the more populous East Pakistan, which was unacceptable to Pakistan’s military leadership, headed by General Yahya Khan. Their unwillingness to share power with Mujib spurred a popular revolt, inviting ruthless suppression by the ...

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