Monthly Coupon

Monday, October 19, 2020

America’s political motives further complicated Bangladesh’s Liberation War


Pakistan’s acceptance of Bangladesh’s independence during the height of the Liberation War in 1971 would have shed more bloodletting in the restive region.

The supposedly brokered ceasefire by China and America would have surely collapsed, as the Mukti Bahini, the East Bengal guerrillas, would not have obeyed the call.

By October, the Pakistani junta had deliberately transferred back to Pakistan the amphibian battle tanks, the newly-installed radar at Dhaka was dismantled, as were the squadron of fighter aircraft, which were brought from China.

For many in Karachi, where the military hardware was unloaded in the port, they understood that it was a matter of weeks. The eastern province was to become an independent country, but it was worried about thousands of soldiers and officers, civil administration, business entrepreneurs, and Pakistan civilians in the eastern province.

Henry Kissinger, the double-edge former US secretary of state, in an interview by Jeffrey Goldberg published in The Atlantic, said talks between America and China would have collapsed if the US had publicly condemned human rights violations and atrocities by the Pakistan army against the people of then East Pakistan.

Months before the violent crackdown Operation Searchlight by the Pakistan military, Pakistan emerged as the interlocutor most acceptable to Beijing and Washington, and exchanges were conducted from Islamabad.

Goldberg’s question was whether the opening to China was worth the sacrifices and deaths experienced in the India-Pakistan Bangladesh crisis, to which Kissinger retorted that Bangladesh demonstrates how this issue has been confused in our public debate. There was never a choice between suffering in Bangladesh and the opening to China.

He did not hesitate to state that Pakistan deployed extreme violence and gross human rights violations when Bangladesh was battling to achieve independence.

“The US diplomats witnessing the Bangladesh tragedy were ignorant of the opening to China. Their descriptions were heartfelt and valid, but we could not respond publicly,” he said.

By the time of the Bangladesh crisis in 1971 -- when Pakistan imposed martial law to crush the territory’s bid for independence -- Nixon felt he owed Pakistan’s military dictator, General Yahya Khan, a debt of gratitude for his government’s role in facilitating Kissinger’s secret trip to China, ignoring reports of Pakistan’s military atrocities against Bangladeshi civilians. 

The US actively supported Pakistan, to the extent of violating congressional restrictions on supplying arms to Pakistani troops.

“In November, the Pakistani president agreed with Nixon to grant independence the following March,” Kissinger said.

But the following December, “India, after having made a treaty including military provisions with the Soviet Union, and in order to relieve the strain of refugees, invaded East Pakistan,” he said, adding that the US had to navigate between Soviet pressures, Indian objectives, Chinese suspicions, and Pakistani nationalism.

“By March 1972 -- within less than a year of the commencement of the crisis  -- Bangladesh was independent; the India-Pakistan War ended, and the opening to China completed at a summit in Beijing in February 1972,” said Kissinger.

In his book World Order, Kissinger describes India as “a fulcrum of twenty first century order: An indispensable element, based on its geography, resources, and tradition of sophisticated leadership, in the strategic and ideological evolution of the regions and the concepts of order at whose intersection it stands.”

But in 1971, when Pakistan’s erstwhile eastern wing fought to become Bangladesh, Kissinger made a U-Turn and scorned India as “a Soviet stooge, supported with Soviet arms” over its support for Bangladesh independence.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune on 19 October 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at Twitter @saleemsamad

Monday, October 05, 2020

Pakistan needs new enemies

Pakistan army-soldiers. Photo: Reuters


Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government-backed Rawalpindi military hawks recently published an official country map that showed Kashmir Valley as part of Pakistan.

In fact, Pakistan has repeatedly given India the opportunity to present the restive Kashmir to the world as nothing more and nothing less than a Pakistan-backed insurgency. 

Pakistan’s policies have effectively undermined the struggle of the Kashmiris, even those living under Pakistan’s occupation.

When Islamic militias and terrorists engaged in an armed insurrection in Kashmir, it was dubbed as jihad -- holy war. 

When the Baloch people demonstrated through peaceful struggle for their basic rights, they were labelled as terrorists. What a contradictory interpretation of the regime in Islamabad!

All of Pakistan’s actions are an attempt to counter India’s move in August last year, which changed the status of Kashmir by bringing it under Delhi’s direct control under Article 370, scrapping Kashmir’s autonomy. Then they imposed a blackout of the internet and enforced a curfew.

Since then, India has been accused of using excessive force to maintain peace in the valley. 

Delhi obviously has a reason to be cautious, on account of Pakistan’s interference in Kashmir for the last seven decades. Since the Indo-Pakistan partition in 1947, the Pakistan army has unsuccessfully attempted to infiltrate Kashmir innumerable times.

After the birth of Pakistan, it violated the status quo agreement and invaded a part of the valley, with recruits of ferocious Pashtun tribes in the absence of sufficient infantry soldiers to push into Jammu and Kashmir.

This invasion started the current 70-year conflict between India and Pakistan, as India deployed troops to defend Kashmir against the marauding Pakistan military.

In September 1965, Pakistan soldiers crossed into Kashmir to foment a rebellion -- but failed. 

In the 1990s, Pakistan-backed jihadists, trained by the Rawalpindi General Headquarters (GHQ) to fight against the Soviet occupation in the 80s, were later mobilized as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed against the Indian-administered Kashmir.

In 1999, Pakistan made another failed attempt to capture the Kashmir territory through infiltration but ended up abandoning its own soldiers once the international media exposed Pakistan’s actions and Delhi countered the move with its military.

Since then, Pakistan has relied increasingly on backing militant networks that have terrorized not just the Kashmir Valley but also mainstream India. 

This includes Delhi’s parliament assault and the Mumbai terror attack in 2001 to recent terror attacks in Pulwama and Pathankot, carried out by Pakistan’s militants recruited from Kashmiris.

These aggressive tactics by Pakistan army GHQ have sealed India’s perception of the Kashmiris through the lens of its historic confrontation with Pakistan.

Meanwhile, a growing schism between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan has unfolded recently as tensions threaten their strategic partnership.

Pakistan has pushed for action since August last year when India revoked Kashmir Valley’s special status, but had limited success. 

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation -- OIC -- has only held low-level meetings on the Kashmir crisis despite Islamabad’s crying calls.

Nevertheless, Imran Khan has denied rumours that Pakistan’s relationship with Saudi Arabia “soured” over its lack of support for Kashmir during the crisis.

There was also a recent statement by Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi concerning the establishment of an alternative Muslim platform to deal with the Kashmir issue -- in the face of Saudi opposition to raising it within the OIC.

Acting as another nail in the coffin, Maldives, after plugging Pakistan’s attempt to target India on “Islamophobia” at an OIC meet, has recently echoed New Delhi’s wishes in blocking a bid to conduct the failed 19th SAARC Summit in Pakistan, on the excuse that South Asia, like the rest of the world, is preoccupied with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The rapidly shifting geopolitical realities, especially the current circumstances in South Asia, behoove Pakistan to treat the Kashmir issue as its top priority. 

Thankfully, Islamabad is doing that.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune on 5 October 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and recipient of the Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at; Twitter @saleemsamad