Washington: As he asked his administration to support Pakistan against India in the 1971 war, the then US President Richard Nixon had faced a virtual revolt from his diplomats with the entire State Department team based in Dhaka writing the so-called Blood telegram, which was supported by Secretary of State William Rogers, a new book has claimed.
While his diplomats were calling for a different approach -- a policy that stops massacre of innocent people and supports democracy - Nixon`s direction to his administration to support Pakistan in this 1971-conflict was mainly driven by his animosity with then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and his secret desire to open up with China, for which he was seeking help from the Pakistani leadership, argues Bruce Riedel in his latest book `Avoiding Armageddon: America, India, and Pakistan to the Brink and Back`.
Riedel, a former CIA official, is now a scholar at the Brookings Institute - a prestigious US think-tank, based in Washington.
"Acting under the President`s guidance, Henry Kissinger ordered the American government to "tilt" toward Pakistan and Yahya. Many in the bureaucracy resisted. At one National Security Council meeting, Kissinger, exasperated by the pushback from the regional specialists, exclaimed, `The President always says to tilt toward Pakistan, but every proposal I get is in the opposite direction. Sometimes I think I am in a nut house`," he wrote in the book.
The American diplomats on the scene were appalled at their country`s policy, Riedel writes adding that in 1971, virtually the entire country team in Dhaka signed a dissent cable.
"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 [dual nationals of the US and (East) Pakistan] while at the same time bending over backwards to placate the West Pakistan dominated government and to lessen likely and deservedly negative international public relations impact against (it)," the cable said.
"Our government has evidenced what many will consider moral bankruptcy, ironically at a time when the USSR sent President Yahya a message defending democracy, condemning arrests of leaders of a democratically elected majority party (incidentally pro-West).
But we have chosen not to intervene even morally on the grounds that the Awami conflict, in which the overworked term genocide is applicable, is purely an internal matter," the cable said.
The then US consul general in Dhaka, Archer Blood, sent the cable- the so-called Blood telegram- to Washington, and several officers in the department signed a letter to Secretary of State William Rogers supporting it, he said.
"The consul general had classified the cable "confidential," but Nixon had it reclassified "secret/NODIS," the highest classification possible for a State Department cable, to restrict its dissemination.
"Nixon`s tilt was only in part a reflection of his animus toward India and his fondness for Pakistan. Behind the scenes the president and his national security adviser were reversing over two decades of American policy toward China, and they needed Yahya and Pakistan to do it," Riedel said.
"It was a very closely held secret; not even Rogers, the
secretary of state, knew what they were doing. Nixon had visited South Asia three times as a private citizen between his years as vice president and his election to the presidency, and on each visit he was snubbed in India and hailed in Pakistan. In August 1969, Nixon again visited India and Pakistan, this time as president," he wrote.
"His meeting with Mrs Gandhi in New Delhi was strained and uncomfortable. Because he was now president, she could not snub him again (she had famously asked an aide in Hindi during an earlier visit, "How much longer must I talk to this man?"), but their contempt for each other was self-evident.
In Islamabad, Pakistan`s new capital, the reception was much warmer. Nixon was greeted as a close friend by Yahya, for whom the president had a surprise request. He asked Yahya to use Pakistan`s close ties to China, forged after the invasion of India in 1962, to pass a very important message to Chairman Mao: Nixon was interested in a dialogue at the highest level with the communist government, ending decades of isolation," the former CIA official said.
Ahead of the war, when Indira Gandhi sought international support, there was little response from Nixon.
"Nixon saw her as a Soviet partner, if not client, and was deaf to her concerns. It was an ugly meeting by all accounts. Nixon called the Indian prime minister a "bitch" and much worse behind her back; she thought that he was a cold war fanatic who cared nothing about innocent lives. As India under the able leadership of Indira Gandhi was busy liberating people of East Pakistan from the oppressive regime of Islamabad, Nixon was busy seeking global support for Pakistan and asking its allies to supply arms and ammunitions to the Pak Army.
And in between, Nixon received a secret intelligence report from CIA that Indira Gandhi was planning to move ahead of East Pakistan and had plans to destroy Pakistan and liberate Kashmir.
"The CIA delivered a secret intelligence report to Nixon suggesting that Mrs Gandhi had designs beyond East Pakistan and was determined to destroy Pakistan entirely in the war. The report was judged alarming and probably incorrect by the CIA`s own analysts," Riedel writes.
"Nonetheless, Richard Helms, the director of central intelligence, told the White House that "Gandhi intends to attempt to eliminate Pakistan`s armour and air force" and "straighten out" Kashmir.
Nixon called it "one of the few really timely pieces of intelligence the CIA had ever given me." "Helms later told me in a private conversation shortly before he died that the report was inaccurate but too important to be ignored," Riedel wrote.
"He felt that he had not handled it well by highlighting it to Nixon. Nixon dispatched a carrier battle group led by the USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal from the Strait of Malacca to try to save Pakistan`s fortunes by an intimidating show of support.
He may have hoped that the Chinese would be emboldened by the move to attack India. It did not work. Indira, who probably had no designs on West Pakistan, was not easily intimidated. It was also too late for the Pakistanis. They asked the American consul in Dacca on December 14, 1971, to tell the Indians that they were ready to surrender. The darkest day in Pakistan`s history followed," Riedel wrote.