On the eve of the 40th anniversary of the 1971 War of Independence and the break up of West and East Pakistan, BBC Radio 4 has produced two remarkable programmes which are still available on iPlayer and are both well worth a listen.
The first is ‘The Blood Telegram‘
In 1971 U.S. diplomat Archer K. Blood took a heroic stand against Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Blood was the U.S consul general to East Pakistan – now the independent nation of Bangladesh. Blood and his team were witnesses to a brutal military crackdown and asked for the U.S to denounce the atrocities on humanitarian grounds, but the Nixon team remained silent. Finally Blood’s team sent a dissent telegram accusing the government of being “morally bankrupt”. The ‘Blood Telegram’ marked the first time a whole U.S mission had dissented from their own government.
On the fortieth anniversary of the birth of Bangladesh Jonny Dymond unravels Blood’s story to uncover one of the most courageous diplomatic stands in history. Dymond speaks to Blood’s family and signatories of the telegram to unpick the events leading to Blood’s decision to risk everything and make his stand, and finds out why Nixon and Kissinger remained silent. He reveals that Blood was a victim of a grander cold war game driven by the realpolitik of Nixon and Kissinger.
And the second is ‘Boundaries of Blood‘
Shahzeb Jilani, now the BBC World Service South Asia Editor, returns to the region to find out how these traumatic events have shaped contemporary Pakistan. It is a personal journey of discovery to challenge the contradictions in the Pakistani narrative he was taught while at school.
Of the second, Tendence Coatesy, who also listened to the show says:
He describes how nine months turmoil in ‘East Pakistan’ Bangladeshi “separatists” (fighters for national liberation), India intervened. The war then lasted 13 days.
Jillani, who was born in Sind, Pakistan, summarises this, “The defeat of the Pakistani army on 16 December 1971was a triumph for India and the Bengali insurgents it had assisted.”
Although the programme was sensitive and throughly researched it is unlikely to appeal to all Bangladeshis or supporters of their great war of national liberation.
The atrocities committed by the Pak army were reported, but ‘balanced’ by reference to attacks on supporters of Pakistan. The scale of the genocide was left undecided - over 2, 3 million deaths? or less?
It was left uncertain.
This perhaps summarises some of what took place (here):
“…… we were told to kill the hindus and Kafirs (non-believers in God). One day in June, we cordoned a village and were ordered to kill the Kafirs in that area. We found all the village women reciting from the Holy Quran, and the men holding special congregational prayers seeking God’s mercy. But they were unlucky. Our commanding officer ordered us not to waste any time.”
Assisting the Army were Bangladeshi Islamists, such as supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a brother party of the Pakistani Party of the same name.
They continue to have a strong domestic base, with support in the UK. Here they enjoy a role in ‘community leadership’ in the East End of London.
It is to the Pakistan’s great honour that a man like Lt Col Abdul Qadir Baloch can criticise the army’s actions during this war.
But sadly there is little evidence that this honesty is widespread. Some of the interviewees on the programme spoke of the reports of killings and other atrocities as “propaganda”.
In Pakistan Jillani reports,
One might expect that the Pakistani army’s failure in 1971 would have diminished its power in the country. But in my lifetime, its influence in shaping and running the country has grown exponentially.
In Pakistan: A Hard Country by Anatol Lieven (2011) one can detect absolutely no Pakistani remorse for the army’s mass murders. No apologies for its racism – that the regarded the Bangladeshi people as inferior, tainted by Hindi culture, and, clearly disposable.
And here’s the editorial view of New Age on where Bangladesh is now:
Be that as it may, on the fortieth anniversary of the victory, we must ask ourselves whether or not the objectives of our independence, for which so many people laid down their lives, have been realised over the past forty years. The 24 years of political struggle of the Bengalis within Pakistan clearly suggests that the objectives behind the liberation war were to establish a representative democracy, economic prosperity of all the citizens and a secular society and a state free from religious communalism. It is common knowledge that the successive regimes, civil or military, have not been able to deliver in the light of the political, economic and cultural dreams that inspired the people at large to fight the war and make enormous sacrifices for the victory.
Economically, Bangladesh has been growing at a rate of over five per cent, but economic disparity between the poor millions and the rich few has been widening every day. On the political front, a kind of oligarchy of a few families and interest groups, under the banner of two inherently undemocratic camps led by the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has been dominant. Culturally, the state has drifted far away from its secular-democratic promise. Gender discrimination remains a crude reality at all levels of life. The ethnic minority communities are yet to be freed from racial discrimination. Bangladesh needs to defeat all these anomalies to become really victorious.