Who’s Afraid of Sarmila Bose?

This is a cross-post by Chris Blackburn

The Bangladeshi International Crimes Tribunals are seen by many in the American-Anglo alliance as being a nuisance. The genocide allegedly committed by Pakistan’s military and its collaborators during the 1971 Liberation War is seen as a Cold War by-product which should be left well alone.

During the Bush era, right wing American institutes like the Heritage Foundation and the Hudson Institute have been downplaying accusations of Pakistan’s war crimes because they believe they are detrimental to US-Pakistani interests. A few years ago some US academics, who are closely linked to US and Pakistan’s foreign policy, argued that the tribunals are being supported by old Communists with no public backing. Nonsense, the majority of Bangladesh support it.

The US institutes have a long history of cozying up with Islamic extremists in Pakistan. Some of these think-tanks played a crucial role for drumming up Congressional support for aiding the Mujahedeen during the Soviet-Afghan war. We often think of Charlie Wilson as being the lead figure in garnishing support behind the back of the impotent CIA. This myth was consolidated after the release of the 2007 blockbuster Charlie Wilson’s War, but a lot less is known about figures such as Andrew Eiva and his Federation for American Afghan Action, which was based at the Heritage Foundation alongside other groups. Eiva helped spearhead the US right-wing into action against the Soviet menace.

How does all this affect the International Crimes Tribunals in Bangladesh? Last week I received an e-mail which contained information about a recent book event which is being sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center. The event was held in honour of Dr Sarmila Bose and her new work Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War.

Dr. Bose has a bad reputation in South Asia; questions have been raised about her academic objectivity and questionable bias in her attempts to rewrite modern South Asian history. In June 2005, Dr. Bose was invited to deliver an academic paper at a two-day conference in Washington D.C at the request of the United States Department of State. In the paper she claimed that sections of Bangladesh and Indian society had deliberately exaggerated war crimes allegations.

In October 2005, she wrote an article called ‘Anatomy of Violence: Analysis of Civil War in East Pakistan in 1971’ in the Economic and Political Weekly which echoed her lecture she gave at US State Department. The article caused a stir to say the least. Bangladeshi and Indian historians called it a ‘whitewash’ some have even called it a fabrication which leaned too closely to Bose’s seeming professional sympathy for Pakistan’s military. She’s even lavished praise on Musharraf in Pakistani newspapers.

Before her seminal article, on the alleged embellishment of war crimes in Bangladesh, she wrote a widely circulated opinion piece with W. B. Milam, former US Ambassador to Pakistan, for the Christian Science Monitor in April, 2005. Bose was a relative unknown at this point. The article was called ‘The Right Stuff: F-16s to Pakistan is Wise Decision.’ It was after the series of articles in 2005, Bose’s star rose to the ascendant professionally. But her links to the US political establishment and the effect on her work has been called into question.

Nayanika Mookherjee wrote about Bose and her affiliations in 2006. He argued that an academic helping to flog F16s to Pakistan after a US embargo on the delivery is surely a cause for concern about her objectivity. Lobbying by academics is seen as an occupational hazard. London School of Economics (LSE) is currently experiencing the humiliation of being aligned with tyrants for the sake of realpolitik.

Western academia have shown that they can often have a negative effect on foreign policy due to lobbying; this behaviour should be put under the microscope. Dr. Bose also gave a lecture on Bangladesh’s ‘claims’ of war crimes for The Pakistan Society at the LSE in 2007. She has become an establishment figure in the West. She was also present at high-level talks on Pakistan at The Ditchley Foundation, Oxfordshire in 2007 with security and intelligence figures from Pakistan and the West.

The Bangladeshi tribunal will inevitably be seen, by many on the Left, as a trial on the bankrupt politics of foreign policy realism. The testimony of Bose could provide western figures with an excuse to pull the plug on the tribunals. The tribunals in Dhaka are important because they can help shape the region and international relations forever. Justice must be done and it must be transparent.

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  1. Kisan
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 6:32 PM | Permalink

    $armila bose, shows that scholarship is for sale even when it comes to whitewashing crimes against your own kith and kin. I watched her smarmy talk at the Hudson Institute and could see this paid academic in action. F-16′s for Pakistan and denial of army atrocities and shameless glorification of them as “The courageous Pak army stand on the eastern front”. That people can sell their very souls for a few pieces of silver is illustrated by the career choice of Bose.

  2. fugstar
    Posted May 24, 2011 at 6:06 PM | Permalink

    Funny how f16s are used to bomb on this work, without having read it. it does not in fact exhonerate anyone. Its choking and shameful but educative to read.

    It demonstrates, with evidence (that people can contest) several incredible features of the war for bangladesh and the national story. Proof of Bose’s characterisation of the rabid ethno nationalist sentiment deployed around this issue can be found in the commentary. not least a facbook group demanding legal action against her.

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