yahya khan

Henry Kissinger has thrown new light on Bangladesh’s struggle for independence in 1971. For perhaps the very first time since he and President Richard Nixon adopted a patently pro-Pakistan policy throughout the nine months of the Yahya Khan junta’s repression in what was looking like an increasingly vanishing East Pakistan, Kissinger gives us fresh food for thought. It is of course another matter whether we will take his word for what he now tells us.

In the December 2016 issue of The Atlantic, the former US Secretary of State tells Jeffrey Goldberg in a fairly exhaustive interview that he and Nixon had reached a deal with President Yahya Khan in November 1971 on the crisis: that Pakistan would grant independence to Bangladesh in March 1972. Here he is in his own words:

After the opening to China via Pakistan, America engaged in increasingly urging Pakistan to grant autonomy to Bangladesh. In November, the Pakistani president agreed with Nixon to grant independence the following March.

Observe the incongruities in Kissinger’s revelations, if they can at all be called revelations. By November 1971, the soon-to-emerge Bangladesh had already lost millions of its citizens to genocide committed by the Pakistan army; the Mukti Bahini was increasingly rattling Pakistan’s soldiers everywhere; and Bengali refugees continued to flood into India. The Mujibnagar government, or the Bengali government-in-exile, was in favour of nothing less than a military defeat of Pakistan’s forces. Even as a clamour arose in the United States and in the rest of the world for an end to the atrocities being committed in East Pakistan, not a whiff of protest was raised against the actions of the army by the Nixon-Kissinger dispensation. The despatches on Pakistani atrocities by the American consul general in Dhaka, Archer Blood, to Washington were treated with disdain both by Ambassador Farland in Rawalpindi and Nixon and Kissinger in the White House. In the end, Blood saw his diplomatic career come to a screeching end, for he had displeased his superiors. But note the new, and certainly false, note in Kissinger today:

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. But we made available vast quantities of food and undertook diplomatic efforts to resolve the situation.


Kissinger was being very economical with the truth.


It is difficult to take Kissinger seriously here, for a host of reasons. For one thing, all the other actors in the crisis, especially Nixon and Yahya Khan, are dead. For another, during the entire course of Bangladesh’s War of Liberation, the White House said or indicated nothing that could be construed as policy that would eventually be sympathetic to Bengalis. And then there is the matter of the visit undertaken by Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to the US in November 1971, the very period in which Kissinger and his president purportedly reached their understanding on Bangladesh. The talks between President Nixon and Mrs. Gandhi, with their aides (including Kissinger) in attendance were underlined by hostility, not least because to the Americans the Indian leader was anathema. She was pushing Pakistan, America’s long-time ally and at that point its conduit to China, into a corner, wasn’t she? Besides, had there been any agreement on Bangladesh’s being granted freedom in March 1972, Nixon and Kissinger would or could have enlightened Mrs. Gandhi about it. They did not. The reason? There was no such deal.

The definitive conclusion is that in the Atlantic interview, Henry Kissinger was being very economical with the truth. Here you have Indira Gandhi touring Washington and other global capitals on a mission to publicise the Bangladesh cause, knowing nothing about the Nixon-Yahya ‘plans’ for Bangladesh. In the Atlantic, Kissinger has a new spin on the Indian role in the war, probably as an excuse for why the ‘November plan’ did not work out:

The following December . . . India invaded East Pakistan (which is today Bangladesh).

The spin, as spins usually are, is not convincing, for at another end you have Zulfikar Ali Bhutto leading a high-powered Pakistani delegation, at the behest of Yahya Khan, to China to seek Beijing’s support in Islamabad’s likely war with Delhi. The Bhutto visit too took place in November, which is proof again that despite what Kissinger says now, there was no Bangladesh plan hammered out in Rawalpindi and Washington. Remember too that in November 1971, the secret trial of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman before a special military tribunal in Mianwali was either drawing to a conclusion or had come to an end.

Given all these factors, there is little reason to attach validity to Kissinger’s new thoughts on the Bangladesh crisis forty five years after the hostility the Nixon administration demonstrated towards the Bengali struggle. In the Atlantic interview, Kissinger makes clear to Goldberg the difficulties, in his view, Washington was under in 1971:

The US had to navigate between Soviet pressures; Indian objectives; Chinese suspicions; and Pakistani nationalism.

Much fallacy underlines Kissinger’s assertions. It is a cooking of the book he engages in. America was not navigating between the impediments he cites, but had clearly come to believe that Pakistan needed to be prevented from collapsing in its eastern wing. American maneouvres to drive a wedge in the Bangladesh government-in-exile, through patronizing Foreign Minister Khondokar Moshtaq Ahmed (who was scheduled to visit the UN in September as Bangladesh’s spokesman and in all likelihood would have dissented from his government by urging a deal within the concept of a united Pakistan) are part of history. Again, the record does not show that Nixon and Kissinger let the Soviet Union, which had concluded a deal on defence cooperation with India in August 1971, know that the US was leaning on Pakistan to arrive at a political solution to the crisis. Neither did the White House take any steps to keep leading American politicians, such as Senator Edward Kennedy, in the loop on its diplomatic efforts vis-a-vis Bangladesh.

Henry Kissinger is guilty here of twisting the truth. He notes that ‘India invaded East Pakistan’, which statement does not tally with reality. If President Nixon truly reached a deal with General Yahya Khan in November on independence for Bangladesh in March 1972, which would be a full year since the beginning of Bengali guerrilla resistance against Pakistani military occupation, how was it that he did not or would not prevent Yahya Khan from ordering his air force to strike Indian bases on 3 December?

There are other gaping holes in the new Kissinger interpretation of 1971. Assuming that Washington were able to convince Yahya Khan to let the Bengalis go their separate way in March 1972, with whom would the junta negotiate the terms of a settlement? There is nothing on the record to suggest that the generals were ever in contact with the Bangladesh government-in-exile on a possible political end to the war. And nothing has so far emerged of the regime making overtures to the incarcerated Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on a negotiated end to a crisis it had precipitated and was unable to roll back.

Was the opening to China worth the sacrifices, the deaths, experienced in the India-Pakistan Bangladesh crisis?

The question is Jeffrey Goldberg’s. Observe how Kissinger dissembles:

Your question on Bangladesh demonstrates how this issue has been confused in our public debate. There was never the choice between suffering in Bangladesh and the opening to China.

Syed Badrul Ahsanis a bdnews24.com columnist.

18 Responses to “Yahya would grant freedom to Bangladesh in March 1972?”

  1. Syed Quader

    Bangladesh should strive to do things her own way and not depend on foreigners or foreign countries.

  2. Maimul A, K

    Kissinger is also a ‘war criminal’ who has been preaching ‘peace’ like Bush, Blair and Cameroon. They are the personality that resemble with Saddam and Mubarak as well. What a tragic world we live in? We all should be united against all types of war criminals; those are irrespective of creed, cast, gender and religion. By the way, Kissinger was also a ‘mastermind’ to kill many of our leaders, including Banghabandhu, I think.

  3. Shadier

    Perhaps the so-called ‘Nobel Peace Prize’ can be altered and awarded for committing genocide! Look around us, starting with Kissinger to Aung San Suu Kyi, all winners of that “prize”. Alternatively, is it because the Bengalis and the Rohingyas are children of a lesser God! So, three million dead here, a couple of hundred thousand raped there, a few thousand killed and pushed across the border to Bangladesh do not matter?

  4. Reaz Shaheed

    What Kissinger along with Nixon did to Bangladesh left precedence for Bush and Chenney to repeat the same in Middle East in the 2000s. The only difference is that the Kissinger-Nixon team was devious in its inception while the Bush-Chenney team was one of clueless about world politics.

  5. M N Rao

    Kissinger who is famous for his intellect, statecraft etc., should also be pronounced as the best liar, and to be held responsible for the genocide of over three million Bengalis. He was in a position to stop this genocide, if only he wanted… but he didn’t. For all this, he was awarded by Nobel peace prize! And this shows how the Nobel prizes are awarded year after year!

  6. Anwar A. Khan

    It has only explicated the new assertion evinced by Kissinger. The obnoxious nexus of Nixon, Kissinger and Yahya had agreement to grant Bangladesh’s freedom in March 1972 is nothing but an abracadabra harangue only. Kissinger’s interview is a full load of bunkum. Those people are pathological liars and they acted as butchers in 1971.
    While the rest of the world is already aware, the majority of Pakistanis must also be apprised of the events, which culminated in Bangladesh’s independence.
    If we read this article carefully, we find that the writer has also not taken Kissinger’s so-called new astonishing disclosure in a serious degree.

  7. Akteruzzaman Chowdhury

    That was in the height of the cold war and USSR was very powerful. USA was so scared of USSR that they team up with communist China. Bangladesh was being supported by India and USSR. There was no surplus food with the Left-block countries, so the Bangladeshi refugees suffered a lot due to food shortages. Pakistan was with the USA and against the USSR. There was no question of USA supporting the Bangladesh cause.
    Now the international strategic grouping has changed and USA, India and Bangladesh are in together. I think there is no sense in condemning USA for past policies!

  8. Zia Ahad

    Clearly, Kissinger seeks to absolve himself of the many crimes he masterminded, ‘Bangladesh’ being just one. Evidently relying on sheer ignorance and national amnesia of Americans in general, his invention of an agreement with the Yahya Khan junta for granting independence to Bangladesh in March 1972 is little more than a disingenuous ploy to cover his backside, I think. With a brain-dead President-elect in the US relying on such twisted minds for navigating the land beyond North America, the world is in for unprecedented volatility!

  9. mohammed haque

    Kissinger is a lying, cheating, he is a conniving person. Nothing he says is believable.

  10. Sayed Chowdhury

    Is it not abolishing the worth of the paper and ink to write about Kissinger?

  11. afsan chowdhury

    Badrul, why do you take these Westerners seriously? Who cares what plan they had when the March attack occurred which was decided much early by the Pakistani army. Read “Endgame” by Brig. I A Rahman. And had Yahya wanted he would have handed over. Done.
    I do think you and many others believe almost anything these westerners write that includes both pro- and anti-Bangladesh. Almost all are made up.
    Ignore the ignorant please. Thanks.

    • Fazlul Bari

      Not all Westerners were bad to Bangladesh Liberation Struggle. We had tremendous support from the people of America and other Western countries; it was their misguided government did not help us. But, what Kissinger is saying need to be cleared for the sake true history of Bangladesh and its struggle for independence in 1971.

    • Farhad Faisal

      Influential characters in world politics, even if they may be well-known for their political misdeeds with horrendous consequences, are to be taken seriously, if not for anything else but for exposing their self-serving belated effort of a distorted narration of the past (history).

  12. Ashutosh Barai

    We have not forgotten the role of the US during 1971. They sent the seventh Fleet to save Pakistan. Now if Kissinger says this version of his plans, it is simply his version of Dementia due to old age! No body finds trust in it.

    • M N Rao

      It is not dementia; Kissinger cannot have it. He lied then, he lied later and he lies now. People with dementia cannot lie. If not for his policies, disdain towards India and his love for Yahya, three million Bengalis would not have perished; but he would have missed the Nobel peace prize!

Comments are closed.