Ahead of Bangladesh’s liberation in 1971, the Pakistani Army systematically committed genocide” of the Hindu community in the then East Pakistan and the Nixon Administration kept a blind eye to it, a new book says.
While the Indian Government was aware of it, it tried to play it down and instead referred to it as genocide against the Bengali community in Bangladesh so as to avoid an outcry from the leaders of the then Jan Sangh, the predecessor of the today’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, says Gary J Bass, author of the book The Blood Telegram: Nixon Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide, which recently hit the book stores.
“Rather than basing this accusation primarily on the victimisation of Hindus, India tended to focus on the decimation of the Bengalis as a group,” Bass, who is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, says. “The Indian foreign ministry argued that Pakistan’s generals, having lost an election because their country had too many Bengalis, were now slaughtering their way to ‘a wholesale reduction in the population of East Bengal’ so that it would no longer comprise a majority in Pakistan,” said Bass.
As the Pakistan Army continued with the systematic targeting of the Hindu community, the book says, Indian officials did not want to provide further ammunition to the irate Hindu nationalists in the Jana Sangh party. “From Moscow, DP Dhar, India’s ambassador there, decried the Pakistani army’s preplanned policy of selecting Hindus for butchery, but, fearing inflammatory politicking from rightist reactionary Hindu chauvinist parties like Jana Sangh, he wrote, We were doing our best not to allow this aspect of the matter to be publicised in India,” Bass writes in his book.
The then US Consul General in Dhaka, Archer Blood, according to the book, thought, no logic to this campaign of killings and expulsions of the Hindus, who numbered about ten million — about 13 per cent of East Pakistan’s population. “They were unarmed and dispersed around East Pakistan. But the Hindus were tainted by purported association with India, and were outliers in a Pakistani nation defined in Muslim terms,” he wrote.
“Lieutenant General Tikka Khan, the military governor leading the repression, argued that East Pakistan faced enslavement by India. He said that the outlawed Awami League would have brought the destruction of our country which had been carved out of the subcontinent as a homeland for Muslims after great sacrifices,” the book said.It noted that “senior officers like the COAS [chief of army staff] and CGS [chief of general staff] were often noticed jokingly asking as to how many Hindus have been killed.”
“One lieutenant colonel testified that Lieutenant General A A K Niazi, who became the chief martial law administrator in East Pakistan and head of the army’s Eastern Command, asked as to how many Hindus we had killed. In May, there was an order in writing to kill Hindus from a brigadier.”
Another lieutenant colonel said, “There was a general feeling of hatred against Bengalis amongst the soldiers and the officers including generals. There were verbal instructions to eliminate Hindus”, the book says. The then US diplomats based in Dhaka wrote to both the State Department and the White House that this was nothing less than genocide against the Hindus. “But for all the effort that Blood put into defining and documenting genocide, the terrible term had no impact at the White House,” Bass writes.
According to Bass, Blood thought that “genocide” was the right description for what was happening to the Hindus. “He explained that the Pakistani military evidently did not make distinctions between Indians and Pakistan Hindus, treating both as enemies.”
Such anti-Hindu sentiments were lingering and widespread, Blood wrote.
According to the book, the Indian government privately believed, as this aide noted, that Pakistan, by “driving out Hindus in their millions,” hoped to reduce the number of Bengalis so they were no longer the majority in Pakistan, and to destroy the Awami League as a political force by getting rid of the wily Hindu who was supposed to have misled simple Bengali Muslims into demanding autonomy.”
“In India we have tried to cover that up,” Swaran Singh (the then External Affairs Minister) candidly told a meeting of Indian diplomats in London, “but we have no hesitation in stating the figure to foreigners.”
“Singh instructed his staff to distort for their country: We should avoid making this into an Indo-Pakistan or Hindu-Muslim conflict. We should point out that there are Buddhists and Christians besides the Muslims among the refugees, who had felt the brunt of repression.”
The Indian government feared that the plain truth would splinter its own country between Hindus and Muslims, Bass writes.
Bass says the Nixon administration had ample evidence not just of the scale of the massacres, but also of their ethnic targeting of the Hindu minority— what Blood had condemned as genocide. The then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once told the president himself, “Another stupid mistake he [Yahya] made was to expel so many Hindus from East Pakistan. In fact, the then US Ambassador to India told Richard Nixon in a meeting at the Oval office that their ally ‘Pakistan’ was committing genocide.
“In the Oval Office, the ambassador directly told the president of the United States and his national security advisor that their ally was committing genocide. The reason that the refugees kept coming, at a rate of 150,000 a day, was because they’re killing the Hindus.”
“Neither Nixon nor Kissinger said anything,” the book says.