FORGOTTEN GENOCIDE M10 THE MAGAZINE
Then they finally sent in a full scale dissent
cable where almost everybody from the Dacca
consulate formally dissents from American foreign policy, saying we consider this policy to be
morally bankrupt in the face of what the people
in the Dacca consulate call genocide. It is really an extraordinary statement; it is the first official dissent cable sent by US diplomats.
(The State Department had created the idea of
having formal dissent cables in the Vietnam
era at a time when there were a lot of American
officials who were primarily uncomfortable
with what the US was doing in Vietnam.
Washington wanted to have a way in which
Foreign Service officers and American diplomats in the field could formally register their
protest with US government policy. So, though
that was created in the Vietnam era, it was
being used for the first time in Bangladesh.
Since then, dissent cables have happened over
and over again.)
But this is the first one and nobody quite
knows what’s going to happen. Everybody in
the Dacca consulate knows that signing and
sending this cable will be very bad for your
career, but it is only the senior officials that are
really likely to face retaliation. Nobody is going
to bother going after a very junior person in the
Dacca consulate. They are not big enough for
retribution. The people who really risk retribution are senior officials, the most important of
them being Blood.
What kind of debate did people like Blood
There is a big debate that goes on among the
State Department and officials in the field, in
Islamabad and Dacca and Delhi about how the
US should respond to this crackdown. Blood
and also Kenneth Keating, the ambassador to
India, are arguing that the United States has all
sorts of leverage over the military in Pakistan.
The United States is one of the main arms
suppliers, helps a lot with giving economic aid,
and also securing economic aid through international financial institutions and all of this
gives a lot of influence for the United States.
This is the case where Pakistan is the close US
ally where Pakistan is being heavily supplied
militarily by the United States. I don’t think
that gives the United States unlimited leverage,
but certainly the prospect of economic sanctions, military sanctions, those might well have
changed the minds of people in Islamabad.
What is so strange about Nixon and
Kissinger is that these are people who ordinarily are masters at using leverage and are very
explicit about the ways they would like to use
leverage over foreign governments. They talk
about this and they say nobody ever does anything for us because we are nice. People do stuff for us
because we use leverage. But in this case, they make a conscious decision not to see what their leverage could do.
I am sure there were limits to American leverage, but
Nixon and Kissinger never even explored what those limits
might have been.
Blood paid a heavy price for his honesty. Didn’t he?
His career was really badly damaged by this. He goes from
being consul general to a huge territory, not yet a country
(then East Pakistan) with 75 million people — a major post
— to being thrown at a desk job in the State Department.
Kissinger goes from being National Security Adviser to also
being Secretary of State.
Blood’s career is stalled and finally he winds up leaving the
Why did Kissinger and Nixon not listen to their diplomats?
State Department. He doesn’t get to try and re-launch his
career until much later. He tries to restart it in the Carter
administration. But then, he is older, there is not much he
can do. He really pays a considerable price for this dissent.
There is also an argument that Nixon advances — ‘We did not
interfere in Nigeria during the civil war, which caused many
It is interesting because as a Presidential candidate he
actually seems to have been at least somewhat troubled by
what happened when Biafra tried to secede from Nigeria;
and the Nigerian government crushed the rebellion in Biafra.
So, that is sort of historically interesting.
As an argument it doesn’t really work logically and to say
that I did the wrong thing or therefore I should do the wrong
thing again. So, it makes logical sense if you really believe
that something really should have been done to help people
in Biafra, then it doesn’t follow from that that therefore you
should do nothing now for people in
I think Biafra is not a major factor
in their decisions. I think the bigger
factors are, first of all, the Cold War
context of India being officially not
aligned, but seeming to a lot of US
Presidents, not just Nixon, to be
leaning heavily towards the Soviet
Union. You also have the role that
Pakistan is playing in helping with
America building bridges to China.
Beyond that, you do have, I think,
the personal feelings of Nixon and
Kissinger where Nixon, in particular, has a pretty deep contempt for
India and Indians.
How did the contempt for India
happen, first, in the case of Nixon
and then, in the case of Kissinger?
Nixon prided himself on knowing
a lot about the world and travelling a
lot. On some of his early trips to
South Asia, he felt personally condescended to first by Jawaharlal Nehru
and then by Indira Gandhi and that
kind of left a bad taste in his mouth.
He was treated very well by the
Pakistani generals, even when he
was out of power, even when he was
sort-of in his wilderness phase. He
always got a good reception from the
military in Pakistan. And that made
an impression on him.
He was not someone who knew
Indian culture or Indian society,
particularly well, or Pakistani culture or Pakistani society. His meetings tended to be with government
officials and there, the Indians were
quite rude to him. That, definitely,
All of those perceptions are
framed by India’s tilt towards the
Soviet Union during the Cold War,
which was something that Nixon
who was fiercely anti-Communist,
definitely, did not like.
You also write about the whiskey-drinking General Yahya Khan (
Pakistan’s military ruler) who Kissinger
thought of as a bit of an idiot. There seems to be a dark comedy.
Yes, but Kissinger thought a lot of people were idiots.
There is this sort-of at the level of these senior personalities, there is this dark comedy. But when you look at the outcomes, it is all terribly tragic.
But Nixon has real affection for Yahya Khan. Nixon, who is
a solitary and inward kind of man, has a hard time making
friends and relating to people, but he is very impressed with
Yahya that Yahya seems to be this dashing, Western educated military guy with a sort of British affectation with a swagger. Nixon is very taken with him.
Throughout 1971, Nixon is not just saying, well, the
Pakistani military are kind of bastards, but they are our bas-
‘Nixon and Kissinger let personal
judgments cloud their thinking’
COURTESY: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
INDIA ABROAD ARCHIVES
Asia, he felt personally condescended to first by Jawaharlal Nehru and then by Indira Gandhi, which made him