Sunday, December 28, 2008

1971 - a reminder

I posted the NYT's interview with Bruce Riedel yesterday, highlighting his anger at Musharraf ripping off the US of billions of dollars. Some would say that this was a problem specific to the Bush administration.

This reminder from 1971 - the rebellion in East Pakistan that led to the birth of Bangladesh - is to show that there are a bunch of recurring patterns in US foreign policy.

All quotes are from here and here, i.e., from US government archives.

1. Remember Bush looking into Putin's eyes and seeing his soul?
Highlights from this briefing book include:

Details of the role that the China initiative and Nixon's friendship with Yahya (and dislike of Indira Gandhi) played in U.S. policymaking, leading to the tilting of U.S. policy towards Pakistan. This includes a Memorandum of Conversation (Document 13) in which Kissinger indicates to Ambassador Keating, "the President has a special feeling for President Yahya. One cannot make policy on that basis, but it is a fact of life." [Documents 9, 13, 17-21, 24-25]

2. Remember innumerable scandals about the illegal provisioning of arms?
Highlights from this briefing book include:

Details of U.S. support for military assistance to Pakistan from China, the Middle East, and even from the United States itself. Henry Kissinger's otherwise thorough account of the India-Pakistan crisis of 1971 in his memoir White House Years, omits the role the United States played in Pakistan's procurement of American fighter planes, perhaps because of the apparent illegality of shipping American military supplies to either India or Pakistan after the announced cutoff.(7) Of particular importance in this selection of documents is a series of transcripts of telephone conversations from December 4 and 16, 1971(Document 28) in which Kissinger and Nixon discuss, among other things, third-party transfers of fighter planes to Pakistan. Also of note is a cable from the Embassy in Iran dated December 29, 1971 (Document 44) which suggests that F-5 fighter aircraft, originally slated for Libya but which were being held in California, were flown to Pakistan via Iran. [23, 26, 28, 29, 33-45]

3. Remember the US support of brutal dictators, despite even its own State Department's protests?
Highlights from this briefing book include:

Cable traffic from the United States Consulate in Dacca revealing the brutal details of the genocide conducted in East Pakistan by the West Pakistani Martial Law Administration. In the infamous Blood telegram (Document 8), the Consulate in Dacca condemns the United States for failing "to denounce the suppression of democracy," for failing "to denounce atrocities," and for "bending over backwards to placate the West Pak[istan] dominated government and to lessen any deservedly negative international public relations impact against them." [Documents 1-8, 10-11, 26](6)

4. This next is unique as far as I know, in essence a willingness to risk World War III for a client state:
On December 10, Kissinger delicately encourages the Chinese to take action against India guaranteeing U.S. support if the Soviets retaliate: "if the People's Republic were to consider the situation on the Indian subcontinent a threat to security, and if it took measures to protect its security, the US would oppose efforts of others to interfere with the People's Republic."

And so the cycle continues. There is always an excuse and never a day of reckoning.

PS: I know the rationalization of the above will be that it was the time of the Cold War and international politics was very different, the greater interest of containing the Soviet Union subsumed all other interests, blah, blah, blah. But that is precisely why I presented #4. above. It puts the lie to it. The US was willing to risk having a hot, not cold, US-Soviet Union-China confrontation - where is the logic of the Cold War in that?

PPS: Even more remarkable if you consider the US reaction to the recent Russia-Georgia fracas; Georgia is being promoted as a NATO candidate, the US establishment, and not just the President loves the Georgian president, the US is much stronger relative Russia than in 1971, but the US will not risk a confrontation. Compare and contrast to #4 above.


Rabia said...

really interesting post. I realize this might be a sort of general question, but what, in your opinion, was the cause of this extra special relationship with Pakistan's military junta?

Arun said...

I think it is in part the simplicity of having to deal with one person.

E.g., think about India today. Its somewhat less than enthusiastic embrace of the US is at least in part because of strong leftist and Indian Muslim objections to US policies. The government of India has to take these views into consideration whether these groups are part of the ruling coalition or are in the opposition. It is so much easier to deal with a dictator who is not so constrained.

As to why Pakistan in particular - I do not know. Perhaps the US has also bought into the "martial races of South Asia" theory of later British colonialism.

Arun said...

Also, I know for sure that the British thought that concessions made to Muslims in the subcontinent would make up for their Palestine policy. I think I can dig this out of the "Transfer of Power" papers if necessary. Perhaps the US has a similar thought process.