This is the second post of a four-part series on India-Pakistan 1971 War. First part can be read here
Richard Nixon (left) and Henry Kissinger, two most controversial figures of the 1970s
Six days after Pakistan Army began massacring its own people, a meeting on the East Pakistan Crisis was held in the White House Situation Room. It was chaired by Henry Kissinger, the US National Security Adviser and President Richard Nixon’s right-hand man when it came to the American foreign policy. Kissinger, a former Harvard academic, was brilliant, ruthless and extremely powerful. Perhaps the most controversial figure in the American foreign policy of the time, he was an ardent worshipper of realpolitik in foreign policy, which often translated to celebrating cold-blooded calculations.
On this day, the calculation was about East Pakistan and Yahya Khan. A week into the crisis, Kissinger and his boss, Nixon, had already made up their mind to stay out. Despite the mounting reports of a bloodbath coming in from their own consulate in Dacca, the mood in White House was to let Yahya do what he wanted. In the meeting, Kissinger’s main concern was whether Pakistan Army could actually succeed or not. As the meeting progressed, Kissinger asked about the people killed in Dacca University. “Did they kill Professor Razak? He was one of my students.” He was informed by a CIA official that Razak probably had been killed. Kissinger, apparently referring to the previous rulers of South Asia, replied, “They didn’t dominate 400 million Indians all those years by being gentle.”
This detached statement perfectly represented the American attitude towards the East Pakistan genocide. And it was about to get worse. Within a month, US will shed its disinterested neutrality and will actively begin aiding Pakistan in the massacre. Why? Because Nixon and Kissinger were secretly working on a project to change the world.
This is the first post of a four-part series on India-Pakistan 1971 War. The second part is available here
Yahya Khan: The man responsible for the genocide
On the night of 31 March 1971, two men huddled under a small culvert somewhere on the India-East Pakistan border. A week ago these men – Tajuddin Ahmad and Amirul Islam – were riding the greatest high of their lives, a landslide victory in the Pakistani elections. And now they were hunted men, escaping from their own country like criminals. Their boss – Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – was already in jail and the Pakistani Army was rounding up thousands of their supporters as of that moment. As the morning came, Ahmad and Islam, cold, hungry and scared for their lives, heard the familiar footsteps of army boots. Soldiers in green uniforms began to appear around them. Islam breathed a sigh of relief. For these were Indian soldiers, here to give them refuge.
It was still hard to see, but the entry of these two men into India was going to set in motion a chain of events leading to perhaps the most significant war in South Asia since the Second World War.
The crisis that had brought Ahmad and Islam to India had its roots in the end of the British Raj. Independence of India and its consequent partition into two countries had left resultant Pakistan as a geographical anomaly unique in the world. Two wings of the nation – West and East Pakistan – were not just separated by a thousand miles of a hostile India, but also by ethnicities and languages. While the west was dominated by Urdu-speaking Punjabis, the east was almost entirely made up of ethnic Bengalis. Further, accidents of history had ensured that the West Pakistan enjoy a certain political dominance over the East. Invariably, this had led to a build-up of resentment that the Bengalis had nursed for decades. The relationship between the two parts of the country was always rocky and periodically worsened over issues like national language. Enter an alcoholic dictator – General Yahya Khan.
A Map of Princely States in Gujarat, leftover from British India. Junagadh is the state in red at the southern tip of Gujarat (click to enlarge)
In the run-up to the Indian Independence 600-odd princely states, another legacy of the British Raj, were being divvied up between India and Pakistan. In the last few months of British India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Lord Mountbatten were trying convince, cajole, bribe or threaten all the state princes into submission. Remarkably, by 15 August, Indian Government had managed to get almost all of them in line; only three states ended up proving to be troublesome – Kashmir, Hyderabad and Junagadh.
Of these the story of Junagadh turned out to be the most absurd, as if a farce mockery of the upcoming Kashmir and Hyderabad crises. It was a state on the southern-tip of Gujarat within a region called Kathiawar. The region was peppered with tiny states, as can be seen in the map on the right (click to enlarge). Junagadh itself contained dozens of petty estates and sheikhdoms within it. In fact the situation was so confusing that it took the Government of India several weeks just to figure out the correct borders before they could formulate a military plan. Moreover, the government lawyers couldn’t figure out whether these tiny sheikhdoms were legally independent or under the suzerainty of Junagadh even after the accession. But Junagadh was an important state, with a population of 700,000, 80% of them Hindus and, predictably, ruled by a Muslim prince.
The Nawab of Junagadh was an eccentric character, famously obsessed with dogs. He was said to have owned 800 of them, each with its individual human attendant. When two of his favourite dogs mated, he is said to have spent Rs. 20-30 lakhs in “wedding” celebrations, and proclaimed the day as State holiday. It is no surprise that the actual governing of the Junagadh was carried out by his dewan (Chief Minister). In the last months of British India his dewan was a Muslim League politician named Shah Nawaz Bhutto (father of future Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar and grandfather to Benazir Bhutto).
On the morning of 13 December 2001, Shekhar, the driver for the Vice President of India, was at the Parliament parking lot waiting for his boss. The Rajya Sabha, which his boss chaired, had been adjourned forty minutes ago, but the Vice President was still inside the building. At around 10:00 am, Shekhar heard someone shouting and suddenly a white Ambassador rammed into his car. By the time he got out of his car to have a word with the Ambassador’s driver, five men armed with AK-47s had poured out of it and begun shooting indiscriminately. Shekhar ducked for cover as other members of the Vice-Presidential security detail begun shooting back. A fire fight had broken out a few feet away from the heart of the Indian Government. In thirty minutes, it was over. All five attackers, who will be later linked to Pakistan, were dead. So were six of the policemen and security guards and a gardener who tended the Parliamentary gardens. The Parliament Attack was one of the deadliest terrorist strikes India had suffered through since its independence. In response the Indian Government started off the first nuclear crisis of the twenty-first century. A ten-month stand-off, where they stood precariously on the brink of an all-out war, was the closest India and Pakistan had come to nuclear annihilation. This is the story of that crisis.
The Parliament Attack had touched off one of the most difficult puzzles that the Indian leadership had been struggling with for more than a decade – how to handle a nuclear-armed Pakistan. Since Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons in late 1980s, it had grown more and more aggressive in pushing terrorism and the Kashmir Insurgency. As Pakistan’s leadership had calculated, the bomb gave them a cover against India’s superior military forces. They could bleed India by supporting the insurgency and be assured that India would not retaliate, for a retaliation could mean escalation to an all-out war and a nuclear annihilation for both countries. It was a game of perverse logic much like living next to a crazy neighbour (or a very smart neighbour pretending to be crazy) who keeps stealing from your house. Should you ever retaliate, he threatens to burn down both your houses.
All through the 1990s, while Pakistan continued to train and send increasing numbers of insurgents into India, New Delhi remained stuck in a strategic paralysis. While retaliations like air bombings or commando raids were considered, the risks were too great for India to ever go through with them. With the nuclear threat, coupled with the weak leadership that India suffered through during the decade of fractured politics, Pakistan seemed to have hit upon the perfect solution for its own security. The continued insurgency meant that the Indian Army remained occupied in Kashmir and thus not free to threaten Pakistan. It also meant that the Indian Government had to bear the crushing cost of securing India-Pakistan border against infiltration and the counter-insurgency campaign as opposed to Pakistan’s extremely cheap expense of running a few terrorist training camps.
AQ Khan with design of neutron initiator, which serves as the kick-start mechanism for a nuclear chain reaction
In December 1975, a thin man with a light moustache landed at the Karachi Airport, where he was awaited by a top Pakistani Military general. He had three large suitcases with him, all stuffed with photographed and hand-written documents that he had stolen from a Dutch lab where he worked as a translator. These documents were technical designs of a revolutionary new technology to make a nuclear bomb. His name was Abdul Qadeer Khan. He was here to make, as the world would come to know of it, the first Islamic Bomb.
In July 1974, AQ Khan had written to the Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, offering to build a nuclear bomb for Pakistan. The timing of the letter had been perfect, for only two months ago India had exploded a nuclear bomb of its own, which had thrown Islamabad into a tizzy. Pakistan had been trying to develop its own nuclear bomb since 1958, but had consistently failed because of the lack of money and the technical know-how. The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) was still many years away from developing a bomb. So the letter from this unknown mining engineer had come as a god-sent for Bhutto.
Pakistan had been trying to develop a nuclear bomb through Plutonium, which is a very expensive and difficult exercise. What AQ Khan offered, instead, was building the bomb with Uranium-239, enriched through centrifuges, which was a cheaper and quicker process. This enrichment technology was just being developed by a European Consortium called UNRECO, where AQ Khan worked as a translator. His job offered him unlimited access to the technical information, which he was willing to steal and bring to Pakistan.