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Mainstream, VOL L, No 6, January 28, 2012

Nixon’s Tattered Flag

Tuesday 31 January 2012, by Nikhil Chakravartty



[More than forty years ago N.C. wrote the following piece just before Bangladesh’s liberation from west Pakistan’s oppressive and exploitative yoke and it was published in Mainstream (December 18, 1971). Immediately after that country’s independence. We are reproducing it as it is of inestimable value in the present context.]

Professor Galbraith in his journal narrates an experience as the US Ambassador in this country: “One man asked if there were still a Dulles clique in the State Department. I said no. Heaven will call me to account for that one.” He also confesses later: “I have had my nose twisted several times by Rusk and the old Dulles group because of my misgivings over alliances and the trouble which arms aid to Pakistan causes us in these precincts.”

Whether Mr Keating has the same qualms of conscience about the antics of the Dulles group in Washington, now reinforced by Kissinger’s arms-twisting diplomacy under the Nixon dispensation, it is not known. But the Ambassador today can find no solace in the fact that one of the most loyal friends of America in New Delhi’s press corps had to editorially denounce US policy towards this country as “Gunboat Diplomacy”, berating Nixon as “America’s Don Quixote tilting at various windmills along with his Sancho Panza, Dr Henry Kissinger”.

The political crisis that has developed around the birth of Bangladesh has a worldwide dimension which few in New Delhi or in Islama-bad or in Dacca had envisaged when West Pakistan’s military junta launched its terror crusade against the democratic movement in East Bengal nine months ago. When Smt Indira Gandhi repeatedly warned the world govern-ments about the dangers inherent in Islamabad’s bid to internationalise the Bangladesh crisis by trying to submerge it into an Indo-Pak conflict, the enormity of the US policy was not in full view before many statesmen.

The essence of the internal crisis of Pakistan is that it forebodes a frightening defeat for the global strategy of US imperialism.

THE crisis of US imperialism started with the failure of the MacArthur line in Korea followed by the much greater humiliation at the military debacle in Vietnam. From that point onward, the road to ignominy has started for Washington all over the world. From West Europe to Latin America, the slump in Washington’s political influence has been most pronounced in the last few months. Neither Chancellor Brandt’s brand of politics nor President Allende’s brand of socialism could bring anything but headache for President Nixon. Nor has West Asia brought any rehabilitation of Washington’s declining prestige.

To counteract all these setbacks Nixon’s coming visit to Peking is meant to be an election-year gimmick without any basic change in US policy, so much so that despite Dr Kissinger’s two flights to Peking, there has so far been no long-range exercise in the White House even on the simple question whether Mao’s regime would be accorded formal recognition or not. On Peking’s part, incidentally, the newly developing entente with USA is an aberration born out of a pathological allergy to Moscow, for which the Chinese leadership would soon have to pay dearly in terms of loss of standing before the world’s have-nots questioning its claim to be a bulwark against imperialism.

VIEWED against this rather distressing back-ground, it is but natural for Washington to get worried over the prospect of Pakistan’s disinte-gration and the emergence of Bangladesh, taking away the majority section of its population strength. The resignation of the collaborator Governor Malik on the eve of Dacca’s liberation marking the end of US-backed West Pakistani military rule over Bangladesh, cannot but be a black day of mourning for Mr Nixon.

The very creation of Pakistan, artificially joined together by the fragile link of religious bigotry, was an imperialist design when White-hall had realised that it could no longer maintain its imperial raj on the Indian subcontinent. Soon after, when Washington, as part of its Cold-War offensive, began building the ring of military blocs against the socialist world, Pakistan’s strategic location was marked out as the jumping-off ground for any future attack against the Soviet Union. The setting up of the U-2 base near Peshawar was in line with the traditions of Baileys and Caroes who in the twenties repeatedly tried to hatch conspiracies in Central Asia against the new-born socialist state.

As early as May 1954, in the heydays of Dulles at the State Department, Pakistan signed the Mutual Defence Assistance Agreement with the USA. Later in the same year, Pakistan was made to join the US-sponsored SEATO; and the next year, she joined the British sponsored Baghdad Pact, which in 1959 was renamed CENTO. In the same year, Pakistan, along with Turkey and Iran, signed a bilateral Agreement of Cooperation with the United States, desinged to strengthen the military potentials of the CENTO. It is significant that Pakistan is the only Asian state which is a member of both the SEATO and CENTO.

It is to be noted that in enmeshing Pakistan in this network of military alliances, the man who played Washington’s game was Field Marshal Ayub Khan. It was, therefore, not surprising that during his first visit to Washington after he became President of Pakistan through a coup, President Kennedy, welcoming him, described Pakistan as “a friend of immediacy and constancy”.

IT may have come as a surprise to many in New Delhi why the US this time has taken the Hectoring posture in the Indo-Pak conflict, which is very much in contrast to its low-key diplomacy during the 1965 conflict. The reasons for this appear to be three: first, on a world scale, Washington’s policy had not then got the battering that it has in these six years. Hence, its desperate anxiety to hold on to what it has. Secondly, the 1965 conflict did not threaten the very foundations of Pakistan; even the armed struggle of the Baluchis at the time was brought to a truce when Islamabad planned the two attacks against India—first, as a dress rehearsal, in Kutch, and later on, in Kashmir. Thirdly, the US lobby in this country was at that time dominantly entrenched both in the political leadership and in the government, a position which it can hardly claim today.

It is not that New Delhi has been taken unawares about the magnitude of the US involvement this time. New Delhi’s well-informed quarters were not taken in by the assurance given by Washington to Sardar Swaran Singh in summer that there would be no US arms shipment to Pakistan, an assurance whose falsehood was exposed within a few weeks by the American press. Nor did Smt Gandhi return with any illusion about the heavy slant of US policy towards Pakistan after her visit to Mr Nixon early in November.

That is why there is a conspicuous absence of any nervousness over the current American bellicosity in the authoritative circles in New Delhi. Even the rather extraordinary demonstration of US naval might threatening the despatch of the Seventh Fleet into the Bay of Bengal is dismissed as mere “psychological pressure”. The Pentagon move itself is a significant commentary on Washington’s colossal ignorance about the strength of anti-imperialist sentiment in this country. Such out-moded stunts can only spur hatred for the US Government. The days of Showing the Flag can no longer cow down the masses in this country in their present mood of radicalism. This episode itself is a testimony to the bankruptcy of US statesmanship in dealing with the resurgent Asia, of which the phenomenal emergence of Bangladesh is the latest landmark.

The question which may intrigue many is: why has Washington moved so late in the day if it is so concerned about the integrity of Pakistan? The crack-up started in Bangladesh months ago when the only thing President Nixon could arrange was to pour in more arms for Yahya Khan. Even when the military operations started in full scale, the US moves were not so desperate.

One can only venture two reasons for this eleventh-hour solicitude for Pakistan on the part of Washington. First, it might have hoped that the combined advance of the Mukti Bahini and Indian Army inside Bangladesh would not be so swift as it has actually turned out to be; at the same time, there was expectation that the Pak Army’s diversionary thrust in the western sector—in Kashmir, for instance—would be so menacing that New Delhi would be humbled to accept an immediate ceasefire. Neither of these two has happened: the Pak infiltrators into Kashmir Valley have not been able to do the mischief expected of them, while the determined Pak thrust at Chhamb has been halted.

Secondly, there may be a political explanation for the timing of the American threats against this country. A section in Washington, particularly in the CIA, has had sufficient intelligence at its disposal to realise that East Bengal could no longer be held by Islamabad. In fact there were reports of secret US moves, particularly by Ambassador Farland, to put pressure on Yahya Khan to settle with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Simultaneously, US agencies on this side worked hard to disrupt the unity of the Bangladesh Government. In both these attempts the Americans failed, with the possible consequence that East Bengal may have been practically written off by Washington as remaining a part of Pakistan.

However, Washington’s main concern is to keep intact its hold on West Pakistan. Strategically, this is most important for the Pentagon, and politically there cannot be a more loyal stooge for Washington than the Generals at Islamabad. During Dr Kissinger’s talks in New Delhi in July, it was evident that while he would not commit himself about the future of Pakistan as a whole, he stressed that Pakistan’s significance as a regional entity would continue; in plain language, shorn of diplomatic quibblings, this would mean that Washington would do its best to see to it that West Pakistan as a regional entity along with Iran and Turkey remained as US outposts in the southern periphery of the Soviet Union.

Washington knows it perfectly well that New Delhi’s objective has throughout been to help in the restoration of a democratic set-up in Bangladesh so that the ten million refugees could return and resettle in peace and security in their homeland. In Smt Gandhi’s letter to the UN Secretary-General, it has been made very clear that once the Pak troops in Bangladesh withdrew or laid down arms, there would be no hindrance to a ceasefire. And Sardar Swarn Singh has reiterated in New York what Smt Gandhi has declared in New Delhi, namely, that India has no designs on West Pakistan. In other words, there is every possibility of the war ending as soon as Bangladesh comes under the effective charge of her own elected representatives.

If this is allowed to happen in the normal course of things, it is obvious that New Delhi’s political prestige and earnestness for peace would go up all over the world; side by side would come the humiliation of defeat for West Pakistan’s military junta, which might have to face an internal convulsion leading to its over-throw. It is precisely to forestall this that Washington has now come out with such aggressive solicitude for Pakistan. If Washington did not move in a demonstrative manner, it is obvious that its prestige would go down even in West Pakistan, where its stooge Generals at Islamabad might have to face popular fury at their bankruptcy in war.

In other words, Washington’s objective in moving the Seventh Fleet and making a show of browbeating India is to deceive the West Pakistanis into believing that it is President Nixon’s intervention which has prevented India’s designs on West Pakistan. That this is not a far-fetched assumption becomes clear if one carefully reads the speech by the US Ambassador, Mr George Bush, at Monday’s meeting of the Security Council.

At the same time, one canot totally rule out the danger of Washington playing with fire. Mr Nixon, who cannot be accused of having an abundance of statesmanship, may go in for a hawkish line, smarting under the humiliation of having to eat the humble pie from the hand of a country like India. Whether in his blatant unwisdom he will be foolish enough to stage a second Cuban crisis over Bangladesh, is yet to be seen. Whether the evacuation of the stranded American personnel from Dacca—a third-rate caricature of Palmerston’s civis Romanus sum—is the objective of the Seventh Fleet’s appearance, or to extricate the doomed divisions of Yahya’s Army from the delta of Bangladesh, only the coming days will show. In any case, this brink-manship will turn out to be one more milestone in the unrelieved fiasco of US policy in Asia.

A class of critics of the government’s policy has come up in New Delhi saying that India has been isolated in the United Nations and that our diplomatic drive at the world capitals in the last few months has not produced any tangible impact. This is a point of view which has been surreptitiously spread not only by the US lobby in this country but also by a number of frustrated politicians.

The clearest answer to this question lies in the fact that in the Security Council, Pakistan could muster only two votes among the permanent members—that of USA and China—while its policy on Bangladesh has forfeited the support of not only the Soviet Union but of Britain and France as well. In a sense, the success of Indian diplomacy has to be measured not only by the close support received from the Soviet Union throughout this crisis, but from the fact that two of the important Western powers, Britain and France, could be persuaded to abstain in any voting which did not conform to the position of India.

This situation has to be compared with the position in 1965 when the Indo-Pak conflict was brought to an end by a simple Security Council vote in favour of ceasefire. At that time no Moscow veto was available nor was there any abstention on the part of Britain and France. The present position is also in contrast with the Security Council voting in 1967 which brought the Arab-Israeli conflict to an end. At that time, too, despite Moscow’s close understanding with UAR, there could be no veto of a simple cease-fire.

The fact is that Pakistan’s war policy—backed actively by America and China—springs from her own internal contradictions. And this precisely comes in the way of Washington’s rescue operation for Islamabad in the form of a ceasefire move. In contrast, the firm Soviet support for the Indian position is indicative of the recent radicalisation of Indian politics in which the Right is cornered, which in its turn has led to the development of closer political understanding between Moscow and New Delhi in the last few years which has been recently formalised in the Indo-Soviet Treaty. The present Soviet position is the clearest repudiation of all critics of the Indo-Soviet Treaty both from the Right and the Left, who had branded it as a brake—to the point of betrayal—on India’s support for the Bangladesh liberation struggle.

The Security Council voting also provides the answer to those critics in Smt Gandhi’s own party who have carried on a whisper campaign that she spent too much time in London and made no dent in Paris during her recent Western tour. In fact, the assessment of informed observers at the time was that her explanation campaign produced the best possible effect in France, and perhaps in West Germany as well.

As regards Britain, an important consideration might have been the business-like calculation that in the emerging state of Bngladesh there is not only considerable amount of British investments particularly in jute, tea and river transport, but the possibility of expanding such investments, thereby providing a useful economic foothold in East Bengal, compensating for the loss of it in the hands of the USA in West Pakistan. In other words, an element of inter-imperialist rivalry may be playing a useful role in the Indian subcontinent.

There is, of course, no denying the fact that the case for Bangladesh has not got the support it deserves in the Afro-Asian world, particularly in the Arab world, where the fate of 75 million Muslim population constituting the majority section of the largest Islamic country in the world (Pakistan that was) should have evoked concern in the period of the unmitigated genocide as also in the phase of its liberation from the oppressive rule of Islamabad.

An objective appraisal of the Afro-Asian position in the Bangladesh crisis brings out the concert of understanding between Washington and Peking in building up a joint lobby in favour of West Pakistan. The Western-inclined powers in this region were roped in mainly by high-powered American diplomatic lobbying extending beyond those countries which are the members of the CENTO; while those governments in this region which are critical of the US have been taken care of by the Chinese diplomatic offensive in favour of Pakistan.

The Bangladesh issue has, in a sense, drawn the significant contours of the present alignment of world forces, cutting across the basic political compulsions that are supposed to determine the long-rnge interests of different countries, as distinct from their short-term tactical advantages. Within a few weeks of its joining the UN, Peking has emerged as the most vociferous supporter of US policy with its single-minded objective of making Moscow the target of its attack. This is being shown consistently with reference to every issue connected with the Bangladesh development.

This grotesque demonstration of power politics provides the clearest rebuttal of Peking’s much trumpetted demagogy in its policy presentation on taking the seat in the UN about its determination to fight “the domination of Super Powers”.

An inevitable political consequence of such an alignment of world forces over Bangladesh has been that both the USA and China which had potential influence in the internal politics of Bangladesh have now branded themselves as hostile to it. This has been a matter of embarras-sment to the point of anoyance for the elements in Bngladesh politics which were at the beginning keen on being friendly to America or to China.

In contrast, the prestige of the Soviet Union not only in India but in Bangladesh politics as a whole, is bound to go up tremendously, for it will be embedded in the mass consciousness in both countries that the Soviet Union is the one great power which has stood firmly by them in their hour of need, taking the risk thereby of weakening its leverage with many other countries now under the spell of the pernicious propaganda from both Washington and Peking.

There is, however, a noticeable differentiation in approach to Washington and Peking on the part of New Delhi. While US threats and black-mail are being firmly rebuffed, Peking’s blusters are being mostly ignored or underplayed. The reason behind this differentited approach is that whereas the antgonism with the USA over Pakistan is regarded as basic, responsible quarters in New Delhi regard Peking’s angry postures as a passing phenomenon which has to be endured in the expectations for better days to come. Officially New Delhi would like Peking to restrain Pakistan.

THE lesson of this entire offensive—both diplo-matic and military—on the part of Washington itself as also through its marionettes at Islama-bad, is that any liberation struggle, even in its bid to set up a democratic order as the Bangla-desh leadership is pledged to build, cannot but meet with the resistance of the US imperialists and its local lackeys. In this way, Mr Nixon has unwittingly become a very important instru-ment of history—accelerating the process of radical consciousness among the millions of common humanity in this part of the world. His Seventh Fleet hs helped to reinforce the spirit of revolutionary resistance in the red soil of Vietnam, as it will help to umask the ugly face of imperialism in the green fields of Bangladesh as well as in the rest of our great country.

(Mainstream, December 18, 1971)

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