Kissinger reveals the dark heart of his realpolitik by what he leaves out

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 July, 2011, 12:00am


Henry Kissinger has captured headlines and captivated some of the world's best minds with his 580-page book, On China. Most reviews have been favourable, though Professor Andrew Nathan in the upcoming issue of Foreign Affairs neatly dismisses the tome as 'really neither history nor memoir'. 'Its purpose is to argue that the United States should yield gracefully to China's rise in order to avoid a tragic conflict,' he says.

For me, Kissinger's biggest failure is what he omits. While he was pretending to be ill in Pakistan in 1971, so he could fly secretly to China to prepare the ground for Richard Nixon's historic visit, Kissinger's diplomacy was also helping to perpetrate one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century - the slaughter and displacement of millions whose only crime was to express their wish for democracy through the ballot box and peaceful protests.

Yet there is no mention in the book, not a sentence of regret, not a word of apology, not even a passing note, that the bloody birth of Bangladesh was brought about because Kissinger, reaching out to China, simultaneously encouraged the Pakistan military to butcher the people of East Pakistan (today Bangladesh).

To set out the facts, in December 1970, the Bengalis of East Pakistan, separated by 1,600 kilometres of India from West Pakistan, where the military lived and ruled, voted overwhelmingly in free and fair elections for Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's Awami League, which stood on a platform of greater autonomy - not independence - from West Pakistan.

For three months there was deadlock, as president General Yahya Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, leader of the People's Party, which had majorities in two of the four provinces of West Pakistan, played obstructionist games about the terms on which the assembly would meet to arrange a new civilian constitution.

The deadlock was broken when Yahya Khan's troops arrested Sheikh Mujib and his key lieutenants and let the army loose on East Pakistan. Tanks were sent to deal with Dhaka University students, who had been active in protests against the military regime. The army set fire to apartments and then mowed down their fleeing occupants. By all witness accounts, the soldiers conducted mass murder and rape. Estimates of the dead go up to three million. About 200,000 women were raped and almost 10 million Bengalis fled to refugee camps in India.

The rest of the world condemned the atrocities and sent aid for the refugees. Nixon and Kissinger said nothing but kept supplying aid, including military aid, to West Pakistan. Kissinger sent a message to Yahya Khan praising his 'delicacy and tact' in the crackdown.

Archer Blood, the US consul general in East Pakistan, and his staff were so appalled by the attitude of their own government that, in April, Blood sent the rightly famous eponymous cable of dissent: 'Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy. Our government has failed to denounce atrocities ... Our government has evidenced what many will consider moral bankruptcy ... But we have chosen not to intervene, even morally, on the grounds that the Awami conflict, in which unfortunately the overworked term genocide is applicable, is purely an internal matter of a sovereign state...'

For his courage, Blood was called a 'pansy' by Kissinger, silenced, recalled early and transferred.

Kissinger continued to support Yahya Khan and the Pakistan military, beyond the need for Pakistan's good offices in opening the door to China. As war between Pakistan and India became more likely towards the end of 1971, Kissinger was urging China not to be 'a silent spectator' at the impending dismemberment of its ally Pakistan.

Kissinger was wrong at almost every turn, even if he could justify the murder and mayhem to satisfy his ego. He was wrong to see India or Indira Gandhi as a Soviet stooge. Whatever her many faults, Gandhi was never anyone's stooge, and anyone with any understanding of India would see a civilisation as rich and historic as China's.

He was wrong, and insulting to both countries, to imagine that East Pakistan 'would become a Bhutan' - how shallow to compare a tiny Himalayan kingdom with a teeming country of millions. He was wrong to regard Bangladesh as an eternal 'basket case' economy that would forever need foreign aid, although the original expression was not his.

He was wrong to support the Pakistan military. By doing so, he set the precedent for military might as a substitute for political negotiations.

Equally dangerously, Kissinger missed the signals from Afghanistan in the mid-1970s. President Mohammed Daoud Khan granted me an interview, pleading for renewed American interest and investment to counteract the Soviet domination. Was Kissinger asleep or just dreaming of his global map when he failed to see a chance to bring Afghanistan in from the cold before the Islamic extremists got their hands on it?

'Dr Realpolitik' Kissinger, in defiance of all the proud traditions of his adopted country, did not give a damn about democracy. But it would have been good in his declining years if he had been humble enough to apologise to those whose lives he blighted by his pursuit of power.

Kevin Rafferty covered the East Pakistan cyclone and election, and the crackdown and Bangladesh war for the Financial Times