East Pakistan would be given independence, Pak president told US in November 1971

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger makes revelation in interview

ISLAMABAD: One of the world’s most famous and reputed diplomats Henry Kissinger has revealed in his November 2016 interview to the magazine ‘The Atlantic’ that the then Pakistan’s president and its army chief had told United States President Richard Nixon in November 1971 that Pakistan would grant independence to East Pakistan.

This is stunning revelation as in November, 1971 India had not invaded East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. India invaded East Pakistan on December 3, 1971.

Henry Kissinger was 56th US Secretary of State and served from September 22, 1973 to January 20, 1977. Kissinger also served as US National Security Adviser from January 20, 1969 to November 3, 1975. Kissinger played a key role in United States foreign policy between 1969 and 1977.

In his latest interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, the Editor-in-Chief of ‘The Atlantic’, Kissinger has discussed many issues ahead of recent US elections.

While narrating events of 1971 in context of US’ opening to China and Pakistan-India Bangladesh issue, Kissinger said, “After the opening to China via Pakistan, America engaged in increasingly urging Pakistan to grant autonomy to Bangladesh. In November, the Pakistani president agreed with Nixon to grant independence the following March.”

The interview starts with the introductory para; “What follows is an extended transcript of several conversations on foreign policy I had with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger ahead of the 2016 US presidential election, which formed the basis of a story in the December issue of The Atlantic. That story, along with an interview on Kissinger’s reaction to the surprise electoral victory of Donald Trump, can be found here. The transcript below has been condensed and edited for clarity.”

The relevant question asked by The Atlantic’s Editor-In-Chief and the Kissinger response were as follows:

Goldberg: Was the opening to China worth the sacrifices, the deaths, experienced in the India-Pakistan Bangladesh crisis?

Henry Kissinger: Human rights are an essential goal of American policy. But so is national security. In some situations, no choice between them is required, making the moral issue relatively simple. But there are situations in which a conflict arises, specifically when a country important to American security or international order engages in conduct contrary to our values, requiring the president to make a series of judgments: about the magnitude of the conflict; the resources available to remedy it; the impact of our actions on its foreseeable evolution; and finally, if the president identifies a path forward, the willingness of the American public to maintain that effort. Emphasizing human rights led us into failed nation-building in Iraq; ignoring them permitted genocide in Rwanda. Contemporary policymakers face this challenge all over the world, especially all over the Middle East.

The statesman can usually only reach his goal in stages and, by definition, imperfectly. The art of policy is to move through imperfect stages towards ever-more fulfilling goals.

Your question on Bangladesh demonstrates how this issue has been confused in our public debate. There was never the choice between suffering in Bangladesh and the opening to China. It is impossible to go into detail in one far-ranging interview. However, allow me to outline some principles:

1- The opening to China began in 1969.

2- The Bangladesh crisis began in March 1971.

3- By then, we had conducted a number of highly secret exchanges with China and were on the verge of a breakthrough.

4- These exchanges were conducted through Pakistan, which emerged as the interlocutor most acceptable to Beijing and Washington.

5- The Bangladesh crisis, in its essence, was an attempt of the Bengali part of Pakistan to achieve independence. Pakistan resisted with extreme violence and gross human-rights violations.

6- To condemn these violations publicly would have destroyed the Pakistani channel, which would be needed for months to complete the opening to China, which indeed was launched from Pakistan. The Nixon administration considered the opening to China as essential to a potential diplomatic recasting towards the Soviet Union and the pursuit of peace. The US diplomats witnessing the Bangladesh tragedy were ignorant of the opening to China. Their descriptions were heartfelt and valid, but we could not respond publicly. But we made available vast quantities of food and undertook diplomatic efforts to resolve the situation.

7- After the opening to China via Pakistan, America engaged in increasingly urging Pakistan to grant autonomy to Bangladesh. In November, the Pakistani president agreed with Nixon to grant independence the following March.

8- The following December, India, after having made a treaty including military provisions with the Soviet Union, and in order to relieve the strain of refugees, invaded East Pakistan [which is today Bangladesh].

9- The US had to navigate between Soviet pressures; Indian objectives; Chinese suspicions; and Pakistani nationalism. Adjustments had to be made—and would require a book to cover—but the results require no apology. By March 1972—within less than a year of the commencement of the crisis—Bangladesh was independent; the India-Pakistan War ended; and the opening to China completed at a summit in Beijing in February 1972. A summit in Moscow in May 1972 resulted in a major nuclear arms control agreement [SALT I]. Relations with India were restored by 1974 with the creation of a US-Indian Joint Commission [the Indo-US Joint Commission on Economic, Commercial, Scientific, Technological, Educational and Cultural Cooperation], which remains part of the basis of contemporary US-India relations. Compared with Syria, Libya, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the sacrifices made in 1971 have had a far more clear-cut end.