'Deadliest storm and liberation of Bangladesh' review: Book covers most authentic happenings of 1971

A comprehensive account of how a cyclone unleashed a series of events that culminated into the birth of Bangladesh.
Image of Bangladesh Flag used for representational purpose only.(Photo | AP)
Image of Bangladesh Flag used for representational purpose only.(Photo | AP)

There have been many books written on the Liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 that I have read as an old soldier and diplomat, who had watched these events while posted in the Indian Embassy, Moscow. But History’s Deadliest Storm––The Vortex by American authors Scott Carney and Jason Miklian is one of the most authentic and comprehensive accounts of the events, which marked the momentous happenings of 1971.

Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, was virtually torn apart by a cyclone across the Bay of Bengal on November 12, 1970, when tens of thousands perished, and/or were rendered homeless. The cyclone occurred just a few months prior to the scheduled national elections in Pakistan. In the meantime, unknown to the rest of the world, Pakistan’s military ruler and President, General Yahya Khan, was overjoyed. He had been approached by US President Richard Nixon and his closest advisor Henry Kissinger to negotiate, in the highest secrecy, an agreement with China’s supreme leader Mao Tse-tung, to establish a covert channel of communications, to end the hostile relations between the US and China.

The first of many interesting revelations in the book are details of what transpired when General Khan secretly acted as an intermediary between Nixon and Kissinger in Washington, and Chairman Mao and Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, in Beijing. News about the cyclone in Bangladesh broke during Khan’s stay in China, rendering him almost hysterical. The visit, however, did make Pakistan an invaluable intermediary between Washington and Beijing. It led to a visit to Beijing by Kissinger, which set the ball rolling for an intimate relationship between Nixon and Mao on the one hand, and Pakistan’s alcohol-addicted military ruler, on the other.

The book also contains details of the insensitivity and arrogance of West Pakistan’s ruling elite, and their contempt for the people of East Pakistan. The attitude of Pakistan’s generals towards their Bengali population was spelt out to an American World Bank official on the eve of national elections in the country.

According to the official, a serving Pakistani General had noted just after the cyclone: “In just a few weeks, the entire country was going to stand for an election, and the Bengali voters did not have the interests of the country at heart. The more Bengalis that perished, the better Pakistan would be for it, in the long run.”

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and others displayed incredible arrogance, even after Sheikh Mujib and his Awami League Party emerged as victors in the parliamentary elections. Bhutto arbitrarily rejected Mujib’s electoral manifesto, which was premised on securing self-respect and autonomy for the people of Bangladesh. Bhutto demanded that Mujib give up all his political demands and his quest for the leadership of a united Pakistan. He added that if Mujib refused, “I promise that martial law will be imposed.” The negotiations, thereafter, failed and the Pakistan army launched a ruthless crackdown across East Pakistan. India and Pakistan went to war after the latter launched air attacks on Indian air bases. The end of the conflict was predictable––93,000 Pakistani soldiers and citizens were soon in jail in India. What this reviewer learned when in the Embassy of India in Moscow during the 1971 conflict, was that the Soviet Union had warned China of serious consequences, if it chose to act militarily against India, during the conflict.

While the accounts of the conflict and events leading to it are factually presented, the authors also dwell extensively on the pathological biases against India and Indira Gandhi displayed by the Nixon-Kissinger team. The revelations of how the US President used General Yahya to clear the way for his visit to China have been spelt out in detail.

The book also reveals, for the first time, the confrontation between the USS Enterprise, an American aircraft carrier, and a Russian nuclear submarine, offering a detailed description of a nuclear face-off in the Bay of Bengal, between two of the world’s most powerful countries. This is a must-read for all those who seek to understand how India prevailed over the serious challenges it faced, during those difficult times.

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The New Indian Express