Saturday, September 14, 2013

US diplomatic cables 2: Coup plotters

Following on from stories on the US diplomatic cables relating to the assassination of Mujib, here are a few articles looking at what the cables said happened afterwards

US agreed to provide asylum to Mushtaque, Mujib successor (13 April, 2013)
Three months after the August 1975 assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country’s founding president, the United States government had agreed to provide asylum to Khandkar Mushtaque Ahmed, the man who became president after the violent coup.
The offer was made by Henry Kissinger, the then US secretary of state, after Mushtaque had, through his private secretary, asked the US ambassador to provide asylum both for the new president and Majors Farooq and Rashid, the two men who had spearheaded the plot to kill Mujib.
The request was made just as a counter coup was taking place in Dhaka led by Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf.
The US authorities did not need to make a decision about the two army Majors as just hours after the request, the Bangladesh government sprinted Majors Farooq and Rashid along with 15 other army officers and their families out of Dhaka to Bangkok.
However, after a flurry of diplomatic correspondence over two days, Kissinger informed the US ambassador in Dhaka in a cable dated 5 November, ‘You may tell Mushtaque that he would be welcome in the United States if he desires to come here.’
The cable appears to suggest that whilst asylum for Mushtaque was unconditional, a similar provision of refuge for ‘a small number of other officials’ whom the president wanted to bring – as well as the use of a US plane -- would be dependent on agreement with the new leaders of the counter coup.
Mushtaque and his colleagues did not need to take up the offer as shortly afterwards Mosharraf was himself ousted and murdered in the ‘sepoy’ mutiny that resulted in Ziaur Rahman again becoming chief of army staff, and Musthaque being re-offered the position of president, which this time he refused. Chief justice ASM Sayem, appointed by Mosharraf as president, continued in that position.
The story is recounted in a series of cables – many of which were designated ‘secret’ at the time -- declassified in 2006. These cables have now been made accessible on a Wikileaks website.
The US government first heard about Brigadier Mosharraf’s counter coup when the president himself phoned the US ambassador in Dhaka Davis Eugene Boster at 8.30 in the morning on 3 November 1975.
Recounting the conversation shortly afterwards in a cable, the ambassador wrote that Mushtaque Ahmed had told him ‘Mosharraf had done it.’
‘He said that he did not know what to do in this situation but in thinking of the friends of Bangladesh he had thought of me and had decided to call and let me know of the situation,’ Boster writes of his conversation with Mushtaque.
He concluded, ‘If there is anything you can do, I leave the matter to you.’
Six hours later, at 2.20 pm, the US ambassador received a call from the principal secretary to the president, Mahbub Alam Chashi.
In a cable describing the conversation, labeled as ‘secret,’ Boster said Chashi told him, ‘The president had directed him to inquire whether, if the situation should so demand, “Certain persons in Bangladesh” could be given asylum. Would that be acceptable to us, he asked. I asked if the persons referred to were the two Majors (Farooq and Rashid) and the secretary replied “yes”.’
The ambassador records that he had told Chashi, ‘It was not our usual practice to grant asylum overseas and thus could not give him an encouraging reply,’ but that he would look into it due to the ‘gravity of the situation’ and because the private secretary was calling ‘at the direction of the president’.
The cable then states that Chashi had told him that ‘beyond the two Majors, the president might also wish to follow their course. I asked him to repeat that and the secretary reiterated that the president himself may wish to act at the same time and request asylum, as well as some of the president’s colleagues.’
A few minutes later Chashi phoned the ambassador back to clarify that, ‘the arrangements described to me were conditional on a negotiated settlement with the forces with whom they were negotiating.’
Soon after this conversation took place, the Bangladesh authorities put the two Majors and other army officers on a plane to Bangkok.
At 8.30 pm the same day, the ambassador had a further conversation with the president’s secretary in which, according to another cable written by him, Chashi had said that although the application for asylum relating to the Majors had been overtaken by events, ‘there was still outstanding the question of the president’s possible desire to request asylum that he had discussed with me.’
The next morning on 4th November, in another phone conversation, Chashi told the ambassador that two other top officials-- Major General M Khaliur Rahman, the chief of Defence staff and General Osmany, the defence advisor, who had in 1971 been the head of Bangladesh liberation forces, also sought to come with the president.
The cable goes on to record that the presidential adviser said that ‘it was not necessarily to the US that the party would wish to move and that it looked more and more like the UK.’ However, he added that events were moving in a direction ‘which would probably not require them to utilise any offer of assistance such as they have from us.’
In a part of the cable titled, ‘Comment,’ Boster writes, ‘I no longer believe that an offer of asylum is essential to avert widespread bloodshed since the evacuation of the Majors and other military personnel has defused the situation …’
The cable goes onto say, ‘I am not inclined … to believe that our offer to help would be a serious embarrassment to us in Bangladesh’s internal politics as this arrangement would be approved by the new authorities… In sum, I believe that the disadvantages of responding to this request for help from a president who has always been exceedingly friendly to the United States are acceptable and recommend a positive reply.
The following morning, a cable from Kissinger was sent to the Bangladesh embassy confirming that Mushtaque was welcome to the US.
New Age: Washington warned by ambassadors against asylum for ‘the majors’ (17 April, 2013)
United States ambassadors based in New Delhi and Dhaka advised the secretary of state Henry Kissinger in strong terms that the government should not provide asylum to the two Bangladeshi majors who had spearheaded the August 1975 coup that resulted in the assassination of Sheikh Mujib and his family.
‘These people have blood on their hands,’ warned the United States
ambassador to India, in one cable sent from New Delhi to Washington. ‘I see no reason why we should… help people whose greatest achievement has been to eliminate a good proportion of the leadership of Bangladesh.’
Majors Farouq and Rashid sought asylum in the United States in November 1975 after they had arrived in Bangkok on a plane from Dhaka along with 15 other military officers and their families as part of an arrangement with the leaders of a short-lived counter coup led by Brigadier Mosharraf.
Two weeks after the initial asylum application, with the US government still not having made a decision, the majors and their colleagues obtained refuge in Libya.
The story of the army officers’ claims for asylum is recounted in a series of telegrams, declassified in 2006, sent between US embassies and the state department in November 1975, which Wikileaks has now made accessible on its web site.
On November 4, Charles Whitehouse, the US ambassador in Bangkok, reported in a cable that a ‘Colonel Farouk’ called the embassy that evening from the airport identifying ‘himself as a Bangladeshi officer who had arrived on a special flight.’
The cable reported that Farouk told an embassy official that his ‘intention had been to return to Dacca in a day or two’ but that as a result of changed circumstances, the ‘group now had to seek asylum outside Bangladesh.’ No application for asylum was made at that time.
The next day, the New Delhi-based US ambassador William Saxbe sent a cable to Washington advising that if the majors do seek asylum, they should be ‘firmly turned down.’
‘I have been personally acquainted with most of those who were so tragically assassinated in Dacca,’ the cable states. ‘Whilst they were not always competent, most of them were dedicated people looking for help from wherever they could get it. They deserved better.’
Saxbe goes onto say that ‘Of course should we permit the Majors to enter the US the reaction here in India would be sharp. Immediately after Mujib was killed there were some in the [Indian government] who thought we have something to do with the coup. Since then more reasonable council has prevailed and our bona fides are better accepted. This situation could turn around overnight, however, and the best way to bring it about would be to welcome the Majors.’
With the collapse of Mosharraf’s counter coup on November 7, the embassies in Dhaka and Bangkok conjecture whether the army officers might now return to Bangladesh but on the following day the Bangkok embassy reported that it was now in receipt of applications from the ‘Bangladesh group for visas for trip to United States.’
A couple of days later, Ambassador Davis Boster, the US ambassador in Bangladesh, then sent a cable informing Washington that the German ambassador had informed him that he was going to recommend to his government in Bonn that the expected applications from the Bangladesh officers for asylum in Germany should be denied as ‘they would generate political problems.’
With continuing uncertainty about a possible return of the army officers to Bangladesh, Kissinger then sent a cable on November 14, to both the Thai and Bangladesh embassies stating that the ‘request for asylum’ to the United States by the Bangladesh officers ‘is still under consideration. We will advise when matter resolved.’
Three days later, on November 17, Boster explained in a cable that the Bangladesh president’s principal secretary Mahbub Alam Chashi and the new foreign secretary Tabarak Hussain had told him that there was a new ‘crisis’ as the Thai authorities now insisted on the group of men leaving Thailand by the end of the following day.
The officials told the ambassador, as recorded in the cable, that they ‘had always hoped that the [US government] could be counted on to assist if all other possibilities failed and, in view of the situation in Bangkok, they were now obliged to call for our assistance.’
The ambassador then reported that Chashi asked whether the US ‘could allow the group to come to the United States, at least on a visit until more permanent arrangements could be worked out elsewhere’ or in the alternative persuade the Thai authorities to extend its permission for the group to stay in Bangkok.
The presidential adviser explained that any return of the majors to Bangladesh ‘would create problems within their military’ and that the ‘British had referred to adverse publicity as a reason for not wishing to help.’
In a comment at the end of the cable, Boster stated, ‘I do not recommend that we accept the military group either temporarily or the asylum purposes as at this time there are other countries which should be able to help Bangladesh without incurring as strong disadvantages from such action as we would, both presumably in our relations with India and in domestic terms here.’
The very next morning on November 18, the US ambassador in New Delhi confirmed his previously stated position against the US government giving asylum. ‘We strongly concur in Ambassador Boster’s recommendation,’ the cable stated.
The same day, the US ambassador in Dhaka heard from the Bangladesh foreign minister that asylum to the US may not be necessary as there had been ‘a fortunate development late yesterday.’On November 21, the group of military officers flew off to Libya.
New Age: Cables show US provided help in removal of ‘Majors’ to Bangkok (17 April, 2013)
The US embassy in Dhaka provided some assistance to the Bangladesh government in its removal from the country of the men who were directly involved in the assassination of Sheikh Mujib.
On November 3, 1975, nearly three months after Mujib’s murder had
resulted in the establishment of a government under the presidency of Mushtaque Ahmed, 17 military officers — including Majors Farouq, Rasheed, and Dalim — were put on a plane, along with their families, to Bangkok.
Their removal was linked to the short-lived counter coup that had started earlier
in the day led by Brigadier Mosharraf against Mushtaque’s government.
According to a cable sent on November 4 by the US ambassador in Bangkok, Major Farouq phoned a US embassy official and told him that a total of 17 ‘military officers plus families had arrived by special flight from Dacca same morning. Flight had been arranged by Bangladesh Chief of Protocol on initiative of President Mushtaque.’
Four days later on November 8, the US ambassador in Bangladesh wrote a cable to the US state department in Washington stated, ‘Possibility exists, especially if we should have influx of foreign correspondents in next few days, that we will receive press inquiries about rumours that we assisted in the departure of the Majors from Dacca to Bangkok.’
It went onto suggest that if such a question is put to them the embassy should reply, ‘In response to an urgent request for the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry the embassy relayed messages from the Bangladesh government to the Bangladesh embassies in Rangoon and Bangkok and to the Burmese authorities
regarding the flight plan for a specials flight departing Dacca on November 3. Such use of the embassy’s communication facilities is a courtesy often extended to friendly governments, and the United States government was not involved beyond the transmission of Bangladesh government’s flight messages.’
Later that day, Kissinger sent a cable in response where he instructed the embassy to make much more limited admissions of the US role, one in which they would imply they had no knowledge of who was on the plane.
‘If you are asked about our involvement in the departure of the majors by the press you should take the following line,’ the cable states.
‘We were not involved in the recent internal developments in Bangladesh or in arranging the departure of certain military personnel from that country. In response to a request from the Bangladesh government, which had encountered difficulty in communicating with its embassies in Rangoon and Bangkok, we relayed messages regarding the flight plan for a specific flight departing Dacca November 3. It is not unusual for us to relay messages for other governments when they lack adequate communications links with their overseas missions.’
With a asylum application to the United States still pending, on November 21, the 17 officers and their families flew to Libya who had agreed to give them asylum.

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