Saturday, September 14, 2013

US diplomatic cables 1: Mujib assassination

In April this year, US diplomatic cables between 1973 to 1976 which had already been declassified, were put into an easily accessible and searchable database, that made it very easy to access them. For Bangladesh, these were very interesting years which included of course the assassination of Sheikh Mujib - and the cables contain some very revealing issue. Here are my articles relating to the assassination of Mujib.

New Age: Attempt was made on Mujib even before Aug 15 (9 April, 2013)
An attempt was made to kill Sheikh Mujibur Rahman three months before he was assassinated on 15 August 1975, according to a confidential cable written by the US ambassador who was present in Dhaka at the time, which was released on Monday by Wikileaks.
The cable, dated 23 May 1975 and now unclassified, was written by US ambassader Davis Eugene Boster to the US secretary of state Henry Kissinger.
It states that the embassy had received ‘two reports that President Mujibur Rhaman was target of assassination attempt on evening of May 21’ when he was on his way home after visiting a new TV station on the outskirts of Dhaka.
The cable said that the primary source of the information about the assassination attempt was the ‘Embassy’s Bangalee political assistant who says he was told by Deputy Superintendent of Police assigned to President’s security unit.’ Another source was a journalist who had also informed the embassy’s information officer that the press was ‘given strict instruction by press information department to suppress story’.
Both sources confirmed that a grenade was used. According to the journalist who spoke to the embassy, two people received injuries but Mujib escaped unhurt.
This cable is one of 1.7 million US state department cables released on Monday by Wikileaks covering the years 1973 to 1976, many of which have already been declassified.
4511 cables were sent from the Bangladesh embassy alone.
In another cable, originally classified as ‘confidential’ and written the day after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated, the US ambassador wrote that while the Bangladesh public ‘had displayed no particular jubilation at the fall of Mujib’ it had faced his death with ‘a calm acceptance, and perhaps some sense of relief.’
The 16th August cable goes on to say that the relative ease with which power was transferred to the new government ‘suggests above all the degree to which Mujib and the Bengalees had become alienated from one another; because of his failure to meet their aspirations and his apparent desire to hold power largely for personal aggrandizement and dynastic reasons, and Mujib from the Bangalees as he grew more isolated from objective counsels and began to suffer the classic paranoia of the despot.’
Boster adds, ‘The quickening tempo of Sheikh Mujib’s efforts since early June to insure his stranglehold on power, together with the growing influence of his nephew Sheikh Moni, doubtless made the coup plotters conclude that no further delays in taking action was possible.’
He also says in the 16 August cable that while it may have been totally coincidental that India’s independence day was chosen for the assassination, ‘we note the coincidence’.
The cable gave the embassy’s first impression of Khondaker Musthaque Ahmed’s new government stating that it was unlikely ‘to arouse any sense of enthusiasm’ as it comprised ‘a collection of overly familiar figures who are identified with the poor administration of post-liberation Bangladesh.’
The ambassador pointed out that the new government composition was ‘clearly’ intended to suggest that it would combine ‘continuity’ along with ‘greater moderation,’ and that there was some evidence that it ‘will want to strengthen its ties with the Muslim world including Pakistan.’
It also pointed out that despite the new president’s ‘well known antipathy to India’, the new regime did not want to arouse ‘undue suspicions on the part of India.’
On the question of the US government’s own relations with the new government, Boster wrote that these ‘could turn out to be on an even more cordial basis that they were under Mujib.’
‘The new president has in the past been strikingly overt in suggesting his “pro-American” attitude; moreover the figures in the old regime who were known for their leftist and anti-American views (Sheikh Moni and Samad for example) are now gone,’ Boster stated.
He said that as the Bangladesh government might seek more aid from the US, ‘our problem may well prove to be one of tempering the new regime’s expectations of us.’
On the question of the relationship between the civilian government and the army – by which Boster said he was referring to ‘younger officers who planned and led’ the coup – the cable, written just a day after Mujib’s assassination, said that right now the embassy was ‘left with the impression that the coup planners prepared for little beyond the event itself.’
He said, ‘The civilians probably have a momentary advantage in light of their experience’ but that ‘we suspect that having tasted blood [the younger officers] will want at the very least to exercise some measure of influence over the course of events.’
The cable concludes by saying that ‘[If] the civilian government falters we may find the military concluding that [it] must again save the nation.’
US ambassador Boster met Sheikh Mujib on 5 August, ten days before he was assassinated. In the cable describing the visit, the ambassador states, ‘The president’s mood was good and, while he has always been friendly in his conversation with us, he was even warmer than usual yesterday.’
New Age: Kissinger sought Indian press censorship over Mujib murder claims (10 April 2013)
United States diplomats pressured the Indian government to use its emergency censorship powers to stop the publication of newspaper articles which alleged the US government was complicit in the assassination of Bangladesh president
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in August 1975, state department cables written in the months after the coup show.
In one cable, marked ‘confidential’ the US secretary of state Henry Kissinger instructed his ambassador in Delhi to inform the Indian government that, ‘we would anticipate that action would be taken to correct the situation.’
In June 1975, Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi had declared a state of emergency and placed a government censor in the offices of all city newspapers and news agencies to prevent the publication of any articles that could embarrass the government.
These US state department cables are among the 1.7 million that were released by Wikileaks on Monday relating to the years 1973- 1976. Although at the time the cables were marked confidential, they have now been declassified.
A cable written on 19 August 1975, four days after Mujib’s assassination, by William Saxbe, the US ambassador in New Delhi, reported that the embassy’s acting deputy chief of mission had spoken to a joint secretary in the ministry of external affairs earlier that day criticising an article in the Calcutta daily Ananda Bazar Patrika.
Saxbe wrote that his colleague had told the joint secretary, ‘that we would take the strongest exception to continued allegations in the Indian press of the [United States government’s] involvement in the Bangladesh coup. This was a slanderous and totally false accusation which clearly contravened the [Indian government’s] own censorship guidelines and was calculated by the person making the charges to damage Indo-US relations.’
The cable said, ‘It would be difficult … for us to understand why the [Indian government] was not prepared to take measures to enforce its own regulations and halt publication of such accusations. Foreign correspondents in India were being cautioned by the [Indian government] on what they wrote about Bangladesh, and Embassy assumed [it] proposed to do at least the same for its own pressmen.’
Two days later, on 21 August, Saxbe again sent a cable to the state department criticising the publication of another article alleging CIA’s involvement in Mujib’s death, this time in the Indian magazine Blitz.
‘Senator Eagleton plans to raise the article with Mrs Gandhi when he calls on her this evening,’ he wrote.
The ambassador then criticised the Indian government’s ‘incredible schizophrenia which enables it to roll out the red carpet for Senator Eagleton … while allowing absolutely scurrilous and potentially dangerous propaganda of the type characterized in Blitz [to be published].’
Three months later, Calcutta daily Jugantar published an article which a Bangladesh embassy cable written on 18 November described as endeavoring ‘to assign to Ambassador [Boster] a measure of responsibility for the fall of Sheikh Mujib on August 15.’
‘We find the attack of this character in a paper which is controlled by the party which forms the government of a professedly friendly country hard to swallow,’ the cable stated.
In a response written two days later the secretary of state himself sent a cable to the New Delhi embassy.
Henry Kissinger wrote in the 20 November cable that deputy assistant secretary Dubbs had informed the Indian deputy chief of mission in Washington that the ‘malicious charges against Ambassador Boster are irresponsible and totally without foundation’ and that he should inform New Delhi that ‘we would anticipate action would be taken to correct the situation.’
Kissinger ended the cable instructing the ambassador in New Delhi that, ‘You should take similar action.’
The concern shown by the US embassy about the Jugantar article came two weeks after the ambassador had written to the state department that the United States was ‘the subject of much ugly talk’ in the city.
In a cable written on 6 November Davis Eugene Boster said, ‘The view that the United [States] had actively participated in the August 15 coup popped up in the days immediately following the event but had a relatively brief half-life, at least insofar as we could judge. However, given (I) Mushtaque [Ahmed]’s reputation as pro-west and anti-Indian and anti-Soviet, and (II) the overwhelming proclivity of the Bangalee to see a hidden (and external) hand in every major event, a residue remained of this brief that the United States had, in some way or another, played a role in Mujib’s outster.’
He then described how the Bulgarian ambassador Nicolay Boyadjiev ‘well-known for taking his inspiration from Soviet Ambassador Fomin’ had told a diplomat, ‘Who but the America had anything to gain from the death of Mujib?’ and had alleged that ‘Ambassador Boster had been in Chile during Chilean events.’
In a subsequent cable, Boster is quoted as telling his staff that ‘he had once spent three days in Chile in 1963. But he was never posted there.’
Soon after the death of Boster in 2006, journalist Lawrence Lifschultz revealed that the ambassador himself was the source for his book, ‘The Unfinished Revolution’ that alleged that those who committed the assassination of Mujib had been in contact with elements within the US embassy.

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