Prof. Mahmudul Huque concludes his book From Autonomy to Independence: The United States, Pakistan and Emergence of Bangladesh ( Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd. India, 2014) observing : ”To sum up, from the beginning American perception , policy and role displayed a basic animus towards East Bengal's long struggle for independence. Concerned with their ideological and strategic goals in the Cold War, American policy makers often failed to appreciate the real nature of Bengali demand for self determination, and they never bothered to probe into the wishes of the people in general. Washington's policy in this regard conformed to the overall framework of US posture in the Third World which showed a marked tendency to suspect democratic and nationalist movements as potentially detrimental to American interests”. What can be more ironic than these 'ideological and strategic goals'? The champion of democracy suspecting a democratic movement! If we decide to call a spade a spade, what words would best describe American stance with regard to the Third World? Outrageously inhuman? Noxious self seeking? Blatant power-mongering?
In drawing his picture of American policy for the place and period under question, Dr. Huque has refrained from using any strong word as his work is basically an academic endeavor. He has recently retired as Professor of History from the University of Chittagong. But in telling his story, he shows no bias other than respecting academic rigor. In times of need, he has navigated through wider Asian political waters to score his point. To illustrate his point that in the 70s of the last century US foreign policy in Asia was characterized by America's warming up to undemocratic and dictatorial rulers and regimes in this region, he has referred to numerous instances of American political meddling into the affairs of others. However, American history shows that there was a domestic opposition to American administration's policy as well.
Dr. Huque's conclusion runs: “Due to the increasing debacle in Vietnam, the American public refused to endorse concepts of American national interest as defined by the policy making elite and clamoured for a more humane American role in world affairs. The Nixon-Kissinger policy towards the Bangladesh liberation war, which proved a total failure, reinforced this trend leading to the emergence of human rights issue as a very significant element in American policy in subsequent years”. If the author's reading is correct, then American foreign policy has changed as it has “tilted” towards more humane issues like “human rights”. But, I wonder how many readers would concur with Dr. Huque's view on positive change in American foreign policy and not regard it as somewhat naïve.
The very first sentence lays down Dr. Huque's theme in the book: “This is a study of American attitude and policy toward the Bengali quest for self-determination”. Indeed, from a Bengali perspective the American administration took a villainous position in our war of liberation. I still remember the anxiety that gripped me when I got the news of the dispatching of the 7th fleet to the Bay of Bengal in the last days of our liberation war in 1971. I found it hard to believe that a country that loved to portray itself as a protector of the free world could send its military to stop another country fighting for its freedom. Even today, US role during our liberation war seems to me to have been an unpardonable betrayal of humanity. A few of the senators, a section of the US press and the US public in general, of course, played a sympathetic and humane role and that gesture greatly redeems US policy makers' heartlessness in 1971.
My impression on the situation is that in the sphere of global politics the mighty players like the US play their own games, creating their own rules. The case of Bangladesh's genuine political struggle and the suffering of its people made little impact on their already made up minds. The cry of the suffering Bengalis could never penetrate the well fortified walls of the White House. However, thanks to the US that it did not decide to intervene with arms directly after all. Wouldn't that have brought another Vietnam at our doorsteps?
One of the appendices is Dr. Huque's English rendering of Bangabandhu's historic and almost immutable 7 March speech. What translation can truly capture its poetry, spirit and resonance? But I don't want to suggest that his translation is weak in any sense. It certainly is all right but yet something is lost here, something more than what is 'lost in translation' But there we need to remember the limits of translation. Who can really capture the boom of thunder in words? The great value of Dr. Huque's book is that it has rolled out a true and faithful account of the history of Bangladesh. Students of Bangladesh history will always appreciate its value. In the end I feel tempted to share a piece of important information with my readers. Dr. Mahmmudul Huque was a freedom fighter. I think I don't need to expand what authenticity that confers on his brilliant academic production, From Autonomy to Independence: The United States, Pakistan and Emergence of Bangladesh. The ink that composed the book flowed not only from the author's head but also from his heart. I would welcome a second book from him narrating his experiences of the battlefield where he fought.
Mahmudul Huque's From Autonomy to Independence the United States, Pakistan and Emergence of Bangladesh is published by Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd, India.