Book Review: The Blood Telegram - India's Secret War in East Pakistan

This is a book on the events that led to the 1971 war, and US handling of the entire affair. It is a detailed look at the 1971 war for Bangladesh, at the US support to Pakistan during the crisis, its handling of India and USSR, and the internal white house politics and diplomatic politics in Dhaka, Islamabad, New Delhi and Washington DC. It is a stunningly vivid and blunt write-up with a deep research behind it. It is more in the category of a historical investigation, with a detailed investigation to back it up, supported with a copious bibliography to make it a power-packed book. It exposes the Cold War Illogic, and reveals how a cold war fixation almost got the world to a confrontation

It recounts the events that went into the 1971 war in India, Pakistan and the USA in breathtaking detail. You are taken deep into the political intrigues played out in India and USA, and get a ringside seat as the decisions are taken that propel an entire people towards disaster. The book has been exceedingly well researched, is generally true to facts (at least as far as I am aware of them) and is blunt and explosive. The book focuses on Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, and their unflinching support for Pakistan, and exposes the extent to which they went to cover up for Pakistan and support it. It looks at the resistance they have to meet from within their own diplomatic corps, highlighted through the telegrams of Archer Blood, the consul in Dhaka, who consistently piled up evidence of Genocide – which is summarily ignored, and the consul punished for it. The US predeliction with USSR, which blinded itself to everything else, finds a detailed analysis in the context of this 1971 war, and leaves with us the image of a morally disjointed and skewed nation with its priorities all wrong, and hypocratic to the core. 

It also takes a detailed look at the refugee problem, with detailed facts and figures, and the steps taken by India to deal with it. It looks at the sequence of events that propelled India towards a war, and gives a detailed analysis centered around Indira Gandhi and the key people from the Indian side. You get a ringside seat amid political confrontationsthat  are skillfully recreated using authorized records and interviews, including the key Indira Gandhi- Nixon summit, at which Madame Gandhi tore into Nixon both at the welcome dinner at the White House, as well as in his own oval office. As with any other book, there are both positives and negatives. But, before I go to the many plus points about the book, let me spell out the negatives. The reason for giving the negatives first is that I rate this book as the most unbiased book on India by a westerner. 

Why is anyone from the West totally unable to write a clean book on Indian matters, one that does not raise hackles, and is balanced? This book, like others I have read, also manages to raise my hackles due to its treatment of Indian Affairs. While it is easily one of the most unbiased works on India to come out of the West, it still leaves a lot to be desired for. The author has made a genuine effort to be unbiased and truthful in his approach; and is reasonably comprehensive in coverage of the subject matter. Having said that, there are clear instances where he could have done much better, and presented a more balanced view. 

The repeated comparisons of Bangladesh to Kashmir and Mizoram and Nagaland are offensive, to say the least, as is the contention of Indian hypocrisy in handling Bangladesh when looked at in the light of the flashpoints above. First of all, in Kashmir we were the ones to offer article 372- wherein Kashmiris got near autonomy, within Indian nationality right at the outset. There was, and is, no suppression in Kashmir; far from it – as current events have proven, with the blatant challenges issued by Omar Abdullah, as well as repeated elections. And Mizo and Naga problems are localized issues. How can anyone compare these with the Bangladeshi Genocide? And how can anyone state that we are wrong? 

Next, the comparison of terrorism to Mukti Bahini support from Indian side is untenable and offensive. Further, the unsaid contention that India taught Pakistan Guerilla tactics is downright false – as Operation Gibraltar 1965, consistent support to Mizo terrorists through training camps, which was a significant factor in the war,  and the attacks in 1948 by Pakistan backed irregulars prove beyond any doubt. It was Pakistan that taught us Guerilla Tactics; not vice versa! Also, the contention that 1971 was the only War we won is also unacceptable: 1965 was also a clear victory for India, as was 1948. The coverage of the war also leaves a lot to be desired for in terms of balance. There are many, many other such glaring inconsistencies in the book that will raise Indian hackles. 

On the positives, the book is a powerfully put together investigation, and is focused primarily on the US handling of the entire matter, and the totally amoral and brinkmanship game played by USA. It targets the president of the day: Nixon, and the celebrated Kissinger – both of whom are literally ripped apart ruthlessly. You get a ringside seat as the two gentlemen above systematically set about undermining India and Indian efforts, supporting Yahya Khan – even illegally – and ignoring the relentless build-up of evidence of Genocide. The motives of the the two are systematically dissected and exposed, very skillfully, leaving no loopholes that I could detect. A very thorough investigation indeed – one that I had not expected from an American. 

The depth of the investigation is awesome, as historical archival documents, tape recordings, meeting minutes etc are examined; intelligence agents and diplomats from the day interviewed, news reports etc collated and examined. The effort shows through, as well as the laudable attempt at being unbiased – at which, quite frankly, despite the glaring problems above, the author has succeeded. I say this not because American hypocrisy and amorality has been ripped apart , which it has – but because of the strength of the investigation, and blunt statement of facts, and the entire presentation as coming from authorized documented sources. 

The biggest positive from an Indian viewpoint is that it helps us understand just how deep the chasm between our two nations is in reality. The major defense of the USA for Pakistan is an eerie reminder to the current tone it takes: that only Pakistan that sort this matter out. This is despite the clear knowledge of the fact of the crimes it has itself committed. Cut to today, and you can spot a perfect parallel: Terrorism, a scourge almost single handedly created by Pakistan. And yet again, the USA is siding with Pakistan with the logic that its support is needed. And India? Let alone anti-terror help, it does not even get intelligence information from the USA on terror matters! Nothing has changed even today -  and we still dream of a strategic partnership! It can be seen that the US tactic towards Pakistan and India is still the same; nothing has changed, Don’t expect it to change- regardless of how many Indian-Amercans make it to their government.

Despite clear evidence of genocide & the presence of nearly 9 Million refugees (80% plus Hindus) as well as the knowledge that India does not have the resources to feed them, no one on Earth came forward to help. In the face of 1 Billion Dollars, we got something like 100 Million. And, everyone – 104 nations – opposed the war without suggesting any alternative to India, or to the refugees. Critically, not one single nation said anything to Pakistan excepting Russia. The learning is that humanity has no place in front of politics and international intrigue. These sequence of events leave a deep and bitter memory in your mind, as you realize that it is acceptable for people to accept genocide, so long as their own self-interests are protected.  Yet again, judging from the World response to threats to India, we can see that this mindset has not changed. This was also proved by the events in Iraq… disgusting, if you ask me. 

And most critically, in the concluding part, you find an apology to the Bangladeshis, defence of Pakistanis and their problems, castigation of US evils – and no mention of any apology to India, to what it suffered. That speaks volumes – sure, Bangladeshis deserve an apology; they went through hell. But, instead of paying back-handed compliments to India, cannot an apology be thought of for India, and that fact it faced the ire, and the cost of the war? It is fine to refer to building Pakistan from the rubble and offering defense for its tactic of guerilla warfare as taking a page from India’s own strategy; but when you are doing so, don’t you think a more wholesome analysis  -  that mentions  how Pakistan pioneered this tactic in 1948 and 1965 – be made? And why make oblique hints at Indian plans in West Pakistan during the war, when there is no shred of evidence? 

In conclusion, all in all, this is a book wherein India gets a short shrift; but it is an eminently recommended book nonetheless ,as   it is by far the best by a non-Indian on an Indian topic. 


  1. Good one vishalji.. :) good analysis and review . it intigues me to read your recommendations.


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