Twitter can produce some amazing results, late in 2014 Dave Riley began live tweeting a treasure trove of documents and infographics related to his PHD thesis, East Pakistan’s Road to Independence. Today @SouthAsia71 has amassed nearly 2,000 followers and in spring Riley will be giving talks at Cambridge University to the British Association of South Asian Studies and at Oxford Brooks to The International History and Grand Strategy Centre.
Riley has been interested in politics ever since he can remember, after a Degree and a Masters in Political Studies and International Politics at The University of Leeds he embarked on a PHD entitled “UK-US relations and the South Asian crisis of 1971 “ at Cardiff University. Riley knew he wanted to study UK-US special relations but he needed a focus, he observed that this period was humming with geopolitical undercurrents and that were relatively ignored in literature.
Surprisingly he has never visited Bangladesh, India or Pakistan but the research has taken him to the National Archives in London, Washington and the Presidential Library in California; he collected over 100,000 images of documents that he studied later back in UK. Early on in his studies he noticed a Channel4 programme about Dday during which several different characters tweeted their wartime experiences as if in real time, 6 June 1944. This spurred Riley into a similar and experimental position tweeting his research and related documents of exactly what happened on the day of it happening, so the chronological order of the 1971 South Asian war was tweeted in real time but with a 44 year time lapse, he started on 7th Dec 1970/ 2014, the night before Pakistan’s 1970 general election, and ended with the Indian Victory in East Pakistan on 17th December 1971/ 2015.
Riley’s Twitter timeline is impressive with news-cuttings, telegrams, fascinating communications and letters, quotes from Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Yahya Khan, Ted Heath, Indira Gandhi, Leonid Brezhnev and others, compelling vintage photographs add substance to all the posts. Riley focused on an international perspective and the divergence of opinion regarding East Pakistan. The Twitter feed concentrated on the South Asia context as his followers are 44% Indian, 15% Pakistani and only 10% American, the engagement demographics are 52% Indian; his followers number ex-Ambassadors, distinguished authors and journalists. Riley’s PHD tracks the early part of the crisis that observed non-interference, the international “norm” of that time, humanitarian intervention was not yet flavour du jour. The two Western powers did not want to compromise the territorial integrity of a United Pakistan and since 1947 their goal had been stability in South Asia. Stability was regarded as the best antidote to communism that might spread from China and the Soviet Union.
In late 1969 and 1970’s Nixon and Kissinger had a separate secret agenda that was kept from Congress and the State Department, they were using Yahya to facilitate their own ambitious policy of an opening into China, in 1971 the US- China and the Soviet Union were a triangle of enmity. Nixon was planning to steal a march on Brezhnev and open a Sino-US engagement looking to gain leverage over the Soviet Union by getting closer to China. The Americans had considered using Nicolae Ceaușescu or a Norwegian Link but focused on Khan as there was a lack of association with the Soviet Union. The Nixon- Kissinger duo were clandestinely using Yahya to pass messages to the Chinese while the British were trying to repair relations with India, following Harold Wilson geopolitical faux pas accusing India of the aggression that caused the Indo-Pakistani war of 1965. However a divergence of position eventually developed between The White House and the UK- US bureaucracies. State and the Foreign Office favoured India, largely because of its size as well as the current and potential commercial investment and indications became clear that India would soon become the dominant force on the subcontinent.
In an article for E-INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS Riley explains both UK and US missions in Dacca had evident sympathy for the Bengali cause, officials believed in the best intentions of Pakistan’s President, Yahya Khan, but for all his professed desire for a peaceful outcome, Yahya was willing to go to any lengths to ensure that East Pakistan did not secede. Nevertheless there were reports from negotiations that suggested a settlement may have been near but hopes for a peaceful solution were premature. Subsequent research suggested that the March negotiations were a ploy to allow time for West Pakistan’s military preparations. The night of March 25th/26th, their army enacted a brutal crackdown on the Bengali nationalist Awami League movement in Dacca, members, intellectuals and the Hindu minority were particular targets for the systematic murder of civilians. UK and US missions in Dacca reported the atrocities, the US Consul General in Dacca, Archer Blood, described it as “Selective Genocide” to the US State Department on 28th March and the British Deputy High Commissioner, Frank Sargeant, reported the “reign of terror” perpetuated by Yahya’s forces.
Nixon is well documented by Kissinger as “anti-Indian”, India did not fawn over him and by contrast he was celebrated in West Pakistan; he sacrificed better relations with India to have leverage over the Soviet Union.
Nixon’s ruse became apparent as Kissinger visited China and met with Zhou Enlai in July 1971 which led to Nixon’s ”historic” visit in 1972. Nixon is well documented by Kissinger as “anti-Indian”, India did not fawn over him and by contrast he was celebrated in West Pakistan; he sacrificed better relations with India to have leverage over the Soviet Union. In response to the emerging US-Pakistan-China axis in South Asia the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty which had been brewing since the mid 60’s was accelerated. Indira Gandhi claimed she signed the Treaty because of the threat from China and Pakistan. British officials took a softer line in seeing it as an Indian hedge in exchange for Soviet influence in New Delhi. Different UK and US approaches continued as the crisis came to a head in December; @SouthAsia71 clearly charted the disconnect in British and American opinion. The US looked to a resolution calling for a mutual pullback, while the British were more sensitive to Indian protestations against being labelled as the aggressor. Action on the UN Security Council proved to be a moot point, as the Soviet Union used its veto over any resolution unacceptable to India. Nixon interpreted the Treaty as a de-facto alliance between India and the Soviet Union and later, to ward off an Indian attack on West Pakistan, Nixon authorised the movement of a nuclear armed naval task force to the Bay of Bengal.
Later in January Riley will replay and add a greater concentration of tweets during a four week period by popular request from his followers. He says has learnt a lot about content and social communication over the past year and followers can look forward to even better quality tweets now that he has time to plan the content, post PHD Riley hopes to publish a book based on his research.
Twenty-nine year old Riley has other interests, he plays Badminton, enjoys Radiohead concerts and is a Tottenham football fan but he has become a notable historian and filled a gap, gathering so much of the valuable information that documents the Liberation of Bangladesh.