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Kashmir and the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War

In the summer of 1965, India and Pakistan returned to the battlefields of Kashmir in a renewed attempt to establish their respective claims over the disputed, fertile region. On August 5th, more than 25,000 Pakistani soldiers, disguised as Kashmiris, infiltrated the area, mingling with their Muslim coreligionists and encouraging insurgency. Indian forces responded violently, launching Kashmir into a bloody, but ultimately indecisive, summer of invasions, tanks and aerial bombardment. The United States and Soviet Union eventually facilitated a ceasefire which restored pre-war boundaries, and the conflict ended on September 22. To this day, Kashmir remains a disputed territory, and its populace continues to pursue a uniquely Kashmiri identity, independent from Indian or Pakistani influences. Read more

Eileen Malloy: Revered Ambassador and Skinny Dipper

Diplomats are often called upon to make sacrifices for their country, such as serving at dangerous posts, working long hours and on weekends, and enduring mind-numbingly dull receptions. Eileen Malloy, who served as Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic from 1994-97, can add one more item to that list. She was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning November 2008. Read more

The Fog of War – Investigating a U.S. Airstrike on an Afghan Wedding Party

On July 1, 2002, a U.S. airstrike in the town of Deh Rawood, Afghanistan killed dozens of civilians at a wedding party. Conflicting accounts from American officials, the Afghan government, and local civilians led to tensions between the two countries. Shortly after the incident, a joint team of Americans and Afghans conducted an investigation of the site of the bombing. The U.S. military investigation reported 34 dead and 50 wounded.

Military officials had been investigating suspected Taliban strongholds in the area and placed blame on members of the wedding party who fired on U.S. aircraft. The Afghan government gave a conflicting assessment of 48 dead and 117 injured. Afghan officials also claimed that gunfire included only celebratory rifle shots. The U.S. military report ultimately concluded, “While the coalition regrets the loss of innocent lives, the responsibility for that loss rests with those that knowingly directed hostile fire at coalition forces.” The Afghan minister who led the joint investigation, Mohammed Arif Noorzai, later claimed that the Americans had admitted responsibility privately and promised monetary aid to the victims.

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April Fool’s Day in the Foreign Service

The State Department is not exactly known for its jocularity but once in a while, it can have its fair share of pranks. When April Fool’s Day rolls around, local officials may pull pranks on Foreign Service Officers, who in turn have occasionally  played jokes on their fellow officers and superiors (which does not always go over so well). The Foreign Service’s “post preference sheets,” indicating where FSOs would like to be posted in their next assignment, also used to be due on April 1st and came to be referred to as the April Fools Sheet (prompting some wry remarks by FSOs on it representing the likelihood of getting your preferences). Read more

Guns and Ganja: Marijuana Usage in the Foreign Service

Like many countries, the U.S. has recently grappled with the issue of how to deal with marijuana usage:  Should it be legalized or merely decriminalized? What about the use of medical marijuana? What are the human costs if possession is a felony? And what are the costs if it’s readily available? The following excerpts provide some touching, thought-provoking, and funny perspectives on the issue. Read more

“Our government has evidenced moral bankruptcy”: The Blood Telegram and the 1971 Bengali Genocide

Pakistan after independence was a strange creation:  the capital, Islamabad, and most of the power were located in the west while the rest of the country was located far out east, separated by another – and often hostile – country.  The Bengalis were poorly treated and scorned by the Pakistanis; in March 1971, the nationalist Awami League won election but the results were ignored by the ruling West Pakistani establishment.  Days later, the Pakistani military launched an offensive against Bengalis, which later led to widespread atrocities. The war lasted over nine months, forced 10 million to flee the country and caused the displacement of another 30 million people. India entered the war in December, which quickly led to Pakistan’s capitulation and the creation of Bangladesh.

The U.S. Consulate in Dacca (now U.S Embassy Dhaka, Bangladesh) had been sending cables to Washington, detailing the horrors committed by Pakistani forces. Fed up with the lack of response from President Richard Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, Consul General Archer Blood and 29 of his colleagues on April 6, 1971 sent a dissent telegram to Washington describing the killings of Hindus in East Pakistan as “genocide.”

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Establishing Ties with Pakistan — 1947

It was the end of one era and the beginning of another. In August 1947 the British Empire, which had ruled the Indian subcontinent as part of the Raj since the mid-19th century, granted independence to the India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The Muslim League, which arose in the 1930s in order to assure Muslim representation and interests in politics, had fought for Partition for several years and now faced the task of creating a new country. On October 20, 1947, the United States established diplomatic relations with Pakistan, a strategically important partner during the Cold War and a bulwark against the spread of Communism. David Newsom, who was posted in Pakistan as an Information Officer from 1947 until 1950, relates his experiences regarding life in Pakistan, establishing diplomatic ties from scratch, and his trip to the “Movieland” with the wife of the Prime Minister. Read more

Burma’s 8888 Demonstrations and the Rise of Aung San Suu Kyi

Political activist. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Political prisoner and inspiration to millions of people around the world. Aung San Suu Kyi won 59% of the national votes in the 1990 general election and 81% of the seats in Parliament. But she was seen as a threat to the ruling military junta and was placed under house arrest from July 20, 1989 until her release on November 13, 2010. Marshall Adair was the Political/Economic Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon (now Yangon) and witnessed the military crackdown and massacre under General Saw Maung as well as the mass demonstrations for democracy beginning August 8, 1988, which led to the rise to prominence of Burma’s Iron Lady. Read more

“We Didn’t Start the Fire”: Billy Joel Sums up World History with a Single Song

“We Didn’t Start the Fire” was a huge commercial success when it was released in 1989. It was Billy Joel’s third Billboard No. 1 hit and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Record of the Year. It’s also a great summary of history for the second half of the 20th Century. Its lyrics include brief, rapid-fire allusions to more than 100 headline events between January 1949 (Billy Joel was born on May 9 of that year) and 1989, when the song was released on his album Storm Front.

Billy Joel, a self-described “history nut” who wanted to be a history teacher when he was younger, got the idea for the song as he was talking with someone on the verge of turning 21, who averred that the world was an unfixable mess. Joel replied to him, “I thought the same things when I was 21”. The person replied, “Yeah, but you grew up in the 50’s and everybody knows that nothing happened in the 50’s”. Joel retorted, “Wait a minute, didn’t you hear of Korea, the Hungarian freedom fighters or the Suez Crisis?” Read more

“Two Men, One Grave” — The Execution of Pakistan’s Ali Bhutto

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, founder of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), served as president of Pakistan in the 1970s.  By 1977, opposition against Bhutto and the PPP had grown due to incidents of repression, corruption, and alleged election fraud. Violence escalated across Pakistan, and Bhutto was overthrown by his army chief, General Zia-ul-Haq. Bhutto was put on trial for authorizing the murder of a political opponent, and executed on April 4, 1979. However, his party remains Pakistan’s largest national political party, and his daughter, Benazir Bhutto, served as Prime Minister before her assassination in a 2007 bombing. Benazir’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, served as President from 2008-13. Read more