Tuesday, July 03, 2007

India-Pakistan war of 1971: Declassified American Documents

It was in the month of December 1971 that the American aircraft carrier USS Enterprise entered the Bay of Bengal to deter India from their operations in what was then East Pakistan and now Bangaldesh. About 36 years later, another aircraft carrier of the United States Navy, the USS Nimitz, will anchor off an Indian port for the first time when it docks 17 Kms off the coast of Chennai Port in a day or so. In 1971, it was a show of force on part of the carrier, this time around it is a “friendship visit,” to “foster military-military relations” and “to develop the partnership with the [Indian] Navy.”

The pattern of International Relations has turned on its head in South Asia since the end of the cold war. In 1971, it was a Pakistan trying to save its territorial integrity, the Americans falling on the side of the Pakistanis owing to the Pakistani help in opening relations with the People's Republic of China. On the other side, India under Indira Gandhi, 10 million East Pakistan refugees and a never before opportunity to divide the recalcitrant Pakistani state. China since 1962 had moved towards Pakistan, even threatening India on its Northern frontier during the 1965 India-Pakistan war, raising the prospect of the two front war for India. Owing to the shared Chinese menace, India and Soviet Union inked a defense pact, to keep the Chinese off the Indian back while India dealt with Pakistan. It was a triumph of Indian diplomacy and planning which enabled a quick winter operation. While the weather was good in the Eastern Indian plains and the Chinese blocked by the Himalayan snows, the Indian army moved to finish the job effectively and clinically with a lot of help from the Mukti Bahini (Bangladeshi independence forces trained by Indians). It was the first military victory for the Indian state, a way to get back lost pride and reduce the bitterness of the 1962 defeat at the hands of the Chinese. The USS Enterprise moved into the Bay of Bengal when Pakistani defeat appeared certain, in response the Soviet Navy dispatched two groups of ships, armed with nuclear missiles, from Vladivostok which trailed U.S. Task Force 74 in the Indian Ocean from 18 December until 7 January 1972.

The article pasted below is about a book that draws from recently declassified US official sources.

U.S. pleaded with China to ‘menace’ India in The Hindu, July 02, 2007.

Pakistan Gen Niazi surrendering to Gen Arora of the Indian Army in Dhaka

New Delhi: Recently declassified United States official records throw light on the anger and frustration that seized President Richard Nixon during the 1971 India-Pakistan war and how Washington secretly pleaded with China to “menace” India by moving troops to the border.

Poring over thousands of pages of national security files and telephone transcripts of the then U.S. National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and 2,800 hours of Nixon tapes, well-known American author and historian Robert Dallek recalls the events in the White House during December 1971 in a just-published book Nixon and Kissinger-Partners in Power.

Nixon’s infamous tilt towards Pakistan is well known but the author reveals many other facets of how Nixon and Mr. Kissinger were upset with India and how they tried to rope in China in a bid to prevent the formation of Bangladesh.

Nixon describes Indians as “a slippery, treacherous people” while his National Security Adviser calls them “insufferably arrogant.”

The story began in the fall of 1971, when differences in the administration and the country over White House’s China policy posed a threat to a major transformation in Sino-American relations.

A larger danger to rapprochement with Peking and detente with Moscow came from rising tensions in South Asia. Long-standing tensions between the Punjabis, who dominated the Central Government in West Pakistan, and the Bengalis in the East had erupted into a full-scale crisis.

The President and Mr. Kissinger were less interested in what the Indians or Pakistanis did to each other than in ensuring that nothing sidetracked Mr. Kissinger’s trip to China and the revolution in Sino-American relations. “Our objective should be to buoy up Yahya [Pakistan President Yahya Khan] for at least another month while Pakistan served as the gateway to China,” Mr. Kissinger told Nixon in the beginning of June. “Even apart from the Chinese thing,” the President replied, “I wouldn’t ....help the Indians, the Indians are no goddamn good.”

In July, on his way to Peking, Mr. Kissinger discussed the crisis with Pakistani and Indian officials in Islamabad and New Delhi. Before he left, Joe Sisco (a diplomat) urged him to take a tough line with Indira Gandhi.

Sisco said, “You people in the White House don’t understand how serious” the situation is. “We know,” Mr. Kissinger countered. “At the end of the monsoons, India will attack.”

Mr. Kissinger’s meetings with the Pakistanis were cordial, but, predictably, the Indians complained that the U.S. support of Pakistan was encouraging a “policy of adventurism,” which China was also promoting.

Indira Gandhi saw little chance of a political settlement: She did not want to use force and was open to suggestions, she told Mr. Kissinger, who warned India that a war would be a disaster for both the countries and the sub-continent would become an area of conflict among outside powers. He also said, “We would take the gravest view of any unprovoked Chinese aggression against India.”

Mr. Kissinger recalls returning from his trip with “a premonition of disaster.” He expected India to attack Pakistan after the summer monsoons. He feared that China might then intervene on Pakistan’s behalf, which would move Moscow “to teach Peking a lesson.” In an NSC meeting on July 16, Nixon said the Indians would like nothing better than to use this tragedy to destroy Pakistan.Mr. Kissinger agreed. He said the Indians were “insufferably arrogant,” and eager for a conflict that would allow them to overwhelm Pakistan and take on China. “Everything we have done with China will [then] go down the drain.”

The book refers to the late Indira Gandhi’s travels to several Western capitals, including Washington, at the beginning of November. Nixon agreed to see her as a last-ditch effort to head off a conflict. Two conversations on November 4 and 5 were case studies in heads of State speaking past each other.

During a meeting in November in the Oval office, they agreed to discuss tensions in South Asia, with a second day’s meeting to focus on Sino-American relations. No easing of tensions was evident from the exercises.

As the situation escalated, Mr. Kissinger was angry at being told that the U.S. policy was “weak.” Peking had done nothing. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger discussed the potential results of Chinese action. If China menaced India, they anticipated a Soviet military response. If the U.S. then did nothing, Mr. Kissinger predicted, “we will be finished.”

Nixon asked, “So what do we do if the Soviets move against them? Start lobbing nuclear weapons in, is that what you mean?” Mr. Kissinger replied, “if the Soviets move against them...and succeed, that will be the final showdown ...we will be finished. We’ll be thorough.”

But a message from the Soviets assured Washington that India had no intention of attacking West Pakistan and that ceasefire discussions were under way. To their surprise and relief, the U.S. got a Chinese message that said nothing about moving troops to the Indian border.

Victory for India

Instead, appreciating that independence for East Pakistan was a foregone conclusion, Peking said it was prepared to endorse an American U.N. proposal for a standstill ceasefire and forego a demand for mutual troop withdrawals. The crisis now petered to a conclusion. Between December 14 and 17, Indian forces completed their conquest of East Pakistan and agreed to a ceasefire in West Pakistan with no occupation of additional Pakistani territory. Although Nixon and Mr. Kissinger put the best possible face on the outcome, the result of the war was essentially a victory for India and its ally the Soviet Union which declared the emergence of Bangladesh from the ruins of East Pakistan, a triumph for socialist and democratic principles, the book recalls. — PTI

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