THE first warning that a serious clash had occurred came in an announcement over Radio Pakistan. India, it said, "has launched an all-out offensive against East Pakistan without a formal declaration of war." That charge proved to be false; it was not a full-fledged war —yet. On the other hand, it was certainly not a trifling skirmish, as Indian spokesmen at first euphemistically described it.
For months, border battles had broken out almost daily between troops of the two nations. The conflict that finally erupted last week along the 1,300-mile frontier was plainly big enough to raise the specter of a major conflagration on the subcontinent. The presence of Indian troops on Pakistan's soil escalated the dispute between the two nations to the point where full-scale war could erupt at any moment—a war that could also cause an uncomfortable confrontation of the major powers.
Rigid restrictions on news coverage by both governments made the exact shape of the conflict murky, but it was clear that battles had occurred at roughly half a dozen sites along the border (see map, page 31). At week's end, a combination of Indian regulars and Bengali Mukti Bahini (the East Pakistani liberation forces, which oppose West Pakistan's rule over the East) had captured portions of five areas, totaling perhaps 60 sq. mi. of real estate. All along the border, artillery exchanges and firefights kept the situation tense and dangerous through the week. Scene of the biggest battle was a slender salient of India that points sharply into East
Pakistan some 20 miles west of the Pakistani city of Jessore, an important railhead that leads to key ports on the Bay of Bengal. Early last week, according to a Pakistani general, one battalion of Indian regulars operating alongside a battalion of Mukti Bahini crossed the Indian border point of Boyra. From there, camouflaged with netting and supported by tanks and heavy artillery, they thrust northeastward along a U-shaped front into East Pakistan.
After the Indians and guerrillas had moved about six miles inland and seized the village of Chaugacha, Pakistani resistance halted the advance. In the counterattacks that followed, the first tank battle of the war broke out. In ten hours of fighting, Pakistani forces said, they destroyed eight Indian tanks and damaged ten others; they admitted losing seven tanks. Next day, Pakistani forces called up an air strike, sending four Sabre jets on Indian positions. Indian Gnats, lightweight jet fighters, intercepted the planes within Indian territory, and shot down three of them. Two of the Pakistani pilots who bailed out were captured by Indian forces.
TIME Correspondent William Stewart paid a visit to Boyra last week. "Refugee camps are scattered along the road, but there are no soldiers in sight," he cabled. "In fact, not until we reach the small city is there any sign of fighting. We sit down in a semicircle in front of the briefer—Lieut. Colonel C.L. Proudfoot. In a blazing Bengal sun are three Pakistani tanks (U.S.-made Chaffees) and an odd assortment of captured materiel:
American machine guns and Chinese ammunition. Proudfoot explains that Pakistani tanks have been probing the border near Boyra since Nov. 17. On the night of Nov. 20-21, he said, a number of tanks were heard approaching Boyra. The tanks reached and began firing on Indian positions. A squadron of 14 Indian tanks (Soviet-made PT 76s) crossed into East Pakistan to outflank the Pakistani squadron. The battle raged four or five miles into East Pakistan. When the smoke cleared, three Pakistani tanks had been trapped in India, and another eight were reported destroyed. The Indians claimed a loss of only one tank."
The Indian and Pakistani accounts differed in a number of details. Initially, Pakistani spokesmen in Islamabad told of 100,000 and then of 200,000 Indian troops pouring across the border at half a dozen points. Those figures were considerably exaggerated. Major General M.H. Ansari, Pakistan commander in the Jessore
sector, told newsmen that the Indian guerrilla forces had lost 200 to 300 dead and twice as many wounded, but that they had managed to recover all the bodies; that would be quite a feat under any circumstances. Ansari showed journalists a letter stamped "14th Punjab Regiment" and an Indian soldier's diary picked up in the course of the fighting.
There was no disagreement over the essentials of the battle and its dangerous significance. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi went before Parliament in New Delhi and acknowledged that Indian troops had entered East Pakistan "to repulse a Pakistani attack" near the border. She also corroborated the report that India had shot down three Pakistani Sabre jets. Mrs. Gandhi added that she would not emulate Pakistani President Agha Mohammed Yahya
Khan by declaring a national emergency —a move that was more symbolic than substantive for West Pakistanis since their country had been under martial law since March 1969. But later that day Indian defense officials announced a significant change in policy: henceforth Indian troops would be allowed to enter the East "in self-defense."Diplomatic Flurries
The elements of this supercharged situation have become all too familiar to the rest of the world:
1) a swiftly growing independence movement in the much exploited eastern wing of Pakistan;
2) the ruthless crackdown by Ya+hya's tough West Pakistani troops last March and a resulting exodus that sent nearly 10 million Bengali refugees flooding into India;
3) a flourishing guerrilla movement that now numbers as many as 100,000 adherents, fervently committed to the creation of a free Bangla Desh (Bengal Nation) in East Pakistan, and all but openly aided by New Delhi.
Last week's intensified fighting sent alarms through the world's capitals, and there was a flurry of activity in Washington, Moscow and United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan as the big powers sought some way to defuse the explosive confrontation. On Thanksgiving Day, Richard Nixon phoned Britain's Prime Minister Edward Heath. The President discussed the Indian-Pakistani situation with the British leader, as well as their decision to meet in Bermuda in December. U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Jacob Beam visited the Soviet Foreign Ministry twice during the week to urge the Russians, who had become India's chief sponsors, to help stop the fighting.
Washington clearly did not wish to assume the role of mediator as Moscow did at Tashkent in 1966 to settle the Indian-Pakistani conflict over Kashmir.
For one thing, the U.S. felt that it did not have sufficient leverage with India. Beyond that, the White House calculated that if it became deeply involved, there would be serious repercussions from Congress, especially in view of the nation's profound distrust of foreign entanglements in the wake of Viet Nam.
Moreover, Washington has no blueprint for specific points of settlement. It believes that any solution must be worked out by the Pakistanis and the rebels, and that if mediation is necessary, it should come from a neutral entity like the U.N. Nor does the Administration have any intention of getting militarily embroiled, even though Pakistan has bilateral and multilateral (SEATO and CENTO) alliances with the U.S. The defense treaties, officials emphasized, are directed only against Communist aggression.
For their part, the Russians sent a stern note to President Yahya urging him to seek a political solution that would end the bitter civil war in East Pakistan and halt the influx of refugees into India. The Soviets have also used their influence with New Delhi to call for restraints on India. Under the terms of a 20-year "friendship treaty" signed in August, Moscow and New Delhi are obliged to consult when either is threatened with attack. Since the Russians are known to want no part of a conflict that could bring China in on Pakistan's side, they have thus suggested that India move with care.
China is believed to be no more anxious for a confrontation with its socialist sister. Despite their pledge of support for the Pakistani regime in the event of an attack, the Chinese have told Pakistan's generals that a political solution would be preferred. Though they made a stinging attack against India in the U.N. two weeks ago, accusing it of "subversion and aggression" in East Pakistan, Peking and New Delhi were quietly negotiating behind the scenes to re-establish high-level diplomatic exchanges.
Today, Not Tomorrow
The solution, in the view of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, is to bring the U.N. into the picture. "This is the time, now, today, not tomorrow, for the Security Council to act," he said. But the fact is that, even though all the big powers are anxious to avert a conflict on the subcontinent, none are rushing to place the issue before the U.N. Security Council for fear that they might prove to be unable to agree. Lying in his hospital bed in New York City, U.N. Secretary-General U Thant confided to one of his aides last week: "If I am suffering from a bleeding ulcer, it is at least in part due to my frustrating efforts over the past eight months to do something about the terrible situation in East Pakistan." Even Pakistan's U.N. delegate, Agha Shahi, who was ready to bring the matter before the Security Council early in the week, quickly changed his mind. Consultations with the Chinese delegation and soundings of Soviet intentions persuaded him that the two Communist powers might not agree on a cease-fire resolution. The Japanese, however, are working on a resolution that they will introduce if the fighting continues.
The protagonists in this conflict are two extraordinarily strongwilled, even stubborn leaders. At 54, Yahya is a tough-talking professional soldier who rarely shows any inclination for compromise and exhibits his impatience at the drop of an epithet. "Stop reminding me every day," he once snarled at Pakistani journalists when they asked about his repeated promises of a return to democracy for his country. "The people did not bring me to power. I came myself." The stocky former army chief of staff, a Pathan who came to power in 1 969 when widespread strikes and dis orders forced President Ayub Khan to step down, showed his quick temper last week during an impromptu speech at a late-night dinner in Islamabad. Lash ing out at Indira Gandhi, he said at one point: "If that woman thinks she will cow me, I refuse to take it. If she wants a war, I'll fight it."
Child of the Nation The remark was not only ungallant, it was imprudent. For when it comes to tough-mindedness, Mrs. Gandhi is at least a match for Yahya Khan. As the only daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, she was carefully groomed for leadership and grew up an adored and beloved "child of the nation."
From her father she inherited a sense of grace under pressure, but where he was the idealist, she is much more the pragmatist. As one political commentator observed: "Her father was a dreamer who did not act decisively. The people loved Nehru, but ihey are impressed by Indira's ability to make decisions and make them firmly and fast." In elections last March, Indians gave Indira, who like Yahya is 54 years old, an overwhelming two-thirds majority in Parliament.
Hostility to Hatred and Carthage in ancient times, Israel and the Arab countries in today's world—such are the parallels to the national enmity between India and Pakistan that come naturally to mind. Behind their hostility lies a legacy of Hindu-Moslem religious enmity that is as old as Islam (see box). There are many who believe that if India had held out a little longer for independence from Britain without partition, it would have had its way and today there would be one country on the subcontinent, not two. But as Nehru confessed much later, "The truth is that we were tired men, and we were getting on in years too. We expected that partition would be temporary, that Pakistan was bound to come back to us. None of us guessed how much the killings and the crisis in Kashmir would embitter relations."
But partition came, and what had been Hindu-Moslem hostility was soon converted into Indian-Pakistani hatred. The very next year, the two new countries were at war with each other in the Vale of Kashmir. Even today, Kashmir lies a festering wound between India and Pakistan. Should all-out war come, there is no doubt that the conflict in East Pakistan would quickly be dwarfed by far bigger and bloodier battles in the west largely aimed at control of the fabled valley.
The issue stems from Britain's failure to make provision for India's 601 princely states when self-determination elections were held on the subcontinent in 1947. As it happened, Kashmir was ruled by a Hindu Maharajah, but its population was predominantly Moslem. When Pakistan invaded in the autumn of 1948, the Maharajah promptly placed the province under Indian rule. Once again, in 1965, it became the battlefield for the rival powers.
Though both Pakistan and India began as parliamentary democracies, they soon drifted along divergent political paths. Jawaharlal Nehru lived to guide India into a role as the world's largest democracy (pop. 547 million), but Pakistan's founding leaders, Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan, died soon after independence and eventually the country fell" under military control. Since the military was dominated by the Pathans, Punjabis and Baluchis of the West, it became established policy to short-change the poorer, more densely populated eastern wing, which before the refugee exodus began last March had a population of 78 million v. 58 million for the West.
"Mischievous and Wicked"
The differences have also shaped both countries' foreign policies. As Nehru created a policy of neutrality and sought to establish India as the leader of the nonaligned bloc of Third World countries, Pakistan became a firm ally of the West. Then the U.S., in what former Ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith calls the most "categorically mischievous and wicked" action it has ever taken, began to build up Pakistan as a military power. With India pursuing a policy of calculated coolness toward the U.S., Washington turned to Pakistan as a potential ally against Communism: in return Pakistan provided special facilities, including a base that was used for U-2 overflights of the Soviet Union (Francis Gary Powers took off from this airfield).
Pakistan, however, viewed the connection as insurance against India, not Communism. After 1965, when the U.S. cut off military aid to both countries, India turned to the Soviet Union and Pakistan to China. With Russia's help, India has built itself into a military power far superior to Pakistan. Its forces (980,000) outnumber Pakistan's (392,000) by more than 2 to 1; its air and naval capacity is also rated superior. If India were to fight Pakistan alone, there is little doubt which would win.
Sharing neither borders nor cultures, Pakistan's divided parts, separated by a thousand miles of Indian territory, make it a political anomaly, at odds not only with India but with itself as well. As Jinnah put it shortly after independence, there was little to hold the country's two divergent wings together except "faith." It was not enough. Last December, when the nation went to the polls in the first free elections in its history, East Pakistanis gave an overwhelming endorsement to the Awami League and its leader, Sheik Mujibur Rahman, 51, who had pledged to bring the exploited wing greater autonomy.
The prospect of the political balance of power moving from West Pakistan to the East was not acceptable to the generals. On March 25, Yahya outlawed the Awami League, arrested Mujib, who is now being tried for treason, and launched a ruthless repression that by one estimate has claimed a million lives and has sent nearly 10 million refugees flooding into India, most of them into the state of West Bengal. Awami League leaders who escaped to India promptly set up the Bangla Desh government in exile with headquarters in Calcutta, and some 130 Bengali diplomats subsequently defected from Pakistani missions around the world. The rebels immediately began raising and training a guerrilla force that, by some estimates, now numbers 100,000 men.
Today India's worst fear is that many of the refugees will refuse to go back to East Pakistan under any conditions. Nearly 8,000,000 of them are Hindus, who were singled out by the Moslem military for persecution. Pakistan, moreover, claims that only 2,000,000 Pakistani refugees are in India—a figure that corresponds to the number of Moslems who have fled. This coincidence may suggest that even if there were a settlement, the Pakistanis would refuse to permit the Hindus to return.
Swarm of Locusts
A confidential report recently submitted to Mrs. Gandhi's Cabinet concluded: "The most alarming prognosis is that not even 10% of the Hindu evacuees may choose to go back. If this becomes a reality, it might be disastrous for West Bengal's economy, and this economic disaster is bound to bring in its train serious sociopolitical problems of perhaps unmanageable dimensions."
The dire forecasts are confirmed by a World Bank report released in September. India's economic development, the report said, could be seriously stunted by the cost of the refugees. That cost, expected to reach $830 million by the end of the fiscal year in March, exceeds all of India's 1971-72 foreign aid for development.
The setback came at a time when the country was just beginning to show some economic headway. With a $50 billion gross national product, India has begun producing all manner of sophisticated materials, from complex computers to nuclear reactors and jet aircraft. But the distance it has come is only measurable by the distance left to go. Some 200 million people still subsist on 150 a day; more than half of the 10 million government workers earn less than $25 a month. As a Calcutta industrialist put it: "The refugees have descended on our hopes like a swarm of locusts on a good crop."
Economic pressures are also building in West Pakistan. So far, the Islamabad regime has been able to muddle through fairly well. The real crunch will come in a few months. Pakistan is spending almost 55% of its fiscal outlay on defense, and the cost of military operations in the East alone runs to $60 million a month. One observer estimates that the 3,000-mile route around India that Pakistani planes must take to supply forces in the East is the equivalent of a supply line from Karachi to Rome.
In light of all this, some West Pakistanis are privately beginning to concede that it may finally be necessary to do what the generals spilled so much blood to avoid: give up East Pakistan. A high Pakistan government official admits that there is no more than "a 50-50 chance of Pakistan holding together."
There were also indications last week that Yahya is beginning to feel threatened by political opposition in the West. Charging that "some of its leaders are in collaboration with the enemy and are trying to foment revolt in West Pakistan," he suddenly outlawed the National Awami Party, a labor-oriented leftist group that emerged as the dominant provincial party in elections last December. The Pakistani President has promised to convene the National Assembly later this month. But with both the East's Awami League and the West's National Awami League disenfranchised, the Assembly is beginning to appear about as representative as President Ayub Khan's "basic democracy," a scheme by which the former President's rule was sustained through a hand-picked electoral college of 120,000 educated Pakistanis.
Many Pakistanis fear that in the event of war, the odds will be overwhelmingly in India's favor; even Yahya has called war with India "military lunacy." Thus, Pakistan's blustery charges of invasion last week were widely read as a last-ditch attempt by the Islamabad military regime to bring about international intervention. Should a U.N. peace-keeping mission be sent in, for example, pressures from the Indian side of the border would be greatly alleviated, allowing the Pakistani troops to concentrate on subduing the Bengali rebels. For precisely the same reasons, India is seeking to avoid intervention—on the theory that such relief would enable Yahya to avoid a political settlement and thus prolong the refugee burden.
Another theory holds that India's militant moves may in fact be designed to force Yahya to reconsider an aborted peace proposal. TIME'S Dan Coggin learned that the secret proposal was made by President Nixon to Mrs. Gandhi on her visit to Washington last month. The President reportedly told the Prime Minister that Yahya Khan appeared to be accepting the idea of negotiations with Mujib. If she would remain "moderate" for the time being, Washington promised, it would use its influence to persuade Yahya to sit down with the imprisoned Bengali leader and work out a solution.
There were two chief possibilities under consideration by Yahya, both posing the prospect of a referendum for East Pakistanis to decide their status after a two-or three-year cooling-off time. One proposal suggested that Mujib be released and that he and his Awarni League be at least partly reinstated during the waiting period. The other involved keeping Mujib under house arrest in West Pakistan and making no substantial political changes in the interim.Danger of Escalation
In the meantime, however, several hard-lining West Pakistani generals got wind of the proposal and informed Yahya that they were opposed to any sort of negotiations with Mujib. They argued that Pakistan's unity depended upon maintaining the current policy—in effect to outlast the guerrillas. The generals, moreover, also tried to convince Yahya that Mujib should be executed after his treason trial is completed. Yahya has apparently not yet made up his mind about the Bengali leader, but observers have grown markedly more pessimistic about his fate. "Mujib may well never get back to Bengal alive," says one Western diplomat. In any case, India's new militancy posed grave risks of dangerous new escalations that could get out of hand.
Late last week, Yahya took time out to attend the dedication ceremonies of a new heavy-machinery factory outside
Islamabad. The President was in an ebullient mood. The factory had been built with Chinese aid, and it seemed a good moment to underscore Peking's support.
Yahya thanked China "for renewing the assurance that should Pakistan be subjected to foreign aggression, the Chinese government and people will, as always, resolutely support the Pakistan government and people." Then it was China's turn. Peking's own special emissary, Li Shui-ching of the First Ministry of Machine Building, spoke glowingly of Chinese-Pakistani friendship, but he carefully avoided any mention of the tension with India or of specific aid from Peking. Then, in a surprising and symbolic gesture, he released a boxful of doves.
The message was clear—peace, not war—but whether the subcontinent's bitter antagonists would heed it was very much in question.