Wednesday, December 14, 2011

US promised India help if China attacked during 1971 Indo-Pak war

Despite its intense animosity towards India during the 1971 war, the US promised New Delhi "all out" support in case China carried out any unprovoked attack on India, recently declassified documents reveal 40 years after the historic war that created Bangladesh. 

The revelations add fresh twist to the narrative of the Indo-Pak war of 1971. Based on a set of freshly declassified documents of the ministry of external affairs, TOI had in early November reported that the US hostility towards India during the 1971 war was far beyond what was publicly known. And that the US had probably also prepared a few Marine battalions for operations against the Indian military.

Communications of the Indian embassy in Washington and of the government in New Delhi show that US offered "all out" help if China were to enter the Indo-Pak standoff to favour its all-weather friend.

After a meeting with Henry Kissinger, then adviser to President Richard Nixon, on August 25, 1971, Indian ambassador to the US L K Jha reported to New Delhi, "He said that in a 1962 type of situation, US will not hesitate to give all out help to India against China, and there is no change of position on this." Kissinger was referring to the military conflict between India and China in 1962 in which India was humiliated.

A few weeks before this meeting, during a visit to New Delhi, Kissinger told then defence minister Jagjivan Ram, "I might tell you that we would take a very grave view of any Chinese move against India."

Ambassador Jha had spent three hours with Kissinger in San Clemente White House, the vacation home of Nixon, on August 25, as tension mounted in South Asia. They discussed details of issues that could crop up in an upcoming meeting between then PM Indira Gandhi and Nixon.

But "in this one (letter to foreign secretary T N Kaul), I am dealing with one specific point relating to the US attitude in the event of China joining on the side of Pakistan in a conflict with us", the ambassador wrote. Discussions with Kissinger on possible Chinese aggression were prompted by queries from New Delhi, the letter shows. New Delhi was worried that China could open a second front against India, even as it fought Pakistan. Such a collaboration between China and Pakistan still remains a worry for the Indian security establishment.

"Then I asked that in order to be quite clear and free from any ambiguity or doubt, I would welcome a fuller formulation from him of the US position in case we are involved in any kind of a conflict with China." In response, Kissinger offered "all out" help in case of a 1962 type situation. Then he went on to discuss other possible scenarios.

"If it was a 1965 type of Pakistani attack, then even without Chinese involvement, US would take the toughest measures against Pakistan, and if China came to its help, it would not hesitate to help us with arms, though not with men," Jha wrote. The situation Kissinger referred was an unprovoked Pakistani aggression.

"However, the chances were that if the present situation escalates into a conflict, it would be very hard to tell who is to blame. Thus, if India sent two divisions of irregulars into East Bengal and Pakistanis sent four such divisions into Kashmir, it would not be a situation in which the US could possibly help even if China threw its weight on the side of Pakistan," Kissinger told Jha, according to the ambassador's letter.

This letter from the Indian ambassador was seen by the foreign minister, the secretary to the prime minister and most other senior officials.