Kissinger, China, and Indian Amnesia
By Claude Arpi
"The Indians are bastards anyway."
So declared Henry Kissinger, National Security Advisor to US President Richard M Nixon, on November 5, 1971.
This followed a meeting a day before with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who had met Nixon and Kissinger in Washington and apprised them about the grim situation in East Pakistan.
Nixon told Indira Gandhi that a new war in the subcontinent was out of question, but Indira remained firm, saying the humanitarian problem could not remain on India’s shoulders. The next day, when Nixon and Kissinger assessed the situation, Nixon declared: "We really slobbered over the old witch."
"The Indians are bastards anyway. They are plotting a war," replied Kissinger. However, "while she was a bitch, we got what we wanted too," he said. "She will not be able to go home and say that the United States didn't give her a warm reception and therefore in despair she's got to go to war."
Earlier, in May that year, Gandhi had written to the US President about the influx of refugees burdening India. When the Indian Ambassador to US L K Jha warned Kissinger that India might have to send back some of the refugees as guerrillas, Nixon warned: “By God, we will cut off economic aid [to India]."
A few days later, when Nixon declared that "the goddamn Indians" were preparing for another war, Kissinger retorted, "they are the most aggressive goddamn people around."
Thirty-five years later, the Historian of the State Department analysed the US position thus: “When the fighting developed, the Nixon administration ‘tilted’ toward Pakistan. The tilt involved the dispatch of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal to try to intimidate the Indian Government. It also involved encouraging China to make military moves to achieve the same end, and an assurance to China that if China menaced India and the Soviet Union moved against China in support of India, the United States would protect China from the Soviet Union. China chose not to menace India, and the crisis on the subcontinent ended without a confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union.” The Nixon-Kissinger duo would have been happy to have "scared the pants off the Russians".
One cannot understand the context of the 1971 War without taking the Chinese factor into account. In a tightly guarded secret, Nixon had started contacting Beijing in 1970. The ‘postman’ was Pakistan’s self-appointed Field Marshal and President, Yahya Khan. During the first few months, the clever Kissinger even refused to bring the US ambassador to Pakistan Joseph Farland into the picture.
When on April 28, 1971, Kissinger sent a note defining US policy options on Pakistan, Nixon replied in a handwritten note: "To all hands. Don't squeeze Yahya at this time." The Pakistan President was not to be squeezed because he was in the process of arranging Kissinger’s first secret meeting to China.
A week later Farland was finally told the secret: Kissinger had to ‘disappear’ for two days during an official visit to Pakistan and flown secretly to Beijing. The attempts to mend fences with the Chinese was thus a major factor in the US tilt towards Pakistan.
When Kissinger went to Beijing during the second week of July, he was told by Zhou Enlai that: “We support the stand of Pakistan. If they (the Indians) are bent on provoking such a situation [a war], then we cannot sit idly by.” Kissinger replied that Zhou should know that the US sympathies too lay with Pakistan.
On his return, during a meeting of the National Security Council, Kissinger continued his India bashing: the Indians are "a slippery, treacherous people," he said.
In some ways, it is nice that India is a nation without memory. Nobody seems to remember these incidents or dares remind Kissinger about them. Had the same thing happened to China, the former NSA (and later Secretary of State) would have been asked to apologise before applying for his visa.
But magnanimous India received Kissinger late last month without fuss. Among others, he met the Leader of the Opposition L K Advani as well as the West Bengal Communist Chief Minister.
And though he was ostensibly in India to discuss foreign policy with various economic and political groups, his intentions became obvious when he dared to declare that India’s failure to implement the civil nuclear deal with the US could lead to questions over its ‘trustworthiness’ and may impact upon New Delhi’s quest for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.
Of course, he insisted that his visit had nothing to do with the deal, he just happened to be visiting India while the subject was under hot debate between the government and its coalition partners. In any case, he half threateningly pointed out: “it was a very good deal for India and in case it gets nixed now, it won't be easy to salvage it.”
About his meeting with BJP leader L K Advani, he admitted, "Inevitably, this issue figured in our discussions. He (Advani) explained his perception of India's necessities".
But, Kissinger emphasised again, he “was not here to push the deal.”
Is it also a coincidence, that the US Ambassador Mulford is frantically meeting Indian leaders, both left and right? Or that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was on the phone with her Indian counterpart, and Henry Paulson, the US Treasury Secretary took up the issue with the Communist leaders during a visit to West Bengal. All this in a week?
Why is Washington suddenly so interested to shield India’s interests? Is it possible that that it is their own interest that they are so vociferously defending?
It would indeed be wrong to believe that the US is doing India a favour by signing a deal which will open huge business opportunities for Washington (as well as other Western nations and Australia). Let us not forget that the US suffered a great deal from the post-test ban, as several less strict nations jumped to the opportunity to do business with India.
The deal is also probably a way for Washington to play the India card against China. A stronger nuclear India could help the US Administration balance the rise of China in Asia. As during the Cold War, the US prefers to fight proxy wars rather than direct ones. One easily understands the advantages of such a policy.
The China factor remains nevertheless crucial. Let us remember Vajpayee’s letter to Clinton after the 1998 test. “We have an overt nuclear weapon state on our borders, a state which committed armed aggression against India in 1962,” the Indian Prime Minister wrote. ”Although our relations with that country have improved in the last decade or so, an atmosphere of distrust persists mainly due to the unresolved border problem.”
The CPI-M General Secretary Prakash Karat says he opposes the nuclear deal on the ground that the US strategy is to encircle China. While it is true that Kissinger and his colleagues are not coming to do good to the ‘slippery’ Indians (they signed a deal and later refuse to operationalise it!), why should India try to encircle China? It is simply not in the Indian mentality and tradition to do so.
In another development, the BJP President has accused Karat and his comrades of putting pressure on the Cabinet Secretary to circulate a letter warning the members of the Cabinet that a function organised to felicitate the Dalai Lama for receiving the US Congressional Gold Medal was 'not in conformity with the country's foreign policy'.
This clearly shows Karat’s imperialist attitude. When Tibet was an independent nation, there was no question of encirclement and there was certainly no border dispute. Today the Roof of the World is colonised and therefore the problem.
To come back to Kissinger, as he was landing in Delhi some newly declassified documents from the Russian archives came to light which clearly show how ‘slippery and treacherous’ the former secretary of state can be.
A particular document narrates a meeting between the Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin and Kissinger in February 1972. Dobrynin was called to the White House as Kissinger wanted to speak on a very sensitive issue.
The Ambassador noted: “[Kissinger] would like to bring me up to date, on a strictly confidential basis, about what specifically the Secretary of State knows concerning the state of Soviet-US relations, which have been discussed with me at the White House level (by the President and Kissinger), since the Secretary of State does not know everything. In this connection, he requests that I, the Soviet Ambassador, keep in mind during the upcoming conversation with the Secretary of State the special circumstances mentioned above and not touch on issues he knows nothing about.”
In other words, Kissinger, then the national security advisor, was negotiating behind the back of his own Secretary of State.
For those who had doubts about the Indo-US nuclear deal, Kissinger’s visit makes it even more suspicious.
Claude Arpi is an expert on the history of Tibet, China and the subcontinent. He was born in Angoulême, France. After graduating from Bordeaux University in 1974, he decided to live in India and settled in the South where he is still staying with his Indian wife and young daughter. He is the author of numerous English and French books including ‘The Fate of Tibet,’ ‘La Politique Française de Nehru: 1947-1954,’ ‘Born in Sin: the Panchsheel Agreement’ and ‘India and Her Neighbourhood.’ He writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and Indo-French relations. In the present article, he says India needs to act as a friend of China.