Recently declassified US official records throw new light on the anger and frustration that seized President Richard Nixon during the 1971 Indo-Pak war and how Washington secretly pleaded with China to “menace” India by moving troops to the Indian border.
Poring over pages of national security files and telephone transcripts of the then US National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and 2,800 hours of Nixon tapes, 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 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” and Kissinger calls them “insufferably arrogant”.
The story began in the fall of 1971, when a danger to a major transformation in Sino-American relations 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 now erupted into a full-scale crisis.
Nixon and Kissinger had less interest in what the Indians or Pakistanis did to each other than in ensuring nothing sidetracked Kissinger's trip to China and the revolution in Sino-American relations. Kissinger told Nixon in June that their objective should be to “buoy up” Pakistan while it “served as the gateway to China”. Nixon responded: “Apart from the Chinese thing, I wouldn’t ... help the Indians; the Indians are no goddamn good.”
In July, on his way to Peking, 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.
Kissinger’s meetings with the Pakistanis were cordial but, predictably, the Indians complained that US support of Pakistan was encouraging a “policy of adventurism”, which China was also promoting. Gandhi told Kissinger she did not want to use force and was open to suggestions. Kissinger assured India “we would take the gravest view of any unprovoked Chinese aggression against India”.
Nixon described the Indians on July 16 as “a slippery, treacherous people” and said “we could not allow, until we take this journey to Peking, a war in South Asia if we can possibly avoid it”. Kissinger agreed: “Everything we have done with China will (then) go down the drain."