The mystique of archives

Print edition : January 03, 2003

The White House & Pakistan: Secret Declassified Documents, 1969-1974; Selected and Edited by F.S. Aijazuddin; Oxford University Press; pages 659, Rs.725.

Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, in September 1972.-AP

NEWSPAPERS in India and Pakistan had a field day publishing extracts from this volume. Whether the readers were any the wiser for the disclosure is doubtful. That, one suspects, is no less true of the Editor himself judging by his introduction, which is mostly a rehash of those published in the South Asia volumes of the Foreign Relations of the United States for the relevant period. Aijazuddin is a chartered accountant by profession and a successful businessman with wide interests. He has written extensively on painting and aspects of Lahore's history. President Yahya Khan's son, Ali, gave him access to the files his father had maintained on the secret contacts the U.S. had made with China since 1969, with Pakistan as the intermediary.

They prepared the ground for Henry Kissinger's famous visit to China in July 1971 just as the Bangladesh crisis was assuming graver proportions. Aijazuddin published 49 documents from those papers in his compilation From A Head, Through A Head to a Head (vide the author's review The 1971 Watershed; Frontline, December 8, 2000). Last year, while visiting his daughters in Washington, D.C., he went to the National Archives and Records Administration there to examine the Nixon Presidential Materials. Selections from that source comprise the bulk of this book. Additionally, he consulted the collection prepared by the National Security Archive (NSA), a research organisation known for not only its skilful use of the Freedom of Information Act but also what compilers in our region tend to neglect, incisive analyses. William Burr at the NSA published The Kissinger Transcripts: The Top Secret Talks with Beijing and Moscow (The New Press, $30) in 1999, with a masterly analysis of the documents in the light of material already published. He nailed Kissinger's lies to the counter relentlessly.

No such effort can be expected of Aijazuddin. That said, he has rendered a service in publishing the documents in one volume. The newspapers did not know that very many of the documents were already in the public domain. Aijazuddin has fairly acknowledged his debt to the NSA. On February 27, 2002, it published a Briefing Book, also edited by William Burr, listing 41 documents on the U.S.-China back channel and Kissinger's trip. It had published earlier a "Record of Historic Nixon-Zhou Enlai Talks in February 1972: Now Declassified" comprising seven memoranda of conversation. They were declassified by the National Archives five years after the NSA applied for copies in 1994 and then with "significant excisions" relating inter alia to South Asia.

Aijazuddin has selected extracts relating to South Asia. But the reproduction tends to be inept. For example, he selected extracts from pages five and six of the Memorandum of Conversation (memcon) of Zhou Enlai's meeting with Kissinger on July 10, 1971, and jumps on to pages 11 and 12 without using the suspension marks in his book (at pp. 201-202) to indicate the omission to the reader. Likewise, when he jumps from page 12 to page 29. This is simply not done. But it recurs. Nor is he careful in providing the references. It makes no sense to cite "CWIHP Document No. 6". The Cold War International History Projects has many publications. Which of them has document No. 6 on the Zhou Enlai-Ayub Khan talks on April 2, 1965?

But a graver blemish is his wilful refusal to mention Roedad Khan's work, The American Papers. They cover the period 1965-1973, are drawn from U.S. archives and published by the Oxford University Press (OUP), which mentions it on the blurb of Aijazuddin's book. But he not only studiously omits it from his bibliography, but - even where he cites that work (pp. 39 and 573) - refuses to mention Roedad Khan's name. That is mean and cheap. Aijazuddin must be rather coarse. He writes: "Nehru managed to scuttle even these talks, by dying suddenly on 27 May."

The volume covers a period that witnessed the Sino-Soviet split, Sino-U.S. rapprochement, the Bangladesh crisis, and growing U.S.-Soviet detente. It throws much light on certain episodes and the results of Aijazuddin's pains must be studied carefully.

WHAT exactly was China's stand on helping Pakistan in 1971? In a letter to Yahya Khan in April 1971, Zhou Enlai wrote: "The Chinese government holds that what is happening in Pakistan at present is purely an internal affair of Pakistan, which can only be settled by the Pakistan people themselves and which brooks no foreign interference whatsoever. Your Excellency may rest assured that should the Indian expansionists dare to launch aggression against Pakistan, the Chinese gvernment and people will, as always, firmly support the Pakistan government and people in their just struggle to safeguard state sovereignty and national independence."

Zhou told Kissinger on July 11: "Please tell President Yahya Khan that if India commits aggression, we will support Pakistan. You are also against it." Kissinger replied: "We will oppose that, but we cannot take military measure" implying that China could. Kissinger misinterpreted this to Pakistan's leaders to imply China's offer of military support. Z.A. Bhutto led a delegation to China in November. On December 7 he met Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), U.S. Embassy. He "avoided any specifics on outcome" of his trip, and left the DCM with the impression that the "Chinese had in fact avoided committing themselves to Pak. as much as GOP would have liked in this regard." On December 10 in New York, Kissinger egged on Ambassador Huang Hua to extend "Chinese military help" to Pakistan. He went so far as to pledge U.S. support to China if the Soviet Union were to attack it in consequence.

In New Delhi, on July 7, just before his trip to China, Kissinger told Vikram Sarabhai, head of the Atomic Energy Commission, and P.N. Haksar, the Prime Minister's Special Assistant, that "under any conceivable circumstances the U.S. would back India against Chinese pressures". On his return from China, he told Ambassador L.K. Jha that U.S. assurances would not apply, were China to act in response to any attack by India against East Pakistan.

Zhou was keen to explain in detail to Kissinger his stand on the border dispute with India since 1959. On July 10, 1971, Zhou recalled, that "On May Day 1970 Chairman Mao met the Indian Charge (Brajesh Mishra) on the Tien An Men, and he suggested that we exchange Ambassadors speedily. Actually, that could have been done, and we are prepared to do it now. They asked us to send our Ambassador first, which was no great problem, but they have been spreading rumours throughout the world that they are going to seek out the Chinese for negotiations and there haven't been any. They are just spreading rumours. We also learned something about that during the latter part of the rule of Nehru."

In his memo to President Nixon, dated July 28, 1971, Kissinger said, "There will some day be an independent Bangladesh." He, nonetheless, did much to avert it and did nothing to promote negotiations on a realistic basis.

The Russians were none too keen on a break-up of Pakistan. They regarded the Indo-Soviet Treaty as a means for restraining India. Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin was perfectly sincere when he told Kissinger on August 17 that "the Soviets were doing their best to restrain India... Dobrynin said their interest was stability, and in fact they invited the Pakistani Foreign Secretary to come to Moscow in order to show that they were pursuing a balanced policy. I said that they should not encourage Indian pressures for an immediate political solution since that would only make the problem impossible. I stated it would be best if we worked on the refugee and relief problems first and the political accommodation later. Dobrynin said he was certain that the Soviet Union basically agreed.

"Dobrynin then asked whether it was correct what the Indians had told them, namely that we would look at a Chinese attack on India as a matter of extreme gravity and might even give them some support. He said that the Indians had been puzzled by my comment but had then put it all together after my trip to Beijing."

It was Indira Gandhi's trip to Moscow in September which brought about a change in Soviet policy. In a talk with Foreign Secretary T.N. Kaul on October 9, U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Keating noted that "the English text (of the joint statement) referred to East Bengal and Russian to East Pakistan. He (Kaul) said that was agreed by both parties... I asked about Indo-Soviet joint statement, particularly Soviet side taking into account that India will take all necessary measures to stop and reverse refugee flow. What does this mean? Kaul said that press speculation regarding Soviet restraint on India is `rubbish'."

When the war broke out, Kissinger met China's Permanent Representative to the U.N. Huang Hua on December 10 to tell him that "if the People's Republic were to consider the situation on the Indian subcontinent a threat to its security, and if it took measures to protect its security, the U.S. would oppose efforts of others to interfere with the People's Republic. We are not recommending any particular steps; we are simply informing you about the actions of others. The movement of our naval force is still East of the Straits of Malacca and will not become obvious until Sunday evening when they cross the Straits. I would like to give you our assessment of the military situation on the sub-continent. I don't know whether you have any assessments. I would like to give this to you and then tell you one other thing.

"The Pakistani Army in the East has been destroyed. The Pakistani Army in the West will run out of what we call POL gas and oil in another two or three weeks, two weeks probably, because the oil storage capacity in Karachi has been destroyed. We think that the immediate objective must be to prevent an attack on the West Pakistan Army by India. We are afraid that if nothing is done to stop it, East Pakistan will become a Bhutan and West Pakistan will become a Nepal. And India with Soviet help would be free to turn its energies elsewhere."

He added, "At this moment we have. I must tell you one other thing. We have an intelligence report, according to which Mrs. Gandhi told her Cabinet that she wants to destroy the Pakistani Army and Air Force and to annex this part of Kashmir, Azad Kashmir, and then to offer a ceasefire. This is what we believe must be prevented and this is why I have taken the liberty to ask for this meeting with the Ambassador.

"One other thing. The Acting Secretary of State the Secretary of State is in Europe called in last night the Indian Ambassador and demanded assurance that India has no designs, will not annex any territory. We do this to have a legal basis for other actions."

Huang Hua was not impressed. On the contrary, he criticised the American position as being weak. Kissinger's plea for "Chinese military help" to Pakistan fell on deaf ears.

Kissinger reported to Nixon on this meeting. "Interestingly, the very next day, December 11, we received our first hard news that Chinese troops were moving toward India's Northwest Frontier area. While this decision clearly was taken before Chou could have known of our New York meeting, this session could only help to reinforce Chinese penchant for action."

The U.S. sought of India an assurance that it would not move to launch an attack in the West. Indira Gandhi's letter of December 15 to Nixon could not have failed to confirm American suspicions. It was drafted by Haksar who loved to boast of his achievements to journalists who thronged his durbar. This letter he flaunted to invite praise for the elegance of his style. The crucial para read thus: "We do not want any territory of what was East Pakistan and now constitutes Bangladesh. We do not want any territory of West Pakistan. We do want lasting peace with Pakistan. But will Pakistan give up its ceaseless and yet pointless agitation of the past 24 years over Kashmir? Are they willing to give up their hate campaign posture of perpetual hostility towards India?"

The omission of POK, so obvious here, could have been obscured by an accomplished diplomat like G. S. Bajpai, which the vain Haksar was not. The very next day U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Joseph Sisco called Jha to point out that the letter "leaves unanswered the question of India's territorial intentions with respect to Azad Kashmir". By then Nixon had ordered the U.S. aircraft carrier Enterprise, supported by a Navy Task Force, to move towards the Bay of Bengal.

Meanwhile, the Soviets were at work mediating between India and the U.S. On December 17, Kissinger informed Zhou of the results of a U.S. demarche to the USSR on December 12 for an end to the war. The next day, on December 13, the Soviet Union sent a brief note that said it was conducting consultations with India and would inform the U.S. of the results without delay. "Early Tuesday morning, December 14, the Soviet Union sent a message which, in addition to some standard Soviet views on the South Asian situation, relayed firm assurance by the Indian leadership that India had no plans of seizing West Pakistan territory or attacking West Pakistan armed forces.

``Later Tuesday morning, December 14, General Haig on instructions from the President called in Charge Vorontsov and made the following points. He said that the President and Dr. Kissinger considered the Soviet message vague and imprecise on Indian intentions in West Pakistan. The U.S. had to be clear that the Soviet message included Azad Kashmir and involved a return to the exact borders before the outbreak of hostilities. Mr. Vorontsov expressed his personal understanding that this was precisely the Soviet view. General Haig stressed that it was the U.S. view that the Soviet Union must move promptly to halt the fighting and that delays could have the most serious impact on U.S.-Soviet relations" (emphasis added, throughout).

Dobrynin refers to Moscow's message to Nixon on December 12 in his memoirs In Confidence (p. 237) and avers that "Nixon and Kissinger had to rely on Moscow's word that India would not attack West Pakistan" and claims that "the Soviet Union's diplomatic intervention help prevent the military conflict from spreading". Did India, then, include POK in its assurance to the Soviet Union rather than to the United States? Both powers had an interest in containing the conflict. Had Pakistan accepted Poland's resolutions in the Security Council, on December 14 and 15, inspired clearly by the Soviet Union, there would have been a direct transfer of power from Islamabad to Dhaka. India would have acquired neither territory nor a PoW. There would have been no Simla Pact. Given this background, only the blind would claim not to see the Soviet Union's looming presence on the hill station when the Pact was signed on July 2, 1972.

Later, when they met on June 20, 1972, both Zhou and Kissinger viewed those tumultuous days of December 1971 in retrospect. Kissinger recalled, "On one morning when we received a message that you had a message to deliver to us which was, we thought, that you had sent your troops in, we had decided that if you were attacked by the Soviet Union as a result of it, we would support you and take military measures if necessary to prevent that attack. We received that message in early December I think it was December 11, our time, in the morning. We received word, and when we picked up that message in the afternoon, it had a different content. We also, as you remember, threatened to... "

Prime Minister Chou: "By that time East Pakistan was already unable to be saved."

Kissinger said: "The reason we moved our fleet into the Indian Ocean was not because of India primarily - it was as a pressure on the Soviet Union if the Soviet Union did what I mentioned before." Zhou replied: "And they closely followed you down into the Indian Ocean." To which Kissinger rejoined: "Yes, but what they had there we could have taken care of easily." Zhou spoke contemptuously of Yahya Khan. "He was a General who did not know how to fight a war... he did things that worsened the situation."

There are interesting bits of current relevance. Zhou told Nixon at Beijing on February 23, 1972, that China had "a non-disputed borderline with Bhutan". In an extremely important memo to Kissinger, the Assistant Secretary of State Hal Saunders recorded, on September 18, 1973, "Last month, you and Ambassador Moynihan (U.S. Ambassador to India) discussed Ambassador Kaul's suggestions for regional South Asian agreements on (a) arms restraint and (b) guarantees of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Moynihan thought the best initial step would be for India to raise the arms restraint concept with the Shah and the other idea with Pakistan. That was essentially the Shah's advice, too. We have seen no indication of further movement so far. You might want to try these ideas out on Bhutto" during his visit to the U.S.

The situation has changed since. But Kaul's suggestions for a regional accord on "arms restraint" and "guarantees of sovereignty and territorial integrity" acquired greater relevance after Pokhran II in 1998.

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