Lyndon Johnson and India

Published : May 12, 2001 00:00 IST

Recently declassified documents from the United States from the period 1964-1968 throw light on approaches and issues relating to India-Pakistan-U.S. relations.

IT is a treat worth waiting for, every four years or so. For these declassified documents shed light not only on the dark corners of the triangular Indo-U.S.-Pakistan relationship but occasionally on India's domestic affairs. This volume covers the period when Lyndon B. Johnson was President of the United States. It must be viewed in the context of events that preceded and followed the period. We have a superb guide to that in the scholar-diplomat Dennis Kux's book Estranged Democracies: India and the United States 1941-1991, which he is working to bring up to date. In a few weeks Oxford University Press, Karachi will publish the South Asia edition of his book The United States and Pakistan 1947-2000: Disenchanted Allies. Both are works of intensive research. In the former the Johnson era is described as "U.S. Pullback from South Asia," in the latter, "The Alliance Unravels."

A statute ordains publication of documents pertaining to the U.S.' foreign relations "not more than 30 years after the events recorded." William Slany, the Historian of the State Department, informs us: "Specific information may be exempt from automatic declassification after 25 years", only on certain grounds, for example, intelligence reports. A high-level panel from the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Council hears appeals from the editor.

This period (1964-68) saw the Rann of Kutch crisis and the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965; the Tashkent Conference; the Soviet decision to supply arms to Pakistan, which decided to end the "facilities" it had given the U.S. at Peshawar; the rude cancellation in 1965 of invitations to Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and President Ayub Khan to visit the U.S.; the latter's trip after his venture in Kashmir had failed, Indira Gandhi's meetings with Lyndon Johnson; the devaluation of the rupee and the food crisis which made India humiliatingly dependent on American supplies. On September 19, 1965, India's Ambassador to the U.S., B. K. Nehru, bluntly asked Secretary of State Dean Rusk: "Why are you trying to starve us out?"

U.S. Ambassador to India Chester Bowles has recorded in his memoirs Promises to Keep, how Rusk, among others, foiled his efforts to establish a secure relationship in the military field. In a long cable on July 26, 1966 Rusk poured out to Bowles his visceral distrust of India. Not one count was omitted. It covered relations with North Vietnam, the USSR and, incredibly, the matters of Goa and Hyderabad also:

"India is moving toward a complete military domination of the subcontinent. Her own military production capability plus very substantial increments of Soviet equipment puts her in the position of saying that it is all right for India to build up its armed forces from the Soviet Union but not all right for Pakistan to acquire even spare parts from the United States...."

"India's conduct over the past twenty years with regard to Kashmir is difficult to accept. Her view that this is not a dispute but a closed question runs counter to repeated actions by the United Nations and bumps into the longstanding and instinctive American policy that the wishes of the people concerned should have a paramount influence on such political questions...

"I doubt that we should move toward reliance upon India as our sole partner in the subcontinent because I do not believe that India would accept or play that role...

"Did Mrs. Gandhi get a commitment from the Russians not to supply arms to Pakistan? Was that the price she received for the deep compromise of her non-alignment? If not, what would be Indian reaction to Soviet supply of arms to Pakistan? My guess is that they would accept it in relative good grace but still be deeply offended if we were to do the same... when all of the pretence is cast aside, the general Indian attitude is that "what India wants India gets." The same India which preaches to others has no problem about throwing an armoured division into Hyderabad, seizing Goa and calling Kashmir a closed question."

India had asked for supersonic fighter jets. The U.S. was afraid of losing Pakistan altogether to China. In late 1964 the Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, George Bundy, was informed that Pakistan had "a secret commitment from China that established a significantly closer relationship" between the two than either would admit. The U.S. fell between the stools, thanks to its fateful mistake in 1953 to give arms to Pakistan.

Bundy's deputy, Robert W. Komer, who wrote delightful prose, counselled the President on February 26, 1964: "India, as the largest and potentially most powerful non-Communist Asian nation, is in fact the major prize in Asia. We have already invested $4.7 billion in the long-term economic buildup of a hopefully democratic power. But our politico-military policy has never matched our economic investment, partly because Pakistan shrewdly signed two alliances with us as a means of reinsurance against India. For this Pakistan has gotten some $700 million in U.S. military aid, all of which has in fact gone to protect it against India. Per capita, the Paks have got much more aid from us than the Indians. We can and should protect Pakistan against India, but we cannot permit our ties - or our taste for Ayub against Nehru - to stand in the way of a strong Indian policy. This would permit the tail to wag the dog, which is just what Paks are trying to do."

Bowles recalled that in 1952 he had persuaded Harry S. Truman to reject a proposal to give arms to Pakistan. John Foster Dulles revived it the next year. Bowles wrote to Johnson on November 19, 1968: "In 1963-64 following the Chinese war, after providing limited assistance to India, we rejected its request to help modernise its defence establishment at a rate of about $75 million annually because of fear of upsetting our relationship with Pakistan. In return for this assistance the Indians had been prepared: (1) to agree not to buy lethal weapons from the Communist nations, (2) to negotiate a military force level agreement with Pakistan, and (3) to work with us on a political basis to establish greater stability in Asia and Southeast Asia. Only in August 1964, when it became clear that we were not prepared to give India this assistance, did India turn to the Soviet Union as its major source of military equipment." Well before that Johnson had minuted (August 28, 1965): "We ought to get out of military aid to both Pakistan and India." Bundy's successor, Walt W. Rostow's memo of May 2, 1966 said: "Our view is: 1, India is, indeed, more important than Pakistan. But 2, It is the Indian interest as well as ours to keep a Western option open to Ayub."

NONE should be under any illusion now that U.S. policy has registered a significant shift. Alan Eastham, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, assured his hosts in Islamabad, on April 17, 2001, that it had no intention to "abandon" Pakistan in forging a closer relationship with India. "We would like the situation to change from India hyphen Pakistan to India comma Pakistan", he is believed to have remarked. (B. Muralidhar Reddy; The Hindu, April 18).

As one reads the documents, one is struck by the deadlock in Indo-Pakistan relations in the last 30 years, despite radical changes everywhere else in the world. A State Department memo of January 27, 1964 acknowledged the U.S.' "low" leverage in respect of both and the futility of asking the U.N. Security Council to discuss Kashmir. "In the bilateral talks in 1963 Pakistan signified willingness to consider approaches other than a plebiscite and India recognised that the status of Kashmir was in dispute and territorial adjustments might be necessary".

Unfortunately, in late 1964, Home Minister G. L. Nanda, who was no friend of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, decided to extend to Kashmir, additionally, crucial provisions of India's Constitution - including Article 356 relating to President's Rule. A promising trend, after Sheikh Abdullah's release from detention in April 1964, was abruptly ended. The U.S. position was summed up by Under-Secretary of State W. Averell Harriman on December 14, 1964: "(1) We agree GOP's position on Indian actions to integrate Kashmir, and consider Pakistanis have right to be concerned ... (2) we continue to regard Kashmir as disputed territory and do not recognise right of India to change its status unilaterally". He was dismayed and could not understand why Shastri had acted thus despite his "constructive attitude in past towards India-Pakistan problems."

Both B. K. Nehru and his Pakistani friend G. Mueenuddin, privately advocated "secret talks outside the sub-continent". The expression Track Two diplomacy was coined recently, but the mission to Pakistan in September 1964 which Jayaprakash Narayan led, comprising B. Shiva Rao, S. Mulgaokar, Editor of The Hindustan Times, and J. J. Singh, was one such. JP was close to Shastri. Nanda upstaged both. Pakistan's Ambassador to the U.S., Ghulam Ahmed, told Assistant Secretary of State Phillips Talbot on December 24, 1964 that "Ayub had said that if plebiscite (is) impossible, he was prepared to listen to any other ideas."

Nanda's move buttressed the position of Ayub's rival, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the Foreign Minister. He sent to Ayub for the record a letter dated May 12, 1965 arguing that since India's military strength was growing and "is at present in no position to risk a ground war", it was time to strike. (White Paper on the Jammu and Kashmir Dispute; Government of Pakistan, January 1977, page 82). Ayub unwisely fell in with his plans, inflicting lasting damage on Pakistan and his own position. In April 1966 he told the Cabinet: "I want it understood that never again will we risk 100 million Pakistanis for 5 million Kashmiris - never again."

U.S. Ambassador Walter P. McConnaughy Jr. reported how Bhutto tried to enlist American support and dictate settlement terms even as the ground was slipping under his feet during the war. He told Bhutto on September 9, 1965: "India must be brought to accept any agreement of her own free will. To be viable, all three parties must be willing to accept, that is, Pakistan, India and Kashmir."

The CIA was convinced that there was "some secret understanding" between China and Pakistan before the war, but "China will avoid direct, large-scale, military involvement in the Indo-Pakistan war." On September 17, B. K. Nehru asked Rusk to "make formal statement warning China of American intervention if it attacked India." Rusk had issued a warning on September 15. In the talks in Warsaw that day, U.S. Ambassador John M. Cabot warned China's Ambassador to Poland Wang Kuo-Chuan against interfering in the war.

But Pakistan had powerful supporters. Johnson liked Ayub and tried to preserve the alliance. He told Ayub when they met on December 15, 1965: "If Pakistan wanted close relations with us, there could be no serious relationship with the Chinese Communists. We could not live with that. At the same time we understand certain relationships, just as a wife could understand a Saturday night fling by her husband - so long as she was the wife. Ayub got the point" - and proceeded to forge closer relations with China.

In the clime of 1966-67, new ideas were aired. Rostow suggested to the President on April 25, 1966: "The beginning of some work on multi-national India/ Pakistan projects which would commit them to interdependence. Pakistan gas to India and Indian coal shipments to Pakistan are one possibility, the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Teesta River complex is another." Rostow spoke to Asoka Mehta, Minister for Planning and Social Work, on it. "The World Bank is prepared to take the initiative." Also mooted were thinning of forces and curbs on military spending. The U.S. suggested talks.

In November 1966 Foreign Minister Swaran Singh sent "a feeler... concerning the possibility of secret talks". In March 1967 his successor M. C. Chagla proposed to his counterpart S. S. Pirzada talks on arms limitations. As ever, Pakistan imposed the precondition of Kashmir. There was, however, one big divide which Rusk noted on April 5, 1967: "We recognise that conflicting approaches GOI (willingness talk with GOP on all subjects but without recognising existence dispute on Kashmir) and GOP (willingness talk GOI all subjects but only if Kashmir dispute also discussed) will complicate our efforts achieve arms limitation." Thirty years later, precisely this divide wrecked the implementation of the Islamabad Joint Statement of June 23, 1967.

There are two particularly interesting bits on India's domestic politics. After her election as leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party, Indira Gandhi told Chester Bowles on January 20, 1966, that V. K. Krishna Menon had "done more to harm her during the past... than any other single individual. He had worked relentlessly for Nanda and had done so in a manner designed to discredit her personally... she had come to look on him as an adversary and not as a friend."

President S. Radhakrishnan assured Bowles on May 29, 1964, just two days after Nehru's death, that "the new India will be 'more pro-West than ever'." As Ambassador to the Soviet Union he had had to be restrained by Nehru from going overboard in his enthusiasm for closer relations with the USSR. (Jawaharlal Nehru; S. Gopal; OUP; 1979; Volume 2; page 64).

Bowles recorded in his memoirs: "On several occasions he expressed to me in a half joking manner the wish that somehow after Nehru's death or retirement the whole country could be operated under 'President's Rule' for a few months. This, he said, would enable him in his role as President to ease some of the cumulating political conflicts and make some of the difficult but necessary decisions before turning the Government over to a new Prime Minister and Cabinet" (Promises to Keep; 1972; page 496).

Obviously, Radhakrishnan had become quite friendly with the U.S. Ambassador. On September 11, 1965, at the height of the war, he made an "urgent request" to Bowles to come over and discussed with him the line he proposed to pursue with his guest, U.N. Secretary-General U Thant: "Solution might lie in adjustments along ceasefire line where India could compensate Pakistan for strategic areas they have in mind. Or, if this were not acceptable to Pakistan, he thought India would agree to accept guarantee of more adequate controls by U.N. President added that U Thant was staying with him, and that he looked forward to some good talks." He revealed "confidentially" the casualty figures. They were "much higher" than those Bowles had been given by the government.

As the discussion proceeded, "Radhakrishnan rang bell by his chair and when one of his military aides entered room, he said, 'Please ask the Air Marshal (meaning Arjan Singh) to call on me at 6 p.m.' I remarked that President seemed to be exercising his prerogatives as CIC. President replied that although he was not directly involved in military questions he was in position to play moderating role and he knew that Arjan Singh would listen to him."

The President spoke to the Ambassador behind the back of the Prime Minister. No note-taker from the Ministry of External Affairs was present either. He felt himself free to summon Service Chiefs. One's respect for Dr. Radhakrishnan should not obscure the point that all this raises an important constitutional issue concerning the President's role in the conduct of India's foreign policy.

Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, Volume XXV, South Asia, Editors Gabrielle S. Mallon and Louis J. Smith, General Editor David S. Patterson, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, pages 1,106, price not stated.

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