Outside powers and the 1971 India-Pakistan War

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
5,765
#1
It seems that India was intervening in a Pakistani civil war. It was hard for an artificial disjoint state to continue indefinitely.

India was supported by the Soviet Union, but the US, China, Britain, Iran, and Saudi Arabia were all supporting Pakistan. I understand that China had conflicts with the Soviet Union and India. This was a major reason for Kissinger's trip to China at a time when the countries did not have diplomatic relations. I understand that the Soviet Union, US, and Britain all sent fleets to the area.

Was the concern of the US and Britain that the Soviet Union would expand its influence? Were they just making a show of supporting an ally? India was not Communist or controlled by the Soviet Union. Why was this important to the US?
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,467
Dispargum
#2
I don't know that the Pakistan Civil War threatened an expansion of Soviet power so much as it threatened to weaken US influence in the region by weakening the US's ally Pakistan. The best counterpoise to the Soviets' ally India was a strong, united Pakistan but Pakistan was coming apart. During the Cold War the US tended to see the entire world as either with us or against us. India was not Communist, but they were an ally of the Soviet Union.

In the 1950s the US had tried to duplicate NATO in SE Asia by forming SEATO - the Southeast Asian Treaty Organizatio. If you've never heard of SEATO, it's because it was not a successful idea. Most member states of SEATO were not actually in SE Asia - US, Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand. Pakistan was in SEATO, and so long as Pakistan had a border with Burma, there was at least the facade of Pakistan being a SE Asian country. After Bangladesh got its independence, Pakistan (which was now entirely on the western side of India) lost all interest in SEATO. Thereafter, member states began leaving one by one and by 1977 SEATO was dead. (One more failed US policy in SE Asia in the 1970s) The US probably foresaw the threat to SEATO that the Pakistan Civil War represented and therefore wanted Pakistan to remain united.
 

Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,095
New Delhi, India
#3
Was the concern of the US and Britain that the Soviet Union would expand its influence? Were they just making a show of supporting an ally? India was not Communist or controlled by the Soviet Union. Why was this important to the US?
US always liked to throw its weight around, but Indians were unconcerned. They knew US could not start a war against India. Sure, Soviet friendship was useful. All military powers do that.
 
Oct 2015
889
India
#4
It seems that India was intervening in a Pakistani civil war. It was hard for an artificial disjoint state to continue indefinitely.

India was supported by the Soviet Union, but the US, China, Britain, Iran, and Saudi Arabia were all supporting Pakistan. I understand that China had conflicts with the Soviet Union and India. This was a major reason for Kissinger's trip to China at a time when the countries did not have diplomatic relations. I understand that the Soviet Union, US, and Britain all sent fleets to the area.

Was the concern of the US and Britain that the Soviet Union would expand its influence? Were they just making a show of supporting an ally? India was not Communist or controlled by the Soviet Union. Why was this important to the US?
Great game: 19th century onwards

Britain had tried to conquer Afghanistan but failed. Till 1947 one of the strategic objectives of British policy in Indian subcontinent to manage the "Great game" in which Russian Empire (later USSR) was expected to attempt conquest of Afghanistan and Britain must prevent USSR from doing the same. [1]

American & Pakistani Alliances:

The above objective - containment of USSR - was adopted by America once the weakened British left Indian subcontinent in 1947. There were now two countries to deal with - India and Pakistan - and America's choice for alliance was Pakistan. Firstly because it had common boundary with Afghanistan. Secondly, an ally Pakistan may allow US to have Airbases in Pakistan from which Russia could be attacked if the need ever arises. IT had nine Airbases in Pakistan once upon a time. [5], [6]

On the other hand India was relatively far off from Afg/USSR. And India believed in being "non-aligned" with either power block.

Thus Military alliance between USA and Pakistan existed since 1947, the independence of India/Pakistan. Pakistan became a member of both, NATO and SEATO.

America & Pakistan Alliance was strong in 1965 War: Did the US Know in Advance?

Over the years, America supplied much advanced weaponry to Pakistan under various military alliances. The Patton tanks and Sabre Jets were technologically much advanced compared to anything India bought from Russia (who was the only defence-supplier India was left with after American alliance with Pakistan). Though American agreements with Pakistan specifically stated that these weapons will not be used against India, they were so used by Pakistan - the aggressor in 1965 war.

The Defence Minister of India (Jaswant Singh) shared an incident in his book which suggests American complicity in the 1965 War. A war-game book was discovered by some Indian source in second-hand bookshop in USA. The book had details of a simulated scenario of an Indo-Pak War. The simulation was done in America and Pakistan military officials participated in it. The conclusion was that India would lose if there is a war! Pakistan attacked India in 1965 and it happened exactly one year before the hypothetical attack-day in the war-simulation done in USA.

It is difficult to believe America did not know. I would not be surprised if future documents / disclosures find that America consented or even masterminded the 1965 War. We should not forget that in those days even CIA acted in covert manner.

1971 War: An 360 Degree View:

1971 Civil war in Pakistan began due suppression of democratic process in Pakistan. Martial Law Administrator General Yahya Khan called for elections for restoring democracy in which Bangla leader Mujib won the majority. Yahya promised Mujib Prime Ministership but went back on the promise under pressure from Bhutto. Mujib declared independence of Bangladesh, was arrested, flown to & jailed in West Pakistan. This was in March 1971, it was start of civil war. India was a bystander so far. USSR was not at all involved.

Genocide by Pakistan Army started simultaneously in Mar 1971 with killing of professors & students in Dhaka University campus. US knew of the Genocide quite early due to Blood telegrams - these were sent by US Ambassador in Dhaka to Kissinger & others. [2], [3]. Nixon and Kissinger did nothing. Now we do know that they did one thing - courtesy WikiLeaks - they abused Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in their personal conversations sitting in White House.

It was impossible for India to overlook what was going on inside Bangladesh and be a bystander. Over a period of time too many refugees fled into safety of Indian border - 1 in 7 Bangladeshis entered India - and Bangladesh is one of the largest countries in the world. Somewhere along the way India was forced to support the Bangladesh resistance movement as the genocide was inhuman in the extreme. It was also targeted at Hindus in Bangladesh which is often not stated in most accounts of the events.

Mrs Indira Gandhi personally travelled to half-a-dozen Western countries to apprise them of the situation and bring them to do something about the refugees and/or Pakistan. No action whatsoever was taken by western world. Not even a press statement asking Pakistan to stop the killings, let alone condemning Pakistan.

Finally India had to initiate a direct intervention, which in course of 14-days secured surrender of Pakistan's Army in Bangladesh.

American Actions Analysed:

America was not making a "show" of supporting its military ally Pakistan. It was whole-heartedly and actively supporting its ally.

Nixon/Kissinger sent its Seventh Fleet - lead by nuclear-armed air-craft carrier USS Enterprise - towards Indian Ocean to arm twist India. British also had a token presence in it. A Pakistani General (Air Force Chief at that time) has told in an interview that the much demoralized Pakistani General Yahya Khan - who was always drunk - was delighted that American was sending Seventh Fleet. He said that his problem in Bangladesh was now solved. Anyway, the Seventh Fleet changed its course once it cited Russian Submarines present on its way.

The Indian General Jacob who went to Dhaka to take the surrender of Pakistan Army recalled that in Dhaka he found three "United Nations representatives" hanging around. They wanted to accompany him and take charge of Bangladesh Government on behalf on United Nation - whatever they meant by it. He simply ignored them (no space in the car?).


Assessment:

USSR was not involved in 1971 wars - so the question of containment of USSR does not arise.

US actions were aimed at blindly supporting a military ally, deliberately overlooking the human tragedy which unfolded over the nine months of civil war.

The saddest thing about the whole episode is that American policy failed. Had it contained Pakistan from committing the genocide it was quite possible that situation could be salvaged and division of Pakistan avoided. Or at least the number of deaths reduced. On the contrary it actively supported Pakistan and attempted to contain India. This worked against US & Pakistan's aims of having an undivided Pakistan.



[1] The Great Game - Wikipedia

[2] Archer Blood - Wikipedia

[3] Collateral Damage

[4] Bangladesh Liberation War - Wikipedia

[5] Pakistan–United States military relations - Wikipedia

[6] Shamsi Airfield - Wikipedia
 
Likes: Zanis

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
14,205
SoCal
#5
It seems that India was intervening in a Pakistani civil war. It was hard for an artificial disjoint state to continue indefinitely.

India was supported by the Soviet Union, but the US, China, Britain, Iran, and Saudi Arabia were all supporting Pakistan. I understand that China had conflicts with the Soviet Union and India. This was a major reason for Kissinger's trip to China at a time when the countries did not have diplomatic relations. I understand that the Soviet Union, US, and Britain all sent fleets to the area.

Was the concern of the US and Britain that the Soviet Union would expand its influence? Were they just making a show of supporting an ally? India was not Communist or controlled by the Soviet Union. Why was this important to the US?
India was a Soviet ally even though it itself wasn't Communist, no?

Also, IMHO, this is one of the cases where the U.S. acted extremely disgracefully. It should have supported India in this war as being the more humanitarian side--just like it should have supported Vietnam over the Khmer Rouge starting from 1979.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
14,205
SoCal
#6
Had it contained Pakistan from committing the genocide it was quite possible that situation could be salvaged and division of Pakistan avoided.
You'd need to not only prevent this genocide, but also to get Pakistan to allow the Bengalis to run their country considering that the Bengalis won an absolute majority of the seats in the Pakistani parliament in the 1970 Pakistani elections.
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
5,765
#7
Also, IMHO, this is one of the cases where the U.S. acted extremely disgracefully. It should have supported India in this war as being the more humanitarian side--just like it should have supported Vietnam over the Khmer Rouge starting from 1979.
No country makes decisions on that sort of basis. The best you could hope for would have been if the US had privately tried to get Pakistan to use restraint.
 
Likes: Futurist

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
14,205
SoCal
#8
No country makes decisions on that sort of basis. The best you could hope for would have been if the US had privately tried to get Pakistan to use restraint.
I'd have supported Iran in 1998 if it would have invaded Afghanistan in spite of the fact that Iran is an enemy of both Israel and the US. Why? Because the Iranian regime, vile as it is, is still much better than the Taliban (or at least the pre-9/11 Taliban; I'm not sure about right now). Thus, I disagree with you that there can't be a role for humanitarianism in national decision-making.

Also, Yes, I certainly do think that the U.S. should have not only restrained Pakistan, but also told Pakistan to let the Bengalis form Pakistan's next government.
 

Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,095
New Delhi, India
#9
America was not making a "show" of supporting its military ally Pakistan. It was whole-heartedly and actively supporting its ally.
You think US could have dropped an atom bomb on an Indian city? It was just for show. And sure, Soviets were around. Did Indian Army flinch?
 

Devdas

Ad Honorem
Apr 2015
4,149
India
#10
It seems that India was intervening in a Pakistani civil war. It was hard for an artificial disjoint state to continue indefinitely.

India was supported by the Soviet Union, but the US, China, Britain, Iran, and Saudi Arabia were all supporting Pakistan. I understand that China had conflicts with the Soviet Union and India. This was a major reason for Kissinger's trip to China at a time when the countries did not have diplomatic relations. I understand that the Soviet Union, US, and Britain all sent fleets to the area.

Was the concern of the US and Britain that the Soviet Union would expand its influence? Were they just making a show of supporting an ally? India was not Communist or controlled by the Soviet Union. Why was this important to the US?
Americans were serious about supporting Pakistan but it seems Indira Gandhi outwitted them. She first made a military treaty with Soviets and started the war in December so that all Himalayan passes were closed making China unable to help Pakistan. Pakistanis were committing a genocide on East Pakistani separatists and the Hindu minority pouring 10 million refugees mostly Hindus into India. A huge section of East Pakistani separatists were the former soldiers of Pakistani army who defected after the Operation Seachlight.

It was hard for an artificial disjoint state to continue indefinitely.
There is a considerable difference how Indians and Pakistan see their history, national and cultural identity. While Indian Punjabi and Indian Bengali would see themselves as a part of common history and national and cultural identity, this was not a case with Pakistani Punjabi and East Bengali Muslim of East Pakistan divided by more than 1000 miles, even Urdu speaking migrants from North India are seen as foreigners in Pakistan by rest of the population.
 

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