As the world battles China-Virus, debate over Henry Kissinger’s credentials as statesman-strategist has emerged perhaps because of America’s predicament under China’s biological attack initiating World War III.
Opinions of historians and scholars are divided whether Kissinger was a master strategist or compulsive opportunist seeking change for the sake of change, taking advantage of opportunities regardless of planning or principle. Few have middle-path opinion about Kissinger while some opine he was the best strategist of that time – 1970s?
Kissinger’s disdain for India perhaps equaled Churchill who despised Indians despite 161,167 Indians cumulatively laying down their lives fighting for Britain in the two World Wars. In 1971, the US 7th Fleet led by aircraft carrier USS Enterprise entered Bay of Bengal in the second week of December 1971 threatening India when India had launched its operations in East Pakistan to throw out the Pakistani Army which had forced over 10 million refugees flooding India because of genocide unleashed by them.
The US and western media has nothing to say about Pakistani genocide, nor the spectacular Indian campaign liberating Bangladesh with 93,000 Pakistani military POWs – biggest after WW II. We may keep this aside as also whether Kissinger lied to the Watergate Commission (his successors did blatantly about Iraq’s purported nuclear program), Kissinger’s betrayal of Kurds in the 1975 Iran-Iraq war, plus declassified documents implicating him with crimes in Bangladesh, Cambodia, southern Africa, Laos, Middle East, and Latin America, least the narrative gets long-winded.
Instead let us look at few geopolitical initiatives proximate to India taken by Kissinger as Nixon’s NSA (later Secretary of State in 1973) and thereafter Secretary of State to Gerald Ford. Ultimate decisions are by the political hierarchy but Kissinger did have strong influence over US Presidents (very strong over Nixon), playing dominant role in US foreign policy in period 1969-1977. Later he established the Kissinger Associates and his views would have carried weight since Think Tanks in US are integrated into the policy formulation process.
Kissinger visited Pakistan in August 1969 and requested General Yahya Khan to pass a message to President Mao Zhedong that US wanted an opening with China. China had an undeclared war with USSR in the March 1969 which lasted seven months. China was therefore receptive to the overtures of USA. Yahya responded six-months later in February 1970 confirming Mao’s green signal. Simultaneously Yahya demanded massive US military assistance.
Kissinger had relied on Pakistan-China growing military cooperation. If at all he knew about Kashmir’s history, Pakistan’s illegal transfer of Shaksgam to China in 1963 and China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation did not matter. Kissinger flew twice to Beijing in 1971 and secretly met Premier Zhou Enlai, laying the ground for America’s love affair with China.
Nixon’s seven-day visit to Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai in February 1972 ended 25 years of US-China diplomatic freeze. Nixon met Mao Zhedong and held multiple meetings with Zhou Enlai. In Nixon’s meeting with Mao, China deliberately excluded US Secretary of State William P Rogers; only Kissinger and his assistant Winston Lord were allowed.
To cover the embarrassment, US cut out Winston Lord from official photographs of the meeting. American aim was to gain leverages over relations with the Soviet Union. China agreed ‘temporarily’ to set aside differences with ROC (Taiwan) – some concession!
1955 was a turbulent for Afghanistan-Pakistan relations. Afghans had never recognized the Durand Line and shut all Pakistani missions in Afghanistan, ordering general mobilization of its armed forces beginning May. Ayub Khan responded for Pakistan saying if any inroads were made into Pakistani territory, Afghanistan would be taught a lesson.
In November, few thousand Afghan tribals entered Pakistan along a 160-km stretch but there was no conflict. Next month, Soviet Premier Nikolay Bulganin visited Kabul and signed a protocol extending the Soviet-Afghan Treaty of Neutrality and nonaggression of 1931by another 10 years. Same year, 1955, Kissinger wrote that the “defence of Afghanistan depends on Pakistan”.
. The following the USSR –China border war the period saw intensification of China’s anti-Soviet rhetoric under Mao’s ‘Gang of Four’. For China, Soviet Union was an enemy while China worked with Pakistan to influence Afghanistan. In 1975, Soviets and Chinese contributed interest-free loans and technical loans to Afghanistan’s Mohammed Daoud Khan regime but Kissinger had been working with Pakistan’s ISI since 1973 to destabilize Daoud’s government.
Following Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, both China and America individually helped Pakistan raise, arm and support the Mujahedeen – predecessor of Taliban. China established Mujahedeen training camps on Chinese soil.
Prior to Kissinger’s Pakistan visit, the US Defense Mapping Agency began showing Indo-Pak boundary on Tactical Pilotage Charts from NJ 9842 to the Karakoram Pass, cartographically giving entire Siachen-Saltoro area to Pakistan – a deliberate mischief. Many official-private cartographers and atlas producers followed suit and Pakistan started claiming this boundary. Kissinger stoutly defended Pakistani Generals against the genocide perpetrated on Hindus and Bengalis in East Pakistan – killings 300,000 to 3,000,000 and rapes 200,000 to 400,000 according to Bangladeshi and Indian sources. Over 10 million refugees fled to India and 30 million were displaced within Bangladesh.
US looked away while China turned Pakistan and North Korea its nuclear proxies and still does not admit the monster Pakistan has become, its consequences to the region and that bulk US-NATO casualties in Afghanistan are courtesy Pakistan. US money continues to flow to terrorist-linked NGOs in Pakistan. US also is intransigent to China-Pakistan nexus and the CPEC leaning on the Indian Ocean, forgetting it was the fear of Soviets heading for the Persian Gulf that sent Kissinger-Nixon scurrying to China.
Iran was an ally of the US though the Status of Forces Agreement with the Shah in 1964 paved the way for dissent within Iran, labeling him US lackey – same way the Taliban accuse the Afghan government today. In 1967 when British wanted to withdraw all troops east of Suez, Shah offered Iran as regional security guarantor of the US, which was not accepted by US. Later, the Nixon-Kissinger duo pulled out all stops to pamper the Shah.
Nixon’s ‘twin pillars’ policy vide the National Security Decision Memorandum 92 of November 7, 1970 approved promoting cooperation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, “recognizing the preponderance of Iranian power” and developing direct US relationship with separate political entities of the area. This primacy accorded to Iran heightened the Sunni-Shia rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran, spreading sectarian strife across the Middle East. Kissinger was using Iran’s Savak to destabilize the Ba’athist Regime in Iraq since 1973.
By 1976, Iran was largest importer of US weaponry, with largest navy in the Persian Gulf. In 1977, US sold $12 billion worth arms to Iran. But the Iranian revolution, US refuge to the Shah and the US-hostage crisis in Tehran turned US-Iran relations on its head. Kissinger did establish close relationship with Saudi Arabia and sold billions of dollars worth of weaponry to them in exchange of petro dollars which is continuing. Arms export became the mainstay of US economy till the find of shale oil in recent years. De-stabilizing regions was necessary to export arms.
US historian William Blum wrote that says “since 1945, US has tried to overthrow more than 50 governments, many of them democratically elected”, while former NATO Supreme Allied Commander quoted a Pentagon official in saying, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments. I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”
Chanakya had said that one should choose friends properly and be more attentive while choosing enemies, make an action plan, and prepare a much better alternate plan since one will not get much chances. In seeking China’s leverage against the Soviets, wonder to what depth Kissinger studied the CCP and psyche of its leaders, like Mao Zhedong with regard to: China’s medieval mindset ‘Tian Xia’ (under the heaven) concept, viewing all territories belonging to the Chinese; ‘Thirty-Six Stratagems’ of China to deal with opponents, and: Chinese brutality where 45 million Chinese died in Mao’s Great Leap Forward (1958-1962), followed by the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) that killed some 20 million Chinese – Nixon’s China visit being in 1972.
How many years ahead was Kissinger looking at considering Chinese are known to plan 100 years ahead, and Sun Tzu had said 2,500 years ago that “every battle is won before it is even fought”, highlighting absolute importance of planning for most contingencies.
What sort of friendship did Kissinger expect from China in his meetings with Zhou Enlai and Mao Zhedong during 1971-1972? China was unambiguously clear that US was no friend.
Years later, BBC quoted Yang Zhengquan, former chief of the Central Broadcasting Station recalled Chinese instructions for media reporting during Nixon’s visit; there was “no change regarding China’s attitude to the USA”, which implied “we are still against them, but President Nixon is our guest, so we can’t shout ‘Down with Nixon’ and ‘Down with US Imperialists’ to their face”. The “US imperialists” moniker be changed to “USA” in radio and TV bulletins for duration of Nixon’s visit but anti-American content could still be produced which should not be excessive.
Nixon’s China trip opened up the world for China, which became the manufacturing hub of the world – a bonanza for the communist regime that was already rogue and had demonstrated brutality repeatedly against its own population. China’s political and economic warfare successfully targeted multiple countries and organizations including the WHO and UNHCR. Today China has no compunctions in generating money for itself with world attacked by China-Virus – selling defective testing kits, ventilators and masks, buying out weak firms abroad, hoarding fuel with prices gone rock bottom, and hoarding food to capitalize on impending global food shortages.
US now terms Iran the top terrorist country while Pakistan continues as ally. US is hit hardest by China-Virus, its military and ships are also affected. China is upping the ante in the Western Pacific US is readying to vacate its only toehold in South Asia – Afghanistan. In geopolitics there are no permanent friends and enemies but as of now China, Russia, North Korea, Iran and Pakistan are all aligned against the US, even as US would like to believe its strategic space is not shrinking. US also appear oblivious to the emerging Turkey-Pakistan hardcore Islamist nexus which will have full Chinese backing.
Did Nixon’s trip to China unwittingly wake up the Spinosaurus (China) – the most dangerous dinosaur that tread this planet? China shows no respect for humanity and wants to devour everything in its path to rule the world. China and Soviet Union were no friends in 1972, so what did US gain by befriending China and for how long? Surely it didn’t need China’s nod to pull out from Vietnam – US could have taken that decision in 1972 itself instead of 1973.
Was the Nixon-Mao embrace in America’s long-term strategic interest or was a narrow view taken that has conceded America’s geostrategic and economic space to China in the long term? Finally, where does Kissinger figure in all this as a statesman-strategist? Readers may draw their own conclusions.