The more the pro-Chinese lobby encouraged Yahya Khan in this thought the more heavily Pakistan strategy began to hinge on active Chinese support. The Pakistani, military planners calculated at least on their activating the northern frontiers of India so that the Indian Army would be so involved in holding actions against the Chinese that it would not be able to concentrate superior strength against East Pakistan. Anyhow, planning the potential threat of Chinese intervention was paying dividends to Pakistan. This was sufficient to deter India from pulling out troops facing the Chinese on the Himalayan border.
Lacking an industrial base and other necessary infrastructures, Pakistan knew fully well it would never compete with India in shaping a military machine on its own.
Bhutto, who led a Pakistani delegation to Peking as late as November 1971 to seek a defence pact with China as a counter to the Indo-Soviet treaty, told the press: “China will give any measure of support we need. It depends what we ask.” Pressed further, he elucidated: “China is fully and enthusiastically supporting Pakistan. We can expect the maximum assistance… India should have no illusion on this.” This was empty to talk and in fact if anybody was under an illusion it was Bhutto and his pro-China lobby, as the realities were altogether different. The Chinese were pragmatic to the extent that no joint statement was issued at the end of Bhutto’s negotiations.
Moreover, after the serious border clashes with the Soviet Union in 1969, China had been worried about a possible pre-emptive strike on its northern border, where about 40 Russian divisions were poised for action. With a threat of this magnitude close to its borders, China had to think twice before embarking on an adventure on the Indo-Tibetan border, especially in view of the Indo-Soviet treaty. Foreign correspondents based in Pakistan filed reports saying Bhutto had returned without any specific commitments from China. Answering a newsman, Bhutto said: “The question whether China would take any diversionary action in the north is a superfical matter.”
Pakistan got the full backing of the Western bloc in adopting this stance while India thrived on Soviet and Chinese support, and Nehru assumed leadership of the Third World.
Although the Chinese leaders continued to lead Pakistan on with promises of joint efforts to overcome difficulties, they showed great pragmatism in handling the issue. In his book Pakistani Crisis of Leadership, Fazal Muqeem accuses Yahya Khan of overplaying the “China card.” According to him, one Chinese diplomat, when questioned about the possibility of active Chinese aid to Pakistan, replied: “You know Russia is not afraid of China.” But India could not take a chance, unpredictable as the Chinese had proved earlier.
Where did the Soviet Union stand in the conflict? Ever since the partition of British India into Pakistan and India, these two countries had been antagonistic to each other on the very basis of this partition. Their outstandig disputes, especially Kashmir, had seen them moving in diametrically opposite directions. If one turned to Washington, the other veered towards Moscow and or Peking. The dominant factor for such contrary reactions was the mutual fear of undoing the partition by military action.
Weaker in economic and military potential, and awkwardly divided into two widely separated wings, Pakistan harboured a genuine fear that its bigger neighbour would swallow it. Lacking an industrial base and other necessary infrastructures, Pakistan knew fully well it would never compete with India in shaping a military machine on its own. Thus, in sheer desperation, it welcomed Dulles’ proposal that it should join pacts like SEATO and CENTO contrived to contain the expansion of Soviet and Chinese influence in Southeast Asia in 1950.
Bhutto and other militarist elements in Pakistan had accused Ayub Khan of not exploiting Indias difficulties with China to force a solution of the Kashmir problem by military action.
India had been made the same offer earlier, but Nehru had declined it in pursuance of his policy of non-alignment and thus won the esteem of both communist giants. Moscow and Peking were on the friendliest terms with New Delhi at that time. US military aid poured into Pakistan progressively enhancing its armed might, while India preferred to place its hope in Panchsheel. In the 1950s, military power on the Indian subcontinent tilted gradually but definitely in Pakistan’s favour in qualitative terms and this coupled with the emergency of a military dictatorship, made Pakistan more cocksure and aggressive in international political forums. Pakistan got the full backing of the Western bloc in adopting this stance while India thrived on Soviet and Chinese support, and Nehru assumed leadership of the Third World. This strange power balance between Pakistan’s military strength and Indian diplomacy might have continued without precipitating armed conflict for some time, but the Chinese invasion of India in 1962 upset the political equilibrium of the subcontinent, setting a new course of power polarisation.
Faced with a military debacle of Chinese creation in the Himalayas, Nehru openly appealed for the urgent intervention of US air power against the Chinese, in addition to a request for arms and equipment, on 20 November 1962. The Chinese very prudently extricated themselves the next day by declaring a unilateral ceasefire. Throughout the crisis Moscow remained neutral. Khrushchev termed it a domestic quarrel between a brother, China, and a friend, India. Mention of China as a brother was a significant pointer to where the Soviet preference lay.