Military & Aerospace

1971: The Gradual Escalation - IV
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Kashmir defied a political decision despite prolonged negotiations between representatives of India and Pakistan countries. Frustrated by its inabiltiy to find a solution of the problem to its satisfaction and alarmed by the fast-growing tilt of military balance in India’s favour, Pakistan launched a war against India in 1965 with the active connivance of China. Although Ayub pitched high hopes on Chinese help China contented itself with loud verbal threats, saying that “unless India dismantled within three days all the military works for aggression… and returned all the Chinese sheep which had strayed across the China-Sikkim border, it must bear full responsibility for all the grave consequences.”

Also read: 1971: The Gradual Escalation – I

India did not act on this warning, but no grave consequences followed. The pro-China lobby in Islamabad said later that China had “meant business” and would have come in on the side of Pakistan in a big way had Ayub Khan prolonged the conflict to allow them to complete their build-up. Ayub Khan’s unwillingness or inability to carry on a prolonged military campaign however prevented enlargement of the conflict. The subsequent role of the Soviet Union as a mediator and signatory to the Tashkent Agreement alienated China from Pakistan for a while.

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Stoppage of arms supplied by the US and Britain in 1965 and the lack of hard currency to buy arms in the open market resulted in bringing India closer to Russia as its supplier. Although Russia offered the same facilites to Pakistan, that country chose to lean more on China. China was helping Pakistan in setting up armament production at Taxila, and the fact that the Chinese pipeline for supplying arms could be maintained along the new Sinkiang–Gilgit highway even during hostilities with India might have prompted Pakistan to make this choice. Russia, on the other hand, continued to treat India and Pakistan on equal terms, and this attitude continued till the breakdown of Sino-Russian political relations over the border incidents in 1969.

Frustrated by its inabiltiy to find a solution of the problem to its satisfaction and alarmed by the fast-growing tilt of military balance in Indias favour, Pakistan launched a war against India”¦

This breakdown led to the enunciation of Brezhnev’s plan for Asian collective security. The plan visualised an economic, political and military grouping in the region with the object of isolating China and further containing its influence in Southeast Asia. The Russian initiative for such a grouping of countries with common national interests came when the much-maligned policies of Dulles were being ushered out by Nixon’s disengagement from the area. From then onwards the Russians followed swiftly on the heels of the American withdrawal. Accordingly, they unfolded the Brezhnev plan both to India and Pakistan.

Pakistan chose to reject the proposal outright as it was not willing to seek any benefit from Russia at the expense of its dependable friend China, which had by now become its principal supplier of arms. On the other hand, India did not join the proposed grouping but, understanding Russian interests, was prepared to go along with Moscow without making any firm commitment. As a result, the Russian attitude to Pakistan hardenend considerably, and that brought New Delhi proportionately closer to Moscow. In this type of polarisation, two distinct camps — Russia and India, and China and Pakistan — should have emerged, making interdependence clearcut. Unfortunately, this did not happen as the Russians continued to strive to wean Pakistan away from China. Moscow therefore kept its resentment at the Pakistani refusal to join the regional grouping Brezhnev had proposed in a low key. Diplomatically, a door was kept open for Pakistan to walk into the Russian camp any time it liked. This was almost a favourite mistress treatment which puzzled India.

Ayub Khans unwillingness or inability to carry on a prolonged military campaign however prevented enlargement of the conflict.

Moscow’s first reaction to Pakistan’s crackdown in East Pakistan was a strongly worded letter from the President to Yahya Khan on 2 April 1971 cautioning the Pakistani leader on the course of events in East Bengal. But the letter did not even urge autonomy for the eastern wing, leave alone independence. The Russian leaders remained silent spectators of the genocide, the refugee exodus and the ruthless suppression of the voice of freedom, apparently waiting for the situation to crystallise in a manner favourable to their interests.

Like Washington, Moscow felt Yahya would be able to crush the rebellion, reestablish his authority in East Pakistan and eventually work out some sort of settlement with the political heirs of Sheikh Mujib. In any event, they always considered the Sheikh an American stooge. Up to the time of signing the Indo-Soviet treaty, the Russians continued to advise Yahya Khan and Mrs Gandhi “not to let the situation get out of hand.” This attitude was amply evidenced at the Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference in the first week of September, and Podgorny played the same tune as late as October, saying: “We consider that further sliding towards a military conflict must be prevented.” Moscow perhaps felt that a political solution was still possible, and if brought about would keep Pakistan on its side without antagonising “faithful” India. Little did the Russian leaders realise that events in East Pakistan had already slid out of control.

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