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The World: The U.S.: A Policy in Shambles

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THE Nixon Administration drew a fusillade of criticism last week for its policy on India and Pakistan. Two weeks ago, when war broke out between the two traditional enemies, a State Department spokesman issued an unusually blunt statement, placing the burden of blame on India. Soon after that, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations George Bush branded the Indian action as “aggression”—a word that Washington subsequently but lamely explained had not been “authorized.”

Senator Edward Kennedy declared that the Administration had turned a deaf ear for eight months to “the brutal and systematic repression of East Bengal by the Pakistani army,” and now was condemning “the response of India toward an increasingly desperate situation on its eastern borders.” Senators Edmund Muskie and Hubert Humphrey echoed Kennedy’s charges.

The critics were by no means limited to ambitious politicians. In the New York Times, John P. Lewis, onetime U.S. A.I.D. director in India (1964-69) and now dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton, wrote: “We have managed to align ourselves with the wrong side of about as big and simple a moral issue as the world has seen lately; and we have sided with a minor military dictatorship against the world’s second largest nation.” In Britain, the conservative London Daily Telegraph accused Washington of “a blundering diplomatic performance which can have few parallels.”

Since March, when the Pakistani army staged a bloody crackdown in East Bengal, murdering hundreds of thousands of civilians and prompting 10 million Bengalis to flee across the Indian border, the U.S. has been ostentatiously mild in its public criticism of the atrocities and of Pakistan’s military ruler, President Yahya Khan—a man whom President Nixon likes. Washington wanted to retain whatever leverage it had with the Pakistanis. Moreover the Administration was grateful for Islamabad’s help in arranging Presidential Adviser Henry Kissinger’s first, secret trip to China last July. India was shaken by Washington’s sudden gesture toward its traditional enemies, the Chinese, with whom it had fought a brief war in 1962. Behind the scenes, many State Department officials urged in vain that the Government take a harder line toward Yahya, for humanitarian as well as practical political reasons.

In the past five years, China has displaced the U.S. as Pakistan’s chief sponsor. India, increasingly dependent on the Soviet Union for military aid, finally signed an important treaty of friendship with Moscow last summer. The U.S. was not solely responsible for driving the Indians into the Soviet camp; but its policy of not being beastly to Yahya convinced the Indians that they could not count on the U.S. for moral support. The result of the treaty: U.S. influence in India was virtually neutralized.

The Administration’s current anger, however, stems from a more recent incident. During her trip to Washington last month, India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi led President Nixon to believe that her country had no intention of going to war. Later, when the Indian army made what appeared to be a well-planned attack on East Pakistan, Washington officials concluded that Mrs. Gandhi’s trip had been a smokescreen for massive war preparations. Richard Nixon was furious, and was behind the initial Government statements branding India the aggressor. –

Last week, in an attempt to justify U.S. policy, Presidential Adviser Kissinger held a press briefing. (The remarks were supposed to be for “background use” only until Senator Barry Goldwater blew Kissinger’s cover by printing a transcript of the briefing in the Congressional Record.) Kissinger insisted that the U.S. had not really sided with Pakistan, but had been working quietly and intensively to bring about a peaceful political solution. Indeed, at the time of the Indian attack, he claimed, U.S. diplomats had almost persuaded Yahya Khan and the Calcutta-based Bangladesh leadership to enter into negotiations. New Delhi had precipitated the fighting in East Pakistan, Washington believed, and refused to accept a ceasefire because it was determined to drive the Pakistani army out of East Bengal.

It can be argued, however, that Washington was guilty of an unfortunate naivete by believing that a political solution was possible after the passions of the Indians and Pakistanis had become so aroused. Given the continued existence of a power vacuum in East Bengal, it may have been as unrealistic to expect the Indians to refrain indefinitely from dealing their archenemy a crippling and permanent blow as to have expected the Israelis to halt their 1967 advance in the middle of the Sinai.

It is true that the new U.S. policy toward China has further restricted Washington’s room for maneuver with the Indians, but this hardly explains or excuses the Administration’s handling of recent affairs on the Indian subcontinent. Because of blunders in both substance and tone, the U.S. has, 1) destroyed whatever chance it had to be neutral in the East Asian conflict; 2) tended to reinforce the Russia-India, China-Pakistan lineup; 3) seemingly placed itself morally and politically on the side of a particularly brutal regime, which, moreover, is an almost certain loser; and 4) made a shambles of its position on the subcontinent.

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