Kissinger warned the president that if China decided that the United States was trying to “split off part of Pakistan in the name of self-determination,” that would be an unacceptable precedent “for Taiwan and Tibet in Peking’s eyes.” Nixon now wanted “a big, big, big package” of humanitarian aid to Pakistan, which, Kissinger thought, would impress China. Despite the mounting pressure from Congress, Nixon wanted China to know that he was still “standing firm for Pakistan.”
Thus on August 16, Kissinger went to the Chinese embassy in Paris to hammer out details for Nixon’s upcoming trip to Beijing. Wanting to showcase how resolute the United States was as an ally of Pakistan, he instead found himself forced to explain the unwelcome restraints imposed on him by the U.S. democratic system, especially the press and Congress. “Indian propaganda is extremely skillful and the opposition party in the United States, which controls Congress, is completely on the side of Indian propaganda,” Kissinger said. “They make it next to impossible to continue military supplies to Pakistan.” He asked China, which was unconstrained by the hassles of a democratic legislature, to pick up the slack. Still, he said, the United States would not let India “humiliate Pakistan.” While asking China to encourage Pakistan to defuse India’s pretext for war by getting refugees home, Kissinger pledged to make no public statements that could embarrass Pakistan’s government.
Using a line from Samuel Hoskinson, Kissinger once wrote to Nixon, “Above all we must avoid being forced to choose between our policy toward the government of 700 million Chinese and over 600 million Indians and Bengalis.” But the White House had clearly chosen. Later, when facing criticism that they were sacrificing India for China, Nixon was incredulous. “Sacrificing India? For Christ sakes.” Kissinger said, “Mr. President, there’s nothing to sacrifice in India to begin with.” “Of course!” agreed Nixon.
There was one remaining big diplomatic chance for the United States to try to prevent a war: Indira Gandhi’s upcoming trip to Washington. Kissinger’s aides told him that this summit, which had been put on Nixon’s schedule several months earlier, would be their last opportunity to restrain India.
Nixon dreaded her visit. When Kissinger reminded him that it was on the calendar, he exhaled softly, “Jesus Christ.” The president suspiciously wanted to be sure that “she doesn’t come in here and, frankly, pull our legs.”
Kissinger stoked Nixon’s wrath. Declaring that the Indians were plotting to undo Partition by destroying Pakistan, he pushed a stereotype of wily Indian brains: “In their convoluted minds they really believe they can give Pakistan a powerful blow from which it won’t recover and solve everything at once.” Nixon told the British foreign secretary, “All that I can say is that I think the British got out too soon.”
In the Oval Office, Nixon angrily told Kissinger, “Well, you let the Indians know, they get their aid stopped when a war starts. They aren’t going to get any aid.” This was a tough threat. The United States gave substantial foreign aid to India about $220 million annually, plus another $220 million worth of development loans and $65 million in food aid. The State Department recoiled at slashing off India’s aid, noting the “hyper- sensitivity” of Indians to a “neo- colonialist attitude,” and warning of a “new level of bitterness” that would long poison U.S.-Indian relations. Still, Kissinger told a Situation Room meeting, Nixon was deadly serious about cutting off aid if India went to war:
“The Indians must understand that we mean it. The President has said so. In fact, he tells me every day.”
Printed with permission from Random House India