Saturday, April 25, 2009

India 10: Us and Them

Now that I've taken a quick trip through the political history of independent India, I want to, even more quickly, go back over that history, this time with emphasis on Indo-American relations.

From its independence in 1947, India pursued socialist policies for more than four decades. While it could not have been classified as a Marxist-Leninist state, it got along well with the Soviet Union. Therefore, from the American point of view, India was not exactly a Cold War enemy, but could not have been described as a close friend.

Here is a web page that describes summit meetings between various American presidents and their counterparts as prime minister of India.

India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, which was founded in 1955. In theory, its members were not aligned with either the United States or the Soviet Union in the Cold War. But, in practice, that didn't hold up.

The movement included countries that were closely allied with the Soviet Union, such as Cuba. Others, such as India, tilted toward the Soviet side. Only some, such as Yugoslavia, whose Communist regime broke with Moscow early on, could truly be said to be non-aligned.

Nehru's leading role in that movement put some distance, but not exactly enmity, between India and the U.S.

India's wars with China and Pakistan complicated its relationship with America.

During the early years of Indian and Pakistani independence, the U.S. generally had better relations with Pakistan than with India. In contrast to India's non-aligned stance, Pakistan was formally allied with the U.S. in the multilateral alliances SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) and CENTO (Central Treaty Organization, or "Baghdad Pact").

India and China went to war over a border dispute in 1962. The U.S. gave limited support to the Indian side in that dispute. At that time, the U.S. had no relationship with China. But later, during Richard Nixon's presidency, when America began to pursue such a relationship, the tense nature of Sino-Indian relations played a role in Nixon's Asian chess game.

Two Indo-Pakistani wars, in 1965 and 1971, presented the U.S. with a more difficult situation.

In 1965, the U.S. did not side with Pakistan as much as might have been expected. Lyndon Johnson's administration cut off arms shipments to both sides. American had been supplying some arms to India, but was a much bigger factor in arming Pakistan. This may have contributed to Pakistan forming closer ties to China.

The American attitude toward the 1971 war was colored by Nixon's overtures to China, which were underway at that time, and would lead to Nixon's first visit to China, in 1972.

The friendly relationship between China and Pakistan was useful to American diplomacy. In fact, Henry Kissinger's 1971 secret flight to Beijing to begin laying the groundwork for Nixon's trip, took off from Pakistan.

These considerations, along with a difficult personal relationship between Nixon and Indira Gandhi, led Nixon to side more strongly with Pakistan in 1971, than his predecessor had in 1965.

Next: Economic and geopolitical factors lead to better Indo-American ties in later years.

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