A look from Egypt and Turkey too
It is now almost half a century, 48 years to be exact, when in late 1962 Beijing exposed New Delhi to the brutal and ruthless world we live in, something Indian rulers, barring exceptions, have refused to comprehend throughout history and do not, not even now. Look at the current internal situation in India, verily a dysfunctional anarchy, with explosive situation building up in south west Asia, which will affect India too deeply.
Veteran journalist Inder Malhotra, initiated the discussion on the subject recently by writing two pieces in the Indian Express, based on two unsealed secret letters from a panicked Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru to US president John Kennedy in 1962 confirming the lack of culture of strategic thinking and measures to counter threats to national security and protect territorial integrity. He was followed by a piece by K. Subrahmaniyam, a well-connected expert, but whose world view has been molded by Washington. Then followed the formidable Indian ambassador KS Bajpai, son of an even more formidable civil servant, Sir Girija Shankar Bajpai ICS who was once envoy to Washington and senior most advisor to PM Nehru. On 27 November, Ram Pradhan, who was private secretary to Yashvantrao Chavan, who replaced Krishna Menon as defense minister during the debacle itself throws some more light on the grim events.
Finally at the end, I have given my impressions of how the events looked from Cairo, Egypt’s capital, where I was posted after the tragic October-November 1962 events having followed them from New Delhi in the ministry of external affairs (MEA). Egypt was one of the five Colombo powers suggested to find a solution to the complicated dispute. I have also added some more info I gathered when posted in Ankara, which Nehru had visited in 1960. He was advised by Ismet Inonu, Kemal Ataturk’s able deputy and successor, not to trust the communists. I had perused the dossiers in the Mission and talked to Inonu’s son-in-law in 1995, who had acted as the interpreter at the famous meeting between two statesmen.
Inder Malhotra states that while it was a relatively limited clash of arms, militarily speaking, it unfortunately turned into a traumatic military debacle and political disaster for India. He quotes from the two “Eyes Only” letters Nehru sent to John Kennedy which described the war situation as “desperate” and asked for “more comprehensive” US military aid, especially in the form of air power “if the Chinese are to be prevented from taking over the whole of Eastern India.”
In keeping with the Hindu-Brahmin tradition of keeping things secret, the first public mention of these two letters in the Rajya Sabha by MP, Sudhir Ghosh, in 1965 was flatly denied by the then prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri. There were no such letters. Washington, after some years, admitted these letters were received, but refused to reveal them. In the 1980s, copies of these letters were duly placed in the US National Archives, and some other places in USA, after heavy censoring. It was claimed in USA that at the request of the Government of India the letters were not being made public.
After Inder did get access, he mulled over whether publishing the letters would give many habitual Nehru-baiters, another opportunity to malign him but he opted to unveil them in public interest. Giving the background he says that the second letter, sent “within a few hours of the first”, was vastly more important. In this, Nehru informed Kennedy that during the short interval, “the situation in NEFA (North-East Frontier Agency, now called Arunachal Pradesh) has deteriorated still further. Bomdila has fallen and the retreating forces from Sela have been trapped between the Sela Ridge and Bomdila. A serious threat has developed to our Digboi oilfields in Assam. With the advance of the Chinese in massive strength, the entire Brahmaputra Valley is seriously threatened and unless something is done immediately to stem the tide, the whole of Assam, Tripura, Manipur and Nagaland would also pass into Chinese hands.”
Nehru added “The Chinese have poised massive forces”, “(also) in Chumbi Valley between Sikkim and Bhutan and another invasion from that direction appears imminent... In Ladakh, as I have said in my earlier communication, Chushul is under heavy attack and the shelling of the airfield at Chushul has already commenced. We have also noticed increasing air activity by the Chinese air force.” (In the earlier letter, Nehru had said that after Chushul there was “nothing to stop the Chinese till they reach Leh, the headquarters of the Ladakh province of Kashmir.”)
Nehru further pointed out that hitherto he had “restricted our requests to essential equipment” and thanking the US for the assistance “so readily given” and went on: “We did not ask for more comprehensive assistance, particularly air assistance, because of wider implications... in the global context and we did not want to embarrass our friends.” The next five lines state what has been indicated above: “The situation that has developed is, however, desperate. We have to have more comprehensive assistance if the Chinese are to be prevented from taking over the whole of Eastern India. Any delay in this assistance reaching us will result in nothing short of a catastrophe for our country”.
Continues Inder, remarkably, Nehru’s request for comprehensive aid, especially “immediate support to strengthen our air arm sufficiently to stem the tide of the Chinese advance” goes into minute details, and is prefaced by the statement: “We have repeatedly felt the need to use our air arm in support of our land forces but have been unable to do so because in the present state... we have no defence against retaliatory action by the Chinese.” In this context the specific demands are for: “[A] minimum of 12 squadrons of supersonic all-weather fighters” and a “modern radar cover (which) we don’t have.” Nehru added that US air force personnel “will have to man these fighters and radar installations while our personnel are being trained.”
More significantly, he spelled out that US fighter and transport aircraft “manned by US personnel will be used for the present to protect our cities and installations from Chinese attacks and to maintain our communications... and if this is possible... to assist the Indian Air Force in air battles with the Chinese air force over Indian areas where air action by the IAF against Chinese communication lines, supplies and troop concentrations may lead to counter air action by the Chinese. Any air action to be taken against the Chinese beyond the limits of our country, e.g. in Tibet, will be taken by the IAF planes manned by Indian personnel.”
Sudhir Ghosh later claimed in the Parliament that Nehru had requested Kennedy for, among other things, a US aircraft-carrier to be stationed in the Bay of Bengal. But there is absolutely no mention of this in either of his two letters to JFK. In spite of the situation Nehru knew of the likely pressures that would be brought to bear on the US president against extending “comprehensive” military aid to India.
So he wrote: “The Chinese threat as it has developed involves not merely the survival of India, but the survival of free and independent Governments in the whole of this sub-Continent or in Asia. The domestic quarrels regarding small areas or territorial borders between the countries in this sub-Continent or in Asia have no relevance whatever in the context of the developing Chinese invasion. I would emphasise particularly that all the assistance or equipment given to us to meet our dire need will be used entirely for resistance against the Chinese. I have made this clear in a letter I sent to President Ayub Khan of Pakistan. I am asking our Ambassador to give you a copy of this letter.
“We are confident that your great country will in this hour of our trial help us in our fight for survival and for the survival of freedom and independence in this sub-Continent and rest of Asia. We on our part are determined to spare no effort until the threat posed by Chinese expansionist and aggressive militarism to freedom and independence is completely eliminated”.
Whatever might have been Beijing’s objectives, apart from humiliating New Delhi in the Afro-Asian world of which India was the leader, on November 20 the Chinese declared a unilateral ceasefire and phased withdrawal. Consequently, the urgency behind Nehru’s correspondence with Kennedy disappeared. But, ironically, the reference to irrelevance of “domestic disputes over small areas or territorial borders between the countries in the sub-Continent” did not achieve the desired result. On the contrary, the US and Britain, represented by Averell Harriman and Duncan Sandys respectively (the latter more than the former), pressured India relentlessly to settle the Kashmir issue with Pakistan. The protracted but pointless six rounds of talks between Swaran Singh and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, adequately discussed in this column already, followed. A trickle of American military assistance did slowly flow into India but it did not amount to much and was, in any case, terminated during the 1965 India-Pakistan War.
Something of significance in the second letter merits attention. Saying that a month had elapsed since China’s “massive attack on India” Nehru added he thought he should inform Kennedy of further developments since “my last letter of October 29.”
Nehru states: “There was a deceptive lull after the first Chinese offensive during which the Chinese mounted a serious propaganda offensive in the name three-point proposals, which shorn of their wrappings, actually constituted a demand for surrender on their terms. The Chinese tried, despite our rejection of these proposals, to get various Afro-Asian countries to intercede with various offers of mediation. After my clear and categorical statement in Parliament on 14 November rejecting the three-point proposal of Chou en-Lai, the Chinese who had made full preparations to put further military pressure on us, re-started their military offensive... Events have moved very fast and we are facing a grim situation in our struggle and in defending all that India stands for against an unscrupulous and powerful aggressor.”
After the ceasefire, Inder adds, President Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandarnaike, Ghana’s leader Kwame Nkrumah and some others met and formulated some principles on the basis of which, they said, India and China could resume negotiations for settling the border issue. Known as the Colombo Proposals because the non-aligned leaders had met in the Sri Lankan capital, India accepted them but China rejected them out of hand. Thereafter, New Delhi declared that border talks with China could take place only on the basis of the Colombo Proposals, and this remained Indian policy until New Year’s Day, 1968, when Indira Gandhi, as prime minister, announced that she was prepared to negotiate with the Chinese without any precondition.
It took China more than two years to respond. On May Day 1970, Mao Zedong made it a point to smile at the then Indian Charge d’ Affairs in Beijing, Brajesh Mishra. Mao said that there was no reason why India and China, both great countries, could not be friends. Nothing came of this, however, because soon enough the Bangladesh crisis, leading to the 1971 war, erupted. China supported Pakistan fully. Chou even said that India had picked up a rock it would “drop on its own feet.” It took another 10 years before border talks between the two countries to begin but without much progress so far.
Nehru’s official biographer, S. Gopal, never admitted to having seen the letters. But he confidently asserted that the letters were drafted by the foreign secretary of the day, M. J. Desai. If true, this is rather strange. For Nehru always wrote his letters himself — sometimes drafting them for his subordinates to sign.
B. K. Nehru, ICS, PM Nehru’s cousin, the then ambassador in Washington made no secret of the fact that on receiving and reading the second letter, his impulse was to not deliver it. But being a civil servant, he immediately delivered the letter to the White House. He locked the letters in the Ambassador’s only safe. The fate of the two letters is not clear. Perhaps they were filched, some even accusing that they might be with BK Nehru family.
That night of November 19 - Subrahmanyam states that he knew about the letter. Commenting on Nehru’s failures in 1962, in the chapter on the “evolution of Indian defence policy” he had written in 1984-85 he asserts: “At the highest level Jawaharlal Nehru chose to appeal to the US president for aerial support without first ordering the Indian Air Force into battle.” -- the US Ambassador played a role in influencing the Indian decision not to use the Indian Air Force may be inferred from Galbraith’s, Ambassador’s Journal -- According to his information the main adviser for the letter was foreign secretary M.J. Desai--.
Nehru did not ask for an aircraft carrier. But the Americans did have an aircraft carrier (USS Enterprise) in the Indian Ocean and it did move into the Bay of Bengal. This particular incident and what happened subsequently have very valuable lessons to non-alignment cultists on Nehru’s use of the concept as a strategy to safeguard India’s security and not as a third-worldist ideology. Since the Chinese declared a unilateral ceasefire on November 20 and withdrew — they could not have stayed on with the passes blocked by snow — the immediate crisis passed.
The US came up with some help especially for supply dropping for our troops. By December 18-21, President Kennedy and Prime Minister Macmillan had met in the Bahamas and finalized a joint military aid package of $120 million for India. What should be of interest here is the triangle of India, the US and the USSR. At that time, Kennedy is reported to have told one of his aides that India should be encouraged to get as much military equipment as possible from the Soviet Union for its military preparedness against China. The Soviet Union could not take a pro-India stand in October 1962 as the Chinese timed their attack to coincide with the Cuban missile crisis — on this aspect we did not have a clue in India — and came out in support of the Indian stand by mid-December. From 1963 to 1965, India was concluding major defence agreements with both the US and the USSR, with neither party objecting to our dealings with the other.
About the Chinese Air-threat in 1962
In 1965, a Chinese deserter told Washington that because of total suspension of supply of spares by the Soviet Union, the PLA air force was very nearly totally incapacitated and grounded, even in the mainland, let alone in Tibet. Ambassador Galbraith’s advice was based not on any intelligence but on his personal hunch. For our part, at that time we were reliant on British and US intelligence given to us at their discretion. Obviously they too did not have adequate intelligence on the status of Sino-Soviet relations. The first air-defence missiles SA-2 came from the Soviet Union in 1963.
Just as there are senior defence services and foreign service officers exhorting the country not to trust the Americans now for equipment, there was a large number of people arguing against our dealings with the Soviet Union. They asserted communists and communists would always get together and let us down, and that our officers and personnel undergoing training in the USSR would be brainwashed and subverted. History is witness that the procedures we implemented guarded against such risks.
[This clearly shows how Subramaniyam and other important Indians, especially in the intelligence services , who were initially trained by UK and US agencies and still mislead them as in David Hedley’s case recently , continue to be fed by the Anglo-Saxons]
The letters and the lore
Ram Pradhan, former internal affairs secretary ,who was then private secretary to defense minister Yeshwantrao Chavan, who took over from Krishna Menon recalls that Chavan reached Delhi on 20 November night and was sworn in the next day. There was no record of the 19 November letter. After a briefing from foreign secretary Chavan told Pradhan of Nehru’s appeal to the US president and the UK prime minister. It brought US Assistant Secretary of State Averell Harriman and Defence Secretary Duncan Sandys on 22 November.
“S. Gopal, Nehru’s official biographer, has described in detail the assistance sought in that letter. However questions about non-alignment were raised when, over the next few months, two high-level Indian missions visited the US. One under S. Bhoothalingam, secretary at the ministry of economic and defence coordination, and the second one led by his minister, T.T. Krishnamachari. These reports caused controversy: had India and the US entered a joint defence agreement? And had India asked for an “air umbrella”?
Nehru’s efforts to downplay this were not helped when the Peking People’s Daily said “the (joint air) manoeuvres were proof that the Indian government was deliberately creating tension on the Sino-Indian border under its own fabricated pretext of Chinese aggression.... The description of India as non-aligned was sheer mockery to countries which really pursued the policy of non-alignment.” Within hours, Prime Minister Nehru told Parliament he had no intention of asking for a Western “air umbrella.” He deftly side-stepped answering whether he had asked for such an “air umbrella” in the past. Now we know from the second letter how precisely Nehru’s request was worded.
Regarding statement of Sudhir Ghosh, an MP from West Bengal in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) that “in March 1965, in the hour of our peril in 1962, Pandit Nehru, the apostle of non-alignment, had solicited American air intervention, and a US aircraft carrier was in the waters of the Bay of Bengal, Prime Minister Shastri said that Ghosh’s statement was incorrect. Ghosh was greatly upset, and requested Shastri to seek confirmation from the US ambassador, Chester Bowles. If he refuted the statement, Ghosh would resign. Foreign Secretary C.S. Jha got in touch with Bowles, who replied that the US government did have the document (Nehru’s appeal to Kennedy for air protection) and it could be produced if the government so wished. Apparently on learning this, and knowing that any continuation of the controversy would further damage Indo-US relations, Shastri made a statement denying that any request for an aircraft carrier was made, or that any such carrier was in the Bay of Bengal at the time. He did not say that it was heading towards the Bay.
“[In answering questions in the Parliament, many a times we do not tell the truth but without telling a lie, using the excuse; according to our information available now] -
B.K. Nehru, the Indian ambassador in Washington who had delivered Nehru’s messages personally to President Kennedy, was in a position to confirm or deny the matter, but was not asked by the Foreign Office. (MEA)
Pradhan poses two questions. Who drafted the letters? And was Nehru ready to give up non-alignment? He then answers that “it seemed that as a practical politician Nehru was moving towards what is described as bi-alignment with the US and the Soviets. We knew about it. In a public meeting at Pune on November 14, 1962 Chavan said, “There were people in India who believed Russia would help us in the present crisis... but, I am firmly of the opinion that Russia would ultimately be on the side of China, because the Russians had recently described the Chinese as their brothers while Indians were their allies.”
On November 16, 1962 Chavan received a letter from Nehru “whether your opinion or belief is wholly justified or not, it is certainly unfortunate that you should have made these statements.” He explained why it was desirable not to comment on such a sensitive matter at this critical stage of international relations, because to say anything which would push Russia more into the arms of the Chinese would be “disastrous.” Pandit Nehru had sensed the new developments and he was indeed moving towards bi-alignment. In fact in a television interview in New York in December 1962, he confirmed that “there was no non-alignment vis-à-vis China.” So Subrahmanyam is right in pointing out how Nehru’s use of non-alignment as a concept was a strategy to safeguard India’s security and not a third-worldist ideology.
While Nehru drafted his own letters but one should not doubt what Gopal had stated. “The letter is precise and too detailed about the assistance that India was expecting, and even a foreign secretary as experienced as M.J. Desai could not have done that. My guess is that John Lall, the joint secretary in charge of the air force, must have assisted Desai, because I found the same noting in his brief to the defence minister for discussion with US and UK dignitaries.”
The Amateurs in Charge
In his piece “The amateurs in charge” Ambassador K.S Bajpai rightly criticizes those who denigrate him (Nehru).” Of course he made mistakes, who doesn’t, and to pretend they really were not mistakes — worse, to conceal facts — only feeds his detractors. What our country owes him becomes ever more apparent, time and our travails keep confirming its value. Viewing so great a man whole, faults and all, cannot diminish his stature, or our debt. What we need is to learn from the mistakes, his and ours — which we stubbornly refuse to do. – (it was) self-inflicted: blinding ourselves to it is to invite repeats. -- but the totality of our failure extends far beyond individuals. India failed to function as an organised state, alive to its challenges and opportunities, appropriately prepared to deal with them. Have we used our experience to become such a state now?
Despite our foolishness in imagining that suppressing facts can change them, --(it was ) frightening situation Delhi saw itself facing that November 19 morning. Key positions had been left to the enemy, Sela and Bomdila augured horrendous dangers, civil officers had started being withdrawn and a complete evacuation from Assam was being considered, the DIB even starting to plan a resistance movement. --, Major-General “Monty” Palit wrote later - was shown the draft letter seeking 12 fighter and two bomber squadrons; as “DMO, at a desperate stage of a war that seemed to be moving along a course of escalating disasters, [he] could only welcome the proposal of obtaining military help, whatever its source,” though confessing he “had not for a moment imagined that... the architect of India’s non-alignment policy, would ask for actual intervention by US forces.” (War in the High Himalayas pp 342-343)
--he (Nehru) was a shattered man, the Chinese attack a mortal blow to his whole worldview as well as his longing to develop India in its own special way. Temporarily, he let himself be guided by advisers. --. It was certainly known Panditji was not himself those days, and the letters were indeed drafted by advisers, especially his strange foreign secretary. And, sure enough, as soon as he was better we were more non-aligned than ever. No doubt our reversion was encouraged by the derisory nature of the Anglo-American response — but the explanation that we had never in fact deviated but only practiced realpolitik -- won’t wash. The letters clearly show to what depths we had fallen. -- Let’s just acknowledge that, and focus on the broader causes of a national failure.
Accounts left by Palit, two criticised officers, B.N. Kaul and J. Dalvi and others – “leave convincing impressions of the utter amateurishness of our whole approach to, and handling of, this first great challenge to our state. B.N. Mullick gives the most vivid picture of our chaotic ways, soldiers and civilians rushing back and forth, our top leaders hovering around a front commander conducting operations from a Delhi sickbed; greatly respected in his profession, this director of the Intelligence Bureau justifies claims of reliable intelligence, but unintentionally makes things look worse by citing involvement in operations — which is none of an intelligence officer’s business. Memoirs of two foreign secretaries, Y.D. Gundevia and Rajeshwar Dayal, independently recount how, barely a few days before the Chinese attacks, they were bewildered by being called to meetings under the defence minister (Krishna Menon) to be solemnly told (with the director’s concurrence) that it was not China that was preparing mischief but Pakistan!
“None of the civilians had the slightest notion of grand strategy, much less of fighting a war; with some honourable exceptions, our military emerge no better. Except for the gallant victims of our ineptitude, nobody comes out well. ----Everything, from our assessment of security needs, the planning of strategy, the build-up of resources, not least the application of trained minds — we were like schoolboys playing games. The key to serving a state is statecraft, which we simply will not learn. Today we have the added problem that the instruments of state have become increasingly dysfunctional. The wake-up call of 1962 keeps ringing, unheard, after 50 years.”
All four of them appeal that our obsession with secrecy be given up, old documents be made public so that they can be studied, lessons learnt and remedial measures taken.
Unfortunately the historical and cultural Brahmin laid dharma of keeping knowledge in the family and caste and not committing it to paper (look at Vedas and other scriptures) remains supreme. It needed an Italy born Indian leader to bring out the Right to Information, which the old Brahminical habit, opportunistically imbibed by other castes in power persists and attempts are being made to shorten it.
New Delhi and Cairo
In end 1962 along with a few other new entrants to the foreign service, I was undergoing training in MEA and waiting to go to Indian Embassy in Cairo, to learn Arabic and then take over as Assistant Press Attache. So we attended media conferences by foreign secretary MJ Desai, who explained the retreating positions of Indian troops along India’s borders with China with relief maps and other developments. We were generally aware that something terribly had gone wrong on India’s borders following media reports and discussions in the Parliament, specially Nehru’s speech after the fall of Sela pass in north east, but were not privy to the details and the gravity of the reality on the ground or the national and international implications of what had happened.
In the wake of the state of emergency declared after the debacle at the borders, I and family instead of leisurely traveling to Egypt in a luxury ship, as a special dispensation (pity) were flown to Cairo by Air India in end December 1962. Cairo was then the centre of resurgent Arab world under nationalist President Gamal Abdul Nasser and at the forefront of non-aligned movement along with India and Yugoslavia, in decolonization of nations from Western colonial repressive rule and exploitation. Apart from close relationship between the top leadership and the peoples of the two countries, with rich cultural traditions there are many similar traits including laziness (baad bokra; after tomorrow when work promised was not done and Maalish –never mind) and obligatory tipping (baksheesh). So it was not difficult to settle down soon.
Nasser and his group of young officers who had overthrown the corrupt Albanian origin dynasty, were full of respect for Nehru, who sometimes alone or with the Yugoslav leader Marshal Tito would explain to them the intricacies of history and international relations and the exploitation of the Asian and African countries by European colonial powers. But after Indian debacle many Egyptians felt that Cairo was now the pre-eminent non-aligned nation, more so after Egypt was named an important member of the Colombo powers. World leaders like Chou en Lai, Khrushchev (to open the Aswan dam financed by Moscow) and others visited Cairo. This made some Egyptians cocky. What irked us was a statement by a vain Egyptian diplomat that, non-aligned policy, yes, but it should be armed non-alignment!
A few years later in 1966, the armed non-aligned Egyptian forces collapsed miserably without a fight with a well prepared, experienced and battle hardened and ruthless Israel forces following a preemptive air blitzkrieg. Having seen the attitude of bad bokra and Maalish, it was clear that the Egyptian forces would not last more than a few weeks. By that time I was posted back to MEA. When I expressed this view to Jagat Mehta, later foreign secretary, he agreed but said that he was pilloried for this assessment by some colleagues. A colleague who had learnt Arabic in Beirut was claiming, based on Arab Radio reports that Arab forces will celebrate victory in Jerusalem. When I enquired which Arab forces, he said the Egyptians. I enquired if he had seen Egyptian forces and their state of readiness! I later got reports from some Indian air force officers who were training Egyptians. Barring a few the Egyptians put up very little fight. I was told that some military officers after office hours (as in normal times) would go over to the Zamalek Sporting Club in the heart of Cairo with their families as if it was business as usual.
Egypt was as ill prepared as was India in 1962 while both Israel and China were well prepared. They had experienced war and had battle hardened troops and had planned well in advance. Many Indians who joined the armed forces thought that it was the best sporting club east of Suez. Some exercises in the mornings and jolly good mess evenings and nights. Peace keeping missions in Congo and Gaza and back home with imported goods, much sought after in India. Many civilian officer candidates who had been selected for military Commissions just before 1962 war, failed to join. But after it was all over, many well connected officers who were selected after 1962 got into IFS and IAS though a limited and special recruitment for their so called sacrifices for the nation! My foot! Egyptian military personnel were no different. Egyptian forces were fighting in Yemen in support of nationalist forces against forces supported by the Saudi Kingdom. This entitled them to many privileges and perks. The 1966 debacle was an eye opener.
Such are the twists and turns of vanity and arrogance.
But Egyptians under President Anwar Sadat did manage to regroup and even changed allies and finally threw out the Israeli forces from the Suez Canal occupied since 1966 in the 1973 Yom Kippur war. The Jewish state came out well only because it threatened to use a nuclear bomb on Cairo, which forced Washington to create an air bridge to supply whatever weapons Tel Aviv needed and extended full support in UNSC. Later Sadat went over to Tel Aviv in 1979 to sign a peace treaty, for which he later paid with his life, but he got back Egyptian territories including Sinai and the oil wells.
In 1979 meetings in Israel, some Egyptian functionaries left over from 1966 said that in eastern tradition and culture, when Cairo threatened to close Sharm-el Sheikh in 1966 it was just a rhetoric. But Tel Aviv took full advantage by preemptive well planned air strikes in typical Darwin-Cartesian style. In a similar way Nehru when pressed in the Parliament ordered rhetorically that the Chinese troops be expelled from Indian territories, which some pro-Chinese writers cite as India’s offensive objectives.What stupidity!
Many Arab leaders, safe from Israel keep on beating up war drums. The 1973 war led to quadrupling of the oil prices, which made Gulf kingdoms immensely rich, who flaunted their wealth and tastes for women in Cairo much to local resentment.
Ankara;1960 Meeting Between Nehru and Ismet Inonu
In 1961 when under training at the National Academy of Administration at Mussourie , one directing staff had a dig at Indian ambassador JK ‘Mucky’ Atal in Ankara, who had allowed the visit of Nehru to Turkey in 1960 just before the military coup d’etat. So when I was posted to Ankara twice (1969-73 and 1992-96) I was keen to learn the background to the visit. In my first tenure I did meet with some Turks who had met with Nehru. In spite of different foreign policy postures, he was received with great warmth and affection by everyone. Leyla Chambel, a journalist from Ataturk days had gifted Nehru a shirt of Ataturk. Another, Sunter Hosafji, whose father was a close associate of Ataturk, who attended the reception at the Indian Embassy narrated that when Nehru saw him looking unhappy and bored, he asked the Ambassador that the young man be served a glass of whisky (alcoholic drinks are prohibited at official receptions and dinners) much to young Sunter’s delight .
When I headed the mission in my 2nd tenure, I did go through the old files. It revealed that, as usual, Ambassador Atal was keen to have a VVIP visit during his tenure and the conservative Turkish government of Adnan Mendeers then facing opposition from the secular establishment and the military was keen that the visit takes place to indicate that it was business as usual. The government had put restrictions on Ismet Inonu, Ataturk’s right hand man during the war for independence and later his successor in 1938. Ismet Pasha, the wily fox as Ataturk once described him, laid the foundations of democratic traditions in Turkey. In spite of pressures he refused to become head of state, except through democratic elections only. Late Ilhan Cevic, founder – editor of Turkey’s first and influential Turkish Daily News, who was posted in the Turkish Mission in London in 1960, told me that when he saw in the Newsreel that as soon as Nehru’s car had passed, the soldiers had turned their back on the following cavalcade. This convinced Ilhan that it was matter of days before the coup would take place and it did.
However, I was more interested in the discussions which took place between Nehru and Ismet Pasha. There was not much in the files. But I had learnt that with high tensions between the ruling regime and Ismet Pasha and the secular establishment, the Turkish government refused to arrange the meeting officially. Nehru insisted on a meeting and according to one source even threatened to drive over and meet with Ismet Pasha, whom he admired a lot. Finally a way out was found. Ismet Pasha came to the embassy reception and the two statesmen talked for over half an hour. Only when Ismet Pasha had left that the Prime Minister Menderes and his delegation entered the embassy premises. However, no definite and accurate information was available on the talk.
So one evening in 1993 I went over to have few drinks with Ismet Pasha’s son-in-law, Metin Toker, who had acted as an interpreter at the meeting, at the very place which in 1960 was the rented Indian embassy. Metin Toker told me that the two leaders met with great affection and mutual respect and discussed the international situation. It was the time when Nehru’s popularity and fame was at its peak. Nehru told Inonu that countries like Turkey and India should remain neutral and not join any bloc. There was no fear of China attacking India or Russia attacking Turkey .Inonu did not agree. He then narrated how after the WWII in which Ankara had remained neutral Russia had laid claims to Turkey’s north eastern provinces and wanted to revise the Montreux Convention controlling the Bosphorous straits. Ismet Pasha told Nehru that he should not trust the communists (the events leading up to the 1962 debacle were still simmering.) In early 1920s when Turkey was occupied by European forces with the Greeks, with the British support, had reached the outskirts of Ankara, before being driven back into the Mediterranean Sea at Izmir, Ataturk had accepted financial and other help from the Soviet Union, Ottomans’ historical enemy, but had come hard on communist movement inside Turkey. The relations have warmed up after the collapse of Communism and break up of USSR.
When India appealed for help from friendly countries in end 1962, Ambassador Atal saw Inonu who had become the prime minster. Ismet Pasha told the Ambassador to remind Nehru of what he had told him in the 1960 meeting. It is understood that much against oppositions from Cento ally Pakistan Ankara did send some mountain guns to India.
The point made by Ambassador Bajpai is valid. The 1962 handling of a grave and almost existential threat to India’s sovereignty and territorial unity was amateurish at all levels and by all sectors of the polity. “What we need is to learn from the mistakes, his (Nehru) and ours — which we stubbornly refuse to do. -- Have we used our experience to become such a (organized) state now? -- The key to serving a state is statecraft, which we simply will not learn. Today we have the added problem that the instruments of state have become increasingly dysfunctional. The wake-up call of 1962 keeps ringing, unheard, after 50 years.”
Ambassador Bajpai now seems wiser than in 1988, when I had called him over to lecture new entrants to Indian diplomatic service on India’s foreign policy. I had criticised Nehru’s lack of strategic thinking. He had replied sharply that it was easy to criticize with hindsight. When or how else can one analyse and assess some one’s policy!
Late JN Dixit, former NSA in one of his books writes that when he asked Dr S Gopal about Nehru’s foreign policy objectives, Gopal replied that while a visionary and noble leader Nehru not quite down to earth. His vision was to promote peace and friendship among people and such ends.
With close contacts with Fabian and socialist ideas and ideals, he was exploited by the Mountbattens to promote British policies and objectives in post-independence India, quite often at New Delhi’s expense, whether it was about creating violent communal climate in India and encouraging Jinnah to demand Pakistan or later on the Kashmir problem to ensure that independent India had no direct land link with central Asia even via Kashmir and Wakan corridor.
You cannot trust Americans even on what they give you in writing.
Even when India was faced with existential threat in 1962, London and Washington still wanted to first resolve the Kashmir problem in which they still support their ally Pakistan to keep India out of central Asia and direct relations with the region. Their policy is ruthless in pursuing their objectives and remains inimical to Indian interests. By now it is clear that FBI was complicit in 26/11 and did not warn India about the activities of its agent David Headley. BBC still calls the ten ISI trained terrorists gunmen, while when a British born Muslim reads Quran he becomes a terrorist. Perfidious British and crude Americans should not be trusted and their promises should be duly verified. Let me repeat again what a deputy prime minister, Inonu’s son Erdal told me, “Mr Ambassador, you cannot trust Americans even on what they give you in writing.”
Because of his knowledge of history and experience, a structured policy planning division could not be established in MEA in Nehru’s life time. While Indira Gandhi, one of the greatest strategic thinkers and executors of strategic objectives did appoint G. Parthasarthy to formulate foreign policy, it was only PM AB Vajpayee, who had a full time NSA in Brajesh Mishra, a retired foreign service officer, but he was too close to US thinking. He was also power and publicity hog and while NSA also functioned as joint PM and interfered in MEA’s day-to-day work. To have a policeman as NSA is a recipe for disaster as proved by 26/11.Fortunately the current NSA, Shankar Menon former envoy to China, Pakistan, Colombo and Tel Aviv is experienced and cool. After the mis-drafting on Baluchistan, India is shifting slowly towards a more balanced policy towards, Beijing, Moscow and Tehran.
But Nehru was great enough to admit after the unraveling of his Chinese policy that India lived in the world of its own. But he was absolutely right on his economic policies. A lot of Indians, who have retired from multinationals or are enjoying pensions from Washington consensus institutions like IMF World Bank and allied organisations, criticise his economic policies. If we had not kept the multinationals out, when there was little indigenous industrial acumen , we would have become like many countries in Asia and Latin America, where US foreign policy and interests of their multinationals would have had full sway and brought massive misery to their populations in late 1990s. Finally the so called rampant US capitalism after looting the rest of the world has hit at its middleclass and the poor to benefit its rich oligarchy and is taking the country down to fast decline.