Former US President John F Kennedy had played a “decisive role” in “forestalling a Pakistani attack” on India during the 1962 Sino-India war, even as Pakistan was capable of taking advantage of the situation to take control of Indian-occupied Kashmir, Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official, has revealed in his book.
“Pakistan was clearly capable of initiating war with India, but decided in 1962 not to take advantage of India’s vulnerability,” Riedel wrote in his book titled JFK’s Forgotten Crisis: Tibet, the CIA and the Sino-Indian War.
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The book also revealed that on October 28, 1962, the day before former Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru asked for American military help, then US ambassador to Pakistan Walter McConaughy met with the then Pakistani ruler Ayub Khan.
“The Ambassador urged him to send assurances to Nehru that Pakistan would not take advantage of India’s war with China,” Riedel wrote.
In response to that, Khan suggested that “the Americans and Pakistanis work together to seek the surrender of Indian territory just as the Chinese were grabbing land”. However, the US considered this as ‘blackmail’.
Riedel also wrote that the then US ambassador to India J K Galbraith sent an ‘alarming telegram’ to Washington and Karachi, asking, “for God’s sake that they keep Kashmir out” of any American message to Pakistan. US immediately sided with Galbraith on Kashmir and advised Nehru to write a letter to Ayub Khan.
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“Kennedy’s message to Ayub Khan, reinforced by a similar message from [then British] prime minister [Harold] Macmillan, left little in doubt that the US and the UK would view a Pakistani move against India as a hostile and aggressive action inconsistent with the SEATO and CENTO Treaties," he wrote.
"The Americans told Pakistan that the Chinese attack was the most dangerous move made by Mao since 1950 and that they intended to respond decisively,” he added.
The book also disclosed that as India began to lose territory to China, Nehru asked for US help in the war and wrote to Kennedy asking him to provide jet fighters to defeat the Chinese. “A lot more effort, both from us and from our friends will be required,” Nehru wrote in his letter.
In a state of panic, Nehru wrote another letter to Kennedy which was hand-delivered by the then Indian ambassador to the US on November 19.
“Nehru was thus asking Kennedy to join the war against China by partnering in an air war to defeat the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army of China). It was a momentous request that the Indian Prime Minister was making. Just a decade after American forces had reached a ceasefire with the Chinese Community Forces in Korea, India was asking JFK to join a new war against Community China,” Riedel wrote.
According to Riedel, Nehru asked for 12 squadrons of US air forces, as well as, “two squadrons of B-47 Bombers” to strike in Tibet. “A minimum of 12 squadrons of supersonic all-weather fighters are essential. We have no modern radar cover in the country. The United States Air Force personnel will have to man these fighters and radar installations while our personnel are being trained,” Nehru wrote in the letter.
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Further, in the letter, Nehru assured Kennedy that these bombers would not be used against Pakistan, but only for “resistance against the Chinese.”
Nehru had also written to Britain for help. However, China soon announced unilateral ceasefire, fearing that both Britain and the United States were preparing to help India win the war.
Riedel admits that although we will never know what the specifics of American assistance to India would have been if the war had continued, “We can be reasonably certain that America, India and probably Great Britain would have been at war together with China”.
This article originally appeared on The Hindu