350. Letter From the Ambassador to India (Bowles) to President Johnson 0

Dear Mr. President: I have not written to you directly about the situation confronting us here in South Asia, because I am keenly aware of the extraordinary burden so suddenly placed on your shoulders on November 22nd, and also because I feel that the cables sent from New Delhi give you a clear view of the existing situation as I see it.

[Page 728]

Having worked for two years on the Washington end, however, I am also aware of the wide variety of problems that reach your desk, and since I understand that a decision in regard to my proposals will be made soon, I did want to fill in some background that the cables do not carry.

When John Foster Dulles decided in late 1953 to arm Pakistan as the “strongest available anti-Communist power in South Asia and the Persian Gulf area” I and many others who know the area well vigorously dissented for a variety of reasons—all of which, I believe, have been vindicated by events:

From the outset Pakistan would view the arrangement not as an alliance against the Communists, but as a source of United States assistance against India;
As fears of U.S.-strengthened Pak forces develop in India, the political strength of the anti-American, pro-Soviet, Krishna Menon group would be sharply increased to our grave disadvantage;
The likelihood of settling the Kashmir dispute (which was very nearly accomplished in February 1952) would be diminished to the disappearing point;
The Soviets, looking for an ultimate balancing factor to China in Asia, would be given a wide open opportunity for a close political, economic, and military relationship with both Afghanistan and India with unpredictable but clearly unfavorable results to our interests.

Between 1954, when this pact was finally signed, and the election of our Democratic Administration in 1960, I wrote extensively and spoke in 43 states with this particular example of mistaken judgment by the Eisenhower Administration as a major theme. May I add in all fairness that the bold move by Herter and Dillon in 1958 to bolster India’s economy in spite of Krishna Menon was a major factor in undoing some of the damage done by the Pak “alliance.”

In October of 1962 we were suddenly confronted with the opportunity that many of us had been hoping for—an overt Chinese Communist action which would bring home to the Indian Government and people some primary facts of life of Asian politics, i.e., the inevitable political-economic rivalry of China and India and the danger an expansionist China holds for India not only along the 2,200-mile Himalayan frontier but also in Southeast Asia which flanks India’s eastern approaches.

The Indians, who had refused substantial Soviet military aid in May 1950 and again in February 1957, were wholly unprepared for the Chinese attack and were, as you know, humiliatingly defeated. This situation forced the resignation of Krishna Menon, threw the Communist Party into disarray, knocked the Soviets off balance and (following our prompt assistance) established the United States as India’s most reliable [Page 729] friend with an outpouring of public good will for our country which must be seen and felt to be believed.

If the Pakistanis had seized on this opportunity to establish a better relationship with India by a strong statement of support against China, or at least a beneficent neutrality, a wholly new atmosphere would have been created between Karachi and New Delhi in which some settlement of the Kashmir quarrel might have been achieved. But Pakistan chose to endorse China’s border claim, assert that India had attacked China, and have Mao Tse-tung as a friend. Five weeks from now Chou En-lai will be welcomed in Karachi as a state guest.

I have many warm associations in Pakistan and indeed I have known on a personal basis every Pakistani Prime Minister and President since Liaquat Ali Khan. Moreover, I am fully sympathetic to the emotional strain which the Pakistanis are undergoing in regard to India’s relatively orderly political development, the growth of her industries and her steady progress towards the status of a major power which inevitably downgrades Pakistan somewhat.

This, plus the fact that in their hearts the Pakistanis in spite of all this talk are good friends of America and the China gesture is more a gimmick than a commitment, leads me to feel that our aid to Pakistan should continue, and that we should seek in every reasonable way to quiet their fears—provided they are prepared at least to adopt a policy of neutrality in regard to the China-India conflict, and to work with us in establishing a better atmosphere on the subcontinent in which we can all deal more effectively with the basic problems of defense and development.

I think it is fair to add that under present circumstances the military aid we have given to Pakistan is wide open for attack by a Wayne Morse or some other critic of our foreign policy. Although the Mutual Security Act emphasizes that our military assistance is to be given for the purpose of combatting the Communists, the Pakistanis have made it clear that China is not a threat to her interests, and that their defenses are keyed solely towards India. The very nature of the highly sophisticated and mobile equipment which we have given Pakistan, equipment which is much better adapted to fighting Indians on the north Indian plains than to fighting the Chinese and Russians in the Himalayas and Hindu Kush, could be said by an unfriendly critic to bear this out. Pakistan can correct this situation only by assuming a new posture in regard to South Asian defense against China, and in the types of weapons which they seek from us.

One thing is certain. Contrary to the Pakistan view we do not have the power to decide whether or not India will build up her defenses. The only influence we can exert is over the sources of military equipment and to some degree the amounts obtained.

[Page 730]

The Indians are thoroughly aroused against China and are deeply committed to the creation of an adequate defense force. They can accomplish this in cooperation with us (with an understanding as to ceilings, use of their own foreign exchange, modest purchases from the Soviets, and a greater willingness to work with us on the political containment of China in Asia)—or they can go down a different road with much greater purchases in the USSR, a bigger defense industry of their own and diversion of more of their own foreign exchange for defense purposes.

In South Asia at long last we have the opportunity some of us have been hoping for over the years, and which was the primary reason I returned to India, i.e., the building of a new relationship with India that will bring her growing industrial and military potential into focus against the Chinese Communists.

If I am to have even a reasonable chance for negotiating the basis for the new relationship I need a five-year military assistance commitment (properly hedged in regard to Congress), an adequate amount of annual assistance (no less than $75-$80 million including the British—a sum which is half that we give to Turkey or South Korea), and maximum flexibility in regard to items and timing.

Given these tools I will do my level best. Without them all we can expect is a continuing impasse, the gradual strengthening of the pro-Soviet Menon forces in India, and the loss of a major opportunity to further United States interests in Asia.

Believe me, I would not have written to you on this “eyes only” and personal basis if I did not feel that the situation and my long personal relationship to it warranted this direct approach. I feel the need for some contact with you, with whom I have never had an opportunity to discuss this situation or my relationship to it in any depth.

With my warmest regards and good wishes in all that you are striving to do,


Chet Bowles
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, India, Exchanges with Bowles. Secret; Personal; Eyes Only.