339. Letter From President Johnson to the Ambassador to India (Bowles)1
I am grateful for your firsthand report of May 5th2 on the situation in India. I am pleased that Mrs. Gandhi seems to have enjoyed her visit here and sensed our authentic interest and understanding of her problems.
It is good that she has shown the courage to carry forward her economic program in the face of pressures from the Left and Right.
We shall be doing all we can to back the IBRD plan, within the limits of the resources Congress finally grants. As you know, we shall not have an easy time with AID legislation this year.
I’m impressed with what Mehta said—and with what you say—about the potentialities for an economic upsurge in India in the years ahead.
I would underline for you two problems with which your letter did not deal.
First, the question of military expenditures. George Woods will undertake to assess the military expenditures of India and Pakistan and try to get them moving downward. Neither country can afford to go on spending so much either of its own resources or its foreign exchange for defense. In both countries the issue is politically sensitive; and we cannot expect radical reductions immediately. But if we are to generate the resources they need to accelerate economic and social development, we cannot be complacent about this issue.
Whether Indian and Pakistani political leaders can afford to reduce military expenditures depends, in turn, on progress in the normalization of their relations. In this connection, I pointed out to Mehta the responsibility borne by the larger country in this kind of tense bilateral problem. I told him how hard we have had to work to make it possible for Mexico to live with us in an atmosphere of inner confidence and self-respect. India has a parallel responsibility.
I do not believe that India can become “an indigenous Asian counterweight to China” unless India regards it as part of its own responsibility to work actively towards the normalization of its relations with Pakistan.
Far too much of India’s diplomatic energies and military resources will be focussed on the Pak problem for it to emerge as a major constructive force unless the subcontinent as a whole is peaceful.[Page 653]
I understand that this transformation cannot be brought about in days or months. I also understand Mrs. Gandhi’s election problems. Nevertheless, India cannot safely be passive with respect to its commitments at Tashkent.
Only those on the spot can work out what the next steps might be; but you should understand that nothing would ease our problems more in getting the resources necessary for Indian development than a forthcoming Indian position with respect to normalization of relations with Pakistan.
Among the next steps, I would urge you to take up with the Indian Government the possibility of their assuming the initiative in mounting a second Ministerial meeting.
Our next Ambassador to Pakistan, the distinguished lawyer and businessman Eugene Locke, will be working under similar instructions in Rawalpindi.
Again, Chet, let me thank you for your report and for the great work you are doing in a critical region.