12. Memorandum From Thomas Thornton of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • The Christopher Trip to India and Pakistan: Somber Implications (C)

The trip had two sets of goals.2 In India we sought to open a dialog on regional security and move the nuclear question along a bit. In Pakistan we sought to reassure Pakistan of our concern and at the same time turn them around on nuclear matters.

We failed in all respects and things are probably worse than they were.3

You will have seen the various cables as to what happened. There were two sets of reasons why we came away in such poor shape. In the purely tactical sense, we hit the two countries at the worst possible time—Zia had just decided to reverse himself on accepting a nuclear surgery [survey] team,4 and Desai’s foreign policy was under intense parliamentary attack.

The more important reasons, however, are the underlying ones of our non-proliferation policy and our overall image.

I cannot overemphasize the costs of our non-proliferation policy to our regional political and security objectives. In India, it is widely perceived that Desai’s attempt to move closer to the US and farther from the USSR has been a policy debacle because of our hard line on Tarapur and safeguards. In Pakistan, we will almost certainly be prevented from carrying out the President’s instructions to be helpful to Pakistan because of their nuclear policy.

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I am not making a case for revising these policies although I think that the Indian one is especially counterproductive. I do urge, however, that we consider whether the gains that we are making in the non-proliferation area (either elsewhere in the world or in a longer term in South Asia) continue to outweigh the costs that we are paying. And, of course, that decision may be in Congress’ hands, not ours. (S)

The image question is more elusive, but I got the impression that neither side seemed to think it was important to undertake a serious discussion with us—maybe because we do not seem worth the effort at this point. The Indians simply refused to discuss the things we were interested in. They played the meetings to their domestic audience in terms of how they told us off on several issues (Tarapur, Southeast Asia) and the distance that they were able to put between ourselves and them. This is understandable in terms of their domestic problems, but it tells us something about the value they put on the US relationship at this point. I am attaching an excerpt from a recent report by the very perceptive Indian Ambassador in Kabul.5 It probably reflects a widely-held view. In Pakistan, Zia and Agha Shahi are probably considering a major reorientation of their policy—one in which the US plays a negligible role. We are evidently not going to be able to do much for them because of the nuclear problem, and they are smart enough to understand that in no circumstance will we build upon them as the foundation of our regional policy. Worse, perhaps, they may have come to the conclusion that it wouldn’t help them much even if we did. (S)

Is all lost? Hardly. The unfortunate timing of the visit had a lot to do with the poor outcome and the atmosphere might be quite different in a few months. (It would have been much more favorable if the visit had taken place in early January, as originally planned.) The actual outcome is not much different from that I had expected in India; it was the tone that was particularly disturbing. Some seeds may have been planted with the Indians that will start to bear fruit later. The crucial next step will come during the Vajpayee visit late next month.6 The Pakistanis are now looking into the abyss and may have some second thoughts. Pickering’s visit there may provide them with a chance to find a way to step back.7 (S)

There were some interesting things on the personality side. Jagat Mehta was at his absolute worst—vague, elusive and condescending. Agha Shahi, on the other hand, was better than I have ever seen him. He was businesslike and spared us the usual contentious rhetoric. Very [Page 39] simply, he wanted to know exactly what the costs would be to Pakistan and made virtually no attempt to pull any wool over our eyes. Christopher was absolutely first rate in dealing with the Pakistanis. He was direct and forceful; a lawyer who had mastered his brief. In India he was less effective. He is less comfortable in dealing with concepts and must have been very tired. Under the circumstances though, I doubt that anybody would have come off much better. (S)

Next steps:

Pickering must go as soon as possible to Pakistan (if the Paks agree to receive him). Prior to his trip we will have to get a firm hand on both the carrots and the sticks that we have to offer.

—When Vajpayee comes here I think it is extremely important that the President see him briefly8 and that you spend some time with him. Vance will not be much more effective than Christopher was in getting our concepts across.

—In the interim, I think we should convey to the Indians that we are unhappy at the way they handled the meeting and, especially, their press briefings. We have an answer pending to Desai’s letter9 which will give us some opportunity to get our point across;10 we could also do some press backgrounding ourselves. I will work with State on this.

—We should talk to the Chinese and Saudis on an urgent basis about the state of our relations with Pakistan and enlist their help in turning the Paks around.

—We should look further at Christopher’s proposal for an ASEAN-like arrangement to replace CENTO. I doubt, however, that our views on this will make much difference. (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 28, India: 10/78–12/79. Secret. Sent for information. A stamped notation on the memorandum reads: “ZB has seen.” Brzezinski forwarded the memorandum to Carter under a March 14 covering memorandum in which he noted: “I would normally summarize the enclosed report for you, but it is so direct and striking that I think it might be worthwhile for you to read it in full. Our relations with India and Pakistan are so important that I do not feel the five minutes this will require is too much of an imposition—and it might be more useful to you than a brief summary by me in our daily report.” In the upper right-hand corner of Brzezinski’s covering memorandum, Carter wrote: “Zbig, C.” (Ibid.)
  2. For Christopher’s discussions in India, see Documents 129131. For Christopher’s discussions in Pakistan, see Documents 325 and 326.
  3. An unknown hand underlined this sentence.
  4. See Document 323.
  5. Not found attached.
  6. See Documents 138 and 140.
  7. Pickering did not visit Pakistan. See footnote 3, Document 325.
  8. Carter underlined “President see him briefly,” and in the left-hand margin wrote: “Ok, J.”
  9. See Document 126.
  10. See Document 133.