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1962, the riddle

Hopefully, in 2016, India-Pakistan will break some of the shackles of the past

Written by Khaled Ahmed | Updated: December 19, 2015 12:00:57 am
india-pakistan, general ayub khan, cold war, sino-indian war, kashmir, indo china, jawaharlal nehru General Ayub Khan

In October, Pakistan’s most popular TV presenter, Kamran Khan, spent 30 minutes on air protesting then-President General Ayub Khan’s betrayal of Pakistan for not attacking India when the latter was fighting its border war with China in 1962. He got on the line General Ayub Khan’s son, ex-foreign minister Gohar Ayub, and asked why his father, as president of Pakistan and chief of the Pakistan army, had got cowed by the US and its allies into losing a great opportunity to defeat India and recapture Kashmir, which India had illegally annexed.

Gohar Ayub, himself an ex-army man, latched on to military strategy that he thought did not favour attacking India, and rebuked Kamran Khan for “not doing his homework”. The discussion became a hostile exchange. The TV anchor lost his cool and suddenly cut Gohar Ayub off. It’s not unusual to see anchors losing objectivity when speaking from the high ground of nationalism. It’s often stated by “patriotic” commentators that 1962 was a good time to bushwhack India, as it tried to execute a poorly organised operation against the Chinese troops on its northern border. The result of that conflict was interpreted as India’s defeat. It’s considered quite normal today to recommend, in hindsight, an opportunist sally by Pakistan in 1962 to get even with its arch enemy.

It developed that Kamran Khan was inspired by former CIA official Bruce Riedel’s latest book, JFK’s Forgotten Crisis: Tibet, the CIA and the Sino-Indian War, which seeks to reveal that China had proposed that Ayub Khan join in attacking India, presumably for the “trophy” of Kashmir. It isn’t strange that a Pakistani nationalist would fall for this easy military solution despite Sun Tzu’s famous saying that no war ever goes according to plan. Ayub Khan, who was to attack India three years later anyway — and not with any success — did something in 1962 he thought was cleverer: He demanded Kashmir from the US in return for not attacking India! According to Riedel, President John F. Kennedy, siding with India instead of against an increasingly powerful China, offered India $500 million as military assistance. But this plan was scuttled by Kennedy’s assassination.

Strangely, the 1962 India-China war pleased no one. On the Indian side, Jawaharlal Nehru himself admitted, “We were getting out of touch with reality in the modern world and we were living in an artificial atmosphere of our creation”. On the Pakistani side, there was hand-wringing in hindsight over not attacking India in lockstep with China, Pakistan’s “all-weather” friend. Pakistan had another beef, against the US, for not coming out on the side of its ally in the defence pacts Cento and Seato — the latter against China! — and for not coming out against non-aligned India.

There was another US-caused event that made some in India and Pakistan equally unhappy — the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty. The world says this treaty is a model arrangement for states bothered by water-based conflicts. Few “dominant”, upper riparian states have a treaty granting rights to lower riparian states. Pakistan is often told it’s lucky it has a water treaty with India. However, in times of bilateral tension, there are Indian critics of the treaty who recommend its denunciation. But it’s difficult to understand why there should be so many critics of it in Pakistan saying, “Ayub Khan sold our rivers for American dollars.” Somehow, America has to be interpreted as the villain by both with regard to the Indus treaty, although logically, one is stumped how both parties can accuse each other of being beneficiaries at each other’s cost. Both Nehru and Ayub are pilloried for two events — the 1962 war and the Indus treaty of 1960.

If you removed your TV anchor’s partisan goggles, you could see it was wise on Ayub’s part not to attack India in 1962. China, too, didn’t attack India in 1971, when East Pakistan became Bangladesh after an India-Pakistan faceoff. Pakistan was wrong in touching off the 1965 and 1999 conflicts with India after drawing the wrong lessons from 1962. The 1960 waters treaty has survived Indo-Pak conflicts. It’s tragic that because of the TV anchor type of chauvinism, the waters treaty is often challenged — and cases brought against upriver India for “stealing water” fail in arbitration.

The Cold War is over. From the global to the regional is the trajectory South Asia must begin to understand. Cold-War handouts are no longer available to Pakistan, which always suspected the US of having “its own designs” while supporting Islamabad. India is the core of South Asia and its economic outreach across the region must give rise to the new pax. But things have gone wrong so far. One always thought that Pakistan would be “corrected” by the example of India, but India was “corrected” by the example of Pakistan. Then one thought Bangladesh would “correct” Pakistan through its success as a “secular” state; but Bangladesh, too, was “corrected” by the example of Pakistan.

The good signs can be read today in India’s changing equation with China; and in Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s “soft” approach towards his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, despite his excoriation by the media over the Ufa “declaration of surrender to India”. Suddenly, the year 2016 looks good for the India-Pakistan equation and for peace in South Asia.

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