Can Pakistan hold back an Indian invasion?

The Six Day War

In the Middle East, Nasser's star began to decline from its peak after Suez in the 1960s. Though socialist, the Baʿth party rejected Nasser's assumption of Arab leadership and in 1961 took the country out of the United Arab Republic with which it was formed in 1958. Likewise, the presence of 50,000 Egyptian troops in Yemen could reduce the forces that supported the Yemeni imam, who in turn was supported by Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, the 1964 Cairo Conference managed to rally the pan-Arab unity around the resistance to Cairo's Israel's plans to divert the waters of the Jordan. With both eyes on Israel, the conference restored an Arab high command and increased the Palestinian refugees (dispersed in several Arab states since 1948) have a status approaching sovereignty, with their own army and headquarters in the Gaza Strip. Syria has also sponsored a terrorist organization, al-Fatah, whose raids on Jewish settlements provoked Israeli military reprisals inside Jordan and Lebanon. Syria was mainly divided between the socialist Baʾth, led by the minority of the Law community who ruled the army, and pro-Nasser Pan-Arabists. In 1966, a military coup established a radical Baʿthist regime, but the army itself then split into rival factions. Nasser took the initiative to prevent a right-wing reversal in Syria and reaffirm his leadership in the Arab cause.

Armed with Soviet tanks and planes, Nasser claimed his option under the 1956 Agreement to call for the withdrawal of UN peacekeeping forces from Sinai. Secretary General U Thant followed on May 19, 1967. Four days later, Nasser closed the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping. The Soviets apparently urged Nasser to show moderation during the presidency. Johnson told Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban to keep calm: "Israel will not be alone unless it chooses to go alone." However, none of the superpowers could hold back their clients. When Egyptian and Iraqi troops arrived in Jordan and showed all signs of an impending pan-Arab attack, the Israeli cabinet decided to launch a pre-emptive strike. The Israeli Air Force destroyed Nasser's planes on the ground, and in six days of fighting (June 05-10) the Israeli army overran the Sinai, the West Bank of the Jordan, including the Old City of Jerusalem, and the strategic Golan Heights in Syria. The UN Security Council arranged a ceasefire and passed Resolution 242 calling for a withdrawal from all occupied regions. The Israelis were ready to use their conquests (except Jerusalem) as a basis for negotiations, but insisted on the Arab recognition of Israel's right to exist and firm guarantees against future attacks. The so-called Arab front-line states were neither able nor willing (for domestic reasons) to give such guarantees and instead wooed the Soviet Union and the Third World for support against "US-Israeli imperialism". As a result, Israel remained both greatly enlarged and had shorter, more defensible borders, despite the problem of managing more than a million Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank.

China, India and Pakistan

The Indian subcontinent encompassed another system of conflict that centered on border disputes between India, Pakistan, and China. Nehru's Congress party had the political life of the teeming and stabilizing diverse peoples of India. The United States viewed India as a laboratory for democracy and development in the developing world and as a critical foil for communist China, and had contributed substantial amounts of aid as a result. The USSR also launched an effective aid program in 1955, and Nehru asked the USSR for assistance against China when the Sino-Soviet split became apparent. The Beijing regime brutally suppressed the buffer state of Tibet in 1950 and denied the border with India in several places between the tiny Himalayan states of Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim. American military aid to Pakistan (a member of CENTO) also gave the Indians and Soviets reason to cooperate. In 1961, when President Ayub Khan of Pakistan seriously sought Kennedy's mediation in the dispute over Kashmir, U.S. pressure proved inadequate to bring Nehru to the negotiating table.

Nehru, however, was humble when the Chinese suddenly attacked by force across the disputed borders, choosing as their moment the height of the Cuban missile crisis. The Indian forces were defeated, 7,000 men were killed or captured, and the Assam lowlands were open to invaders. The Chinese leadership had apparently expected a Soviet triumph in Cuba, or at least a protracted crisis that would prevent superpower intervention in India, but the swift resolution in Cuba in favor of the United States allowed Washington to respond to Nehru's request for help. The Chinese then stopped the offensive and soon withdrew.

The Kennedy administration used its newfound leverage to urge Nehru to resolve its dispute with Pakistan, but negotiations failed to overcome Hindu-Muslim antipathy and the fact that the conflict was a unifying element in both countries' domestic politics. Pakistani troops crossed the armistice line in Kashmir in August 1965, and India responded by invading Pakistan. Both superpowers supported U Thant's personal quest for a truce, and the Indians withdrew. The USSR was able to regain influence over New Delhi, especially after Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi came to power. In 1971, India and the USSR signed a 20th anniversary treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation, an indication of how much the United States (not to mention Britain) had lost touch with what was once the exemplary democracy of the Third World. Meanwhile, Pakistan was in a ferment. President Ayub Khan had to resign in 1969 in favor of Yahya Khan, while the 1970 elections polarized the geographically divided country. West Pakistan elected Sulphikar Ali Bhutto as prime minister, but densely populated East Pakistan (Bengal) voted almost unanimously for a separatist party under Mujibur Rahman. When talks broke down between the two leaders, Bhutto insisted on sending troops and imprisoning the secessionists. Malicious fighting broke out in Bengal, flooding India with around 10,000,000 refugees and provoking Indian intervention. The Soviets warned against reluctance, but clearly favored India, while US President Nixon sent a Carrier Task Force to the Bay of Bengal and openly favored Pakistan, influenced by the country's role as a mediator between Washington and Beijing. In two weeks of fighting (December 3-16, 1971), the Indians defeated the Pakistanis on all fronts, and East Pakistan became the new state of Bangladesh, located in the delta of the Padma (Ganges) and Jamuna (Brahmaputra) rivers. Pakistan thus lost well over half of its population. After Nixon's opening to China bore fruit, the subcontinent appeared to be polarized around an axis between the USSR and India and an axis between the US and Pakistan and China, despite the fact that the United States provided aid and transportation during the 1972 Indian famine of food again.

In the south and east of mainland Asia lay the huge, populous archipelago of Indonesia, where another romantic revolutionary, Sukarno, had played host to the Bandung Conference of 1955. Like Nasser, Nehru, and Mao, he ruled his 100,000,000 people by vague, hortatory slogans that added up to a personal ideology with nationalist and Communist overtones. The Kennedy administration had tried to appease Sukarno with development aid and even obliged the Dutch to cede Irian Barat (Irian Jaya) in the face of Sukarno's threats in 1963. Sukarno still turned to Moscow for support and gave himself over to profligate personal behavior and foreign adventures, most notably an attempted attack on Malaysia in 1963. By 1965 Indonesia was $ 2,400,000,000 in debt and suffering widespread famine. In January of that year Sukarno withdrew his country from the UN over a dispute with Malaysia. The Soviets were clearly disgusted with Sukarno's regime, while the rival Chinese persuaded (perhaps blackmailed) him into approving a savage pro-Communist putsch in October 1965. Suharto, however, put down the uprising and exacted a violent revenge in which as many as 300,000 Communists and their supporters were killed. Indonesia subsequently concerned itself with its internal problems, frustrating Soviet, Chinese, and American hopes for a strong ally.

The destruction of Indonesian Communism, achieved without the slightest American effort, was a source of great comfort for the United States. A diametrically opposite course of events had, by 1965, begun to unfold in the last theater of Asian conflict, Vietnam.