Thursday, January 23, 2014

Khilnani on Bass and Raghavan

Sunil Khilnani's review, in the New Republic (Nov. 25, 2013), of Gary Bass's The Blood Telegram and Srinath Raghavan's 1971 is informative, but I do have a couple of small criticisms (well, the first point is a criticism, the second point is more of an observation).

(1) Khilnani twice refers to India as "militarily weak" (the first reference is to India in 1971 as "the world's largest democracy but also one of its poorest and militarily weakest"), and he writes that, during the months of the crisis leading up to the Indian intervention, "the Indians were aware that Pakistan's American weaponry gave it an edge over India...." Yet, as Khilnani also observes, once the war was launched in December it was a "swift and decisive" Indian victory. This doesn't compute. If India was so militarily weak, why was the victory so quick and decisive? Even if one agrees with Raghavan's view that the Indian victory "was considerably influenced by chance and contingency" (1971, p.235), Khilnani's emphasis on India's military weakness seems a bit odd.

(2) Khilnani writes: " Bass and Raghavan each make clear, Pakistan was not the only route available to the Americans [Nixon and Kissinger] to pursue their China goals. The United States could have restrained Pakistan's military actions while still securing the China opening." I think this is probably a correct historical judgment, but it's a bit more definite than what Raghavan says (I'm leaving aside Bass here because I haven't read the Bass book). Raghavan (as mentioned in my review of 1971, below) says Nixon's and Kissinger's refusal to "squeeze" Yahya was "understandable" (1971, p.92) through early July, when Kissinger made his secret trip to Beijing. It is after that point that Pakistan was no longer needed as a conduit to China. On the other hand, Raghavan also suggests that Nixon and Kissinger could have put effective economic pressure on Pakistan in late April or early May (p.266), probably without jeopardizing the China opening. But his overall judgment on this particular issue seems less definite than Khilnani's. It's a matter of nuance, not sharp disagreement. (Romania was the other possibility Nixon and Kissinger considered as a conduit to China, but "the line through Pakistan was the better bet" for reasons Raghavan explains on p.86, from which the quoted phrase is taken.)


Ronan said...

An excellent series of posts LFC!

The last thing,and its only a short question: do you think there was a resolution to the B-desh crisis short of the split? My impression reading the responses and reviews is that there was? And that if the US had utilised other options (economic, diplomatic etc) it oculd have been avoided, as it happened?

LFC said...

My sense is there was a tipping point, prob sometime in August, after which you cdn't put Humpty together again. But before that, yes I think the complete split cd have been avoided, though the two wings might well have ended up, as Raghavan says, in a looser 'confederal' arrangement compared to before.