THE INDO-SOVIET TREATY OF FRIENDSHIP

The shield that India acquired was the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship concluded in Delhi on August 9, 1971. The treaty, which many Americans and Europeans tended to see as a virtual abandonment of India’s policy of nonalignment, had originally been proposed by Moscow and discussed by the two countries in considerable detail in 1969. That was the year when Soviet leadership was beginning to shed some of its suspicions about Indira’s ideological moorings originally fostered by her swift move to devalue Indian currency in 1966 under seeming World Bank pressure and by the warm welcome that President Johnson had accorded Mrs. Gandhi during her visit to Washington soon after she became Prime Minister. Not only had Brezhnev and Kosygin seen indications of India’s moving closer to the United States under Indira’s leadership, but Indira in her turn had her own reasons to be wary of Soviet intentions. It was about that time Moscow endeavoured to adopt a nonaligned posture in the affairs of the subcontinent and started for the first time supplying arms to Pakistan in the hope of gaining certain political leverage with its military rulers. The quantities of arms given to Pakistan were limited, but they were enough to distress India. Also, during a visit to New Delhi in the beginning of 1968, Kosygin offered Indira advice about affairs in Kashmir and management of various Soviet-collaboration industrial projects that to Indira’s sensitive ears sounded not like friendly counsel but unwarranted interference. By the middle of 1969, however, both sides had overcome much of their suspicion and realized the fruitlessness of drifting apart. Indira’s confrontation with the Congress Party Old Guard and her close association with the Communist Party of India, the Moscow-affiliated section of Indian Communists, in her temporary tacit coalition government, brightened her image in Brezhnev’s eyes. Additionally, Moscow by then had found that its decision to supply arms to Pakistan was yielding no noticeable dividends and, much to India’s satisfaction, had resolved not to make any fresh commitments.

The suggestion that India and the Soviet Union should sign a friendship treaty was, however, greeted by many Indian leaders with hesitation and a marked lack of enthusiasm in 1969. Indira’s advisers were divided among themselves over its political implications. The treaty, some argued, would bind India too closely with the Soviet Union for it to function with complete independence—and would needlessly antagonize its Western friends. If the bear could hug, it could also bite, they pointed out. Others held that fears about impairment of India’s independence and nonalignment were exaggerated and that India had gathered sufficient self-confidence and political stability to be able to join a partnership even with a superior power without limiting its freedom of action. This group among her advisers argued that any misunderstandings the treaty might cause in India’s relations with Western powers would be temporary and outweighed by the enormous political, psychological, and even military gains that the arrangement would offer.

Durga Prashad Dhar, a progressive Kashmiri leader then newly appointed Ambassador to Moscow, suggested a compromise. India, he said, might discuss and even finalize the treaty, but it should be concluded formally only at some future time that both parties might consider opportune. The Prime Minister favoured this approach and, when Moscow signaled its willingness to accept such an arrangement, ordered the discussions to begin. She, however, directed Dhar and others entrusted with the negotiations to bear in mind two points: The treaty, she told them, should contain nothing that might make India look like “a client state of the Soviet Union.” Also, the phrasing of the document should not draw attention unduly to the clause relating to mutual collaboration in the event of a threat to a signatory’s security.

By the beginning of 1970 the draft of the treaty had been finalized. Dhar and others had made it clear that a friendship treaty between India and the Soviet Union would be meaningless if the Russians had any intention of resuming their supply of arms to Pakistan.  The Indian representatives had also balked at the excessive bluntness in the language of the early draft stating each country’s responsibility to come to the military assistance of the other; the language originally favoured by Moscow virtually made it imperative for each party to offer military support to the other in the event of a war. Indira and her colleagues were anxious to keep the commitment somewhat hazy for fear of the friendship treaty’s looking like a mutual defence pact, and Clause 9 of the final draft, which provided for mutual consultations in the event of either party’s being subjected to an attack, or a threat of one, was largely the result of Indian reluctance to enter into an explicit defense commitment.

The decision to quickly dust off the treaty and formally sign it was taken by India only in the beginning of August. By then the number of refugees who had crossed into West Bengal had already risen to over 6 million. The conscience of the world community had remained distressingly unmoved by this tragic uprooting of humanity. The nations and their governments, it was felt in India, were shirking their duty by hiding behind a clause in the U.N. Charter forbidding interference in the “internal affairs” of a member country. Surely, Indira told numerous diplomats, newsmen, and various audiences, those who had drafted the Charter could not have imagined or anticipated the scale on which genocide was being committed in a part of Pakistan. By regarding the military crimes in East Pakistan as a domestic problem of Yahya Khan’s government, the world, she said, was observing the letter of the Charter provision and ignoring the real spirit of the total document. In any case, with millions of Pakistanis crossing into a neighbouring country in an endless stream, the situation she stressed repeatedly had become an international problem. World inaction could not be justified. But her pleas elicited little positive response from abroad. As the weeks passed, India’s grievance over other nation’s indifference rapidly turned into an obsessive sense of isolation. Why was it that no one did anything effective to lessen the enormous burden India was carrying alone? Many in India asked in despair and puzzlement. Legislators as well as newspaper writers wondered why it was that neither of the two superpowers, which regarded themselves as the guardians of world peace, nor various European nations claiming to live by superior political and moral values, nor even any of the Arab countries, which had a refugee problem of their own and whose cause India had steadfastly espoused, had come forward to roundly condemn Pakistan and ask Yahya Khan to desist from mass terror. When Indira remarked that words of praise for India irritated her and noted that Pakistan, instead of being rebuked, was still receiving material help, she was not merely expressing her own very deep-seated exasperation but also a national feeling of being without friends.

Something dramatic was needed to change that mood of frustration and helplessness. It came when Andrei Gromyko arrived suddenly in New Delhi on August 7. Dhar, who had by then left the Moscow post to be a special adviser to the Prime Minister at Indira’s bidding, had hurriedly persuaded the Soviet Government to sign the treaty at that moment. In the earlier stages of the East Pakistan conflict Moscow’s appreciation of the problem had been remarkably like that of the Nixon Administration in Washington. Before his arrest Sheikh had been in touch with Soviet and American diplomats and with what he regarded as consummate skill in playing one power against the other had made all kinds of promises to both in the event of his coming to power. That combined with some double-talk by Yahya Khan had encouraged Moscow to hope that the Soviet Union would be able to persuade both sides to share authority, thus earning good will all around. When the massacre that followed Sheikh Mujib’s arrest at the beginning of March, however, revealed the naiveté of the Soviet assessment. Kosygin wrote Yahya Khan a personal letter protesting the bloodthirstiness of his troops. The Soviet leaders were disturbed, moreover, by the unreserved support that Peking had offered the Pakistan Government. When, therefore, Dhar suggested that the treaty be concluded, they responded with alacrity. (Few reports could be farther off the mark than the one in the New York Times four days after the signing of the treaty, suggesting on the authority of a secret CIA informant in the Indian Government that Indira had extracted the Soviet signatures as the price for deferring formal recognition of Bangladesh. At stake on both sides was much more than the recognition issue.)

The move to resurrect the document and sign it publicly was one of the best-kept secrets in the Indian capital. Besides Indira, not half a dozen persons knew about the last-minute exchanges with Moscow. The Indian Cabinet was informed of the Prime Minister’s decision to enter a treaty arrangement with Moscow just half an hour before the accord was due to be signed by Foreign Minister Gromyko and Swaran Singh. The announcement about the conclusion of the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty had the expected impact on the morale of the Indian public. A few brief expressions of skepticism apart, people received it exuberantly. In their view, it meant that in the affairs of the subcontinent the Soviet Union at least was no longer sitting on the fence. Through the treaty, the Russians promised India support in the war with Pakistan that by then seemed almost certain to come. The treaty also issued to the United States and China an implicit warning that they would intervene in the conflict on Pakistan’s side only at the risk of elevating it into something bigger than a limited war between two relatively backward countries. Most Indians were grateful for this assurance and praised Indira for her adroitness in securing for them.

By courtesy of :

INDIRA BY KRISHAN BHATIA, PRAEGER PUBLISHERS INC., NEW YORK, WASHINGTON, 1974

 

 

 

 

 

 

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