Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Declassified CIA records on India and her neighbours

As it takes you on a fast-paced geopolitical journey, CIA's Eye on South Asia (Manas Publications, Delhi) offers an insight into the working of the world's foremost spy agency through various reports presented to top US officials from 1951 to 2001.

These previously secret Central Intelligence Agency reports have become available largely because of a recent Presidential Executive Order which ushered in a golden era of declassification in the United States. In about a decade, the CIA alone screened about 95 million records and released 30 million of them. This treasure trove of information contains plenty of material on South Asia.

Here are a few nuggets:

1. Dwelling on "illegal Communist activity", a CIA estimate of 1951 said the Communist Party of India's "espionage is believed directed primarily against the Indian armed forces and strategic sectors of the economy in which the Communist-sponsored trade union movement is strong: railroad transportation, posts, telegraph and telephone communications, petroleum, defense, and heavy industries. Information on these installations, collected through covert cells or normal Party or trade union channels, is undoubtedly forwarded to the Soviet Union...."

2. Someone in the Jawaharlal Nehru government fed the CIA with sensitive, one-on-one conversations between President Rajendra Prasad with Vice President S Radhakrishan and Defense Minister Krishna Menon.

3. On India's border conflict with China, a CIA report said: "India has had the makings of a better case but has failed either to promote it effectively or to defend it on the ground, China, with a more dubious legal case, has promoted its 'reasonable' position skillfully and demonstrated its power to enforce it."

4. A detailed CIA study of the 1962 Sino-Indian war made several damning observations:

* "From the start, the Chinese leaders seem to have recognized that India was neither by temperament nor capability a military threat to their border."

* During Chinese premier Chou En Lai's 1954 India visit, the Indian leadership effectively countered the Chinese line. Responding to China's criticism of India granting asylum to the Dalai Lama, Finance Minister Morarji Desai told Chou: "You should be the last person to object to political asylum. Where would you be today if political asylum had not been given to Lenin?" And when Chou told Vice President Radhakrishnan that he could not convince "the Chinese people that Ladakh and the Aksai Plain in particular did not belong to them because of the legends going back to the 12th century which supported Chinese claims," Radhakrishnan retorted that "on such a basis India could claim Kandahar, Kabul, and many other areas including parts of China."

* "Had it not been Nehru, but rather a more military-minded man who occupied the post of prime minister in late October 1959, a priority program to prepare India eventually to fight would have been started."

* "In the course of two months [in October 59], India had been humiliated by two military defeats and the public and government officials had been aroused to anger against the nation's enemy as never before in its short history. But Nehru insisted that war with China was out of the question, and apparently did not think the challenge justified the economic burden of increased military spending."

* Dwelling on the Chinese attack, the study said that "the Chinese leaders seem to have been motivated by one primary consideration and several secondary ones in their decision to attack Indian forces.... The primary reason reflected their view that the Indian leaders had to be shown once and for all that China would not tolerate any strategy to 'recover' border territory. In clearing away Indian border posts and routing Indian troops in two key sectors, the Chinese conducted what has been called a 'punitive' expedition to chastise the Indian leaders for past and intended moveups."

* "Among the secondary reasons for attacking, a desire to damage Nehru's prestige by exposing India's weakness apparently ranked high in the Chinese leaders' order of priority. Nehru's prestige was considerable in Asia; it was being used by New Delhi to compete with Peiping [Beijing] for influence among leaders of the emerging nations. New Delhi's publicly expressed contempt for the 'great power' status of China and the disrespectful behavior of a militarily inferior power (India) was more intolerable to the Chinese leaders than that of a militarily superior power (the US)."

* "The Director of Pakistan's Ministry of External Affairs, Mohammed Yunis, told an American official in Karachi on 4 February 1962 that regarding his government's policy toward Peiping [Beijing], the principle of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' applies."

5. India and China "came to the brink of war in 1987 over competing claims to Wangdung Ridge in the northeast but managed to avoid military confrontation".

6. During the 1971 war, Pakistani officials were ordered to "spread the word that Soviet military personnel were militarily involved in the Indian war against Pakistan". The CIA found no supporting evidence for this canard. A senior Indian official told the US Defense Attaché that it was "sheer nonsense" to claim that that "Soviets were manning certain equipment in India". "He further stated that he would not permit a single foreigner to operate a single piece of equipment in India."

7. The CIA estimated "if Indian leaders decided in late 1964 or early 1965 to develop nuclear weapons, we believe that India could conduct its first test within few months." The agency however assessed that opponents of a nuclear weapons program, including Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, would not allow it because "they believe that a reversal of Nehru's traditional position after all India has said about the evils of nuclear weapons would damage its international prestige".

8. In 1989, Benazir Bhutto "agreed not to interfere with Pakistan's nuclear policies as one of several conditions levied by the Army on her in exchange for military support for her becoming Prime Minister".

9. CIA reports paints a most negative image of India's handing of its smaller neighbours. "India insists on dealing with each of its neighbors on a bilateral basis - a form of 'divide and rule.' This policy enables New Delhi to enjoy the benefits of its size and power without the risk of being chastised or outvoted at multilateral regional meetings." "With the possible exception of Pakistan, all of the smaller states recognize they are defenseless against India and depend on their own diplomatic skills and Indian good will for stable relations."

10. The agency estimated in May 1976 that there was "widespread acceptance of the emergency" in India. They assessed that Indira Gandhi could count on the backing of the armed forces during the Emergency as long as they get "sufficient attention" and "economic disorders do not erupt on a wide scale" and "the facade of legality exists".

11. CIA estimated in 1988 that "Pakistani support for the Sikhs is not a major source of instability in India" and that "the bulk of the militants' resources probably come from collections at Sikh temples in India, contributions from Sikh expatriates, bank robberies, and thefts of Army and paramilitary equipment, not from the Pakistanis."

12. The CIA lauded Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's low-key, nonconfrontational style in the wake of an international spy scandal that broke in early 1985. The agency said Rajiv's approach "put France and the USSR on the defensive about their complicity in buying secrets without spoiling chances for constructive relations".

13. According to the CIA, during Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev's Delhi visit of December 1986, Moscow used their "extensive connections in the Indian press…to generate highly favorable media coverage." "The Soviets virtually took over the Indian national television network" and "paid $200,000 to eight major New Delhi newspapers for advertising supplements highlighting the visit and also paid and entertained at least a dozen journalists."

14. The CIA in 1998 assessed that "it is unlikely that [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee is simply a popular 'front man' who would step aside in due time in favor of hardliners." "Although his political roots lie in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh…the statesmanlike Vajpayee has long reassured US officials that he would champion a moderate agenda," it said.

15. Lastly, especially narrated by me in the book is the story of India's biggest spy scandal, which tarnished the image of no less than a former Prime Minister and two Deputy Prime Ministers. It details how a cabinet minister, and a CIA operative, wrecked India's plan to annihilate Pakistan in 1971.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One needs to use only common sense together with information available on the net today (which was not possible earlier) to conclude that CIA had a big hand in trying to de-stabilize the region.

Dala Lama and Chinese trouble were precipitataed by the US with support from some of our own armed personnel.

Questions remain unanswered on the deat of Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai. While Bhabha's death was explained with the Air India crash, till now no one has any explanation for the death of Sarabhai at a Trivandrum hotel at the age of 52.

It is also 100% proved now that the US and the Western powers were dead against Nehru and Indira Gandhi. By 1976 the Emergency had some good effects but it was withdrawn (on whose advice?)