India United States Relations – a 50 year evolution from Enemy to Friend
India United States Relations – a 50 year evolution from Enemy to Friend

India United States Relations – a 50 year evolution from Enemy to Friend


To the diaspora of first and second generation born in India, and people of India origin, the paramount concern has always been relations between the United States and India. Not just to those resident in the United States, but across the border in Canada, and across the Atlantic in Europe. This article, written for the launch of the GOPIO newsletter, spans a period of 50 years, tracing the evolution of relations from extreme enemy, to a prospective friend. Both countries have chosen to follow a new path into the future – India first with Modi, and the USA following with Trump. This article is written with information gleaned from both public and private sources, and personal involvement.

Note about the Author:   Pravin Banker is a GOPIO life member having joined at inception. He is the Chairman of African Medical Investments PLC., A Harbinger Capital Partners enterprise. He is the author of a book on Amazon about Wellesley’s conquest of India at the Battle of Assaye in 1803, a dozen years before the Battle of Waterloo.

India United States Relations – a 50 year evolution from Enemy to Friend – by Pravin Banker.

The Five Phases – Nixon

Richard Millhouse Nixon’s extreme dislike for the Cambridge firebrand Socialist Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru is no secret. Indeed he took pleasure in hearing about the ease with which Chinese troops crossed the Himalayas into India in 1962. The slogan Hindi-Sini Bhai Bhai quickly turned to Hindi-Sini Bye Bye.


In the summer of 1971 Nixon was President of the USA and was plotting an overture to China. Kissinger was his messenger and General President Yahya Khan of Pakistan his conduit. Amongst the Republicans, the tilt towards Pakistan, and against India, was at its zenith. Nixon did not like the sound of war drums beating loudly in India over East Pakistan. The famed American Test Pilot Colonel Yaeger was posted as military attache in Delhi and, co-incidentally, my former classmate at Columbia University Frank Romanelli, was whisked from his post in Colombo, to a posting as second secretary in Delhi. By that time, the CIA had already been successful in usurping and placing a Secretary to the Prime Minister on its payroll.


Having graduated from Columbia University with a Masters in both Engineering and Business, I had joined IBM World Trade. I was in India in October of 1971 and stayed till February of 1972, the long period necessary since I was not allowed to leave till hostilities had ceased. At the time my father was a Director of the Scindia Steamship Company. It was spawned in 1919 by two Gujarati businessmen – Narottam Morarjee and Walchand Hirachand – at the express request of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, to sail an Indian owned ship, loaded with Indian cotton goods, to London into the eye of a storm. It was meant to break the embargo and send a message to avowed Imperialist Winston Churchill.  Churchill responded with the phrase “fakir in a loin cloth”, a derogatory comment that had the opposite effect, giving Gandhi instant recognition, the loin cloth becoming a Trademark, a Badge of Honor.


In the fall of 1971 more than 7 million refugees crossed into India, moving as far west as Mumbai, alarming the moneyed class. Prices started to soar and the small Parsee community, which probably owned half the land in Mumbai at the time, were alarmed. But they had an ace in the hole. Months earlier Indira Gandhi had tasked Sam Manekshaw to prepare a War Plan, on all fronts, to “liberate” East Pakistan. The Parsees had let it be known that War was cheaper than feeding millions of refugees. The reluctant Armed Forces Chief, who had earlier offered to resign, was then forced by his most trusted subordinate General Jacob, to task India’s own George Smith Patton – Lt General Jagjit Singh Arora – to spearhead the land invasion.


The newly appointed generals, eager to see battle, increased the pressure. RAW field agents, with Mukhti Bahini in tow, many warding off mosquitos whilst crowded in small boats in the river, could not hold on to their covert positions for long. Still the Prime Minister procrastinated, pacing the floor anxiously. “She was apparently waiting for something, or being restrained by someone”, Romanelli dutifully reported in his dispatches. Young junior officer Romanelli confided to me that he was nervous himself. Rather than the normal chain of command to Langley, his dispatches were immediately relayed to Henry Kissinger himself. This he knew because the coded questions came direct, from Kissinger himself. Nixon was obviously nervous. They were banking on their entreaties to First Secretary of the USSR Brezhnev, to restrain India. Nothing must happen to disrupt the top secret opening to China. Indira Gandhi wisely kept her own counsel. She knew that spies from both sides had penetrated her inner circle. She did not even let on that the debacle on her Father’s watch in 1962, still haunted her. China had to be neutralized and Brezhnev was her only option. She had waltzed with Brezhnev in 1968, just 3 years prior. Her waltzing partner had professed his love. The day had dawned for the partner to deliver.


It was in late November 1971 when an Air Marshall stepped off the plane in New Delhi with a personal dispatch. The very next day Romanelli sent a dispatch via Langley to Kissinger causing consternation and panic in the White House. The Russians were up to their old tricks again, payback for its 1960 Cuba debacle. Kissinger activated the hot line to Beijing. He pointedly asked Chou En Lai to intervene with force.  Silence on the other end followed by “will respond in due course”.  What Chou knew, and Kissinger did not, was that a KGB General had crossed the border a few days prior with a message from Brezhnev to Mao. The message, carried by the  Air Marshall from Brezhnev to Gandhi, assured no Chinese intervention, and news that several nuclear armed Soviet submarines were headed towards the Bay of Bengal, to checkmate the USS Enterprise task force. Informed by the Chinese of the possibility of an imminent attack, Pakistan launched its pre-emptive “Operation Chengiz Khan” aerial strike in early December. The objective was to frighten the Indians by bombing their cherished Taj Mahal. Hidden under giant tarps and a camouflage of twigs and leaves, the white marble beacon remained invisible at night. The pre-emptive attack came as a blessing in disguise. Announcing the enemy had declared war, the PM signed the order. It resulted in the most humiliating defeat in the history of Pakistan, etched deeply in the mind of one participant – Pervez Musharraf. He vowed revenge.


William Jefferson Clinton….


`By then, the Republicans were pro-Pakistan and anti-Indian. On the Democratic side it was a more even split. The turn in favor of India was slow in coming. On his own authority and with utter disregard for civilian authority, COAS Pervez Musharraf put his 3 year old plan into action. The objective was to truncate Kashmir and storm into Srinagar to plant a Pakistani flag atop the City Hall. COAS had such disregard for Indians and the Indian army that he was confident they could not intervene. Had not their Prime Minister come with a fig leaf to Lahore promising all-encompassing talks? They are scared, he reasoned.


Operation Kargil was born in May 1999 and lasted several months with the Indian side refusing to emulate 1971, and cross the LOC. In early July Sharif then made the mistake of flying to Washington for a meeting with Clinton. A perplexed Clinton asked Sharif why he would deliberately scuttle India’s offer of peace talks. The Indian PM had travelled to Lahore to promote bilateral talks aimed at resolving the Kashmir issue. Even faced with an unprovoked attack, Clinton told Sharif that he could only applaud the Indian side for remarkable restraint. Clinton asked Sharif to rein in the militants and withdraw his soldiers. Clinton did not know, and Sharif could not tell him, that in Pakistan the ISI and COAS act independently and that even he had not known about Kargil until it hit the papers.  It was not long after that Sharif decided to rid himself of Musharraf by preventing him from Landing, hoping the plane would run out of fuel and crash. He failed and in October 1999 was ousted in a coup.  Slowly but surely the G8 nations began to turn against Pakistan.


It is worth noting that the Clintons visited India soon thereafter and were treated like Royalty. Clinton is a hero in Gujarat. Indeed Reliance founder Dhirubhai Ambani requested and received a 45 minute audience with the President to introduce his two sons, now the richest men in India. While daughter Chelsea, squired by the Foreign Minister himself, searched for Tigers in the forests of Ranthambore, mother Hillary was seen in Colombo buying the largest corn blue Sapphires then available. No doubt Hillary was influenced by the knowledge that Princess Diana engagement ring featured a 12 carat oval corn blue sapphire from Ceylon.


George W Bush …


The Man who launched the invasion of Iraq to rid the country of Saddam Hussein was himself unaware of how Pakistan, a firm Republican ally in South Asia, operates. He asked Musharraf what appeared to all a very naive question “who is this I S I ?“


Obama …


One of his first actions was to invite Manmohan Singh to a State dinner. With a Democrat in the White House again the swing towards India was beginning to gain steam. I could sense it because I was invited to visit Pakistan as a guest of the newly elected President Asif Ali Zardari. The visit week of 5th April 2009 coincided with a high powered US delegation headed by Ambassador Holbrooke and Admiral Mullins to unveil the new Af-Pak strategy and to entice Pakistan to embrace it.  President Zardari is an insomniac and held audience with his coterie of close friends around midnight in his private study. No liquor is served in the Presidential Palace. Only fruit juices of all kinds, tea and coffee. I did learn one thing. That the one eyed Mullah Omar was hiding in Quetta in fear of drones. As for OBL, he was also in Pakistan “not very far from here”. He hinted darkly that it was Musharraf that arranged several years prior as insurance against the Americans, and the Saudis had paid for it.  When I returned back to the USA I sent a letter to Vice President Biden and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Kerry. Biden responded with a form letter. Kerry never bothered to reply. I was not upset. I knew by then that President’s live in a cocoon. In 2002 I had been asked for advice on the advisability of an invasion of Iraq by a Bush cousin who lived nearby off Lake Avenue in Greenwich. I responded by stating succinctly that if you choose to enter a pit of poisonous snakes, expect to get bitten. Then Vice President Cheney promptly put me on the bad guy list. They were seeking sycophantic agreement, not candid advice.


Donald Trump…


As the narrative above vividly illustrates, the political elite think in one way, looking in the rear view mirror. Change is slow in coming and can take as long as 50 years. I first encountered Donald Trump in 1977 when, not quite 30 years of age, he launched his Manhattan real estate career by buying the old Commodore Hotel. He had corralled Mayor Koch, secured a tax-abatement, and the support of the Pritzkers, billionaire owners of the Hyatt Hotel chain. With such powerful allies, naturally Trump prevailed, even with a low ball bid against higher offers.  I mention this little anecdote from personal experience to illustrate the man and his thinking. Not being a politician, nor experienced in foreign policy, he sees the world in a simpler light.


For example “Nato is obsolete”.  It was formed in 1949 at the instigation of the US to encircle the Soviet Union. Its article 5, if invoked, requires member states to come to the aid of any member state subject to an armed attack. It has only been triggered once and even that by the USA its primary funder and supporter. Trump rhetorically asks “had Russia shot down a Turkish plane over Syria in 2015, and Turkey invoked the clause, would the USA go to War against Russia?”   The answer is a resounding NO. Chancellor Merkel of Germany had made that clear to Erdogan of Turkey. Not being politically correct, Trump asks “why then do we need Nato?”


Trump intends to move the pieces on the chessboard, shifting alliances. Trump sees China as the main enemy, not Russia. Ever since the Nixon opening to China in 1972, the entire political elite clings to the notion that China is a friend and welcome to build its economy and military on the backs of Americans and the other G8 members, whilst Russia remains an enemy. Trump challenges this notion. Reasons are not difficult to find. China covets land and territory. It has seized chunks of Pakistani territory, parts of Kashmir, has claims on Arunachal Pradesh, made covert inroads into Myanmar, has claims on Vietnam, invaded and seized Tibet and parts of Mongolia, and lays claim to the entire South China Sea. It is busy stealing technology and has built its first aircraft carrier and stealth plane. It has become the manufacturing hub to the world supplying everything from brooms to washing machines, to watches to IPhones.


However, what Trump knows and my anecdote above illustrates, when one goes into battle, better have powerful friends. In going up against China he wants Russia on his side. Add to that India. One of his first official acts in the White House was to call Modi. The subject was defense. India is one of the largest buyers of arms in the world. To service India firms like Tata have joined with Boeing and Adani has set up its Adani aerospace and defense to manufacture drones with guidance control technology supplied by Elbit of Israel. Trump is fully aware that India already has close relations with both Russia under Putin, and Israel. He believes that if he harnesses this combined power, and expands the naval force to include three more carrier task forces, and is able to engage Vietnam as an ally, he will be able to encircle China, just as NATO encircled the former USSR. China will stop being belligerent and come to the negotiating table. Faced with a multi-front war Chairman Xi will not want to fight.


It is self-evident from the foregoing that, in the last half a century, Defense is the paramount element that guides the United States relationship with India – not economic, cultural, or any other altruistic consideration.


It is therefore not difficult to foresee that after the Modi visit to the USA, and Trump’s India trip before the end of 2017, the tilt towards India will be complete as this time it’s led by a Republican President. The vast majority of the Democrats in both houses already support India. There will be no political opposition


Pravin Banker

Chairman – African Medical Investments PLC (as Advisor to Harbinger Capital Partners)
Managing Director – Global Financial Network Inc
Director – Balkan Capital Management OOD
Advisor – India Mezzanine Finco

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