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Hate-India icon has a change of heart

Author: Rajesh Singh
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: October 22, 2014
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/edit/hate-india-icon-has-a--change-of-heart.html

Henry Kissinger was not only the world’s most famous diplomat-politician in the 1970s but also the most strident voice against India, its leaders and its people. But his new book shows he has mellowed greatly

Few people could match Henry Kissinger in his visceral dislike, even hatred, for India, in the seventies. Fewer still would be less deserving of the Nobel Peace prize which he got in 1973, barely two years after he, along with then US President Richard Nixon, backed Pakistan to the hilt as it went about massacring several thousand citizens in East Pakistan in the course of the 1971 India-Pakistan war. Yet, for many, all that is in the distant past. On his part, the former US National Security Advisor, and Secretary of State to two Presidents, appears to have undergone a massive change of heart. He has begun to speak more kindly of India and to even acknowledge its importance in the global forum. The amusing twist has partly to do with the changed international political-economic-strategic environment. While Mr Kissinger is a much chastened man, India cannot easily forget the shabby and insulting treatment it received from him.

But, if moving forward is the mantra that drives international relations, we might as well keep aside for the moment his 1970s’ disgraceful conduct — so tellingly and completely exposed in Gary J Bass’s The Blood Telegram, in which the author calls the massacre by Pakistani troops “genocide” — and focus on Mr Kissinger’s new trajectory laid down in detail in his latest book, World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History. From the Indian perspective, his chapter titled, ‘The Multiplicity of Asia’, is especially interesting, because, inter alia, it deals with the emergence of India. He admits, “India will be a fulcrum of twenty-first century order: an indispensable element, based on its geography, resources, and tradition of sophisticated leadership, in the strategic and ideological evolution of the regions and the concepts of order at whose intersection it stands.” This is indeed a mouthful of praise, and Mr Kissinger must have gone through turbulent moments to acknowledge a country whose people and leadership he had scoffed and scorned at.

There is more of the about-turn. He is all praise for India’s management of multi-culturalism. He notes with approval, “India has thus far been able to wall itself off from the harshest currents of political turmoil and sectarian violence, partly through enlightened treatment of its minorities and a fostering of common Indian principles — including democracy and nationalism — transcending communal differences.” One wonders if this is the same man and the same mind which existed in the 1970s.

The hatchet-man of the discredited Nixon goes even further. In a reference to the change in Government in New Delhi, he almost grovels, “With a firm mandate and charismatic leadership, the administration of Narendra Modi may consider itself in a position to chart new directions on historic issues like the conflict with Pakistan or the relationship with China.” This is an interesting observation for the reason that the United States had during the Nixon-Kissinger era cultivated both China and Pakistan as anti-India platforms. While the latter played a more than willing role to realise the US’s nefarious motives, China had, it must be said, restrained itself from directly getting involved in the 1971 conflict — though it had made it clear its sympathies lay with Pakistan.

That Mr Kissinger had done his best to provoke China in the early seventies to make things difficult for India during the latter’s military conflict with Pakistan is only too well known. But the Nixon acolyte has never admitted as much. One of the reasons why Nixon had made his famous secret trip to China — plotted and backed by Mr Kissinger — in 1972 was to win over the Asian power to the US’s side, and pit it against India. Even during the 1971 war, both Nixon and Mr Kissinger expressed hope in private that China would do “something” along the Indian border which would rattle New Delhi and contain its belligerence towards Pakistan as the crisis began to snowball out of hand.Incidentally, both Nixon and Mr Kissinger crowed for years over the ‘path-breaking’ China trip and the US President’s meeting with senior Chinese leader Zhou Enlai. Mr Kissinger has yet to come out of that reverie (he has devoted a lot to that in his earlier book, On China). But the fact is that despite that ‘bold’ visit, China and the US are rivals today, and on most issues, at loggerheads. They are neither friends nor allies. In other words, the Nixon visit turned out to be hardly a milestone. And, by a twist of fate which Mr Kissinger is witness to, India and the US have become friends; while China, whom he has been promoting across the world, and Pakistan, for whom he has had such affection, share an uneasy and distrustful relationship with Washington, DC.

Returning to World Order, Mr Kissinger has some revealing theories on his pet nation, and it must be said that he appears to have read the China situation rather accurately, if only with hindsight. His comments fit in extremely well in the present context. Saying that China had in ancient times seen itself as the centre of the universe and the other nations were “conceived of as being in some kind of tributary relationship” with it, he adds, “The goal of the tribute system was to foster deference, not to extract economic benefits or dominate foreign societies militarily.” That remains China’s attitude to this day. It seeks deference from others and is uncomfortable with the idea of parity. The regular intrusions by Chinese forces into Indian territory are not so much to seize foreign land but to drive home the message that it is somehow the ‘bigger’ power and must be respected as such.

But Mr Kissinger is a China-fan and, therefore, cannot bring himself to be condemnatory of Beijing, even if the occasion demands. He happily circumvents the inconvenient episodes — the Tiananmen Square killing, for instance — or China’s growing appetite to belligerently dominate in neighbouring regions, whether land or sea. He admits that “China rejects the proposition that international order is fostered by the spread of liberal democracy…” and also that the US “cannot abandon these principles altogether”. Yet he refuses to take a position, saying instead that “to keep the disagreement from spiraling into conflict is one of the principal obligations of the leaders of both sides.” Avoidance of a conflict is understandable, but what is intriguing is Mr Kissinger’s use of the word ‘altogether’ with regard to the US not having to abandon its principles. If it appears that the former Secretary of State is proposing that the US must show flexibility in dealing with even the basic principles the US stands for, it is not surprising. He, and Nixon, never had qualms about twisting ideology when it suited their interests.

Mr Kissinger ends the book with a confession: “Long ago, in youth, I was brash enough to think myself able to pronounce on ‘The Meaning of History’. I now know that history’s meaning is a matter to be discovered, not declared.” Well, long ago, he had got India wrong too.


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