Monday, October 5, 2015

Did Rajiv Gandhi Really Plan to Go to War with Pakistan to Save the Najibullah regime?


This is one of the several little nuggets I found in an essay on Soviet-Indian relations in the last decade of the Cold War.  It was published as a chapter in 2011 by Sergey Radchenko in a book he co-edited with Artemy M. Kalinovsky, The End of the Cold War and the Third World:New Perspectives on Regional Conflict based on declassified East bloc archives.  [I had not seen this earlier; it was bought to my attention by Yogesh Joshi, one of my PhD students]. I have little doubt that the documentary evidence Radchenko presents is credible, even if I might quibble with some interpretations.  The broad argument that Radchenko makes is that both Gorbachev and Rajiv Gandhi were somewhat na├»ve not only about international politics but also about Soviet-Indian relations.  It also shows both sides maneuvering around each other in a manner that reveals somewhat greater crudity (in the best Realist sense of the word!) than I would have imagined.  But it also reveals a lot of other things, including India’s unhealthy obsession with Pakistan and – despite Indira Gandhi’s and Rajiv Gandhi’s successful state visits to the US and generally improving US-India ties – deep and abiding Indian suspicions about the US. 

Now to the juicy bits:

  • P. 175: The Soviets reportedly shared with the Hungarians India’s plans to attack Pakistan’s Kahuta nuclear facility, according to documents in the Hungarian archives.  It is not clear though if the Soviets were only reporting widespread rumours or whether they actually had access to any Indian plans.  The rumours were indeed widespread, and K. Subrahmanyam suggests that the Indian proposal for non-attack on nuclear facilities, which he suggested to Rajiv Gandhi, was the consequence of such rumours in the Western media (K. Subrahmanyam, “India’s Nuclear Policy -1964-98: A Personal Recollection,” in Jasjit Singh (ed.) Nuclear India (New Delhi: IDSA/Knowledge World, 1998 [2006 reprint]), pp. 40-42). 
  • Pp. 176-77: In 1982, the Soviet Ambassador to Afghanistan proposed to the Indian Ambassador in Kabul that India should take advantage of the Soviet presence in Afghanistan to retake all of Kashmir, again according to the same document from the Hungarian archives.  The Indian leadership apparently shot down this proposal. 
  • P. 181: In a July 1987 meeting, PM Rajiv Gandhi tells Soviet leader Gorbachev that India has been able to apply sufficient pressure on Sri Lanka to prevent it from giving a base in ‘Trinkomali’ to the US.
  • P. 183: Rajiv Gandhi also discusses the Operation Brasstacks crisis with Gorbachev and tells him that the Indian Army was “itching” to take advantage of the situation and cut Sindh from Pakistan.  Though the Brasstacks crisis is well-known, this provides an unusual inside look at Indian thinking, as also an indication of a civil-military rift during the crisis, which has until now been a hypothesis. 
  • P. 186: On 7 March 1989, according to documents from the Mongolian Foreign Ministry archives, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi tells the Mongolian President Jambyn Batmunkh that India was ready to launch a joint Afghan-Indian war on Pakistan if Pakistan attempted to topple the Najibullah regime.  The Mongolian President is so surprised “that he even asked the Prime Minister to repeat himself, for fear that something had been lost in translation. Rajiv Gandhi reiterated his readiness to intervene to save Najibullah from Pakistani aggression.” Assuming the documents in the Mongolian archives are accurate, how serious would such a comment be?  I would think, not very.  I doubt if India had made any serious military preparations, let alone joint military planning or preparations with Afghanistan.  At least four divisions of the Indian Army were still bogged down in Sri Lanka, Punjab was still simmering and Kashmir was beginning to boil too.  I suspect this was merely some empty bravado, or as Radchenkmo suggests, ‘fantazising’.  Nevertheless, some fascinating accounts, which we will not be able to fully corroborate until Indian files are opened.  

1 comment:

  1. Next: A blog post on Radchenko's Unwanted Visionaries