March 20, 2014
Paddling to Peking

by Roderick MacFarquhar

For Richard Nixon’s foreign policy, 1971 was the best of years and the worst of years. He revealed his opening to China, but he connived at genocide in East Pakistan. Fortunately for him, the world marveled at the one, but was largely ignorant of the other.

The two events were connected. General Yahya Khan, the president of Pakistan, was Washington’s principal back channel to Beijing. Nixon had long admired the bluff, no-nonsense manners of the Pakistani military and the dictators it spawned, whereas he disliked the condescension he detected in Indian leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi, the prime minister in 1971. Whereas the Pakistanis had willingly signed on to America’s cold war alliance structures—CENTO in the Middle East and SEATO in Asia—the Indians pursued a “neutralist” foreign policy for which Nixon had no time.

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