How 1971 Bangladesh crisis laid the foundation for India-US ties

How 1971 Bangladesh crisis laid the foundation for India-US relations
India Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US President Donald Trump. File Photo

New Delhi: The current phase of Indo-US ties has its roots in the 1971 Bangladesh crisis as despite having opposite views on the issue, the two nations could develop a parallel approach on key areas of security and economy, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said on Monday.

Speaking at the India US Strategic Partnership Forum, the 96-year-old former top diplomat said the Bangladesh crisis pushed the two countries to the "edge of confrontations". 

India and Pakistan went to war over the Bangladesh crisis in 1971. The US 7th fleet, led by the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, entered the Bay of Bengal in December 1971, to secure US citizens in Bangladesh but this was seen as a veiled threat to India.

This was also the period of the Cold War and India and the US had different perceptions, he said. 

Referring to the Berlin crisis of 1961, during which the USSR gave an ultimatum to the US-allied forces to move out of Berlin, Kissinger said many in the American government were disappointed after the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the Indian government did not back the US.   

"India was at the beginning of historic evolution and not all of the problems that concerned were of equal importance to India. India was heavily involved with its own evolution and the policy of neutrality," he said.

He said the Bangladesh war was also the time when the US was opening up to China. 

"We came through this (Bangladesh) crisis from the opposite point of view but with the conviction that only fundamental evolution would follow (that) India and the United States could develop parallel approach and over the years, we have now reached a situation where India and the US, on many of these issues have parallel objectives," Kissinger said. 

He said the two countries have developed consensus on key issues of security and economic evolution of the world.

This has happened without any former arrangement between the two sides, the former diplomat said. 

"And if you look at the world, there are upheavals in almost every part of the world and that you cannot necessarily develop a general concept for each of them but you can work together on the essentials of peace and progress. Then I would say no two countries now are better situated to evolve their friendship," Kissinger added. 

Kissinger, known for his policy of detente and opening up to China, said he spent two years negotiating with Chinese premiere Zhou Enlai in a bid to normalise Sino-US relations.

The efforts bore fruit in 1972 when Richard Nixon became the first-ever US president to visit China after the communist revolution of 1949.

When asked about how does he prepare himself before heading for negotiations, the former diplomat said he does not hold preconceived notions about the opposite side and spends a lot of time trying to understand their thinking and the goals they are trying to achieve.