Bruce Riedel’s new book is written in an accessible style and adds considerably to our understanding of the limitations of Nehru, the India-friendliness of JFK and the Sino-Indian War of ’62
JFK’s Forgotten Crisis: Tibet, the CIA, and the Sino-Indian War, Bruce O. Riedel, Brookings Institution, 2015
Occurring in the shadows of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Sino-Indian War of 1962 is a forgotten slice of history that is remembered vividly only in India. With it is buried an important episode of US president John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s diplomacy, an intriguing ‘what-if’ of Indo-US relations, and perhaps the most active chapter in the neglected history of Tibet’s resistance to China’s brutal occupation. The war, however, brought about significant geopolitical changes to South Asia that shape it to this day. Bruce Riedel’s JFK’s Forgotten Crisis: Tibet, the CIA, and the Sino-Indian Waris a gripping account of the United States’ involvement in South Asia and Kennedy’s personal interest in India. In it, he dispels the commonly held belief that India was not a priority of US foreign policy in the early 1960s and that Kennedy was preoccupied with events in his own backyard to pay any attention to a “minor border skirmish” on the other side of the world.
Except perhaps among historians of the Cold War, it is not widely known that the United States cosied up to Pakistan during the Eisenhower administration not to buttress South and West Asia against communism but to secure permission to fly reconnaissance missions into the Soviet Union, China, and Tibet. Initiated in 1957, the US-Pakistan agreement allowed the Central Intelligence Agency to operate U-2 reconnaissance planes from Lahore, Peshawar, and other airbases in West Pakistan over Communist territory. Airfields in East Pakistan, such as at Kurmitola, were also made available to the United States. Some of the missions were flown by the Royal Air Force as well.
These overflights provided a wealth of information about the Soviet and Chinese militaries, economies, terrain, and other aspects important to Western military planners. Particularly useful was the information on China, which was otherwise sealed off to Western eyes and ears. Ayub Khan, the Pakistani president, claimed his pound of flesh for the agreement – Washington and Karachi signed a bilateral security agreement supplementing the CENTO and SEATO security pacts that Pakistan was already a member of and American military aid expanded to include the most advanced US jet fighter of the time, the F-104.