Role of the United States in the 1971 War: Implications for India–US Relations

Dr Saroj Bishoyi was Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for more details
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  • October–December 2021

    The India–Pakistan War of 1971 happened at the time when the US was developing a new balance of power relationship in Asia with US-ChinaPakistan at its core. This new balance of power initiative was based on the United States’ ‘Opening to China’ through secret diplomacy with the help of Pakistan, and this resulted in a convergence of interests of US, China and Pakistan. The extraordinary similarity of perceptions and approaches of the US and China to the crisis, and the US military aid to Pakistan emboldened the Pakistani military to continue repression in the East Pakistan and wage a war against India. When the 1971 war started, the US openly supported Pakistan at the cost of basic human rights and democratic values. The US dispatched the warship 7th Fleet to support a military dictatorship, President Yahya Khan, and to threaten a democratic country, India. Though the 13-day war ended with a decisive victory for India and Bangladesh was liberated from Pakistan’s military rulers, the role that the US played during the war deeply affected India– US relations and continues to shape their ties. This article aims to analyse and examine the major reasons behind the United States and India’s divergent perceptions and approaches to the India–Pakistan War of 1971. It examines the different foreign policy goals, ambitions and perspectives of the two countries during this period and their implications for the war and India–US relations.

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