Pakistan in the summer of 1965 claimed that an indigenous uprising in Jammu and Kashmir had taken place, the Kashmiris calling their Muslim brethren for help across the border. What had been a thin pretext for the "tribal invasion" in October 1947, 18 years later was obviously mere propaganda. Operation Gibraltar was nothing but an unprovoked external aggression by a professional army equipped with U.S. arms, and nobody was misled about it. There was, however, one exception. When Indian forces in a counterattack crossed into Pakistani territory, West German diplomats implored the U.S. State Department to intervene in favour of their ally, who allegedly did nothing but defend the Kashmiri right for self-determination, the same right the West German government claimed for those Germans who had to live under a communist dictatorship in East Germany.
The Americans, having a pretty good idea about the events in South Asia, were either irritated or amused about the naivety of their German partners. That the latter had lost their sense for realities was a rather recent phenomenon. Back in 1954 when Pakistan had become an ally of the U.S., West German diplomats unanimously had warned that there was nothing to be expected from Pakistan in terms of containing the socialist powers; it was exclusively obsessed with India. And India was the much more relevant partner of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), the top priority of the Adenauer administration being preventing the German Democratic Republic (GDR) from being recognized as a normal state with a legitimate government. It had been rather a coincidence that India in 1949 had recognized West, but not East Germany, but since Nehru kept to that line most of the newly independent countries in Asia and Africa followed suit. Against the background of an intense German-German propaganda battle in India, Bonn by all means should have done everything to maintain close and friendly relations with Delhi. Economic cooperation and aid flowing from 1957 certainly had such an effect. There even had been plans that German companies should built a tank for the Indian Army, and in Bangalore a team of German engineers was working on India’s first supersonic fighter jet, the HF 24. Regarding Indo-Pakistani tensions, the Adenauer administration was wise enough to avoid any public statements.
Times changed, however, when Ayub Khan stabilized Pakistan and in western eyes became a sort of showcase dictator. The critical assessments from 1954 were quickly forgotten and Pakistan — calculated per head — soon received more German aid than India. In 1961, Adenauer felt let down by President Kennedy, who — as Khrushchev had guaranteed U.S. rights in Berlin — had done nothing against the construction of the Berlin Wall, for the foreseeable future finalizing the division of Germany. Looking for friends in need, Bonn soon made out Pakistan as being denied legitimate rights and a victim of U.S. national egoism, too. Intensely disliking Nehru, the old chancellor never believed India having any rights in Kashmir. The fruitless Indo-Pakistani talks from 1963 seemed to prove that the FRG and Pakistan somehow were both in the same boat, although they had no parallel national interests. Nevertheless, the West Germans felt obliged to a curious alliance of the crestfallen, which soon was to threaten vital FRG interests.
After Hitler had left Europe in ruins, the FRG rules for arms exports were very strict; no lethal weapons should be exported into areas of tension. Notwithstanding the Kashmir dispute, South Asia was considered as unproblematic. From the early 1960s, the FRG had started equipping the Pakistani forces with light arms. Both countries being allied with the U.S., such a policy had some internal logic, even more as it pleased Pakistan without seriously troubling India. The export of COBRA anti-tank missiles was of a different category, particularly after those missiles proved to be efficient in the 1965 war. Massive Indian protests should have rung the alarm bells in Bonn. Unfortunately, under Adenauer’s successor Erhard German foreign policy had witnessed a rapid decline from top professional to amateurish.
Since 1964, exporting arms for a number of reasons became a new and highly problematic feature of FRG foreign policy. There was no more consistent line in external affairs. In West Germany’s first ever minor recession, the defence budget had come under criticism; therefore, the Ministry of Defence was keen to sell outdated jets and tanks whoever was the purchaser. Officials from the second-row of the German Foreign Office under guidance of Foreign Secretary Carstens believed to be capable to maximize the positive and to minimize the negative political effects of such exports . The Federal Intelligence Service pursued its own policy, a general travelling around the world offering second-hand arms without the knowledge of the Chancellery or the Foreign Office. And finally the obscure Merex Company was ready to organize such transactions. The first disaster had been created in 1965 in the Middle East, when secret arms exports to Israel undertaken in a most amateurish manner had become known to Nasser, triggering a major crisis; a number of Arab countries froze its relations with the FRG.
Surprisingly, the Erhard administration did not learn from that experience. Only a few months later, the Second Kashmir War broke out, quickly nearing a standstill because both anniversaries lacked fuel, ammunition and spare parts. The U.S. introduced an arms embargo, hitting for all Pakistan, nearly completely depending from that one supplier, whereas India with its policy of never putting all eggs in one basket could rely on Soviet support. The Federal Intelligence Service and the Carstens group in the Foreign Office immediately sensed their chance: West German support would be paid back with lasting gratitude. Therefore, both antagonists were secretly offered arms, though on a very different scale. Whereas India was meant to receive 28 Seahawk submarine hunters, Pakistan was promised 90 F-86K Sabre fighter jets and 200 M-47 Patton tanks.
As indicated above, the tilt towards Pakistan was not the outcome of a new German master plan for South Asia. But apart from chaotic decision making, it was no mere coincidence that some in Bonn turned against India. Whereas Pakistan had always kept away from the GDR, India had slowly upgraded the second German state from 1955 when a GDR trade mission had been permitted. Nehru a number of times had talked of de facto recognition, full recognition being only a question of time.
Certain circles in Bonn found that the country receiving the bulk of West German aid should show more gratitude. Apart from that, from 1963 Carstens ignoring international developments pursued a quixotic policy, no more only containing progress of the GDR in non-aligned countries, but actually attempting to drive the East Germans out. Prime Minister Shastri, considered as both rather pro-western and weak, was meant to be a partner for that policy. As Indo-Soviet relations, however, had more relevance than FRG sensitivities, Shastri when visiting Moscow in the final communiqué had paid lip-service to the Soviet standpoint that there existed a second German state.
Regarding the promised arms, the Indians proved to be more assertive. Circumventing German regulations by acting via Merex and an Italian intermediary, they imported the dismantled Seahawks before the FRG Chancellery got wind of it. On the contrary, it appears that Pakistan believed that the Germans would arrange everything and the deal would be permitted by Bonn and its allies with a twinkle in the eye. If this was the calculation, it proved to be fundamentally wrong. In spring 1966, step by step dozens of highly visible Sabre jets turned up on Pakistani airfields. When India protested, Iran came into the picture, claiming it had purchased the planes, having sent them to Pakistan for an overhaul — although the latter did not at all possess jets of that type. Parts of the Erhard administration were completely taken by surprise. As they understood the implications of alienating India, the German military attaché in Pakistan had to control the return of the jets to Iran, where they, however, were de facto kept as a backup of the PAF. Soon thereafter, news leaked that the Germans secretly were organizing the delivery of 200 tanks, asking the assistance of NATO-partners like Belgium.
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi did not mince words any more. She summoned the German ambassador telling him bluntly that the day the first German tank was spotted in Pakistan, India would recognize the GDR. This ultimatum ended all FRG manoeuvres. As soon thereafter Erhard had to step back, being replaced by Kiesinger — like the new Foreign Minister Willy Brandt a proven friend of India — West Germany returned to the line of keeping out of South Asian conflicts, behind closed doors showing more sympathies for India’s case. During the 1971 Bangladesh crisis, it would be New Delhi secretly receiving a symbolic sign of support for its armament programs.
Amit Das Gupta, is a Germany based scholar with a PhD on West Germany’s South Asia policy.
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