New Delhi: Veteran diplomat Henry Kissinger, the architect of the US' historic opening to China, has denied that that the US struck a secret pact with India to prevent an attack on West Pakistan in 1971.
Known in India for unflattering comments on former prime minister Indira Gandhi, he sought to correct the picture, saying he always thought she was "an extremely strong and far-sighted woman".
"India and the former Soviet Union had made a near-alliance around this time. It was in the national interest of the US to preserve West Pakistan," said Kissinger, a Nobel Peace laureate, while delivering the keynote address at the India Today Conclave Friday night.
He was reacting to the perception in strategic community that after the 1971 war, which led to the split of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh, the US asked India not to strike against West Pakistan.
With the Indian Army moving into East Pakistan December 4, 1971, Nixon resorted to gunboat diplomacy and sent the Seventh Fleet led by the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal.
"Each side did what it had to do. Each acted on its own national interest which clashed for a brief moment," he said.
Kissinger surprised many in India by revising his much-quoted opinion of Indira Gandhi which became public after White House tapes of the Nixon presidency were declassified in 2005.
"I was under pressure and made those comments in the heat of the moment. People took those remarks out of context," Kissinger said, adding that he had the "highest regard" for Indira Gandhi.
She was an extremely strong woman who acted in India's national interest and a far-sighted woman as a far as foreign policy is concerned, said the 89-year-old Kissinger.
The declassified tapes reveal Nixon calling then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi an "old witch" and Kissinger agreeing with that assessment and reiterating that expression in their conversation.
Speaking on the Making of an Asian Century, Kissinger, the architect of President Nixon's historic visit to China in 1972 and the author of the bestselling "On China", advocated "a balance of power" in the Asian continent.
It would not be in India's national interests to allow a dominant power or a transnational power that would intrude into its sphere of influence, from Singapore to East Africa, he suggested.
When asked whether China would treat India as an equal, he said China would treat India respectfully, but suggested that India, China and the US would have to work together to balance China's internal forces that had the potential to destabilise it.
He said he believed in the long-term compatibility of the India-US interests and described India as "a key country" in the evolving global geopolitical landscape.