The big blow to [Afro-Asian] solidarity came in 1962 when China invaded India in order to settle a border dispute. Nehru had assumed that China was an anti-imperialist power just like India and that such powers would live in peace with each other. Moreover, he had supported China’s control over Tibet, which was supposed to be an autonomous region. Unfortunately, he had failed to get from China a definitive statement concerning the India-China border in return for this support. The treaty which Nehru concluded with China in 1954 only mentioned some passes through which the trade between the two countries might flow. It also contained the five principles (panchshila) relating to mutual benefit and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs which Nehru henceforth regarded as the cornerstone of his foreign policy. However, none of this could prevent a clash with China. In 1959, the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s priestly ruler, fled to India and Nehru granted asylum to him but did not permit him to establish a Tibetan government in exile. In the following months border clashes increased and notes were exchanged which Nehru did not publish until he was forced to do so by the Indian parliament. In 1961, the Chinese Prime Minister Chou En-lai visited India for border negotiations. Nehru had collected all relevant maps and was surprised that Chou En-lai did not wish to look at them but immediately proposed a deal: China would recognize India’s eastern border as delineated by the McMahon Line of 1914 if India would leave the Karakoram Pass and Aksai Chin (northeast Kashmir) to China. China had secretly occupied most of Aksai Chin in the 1950s, so India would simply have to acquiesce in this loss. The access to the Karakoram highway was of great strategic importance to China for the control of its western provinces. However, Nehru as head of a democratic government could not deal with national territory as easily as Chou En-lai had expected. The deal was not accepted and border clashes continued. Finally, China forced the deal on an unwilling India by means of a well-planned military offensive. When the USA and the Soviet Union were busy with the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, a division of Chinese troops crossed the McMahon Line in the east and soon reached the Assamese plains. But this was a diversionary move. These troops withdrew before their supply lines could be cut. In the meantime the Chinese also launched a massive offensive in the west to capture the Karakorum highway – and they did not withdraw as this was the area which really interested them. Subsequently, there was a conspiracy of silence between India and China as to what had happened there. India was not willing to admit its losses and China would not reveal its illegitimate gains. China has adopted an attitude of superiority ever since and sometimes this has even been expressed quite openly. When China invaded Vietnam in 1979, Deng Xiao-ping compared this to what China had done to India in 1962. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who visited China at that time as India’s Minister of External Affairs in order to ‘normalize’ relations with China, got this message and immediately returned home. ‘Normalization’ had to wait for a long time.
The clash between India and China had sounded the death knell of Afro-Asian Solidarity even before 1962, but anti-colonial solidarity still motivated Nehru, who was sensitive to appeals from leaders of countries which were involved in their freedom struggle. In September 1961, Kenneth Kaunda, the future President of Zambia who had attended the Belgrade Conference of the Nonaligned Nations, visited New Delhi and gave a lecture in which he blamed Nehru for tolerating Portuguese colonial rule in Goa. He argued that rather than setting an encouraging example which the Africans could follow Nehru obviously wanted to wait until the Africans had overcome Portuguese colonial rule, whereupon Goa would then fall into his lap like a ripe fruit. Kaunda was clearly quite right in assessing Nehru’s motives and his speech stung him into action. Goa was liberated by the Indian army in December 1961; it proved to be a walkover but this could not have been predicted. As a member of NATO, Portugal was well armed and had a strong garrison in Goa. It could also rely on support from Pakistan. If the Portuguese Governor-General had decided to defend Goa seriously, the liberation could have ended in a bloodbath. Fortunately, he only blew up a few bridges and surrendered gracefully as he was aware of the far superior power of the Indian army. This was Nehru’s last great triumph, but he experienced it with mixed feelings. He lost his reputation as an apostle of peace and was berated by every Western power. This he could live with, but the humiliating defeat he suffered at the hands of the Chinese in 1962 broke his heart. He must have felt very deeply that he had failed as architect of India’s foreign policy.
Nehru’s successors adopted a more realistic approach: India’s regional position was more important to them than its role in world affairs. The twin challenges of China and Pakistan converted India with a vengeance into a self-conscious territorial state concerned with its defence. A retired Indian general had once said that the colonial legacy of a huge army embarrassed India’s political leaders as much as inheriting a brewery would embarrass a teetotaller. Nehru did not invest much money in armaments; however, this changed after India’s defeat by the Chinese in 1962. Defence expenditure was stepped up, which alarmed Pakistan. The Chinese had shown that India could be beaten and had thus set Pakistan an example, but due to India’s rapid armament, the window of opportunity for Pakistan seemed to be closing fast. Pakistan’s military dictator Ayub Khan was pushed by his young Foreign Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, to attack India in Kashmir. Bhutto had forged a military alliance with China in 1963 and Pakistan had yielded a large part of territory to the west of the Karakoram Pass to China at that time. Nehru’s successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, was considered weak and inexperienced. Pakistan tested his reaction to a border intrusion in the Rann of Katch in the summer of 1965. Shastri requested the then British Prime Minister Harold Wilson to arbitrate in this matter, which only served to encourage Ayub Khan to launch his Operation Grand Slam in September 1965 and he sent his tanks to cut the only connection between India and Kashmir. If Shastri had again called for arbitration, Ayub Khan could have finished his business in Kashmir and then negotiated from a position of strength. But this time Shastri ordered his troops to launch a counter-attack on Lahore. He also refused to listen to a Chinese ultimatum which referred to their threat to cross the border of Sikkim. Pakistan had hoped that China would open a second front in the east, but the Chinese did not follow up their ultimatum and bitterly disappointed their Pakistani allies. China had encouraged Pakistan in the hope that it would do some damage to India, but it was not interested in investing anything in this war as it had reached its aims in 1962. The same Chinese stratagem was repeated in 1971 when Pakistan lost its eastern half and the Chinese supported Pakistan, but did not give the Pakistanis help when they needed it.