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Mainstream, VOL XLIX No 33, August 6, 2011

Reflections on Indo-Soviet Treaty’s abiding significance

Wednesday 10 August 2011


[(August 9, 1971 was a memorable day. On that day the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation was signed. This acted as a reliable shield defending India’s independence during the Indira Gandhi Government’s extension of fraternal assistance for helping the East Pakistani people attain freedom from West Pakistani yoke at the fag end of 1971. On the fortieth anniversary of these momentous developments, we reproduce N.C.’s following pieces written as ‘Political Notebook’ in Mainstream in two successive issues (of August 7, 1971 and August 14, 1971) and a contribution by a Soviet commentator on the Indo-Soviet Treaty’s abiding significance (this appeared in this journal’s August 28, 1971 issue).)]

Time for a Breakthrough

by Nikhil Chakravartty

With the developments around Bangladesh fast reaching a point of climax in the international sphere, coupled with the possibilities of growing understanding between Peking and Washington, the Indian foreign policy has virtually arrived at crossroads.

During the Budget debate on the External Affairs Ministry’s allocations, there was very little by way of positive suggestions towards strengthening India’s foreign policy; one heard mostly the time-honoured comments and platitudes regarding our foreign policy, depending on the party labels of the different speakers concerned. This was unfortunate in view of the fact that it was already by then quite evident that the Bangladesh issue should be regarded as one of the most important happenings which Indian foreign policy has had to grapple with since Independence. Besides, President Nixon’s announcement of his eagerness to go to Peking had already been announced by the time the Lok Sabha debated on foreign policy.

However, there are some significant pointers in the Lok Sabha debate which need proper scrutiny. Besides, a number of commentators have come out with clear hints to what they regard as the lines of a possible, or desirable, breakthrough in Indian foreign policy.

There is a chorus that with the Sino-American understanding, and also what these critics say the inability of India to rouse world opinion in favour of Bangladesh, the Indian foreign policy has become both ineffective and insignificant in world affairs.

There are very strong grounds for disputing the premise that India’s efforts at rousing world opinion have produced very little result. Whatever may be Sri Jayaprakash Narayan’s views, it is clear that the strong resentment expressed even in the Western countries, normally partial to Pakistan at the genocide in Bangladesh, would not have attracted world attention had it not been for India’s tireless campaign on the subject.

If today Moscow has condemned genocide in Bangladesh in no uncertain terms and from the highest official level, the credit for it goes to a large measure to New Delhi as well as to the leaders of Bangladesh. Further, the fact that the Soviet Government has conveyed in no uncertain terms that it would stand by India’s position with regard to UN observers is also a plus point in our efforts at mobilising support for Bangladesh.

The fact that seventy lakh refugees had crossed over from Bangladesh into Indian territory while India exercised utmost restraint in holding back all temptations for adventurous move, is paying rich dividends today, strengthening India’s case rejecting the latest moves of the UN and its High Commission for Refugees for posting of observers on both sides of the frontiers. The strong note that New Delhi has sent to U Thant on the subject would not have attracted world attention had it not been backed by a very wise record replete with examples of restraint combined with vigilance on India’s part.

There is a new school of opinion mushrooming in the elite circles of the Capital in the wake of Kissinger’s Peking trip and Nixon’s overtures to Chou En-lai. For quite sometime past it has been noticed tht the very people who were clamouring all these years during 1962-70 for no truck with China until every inch of our soil was vacated by the aggressor, who, in season and out of season, were lambasting against Nehru’s policy on Tibet and goading New Delhi to join the Western clamours for raising the issue of Tibet in the United Nations, it is this very school which has suddenly become vociferous in the demand for opening talks with China.

It is rather amusing to note that the very people who are asking us to make friends with Mao, forget the immediate reality, that is, how to help the Bangladesh struggle. This is a touch-stone by which we have to judge our friends abroad today—Moscow with its sympathies for the Bangladesh freedom struggle, or Peking with its support for Yahya Khan.

In this matter the Jana Sangh chief, Sri Vajpayee, has excelled others: he even made the amazing suggestion that we should appeal to President Nixon to take up India’s case with Chou when he visited Peking in the near future. It is indeed very heartening to see Sri Vajpayee fishing out how many times India’s Ambassador in Moscow had tete-a-tete with his Chinese counterpart—a conduct which he would have preferred to ignore, if not attack, only a few years ago.

A very sophisticated version of the same mentality is betrayed by the so-called foreign-affairs experts among the prolific tribe of dilettantes that one encounters in New Delhi. According to them, India should not only open talks with China a la Nixon but should cease to have anything further to do with Moscow lest our bonafides in Peking are spoilt. Parading themselves as the zealous defenders of non-alignment they have suddenly felt that we should keep clear of Soviet influence and be closer to Peking.

Obviously this would please the Americans and equally obviously one would not be wide of the mark to conclude that the inspiration for such profundities comes from the same American source which has worked out the Kissinger strategy. While one can understand Dr Kissinger’s flexibility in relation to China, breaking the twenty-year-old embargo on the Chinese after the US debacle in Vietnam and taking advantage of the Sino-Soviet rift, one cannot but have a feeling of pity for this pathetic aping of American stances by the so-called Indian experts in foreign policy. Commonsense should have made them realise that compulsions of an imperialist policy do not apply in the case of an anti-imperialist Asian country. What is sauce for Mr Nixon, need not necessarily be sauce for Smt Gandhi.

It is, however, time for a very serious effort at building up initiative on the part of our Foreign Office. The world is moving fast and the Bangladesh developments are a pointer to it. Particularly, in the context of the new develop-ments which are likely to come up as a result of the growing possibility of Sino-American understanding, it is extremely necessary that we should strengthen our existing relationships with the countries that are friendly to us, while at the same time make efforts to mend our fences with China independent of whether Mr Nixon arrives in Peking or gets into trouble on the way.

The need for strengthening our existing relations with friendly countries is a natural compulsion in the face of the strain that we are facing not only over the Bangladesh issue in general but over the undeniable fact that both America and China have, in the main, sided with Yahya Khan, at least in the present phase of Islamabad’s offensive against the people of Bangladesh. Any realist in foreign policy as also defence policy would certainly go in for streng-thening these friendly relations particularly with the socialist countries which have stood by us throughout the strain of the sixties whether in relation to China or in relation to Pakistan, to the extent that it is the arms supply from the Soviet Union which strengthened India’s defences and helped to build up India’s defence industry including the manufacture of the MiG jet fighters.

Whatever may be the quibblings of the air-conditioned intellectuals in New Delhi, the fact is embedded in the minds of the common people in this country that the Soviet Union is the one country which has helped to build our heavy industry as also our independent defence industry without any condition whatsoever; not to speak of the Soviet stand in support of Goa’s liberation and its veto on Kashmir in the Security Council every time the Anglo-US powers intrigued on behalf of Pakistan.

This is in contrast to the arms given by America at the time of the Chinese attack with the proviso that they could be used against no other country, obviously sheltering their own favourite, Pakistan. One has to go to the countryside where the actual operations took place in the 1965 conflict, whether in Punjab or Rajasthan, and to hear the villagers praising Soviet guns in the defence of the Indian soil against attacks from across the frontiers.

To say today that we should freeze our relationship with the Soviet Union or to play it down is an absurdity which no government, not even a conservative government with an iota of patriotism, would be expected to carry out. Rather native wisdom should dictate New Delhi to strengthen its ties with the Soviet Union. This is particularly necessary in the context of the developing situation in Bangladesh; because, further strengthening of ties with the Soviet Union will only help to improve our inter-national position vis-à-vis Pakistan, whether in the UN or outside.

When Yahya Khan is threatening war, only from Moscow has come a warning against such provocations; and by further cementing our relations with the Soviet Union we would be doing the very natural thing, that is, ensuring our security in an extremely menacing situation.

At the same time, it is necessary for India to refurbish her own image before the anti-imperialist world, by coming closer to Vietnam. Concretely this means immediately the raising of our mission in Hanoi to the ambassadorial level. This would not only be symbolic of our closer ties with a country which has been battling with unprecedented heroism against the most powerful imperialism in history, but will strengthen India’s position in the entire South-East Asia sector. A projection of the same approach would demand the same course in respect of the German Democratic Republic.

These are the two steps which have to be immediately taken, steps which were so long held up mainly because of the pressure from Western lobbies, particularly the American lobby, in this country. Now that the American President himself is keen on a pilgrimage to Peking, one should expect that those pressures also would have no validity in Foreign Office, while these steps would definitely contribute to the strengthening of the independent position of our foreign policy.

Along with these steps, it is certainly necessary that India should take steps which might help to normalise our relations with Peking. When Chairman Mao shook hands smilingly with our envoy last year, it might have been a small step, but it could be made the starting point of a new effort at exploring the Chinese approach to this country. If Sri D.P. Dhar had friendly chats with the Chinese Ambassador in Moscow, that also should be a welcome development towards the breaking of ice.

In recent months, there has been a perceptible change in the attitude of the Chinese diplomats in this country in trying to make themselves amiable among different circles of politicians and pressmen. All these may not amount to much, but still in the context of the urgent interest for India mending her fences with as many countries as possible, particularly when she is faced with the overwhelming problem of Bangladesh, there is no reason why further probing should not be made at least to keep our records straight.

This is a step which does not require that we should freeze our relationship with Moscow, for the simple reason that India throughout her career of non-alignment has never participated in any Cold War postures. Rather, India’s position would be that just as she had tried to maintain good relations with countries themselves locked in angry confrontations in the world arena, today also while strengthening her relations with friendly countries she does not exclude from her efforts the cultivating of new friends or reforging of links which were snapped in the past.

Besides, it would be rather futile to take it for granted, as some of these foreign affairs pundits seem to conclude, that Sino-Soviet tension is going to be a permanent fixture in world politics. It is to be recalled that it was not Dr Kissinger who undertook the first secret flight to Peking; only a few years ago, Mr Kosygin flew from Delhi to Peking via Tashkent without giving the slightest hint to those who saw him off or those who were closely watching his every step; and that mission was also a mission for normalisation of Sino-Soviet relations.

At this crucial juncture in our foreign policy, it is therefore extremely necessary that New Delhi should launch bold initiatives in winning friends and strengthening existing friendly relations. For this purpose, however, it should avoid being part of any groove and it should try to be truly non-aligned.

While its friendship with Moscow has to be strengthened, its approach to Peking also has to be positive. To do one does not mean to avoid the other. Rather, cementing relationships with Moscow might facilitate rapport with Peking in these days of realpolitik. The time for a breakthrough in our foreign policy is here and now.

(Mainstream, August 7, 1971)

Treaty and Non-alignment

by Nikhil Chakravartty

Ninth August is a memorable day in the annals of India’s struggle for freedom: this was the day which saw the launching of the ‘Quit-India’ campaign in 1942, leading to the ending of British rule five years later.

This year, on the same August 9 a new step was taken to safeguard that Independence in a new context. For, the signing of the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation stren-gthens this nation’s sovereignty and indepen-dence of action in a trouble-tossed world.

The origins of this Treaty are to be traced to two major elements in the world of today: first, the strong anti-imperialism of the countries of Asia and Africa, which have won their independence from the colonial rule of Western powers, and secondly, the realisation by the Socialist countries that the non-aligned countries should be recognised as their potential allies.

These two trends have converged during the last two decades to bring about a new balance of forces.

Finding the Western powers denying them the basic wherewithal to retain the independence they had won, many of these newly independent countries were forced to turn to the Socialist countries, particularly to the Soviet Union, to help build their independent economy and strengthen their own defence. The genesis of the UAR-Soviet Treaty goes back to the Western rebuff to Nasser over the Aswan Dam project and the Soviet readiness to build it, followed later on by the Soviet aid in building the UAR’s defence against Western-backed Israeli aggressiveness.

Similarly, the Indo-Soviet Treaty of this week is the culmination of a long process, at the beginning of which is to be seen the World Bank’s refusal to help Nehru to build a steel plant and the Soviet readiness to set up Bhilai—with the same story repeated all over again in the massive Soviet assistance over the years to build India’s independent defence industry.

On the Soviet side, these nations of Asia and Africa, fighting against imperialism, were long considered as allies. It was Lenin who said that the colonies which had long been regarded as reserves of imperialism, had by the time of the Soviet Revolution turned into reserves of socialism, with their powerful movements for independence fighting against the same common enemy, the imperialist powers, which were trying to destroy the first socialist state. From those beginnings, in the changed context of these countries having won independence and yet having to reckon with many obstacles placed by imperialism in the path of their independent development, the Soviet Union and other socialist countries found in them natural allies.

It was Nehru who, addressing the Constituent Assembly way back in 1947, had said that “ultimately foreign policy is the outcome of economic policy” and went on to explain: “There is some meaning when we say that we stand for the freedom of Asian countries and for the elimination of imperialistic control over them.”

It was precisely from this premise that Nehru’s opposition to military pacts arose. Realising that such military Pacts do not in the final analysis strengthen a country’s defence, Nehru warned in 1960 that the spread of the policy of military pacts to Asia “has not added to the world’s security, or to any country’s security. It has diverted people from thinking on economic progress and developing inner strength and tried to bolster up countries by military means which can only be temporary. It has really come in the way of a country’s progress.” No better example can be had than the case of Pakistan.

Out of this aversion to military pacts—mainly sponsored during Dulles’ days of “containing Communism”—was born the concept of non-alignment. It is important to note that Nehru himself preferred to call it a “positive policy for peace” rather than non-alignment, as he explained in an interview in 1956.

This point needs to be clarified because of the spate of obiter dicta that threatens to confuse the public mind today over the real nature of the Treaty. From Sri Chagla and Sri Frank Anthony to the whole host of so-called specialists in foreign affairs, many have taken it for granted that the Indo-Soviet Treaty marks the end of non-alignment. The more sophisticated version of the same understanding trots out the thesis that while “subjectively” we would like to remain non-aligned, “objectively” India has entered “the power game”. It is this tribe which Nehru once called “the school of learned confusion”. (“It talks very learnedly about international affairs, delivers speeches, writes articles, but never gets out of a confused state of mind.”)

The patent fallacy of this thesis lies in the fact that even in the era of non-alignment, India had to participate in the power game; after all, no foreign policy is evolved in a vacuum, ignoring the attitudes and alignments of powers that face it. As for the objective reality of today, the bi-polar Cold-War alignments have changed, and what we are witnessing today is the struggle for a new balance, in which the Pentagon still clings to the diplomacy of military pacts; a clear example of this is provided by the US arms shipments to Pakistan.

Thus, the danger of war, particularly local wars, has to be met effectively. Even if the Dulles policy of military blocs has been exploded with the breakdown of the bi-polar confrontation, its hang-over is egging on wars, whether through Israel or through Pakistan or in Vietnam.

It was Sri Krishna Menon who can claim to be the main exponent of Nehru’s foreign policy. He was the first to use the term “non-alignment” in the UN. In a lucid elucidation of the content of non-alignment that he gave to Professor Michael Brecher in 1964-65, Sri Krishna Menon explained: “What is non-alignment? It is merely independence in external affairs.” For him, it was the “logical extension of nationalism and of the conflict between nationalism and military blocs, the fact that we had little in common with the raison d’etre of the blocs with the West, because to us the West meant Empire”.

Sri Menon once called SEATO “a modern version of a protectorate”, and, in contrast, he could claim that non-alignment “prevented us from becoming a satellite state”.

Apart from this, the other accomplishments of non-alignment, as Sri Krishna Menon sees them, are: “it established India, not as a major power, but as an important quantity in world affairs”; “it has on several occasions put a brake on war”; “non-alignment enabled us to strengthen ourselves too. It gave us a considerable degree of self-confidence, inner strength, things of that kind.”

If the present Indo-Soviet Treaty is judged by these tests, it helps to strengthen India’s non-alignment, instead of weakening it. In fact, Article IV of the Treaty specifically mentions the Soviet recognition of the fact that India’s non-alignment constitutes “an important factor” in upholding world peace and international security and in the lessening of world tensions.

An examination of the provisions of the Treaty dispels the idea of India being in any way dominated by the USSR. In fact, the very first Article enjoins that “each party shall respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the other party and refrain from interfering in the other’s internal affairs”. The running theme is “equality and mutual benefit”.

The three crucial Articles (VIII, IX and X) shows that the Treaty debars either side from joining any military pact or helping any third party directed against the other side; nor permit the use of one’s territory as a base of operation against the other; provides in case of one side being attacked, for not only mutual consultations but “appropriate effective measures to ensure peace and the security of their countries”; and lastly rules out any deal, secret or public, that may bring military damage to the other party.

The second test of non-alignment is also passed since this Treaty will definitely help to strengthen India’s international position, as could be gauged from the immediate reactions from world capitals. There is no question of India taking a back seat while other great powers make up their differences or go on flouting India’s warning against pouring in arms to a bellicose neighbour.

As for the third achievement of non-alignment—putting a brake on war—even the worst critic of the Treaty has had to admit that it might have a sobering effect on Yahya Khan spoiling for war. And to that extent, it will help the cause of Bangladesh, giving an opportunity to its freedom-fighters to settle their accounts with the Pak Army without being engulfed in a bigger war.

Lastly, one has to admit that the fourth test of non-alignment—giving this country a consi-derable degree of self-confidence—is also met by the Indo-Soviet Treaty if one were to judge by the spontaneous nationwide acclaim it has received, going far beyond the orbit of those who are known to be traditionally pro-Soviet.

Perhaps one of the reasons for confusion about non-alignment—thanks largely to “the school of learned confusion”—is to look upon it as a fixed digit, that India does not side with anybody in any situation. Over and over again, India’s foreign policy exponents have emphasised that non-alignment is not neutralism. Sri Menon made amply clear when he said: “Non-alignment is not inflexible. In a sense, it is true, there are always variations. But they are not deviations; they are ghosts! (that is, distorted by propa-ganda).”

In the present-day world, when the configuration of world forces is dramatically changing, it is idle to expect that India’s non-alignment can afford to take an inflexible posture. It must respond to new challenges.

While the timing of the Treaty has led the public to conclude that its signing has been accelerated from New Delhi’s side with the developments in Bangladesh and the US President’s decision to go to Peking, it is to be noted that Moscow had been interested in it since 1969. The significant point to note is that this effort at strengthening Indo-Soviet relations came about the same time as the Soviet Union acceded to Pakistan’s plea for arms aid. The Soviet arms aid could not detract Islamabad from the policy of military blocs, but the working out of abiding relationship could be finalised with India.

This is the difference between the politics of blocs and the politics of non-alignment. Hence the expression of the Soviet respect for India’s non-alignment in the Treaty itself. And this also explains why both the Indian and Soviet leaders have called it a Treaty of Peace against War——not in an effusion of platitudes but as a precise formulation of its concrete objectives.

Non-alignment is, therefore, strengthened by the signing of this Treaty. Sardar Swaran Singh has correctly expressed the hope that it will provide the pattern for similar treaties between India and other countries in this region. Not only some of our neighbours can be expected to sign such a Treaty, there is nothing to prevent the conclusion of such an understanding even with China.

And if Peking is wise enough to conclude such a Treaty with either Moscow or New Delhi or both, there will be a qualitative shift in the world balance against the Western imperialist powers which, even in unity, will then be reduced to second-class status. Lenin’s words are valid even after fortyeight years: “In the final analysis, the outcome of the struggle (against capitalism) will be determined by the fact that Russia, India and China constitute the over-whelming majority of the population of the globe.” Today, it is only China which is missing from this ultimate constellation of world powers.

A battered Washington, discredited as an aggressor or abettor of aggression all over Asia, is a poor substitute for Moscow and New Delhi, pledged to peace, friendship and cooperation. If anything, this Treaty should help towards the normalisation of relations with China for both India and Soviet Union.

(Mainstream, August 14, 1971)


Treaty of Mighty Significance


An event of tremendous importance has taken place in international affairs. A Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation was signed between the Soviet Union and India in New Delhi on August 9. This joint action by the two great powers cannot but have a great effect on political developments, both in Asia and elsewhere in the world.

The Soviet-Indian Treaty stems logically from the relations of sincere friendship, respect, mutual trust and the all-round ties which have taken shape between the USSR and India over many years and have stood the test of time.

Soviet-Indian friendship and cooperation are yielding rich harvest in the most diverse fields today. The success achieved in economic and engineering cooperation are especially impressive. The Soviet Union is rendering India assistance in the construction of more than 60 projects, 37 of which have already partly or completely been put into operation. The steel of Bhilai, the machine tools of Ranchi, and the oil of Ankleswar are all vivid symbols of Soviet-Indian economic cooperation. India’s strong scientific and engineering relations with the USSR help her to cope with cardinal tasks in the technological re-equipment of her industry. The cultural relations, which have firm traditions, mutually enrich the culture and art of the Soviet Union and India.

The entire content of the Soviet-Indian Treaty reflects the mutual interest in the preservation and strengthening of peace and security in Asia and all over the world, which acquires special importance in view of the present-day inter-national situation and, in particular, in the light of the situation taking shape in South Asia. India has to bear a great burden as a result of the influx of more than 7,000,000 refugees. In a joint statement the Soviet Union and India once again stated their firm conviction that this problem cannot be sovled militarily, and the belief that urgent measures are needed in East Pakistan for the achievement of a political settlement and the creation of conditions of security for the return of the refugees to their homes, which would be in accordance with the interests of the entire people of Pakistan and serve the cause of peace in that region.

The clause in the Treaty stating that if one of the sides is attacked or threatened with an attack, effective measures are to be taken for guaranteeing peace and security, is of special significance. This commitment of the sides is intended to hinder the kindling of military conflicts and the unleashing of aggressive actions. Many capitals of the world have already paid close attention to this clause, and are drawing the relevant conclusions.

At the same time the Soviet-Indian Treaty is not directed against any other country, and is not intended to harm anybody’s legitimate interests.

The points of view of the Soviet Union and India coincide on many important international problems. Together with the other peace-loving countries they are making efforts towards the settlement of such vital problems concerning universal peace as the ending of the war in Indo-China, the political settlement of the Middle East crisis, the guaranteeing of European security, the achievement of universal and complete disarma-ment, and the ultimate and complete liquidation of colonialism and racialism in all their forms.

THE outstanding importance and the noble objectives of this Treaty, as an instrument of peace, are especially vividly seen in the present situation.

The Soviet people, the people of India, and all who cherish the interests of peace and progress of nations welcome the conclusion of the Soviet-Indian Treaty which has already been ratified by both countries. The progressive public approves the position taken by the two countries in relation to the situation in East Pakistan.

The whole of India is happy and experience a feeling of elation over the signing of the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation —these words of Sri Chandrasekhar, a prominent Indian public and political personality and an MP from the ruling Indian National Congress, reflect the general reaction of the Members of Parliament to the signing of the Soviet-Indian Treaty.

“The significance of the Treaty is seen especially vividly against the general background of the events in Asia where US imperialism is trying to drown the aspirations of the Vietnamese people for independence in the blood of innocent people” wrote the newspaper Prace in Czechoslovakia. “The Treaty, which seals the peaceful aspirations of two great nations, presents an example of relations between countries based on mutual respect and equality.”

“The Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation between the USSR and India is an expression of the peace-loving Soviet policy in Asia and all over the world, and the natural outcome of the relations of friendship and cooperation which exist between the USSR and India,” wrote the Al-Goumhouria, of Cairo.

“The Soviet-Indian Treaty,” stressed the Japanese newspaper Asahi, “is of epoch-making significance for friendship and cooperation between the USSR and India. It will help guarantee security in Asia.”

At the same time the Treaty has been received as an unpleasant surprise by those who aspire towards further complications in Asia, and not in Asia alone, and are hatching plans whose implementation could lead to a new aggravation of tensions.

Even though the Treaty stresses that the Indian policy of “non-alignment” remains unchanged, the monopoly press of the West follows the general line of propaganda that the Treaty allegedly disrupts the traditional policy of non-alignment which India previously pursued, and that it can aggravate her relations with Pakistan. The French Figaro is trying to prove that the “ties between Moscow and Delhi are fraught with serious danger”. But this malicious slander can hardly influence the widespread opinion that the Soviet-Indian Treaty will serve the stabilisation of peace in Asia.

It is good to note that the Soviet-Indian Treaty was signed on the eve of the national holiday of India—Independence Day, which is observed on August 15. On this day the Soviet people send their cordial greetings to the friendly Indian people and wish them peace and prosperity.

Only a few days have gone by since the signing of the Soviet-Indian Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation, but it has already become an important factor in international relations. No one can any longer plan future policies, either in relation to the Soviet Union or India, without taking this Treaty into account.

(Mainstream, August 28, 1971)

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