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Journal of Cold War Studies 2.3 (2000) 145-147

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Book Review

Cold War in the High Himalayas:
The USA, China, and South Asia in the 1950s

S. Mahmud Ali, Cold War in the High Himalayas: The USA, China, and South Asia in the 1950s. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999. 286 pp. $59.00.

When British imperial rule over South Asia finally crumbled in 1947, it became clear that postwar decolonization had transformed the region into a new theater of the Cold War. Despite Britain's attempts at a gradual withdrawal and its application of the principle of "trusteeship," the British presence ended abruptly and the ensuing partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan sowed the seeds of new hostilities rooted in convictions both political and religious. These internecine rivalries soon frustrated the efforts of both superpowers, who scrambled to absorb the newly created states into their respective spheres of influence.

As soon as India and Pakistan gained independence, they staked rival claims to the state of Kashmir along their common border, igniting a territorial dispute that embroiled them in a series of limited wars and remains unresolved to this day. Along the Sino-Indian diplomatic axis, China's renunciation of the commonly accepted McMahon Line as a vestige of British imperialism, coupled with India's active role in supporting Tibetan separatists, served to heighten tensions between these countries--tensions that also persist to this day. Against this backdrop of regional power politics, the United States embarked on an energetic campaign to forge alliances with both India and Pakistan to create a regional security bloc that would guard against the spread of Communism. Cold War in the High Himalayas attempts to document U.S. policy toward South Asia during the 1950s--a policy that, as the author notes, was based on the perception that China and the Soviet Union posed a united Communist threat to American influence in the region.

The first few chapters outline the early treaties that bound the United States in a military alliance with Pakistan and in a secret agreement with nonaligned India. Subsequent [End Page 145] chapters trace the levels of relative importance that Washington accorded to each of these countries throughout the early Cold War. Interspersed in the narrative, which outlines the flow of relevant diplomatic correspondence, are accounts of simultaneous developments in Tibet and China, where the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and India's Intelligence Bureau (IB) mounted covert campaigns to aid the anti-Communist rebels through Delhi and Dhaka. Ali also discusses the Sino-Indian territorial rivalry in both the Western and Eastern sectors and demonstrates its intimate connection with the guerrilla warfare raging in Tibet.

The book treats the relationships between the United States and both India and Pakistan as a collection of linkages between a "central power" and its "peripheral clients"-- a framework used to demonstrate the asymmetric nature of treaties such as the Indo-American and Pakistani-American Mutual Defense Agreements of 1950-1951, which did not live up to their rhetoric of mutual security and cooperation. The author argues that the lopsided nature of these relationships ensured that decisions made by the "center" (Washington) weighed heavily on the "peripheries" (Delhi and Karachi).

Ali's assessment of the effects of key international events on America's South Asia policy sheds considerable light on the decision-making process in Washington. He shows how Chinese involvement in the Korean War prompted the Truman administration and, later, the Eisenhower administration to expand relations with India by providing secret assistance to the Tibetan National Volunteer Defense Army (NVDA) liberation forces, some of whom were flown to American military bases in Colorado for training. After the outbreak of the war in June 1950, Ali argues, Washington met Tibetan appeals for assistance with increased sensitivity.

The book also explores the effects of domestic cleavages on the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. It discloses that soon after the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) invaded Tibet in 1950, the CIA...