The complicated, interrelated histories of India and Pakistan have several times in history erupted into open hostility. The two states became independent from Great Britain in 1947. Although many Indian leaders wanted the two to remain a single nation, Pakistan, which is mostly Muslim, insisted on independence not only from Britain, but also from majority-Hindu India, according to the Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. Pakistan itself was divided into two parts: West Pakistan and East Pakistan, which in 1972 became an independent state, Bangladesh. The brief but bloody conflict that led to this separation, and the related complexities of Cold War politics, precipitated President Richard Nixon’s foreign policy, which tilted toward Pakistan.

A Complex Little War

The 1971-72 Indo-Pakistan war put the United States in a difficult diplomatic position. After the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war, India had befriended the Soviet Union, culminating in a treaty of mutual assistance in August 1971, according to the State Department’s Office of the Historian. Embroiled in the Cold War at the time, the U.S. was inclined to support any opponent of a Soviet ally to maintain a balance of power. The U.S. had been selling arms to Pakistan, as part of a policy of balancing India’s Soviet connection. During Nixon's administration, Pakistani leaders had assisted with warming American relations with China, a still-tenuous but important connection that might have been threatened had the U.S. sided against China’s ally, Pakistan.