FROM the moment of departure, the tour of National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger was understated, underpublicized and played with such casual routine that the press, as well as other interested observers, were all but lulled to sleep. As Kissinger moved from Saigon to Thailand to India, the reporters who greeted him had little to write home about. So the 2½ days that Kissinger was missing and presumed ill in Pakistan raised scarcely an eyebrow.
The Pakistanis were asked in advance to aid in the disappearing act; President Agha Mohammed Yahya Khan was apparently in on the secret. Kissinger arrived in Islamabad on the afternoon of July 8. After a 90-minute chat with President Yahya Khan, he made a sudden change in his schedule. Word was put out that he was going to the mountain resort of Nathia Gali for a brief working holiday. That was the last anyone in Pakistan was to see of Kissinger for 64 hours.
On July 9, the Pakistan government announced that Kissinger had been forced to stay in Nathia Gali for another day because of a slight indisposition, which was presumed by correspondents to be a case of common dysentery or "Delhi belly." When pressed hard, a U.S. embassy official, trying to conceal his own doubts, said that a doctor had been sent to examine him. In that case, asked a reporter, why could not Kissinger be lodged in an air-conditioned room in Islamabad? The reply: Kissinger did not want to embarrass anyone in the capital by his illness. At that point, reporters grew skeptical, but their hunch was that Kissinger had gone to see some East Pakistan officials.
Instead of going to the mountains, or to East Pakistan, Kissinger was taken to the airport in Rawalpindi, seven miles from Islamabad. There he boarded a Pakistan International Airlines Boeing 707 for Peking. Given the circumstances, it was the best possible ruse. It is not hard to keep a secret in the rigidly controlled state of Pakistan. And even if they had been curious, it is doubtful whether the members of the plane crew would have known whom they were transporting. Kissinger could easily pass for just another British businessman. The fact that a Pakistan plane was taking off for Peking was nothing out of the ordinary. The Chinese lack long-range jets that can make the nonstop flight between Rawalpindi and Peking. Under a bilateral agreement, Pakistan Airlines has been carrying passengers and freight between the two capitals on both regular and unscheduled runs. Thus Kissinger's aircraft would have caused no stir when it left for Peking.
Accompanying Kissinger on the flight were three aides: John Holdridge, a member of his staff who specializes in the Far East and speaks Chinese; Winston Lord, a special assistant; and Richard Smyser, a Foreign Service officer who is an expert on Southeast Asia. The rest of Kissinger's staff remained behind in Rawalpindi—as much in the dark as anybody else and no doubt hoping that their boss would soon recover from his bout with Delhi belly.