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The situation in East Pakistan is evolving to the point where we now believe it possible that it could touch off a war between India and Pakistan. In the event of such a conflict, the possibility of Chinese pressure on India along their border, followed by increased Soviet military assistance to India, cannot be excluded.
Three things have created the danger of war: continued military repression, economic dislocation and lack of political accommodation in East Pakistan; the very heavy flow of refugees to India (over three million, according to the Indians) which is imposing a very great burden on India; and Indian cross-border support to Bengali guerrillas.
The possibility of war introduces a new and greater threat to US interests in South Asia. The threat is likely to remain as long as the East Pakistan conflict remains unresolved. We agree that President Yahya is not likely to take steps to bring about a political accommodation until he realizes, himself, how essential it is. We cannot force him to this realization and therefore we are not imposing political conditions on our assistance. We believe, however, that we should avoid taking actions which might ease the internal pressures on him to take such steps on his own accord.
We are engaged in a series of actions in regard to both Pakistan and India, designed to reduce the danger of conflict between the two. A list of actions already taken is attached.
We have been emphasizing three key points to the Pakistanis, both here and in Islamabad. First, it is essential that they get international relief activities started up in East Pakistan. Pakistan seems to be on the point of agreeing to this. Second, it is equally vital that they restore peaceful conditions in East Pakistan and persuade the refugees in India to return. Pakistan has acknowledged the need to do so and President Yahya has issued a somewhat contentious public announcement welcoming "bona fide Pakistan citizens" back. Third, we have continued our emphasis on the need for political accommodation, but with little result so far.
We have pursued three courses with regard to the Indians. First, since the refugee burden seems to be India's major problem now, we have taken a number of steps to encourage India to manage this problem by getting international assistance rather than by taking direct action against East Pakistan as some Indians are urging. Partly because of our actions U Thant is getting an effective international assistance program underway. We are already helping and will be stepping up our assistance. Second, we have taken up with the Indians their crossborder support to guerrillas and have privately cautioned them against direct action. Third, in order to persuade the Indians that a solution to the East Pakistan problem can be achieved without their direct military intervention, we have confidentially briefed them on the positions we are taking privately with Pakistan.
We have prepared contingency plans in the event that there is an outbreak of hostilities between India and Pakistan.
William P. Rogers
A. Allocated $2.5 million to refugee relief. These funds used to feed 300,000 refugees and contribute $500,000 to UNHCR.
B. Encouraged and supported UNSYG and UNHCR in organizing international refugee relief program.
C. Recommended approval of proposal to provide four C-130s for airlift of refugees from Tripura to Assam and of relief supplies from Assam to Tripura.
D. Briefed the Indians on what we are doing to get relief operations started in East Pakistan and to encourage political accommodation.
E. Urged Indians to use restraint in relations with Pakistan; warned them against direct action.
A. Pressed GOP to request the UNSYG to coordinate large program of international relief assistance for people of East Pakistan; GOP has just sent such request to UNSYG.
B. Initiated contingency planning under Interdepartmental Working Group for US contribution to relief program; we contemplate PL-480 food aid, financing of inland water transport charters and support for US voluntary agencies.
C. Urged Yahya to restore peaceful conditions in East Pakistan, to stop repressive action against the Hindu minority and to encourage return of refugees.
D. Urged Yahya to seek political accommodation with Bengalis, and to make comprehensive public statement of his plans for this and for restoration of economic normalcy.
E. Arranged to send USDA port specialist to East Pakistan to help assess and recommend regarding alleviation of crucial port congestion, storage and internal distribution problems.
F. Urged Yahya to improve port and inland distribution facilities to permit distribution of relief and other commodities to the populace. G. Emphasized to GOP need for maintaining restraint toward India in these tense circumstances.
59. Editorial Note
President Nixon and Henry Kissinger discussed developments in South Asia in the Oval Office of the White House the morning of May 26, 1971. Kissinger opened the conversation by referring to the letter that had recently been received from Prime Minister Gandhi (Document 46). Answering the letter, Kissinger said, would give the President the opportunity to "bring pressure on her not to take military action." He added that he had talked to the Pakistani Ambassador who said that President Yahya would appreciate a letter from Nixon to give him an opportunity to respond with a litany of all the things he was doing to resolve the unrest in East Pakistan. Kissinger said that he and the Ambassador had it all worked out: Nixon would write that he hoped the refugees would soon be able to go back to East Pakistan and Yahya would respond that that was exactly what he wanted. Nixon could take credit for trying to pour calming oil on troubled waters. "You can tell the Indians to pipe down, and we'll keep Yahya happy,” Kissinger said.
The conversation turned to what they saw as India's role in fostering an insurgency in East Pakistan. Nixon said that "the goddamn Indians" were promoting another war. Kissinger agreed: "They are the most aggressive goddamn people around." (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, May 26, 1971, 10:38–10:44 a.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 505-4) A transcript of this conversation is published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E-7, Documents on South Asia, 1969-1972, Document 135.
60. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1
Washington, May 26, 1971, 4:35-5 p.m.
1 Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H-115, WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1971. Top Secret; Ruff. No drafting information appears on the minutes. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
(1) State will rework its paper2 on (a) what the U.S. might do to avoid the outbreak of hostilities between India and Pakistan, and (b) what we can and should do if hostilities begin;
(2) Defense will double-check the status of all military items scheduled for shipment to Pakistan.
Mr. Kissinger: Dick (Helms), will you give us a quick rundown on the current situation?
(See attached briefing read by Mr. Helms using map.)3
Mr. Kissinger: How long will Parliament stay in session?
Mr. Van Hollen: For several months.
Mr. Kissinger: (referring to map) What are those four divisions in the center of India?
Mr. Helms: Those are their reserves.
Mr. Kissinger: And the red line is where the Pakistani troops are?
2 Reference is to the "Contingency Study for Indo-Pakistani Hostilities"; see footnote 3, Document 51.
3 The map was not attached. Based on his attached notes, Helms told the group that tension between India and Pakistan had led to talk of war, particularly in India. The CIA assessment, however, was that India did not want war and that the Gandhi government had decided, for the immediate future, to rely on diplomatic rather than military action. The irritants that had created the tension, including the flow of refugees into India from East Pakistan, were expected to continue and increase.
Mr. Kissinger: What do you think the Indians really want in East Pakistan? Do they want the situation to quiet down so the refugees can return? Do they see this as an opportunity to weaken Pakistan? Or don't they know what they want?
Mr. Van Hollen: The Indians want, first, a cessation of the civil strife in East Pakistan so as to stem the flow of refugees. Second, they want a moderate, independent regime in East Pakistan. They're concerned that over a period of time the radical element there may take over and link up with radicals in India.
Mr. Kissinger: They're aiming for an independent Bangla Desh under moderate leadership?
Mr. Johnson: Yes.
Mr. Van Hollen: Until March 25, India saw its interests served by a united Pakistan in which the Bengali element would be dominant. When the Pakistani military moved into East Pakistan, India's estimate of their own best interests shifted, and they now favor an independent Bangla Desh under moderate leadership.
Mr. Kissinger: Is India prepared to take military action? What is the civil strife situation in Bangla Desh?
Mr. Van Hollen: The Pakistani military has control of the urban centers and they have moved forces to the India-Pakistan border. But they have no effective political control.
Mr. Kissinger: Does anybody have political control?
Mr. Van Hollen: No; there is no effective political counterforce. Mr. Kissinger: Do the Bengalis have any alternative political structure?
Mr. Van Hollen: Not really.
Mr. Kissinger: From this limited point of view, then, the Pakistani operation has had limited success.
Mr. Van Hollen: There are an increasing number of attacks on Pakistani military forces and some interdiction of roads and other communications. In the last two weeks we have seen more indication of some counteraction by the Bengalis.
Mr. Johnson: I notice the paper* refers to a "lightning attack" by India on Pakistan forces. I don't see how this kind of an attack could be successful. It would be bound to turn into a drawn-out war. Pakistan would probably attack on the west, as well, and India would be engaged in the two-front war. There's also the uncertainty of what China would do in this situation. According to Dick's (Helms) report, the Indians are taking a very sober attitude. That's encouraging.
* Reference is to the contingency study cited in footnote 2 above.