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Memorandum From the President's Assistant for National
Washington, March 26, 1971.
Situation in Pakistan
The West Pakistani army has moved to repress the East Pakistan secession movement. Our embassy believes that the military probably has sufficient strength to assert immediate control over Dacca and other major cities, but is not capable of maintaining control over an extended period. This raises two immediate problems for us: (1) the safety of official and private Americans, and (2) the U.S. role, if any, in a peacemaking effort. I have called a WSAG meeting for 3:00 p.m. today and will provide recommendations after that.
Safety of Americans
There are at present some 850 Americans, including 250 U.S. officials and dependents, in East Pakistan. State's plan is to make no immediate move to evacuate these people since they could be in greater danger on the streets and we have no information yet as to the situation at the airports. Our consulate, however, is seeking the protection of the local authorities, and evacuation plans-worked out earlier in the present crisis-are being reviewed for both East and West Pakistan. Military aircraft from Southeast Asia could be made available on short notice for the purpose of evacuation.
No reports have been received so far of injuries to Americans or any other foreigners in East Pakistan.
U.S. Peacemaking Role
Contingency plans on East Pakistan have been drawn up and reviewed by the Senior Review Group. For this situation, these plans present a series of theoretically possible options ranging from doing nothing other than protecting resident Americans through approaching Yahya in concert with the British and other powers, with an appeal to halt the bloodshed, if necessary using the threat of sanctions including the cessation of economic aid and military supply.
1 Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 625, Country Files, Middle East, Pakistan, Vol. IV, 1 Mar 71-15 May 71. Secret; Nodis. Sent for information. A handwritten notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.
The real issue is whether we involve ourselves or not. The British may well weigh in on their own, and that has advantages for us. Beyond that, however:
-The advantage of not involving ourselves at this stage is that we do not prematurely harm our relationship with West Pakistan. We can for a time yet claim with the Easterners that the situation is too unclear there to provide a basis for action.
-The arguments for pressing Yahya to end the bloodshed would be (a) humanitarian, (b) political since this could arouse emotions like those surrounding Biafra over time and (c) diplomatic in preserving a relationship with the new East Pakistani nation of 75 million.
I shall send you recommendations after the WSAG meeting. In addition to reviewing the evacuation plans, the group will concentrate on the two operational decisions that may present themselves:
1. Whether to approach Yahya, urging him to end the bloodshed. It is probably a bit early to make this decision today because we do not yet know whether calm will be restored in the East or whether the pattern of violence will continue and broaden. This, therefore, seems a decision for the next two or three days.
2. How to respond to a definitive announcement of East Pakistani independence. Our Consul General has standing instructions to refer any such question to Washington. The issue might remain unclear for some time if the military re-establishes control in the cities and the resistance moves to the countryside. On the other hand, our response will set the tone for our relationship with both wings.
Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1
Washington, March 26, 1971, 3:03–3:32 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; Nodis. No drafting information appears on the minutes. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room. A briefer record of the meeting was prepared in OASD/ISA by James Noyes. (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files, FRC 330 76 0197, Box 74, Pakistan 092 (Jan-Jul) 1971)
After reviewing the situation in East Pakistan, the WSAG agreed that the U.S. should continue its policy of non-involvement in the dispute between West and East Pakistan. In particular, the U.S. should avoid being placed in a position where it could be accused of having encouraged the break-up of Pakistan. The WSAG agreed that the U.S. should delay action on any request that might be forthcoming for recognition of an independent East Pakistani regime.
The WSAG agreed that the State Department should be responsible for monitoring developments in Pakistan on a day-to-day basis and for insuring that the White House is fully informed. The State Department should insure that adequate preparations have been made to evacuate U.S. citizens should that become necessary.
Mr. Helms: [1 line of source text not declassified] the situation in the area of the Consulate General is very quiet but that an enormous fire has been going on for hours in the old part of the city. Very few shots or explosions have been heard. Only two of the Consulate personnel had been able to get to the Consulate building by 6:30 p.m.
[1 line of source text not declassified] Mujibur Rahman was taken into custody at 1:00 p.m. by the martial law authorities. Two of his supporters were killed when the arrest took place. [2 lines of source text not declassified]
[11⁄2 lines of source text not declassified] They say that Yahya's speech Friday night has to be heard to appreciate the venom in his voice as he described Mujibur Rahman. The fat is in the fire. Islamabad confirms that Mujibur Rahman was successfully arrested.
It is unclear what caused the collapse of the talks.
Dr. Kissinger: Yesterday it looked as though an agreement were in sight.
2 March 26.
Mr. Helms: Yes, an agreement appeared near on March 24. The breakdown may have been because of Mujibur Rahman's insistence on the immediate lifting of martial law.
A clandestine radio broadcast has Mujibur Rahman declaring the independence of Bangla Desh. There are 20,000 loyal West Pakistani troops in East Pakistan. There are also 5,000 East Pakistani regulars and 13,000 East Pakistani paramilitary troops, but their loyalty is doubtful. We cannot confirm Indian press reports that a large number of Pakistani troops landed by ship. Six C-130s carrying troops were supposed to be going from Karachi to Dacca today. It will take them a long time, since they have to go via Ceylon.
There are 700 potential U.S. evacuees in Dacca and 60 or 70 in Chittagong. There has been no request for evacuation yet.
[1 paragraph (11⁄2 lines of source text) not declassified]
Dr. Kissinger: I have no idea what caused the breakdown in talks. I was as much surprised as anyone else.
Mr. Van Hollen: One possible reason was that Yahya was unable to sell the settlement in West Pakistan. Another factor was the killing of twenty people and the resultant rise in tension.
Dr. Kissinger: Had the compromise3 [under discussion between Yahya and Mujibur Rahman]* gone through, the next step toward independence couldn't have been prevented. That being the case, I don't understand why Mujibur Rahman wouldn't accept the compromise.
[omission in the source text] Will Bhutto become the dominant figure in the West?
Mr. Van Hollen: Possibly there will be a backlash in the West against Bhutto because it was he who forced Yahya to postpone the constituent assembly.
Dr. Kissinger: What do you think is going to happen?
Mr. Van Hollen: An effort will be made to prevent secession. However, the ability of the West Pakistani forces to maintain law and order in East Pakistan over the long run approaches zero. They may be able to control Dacca, but the Awami leadership will move to the countryside.
3 According to telegram 927 from Dacca, March 24, Mujibur and Yahya reached tentative agreement on March 23 on a solution that involved the immediate establishment of provincial governments, temporary continuation of the central government under Yahya, and the drafting of a constitution. The constitution would embody a division of power between the central government and the provinces in which central government control would be limited to defense, foreign affairs, and currency. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 625, Country Files, Middle East, Pakistan, Vol. IV, 1 Mar 71–15 May 71)
4 Brackets in the source text.
Dr. Kissinger: Do you think the Awami will organize a resistance?
Dr. Kissinger: If their leaders are arrested, can they continue?
Mr. Van Hollen: Yes, because of the tremendous popular sentiment behind them. After all, they won 160 out of 162 of the Assembly seats from East Pakistan in the election.
Dr. Kissinger: Then the prognosis is for civil war resulting eventually in independence or for independence fairly quickly.
Mr. Van Hollen: That's right.
Dr. Kissinger: Now that Yahya has taken the lead in opposing the secession, how will he be able to back off without fighting?
Mr. Van Hollen: It will be very difficult. He was on record as early as March 6 as opposing secession.
Mr. Johnson: The question is how long he can sustain this policy.
Dr. Kissinger: Do his forces have stocks in East Pakistan?
Mr. Helms: No.
Mr. Van Hollen: There is one understrength division there. It has effective control of only a part of Dacca. It is surrounded by 75 million hostile Bengalis, who could easily be stirred up, particularly if Mujibur Rahman is arrested.
Dr. Kissinger: What is the prognosis for the next few days?
Mr. Johnson: Dawn comes in Dacca at 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. our time. We will know better in one more day how much bloodletting there is likely to be.
Dr. Kissinger: Do we all agree that there is nothing we can do except evacuate our citizens if that becomes necessary?
Mr. Johnson: As of this time, that is true.
Mr. Helms: Yes.
Mr. Packard: Yes.
Mr. Van Hollen: The British are no more inclined to do anything positive. After our earlier approach Heath sent an anodyne message to Yahya. At best that is what we might get again from the British.
Mr. Johnson: We have made arrangements with them to get the reports from their people in Dacca. We are maintaining a 24-hour watch at the Department.
Dr. Kissinger: I talked to the President briefly before lunch. His inclination is the same as everybody else's. He doesn't want to do anything. He doesn't want to be in the position where he can be accused of having encouraged the split-up of Pakistan. He does not favor a very