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Information Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of
Washington, May 18, 1971.
Dangers of Escalation in Current East Pakistan Situation
Although almost two months have passed since the Pakistan Army moved against the Bengali separatists on March 25, the danger that the situation will escalate into a major Indo-Pakistan war remains. Essentially escalation could develop in two ways: (1) if India felt it was being subjected to intolerable economic, political and internal security pressures arising from the influx of East Pakistan refugees, it might strike against East Pakistan to end the struggle, and (2) the West Pakistanis might strike against India if they felt that in order to maintain their power in East Pakistan they had to put a halt to cross border activities by the Bengali separatists from Indian sanctuaries. For the time being, the former would seem to pose the more immediate threat of escalation, particularly since the Indians have reported to us that the flow of refugees has increased to a rate of 100,000 per day. The UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, who is now touring India, has concluded that the refugee flow is “monumental" and "the greatest displacement of people in recent times." US Actions
We have been taking various steps to minimize the danger of escalation from either of the above causes.
1. Refugees. We are taking an active part in the international refugee relief effort. We are feeding an increasing number of Pakistani refugees in West Bengal. The number is now about 300,000 and it is still growing. We are considering providing an airlift to move refugees from Tripura to Assam where they can be more easily assisted. We have encouraged the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to organize an international relief effort and we have indicated our intention to support his efforts. To the degree that we alleviate the strain
Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 INDIA-PAK. Confidential. Drafted by Quainton on May 17 and cleared by Spengler, Schneider, and Van Hollen. A copy was sent to Kissinger on May 20 under a covering note from Executive Secretary Eliot. (Ibid., POL 23-9 PAK)
which the refugees put on Indian resources we will be minimizing the pressures for escalation.
2. Influence on Pakistan. On the Pakistan side we have also been active. We have asked the GOP to assess and report its needs so that an international relief effort can be organized. We have also urged the Pakistanis to restore normal conditions and begin the process of political accommodation. I intend to reiterate these concerns to M.M. Ahmed when I see him on Tuesday, May 18.? What Pakistan does to restore normal conditions and achieve a peaceful political accommodation with the Bengalis will be critical in the avoidance of escalation. If conditions return to normal, the refugee flow should cease and in fact reverse. If a political accommodation is achieved, Indian support for cross-border operations will probably be abandoned. Without these developments, however, the situation could become increasingly dangerous.
3. Influence on India. We recognize that our efforts to prevent escalation cannot be pursued only in Pakistan. We have repeatedly urged the Indians to exercise the utmost restraint in their actions. I will be seeing the Indian Ambassador on Thursday, and will once again emphasize to him that we do not approve of Indian military support for the Bengali separatists.
4. Contingency Planning. While these various combinations of actions with both the Indians and Pakistanis may suffice for the time being, more vigorous actions may be required in the future. We have prepared a contingency study on the subject of Indo-Pakistani escalation which we have discussed informally with the Under Secretary. We are keeping this study under review and have in mind further actions such as use of the United Nations or third-party good offices as future steps to defuse the situation should it become more explosive.
2 Sisco's conversation with Ahmad was reported to Islamabad on May 19 in telegram 87878. (Ibid., POL 7 PAK)
An undated 8-page study, entitled "Contingency Study for Indo-Pakistani Hostilities," apparently prepared in NEA, was sent by Executive Secretary Eliot to Kissinger on May 25 for circulation to the WSAG in advance of its meeting on May 26. This study is published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E-7, Documents on South Asia, 1969– 1972, Document 133.
Memorandum of Conversation
Washington, May 21, 1971, 12:30–1:05 p.m.
Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
After the initial exchange of pleasantries, Ambassador Jha began to explain the refugee situation in India. Jha explained that it was not simply a question of money and relief, although this was of course important. The big problem, he said, is that India cannot absorb this many people and they must find a way to get them back into East Pakistan. Jha explained that "tensions are high" both as far as the political situation in India was concerned and in terms of social problems. He went on to explain that a high percentage of the refugees are now Hindus and that there were communal conflicts between the refugees and the local population. He pointed out that this was a particularly serious problem in the Indian state of West Bengal. Ambassador Jha then summed up the situation by calling it "very explosive.” He pointed out that it was all in the letter that the Prime Minister had sent to the President.
Dr. Kissinger asked what the choices were, and noted that “you can't go to war over refugees." Ambassador Jha said that some will want to arm the refugees and send them back into East Pakistan. Others advocate bringing pressure on President Yahya. He then went on to explain that the prevailing high-level of tension could result in serious disruptions in already unstable West Bengal and to a serious problem in Indo-Pak relations. It could also result in a "backwash" effect on Indo-U.S. relations. Jha then went on to say that he hoped the President could reply to the Prime Minister's letter in such a way as to convey support for India in international forums and informing her of what we were advising President Yahya.
Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 596, Country Files, Middle East, India, Vol. III, Sept 70–30 June 71. Secret; Nodis. Sent for information. The meeting was held in Kissinger's office at the White House. The time of the meeting is from Kissinger's appointment book. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule) Kissinger approved the memorandum as accurate on May 21 and instructed Hoskinson not to distribute it to the Department of State. (Memorandum from Hoskinson to Kissinger; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 596, Country Files, Middle East, India, Vol. III, Sept 70–30 June 71)
2 Document 46.
Dr. Kissinger asked: "But what can we do? He (Yahya) claims he wants a political settlement." Ambassador Jha said what India needs is a sense of movement in that direction; we need confirmation that he is moving toward a political settlement.
Dr. Kissinger said, “I understand." "Frankly, I must tell you that I have not been able to study the Prime Minister's letter. Let's not play games." (At that point Dr. Kissinger searched for his copy of the letter and, when he found it, he quickly read it over.) Dr. Kissinger then said we will have to “study this carefully." We can go into this further when you return. I can tell you now, however, that we would deplore this matter getting totally out of hand. We believe that the evolution in East Pakistan should be "gradual and most delicately handled." Personally, I am not sure an "independent East Pakistan is in India's interest." Ambassador Jha indicated that he could understand this point of view. He said that India did not favor the break-up of Pakistan but the fact was that they did not see Pakistan surviving. This being the case, we fear guerrilla activity, he said. Also there is the question of Chinese involvement eventually in East Pakistan which is “ripe for this."
Dr. Kissinger reiterated again that the situation must evolve and be handled with great delicacy. He said how things happen are almost as important as what happens. He then noted that the tendency here is "to do more than we say." Dr. Kissinger advised the Ambassador to tell Prime Minister Gandhi that we are concerned and are doing here what we can with a low visibility. He said that he would like to continue this discussion with Ambassador Jha, perhaps over lunch, as soon as he returns. The reply to the Prime Minister's letter, however, will have to be more formal than these informal exchanges between us. Dr. Kissinger then noted that the decision to supply 4 C-130 aircraft to India to assist in the refugee relief effort was being considered and we were “favorably inclined."
Ambassador Jha said that Prime Minister Gandhi wants to keep the situation under control. But she needs a feeling of confidence from the President's reply. Dr. Kissinger assured the Ambassador that the response will reflect that we are "trying to move in a constructive way." Ambassador Jha asked that we point up the need to “share” what actions we are taking toward Pakistan. Dr. Kissinger responded by saying, “Let's start this process with lunch. You must understand we really can't go too far in a letter." Ambassador Jha again stressed the need for some indication of support in international organizations.
Dr. Kissinger then explained to the Ambassador that the President has a degree of “personal influence” with the Pakistanis. This needs to be used privately and things that we say publicly, of course, have an effect on this influence. Dr. Kissinger then said that he thought the Indians have acted in a “restrained" manner through this whole affair. Dr. Kissinger followed on by saying that he did not want to advise Ambassador Jha or the Indians, but he did want them to know that we will do whatever we can to "strengthen and share" with you. You can tell Prime Minister Gandhi "we value” our relationship with India. We do not, however, want the subcontinent to blow up, especially
Dr. Kissinger stressed that we believe India is “the stabilizing force in the subcontinent" from every point of view-political, military and economic. We all face delicate problems in the area, however, and we need to stay in close touch. Hopefully, we can act together in a constructive way. Dr. Kissinger then asked Ambassador Jha when it would be best for the President to respond to Mrs. Gandhi. He said he would be willing to discuss the letter informally with Ambassador Jha after he returned from India if this were preferable. Ambassador Jha said it would be better if the President would respond before he returned in two or three weeks.
Dr. Kissinger said that our reply will, of course, be “warm and positive” but that just because of the very nature of such correspondence it will need to be supplemented in an informal way. In this regard, the Ambassador could convey to Prime Minister Gandhi that we wanted to stay “in step with India. But, of course, this requires restraint on all sides."
Dr. Kissinger informed Ambassador Jha that he may join the delegation to the inauguration of the President of Korea in early July and wondered if it would be feasible for him to spend a day or so in New Delhi perhaps around July 5 or 6 on his return trip. He would also, of course, have to spend a day in Pakistan. Dr. Kissinger stressed that he would want to talk with a few officials to get a feel for the situation, but to maintain a low profile. Ambassador Jha said he thought this would be “a good idea" and would be "useful."
The conversation ended with Dr. Kissinger reiterating that the reply to Mrs. Gandhi could not get into too many “specifics" but perhaps it might be possible to indicate that there would be further contact with the Ambassador. Ambassador Jha commented that would be good and appropriate.
(While Dr. Kissinger had to step from the room to answer a call from the President, Ambassador Jha asked Mr. Hoskinson if he thought it would be possible for J.P. Narayan to see the President when he visited here in early June. The Ambassador explained that Narayan was a highly influential and articulate Indian elder statesman very much in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi. Mr. Hoskinson opined that he "personally" thought that this might be rather difficult for the President to do since, as he understood it, Narayan would be on a private visit and he thought there would probably be considerable Pakistani