How East Pakistan became an Indian proxy state Bangladesh

Keeping Pakistan busy in Kashmir while liberating Bangladesh

6th December 1971

Bangladesh(বাংলাদেশ) according to the ancient Indian epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Vanga Kingdom, was known as an ally of the legendary Ayodhya of Emperor Rama. In the ancient and classical periods, the territory of Bangladesh was home to many nations, including the Pundra, the Gangaridhi, Gauda, Samatata and Harikela. It was also a Mauryan province under the reign of Ashoka. The Pala Empire, the Chandra dynasty and the Sena dynasty were the last pre-Islamic Bengali middle kingdoms. Islam was introduced during the Pala Empire, through trade with the Abbasid Caliphate. Later, it was absorbed into the Mughal Empire in 1576. It was later conquered by the British East India Company at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. The borders of modern Bangladesh were established with the separation of Bengal and India in August 1947, when the region became East Pakistan as a part of the newly formed State of Pakistan following the Boundary of the Partition of India. The country has a 4156 km border with India on the east, west, and north; and by the Bay of Bengal in the south and has another 193 km with Myanmar on the south-east. Later the rise of the Bengali nationalist and self-determination movement led to the Liberation War and eventually resulted in the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent sovereign in 1971(26th March in the Presidency of Yahya Khan).

After the 1965 Indo-Pak conflict, East Pakistan was completely isolated from West Pakistan, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the Awami League leader, gave to the people of East Pakistan a six points programme. The six points formula which later became the main source of subsequent controversy, are as follows: The first asked for a federal state with all the characteristics of the parliamentary form of government. The second sought to limit federal powers to defence and foreign affairs only; all others, including those of conducting foreign trade and financial control, being with the constituent units of which Bangladesh would be one. The third proposed separate currencies for the two wings or alternative safeguards to prevent the inter-wing flight of capital. The fourth denied the centre the right of taxation and vested it in the hands of the federating units. The fifth dealt with economic disparities and how to remove them through a series of economic, fiscal and legal reforms. The last required setting up of a military or para-military force in order to contribute effectively towards national Security. The formula received a tremendous welcome in East Pakistan. Mujibur Rehman made the six-points negotiable but Ayub Khan failed to try his hands on negotiation. It generated so much heat that forced Ayuab Khan to step down on 25 March 1969 and handed over power to the  Army Commander-in-chief, General Yahya Khan(The Dawn. (Karachi) 26 March 1969

There erupted a struggle for power in Pakistan between the Awami League and the Pakistan people’s Party led by Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and Z.A. Bhutto respectively. Bhutto on 15 February 1971, declared in Peshawar that his party would not attend the National Assembly session starting on 3 March 1971 at Dacca unless it was made clear to him. and his party men that there would be some degree of reciprocity from the majority party, either publicly or privately. After the postponement of the National Assembly Session, which Mujibur Rehman described as a result of a deep-rooted conspiracy Mujibur’s Awami League launched a civil disobedience movement. Strikes were observed all over East Pakistan,[The Dawn (Karachi),16 February 1971].

Mujib had taken control of East Pakistan and the airport in Dhaka, the President House, and cantonment areas. An emergency plan for a crackdown was prepared, but neither the then governor of East Pakistan, Vice Admiral Syed Mohammad Ahsan, nor the martial administrator of East Pakistan, Lt Gen Sahabzada Yaqub Khan, were in favour of a military operation and called for a political solution. They were relieved from their positions and Lt Gen Tikka Khan was appointed as governor of East Pakistan by the Yahya regime. With the help of the Indian Army East Pakistan defeated West Pakistan on Dec. 16, 1971. In Feb. In 1974, Pakistan recognized the independent status of Bangladesh. The Bangladesh independence war led by Awami League had ruptured the diplomatic ties between New Delhi and Islamabad. Indian Army allowed its captured Pakistani prisoners of war (90,000) to return home as per Geneva convention, the only suspects available for Bangladeshi authorities to prosecute were Bangladeshis accused of collaborating with Pakistan. In practice, Bangladesh’s current trials tend to target Islamists who are political opponents of the prime minister.

Following the postponement of this inaugural session of National Assembly till the launching of ‘Operation Search Light’ on March 25 to crush the civil disobedience movement launched by the majority party Awami League (162 out of 300 seats of National Assembly in December 1970 elections), East Pakistan existed as a part of Pakistan. Events taking place after the military operation, however, diminished the hopes to save Jinnah’s Pakistan from dismemberment.[The Dawn Dr Moonis Ahmer, March 04, 2018]

On March 25, 1971, the Pakistani army launched a devastating military crackdown on the Bengalis across East Pakistan. This resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, and some ten million refugees fled into neighboring India. Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, while not yet ready to ignite a war by recognizing Bangladesh as independent, considered military plans for a possible invasion of East Pakistan. Before such a full-scale interstate war, India intervened by covertly sponsoring a Bengali guerrilla insurgency within East Pakistan. As D.P. Dhar, India’s influential ambassador in Moscow, secretly wrote to the Prime Minister’s top adviser, P.N. Haksar, “War—open declared war—fortunately in my opinion, in the present case is not the only alternative. We have to use the Bengali human material and the Bengali terrain to launch a comprehensive war of liberation.” While ostensibly secret, this Indian backing for the Bengali rebellion was a colossal project, with the Indian Army and Border Security Force operating training camps along the border, while India’s intelligence services worked closely with the insurgents(P.N. DHAR, INDIRA GANDHI, THE “EMERGENCY,” AND INDIAN DEMOCRACY (2000).

In the Indian Lok Sabha, the members unanimously urged the government to help the East Pakistanis, by sending relief and medical aid, granting asylum to people who seek to cross over to India, raising the issue in international forums and evoking the Geneva Convention on “genocide” that was being committed against the East Pakistanis, Mrs Gandhi in her response to all these suggestions, expressed sympathy for the people of East Pakistan and said that the Government fully shared the agony, emotions and the deep concern of the people in India, she assured the House that the Government would take a decision regarding their suggestions shortly[ Lok Sabha Debates, vol.1, no.7, 27 March 1971. cols. 42-43]

Thereafter, India started arousing world public opinion against the ruthless and barbaric repression in East Pakistan. She asked the USSR to use her good offices to put a stop to the ugly happenings in East Pakistan, The USSR was approached because of its role in the normalisation of the Indo-Pakistan relations, especially in connection with the Tashkent Conference of 1966. India also approached the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, U. Thant and members of the United Nations Security Council[The Statesman (New Delhi) 29 March 1971]

From 25 March to 16 December 1971, a total number of 49 9,899,305 refugees fled to India. In April, 57,000 persons came to India. In May the daily influx of refugees were almost 102,000 per day.[Bangladesh Documents, vol. II, (Delhi, Govt, of India) p.80]

On 15 April 1971, India protested to Pakistan against the “wanton and unprovoked aggressive acts of the Pakistan armed forces” along the India – East Pakistan border. The Pakistan troops burnt houses in Bashapachai, it also fired on the Indian border outposts at Belonia and Sone Mura in Tripura. The troops equally entered Boyra Village in 24 Parganas district and gunned down five persons. On the Kashmir border, two Mirage fighters of the Pakistan Air force flew low over the Srinagar Airport for espionage activities, and India lodged a protest with Pakistan. The Indian protest was rejected by Pakistan and described India’s charges as “completely baseless and malicious”, In July, when the situation became highly dangerous, the Indian Government instructed its Border Security Force to reply effectively to any attempt by the Pakistani army to violate the Indian territory either by the intrusion, bombing or firing across the border. This was stated by K.C. Pant, the then Minister for Home Affairs, during a debate in the Lok Sabha over the repeated Pakistani provocations on the eastern border.[Lok Sabha Debates, vol.VI, no.49, 29 July 1971, Cols. 135-46]

Before such a full-scale interstate war, India intervened by covertly sponsoring a Bengali guerrilla insurgency within East Pakistan. As D.P. Dhar, India’s influential ambassador in Moscow, secretly wrote to the Prime Minister’s top adviser, P.N. Haksar, “War—open declared war—fortunately in my opinion, in the present case is not the only alternative. We have to use the Bengali human material and the Bengali terrain to launch a comprehensive war of liberation.”

There was another major issue that when Pakistan Government eventually declared Urdu as the national language of Pakistan, there were riots in Bengal as a protest against the cultural assimilationist approach, leading to the death of three students of Dacca  University The Bengalis reacted violently because, according to the census figures of 1951, Bengali was the language of 54.6 percent of East Pakistan while Urdu was the language 13 of only 7.2 percent. However, the constitution in 1956 recognised both Urdu and Bengali as national languages of Pakistan. [Choudhury, G.W., “Bangladesh, why it happened?” International Affairs, vol.48, no.2, April 1972]

While ostensibly secret, this Indian backing for the Bengali rebellion was a colossal project, with the Indian Army and Border Security Force operating training camps along the border, while India’s intelligence services worked closely with the insurgents. For months, India intensified its sponsorship of these guerrillas, while training its military and waiting for the end of the monsoon and drier weather in which the Indian army would be able to fight effectively.

The Bengalis’ guerrilla war led to border clashes between Indian and Pakistani troops, including a substantial battle at Boyra on November 21-22. On November 29, according to a Pakistani postwar judicial inquiry, a desperate President Yahya decided to attack India. Unbeknownst to him, India was reportedly planning to attack on December 4. But Pakistan struck first on December 3 with an air and ground assault.

India had to wage war on two fronts, against West Pakistan and East Pakistan. In the west, India maintained a cautious posture against Pakistan’s formidable military, which held strong and in some places drove back Indian troops. But in the east, Indian troops charged forward, helped by the Bengali guerrillas, swiftly breaking Pakistan’s already enfeebled control over East Pakistan. At the same time, the outbreak of full-scale war allowed India to recognize Bangladesh at last, on December 6.

Within ten days of India’s recognition of Bangladesh on 6 December 1971, Bangladesh was liberated of the Pakistani occupation forces by troops acting under the joint command of the Mukti Bahini and the Indian Armed Forces. No time was lost in establishing in Dacca a Government representative on the will of the people of Bangladesh and constituted from amongst their elected representatives. A trained cadre of civil servants and other officials who had escaped the Pakistani military oppression took up the challenge of putting the ravaged country back on to its feet. The return to normalcy is being achieved in a surprisingly short time with the active cooperation of all sections of the people.

However, the father of this new nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was still in prison in Pakistan and it was in the shadow of his continued incarceration that His Excellency Mr. Mohd. Abdus Samad Azad, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, paid an official visit to Delhi from 5 to 9 January 1972. This visit, to quote the Joint Communique issued at the end of it, symbolised “the emergence of the independent Republic of Bangladesh from its long night of travail and the close ties binding the governments and peoples of Bangladesh and India forged during the struggle against the attempted suppression of a people’s will by brute force.” The Bangladesh Foreign Minister took this opportunity to thank again the Government and people of India for their contribution to the liberation struggle and for their efforts for the release and restoration of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.[Indian Ministry Of External Affairs Annual Report 1971-72]

After fourteen days of bloody combat, Pakistani troops were routed in the east. With Indian forces deep inside Bangladesh, Pakistan offered its surrender in Dhaka on December 16. Prime Minister Gandhi, resisting the temptation to keep fighting in the west, ordered a ceasefire on the western front as well. India announced that 2,307 of its warfighters had been killed, while Pakistan presumably suffered greater casualties—as well as a devastating sense of defeat and a heightened fear of India that would sustain the India-Pakistan enmity for decades. The war ended with the creation of the new state of Bangladesh( STEPHEN P. COHEN, THE PAKISTAN ARMY 158-61 (1998)

“The seventy-five million people of Bangladesh were subjected to the most inhuman form of genocide, rape, repression and arson by Pakistani Armed Forces who exhibited not the slightest hesitation in killing their Bengali brother officers and men, unarmed and in cold blood – all aimed at denial of human rights guaranteed by United Nations Charter. Indeed history does not have a single instance of inhuman acts which can equal the bestial treatment meted out to our people between night 25/26 March 1971 to the day before surrender. History’s most ignominious defeat in which some 93,000 professional and very well equipped soldiers led by their officers including a substantial number of General Officers bowed to lay down their arms and were stripped of their badges of ranks is, therefore, the justice meted by God such as he has always done and promised to do”[General MAG Osmany’s letter to Lt Gen Gul Hassan Khan]

Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan publicly apologized, on  June 29, 1974 for what he called the “shameful repression and unspeakable crimes” committed in Bangladesh by the Pakistani Army before the eastern part of Pakistan gained independence in December 1971. Although he was foreign minister at that time, Mr. Bhutto said he had no part in the events, which he attributed to the “selfish and myopic military regime” headed by Pakistan’s former president Gen. Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan. Later on Bhutto`s  Bangladesh visit, Sheik Mujib told Mr. Bhutto indirectly that efforts to reach bilateral agreements between their two countries should not bypass India and that the ultimate aim should be peace on the subcontinent. Bangladesh then asked for settlement on two issues: the question of non-Bengali Moslems in Bangladesh who had supported Pakistan, and the division of assets. Pakistan agreed to take 115,000 Urdu-speaking Moslem Biharis as Pakistani citizenship.

Pakistan lost its eastern wing on December 16, 1971, but the seeds of discord were sown much earlier. It’s not possible to pinpoint what led to the dismemberment of Pakistan and why the Bengalis who played a pivotal role in Pakistan Movement opted for a separatist path, but there were some significant developments such as the postponement of the inaugural session, on March 3, of the National Assembly after the December 7, 1970 elections that led to the splitting of a country in 1971.

At its 1607th meeting on 5 December 1971, the Security Council includes on its agenda an additional report612 from the Secretary-General transmitting the texts of two messages he had received from the Prime Minister of India and the President of Pakistan respectively in which the latter had charged and the former had denied that India had launched an attack on West Pakistan. Also included on the agenda was the report of the Secretary-General on the situation along the cease-fire line in Kashmir. In view of the question before the Security Council, the Secretary-General had considered it appropriate to make available to the Council members information regarding violations and admitted systematic non-observance of the Karachi Agreement along the cease-fire line in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

After an initial procedural discussion on participation, the Security Council decided to adjourn the consideration of the question of extending an invitation to a representative of Bangladesh to a later date for further consultations. At the same meeting, the representative of China introduced a draft resolution by which the Security Council, after strongly condemning the Indian Govemment’s acts of creating a so-called “Bangladesh” and of subverting, dismembering and committing aggression against Pakistan, would call upon the Government of India to withdraw its armed forces and personnel from Pakistan territory immediately and unconditionally and call upon the Government of Pakistan to withdraw the armed forces it had sent into Indian territory for counter-attacks; call upon India and Pakistan to cease hostilities and to withdraw respectively from the international border between India and Pakistan and to disengage from each other so as to create conditions for a peaceful settlement of their disputes; call upon all States to support the Pakistan people in their just struggle to resist Indian aggression; and request the Secretary-General to submit as early as possible a report on the implementation of this resolution. The representative of India outlined in detail the views of his Government on the events that had led to the crisis and stated that it was essential for the Council to take note of them in seeking a constructive solution to the conflict. He noted that his Government had endeavored, since the beginning of the crisis in East Pakistan on 25 March 1971, to put the problem in perspective and though the genesis of the problem had been explained and the prognosis of its implications outlined repeatedly, the international community had failed to understand fundamental causation and had thus found itself unable to remedy it at its roots. He stated that it was after Pakistan’s massive attacks and military provocations against his country that India had decided to move into Bangladesh and to repel the Pakistan aggression in the west. In the face of unprovoked aggression, India had been compelled to take the necessary steps to defend its territorial integrity and security.

The people of Bangladesh, battling for their very existence, and the people of India, fighting to defeat aggression, had found themselves partisans in the same cause, and therefore the Government of India had accorded recognition to the People’s Republic of
Bangladesh on 6 December 1971. That recognition had been delayed to avoid any precipitation of the crisis, but the emergence of Bangladesh had been based on the manifest will of the people of East Bengal. The entry of Indian armed forces into Bangladesh had not been motivated by any intention of territorial aggrandizement. India had recognized Bangladesh to provide a proper juridical and political basis for the presence of the Indian army in support of the Bangladesh Government in that country, and Indian armed forces would remain in Bangladesh territory only as long as Bangladesh required their presence. India earnestly hoped that the United Nations would consider once again the realities of the situation so that the basic causes of the conflict could be removed and peace restored. However, any resolution of the Council would be ineffective, if it did not take full note of the successful struggle of the people of Bangladesh and of the fact that the Government of Bangladesh was in effective control of its territory.(1611th meeting Security Council).

The Bangladesh war was no less important for international law. While legal debates raged in 1971 about aggression, sovereignty, genocide, and self-determination, an eminent Indian law professor aptly wrote, “A number of international law concepts have been put to a severe test—a fiery ordeal, one is tempted to say—over the struggle for national liberation in Bangla Desh.”(Rahmatullah Khan, Legal Aspects, in BANGLA DESH: A STRUGGLE FOR NATIONHOOD 85 (Mohammed Ayoob et al. eds., 1971).

India made its case in no fewer than four ways. Both publicly and privately, at home and abroad, the Indian government offered an interlocking series of at least four claims: (i) an argument from human rights, (ii) an argument from genocide, (iii) an argument from self-determination, and, finally, (iv) an argument from Indian sovereignty. The last argument—that Pakistan’s internal problem had become an internal problem for India too—was the most doctrinally conventional, and not coincidentally the one that seemed to gain the most credence among other states and authorities. India worked hard to persuade the world with its four arguments for intervention and begged for humanitarian relief efforts for the millions of Bengali refugees in India. India’s failure to get anything more than some inadequate humanitarian aid was in part due to the legal weaknesses of some of its arguments but was primarily the result of Cold War politics. Unilateralism will often reflect a rogue state acting with contempt for world opinion.

The refugees have returned to their homeland in honour and dignity and Bangladesh has emerged as a sovereign, independent country. The faith of a free Bangladesh is a vindication of human rights and fundamental freedom and of the principle of secularism to which India has consistently adhered from the very beginning. It has also put an end, once for all, to the festering sore of the `two-nation theory’ which has been a great source of tension and of frequent conflict and disorder in the sub-continent (Indian Ministry Of External Affairs Annual Report 1971-72)

It was with a tremendous sense of relief and joy that the news was received during this visit of the release of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 8 January 1972. In his very first public appearance, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made it unmistakably clear that Bangladesh was an “unchangeable reality” and there was no question of its remaining a part of Pakistan. He called for world recognition of his country and its admission to the United Nations. In a historic speech at New Delhi on his way back to Bangladesh, the Sheikh declared that “the people of India are the best friends of my people” and spoke of the unbreakable bonds that had been forged between India and Bangladesh.

Immediately after Bangbandhu’s return to Dacca a Provisional Constitution of Bangladesh Order 1972, was promulgated. It envisaged a parliamentary system of government in which there shall be a Cabinet of Ministers with the Prime Minister as the Head, and the President shall exercise his functions in accordance with the advice of the
Prime Minister. A new Cabinet was constituted with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as Prime Minister and Mr. Abu Syeed Choudhury as the new President. The system of Basic Democracies instituted by the Ayub Khan administration was abolished subsequently and a new system of local self-government was established(Indian Ministry Of External Affairs Annual Report 1971-72)

Some interesting quarters also tried to make out that the presence of Indian troops in Bangladesh reflected upon the independence and sovereignty of the Bangladesh Government and saw in this a pretext to withhold recognition of Bangladesh till such time as Indian troops had withdrawn. The highest authorities in India and in Bangladesh have been on record ever since the joint command liberated Bangladesh as having said that Indian troops are in Bangladesh at the specific request of that Government and would pull out whenever their presence is no longer felt necessary by that Government. During the visit of the Bangladesh Prime Minister to Calcutta on 5 February, 25 March was fixed as the final date by which all our troops would leave Bangladesh. The process of withdrawing our armed personnel had in fact already begun, and our troops will have left Bangladesh even before 25 March(Indian Ministry Of External Affairs Annual Report 1971-72)

Just before the liberation of Bangladesh, their number stood at nearly 10 million. Immediately after liberation, refugees started trekking back towards their homes in their new-found freedom. The Government of Bangladesh publicly declared that they would make all efforts to encourage the refugees to return and help them resettle in their homes. Apart from rendering other help, the Government of India has given a grant of Rs. 18.58 crores to the Government of Bangladesh to be spent on refugee relief in the form of cash doles to the refugees. By the first week of March, 9,321,485 refugees had already returned to Bangladesh. Besides the grant for cash doles, the Government of India has also helped in innumerable other ways in the return and resettlement of the refugees, such as in the provision of drugs, medicines, and transport. As an initial help to the war-ravaged and shattered economy of Bangladesh, the Government of India has further made a grant of Rs. 25 crores for the purchase of urgently needed commodities by the Government of Bangladesh. These commodities include food, petroleum and petroleum products, fertilizers, cotton and yarn, sugar, salt, baby food, oilseeds, cement, steel and steel products, chemicals, power generation, and transmission equipment and vehicles. Another loan of Rs. 10 crores has been made for rebuilding the railway network in Bangladesh. In addition, the Government of India has provided a loan worth of 5 million in foreign exchange for the immediate foreign exchange needs of that country.


Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union/1/

/1/ Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970-73, POL 27 INDIA-PAK. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Drafted by Quainton and Sisco on November 25; cleared by Davies, Van Hollen, and Kissinger; and approved by Acting Secretary Irwin.


November 27, 1971, 0103Z.


For Ambassador. Subject: South Asian Crisis.

1.  We are increasingly concerned at deteriorating military situation in South Asia and at prospect of full-scale hostilities between India and Pakistan in near future. You should seek earliest possible opportunity to present following letter from President to Chairman Kosygin.

2. “Dear Mr. Chairman:

I have been following extremely closely developments on the South Asian sub-continent. The recent border incidents which have involved engagements between Indian and Pakistani aircraft, tanks, and artillery in the Jessore sector of East Pakistan have been of particular concern to me, as I am sure they have been to you. The situation has reached a point at which there appears to be an imminent danger of full-scale hostilities between India and Pakistan.

As Ambassador Beam has made clear to Foreign Minister Gromyko and Mr Kuznetsov, the United States Government is doing all in its power to assist in deescalating the crisis. It is neither in the interests of the United States nor of the Soviet Union that there be war in South Asia. I welcome the assurances that your Government is using its influence to promote a peaceful resolution of this crisis.

In order to deescalate the crisis, we have proposed to the Governments of India and Pakistan that they withdraw their forces a limited distance from the frontiers. President Yahya has indicated his willingness to take the first step of withdrawal on the West Pakistan-Indian frontier if he could be assured that the Indians would reciprocate subsequently. On the frontier of East Pakistan, he has agreed to permit the stationing of UN observers even if India does not reciprocate. I believe that these measures would directly contribute to a lowering of tension and would make possible the pursuit of the political settlement. I hope that your Government would give support to these ideas and, in connection with the pullback proposal, encourage India and Pakistan to designate promptly high-level representatives who could work out the details.

Finally, I agree fully that our governments should continue to consult closely on this matter.

Sincerely yours,
Richard Nixon”

Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon/1/

/1/ Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 37, President’s Daily Briefs, Dec 1-Dec 16, 1971. Top Secret; Sensitive; Codeword. A stamp on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it.

Washington, December 2, 1971.


Information Items

India-Pakistan Situation: The latest reports seem to indicate that the Indian and guerrilla offensive along the East Pakistan border is gaining some momentum. The disparity in manpower and supplies apparently is taking its toll on the Pak forces and they reportedly have abandoned a number of contested locations in the face of relentless pressure in the direction of several major provincial cities. Meanwhile, there are indications that the situation is starting to deteriorate in the interior where the guerrilla forces are operating more freely now that most of the Pak forces have been drawn off to defend the frontiers. Some towns as close as 17 miles from Dacca reportedly have been abandoned to the guerrillas and there are reports of the Bangla Desh flag flying in a number of towns elsewhere in the interior. The Indians have also set up a “Mukti Bahini navy” with their own forces with the priority objective of blocking shipping into East Pakistan.

At the UN the situation is relatively static for the moment. The Japanese and Belgians are standing down their efforts to create interest in a Security Council meeting after having received no encouragement from the permanent representatives. For the moment the Soviets and Indians are getting their way-inaction-but the Pak ambassador at the UN thinks that it is possible that he could have instructions to move for a Security Council meeting as early as Friday./2/ He also reports that the Chinese have promised to use their veto if the Paks ask them. It is assumed that the Soviets are prepared to do the same for India.

/2/ December 3.

Our China watchers in Hong Kong report that the attention of Chinese media to the Indo-Pak crisis has risen sharply in the last ten days. The coverage has featured descriptions of India’s actions as an “invasion” and as military “provocations” and there has been one high-level reference to “armed aggression.” Direct charges of Soviet involvement have also rather abruptly become a significant feature. At the same time, the Chinese have not tried to play up any threat to their own security. Chinese public pledges of support to the Pakistanis have remained generalized and at least once they have indirectly implied that the Paks do not need assistance. They have also continued to call for peaceful “consultations” between India and Pakistan.

We have an initial reaction from the Indian Government on our cutoff of military supplies. Foreign Secretary Kaul took the announcement of our new military supply policy toward India in reasonably good grace, indicating that the U.S. had the right to do whatever it thought best. In a friendly and earnest way, he warned Ambassador Keating that no country should think they could persuade India to alter the path on which it was embarked through pressure tactics. Kaul urged that the U.S. not forget the common values and common ideals we both share.

[Omitted here are summary reports on foreign policy issues unrelated to South Asia.]

Minutes of National Security Council Meeting/1/

/1/ Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 999, Haig Chronological File, Haig Memcons To Be Done [1 of 4]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the President’s office in the Executive Office Building. The time of the meeting is from the President’s Daily Diary, as is the fact that Secretary of the Treasury Connally was also included among the participants. (Ibid., White House Central Files) Handwritten notes on the meeting were taken by Haig, who subsequently expanded the notes in the course of dictating the minutes for transcription although he did not complete them. The typewritten transcript runs through the first half of the meeting. Thereafter, the available record of the meeting is Haig’s handwritten notes, which are cryptic and difficult to decipher. The typewritten transcript and the handwritten notes are in the same file. A brief summary of the substance of the discussion from Haig’s handwritten notes follows the typewritten transcript.

Washington, December 6, 1971, 1:30-3:30 p.m.

The President
The Secretary of State
Deputy Secretary of Defense Packard
The Director of Central Intelligence
Acting Chairman-JCS, Westmoreland
Henry A. Kissinger
Brigadier General A.M. Haig, Jr.

Note: The first ten minutes of the meeting was before microphones and cameras as a facet of the ABC film entitled, “A Day in the Life of the President.”

The President: We will start out today’s meeting by having Director Helms provide us with an intelligence assessment and General Westmoreland provides us with a military appraisal. We will then proceed to discuss the decisions which will face us, including economic and military assistance. Before doing so, however, we will commence by asking the Secretary of State to give us an appraisal of where we are within the UN forum on the South Asia forum. Secretary Connally has been in Rome and has not been close to events of recent days. I would also like the Secretary of State to touch upon the issue of recent Congressional criticism which alleges that we have not done enough to achieve political accommodation.

Secretary Rogers: It is clear that the causes of the conflict in South Asia are not a U.S. responsibility. The solution to the long-standing political problems rests with the people in the area. There has been long-standing deep hostility. The U.S. for its part must concentrate on bringing about a peaceful settlement to the current dilemma. But certainly, a final settlement cannot be imposed externally. Before the outbreak of hostilities, the President directed that we undertake a period of intense diplomacy. The U.S. provided more humanitarian assistance than the rest of the world put together. And we have requested from the Congress another $250 million in humanitarian aid. While the efforts we have taken to achieve a political settlement have failed, nevertheless all that could possibly have been done was done. We have prevented the movement of arms to either country. Certainly, the U.S. cannot be blamed for the deterioration of the situation. It did all that could be done. Only the people in the area can solve the problem. It is essential that the U.S. stay out of the conflict and concentrate its efforts on achieving a peaceful settlement. The President recently issued a call for United Nations consideration of the problem. Eleven nations favored a U.S.-prepared resolution which provided for a ceasefire and mutual withdrawal. The Soviet Union and Poland rejected it. Then smaller nations prepared a further resolution which provided for ceasefire and withdrawal and it also succumbed to a Soviet veto. There was a clear UN majority in favor of that kind of a resolution but because the Soviets have remained intransigent the U.S. is now supporting General Assembly consideration of the issue under the Uniting for Peace resolution./2/ It is essential that any resolution provide both for a ceasefire and mutual withdrawal. Thus in summary we have done all that was possible. We have provided humanitarian aid. We have urged political efforts.

/2/ UN doc. A/RES/377(A) (V) of November 3, 1950.

The President asked Secretary Connally to comment.

Secretary Connally: I assume that we have been dealing intensely with both Governments.

The President: That’s correct.

(Note: At this point the filming was ended.)

The President: I have written and spoken personally to Madam Gandhi and I have written President Yahya. Yahya has been very forthcoming and I so informed Madam Gandhi during her visit here. I noted that Yahya was willing to pull back his forces from the border if he could receive some favorable response from the Indian side. Madam Gandhi showed no interest in the proposal. I also informed Madam Gandhi that President Yahya had told us that he was willing to meet with certain Bangla Desh leaders but efforts failed.

Secretary Connally asked if Pakistan had not offered to accept UN observers along the border.

Secretary Rogers confirmed that this was so but that the Indians refused. He added that President Yahya had been most forthcoming. Nevertheless, it was clear that the U.S. is entering a phase where sniping is the popular thing. The U.S. cannot be blamed since the roots of the problem are local. Many times in the past the U.S. has become overly involved in such local problems.

The President noted that the issue was similar in Nigeria where the U.S. tried to help at that time but did not have sufficient influence to effect the outcome./3/ In this instance the U.S. has provided over $10 billion in assistance to India. Despite this it has had no influence with the Indian Government. On the other hand the U.S. has limited its assistance to the Pakistan Government. And in hindsight it may be the very fact of cutting off military assistance to Pakistan which encouraged the Indians to attack since the military balance was badly out of kilter. It is clear that the U.S. has got to maintain leverage if it expects to influence the actions of foreign powers. Looking at the India/

/3/ Reference is to the Biafran conflict of 1967-1970.

Pakistan’s situation the U.S. has had certain problems. It is obvious that the Indians were not looking for ways to stay out of conflict but rather to get into one. Now we see in the west Pakistanis attacking Indians. Charging the Pakistanis with this action is like accusing Finland of attacking the Soviet Union. Pakistan would have been insane to want war since it is at such a strategic disadvantage. And yet we see the Soviets providing unlimited assistance to the Government of India. There is bound to be a public relations problem. Whenever there is trouble abroad some infer that it is the United States’ fault. Local hatred have prevented a peaceful solution. The situation could be compared to that in the Middle East except there the U.S. has more stroke. Here we have none. We were forced to reduce what stroke was left.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Packard: Had we maintained the military balance the cause of peace might have been better served.

The President: This is the same as in the Middle East. The President noted that he had mentioned this earlier in the morning to Senator Mansfield. If the balance shifts war results. In this sense, U.S. policies failed in South Asia.

Dr. Kissinger stated that the failure was the result of our policies over the past seven years.

The President noted that the alienation with Pakistan started when the U.S. broke its word to President Ayub.

Secretary Rogers said that the conflict was obviously the result of a carefully worked out plan designed by the Indians some time ago.

Dr. Kissinger noted that some had inferred that the Indians were practicing restraint but it was obvious now that they moved as early as they were able to. The rains were over; the passes from China were closed with snow; the Bangla Desh had now been trained and the Indians had moved their own forces. All was completed as Prime Minister Gandhi travelled abroad.

The President: The Indians had long wanted to hurt Pakistan. Their interests involved Kashmir more than East Pakistan. It is now time for the U.S. to reconsider very carefully the military assistance problem. It is a myth to assume that the elimination of military assistance will eliminate war. This is nonsense. The issue depends on the local conditions. In this instance, the balance should have been retained. During the Eisenhower Administration, the U.S. helped to maintain Pakistan’s strength but later when the Pakistanis started to play with the Chinese we cut off our contacts with them.

Director Helms: We have a report [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]/4/ which covers Madam Gandhi’s strategy as delivered to her Cabinet at 11:00 p.m. on December 3, 1971. The Indians planned to move in the west but to primarily adopt a defensive posture and to prevent the Pakistanis from cutting off Kashmir. The Indians had no initial objective in West Pakistan but seek a quick victory in East Pakistan which would enable them to transfer their forces to the north. India assumes that the Chinese will remain quiescent and hope to achieve the collapse of East Pakistan in one week to ten days. The objectives in the west are to destroy Pakistan’s armor and in the east to totally liberate the area.

/4/ A copy of this report was sent by the CIA to the White House on December 4 in telegram TDCS 314/12858-71. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 571, Indo-Pak War, South Asia, 12/1/71-12/4/71)

[The typewritten transcript ends here. What follows is a summary based on Haig’s handwritten notes; see footnote 1 above.]

[Helms completed his briefing by noting that India’s recognition of Bangladesh provided a justification for intervention in East Pakistan. He used a map to illustrate the progress of Indian and Mukti Bahini forces in East Pakistan and indicated that major efforts were being made to secure the roads and railroads leading into East Pakistan from China. Pressure on the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan was increasing from all sides, but there had not been a significant breakthrough. Nonetheless, Helms felt that 10 days was a conservative estimate of how long it would be before the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan would be forced to surrender. Pakistan’s response was anticipated to be an assault upon India’s positions in Kashmir. The conflict in the west was still in the opening stages with India fighting a holding action.

[The remainder of the discussion focused upon attempting to define an effective U.S. response to the situation outlined by Helms. Led by President Nixon and Kissinger, the tenor of the discussion dealt heavily with how to point up and lay before the bar of international opinion what Secretary Connally referred to as India’s culpability in the crisis. There was extensive discussion of how best to take advantage of the forum of the United Nations, where the issue was at the point of shifting from the Security Council to the General Assembly, which was not constrained by the threat of a Soviet veto. The United Nations had a peacemaking role to play, but Nixon expressed skepticism that an effective peacemaker could be found in light of the contending positions taken by the Soviet Union and China in support of India and Pakistan, respectively. Kissinger used the President’s observation to expound upon the geopolitical implications of the crisis. Soviet support for India was intended not only to embarrass China but also the United States, which had its own security commitments to Pakistan. Kissinger observed that China would be watching closely to see what friendship with the United States really meant. Beyond that Kissinger was concerned that Soviet policy in this South Asian crisis might prove to be a dry run for subsequent troubles in the Middle East. This was not, Kissinger concluded, just any war; it had broad significance. Secretary Rogers conceded that India was the aggressor in the conflict and that the war had long-range implications, but he questioned whether the United States should become deeply involved in attempting to influence what he saw as a lost cause in East Pakistan. Connally disagreed, and the President emphasized that he intended to help West Pakistan. While continuing economic assistance to Pakistan, the United States could cut off all developmental assistance to India and limit assistance to India to aid for the refugees to be provided in goods instead of money.

Speaking generally of economic assistance, Nixon said that it was important to end the concept of assistance without strings. The United States should help, he felt, only if its interests were served. With regard to military assistance, Nixon observed that if third countries wanted to help Pakistan he saw no reason to stop them. Nixon was prepared to work through the United Nations as long as there was some prospect that world opinion might influence the crisis, but if UN efforts proved ineffective, the United States would have to step forward. It could not roll over.]

Message From the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to the United States/1/

/1/ Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 497, President’s Trip Files, Exchange of Notes Between Dobrynin and Kissinger, Vol. 2. No classification marking. A handwritten note on the message indicates it was handed to Kissinger by Soviet Chargé Vorontsov at 11 p.m. on December 6. The message is neither addressed nor signed.

Moscow, December 6, 1971.

1.  The Soviet leaders, already for a prolonged time and not once, have drawn the attention of the President to a dangerous situation developing in the Hindostan peninsula as a result of the actions of the Pakistani government against the population of East Pakistan. While applying efforts to prevent an armed conflict between Pakistan and India, we at the same time were firmly convinced-and so frankly stated to the President-that of crucial importance in this matter would be a political settlement in East Pakistan on the basis of respect for the will of its population as clearly expressed in the December 1970 elections.

Although the American side did not object in principle to the approach above, we, it must be said frankly, did not receive the impression that the United States acted actively enough and precisely in the same direction that we were acting, i.e. towards removing the main source of tension in relations between Pakistan and India.

2.  In the situation that has now developed and now it has flared up into the armed conflict between Pakistan and India-the Soviet Union, as was stated in the TASS statement published December 5, comes out for the speediest ending of the bloodshed and for a political settlement in East Pakistan on the basis of respect for the lawful rights and interests of its people.

In accordance with the above the Soviet representative in the Security Council has been instructed to seek such a solution that would closely combine two questions: a proposal for an immediate cease-fire between Pakistan and India and a demand that the Government of Pakistan immediately recognize the will of the East Pakistani population as expressed in the December 1970 elections. The Soviet leaders express the hope that the President will give instructions to the U.S. representative in the Security Council to act in the same direction.

In view of all the circumstances which led to the present conflict, to demand a cease-fire without demanding, as an organic connection with that question, that the people of East Pakistan in the name of its elected representatives be given an opportunity to decide its destiny for themselves,-would be both unrealistic and unjust with respect to that people, and would not eliminate the causes which led to the conflict.

3.  As for your remarks, Mr. Kissinger, regarding a possible sharply negative impact that the events in the Hindostan could have on Soviet-American relations, this kind of approach is completely without motivation and, in our view, is at variance with the approach to the Soviet-American relations which has been expressed not once to us by the President himself.

Differences in the appraisal of specific events in the world as well as in the views between us regarding ways of settling corresponding questions may arise, and there is nothing unnatural in that. However, if in such cases, instead of business-like search for realistic solutions, to start talking about a “critical stage” or “watershed” in Soviet-American relations, it would hardly help finding such solutions, and would make it still harder to envisage that it will facilitate improvement of Soviet-American relations and their stability./2/

/2/ Kissinger called President Nixon shortly after the Soviet message was received and reported that the Soviet leadership had “twitched a little bit.” He said the Soviet message proposed a Security Council resolution which called for a cease-fire and a cessation of hostilities but made no provision for the withdrawal of troops. Kissinger viewed the references in the message to East Pakistan rather than Bangladesh as a positive sign. He characterized the proposed resolution as unacceptable but “at least a move.” Nixon said: “Just tell them, sorry, no withdrawal; no deal.” (Transcript of a telephone conversation, December 6, 10:55 p.m.; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 370, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)


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