Information Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Sisco) to Secretary of State Rogers/1/


Washington, March 15, 1971.


/1/ Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970-73, POL 23-8 PAK. Confidential. Drafted by Craig Baxter (NEA/PAF) and cleared by Spengler and Van Hollen.



Mujib Takes Over East Pakistan; Yahya Flies to Dacca


Sheikh Mujibur Rahman announced in Dacca early today, that his party, the Awami League, was taking over the administration of East Pakistan on the grounds that the party had a majority (288 of 300) in the Provincial Assembly. Mujib acted unilaterally and in defiance of President Yahya Khan's Martial Law Administration which continues to be the Government of Pakistan. The fact that Mujib's announcement contained 35 "directives" for assuming control of the administration indicates that it was a deliberate and carefully planned move.


In taking this step, Mujib has directly confronted the Yahya government but has carefully avoided an unqualified declaration of East Pakistani independence and has based his action on the "democratic" voice of the people as expressed in the December election. The Yahya regime must react quickly to this critical move, and Yahya himself has flown to Dacca to talk with Mujib.


The options available to Yahya appear to be two, either of which would further endanger the already fragile unity of Pakistan. If Yahya acquiesces in the step, he has forfeited his martial law powers, at least in the East, and would be hard pressed to retain them in the West (see below regarding Bhutto's speech on Sunday/2/). If Yahya, or others in the military, decide to resist Mujib's action by force, East Pakistan will be engulfed in a struggle between the military and the Bengali nationalists, the outcome of which can only be eventual independence of Bengal and the breaking of all ties with West Pakistan-unless, as seems unlikely in the long run, the army can successfully contain a rebellion. Mujib's statement called on Bengalis to resist "by all possible means" any force used against them.


/2/ March 14.


In a speech in Karachi on Sunday, West Pakistan political leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto demanded that power be turned over to majority parties in each wing, Bhutto's in the West, Mujib's in the East. Bhutto's speech, in fact, may have triggered Mujib's action. It may also indicate what has been suspected for some time, that Bhutto has decided that his chances of attaining power in the West are best achieved by a split-total or nearly so-in the country. However, Bhutto has less opportunity to act than Mujib because the army is strong in the West and could probably contain a rebellion.


The day's events cast further doubt on continued unity in Pakistan. Yahya's response will be the most important determining factor.



Source: Document 9, volume XI, South Asia crisis 1971, Department of State.