Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting/1/
/1/ Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H-115, WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1971. Secret; Exdis; Codeword. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room. No drafting information appears on the minutes. A briefer record of the meeting, prepared by James Noyes (DOD/ISA), is in the Washington National Records Center, OSD Files, FRC 330 76 0197, Box 74, Pakistan 381 (Jan-Nov) 1971.
Chairman-Henry A. Kissinger
Christopher Van Hollen
James H. Noyes
Adm. Thomas H. Moorer
Capt. Howard N. Kay
Col. Richard T. Kennedy
R/Adm. Robert Welander
SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS
It was agreed that:
Department is to send a telegram to our Ambassadors in
-It should be made clear to both the Indian and Pakistani governments that aid will be suspended if war breaks out.
-An inter-agency working group is to be established under the direction of Under Secretary of State U. Alexis Johnson to monitor the India-Pakistan situation and to prepare contingency papers as required.
-No approach is to be made or suggested through the United Nations unless the President grants his approval.
Dr. Kissinger: Dick (Helms) is going to tell us what's going on.
I have a current report/2/ I would like to read.
/2/ Not found.
Pakistanis also have two infantry divisions and an armored division in rear
areas. They might hold the armored division in place, about 100 miles from the
border, but would bring up the other two if they expected war in a matter of
days. In the east, the Indians have over 100,000 troops, while the Pakistanis
have 70,000 in
most likely to come, as it did in 1965, from a series of miscalculations, but
we cannot rule out a deliberate decision by one side or the other. Mrs. Gandhi
could still decide to invade
Dr. Kissinger: Do you believe that? Do you think nine million is an accurate figure?
Well, it may not be accurate, but even if it's only seven million, it is still
a lot of refugees, with still more coming and practically none returning. In
any case, by mid-November Mrs. Gandhi will come under increased pressure to
take military measures. Parliament reconvenes then and many members will call
for action against
Pakistani officials are convinced that Yahya will launch a pre-emptive attack
in the next few weeks. Yahya himself has given the British the impression that
he is considering such action, but he has assured our DCM he is not. He may be
trying to bring Western pressure on
Johnson: We have received a separate report which indicates that some 40,000
guerrillas will be infiltrated into
/3/ On October 3 Qazi Zahril Qaiyum told one of the political officers at the Consulate General in Calcutta that the Mukti Bahini planned to introduce 40 to 60 thousand men into East Pakistan by the end of October. Forty thousand would be infiltrated by October 15 and the other 20 thousand would follow by the end of the month. (Telegram 2605 from Calcutta, October 5; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970-73, POL 27 INDIA-PAK)
We do have trouble with these figures, but when the weather gets dry they will
be infiltrated in numbers, and whether it is 40,000 or 100,000 or something in
between, there is no question that there will be a lot of them. The Indians
believe that snow and bad weather in the north will keep
treason trial of Mujibur Rahman has antagonized the East. A reliable source
says he has been sentenced to life imprisonment. Yahya can uphold the sentence,
commute it or let the matter lie. His decision will be an indication of how
conciliatory he intends to be toward
Dr. Kissinger: We are indeed fortunate that the Indians are such reasonable and pacific people. Tom (Adm. Moorer), how do you assess the military situation?
Adm. Moorer: The most important factor is that the Indians have a four to one ratio in ground forces. With regard to air forces, the outcome depends in large part on who pre-empts.
Kissinger: I remember a while back the story of the Indian pilot who crashed
Adm. Moorer: You're right, the Indians can't compete with the Pakistani pilots. The air units of both sides will deteriorate rapidly. The restraints on our aid program have already led the Pakistanis to cannibalize some F-86's in order to keep the rest in the air. After six months of restraints, they would have to do the same with the F-104's. In combat, attrition and a lack of spare parts would wear them down quickly.
Dr. Kissinger: How long would it take? Two or three weeks?
Moorer: I was about to say four to six weeks, but it could be less. The naval
forces don't amount to much. The Indians would undoubtedly try to blockade
Dr. Kissinger: Am I right in understanding that we have no evidence of a Chinese buildup?
Moorer: You are right. There is no such evidence. The main factor here is that
neither side can fight a war of attrition. They should begin running out of
supplies in four to six weeks, and
Johnson: This is especially true in
Dr. Kissinger: Well, Alex [Johnson],/4/ where do we stand politically?
/4/ Brackets in the source text.
Johnson: It's a mess, although there is one new element that is encouraging.
The Shah (of
meeting was reported in telegram 5655 from
Mr. Van Hollen: The Shah urged Yahya to cut his losses, told him frankly that he didn't have a chance in a military showdown and urged him to seek a political settlement.
Johnson: We have been in touch with the Bangla Desh people and have tried to
encourage the development of a dialogue between Bangla Desh and
Dr. Kissinger: You mean that's their starting point.
Mr. Johnson: Yes, their initial position. Mujibur [Rahman]/6/ is the key. If Yahya would release Mujibur and make a deal with him . . .
/6/ Brackets in the source text.
Dr. Kissinger: I think that's inconceivable! Unless Yahya's personality has changed 100% since I saw him in July.
Mr. Johnson: I agree that it's unlikely, but we have had some indications.
Mr. Van Hollen: Ambassador Farland recently proposed to Yahya that he make a deal with Mujibur and what is interesting is that Yahya did not take the usual negative attitude./7/ This may indicate that they [the Pakistanis] are planning to deal with Mujibur, but this is highly speculative, and I think we must assume the contrary until we get more evidence.
/7/ In telegram
Johnson: With thousands of Bahini being introduced into
Dr. Kissinger: When he was here last week, Gromyko claimed that the Russians are restraining the Indians./8/ Are they doing this? I haven't seen anything on this.
/8/ See Document 153.
Mr. Helms: All our evidence indicates this is true.
Mr. Johnson: I agree with that.
Dr. Kissinger: In what way? I have seen no such information. Are you holding out on me? I don't seem to be getting my copies of cables.
Mr. Helms: Madam Gandhi gave the Soviets a whole list of things she wanted. She asked them to arrange for Mujibur to be the go-between.
Dr. Kissinger: The Indians have great ability for determining the impossible and then demanding it.
Mr. Johnson: The Soviets were quite firm in telling the Indian representatives who went to Moscow/9/ that they [the Soviets] would not support Bangla Desh.
Reference is to Prime Minister Gandhi's visit to
Mr. Van Hollen: [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]
Dr. Kissinger: So you are the one who has been holding back my cables, and I thought all along it was Joe Sisco.
Mr. Helms: [11/2 lines of source text not declassified]
Mr. Johnson: The Soviets don't want hostilities if they can be avoided.
Kissinger: When I was in India recently I formed the opinion that if the
Indians were prepared to accept slow evolution in Pakistan, we could work
effectively with them, and they would eventually get most of what they want.
But they keep lumping all these things together; the refugee problem,
independence for Bangla Desh, Pakistani forces on their borders. In their
convoluted minds they really believe they can give
Mr. Van Hollen: The Indians don't have complete control over the Mukti Bahini. They couldn't stop them all if they wanted to.
Dr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Saunders) Weren't you with me when I talked with the [Indian] Army Chief of Staff?/10/ He was so cocky, he thought he could defeat everyone in sight, all at the same time. We can't ask them to shut off the guerrillas. It will get us nowhere.
/10/ General Sam H.F.J. Manekshaw. Brackets in the source text.
Mr. Van Hollen: We could ask them to try to curb the guerrillas.
Dr. Kissinger: No, that's a non-starter. We can't ask them to cut off aid to the guerrillas. It's an internal affair.
Mr. Helms: When you fatten up guerrillas they become a different force. They aren't guerrillas any longer.
Dr. Kissinger: Yahya is a slow learner. He is very deliberate, but if you force him to make a decision, his Moslem instinct may assert itself, and perhaps he will start taking rapid action.
Mr. Johnson: You may be right about that.
Kissinger: When I was in
Adm. Moorer: If the Indians really want to punish the Pakistanis, they may be ready to go all the way to a break to do it.
Dr. Kissinger: Let's get this completely clear. Do the Indians really understand that we will cut off aid if they go to war?
Mr. Van Hollen: Yes, the Secretary (of State) told them that.
Dr. Kissinger: This is of the utmost importance. The Indians must understand that we mean it. The President has said so. In fact, he tells me every day. Are you sure the Indians got the message?
Hollen: I believe so. I will double check, but the Secretary has been seeing
Dr. Kissinger: Please make sure. What about Yahya? Does he understand that we will suspend aid if he starts hostilities?
Mr. Van Hollen: [Ambassador]/11/ Farland told him that in a conversation just recently, but we can ask Farland to tell him again.
/11/ These and remaining brackets are in the source text.
Dr. Kissinger: They [the Pakistanis] should have no illusion on this point.
Mr. Helms: We should make another effort to be sure this is clear. If war breaks out, we will all look back and regret not having made that one extra effort.
Johnson: It is possible that the Pakistanis may strike out against
Mr. Packard: I agree, we want to hold them back as much as possible.
Dr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Van Hollen) When did the Secretary last see the Indians?
Hollen: The Secretary saw them last week, in
Dr. Kissinger: How did it go?
Mr. Van Hollen: It was the usual circular argument, the Indians complaining about attacks on Bengalis and about the Pakistanis generating refugees.
Dr. Kissinger: I don't believe that the Pakistanis are generating refugees. Do you believe it?
Mr. Van Hollen: Oh, yes, it's still going on. Pakistani army or militia units will round up a group of people in reprisal for a guerrilla attack or act of sabotage and threaten to kill them, so they go across the border.
Packard: But that's at the local level. Those are small local units acting on
their own authority. The government is not sanctioning that sort of thing and
the military commanders in
Hollen: That's right. The government in
Kissinger: We have some contingency papers/12/ here, but they are not as good
as we can do. The
/12/ Reference is to the papers summarized in Documents 157 and 158.
Mr. Johnson: We can more usefully engage the Soviets in this matter. Do you think it's worthwhile talking with them about possible restraints on the Indians?
Dr. Kissinger: Alex (Johnson), I'm glad you raised that point, because I want to ask you to set up an inter-agency working group to look at this question. We should have someone approach the Russians, perhaps Gromyko, or whoever you think would be best, you know better about these things, and tell them that this situation (in South Asia) is building to a crisis.
Mr. Van Hollen: We can tell them some of the information we have, let them know we are trying to restrain Yahya and ask them to help do the same with the Indians.
Dr. Kissinger: Exactly, we have very parallel interests here. (to Mr. Johnson) Can you get some people together quickly and develop some ideas on how this can be accomplished, say within the next 48 hours?
Mr. Johnson: It just so happens that I have a draft telegram/13/ on this subject all ready. I was going to raise it with you.
/13/ See Document 160.
Dr. Kissinger: Let's see the telegram.
Mr. Johnson: I have it right here.
Dr. Kissinger: Johnson lets me go through all this discussion and then pulls out a bloody telegram.
Mr. Johnson: This was prepared just last night.
Dr. Kissinger: Who will it go to?
Johnson: Everyone involved:
Johnson: Another thought that has occurred to us is the possibility of
exploring what might be done on a multilateral basis, perhaps at
Mr. Packard: This is a good telegram!
Dr. Kissinger: It's a damn good telegram!
Mr. Johnson: The Secretary will be seeing the head of the Pakistani UN delegation soon.
Dr. Kissinger: What's his name?
Mr. Van Hollen: Mahmoud Ali, he's a kept Bengali.
Dr. Kissinger: In outline, the telegram is excellent. When do you think it should go out?
Mr. Van Hollen: As soon as possible.
Dr. Kissinger: Tonight?
Mr. Van Hollen: The sooner we can get it out the better.
Dr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Johnson) In view of that cable that came in from Pakistan earlier today, it may be better to send the Pakistani part as a separate telegram in reply to the incoming./14/ This looks like an abrupt answer.
/14/ The incoming telegram is an apparent reference to a telegram received by the Pakistani Embassy, the substance of which was delivered to Kissinger on October 6. The communication from the Embassy was text of a letter from President Yahya to President Nixon and an accompanying aide-mémoire; see Document 161.
Johnson: We can send a separate reply to
Dr. Kissinger: I would rather leave that idea out at this time.
Mr. Johnson: We have had indications that the Pakistanis may be willing to work something out through the UN.
Dr. Kissinger: I didn't think they were all that eager.
Mr. Johnson: I had a little concern that these indications may have been a case of the Pakistanis laying the groundwork for a pre-emptive strike. It was just a hunch on my part.
I don't think they would do it before I've been to
Mr. Johnson: There is no point in getting started on UN action unless there is prior agreement between the Soviets and ourselves. That must be our first step.
Dr. Kissinger: I don't think the Pakistanis will launch a pre-emptive strike, but we should not mention any approach through the UN until the President has considered the question.
Mr. Johnson: We want to avoid unilateral action by the Pakistanis in the Security Council. That only means confrontation and would accomplish nothing.
Mr. Van Hollen: Perhaps the US, British, Soviet and French delegations could make a combined presentation in the UN.
Dr. Kissinger: That could be a good approach, as long as it doesn't become a squeeze play on the Pakistanis.
Mr. Van Hollen: We have to squeeze both sides to get any kind of agreement.
Dr. Kissinger: Let me just emphasize that before we get started on any action through the UN, we must go to the President. So this telegram will go out tonight. (to Mr. Saunders) Will you see that it goes out?
Mr. Van Hollen: We'll get the telegram out, and I'll notify Sisco.
Dr. Kissinger: You want to try to get Sisco to quiet things down? So far, I've only seen him stir things up. So, first, we send this telegram and second, we get word to Yahya.
Hollen: We will send instructions to our Chargé in
Kissinger: And you will do absolutely nothing in
Mr. Van Hollen: Right.
Saunders: Shall we also ask [Ambassador] MacArthur to discuss it with the Shah
and appeal to him to raise the issue again with Yahya? A copy of the cable is
Source: Document 159, volume XI, South Asia crisis 1971, Department of State.