March 6 ,1971 : White House Situation Room – Minutes of Senior Review Group Meeting

The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room in march 6 1971. A briefer record of the meeting, prepared by Brigadier General Devol Brett of OSD

We are talking with the British this afternoon about the situation. Mujib has unparalleled political control, capturing 160 of the 162 seats up for grabs in the last election. And he is friendly toward the US. In West Pakistan, Bhutto is almost unparalleledly unfriendly to the US. While we have maintained a posture of hoping the country can be brought together and its unity preserved, the chances of doing so now are extremely slight. It is only a question of time and circumstances as to how they will split, and to what degree the split is complete or may be papered over in some vague confederal scheme  “

—— U. Alexis Johnson – US state department

Its the Collection of historical documents from Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs United States Department of State . FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES, 1969–1976, VOLUME XI, SOUTH ASIA CRISIS, 1971


 

SUBJECT

  • Pakistan

PARTICIPATION

  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
    • U. Alexis Johnson
    • Christopher Van Hollen
    • William Spengler
    • Thomas Thornton
  • Defense
    • James S. Noyes
    • Brig. Gen. Devol Brett
  • CIA
    • Richard Helms
    • David H. Blee
  • JCS
    • Vice Adm. John Weinel
    • Col. James Connell
  • NSC Staff
    • Col. Richard Kennedy
    • Harold Saunders
    • Samuel Hoskinson
    • Jeanne W. Davis

SUMMARY OF DECISIONS

It was agreed to:

  • —discuss the situation with the British to see if they would take the lead in an approach to West Pakistan to discourage the use of force, if it should become necessary;
  • —advise our missions at Dacca and Islamabad of our thinking and instruct Dacca, if they receive an approach from Mujib on recognition of a separate East Pakistan regime, to say nothing and refer it to Washington;
  • —consult by telephone on Sunday, March 7 following word on Mujibʼs speech.2

Mr. Kissinger: I thought we might have a brief discussion of what may be ahead and what our basic choices may be. I assume we will know something tomorrow.

Mr. Johnson: We have a good interagency contingency paper.3

Mr. Kissinger: Yes, itʼs a very good paper.

Mr. Johnson: Weʼre already on page 7 of that paper4 so far as events go. I would like to make two points. First, this is not an East-West, or a US-Soviet, or a US-Indian confrontation. The US,USSR and India all have an interest in the continued unity of Pakistan and have nothing to gain from a break-up. Second, we have no control over the events which will determine the outcome, and very little influence. We will [Page 10]know better what the issues are tomorrow after Mujibur Rahmanʼs speech. Yahyaʼs speech5 today was described by our Embassy as a mixture of sugar and bile. If the issue is postponed for a few days, we donʼt face any immediate problem. If Mujib should come to us and tell us he plans to make a unilateral declaration of independence and ask what our attitude would be, we would then face the issue of what to say. If Yahya carries out his declaration on the use of force against East Pakistan, we would have to decide what attitude to adopt. The judgement of all of us is that with the number of troops available to Yahya (a total of 20,000, with 12,000 combat troops) and a hostile East Pakistan population of 75 million, the result would be a blood-bath with no hope of West Pakistan reestablishing control over East Pakistan. In this event, we would be interested in bringing about a cessation of hostilities, but the question of whether we or others should take the lead remains to be seen. We are talking with the British this afternoon about the situation. Mujib has unparalleled political control, capturing 160 of the 162 seats up for grabs in the last election. And he is friendly toward the US. In West Pakistan, Bhutto is almost unparalleledly unfriendly to the US. While we have maintained a posture of hoping the country can be brought together and its unity preserved, the chances of doing so now are extremely slight. It is only a question of time and circumstances as to how they will split, and to what degree the split is complete or may be papered over in some vague confederal scheme. I plan to send something out today to give our people in Dacca and Islamabad the flavor of our thinking in terms of the pros and cons, and to instruct Dacca, if they are approached by Mujib, to stall and refer to Washington.6 We can then make a decision on our reply in the light of the circumstances at the time. In general, we would like to see unity preserved. If it cannot be, we would like to see the split take place with the least possible bloodshed or disorder. If Mujib approaches us, we will have to walk a tightrope between making him think we are giving him the cold shoulder and not encouraging him to move toward a split if any hope remains for a compromise.

Mr. Van Hollen: There are three possibilities for Mujibtomorrow: a unilateral declaration of independence; something just short of that—possibly a suggestion for two separate constitutions; or acceptance of Yahyaʼs proposal that the National Assembly meet on March 25.

[Page 11]

Mr. Kissinger: But doesnʼt Mujib control the Assembly?

Mr. Van Hollen: Yes, but Yahya controls its convening.

Mr. Kissinger: Why wouldnʼt the convening of the National Assembly on March 25 be acceptable to East Pakistan? They control the Assembly and nothing can pass without them.

Mr. Van Hollen: They may interpret it as another stalling tactic by Yahya.

Mr. Kissinger: If they accept the proposal for an Assembly meeting, we have no foreign policy problem.

Mr. Johnson: I agree; the temperature drops.

Mr. Kissinger: What would be the motive for a declaration of independence?

Mr. Van Hollen: There has been movement in East Pakistan in that direction which was intensified by Yahyaʼs postponement of the National Assembly meeting that was scheduled for last Wednesday.7 Also, they have interpreted Yahyaʼs speech yesterday as being particularly hardline, blaming Mujib for the situation and threatening the use of force.

Mr. Kissinger: I agree that force wonʼt work.

Mr. Van Hollen: Yes, but they might try.

Mr. Helms: To coin a phrase, Yahyaʼs attitude is that he did not become President of Pakistan to preside over the dissolution of the Pakistan state.

Mr. Kissinger: What force do they have?

Mr. Helms: 20,000 troops.

Mr. Kissinger: Would East Pakistan resist? What is their population?

Mr. Johnson: 75 million, and they would resist. Also, West Pakistan would not be allowed to overfly India.

Mr. Kissinger: It would be impossible. They would have to reinforce by ship.

Mr. Johnson: They have some C–130ʼs which could fly around India by refueling in Ceylon.

Mr. Kissinger: Ceylon wouldnʼt let them, would they?

Mr. Van Hollen: They do it now, but they might not if circumstances should change.

Mr. Noyes: India would put pressure on Ceylon to refuse.

Mr. Johnson: They could use their jet transports.

[Page 12]

Mr. Noyes: They only have 11 of limited capacity.

Mr. Kissinger: They would have to have some logistics back-up.

Mr. Noyes: They have three ships which could move 8000 men in a weekʼs time.

Mr. Van Hollen: Despite all the problems, our mission in Islamabad estimates that Yahya is prepared to use force.

Mr. Noyes: They have 15,000 troops in Dacca.

Mr. Kissinger: You mean 15,000 of their 20,000 troops are in Dacca? They might just want to hold Dacca.

Mr. Johnson: This is not a situation which would be resolved by the use of force.

Mr. Kissinger: Doesnʼt contingency 38 get us three weeks, if not more. If the matter goes to the National Assembly we should have several months to study it.

Mr. Johnson: In those circumstances we would have no immediate foreign policy problem.

Mr. Kissinger: If an autonomous situation develops—possibly two constitutions with some vague confederal links—would we be required to make some immediate decisions?

Mr. Van Hollen: It would depend on the West Pakistan reaction. It would probably buy us time. Something short of a unilateral declaration of independence might be accepted by West Pakistan. In that event, they would not use force.

Mr. Kissinger: How would two separate constitutions work? The National Assembly wouldnʼt meet? Or would meet and draft two separate constitutions?

Mr. Van Hollen: It wouldnʼt have to be done by the National Assemblies; the country could be operated by the provincial assemblies. The Provincial Assembly in East Pakistan could draft their constitution. Mujib in the East and Bhutto in the West would wield effective power.

Mr. Kissinger: Would East Pakistan conduct its own foreign policy?

Mr. Van Hollen: Thatʼs a moot point.

Mr. Kissinger: In any event, thatʼs not our problem. If West Pakistan accepts a solution in which each part conducts its own foreign relations, we would go along. If West Pakistan doesnʼt accept such a solution, we will have to decide whether to go along and grant recognition to East Pakistan. There would be no need for us to take a [Page 13]stand on autonomy. If they declare independence, we face the recognition question. If autonomy is rejected, we face the problem of our positions on the use of force. In other words, we have to face the question on the use of force in independence and autonomy. We face the problem of recognition only if they declare independence. Is that a fair statement? What are your views on this?

Mr. Johnson: On autonomy, if West Pakistan does not accept that solution and seeks to use force, I think we would want to discourage the use of force. We would do the same in the event of a unilateral declaration of independence.

Mr. Kissinger: If I may be the devilʼs advocate, why should we say anything?

Mr. Johnson: If the West Pakistanis use force, there will be a bloodbath or, at least, a situation of great turmoil in East Pakistan. If it is quickly over, there would be no problem. But if it continues, there would be problems. The Indians, and possibly others, might feel impelled to intervene if it continued. In the short run, probably not.

Mr. Kissinger: What would we do to discourage the use of force? Tell Yahya we donʼt favor it?

Mr. Johnson: We would first go to the British to try to get them to take the lead. We shouldnʼt take the lead.

Mr. Helms: Amen!

Mr. Kissinger: Intervention would almost certainly be self-defeating.

Mr. Johnson: We have no control over developments and very little influence.

Mr. Kissinger: When is Mujibʼs statement?

Mr. Helms: Tomorrow at 1600 GMT.

Mr. Van Hollen: Another reason for our not taking the lead is that West Pakistan is very suspicious that we are supporting a separate East Pakistan state. If we tell Yahya to call off the use of force, it will merely fuel this suspicion.

Mr. Kissinger: The President will be very reluctant to do anything that Yahya could interpret as a personal affront. When we talk about trying to discourage West Pakistan intervention, we mean try to get another country with a history of concern in the area to do it. Would they do it in both our names?

Mr. Johnson: Weʼre not at that point yet. Weʼve just begun to look for someone to do it, if necessary. How it is done and the degree of our association will be decided at the time. Our objective is to discourage the use of force.

Mr. Kissinger: Will this mean that Yahya is through anyway?

Mr. Van Hollen: Not necessarily. He could still remain as President with Bhutto wielding all effective political power.

[Page 14]

Mr. Kissinger: Yahya had counted on being in control because of the divisions in the National Assembly.

Mr. Van Hollen: Of course, the elections seriously eroded his position.

Mr. Kissinger: He had been able to play off Bhutto against East Pakistan. If East Pakistan becomes an independent state, Bhutto is in effective control in the West.

Mr. Van Hollen: Yahya will continue to represent the military establishment which is a significant political force in West Pakistan. He may retain some limited residual power.

Mr. Kissinger: In any event, we canʼt neglect him.

Mr. Johnson: No.

Mr. Kissinger: Letʼs keep that in mind.

Mr. Johnson: It would be most unwise to do anything to prejudice our relations with Yahya. To whatever degree he remains and has power, we should do what we can to help him.

Mr. Kissinger: Would it make any difference if we suggested to West Pakistan that the use of force would be unwise? You understand I donʼt mind having another country taking the rap.

Mr. Johnson: When we say “discourage” or “participate in discouraging” we donʼt mean pound the table and tell them they canʼt do it. We mean discuss it with them.

Mr. Helms: We donʼt want to get into a family fight.

Mr. Kissinger: If we could go in mildly as a friend to say we think itʼs a bad idea, it wouldnʼt be so bad. But if the country is breaking up, they wonʼt be likely to receive such a message calmly. If we can get the British to do it, I wish them well!

Mr. Johnson: There has been no decision on our part to do anything. This is the purpose of our talks with the British.

Mr. Kissinger: If we should make an approach, we might give them an alibi, so that Bhutto could say that the Americans, by warning them against the use of force, kept West Pakistan from restoring the unity of the country.

Mr. Johnson: Thatʼs right.

Mr. Kissinger: It is essential that we discuss this with the British.

Mr. Johnson: We canʼt reach a decision now on how to proceed. If we can get someone else to take the lead, okay. If not, we will have to decide whether we want to do anything. I am not proposing we do anything, but it is a course of action we may have to consider.

Mr. Kissinger: I think we all see the pros and cons clearly. Alex (Johnson) and I will talk after his talks with the British. Every department will be consulted before we make any move. We will also have a chance to take the issue before the President if necessary.

[Page 15]

Mr. Van Hollen: The British may be very reluctant to do anything. It does have some advantages, though, because the Pakistanis are not as suspicious of the British as they are of us and the British odor in Pakistan is not bad now because of their attitude toward the recent hijacking.

Mr. Kissinger: In the highly emotional atmosphere of West Pakistan under the circumstances, I wonder whether sending the American Ambassador in to argue against moving doesnʼt buy us the worst of everything. Will our doing so make the slightest difference? I canʼt imagine that they give a damn what we think.

Mr. Helms: I agree. My visceral reaction is to keep our distance as long as we can.

Mr. Kissinger: Alex (Johnson) will talk to the British and we will all consult tomorrow—unless, of course, Mujibʼs speech is conciliatory. What if they declare their independence? Will we get an immediate recognition request?

Mr. Johnson: Probably, but we donʼt have to rush. We can see what Mujib says in his approach to us. We shouldnʼt be the first to recognize. We will want to consult with the British first since they have interests in both East and West Pakistan.

Mr. Van Hollen: The Japanese do too; also, possibly the West Germans and the French.

Mr. Johnson: We will want to recognize eventually but not be the first.

Mr. Van Hollen: Of course, if the parting is amicable and we get a request for recognition, it would be okay.

Mr. Kissinger: Suppose the request for recognition comes to our Consul General in Dacca. What will he say?

Mr. Van Hollen: He will refer to Washington.

Mr. Johnson: Iʼll tell them so this afternoon, not that I think he would do anything else.

Mr. Kissinger: Option 39 suggests we consult with the Indians in case a military situation develops. I wonder whether we should do that. I can see that, if there is a threat of Indian military intervention, we might wish to advise them that we think it unwise.

Mr. Van Hollen: The prospect of Indian intervention is very slim in the early stages.

Mr. Kissinger: I question too great activity on our part. We canʼt win anything from it, and some Pakistani leaders would be delighted [Page 16]to stick us with it. I wonder whether we should intervene with them or with the Indians.

Mr. Johnson: There is a case to be made for massive inaction.

Mr. Helms: Absolutely.

Mr. Kissinger: Iʼm just going through the options. The possibility of Chinese military intervention seems so unlikely.

Mr. Johnson: The paper dismisses it.

Mr. Kissinger: I assume the mention of international diplomatic intervention was put in for intellectual symmetry.

Mr. Van Hollen: That is far down the road. If a real blood-bath develops, comparable to the Biafra situation, we may want to review the picture. In such case, international attention could be focussed on the problem, but this is a long way ahead.

Mr. Johnson: In any event, we wouldnʼt threaten West Pakistan with any sanctions.

Mr. Kissinger: Or call our Ambassador home for consultation.

Mr. Johnson: Our Ambassador is in Bangkok for some medical problem.

Mr. Kissinger: Who is our Chargé?

Mr. Saunders: Sid Sober. Heʼs a good man.

Mr. Johnson: Yes. We donʼt need to rush the Ambassador back.

Mr. Kissinger: I was really only joking. Weʼll be in touch tomorrow.

Mr. Johnson: Iʼll get something out to our people today giving them our thinking. When will we know about the speech tomorrow?

Mr. Noyes: About 5:00 a.m.

Mr. Saunders: There is a ten-hour time difference. We should know fairly early in the morning. Yahyaʼs speech of yesterday was on the CBS 8:00 a.m. news today.

Mr. Johnson: Our Operations Center will be on the alert for the speech.

Mr. Kissinger: Weʼll check with each other as soon as we know about the speech—with a view to taking no action!

Mr. Helms: Whatʼs the situation at the Technical University (in Ankara) today?

Mr. Kissinger: What about the four Airmen? Do they still think they are in the University?

Mr. Saunders: We have no word. The Embassy doesnʼt think they are in the University and the Turks have widened their search—they went into 100 private homes last night looking for them. The demonstrations have stopped, though, and things are quieter today.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–112, SRG Minutes, Originals, 1971. 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, prepared by Brigadier General Devol Brett of OSD, is in the Washington National Records Center, OSD Files, FRC 330 76 0197, Box 74, Pakistan 092 (Jan–Jul) 1971.
  2. Reference is to a speech Mujibur Rahman was scheduled to deliver in Dacca on March 7.
  3. See footnote 5, Document 5.
  4. Page 7 of the contingency study introduced the question of what the U.S. posture would be if the secession of East Pakistan appeared to be imminent.
  5. In a radio address on March 6, Yahya announced that he had decided to convene the National Assembly on March 25. He concluded the speech by warning that as long as he was in charge of the armed forces he would defend the integrity of Pakistan. (Telegram 1957 from Islamabad, March 6; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POLPAK) The Embassyʼs comments on the speech were reported in telegram 1963 from Islamabad, March 6. (Ibid.)
  6. Telegram 38122 to Islamabad and Dacca, March 6. (Ibid.)
  7. March 3.
  8. Contingency 3 of the contingency study cited in footnote 3 above outlined a U.S. response to a situation in which Pakistan rejected a unilateral declaration of independence and attempted to put down the secession by force.
  9. Of the contingency study.

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