March 27, 1971: Telegram from the Embassy in India to the Department of State

A telegram from the Embassy in India to the Department of State on the subject of
Government of India’s reaction to East Pakistan Developments.

Telegram From the Embassy in India to the Department of State/1/

 

New Delhi, March 27, 1971, 1400Z.

 

/1/ Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970-73, POL 23-9 PAK. Confidential; Priority. Repeated to Islamabad, London, CINCSTRIKE for POLAD, and
USCINCMEAFSA.

 

  1. Subj: GOI Reaction to East Pakistan Developments.

 

  1. At Foreign Secretary Kaul’s request, I called on him afternoon March 27. DCM and Joint Secretary Ray, Pakistan Division, MEA, also present.

 

  1. Foreign Secretary began by handing me copy of Foreign Minister’s statement made in Lok Sabha earlier in day. (Text and subsequent developments in Lok Sabha reported septel.)/2/ Kaul said Foreign Minister had been criticized by members of all parties on the basis his statement was too cold. Foreign Minister had had to intervene and state there was no doubt that the Government of India’s sympathy was with the people of East Pakistan who were being suppressed. Kaul said GOI was deeply concerned at developments. It now appeared that Yahya’s attempt at a settlement had been a facade in order to allow time for the transport of additional troops to East Pakistan.

 

/2/ In his statement in parliament, Foreign Minister Singh described developments in East Pakistan and accused the Pakistan army of suppressing the people of East Pakistan. (Telegram 4414 from New Delhi, March 27; ibid.) On March 31 Prime Minister Gandhi introduced a more strongly worded resolution in the Lok Sabha. The resolution, adopted by the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, expressed “deep anguish and grave concern at recent developments in East Bengal” and alleged that “a massive attack by armed forces, despatched from West Pakistan, has been unleashed against the entire people of East Bengal with a view to suppressing their urges and aspirations.” (Telegram 4677 from New Delhi, March 31; ibid.)

 

  1. Kaul said GOI information was that [garble] meeting that Yahya had had was with Bhutto who had objected to acceptance of Mujib’s six points./3/ Latest information, to which Kaul said he did not know whether to give credence or not, was that casualties ran into the tens of thousands.

 

/3/ The six-point program of the Awami League, drafted by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, called for virtual autonomy for East Pakistan within a confederated state with the central government exercising control over only defense, foreign policy, and currency, with limited powers of taxation. The six-point program is included in the Awami League’s 1970 election manifesto. (Sheelendra K. Singh, et al., eds., Bangla Desh Documents, Vol. I, Madras: B. N. K. Press, 1971, pp. 66-82)

 

  1. Kaul said GOI was concerned about its own borders. There could be a threat to India’s security. It had to be expected that they would have an unusually large influx of refugees. GOI, he said, were prepared to make their contribution toward the care and feeding of such refugees. However, they were deeply concerned that the magnitude of the problem would considerably exceed their ability to cope with it.

 

  1. Kaul said he would be grateful if I could get in touch with my government and ask what its ideas were about coping with this problem./4/ Already some refugees had started coming into India. When he was asked where this had happened, Kaul said it was in the Tripura area.

 

/4/ In telegram 53097 to New Delhi, March 31, the Department instructed the Embassy to inform the Indian Government that since a serious refugee problem had not yet developed, it was too soon to anticipate what the United States response to such a development would be. If an emergency situation did develop, the United States would probably participate in a disaster relief effort, but would want to reserve judgment on specifics in light of Pakistan’s concerns. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970-73, POL 23-9 PAK)

 

  1. I told Kaul that I had understood that at least until recently the magnitude of the refugee influx had been trickling down. He confirmed this had been the case, but said that this time the problem would be of quite a different magnitude and he anticipated a need for medicines, blankets, food and shelter. He asked that we join with the GOI and other members of the international community in order to bring relief to the victims of the conflict.

 

  1. The Foreign Secretary then said he hoped there would not be outside intervention by any country. He added that perhaps even at this late hour it may still not be too late for US to express to the Pakistan Government our hope that a political solution can be reached. Kaul said he would be grateful if we could exchange any information we may get on the situation with the GOI.

 

  1. Kaul then said that there had been rumours of possible Chinese intervention. He could appreciate that the Chinese would feel that it was in their interest to support West Pakistan. There was some evidence that China may have authorized Pak overflights by way of Kashmir, Tibet and Burma to East Pakistan. DCM said we understood that Indian radar had not picked up any evidence of such overflights. Ray replied that was correct, but that the GOI still did not rule out possibility that such overflights had in fact taken place.

 

  1. Foreign Secretary said that Chinese had at least, an understanding with the martial law administration. They did not like Mujib because he was considered to be pro-Western and pro-Indian. There were extremist elements in East Pakistan headed by Bhashani./5/ At the moment, Mujib had the upper hand over him. The Chinese might try to fish in troubled waters. There was also a hard core of Naxalites in East Pakistan.

 

/5/ Maulana Abdul Hamid Bhashani, leader of the National Awami League.

 

  1. Kaul said they had just heard that Radio Pakistan had reported the arrest of Mujib. This had subsequently been denied by the Free Bengal Radio which had said Mujib was not in his house at the time of the reported Pak raid. Kaul said “our apprehension is that this will not simmer down.” He felt it was not wise for West Pakistan to be attempting to control the situation by force since this would only sow the seeds for future trouble. He then asked for my assessment.

 

  1. I said that I had thought that Yahya was sincerely attempting to carry out his original idea of a democratic government in all of Pakistan and that he was prepared to accept the six points and recognize greater autonomy in East Pakistan. Speaking personally, I told him that when I heard six shiploads of army personnel had arrived in East Pakistan I had doubts and wondered if talks were being dragged out waiting for the troops to arrive and then crack down. I told Kaul that based on our cables, it was my government’s position that the present conflict was an internal matter that should be settled internally.

 

  1. Kaul said GOI had recently heard that all units of the Pak army had been permitted to ask for fighter support from the Pak air force and that there had in fact been some air activity in Comilla. At this point, Kaul read me the text of what I took to be a reporting telegram from the Indian High Commission in Islamabad recording the events of the last few days. The essential point was that Bhutto had made it known that he believed that accession to the Awami League demands verged on a grant of sovereignty.

 

  1. Kaul said that GOI information was that there had been four army brigades in East Pakistan. Since the crisis began, two brigades had been added one of which had been brought in by air and one by sea. Seven passenger ships loaded with troops (not six, he said) had arrived. This all amounted to more than two divisions of West Pakistani troops.Kaul said that since March there had been at least 13 C-130 flights and 30 flights of PIA Boeings transitting Ceylon. In reply to a question about tank strength, Kaul said that West Pakistan had one armoured regiment in East Pakistan, one squadron of which was employed in Dacca city.

 

  1. I asked Kaul if there had been any movement of Indian troops. He reminded me that they had militarily reinforced West Bengal prior to the elections and had said at the time that they would not remove such troops until they were certain that the situation had stabilized. So far, he said, we have not made any movements of troops in response to the developments in East Pakistan. However, “we may have to strengthen our borders”. When asked if this meant increasing the border security forces, he replied that border security was already stretched to the limit.

 

  1. At this point, S.K. Singh, MEA spokesman, walked in carrying a ticker story. Kaul read this aloud. Story was based on a monitor report from Agatala of the Free Bengal Radio which claimed that martial law administrator Lt. General Tikka Khan had been killed by resistance forces which had stormed his premises.

 

  1. Comment: I believe it will be useful for us to be reasonably full and frank in exchanging information on East Pakistan with the GOI. I hope Department can give me an indication of the extent to which we would be prepared to do in humanitarian relief effort on behalf of East Pakistan refugees soonest.

 

Keating

 

 

Source: Document 12, volume XI, South Asia crisis 1971, Department of State.