29. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, April 25, 19581


  • Proposals for Reduction of Tension Between India and Pakistan


  • Mr. J.M.C. James, Assistant Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Defense, Commonwealth Relations Office
  • Mr. R.W. Jackling, Counselor and Head of Chancery, British Embassy
  • Mr. J.R.A. Bottomley, First Secretary, British Embassy
  • Mr. William M. Rountree, NEA
  • Mr. Frederic P. Bartlett, SOA
  • Mr. Benjamin A. Fleck, SOA
[Page 85]

Mr. Rountree opened the discussion by expressing his appreciation for Mr. James’ courtesy in returning to Washington following his visit to Ottawa.

Mr. Rountree stated that developments during the past ten years had clearly shown the difficulties standing in the way of solving separately the various issues which have embittered Indo-Pakistan relations. He said that we believe solutions to these problems might be found if they were considered together rather than separately, because in this way considerably greater flexibility of negotiation might be possible. Mr. Rountree said that we believe each party would welcome an improvement in its relations with the other, provided such an improvement could be brought about by a settlement of their outstanding problems that would be politically acceptable in each country.

Mr. Rountree stated that the United States Government was ready to proceed with an operation designed to facilitate the settlement of the major problems embittering relations between India and Pakistan. He said that we wished to consult with Her Majesty’s Government before proceeding with this operation but impressed upon Mr. James the need for utmost secrecy. He said that since the operation might be a protracted one, premature disclosure of it in the press or to unauthorized persons would endanger the chances of its success. Therefore, he hoped that the British Government could agree to treat the matter as one of the highest sensitivity and limit knowledge of it on a “need-to-know” basis.

Mr. James expressed his great appreciation to Mr. Rountree for the latter’s willingness to discuss the operation with British representatives and agreed to treat the matter on a “need-to-know” basis. He inquired whom this should include. Mr. Rountree replied that Mr. James could probably decide who in the British Government should know about the operation after he had heard more about it. Mr. James agreed.

Mr. Rountree then outlined to the British representatives the main elements in our “package proposal”. These included the basic principles on which solution of the three principal problems—Kashmir, Indus waters, and arms limitation—should be predicated. Mr. Rountree said it was planned to send letters from President Eisenhower to President Mirza of Pakistan and Prime Minister Nehru of India and indicated the main points to be included in each letter. As a next step, he added, and provided the initial reaction to the letters was favorable, considerable thought had been given to the desirability of sending out a distinguished American citizen, not a Foreign Service Officer or civil servant, who, acting as a special emissary of the President, would attempt to encourage the initiation of negotiations between the two parties on the three major problems.

[Page 86]

Mr. Rountree said that he had been unable to discuss this proposal with Mr. James during the latter’s visit to Washington the previous week because it had then been under consideration by the President, who had now endorsed it and asked that it be discussed with the British Government. Mr. Rountree said we would welcome any comments which the British Government cared to make. We would also welcome British participation in the financing of whatever settlement might emerge. He said that we planned to consult with the International Bank at a later date, concerning the financing of a settlement of the Indus waters question.

At the close of his presentation of the proposed plan of action, Mr. Rountree again indicated our concern that the negotiations should not become public knowledge until successfully concluded.

Mr. James expressed his gratitude for the confidence which the United States Government had indicated in his government by informing him in advance of this proposed plan of action. He stated that his remarks would be only his own personal reactions to the plan and would be subject to correction by his superiors. He thought, however, that the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and the Prime Minister would be very appreciative and he indicated that their thinking in regard to these problems was very close to that of the United States Government as revealed in the plan outlined by Mr. Rountree.

Mr. James said he thought the plan constituted a broad, generous, imaginative, hopeful approach. He believed that the year 1958 was a very appropriate time in which to try this approach to the problem of achieving a settlement of Indo-Pakistan differences. He could see the possibility of tremendous difficulties but, in spite of those difficulties, the U.K. would give one hundred percent support to the United States in this undertaking. He said he thought the proposal steered between the twin dangers of being too broad in scope and, on the other hand, of being too detailed. He said he had great hope that this operation would have the psychological merit of turning the thinking of the leaders of India and Pakistan into more constructive channels. He feared, however, that the present mood in Pakistan was one of sullen resignation which did not bode well for the future.

In regard to current feeling in Pakistan, Mr. James continued, he thought Mr. Rountree would be interested to learn that Prime Minister Macmillan had received a reply from Prime Minister Noon to Mr. Macmillan’s earlier message counselling moderation in reacting to the report of Dr. Graham to the Security Council. Mr. James read portions of Mr. Noon’s reply. Mr. Noon indicated that he believed it was now up to the Security Council to take further action in support of Pakistan’s position in regard to Kashmir. Mr. Noon stated that Pakistan will continue to insist on demilitarization and a plebiscite. Mr. Noon [Page 87] added that he was sure Mr. Macmillan was aware that the Government of Pakistan had done all it could to prevent the exacerbation of tensions between Pakistan and India.

Mr. James said that another disquieting indication of current Pakistani unhappiness was the tenor of remarks made by the Pakistan High Commissioner in Ottawa2 during the course of a call at the Canadian Ministry of External Affairs on April 24. Mr. James said that the High Commissioner had delivered a tirade against the U.S., the U.K., and the U.N., in which he had said that since the U.S. and the U.K. had been unable to secure justice for Pakistan, the policy followed by the Government of Pakistan in adhering to Western-sponsored pacts could be presumed to be dead. The High Commissioner had gone on to say, according to Mr. James, that the Canadians should have personal knowledge of British perfidy, since the British had failed to support Canada in its quarrels with the United States over Maine and Alaska. Mr. James said the Canadians were inclined not to take these remarks very seriously.

Mr. Rountree remarked that the matters mentioned by Mr. James were serious because they reflected the intensity of the frustration felt by Pakistan’s leaders at the present time.

Mr. James said that while he fully agreed that we should go ahead with our proposed operation, he wished to point out what he considered to be the basic difficulty confronting us. This was, he said, the fact that any negotiations which took place between India and Pakistan would not be negotiations between equals. Pakistan was the weaker party and, in order to achieve a settlement, he believed that some outside force would have to be introduced to counterbalance India’s strength. Mr. James said that any realistic appraisal of the situation would recognize that in the case of Kashmir, India is in possession; in the case of the Indus waters, India controls the headwaters; and in regard to armament, industrial capabilities, and related subjects, India was by far the stronger power. Mr. James said it was impossible to redraw the map to redistribute the population or resources of the sub-continent between the two countries. He said it was not in our power to modify the present balance of power between the two countries. Because of all of these factors, Pakistan was the weaker party and, therefore, in the opinion of Mr. James, it would be a great deal more difficult to persuade the Pakistanis to enter into negotiations than the Indians.

Mr. Rountree remarked that we agreed with Mr. James’ analysis of the situation. Nevertheless, there had been hopeful signs recently that the Pakistanis are becoming more and more concerned over the situation and, as a result, might be more willing to enter into negotiations. [Page 88] Mr. Bartlett added that in our view it would be more difficult to persuade the Indians to enter into negotiations initially, but it might then be more difficult to persuade the Pakistanis to compromise once the negotiations began. It was quite conceivable, Mr. Bartlett continued, that Mr. Nehru would refuse to enter into negotiations until after the Pakistan elections had been held, on the grounds that the post-election Pakistan government would be more stable than the present one. Mr. Rountree reiterated our belief that the Pakistanis will accept negotiations and that our chief initial difficulty will lie in persuading Mr. Nehru to negotiate.

Mr. Bottomley inquired whether we anticipated any difficulty with Prime Minister Noon over making our approach to President Mirza instead of to him. Mr. Rountree replied that we had given a great deal of thought to this matter and had decide that our best chance of success lay in making our approach to the most stable elements in Pakistan. Mr. Bartlett added that we identified those elements as being led by President Mirza, General Ayub, and Finance Minister Amjad Ali. As soon as the initial approach had been made to President Mirza, Mr. Bartlett continued, we planned to inform Mr. Noon. Mr. James said he realized that the position of the President of the United States as head of state and head of government enabled him to address either the head of state or head of government of a foreign state as the occasion demanded. Mr. James agreed that an approach to President Mirza was logical.

Mr. Bottomley inquired about the mechanics of introducing British participation, at a later date, if such participation seemed desirable. Mr. Rountree replied that we would inform India and Pakistan that we were acting following consultation with our British colleagues and that this would permit the British to participate whenever it appeared desirable for them to do so.

Mr. Bottomley inquired whether we anticipated participation by the Canadians or other governments. Mr. Rountree replied that we did not, for we did not wish Prime Minister Nehru to feel that we were pressuring him or “ganging up” on him in any way. Mr. James remarked that the Canadians had previously indicated that they did not feel themselves to be in a position to participate in negotiations between India and Pakistan. He added that they were very reluctant to become involved in these matters. Mr. James indicated that he did not think either Australia or New Zealand would be in a position to participate. He agreed with Mr. Rountree that participation should be limited to the U.S. and U.K.

[Page 89]

In regard to British participation, Mr. James said that High Commissioner MacDonald in New Delhi could decide in what manner he best could help. Mr. James thought that a letter from Prime Minister Macmillan to Mr. Nehru might be helpful, under certain circumstances.

Mr. James asked whether he was correct in interpreting Mr. Rountree’s remarks to mean that we did not envision any sort of cutoff on sales of military equipment to the Government of India. Mr. Rountree replied that this interpretation was correct. He referred to frequent Indian protests that the United States, through its military aid to Pakistan, was forcing the Government of India to spend large sums on the purchase of military equipment. We hoped that during the course of the proposed negotiations it would become apparent that some form of arms limitation, agreeable to both parties, was feasible and obtainable. The Indians would then either have to agree to the limitation or, by continuing their heavy purchases, admit that these purchases were not forced on them by our military aid to Pakistan.

Mr. James asked about our plans for the timing of the proposed approaches to the two governments. Mr. Rountree replied that we intend to proceed immediately, but that we wished to have the benefit of prior consultation with our British colleagues. The sooner the operation was carried out, the better, in view of the desire to avoid premature disclosure.

Mr. Rountree again referred to the need for utmost secrecy. He said that methods of communication had been worked out previously between our two governments in regard to other highly sensitive matters and he believed the same technique could be applied to this operation. Mr. James agreed. Mr. Rountree said that our Ambassadors in Karachi and New Delhi had been informed and that only a handful of people in the U.S. government knew about the proposal. He believed that the British might wish to inform their High Commissioners in the two capitals and also discuss the matter with members of the Imperial Staff. Mr. James replied that he believed that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Defense Minister, and one or two top civil servants in the appropriate ministries would be the only British officials who would need to know about the operation.

Mr. James said that immediately upon his return to London he would explain our proposal to his Minister who would inform the Prime Minister. Mr. James believed that he would be able to inform us of the official British reactions to our proposal by the middle or end of the following week.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 690D.91/4–2558. Secret. Drafted by Fleck on April 29.
  2. M.O.A. Baig.
  3. See Document 33.