4. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Read) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1


  • Hindu-Muslim Rioting in India and Pakistan

Current Situation

The major scene of the Hindu-Muslim rioting has shifted to Pakistan where at Narayanganj, a few miles south of Dacca in East Pakistan, a minimum of 300 Hindus were killed on January 13–14.2 Calcutta is calming down under rigid army and police control. Deaths are estimated in the neighborhood of 175 in the city and surrounding areas but the total may be three times this number. We cannot discount the possibility of a resurgence of violence in the Calcutta area or new outbreaks elsewhere in India in reaction to the deaths near Dacca.

The principal danger to India and Pakistan from the riots is that they may start up again a massive flow of refugees between the two countries like those which took place in 1947 and 1950. President Ayub, in a strong letter sent to President Radhakrishnan January 13,3 said that already 20,000 Indian Muslims had crossed into East Pakistan since the Calcutta riots began. There are still 10 million Hindus in East Pakistan and over 44 million Muslims in India. The migration of even a small proportion of these would put enormous economic and political burdens on these two countries and do much to deepen the enmity which exist between them.


The current cycle of religious and communal disturbances began in Indian Kashmir in late December when Kashmiri Muslims demonstrated over the theft of a relic of the Prophet. The Pakistan Government and press cited these events in Kashmir as evidence of Indian failure to protect the rights of Muslims in Kashmir. This led to protest demonstrations all over Pakistan. One such demonstration in Khulna, East Pakistan, [Page 7] deteriorated into anti-Hindu riots in which at least 27 persons died. A factor which undoubtedly contributed to the atmosphere in which these riots took place was the Indian policy of expulsion from Assam of Muslim immigrants from East Pakistan.

The press in Calcutta made much of the East Pakistan disturbances and Indian political leaders, particularly Krishna Menon, strongly attacked Pakistan on the issue of the Khulna riots at the Congress Party Conference in early January. Exaggerated reports by Hindu refugees from East Pakistan contributed to the inflammatory atmosphere in which the Calcutta riots broke out.

Clearly, resumption of large scale migration would present a great setback to economic development and political stability in both countries. They undoubtedly realize this. The history of their relations indicates that at a time such as this, when the interest of both countries is so deeply involved, they have frequently managed to get together and work out ways of dealing with mutual problems. For example, Nehru and Pakistan Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, met in 1950 and agreed upon a pact which stemmed the last major tide of migration. We believe some similar kind of joint Indo-Pak action may be necessary to end the present cycle of disturbances. It is unfortunate that Nehru’s illness removes his restraining hand from the scene at this time.

What We Are Doing

We believe that the Governments of India and Pakistan will get together only when each is convinced that its interest requires joint action. Our influence to precipitate such a meeting is limited. We have proposed to the British that they use the Commonwealth framework to encourage joint Indo-Pak action.4 If the British take this initiative, as we hope they will, we will strongly support them. We feel that our action should be informal and behind the scenes. Prospects for effective joint action would be damaged if the governments and peoples of India and Pakistan considered that it was being taken in response to Western pressure rather than the compulsions of the communal situation itself. We have already instructed our posts in India and Pakistan to urge restraint on both governments and, in particular, to suggest that India and Pakistan take steps to limit inflammatory press reporting on the riots.4

There is also a need for emergency relief, which will grow if the disturbances and migrations continue. U.S. voluntary agencies are already providing foodgrains and powdered milk in Calcutta, where our Consulate General reports there are no shortages of food for immediate [Page 8] relief work. We are studying what additional steps we might take to help. We believe we should be in a position to respond to governmental requests for emergency assistance, rather than take the initiative at this stage, since each country probably would prefer to handle this problem in its own way without having to call for help from foreign governments.

Dan T. Christensen 5
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Pakistan, Vol. I, Memos, 11/63–5/64. Confidential.
  2. Extensive reporting on these communal riots, which were triggered by the theft of a Muslim relic at Srinagar in Kashmir, is in National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 23–8 INDIA.
  3. The text of this letter was sent to Washington in telegram 1303 from Karachi, January 14. (Ibid.)
  4. In telegram 4267 to London, January 15, also sent to New Delhi as telegram 1425 and to Karachi as telegram 921. (Ibid.)
  5. Christensen signed for Read above Read’s typed signature.