102. Telegram From the Embassy in Pakistan to the Department of State 1

7164. Subj: Conversation With Pres. Yahya Khan: Food Situation East Pakistan.

I met with Pres. Yahya Kahn in Presidentʼs office in Rawalpindi at 1000 hours Thursday, July 15. Conversation ensued for approximately 35 minutes.
I emphasized our serious concerns about possibility of famine developing in East Pakistan.2 I pointed out that if famine conditions developed, people will sustain further widespread suffering, GOP will be faced with additional major public relations problem, and substantial new exodus of refugees may occur. I informed President of USAID estimates of rice production and food gap and stated that unless heroic efforts made, famine conditions are likely to prevail. I emphasized that efforts to date have been less than adequate. The GOP has been reluctant to admit possibility of famine and consequently problems of food and transport have not been dealt with sufficient urgency. I pointed out that it was essential that GOP face up to the very real possibility of a major food crisis and begin developing, on a top priority basis, contingency plans for dealing with such a crisis.
I noted that the results of the efforts to improve food transportation have been very disappointing, pointing out that during June shipments were less than half of the amounts which could reasonably [Page 263] be expected. I told the President that we hoped that grain shipments up country would be at least 100,000 tons in July and 125,000 in August.
I advised the President of the actions we were taking to permit shipment of 100,000 tons of wheat, and emphasized that it was the responsibility of the GOP to insure that these shipments are received, unloaded and distributed expeditiously.
I also pointed out that efforts must be made to increase purchasing power in East Pakistan so that a situation will not arise in which people will go hungry or starve because they cannot afford to buy food which is available. I urged the President to authorize a special allocation of at least rupees 20 crore, over and above existing budgets, for immediate expenditure on relief and public works activities in East Pakistan.
In conclusion I referred to our misgivings about the present relief coordinator, Mr. H.R. Malik, and suggested that he be replaced with a more dynamic officer.
Yahya said that he had carefully studied the Ryan report3 which I had heretofore given to him, and from it and his own governmentʼs sources of information he was considerably concerned by the problem presented by the food situation. He said that as a result of my suggestion to him that a “food czar” should be appointed, a suggestion reflected in the Ryan report, he had as of yesterday appointed the former head of the Chittagong Port Authority, retired Commodore Bajwa, as his personal representative with superior power to act in alleviation of the problem. He further said that as a result of his concern for East Pakistan and the multitude of issues that it presented, he would be going over to Dacca within the next two weeks. He added that during his visit he would carefully examine all facets of the present difficulties, with particular reference to the comments that I had made to him.
Another subject that was discussed during this conversation will be reported by septel.4
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, SOC 10 PAK. Confidential; Priority; Exdis. Repeated to USUN, Geneva, Dacca, Karachi, and Lahore.
  2. On July 23 the Consulate General in Dacca warned that unless steps were taken to prevent famine in East Pakistan anticipated deaths from mass starvation could approach the catastrophe of the Bengal famine of 1943 in which millions of people died. (Telegram 2814 from Dacca; ibid.)
  3. The Ryan report was a survey of the East Pakistan port and shipping situation prepared in June 1971 by Joseph A. Ryan of the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the request of M.M. Ahmad. (Telegram 6395 from Islamabad, June 25; ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 625, Country Files, Middle East, Pakistan, Vol. V, 16 May–31 Jul 1971)
  4. During the same conversation, Farland urged Yahya to replace General Tikka Khan, the Governor of East Pakistan, with a civilian governor, preferably a Bengali. Yahya replied that it would be difficult to appoint a civilian governor in East Pakistan and not in West Pakistan, where Bhutto was “standing in the wings” urging a transfer of power. Yahya said that he had just appointed Dr. A.M. Malik as his Special Assistant for Displaced Persons and Relief and Rehabilitation Operations in East Pakistan. Yahya felt that Malikʼs appointment would meet the need for civilian control in East Pakistan in that Malik would outrank the governor of East Pakistan and could issue orders to the governor in the name of the President. (Telegram 7172 from Islamabad, July 15; ibid, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 18 PAK)