115. Telegram From the Consulate General in Calcutta to the Department of State1

2280. Subject: Meeting With AL Rep. Reference: Calcutta 2230.2

Summary: In discussion with ConGen PolOff, Awami League MNA reiterated points made reftel and reaffirmed that (despite propaganda to the contrary) AL leaders are unanimous in desire for compromise settlement with GOP. He said, in approaching ConGen, he acting under specific instructions of Bangladesh Minister who hopes to convince USG to initiate negotiations with GOP which will lead to a meeting of interested parties and peaceful settlement of current impasse. He said Bangladesh military forces building to strength of two “conventional” divisions (plus guerrillas) when this level is reached they plan to seize and hold territory in East Bengal. End summary.

On August 7 PolOff met again with Awami League MNA from Comilla, Qazi Zahirul Qaiyum, who reaffirmed that he had contacted ConGen under specific instructions of Bangladesh Foreign Minister Khandakar Moshtaqyr Ahmed. In reiterating points made reftel, Qaiyum gave special emphasis to two of them: US is only country capable of successfully arranging settlement, and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman must be a party to such settlement. He said that if Mujib is tried and executed, prospects for a compromise “will be zero.” Other AL leaders including BD Cabinet members have “no authority, no control over the masses,” and thus they would be unable to negotiate compromise. On other hand, any compromise negotiated by Mujib would be accepted by the people, even including a return to the status quo ante. He said refugees would go home under any settlement approved by Sheikh Mujib. Qaiyum thought USG was following correct policy in allowing limited arms shipments to Pakistan, as this would make it easier for USG to approach GOP on question of political settlement.
According Qaiyum, AL leaders think there is a good chance of war breaking out, perhaps in the next 15–20 days, which would be an enormous disaster for everyone on subcontinent. Qaiyum said there rumors that India may soon recognize the Bangladesh Government; he thought this would sharpen Indo-Pak confrontation, reduce prospects for political settlement and make war more likely. If war comes, USSR rather than USA is likely to take lead in negotiating peace settlement, and this will be to disadvantage of AL.
Qaiyum said there was little time left and urged USG to take action soonest. He thought USG best able judge exactly how to initiate negotiations, but recommended that first we convey to GOP the ALʼs desire for compromise. He thought this might be done in Washington through Pak Ambassador and/or by US Embassy in Islamabad. He specifically authorized disclosure to GOP of any details of his conversation with us. He said he personally would be willing to go to West Pakistan for talks with the GOP, and Foreign Minister Ahmed also would undertake such a trip, provided the ground has been prepared and they had assurances of safe conduct. Ahmed also wants confer with USG officials, but does not know how best to arrange such talks.
Qaiyum said that Mukti Bahini3 was becoming an increasingly powerful military force. He said they have developed two-prong strategy. They plan to build MB “conventional” force to two divisions. (They now have one division consisting of 10 battalions of 1200 men each.) When second division is trained and equipped, they will use their “conventional” forces to seize and hold portion of East Bengal. In meantime, MB guerrilla fighters will continue guerrilla warfare tactics throughout entire province. Qaiyum said GOI has 500 East Pakistanis [garble—in?] officer schools at Dehra Dun and in Rajasthan who will be assigned to “conventional” forces upon completion of their training. GOI is in process of providing “conventional” divisions with modern equipment including anti-aircraft guns. Guerrilla fighters are given shorter training at camps near border.
In long run, AL is confident that it can achieve military victory. East Bengal, however, is being devastated (situation would be many times worse if there were an Indo-Pak war), which makes it increasingly important that all efforts be made to achieve political settlement. Under any circumstances an enormous reconstruction job will be required. [Page 313] Qaiyum thought that US was only country capable of providing necessary assistance.
Comment. We still have no reason to doubt Qaiyumʼs bona fides.4 To best Qaiyumʼs knowledge, his is only such AL contact with USG. From military standpoint, he seemed more confident this week of eventual MB victory; but nevertheless he equally firmly convinced of necessity to strive for political settlement.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–9 PAK. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Also sent to New Delhi.
  2. Telegram 2230 from Calcutta, July 1, reported on a meeting between Awami League representative Qazi Zahirul Qaiyum and a political officer from the Consulate General. Qaiyum told the officer that Awami League leaders feared the consequences of a war between India and Pakistan and were concerned that extremist elements would take over the Bangladesh movement if guerrilla warfare in East Pakistan was protracted. Consequently, they were interested in a political settlement and were prepared to back away from their demand for total independence. Qaiyum proposed a meeting of representatives of the Awami League, Pakistan, the United States, and India to work out a settlement, but he stipulated that Mujibur Rahmanʼs participation was an essential prerequisite. (Ibid.)
  3. The Mukti Bahini, which translated as Peopleʼs Brotherhood, was the guerrilla force operating against the Pakistani Army in East Pakistan.
  4. The Consulate General in Dacca did an assessment of Qaiyumʼs role in the Awami League and concluded that he was not prominent in the leadership but was probably a confidant of Khondkar Mushtaq Ahmad, the “Foreign Minister” of the Bangladesh independence movement, and a bona fide representative of Mushtaq. (Telegram 3057 from Dacca, August 8; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–9 PAK) On August 9 the Embassy in Pakistan weighed Qaiyumʼs approach and concluded that even if the initiative was legitimate and represented the views of the Bangladesh leadership, it was unlikely that it would be acceptable to Yahya Khanʼs government. The Embassy saw a risk to relations between the United States and Pakistan in becoming involved as a conduit for proposals such as that put forward by Qaiyum. In the interest of longer-term relations with the Bangladesh leadership, however, the Embassy judged that the risk was manageable and worth taking. (Telegram 8052 from Islamabad; ibid.)