128. Memorandum From the Presidentʼs Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Letter From Mrs. Gandhi

Mrs. Gandhi has written in response to your two most recent letters to her concerning the situation in South Asia (Tab A). There is nothing new in this letter. Also attached (Tab B)2 is her appeal sent to you and other major heads of state to use your influence with President Yahya concerning the fate of Mujibur Rahman.

Specifically, Mrs. Gandhi makes the following major points:

  • —It is not for India to object to the US maintaining a “constructive relationship” with Pakistan with a view toward retaining some influence in the present situation. She implies, however, that this has yet to produce anything tangible. Nothing, she says, would give India a greater sense of relief than saying that the US is “working toward a viable settlement which would restore peace and a semblance of civilized government in East Bengal which would enable Pakistan citizens to return to their homes.”
  • —She rejects our idea of posting UN observers on both sides of the India–East Pakistan border. Essentially her argument is that anyone is free to travel and visit the refugee camps and that it is “unrealistic” to think that UN observers could help stem the flow of refugees. “Would,” she asks, “the League of Nations Observers have succeeded in persuading the refugees who fled from Hitlerʼs tyranny to return even whilst the pogroms against the Jews and political opponents of Nazism continued unabated?”
  • —Her government was “greatly embarrassed” by the revelation, right after her Foreign Minister returned from Washington, that the US was still shipping arms to Pakistan. She characterizes all our arms shipments to Pakistan as a “sad chapter in the history of our subcontinent.”
  • —She thanks you for informing her of the China initiative, welcomes this move and wishes you well.

[Page 349]

Despite Mrs. Gandhiʼs obvious disagreement with our policy toward South Asia, the generally moderate and somewhat defensive tone of her letter is perhaps significant. It is also interesting that it was dispatched just prior to the signing of the new Indo-Soviet “friendship” treaty and on the same day she also accepted your invitation that she visit here in November. This coincides with other indications that despite recent events, Mrs. Gandhi is by no means prepared to write off the US.

State has been asked to draft a suggested response. They will do this after seeing what comes out of the discussions that Maury Williams and Ambassador Farland will be having in Islamabad this week. If these produce something positive we will then be in a better position to go back at the Indians.


Letter from Indian Prime Minister Gandhi to President Nixon3

Dear Mr. President,

Thank you for your letters—one dated May 294 and the other brought by Dr. Kissinger, dated July 1.5 I have read them with interest. Dr. Kissinger has no doubt spoken to you about his wide-ranging discussions in New Delhi.

Since I wrote to you on May 13,6 the situation has not improved. Sanguinary conflict continues unabated in East Bengal. The number of Pakistani citizens fleeing their homeland and seeking shelter in India is steadily augmenting. We now have more than seven million registered evacuees. The West Pakistani army has driven out the greater part of the minority community as well as more than a million Moslem citizens of East Bengal. In recent weeks, the number of the latter is increasing.

It is not for us to object to the United States maintaining, as you, Mr. President, have put it, “a constructive relationship with Pakistan” so that the U.S. may “retain some influence in working with them [Page 350] towards important decisions to be made in that country.” We have waited patiently and with restraint, hoping for a turn in the tide of events which the Government, Parliament and people of India could recognize as a step towards a political settlement.

Your letter of May 29 referred hopefully to President Yahya Khanʼs press conference of May 24. Since then, we have carefully considered his statement of June 28 and his utterances on television. These pronouncements show a hardening of attitude and it seems to us that they do not take us nearer a solution.

Nothing would give me, my colleagues in the Government and the Indian people a greater sense of relief than to be able to say that the United States was working towards a viable settlement which would restore peace and the semblance of civilized Government in East Bengal which would enable Pakistani citizens to return to their homes.

However, the malaise afflicting the socio-political structure of Pakistan and the tensions prevailing between the various parts of it are deep rooted. The present attempt is to solve chronic problems, arising out of political, social and economic disparities, by force. I believe that the Government of the United States supports the view that the posting of U.N. observers on either side of the frontiers of India and East Bengal could solve the problem of the refugees. We regret that we do not see the situation in this light. India is an open democracy. We have a large diplomatic corps and many representatives of the world press. We have had visits of parliamentary delegations from various countries. All are free to travel and to visit the refugee camps. They see for themselves that although we are doing all we can for the refugees, life in the camps is one of deprivation and acute discomfort. Hence it is unrealistic to think that the presence of a group of U.N. observers could give any feeling of assurance to the evacuees when every day they see new evacuees pouring in with stories of atrocities. Would the League of Nations Observers have succeeded in persuading the refugees who fled from Hitlerʼs tyranny to return even whilst the pogroms against the Jews and political opponents of Nazism continued unabated? In our view, the intentions of the U.N. Observers might be more credible if their efforts were directed at stopping the continuing outflow of these unfortunate people and at creating conditions which, to any reasonable person, would assure the safety of life and liberty of the refugee who wishes to return to East Bengal.

Mr. President, I am touched by your generous references to the vitality of Indian democracy and the strength of purpose of our Government in meeting the complex social and economic problems which confront India. These problems have been rendered more complex [Page 351] by the action of the Pakistan Army and the burden on us is almost unbearable. It is by sheer act of will that we are able to hold on.

I should like to mention one other matter. Our Government was greatly embarrassed that soon after our Foreign Ministerʼs return from his Washington visit and despite the statements made by Ambassador Keating in Bombay on April 16 and by the State Departmentʼs spokesman on April 15, 1971, came the news of fresh supplies of U.S. arms to Pakistan.

It was a sad chapter in the history of our subcontinent when the United States began to supply arms to Pakistan in 1954 and continued doing so up to 1965. These arms have been used against us, as indeed we feared they would be. And now these arms are being used against their own people whose only fault appears to be that they took seriously President Yahya Khanʼs promises to restore democracy.

In the midst of all the human tragedy, it is some relief to contemplate the voyage of the astronauts in the Apollo-15. These valiant men and the team of scientists supporting them represent manʼs eternal longing to break from the constraints of time and space. As I write this, the astronauts are heading homewards, back to our earth. We pray for their safety and success. Please accept, Mr. President, our warm felicitations.

I was glad to have your message regarding your initiative to normalise relations with the Peopleʼs Republic of China. We have welcomed this move and we wish you well.

With best wishes and regards,

Yours sincerely,

Indira Gandhi
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 759, Presidential Correspondence File, India (1971). Confidential. Sent for information. A stamp on the memorandum indicates the President saw it; Nixon put a checkmark on the memorandum to show that he had read it.
  2. See Document 119.
  3. No classification marking.
  4. The letter, dated May 28, was delivered to Gandhi on May 29; See Document 62.
  5. Document 86.
  6. Document 46.