129. Telegram From the Embassy in Pakistan to the Department of State1

8534. From Williams. Subject: Meeting with President Yahya, August 19, 1971 (M.M. Ahmad, Ambassador Farland and Williams attending).

[Page 352]
After reading President Nixonʼs letter of August 14,2 President Yahya said he is deeply appreciative of President Nixonʼs continuing understanding, warm support and friendship. Williams briefly underlined President Nixonʼs concern of possibility of serious food shortage in EP, the danger that this would bring further large scale outflow of refugees to India, and that continued flow of refugees to India would create an explosive situation and could be seized as pretext for war by India. President Nixon seeks to alleviate this danger by pressing the Indians for restraint—and more will be done in this regard—and by all-out support for relief assistance, both through the United Nations and directly.
President Yahya stated he fully alerted to danger of hostilities. Indeed, he was the one who had sounded the alarm. He wished to make one thing clear. There was not at this time a continuing flow of refugees leaving East Pakistan. These were erroneous charges by India. His army was on the border and he could assure us that no refugees were leaving. Indians were mounting attacks against Pakistan, preventing refugees from returning, arming guerrillas, and misleading the world as to the nature of the refugee situation. He said the Indians had shown damn little restraint to date.
Williams welcomed reassurance that the refugee flow being stopped, and repeated importance of dealing with potential food shortages as continuing deterrent to large movement of refugees in future. It was clear from discussions of past two days that President Yahyaʼs appreciation of danger of famine was same as ours and that he was launching an energetic program to assure continued supply of food to the people of East Pakistan. We also recognized his statesmanlike step in accepting the United Nations field team.

President Yahya said that initiative in calling for international relief had been his. It had been slow in coming. Considering the delays that had taken place in the UN response, it was fortunate that food stocks in East Pakistan had been adequate. He said the U.S. and other countries are providing coastal vessels and mini-bulkers to transport food by river, but only a few had arrived. Williams responded that if foodstocks had not been adequate to cover needs of last four weeks, the U.S. would have airlifted food, and that massive efforts were underway to supply U.S. food assistance to East Pakistan. Pakistanʼs own efforts in the relief program under Presidentʼs direction were outstanding. Williams stressed that relief program strengthens the governmentʼs position in East Pakistan, helps to correct international misimpression that Pakistanʼs major efforts in East Pakistan are primarily military, and partially deals with the critical problem of refugees.

[Page 353]

President Yahya said that to date his government had not been successful in getting its case across to the international press of the many constructive things that they were attempting to do in East Pakistan. Government makes the information available but the New York Times doesnʼt print it. In order to put their case forward they have to buy space in American newspapers. However, he fully appreciated U.S. help with the relief effort and welcomed Williams visit as means of reviewing adequacy of their own plans and preparation.

Williams said priority which Pres. Yahya placed on the relief effort was evident from the very able civil officers now being assigned to the relief effort. He would focus on five specific operational areas which had been the subject of discussion with M.M. Ahmad.3 The first concerned the movement of food from the ports. The government recognized it would take an all-out effort, and had assigned Commodore Bajwa as advisor to the Governor on Food and Transport. President Yahya replied that river transport must be effectively organized and he had recalled Bajwa from retirement to take on this task; with the limited movement possible by rail and road the movement of water transport assumed priority importance and every effort would be made to see that the required tonnages were moved. He regretted that such a low priority had been placed in the past on river transport.

Second concern, beyond movement from the ports to the main centers which was going to strain capacity to the utmost, was the problem of local distribution. Here he understood that the governmentʼs plan was to mobilize small boats and trucks. Up to now smaller country boats had not been moving in adequate numbers. Williams welcomed appointment of Muzafar Husain as chief secretary who had outlined a plan for bringing small boats and commercial trucks back into service by high incentive payments. Williams said this was first sensible proposal he has heard on the subject of local transport and distribution and believed it could do the job. President Yahya replied Muzafar Husain was the man for this job. The former chief secretary was a Bengali and the Bengali administrative service was still dispirited and ineffectual. He pointed out that they had had a request with UN for trucks which were essential. Williams replied that he had asked for and expected receive list of overall requirements, including trucks, which we would seek to provide through the UN or directly.

The third operational problem concerned the low level of economic activity in East Pakistan. There is need rapidly increase relief programs and expand incomes if people are to be able to buy food, recognizing [Page 354] that the governmentʼs program was one of providing works relief rather than free distribution. M.M. Ahmad said our initial $10 million in rupees had been recently provided for relief works. He agreed there was need rapidly and flexibly to expand relief work as a means of restoring purchasing power and confidence.

A critical problem in effectiveness of relief operation was the question of administration which had always been weak in EP. The Presidentʼs assignment of outstanding civil officers to key positions recognized this need. However Williams respectfully suggested that one officer be designated as being operationally charged with overall supervision of food transport and relief. Some eight different senior officials below governor were concerned with various aspects of program. President Yahya replied that he was in charge and that he held the governor responsible for the program and he had assigned different officers to different aspects of it, yet he realized the governor was too busy to be directly concerned. Turning to M.M. Ahmad he asked if there was a need as he saw it to designate one overall responsible official. Ahmad replied that he believed it would be helpful and suggested that the new chief secretary, Muzafar Husain be given this assignment. President Yahya so ordered.
To extent that responsibility for civil affairs could continue to be transferred from military to civil officers both military and civil efforts would benefit, Williams observed. Was it possible to consider separating functions of MLA and civil authority which were now combined in the single position held by Tikka Khan? President Yahya turned to Ahmad and said that this was a shrewd guess at his intentions. He would shortly announce a civilian Bengali Governor4 for Civil Affairs and a new Martial Law Administrator for Military Affairs.
A further operational problem was that of equity in distribution of relief supplies. Williams said that one of our observers had reported that relief in cyclone disaster area was being refused to Hindus. Perhaps this was a local problem but it was matter of concern since if Hindus throughout province were being discriminated against they almost certainly would all leave EP which would mean that flow of refugees could rise to over 10 million. President Yahya replied that it [Page 355] was not his policy to discriminate against Hindus. He had given firm instructions to this effect and he would reaffirm these instructions.
President Yahya went on to discuss his plans to associate Bengalis in administration of province by clearing 88 of former Awami League representatives to National Assembly. Asked if it was possible that more than 88 might be cleared he said all the others were being specifically charged with crimes but that it was possible that they could clear themselves of these charges and then take their seat in next National Assembly. He said that only some 15 or 16 of the 88 were presently in Dacca and they were being protected by the government since they feared for their lives. The rest of 88 were either in the countryside or in India. He did not know how many of them would come forward to claim their seat but he supposed he would have to set some kind of a deadline on this.
Williams wondered if reluctance to come forward might not be related to fact that AL was an outlawed party. Perhaps if the President recognized that AL had been cleansed of old leadership he could lift ban on party and deal with the 88 as members of a reconstructed AL. After some discussion of this point from several angles it was quite clear that President Yahya refused to deal with any group however cleansed under name of Awami League.5 He regarded the 88 as having been certified as individuals and indeed said that he was severely criticized in West Pakistan for having cleared as many as 88 of former AL members to take their seats in next assembly if they came forward.
It was agreed that M.M. Ahmad and Williams should consult further concerning a consortium meeting, perhaps in September in Washington at the time of the World Bank meeting to consider Pakistanʼs debt problem and the need for relief and reconstruction assistance in EP. Williams urged that a possible third agenda item be prepared concerning the overall needs for economic assistance which would be brought forward at the time of the meeting if circumstances seem favorable.
As the meeting drew to a conclusion the Ambassador made reference to a casual remark made by Pres. Yahya to the effect that he was hoping to move towards a civilian government at an early date. Using this as a point of departure, he re-opened the general discussion of the GOPʼs moves on refugees and food distribution. The Ambassador stated that, taken together, the numerous specific acts promulgated by the MLA [Page 356] add up to a major effort on both subjects. However, he added, the manner in which these various actions were taken and the piecemeal announcement of each through the press had created little or no impact on world understanding of what the GOP was actually doing nor on the problem of the refugee outflow. At this juncture Yahya said that in his opinion his government had failed miserably vis-à-vis India in its public relations effort, that perhaps it was partly his fault since he, as a military man, had not been raised with a public relations textbook at his side; nevertheless, whosever fault it may be, the fact remained that the GOP lacks expertise in all aspects of PR relationships. The Ambassador hastened to agree, saying that he had made mention of this problem to various high GOP authorities, beginning with Ambassador Agha Hilaly even prior to accreditation to Pakistan. The Ambassador then went on to say that, even though the GOP and Pres. Yahya had promulgated various MLA regulations and had made various statements concerning both the problem of refugees and the problem of food, it was imperative that all of these promulgations of state must be reiterated time and time again in order for the message to get across and the refugees impressed with the factual authenticity which the GOP meant to convey.
Referring thereafter to Yahyaʼs comment re civilian participation in the GOEP, the Ambassador suggested that any announcement which Yahya planned to make on this subject should carry with it a restatement of the entire “package” which the GOP had promulgated to date, and that the same should be so tailored as to get maximum news impact both in Pakistan, India and in the Western world. Yahya replied by stating that, “I think this is an excellent suggestion and Iʼll do it; I will couple it with my planned announcement.” Yahya then turned to M.M. Ahmad, who continued to take extensive notes on the conversation, and said, “Be sure that this is done.” A general conversation then ensued concerning the fact that Pakistan had poorly presented its side of the case before the world, that the press by and large today was antagonistic as to Pakistanʼs actions and purposes towards East Pakistan, and the difficulties which ensued to those nations which sought to help Pakistan regain its status in the world community.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, SOC 10 PAK. Secret; Priority; Exdis. Maurice Williams visited Pakistan August 17–23.
  2. See Document 123.
  3. Williams met twice with Ahmad on August 18 to discuss an economic relief program for East Pakistan and measures to prevent famine. (Telegrams 8471 and 8480 from Islamabad, August 19; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, SOC 10 PAK)
  4. In a private conversation with President Yahya after his meeting with Williams, Ambassador Farland pressed for a more definitive response to the question of who would replace General Tikka Khan. Yahya indicated that he intended to name Dr. A.M. Malik as civilian governor and said he would make the announcement by September 1. (Telegram 8502 from Islamabad, August 20; ibid., POL 18 PAK) Williams subsequently inspected conditions in East Pakistan and met in Dacca on August 21 to discuss them with General Tikka Khan and A.M. Malik. (Telegrams 3365 and 3369 from Dacca, August 23; ibid., POL INDIA–PAK and SOC 10 PAK, respectively)
  5. In telegram 1031 from Islamabad, August 20, Farland informed Kissinger that the effort by Williams to persuade Yahya to reinstate the outlawed Awami League proved to be an “out and out non-starter”, as Kissinger had anticipated. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 426, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages 1971, Amb. Farland)