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

8501. Eyes Only for Secretary Rogers and Assistant Secretary Sisco. Subj: Trial of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Based on my assumption that Pres. Yahya would speak more freely to me alone, I introduced the delicate subject of Sheikh Mujibur Rahmanʼs future in a conversation with Pres. Yahya which ensued immediately after a meeting which concluded at noon Aug. 19, the participants of which were Pres. Yahya, AID Deputy Administrator Maurice Williams, presidential adviser M.M. Ahmad and myself.
Broaching the matter, I indicated to Yahya that I realized that I was involving myself in a discussion which was completely an internal affair, but nonetheless I felt bold so to do inasmuch as the manner in which it was handled by his government would definitely and decisively affect virtually all assistance, humanitarian and economic, which my government could institute; and, further, it would have a bearing upon the refugee problem which had become international in character.
I told Yahya that most, if not all, nations of the world were watching with intense interest and anxiety how the in-camera trial of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was proceeding, and most, if not all, were seized with concern as to its outcome.2 I concluded by stating that I, as a friend, felt strongly obligated to suggest (RFR [?] to admonish) that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman not be executed. Such an action, I said, would be in my belief contrary to the best interests of his government as well as to his own best personal interests.
Pres. Yahya said that he wanted me to know (and for my government to know, but only on the highest levels) that my concern in this regard was unfounded. He said that he had gotten the most qualified Pakistani attorney, A.K. Brohi, to act as defense counsel, that the military tribunal had been advised that the trial must be conducted with the greatest care, without bias or prejudgment, and that the record [Page 358] must be in full substantiation of whatever verdict was reached. Yahya further stated that because the charge carried the possibility of a death sentence, it was his plan that if such the verdict be, a request for mercy would be made in the Sheikhʼs behalf, and he, Yahya, would accept the petition. Yahya observed that when this request for mercy, as aforesaid, reached him it was his intent to “sit on it for a few months” without making a decision until power was turned over to a civilian government.
It was Yahyaʼs further observation that once the problem of Mujiburʼs mercy petition became the problem of a civilian government, there was little or no possibility that Mujibur would be executed. I finished my comments with the remark that, “from what you have told me it is obvious that you have given considerable thought to a solution of this problem.” Yahya replied, “I have, and you can stop worrying because I am not going to execute the man even though he is a traitor.”3
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 29 PAK. Secret; Nodis; Eyes Only.
  2. On August 11 Secretary Rogers telephoned Ambassador Hilaly and expressed the widespread concern felt in the United States over the trial as well as his hope that it might be delayed. Hilaly said that he would report the Secretaryʼs concern to Islamabad. Kissinger summarized the exchange in an August 24 memorandum to Nixon. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 626, Country Files, Pakistan, Vol. VI, 1 Aug 71–31 Aug 71)
  3. Farland discussed the trial of Mujibur Rahman with Yahya again on September 21. Farland asked about press reports that the trial had ended and the tribunal had submitted its recommendations to Yahya. Yahya responded that the trial was ongoing, and added that at its conclusion he planned to make a transcript available to the public to confirm that the trial had been fair and complete. Farland asked if Yahya had given any consideration to using Mujibur after the trial as a “trump card” in negotiating a political settlement in East Pakistan. Yahya indicated that he had given considerable thought to the possibility but was constrained by the weight of the evidence of treason being compiled against Mujibur which was so explicit that the reaction in West Pakistan to his release could be explosive. (Telegram 9599 from Islamabad, September 21; ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 29 PAK)