147. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in India 1

169506. Subj: Refugee and East Pakistan Relief.

Summary: Under Secretary Irwin called in Indian Ambassador Jha September 13 for general review of current relief situation in India and East Pakistan. Under Secretary stressed importance of India and US working together toward common goal of averting famine in East Pakistan. He expressed hope that GOI would publicly indicate its support for neutral UN relief effort and would use its influence with Bangla Desh leadership to persuade it to support UN relief on Bangla Desh Radio and to avoid guerrilla activities aimed at relief personnel. Under Secretary pointed to dangers of increased guerrilla activity, Indian support therefore and increase of tension flowing from precautionary actions taken by both India and Pakistan. Jha said ultimate solution of refugee problem rested on an East Bengali government which the refugees would trust. Under Secretary also raised with Jha desirability of some kind of verification system to determine number of refugees and their needs. Jha indicated GOI did not wish to see starvation in East Pakistan, and suggested that USG and other countries approach Bangla Desh representatives on subject of relief. Jha reacted negatively to verification proposal which appeared to impugn veracity of GOI. End summary.
At Under Secretary Irwinʼs request, Indian Ambassador Jha called September 13 to discuss famine situation in East Pakistan and relief needs. Jha accompanied by Minister Rasgotra and First Secretary Verma. AID Deputy Administrator Williams, Deputy Assistant Secretary Van Hollen and Quainton of NEA/INC also present.
Under Secretary began by emphasizing common USG and GOI interest in working toward goal of averting famine in East Pakistan. USG, he said, recognized excellent job which India had done in organizing refugee relief. We also recognize political and economic pressures which refugees represent. As we see it, however, most immediate issue is famine which will come unless active measures taken to avert it. This will require energetic, extensive and effective UN effort. We hope this effort will be supported and accepted by GOI and Bangla [Page 410] Desh (BD) leaders. If relief effort is disrupted, famine is likely and refugee flow will be increased. Greatest present danger is guerrilla attacks on relief assistance. Guerrillas have been most active all along East Pakistanʼs eastern border with India and have successfully disrupted rail line along eastern border. Only shipping remains and if that is attacked as well, it will destroy whatever relief effort we can make.
Under Secretary noted that Foreign Secretary Kaul in discussion with Ambassador Keating and Professor Galbraith had recognized need for relief as long as it was not bound up with Pak military. We strongly agree that relief must be above the battle. We believe that Pak military can be kept away from relief effort. We hope very much GOI will be willing to back neutral relief effort. We would not expect it to back relief which was part of military operations. We would also hope BD leaders would support truly independent UN relief effort and would not continue to insist that BD reps be associated with relief effort. We recognize in asking GOI to use its influence with BD leaders that it may not have full control over guerrilla movement and that BD leaders may not fully control their own military. Nonetheless, if BD leaders would use BD radio to support UN relief effort this would be constructive.
AID Deputy Administrator Williams then reviewed achievements of his recent Pakistan trip, noting that the UN effort now accepted by GOP. It had also accepted UNʼs need to monitor its relief and agreed that there would be no discrimination in allocation of relief to Hindus and Muslims. Williams noted that in response to UNSYGʼs request, 17 coastal vessels of up to 800 tons and nine mini-bunkers, all with foreign crews, would be distributing relief. There would be no mixed cargoes, neither military nor industrial goods would be carried, and no jute would be brought back on return trips. Ships would operate under UN emblem.
Jha responded by stating that GOI anxious that there be no starvation deaths to add to others that have already taken place. He expressed appreciation for assessment of relief plans. He said question was how could GOI help, and wondered whether talking to Bangla Desh people would really help. He expressed view that relief operation needed to be projected in more positive way and thought that East Pakistani people with experience of slow cyclone relief effort had little confidence in UN. Recalling his earlier suggestion, Jha said that relief should begin in areas such as Barisal where logistics were not vital. In addition, he suggested that relief officials on both sides of border establish informal contact with BD representatives. Jha thought it would be preferable to convey our concerns directly to BD leaders rather than have them diluted through GOI. Williams noted that UN Mission in East Pakistan obviously could not deal with BD reps, but he thought UNSYG might be approaching them elsewhere. In any [Page 411] event, GOI good offices with BD reps and clear public acceptance of UN relief effort would be helpful, although it would not substitute for direct UN contacts. He thought it would be particularly helpful if BD radio would state that battle was not against hungry people. Van Hollen added that it was important in terms of Indiaʼs public posture that it reaffirm publicly it wanted no one to starve and supported international relief effort. Since Indiaʼs influence with BD leaders is relatively the greatest, if GOI convinced that UN effort is neutral it could use its influence effectively with them.
Jha also expressed view that it would be helpful if other countries taking part in humanitarian relief effort contacted BD reps. He said that this would make it easier for GOI politically, since it would prefer to be joining international chorus rather than playing first fiddle. Under Secretary noted that some countries reluctant to take action which GOI opposes, particularly USSR. They will follow what GOI wants to do.
Jha said he was unaware to what extent UN had raised security issue with GOI in New York. Foreign Minister and Foreign Secretary will be in New York in next few weeks and will then have very direct discussions on this issue.
Jha asked Williams for his assessment of causes of current refugee flow. Williams said he was puzzled by number of refugees and differing GOP and GOI claims. Famine did not appear to be a major factor. First wave of refugees were political, second came because of communal fear and insecurity. There seemed to be direct corollation between insurgency and tensions which led to refugees. He said we were encouraged by Dr. Malikʼs appointment since he had a reputation as a moderate on Hindu-Muslim matters.
Under Secretary said that the Ambassadorʼs question to Williams led to another item he wished to discuss, namely Indiaʼs support to guerrillas. He commented that to degree that there is continuous fighting it seems communal problem is enhanced and the refugee flow increases. We recognize position GOI has taken with respect to support of BD movement, but fighting creates refugees. Further additional support to guerrillas or recognition of BD as independent government would increase refugee danger and danger of radicalization. Under Secretary noted that both India and Pakistan seemed to be taking precautionary action in case other side takes offensive action. Such actions can only increase tensions and lead to possibly more dangerous situation. We hope GOI will do all it can to avoid increasing tension.
Jha said that it was grave misreading of situation to think that guerrilla activity can be curbed or stopped by GOI in order to limit refugee influx. Large numbers of East Pakistani military personnel defected [Page 412] in March and they will not give up or accept mere civilian administration in East Pakistan. Similarly, bulk of refugees will not go back if there is no fighting, but only if there is truly Bengali government. Jha noted that Hindu refugee flow threatened Indiaʼs entire secular policy. This was far more serious than question of whether fighting a bad thing. If that were to happen, it could be even more disastrous than conflict with Pakistan.GOI was committed, however, to avoid fighting and had tried to maintain degree of propriety in its relations with GOP. Rasgotra noted that cause of refugee exodus was systematic Pakistani campaign to evict Hindus. There was nothing GOI or guerrillas could do to stop this exodus.
Conversation then turned to question of numbers of refugees. Under Secretary noted GOP claim of two million. All of our plans had been based on GOI figure of 8 million. It would be very helpful for us in dealing with Congress if we could have independent system or count by UN team. Such a count would probably come out with recognition of excellent job done by GOI. Jha replied that GOI had kept careful register of refugees and if anything figures were under-estimates. If purpose of verification was to carry weight with Congress, he thought Chairman of Refugee Subcommittee2 who had recently visited India might be more helpful. Jha said GOI was not asking Congress for money and he concerned that USG felt Pak figures somehow more credible. Williams said what we had in mind was to have UNHCR representative review basis on which GOI counts refugees. This would be helpful in preparing estimates of how refugee burden affects development program. There is a feeling that GOI figures might perhaps be somewhat high and since we do not understand GOI procedures it would be useful if UNHCR could evaluate them.
Williams noted that in consortium operation World Bank had frequently carried out assessment of Indian economic performance and had sent teams to India. Jha said that consortium review had never been designed to question basis for GOI statistics. Getting satisfactory proof of numbers of refugees is irrelevant exercise if it is merely designed to keep foreign legislatures happy. There is no point at all in engaging in statistical exercise for this purpose. Until now level of aid from world as a whole only a fraction of what India has done. Principal constraint on contributions has not been lack of information about magnitude of problem but domestic preoccupations in donor countries. Unless USG proposal was part of new approach designed to mobilize massive international aid, there would be no point in counting exercise. Williams said we hoped larger international effort could be undertaken. Under [Page 413] Secretary Irwin said he hoped USG proposal would be considered not as questioning of Indian estimates but in context of total development program which India faces. Jha reiterated that from his point of view verification of national data had never been international responsibility. Evaluation and appraisal, yes; but verification, no. This would be a wholly new chapter for UN.
Rasgotra noted that UN seemed to be mounting major programs in East Pakistan but had not done much in India. Van Hollen replied that this reflected different attitudes of GOI and GOP on this issue. He pointed out that since May, GOP had accepted substantial UN relief programs and personnel, whereas on Indian side there had been only a limited UN presence in New Delhi and apparent GOI disinterest in major UN activity in Eastern India. Williams noted that what we sought was common assessment in order to give us basis for providing resources. This was the way we had always operated in the past. Jha said if there were going to be a major international commitment to support of refugees on scale commensurate with problem, then clearly there would need to be discussion between administering agency and GOI on what was needed; but if it merely a matter of token contributions then dialogue on this subject would not be necessary. Under Secretary concluded by saying he had noted Jhaʼs strong reaction to proposal for UN counting. We had made proposal because we considered it as step which could be helpful in supporting Indiaʼs case in Congress.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, REF PAK. Secret; Exdis. Drafted on September 14 by Quainton; cleared by C. Herbert Rees, Director of the Office of South Asian Affairs (AID/NESA); and approved by Irwin. Repeated to Islamabad, London, Moscow, USUN, Calcutta, and Dacca.
  2. Senator Edward Kennedy.