148. Memorandum From Harold Saunders and Samuel Hoskinson of the National Security Council Staff to the Presidentʼs Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Situation in South Asia

We have recently received a series of related reports suggesting that relations between India and Pakistan could again be moving to [Page 414] ward a flash point. The evidence is still highly circumstantial, but there is enough at least to warrant increased concern.

New Developments

As you know, both the Indians and the Pakistanis have in recent weeks been taking increased measures of military preparedness. In some cases, these surpass those made before the war in 1965. Forces on both sides are now at a high state of alert, and other related measures have been taken against the contingency of the outbreak of war.

The most recent, and most worrisome, report is that units of Indiaʼs armored division and an independent armored brigade have begun moving from the interior toward the border with West Pakistan, opposite Lahore. This move reportedly is intended to signal the Pakistanis that New Delhi is prepared to meet and deal with any Pakistani incursion and to discourage any thoughts Islamabad may have that a pre-emptive strike against India could succeed. It could also, however, lead the Paks to believe that the Indians are preparing to attack and stimulate some drastic reaction, perhaps along the cease-fire line in Kashmir.

The Indians also seem to be stepping up the pace on the political front. As you know, they apparently played a guiding role in the recent formation of a multi-party Bangla Desh “National Liberation Front” which is to function as an overall steering committee. The Front includes—among others—pro-Moscow Communists, who knowledgeable sources believe were brought in at Indian and Soviet insistence. At a minimum, it broadens the base of the Bangla Desh movement and strengthens the hand of the leftist hardliners against the remaining pro-West moderates. In a related move, T.N. Kaul is being publicly quoted as saying India will recognize Bangla Desh “very soon,” and in private Kaul and other major foreign policy advisors to Mrs. Gandhi are reported to be talking about the inevitability of war.

There may also be a degree of Indian coordination with the Soviets on bringing pressure to bear on Pakistan. Gromyko, for instance, recently issued a stern warning to Sultan Khan to refrain from any kind of hostilities or use of arms but offered no solution to Pakistanʼs problems. As you know, Mrs. Gandhi plans to travel to Moscow for a visit toward the end of the month, possibly to assess Soviet reactions and support.

It is difficult to say exactly what this situation adds up to. Most observers doubt that the Indians are preparing to initiate a direct attack on either East or West Pakistan. Many of the moves taken could be viewed as defensive moves against the possibility of attack. It is possible, however, and there have been persistent rumors that the Indians are planning to increase significantly their support to Bengali insurgents, perhaps even involving the use of Indian “volunteers.” This [Page 415] could involve an attempt to capture some of the more isolated border areas in northwest East Pakistan and establish the Bangla Desh “government” there. Now would be about the right time to begin preparing for the likely Pakistani reaction by moving armour up to the Western Front if the operation in the East were to begin in early October. The rains in East Pakistan will be ending soon, and the area will by early October be more conducive to military operations.

At a minimum, it appears that the level of tension and the danger of war, at least by accident, has increased another notch in recent weeks. War may not yet be inevitable, but there is a certain grave sense of inevitability hovering over the subcontinent and influencing actions on both sides. Under these conditions and with tensions running so high, events can gain a momentum of their own and lead to a war that no one really wants but all are willing to fight out of fear of losing if they do not mobilize and go on the offensive.

What Can We Do

It seems to us the framework for policy-making falls into two parts:

  • —Contingency planning can now be sharpened somewhat by attempting a more refined estimate of the ways in which hostilities might begin. CIA/ONE is drafting a memo which covers these points. That done, we can draw together the papers already done.
  • —Further diplomatic steps in the longer term, of course, lead to the Presidentʼs talk with Mrs. Gandhi if the situation holds that long. But there is the more immediate question of what more should be done in the immediate future. State is producing a paper on this, and I shall send you a separate memo. Secretary Rogersʼ talk with Gromyko will come a couple of days before Mrs. Gandhi is in Moscow.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 641, Country Files, Middle East, South Asia, Vol. II, Jan–Oct 1971. Secret; Exdis. Sent for information. Kissinger initialed the memorandum indicating he read it.