159. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • India and Pakistan


  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
    • U. Alexis Johnson
    • Christopher Van Hollen
  • Defense
    • David Packard
    • Armistead Selden
    • James H. Noyes
  • JCS
    • Adm. Thomas H. Moorer
    • Capt. Howard N. Kay
  • CIA
    • Richard Helms
    • John Waller
  • NSC Staff
    • Col. Richard T. Kennedy
    • Harold Saunders
    • Hoskinson
    • R/Adm. Robert Welander
    • James Hackett


It was agreed that:

  • —The State Department is to send a telegram to our Ambassadors in New Delhi, Islamabad, Moscow and Tehran, instructing them to initiate immediate approaches to the local governments at the highest level. In New Delhi and Islamabad, they will urge both Indians and Pakistanis, in the strongest terms, to practice restraint in the current [Page 437] situation. The Soviet Union will be asked to appeal to the Indians for restraint, while the Shah of Iran will be requested to make a similar appeal to Yahya Khan.
  • —It should be made clear to both the Indian and Pakistani governments that aid will be suspended if war breaks out.
  • —An inter-agency working group is to be established under the direction of Under Secretary of State U. Alexis Johnson to monitor the India–Pakistan situation and to prepare contingency papers as required.
  • —No approach is to be made or suggested through the United Nations unless the President grants his approval.

Dr. Kissinger: Dick (Helms) is going to tell us whatʼs going on.

Mr. Helms: I have a current report2 I would like to read. India and Pakistan continue to make military preparations. Their moves still seem primarily defensive, however. In the west, each army has about 200,000 men near the border. These units are in a high state of readiness. In Pakistan, many have moved to forward positions. India has two infantry divisions and an armored division earmarked for the western front, although all three are still stationed hundreds of miles from the frontier. The armored division has been alerted for movement, but it still appears to be in central India. If India were about to attack, these units almost certainly would move to the front, but it would take them about a week to get there.

The Pakistanis also have two infantry divisions and an armored division in rear areas. They might hold the armored division in place, about 100 miles from the border, but would bring up the other two if they expected war in a matter of days. In the east, the Indians have over 100,000 troops, while the Pakistanis have 70,000 in East Pakistan. The Indians may want to bring up one more division before launching an attack. The Pakistanis claim they are doing this but we have no confirmation. The Pakistanis have their hands full with the guerrillas and are in no shape to start major operations.

War seems most likely to come, as it did in 1965, from a series of miscalculations, but we cannot rule out a deliberate decision by one side or the other. Mrs. Gandhi could still decide to invade East Pakistan to end the refugee influx. The total has passed nine million, with 30,000 more arriving every day.

Dr. Kissinger: Do you believe that? Do you think nine million is an accurate figure?

Mr. Helms: Well, it may not be accurate, but even if itʼs only seven million, it is still a lot of refugees, with still more coming and practically none returning. In any case, by mid-November Mrs. Gandhi will come [Page 438] under increased pressure to take military measures. Parliament reconvenes then and many members will call for action against Pakistan.

Senior Pakistani officials are convinced that Yahya will launch a pre-emptive attack in the next few weeks. Yahya himself has given the British the impression that he is considering such action, but he has assured our DCM he is not. He may be trying to bring Western pressure on India, or he may think an attack would help by bringing international pressure on both sides.

In East Pakistan, the guerrillas have become more active as the rains taper off. The secessionists and the Indians both want a speedy solution, even at the risk of war, to prevent radical leftist elements from taking over the independence movement. We have reports that up to 100,000 Indian-trained guerrillas will be infiltrated into East Pakistan over the next two months. This force would try to seize an area in northeast East Pakistan where a provisional government could be established. India would then recognize the Bangla Desh, which would almost certainly send the Pakistanis to war.

Mr. Johnson: We have received a separate report which indicates that some 40,000 guerrillas will be infiltrated into East Pakistan by October 15.3

Mr. Helms: We do have trouble with these figures, but when the weather gets dry they will be infiltrated in numbers, and whether it is 40,000 or 100,000 or something in between, there is no question that there will be a lot of them. The Indians believe that snow and bad weather in the north will keep Pakistan from over-running Kashmir and would hinder Chinese aid to the Pakistanis, and that the guerrillas eventually will be successful in East Pakistan. The civil administration in East Pakistan cannot cope with the enormous social, economic and political problems, and in a few areas the guerrillas have set up their own administrative structure. The Pakistani government has made little headway in winning over the people of East Pakistan, and popular support for the insurgents seems to be increasing.

The secret treason trial of Mujibur Rahman has antagonized the East. A reliable source says he has been sentenced to life imprisonment. Yahya can uphold the sentence, commute it or let the matter lie. His decision will be an indication of how conciliatory he intends to be toward East Pakistan. Production in the East is well below last March. Most workers [Page 439] have not returned to their jobs and guerrilla sabotage is a problem. Foreign shipping companies have greatly reduced service, and there is some danger of severe food shortages in parts of the East by November.

Dr. Kissinger: We are indeed fortunate that the Indians are such reasonable and pacific people. Tom (Adm. Moorer), how do you assess the military situation?

Adm. Moorer: The most important factor is that the Indians have a four to one ratio in ground forces. With regard to air forces, the outcome depends in large part on who pre-empts.

Dr. Kissinger: I remember a while back the story of the Indian pilot who crashed near Dacca. The Indians are such poor pilots they canʼt even get off the ground.

Adm. Moorer: Youʼre right, the Indians canʼt compete with the Pakistani pilots. The air units of both sides will deteriorate rapidly. The restraints on our aid program have already led the Pakistanis to cannibalize some F–86ʼs in order to keep the rest in the air. After six months of restraints, they would have to do the same with the F–104ʼs. In combat, attrition and a lack of spare parts would wear them down quickly.

Dr. Kissinger: How long would it take? Two or three weeks?

Adm. Moorer: I was about to say four to six weeks, but it could be less. The naval forces donʼt amount to much. The Indians would undoubtedly try to blockade East Pakistan and probably could do so. The Pakistani Army would give a good account of itself but would fail on the logistics problem. The Indian Army eventually would gain a superior position because of its numerical advantage. They have large numbers on the ground, but then they may consider it necessary to keep five or six divisions on the Chinese border.

Dr. Kissinger: Am I right in understanding that we have no evidence of a Chinese buildup?

Adm. Moorer: You are right. There is no such evidence. The main factor here is that neither side can fight a war of attrition. They should begin running out of supplies in four to six weeks, and India will prevail because of superior numbers.

Mr. Johnson: This is especially true in East Pakistan, where they will have a numerical advantage of regular forces plus the support of the Mukti Bahini.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, Alex [Johnson],4 where do we stand politically?

[Page 440]

Mr. Johnson: Itʼs a mess, although there is one new element that is encouraging. The Shah (of Iran) had a meeting with Yahya [Khan] and pressed him strongly to reach a political settlement.5

Mr. Van Hollen: The Shah urged Yahya to cut his losses, told him frankly that he didnʼt have a chance in a military showdown and urged him to seek a political settlement.

Mr. Johnson: We have been in touch with the Bangla Desh people and have tried to encourage the development of a dialogue between Bangla Desh and West Pakistan, but they are insisting on complete and unconditional independence immediately.

Dr. Kissinger: You mean thatʼs their starting point.

Mr. Johnson: Yes, their initial position. Mujibur [Rahman] 6 is the key. If Yahya would release Mujibur and make a deal with him …

Dr. Kissinger: I think thatʼs inconceivable! Unless Yahyaʼs personality has changed 100% since I saw him in July.

Mr. Johnson: I agree that itʼs unlikely, but we have had some indications.

Mr. Van Hollen: Ambassador Farland recently proposed to Yahya that he make a deal with Mujibur and what is interesting is that Yahya did not take the usual negative attitude.7 This may indicate that they [the Pakistanis] are planning to deal with Mujibur, but this is highly speculative, and I think we must assume the contrary until we get more evidence.

Mr. Johnson: With thousands of Bahini being introduced into East Pakistan at the onset of the dry season, Yahya may feel more beleaguered and may become more interested in seeking a settlement. On the other hand, with the end of the monsoon season, Yahyaʼs army will have greater mobility.

Dr. Kissinger: When he was here last week, Gromyko claimed that the Russians are restraining the Indians.8 Are they doing this? I havenʼt seen anything on this.

[Page 441]

Mr. Helms: All our evidence indicates this is true.

Mr. Johnson: I agree with that.

Dr. Kissinger: In what way? I have seen no such information. Are you holding out on me? I donʼt seem to be getting my copies of cables.

Mr. Helms: Madam Gandhi gave the Soviets a whole list of things she wanted. She asked them to arrange for Mujibur to be the go-between.

Dr. Kissinger: The Indians have great ability for determining the impossible and then demanding it.

Mr. Johnson: The Soviets were quite firm in telling the Indian representatives who went to Moscow9 that they [the Soviets] would not support Bangla Desh.

Mr. Van Hollen: [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]

Dr. Kissinger: So you are the one who has been holding back my cables, and I thought all along it was Joe Sisco.

Mr. Helms: [1½ lines of source text not declassified]

Mr. Johnson: The Soviets donʼt want hostilities if they can be avoided.

Dr. Kissinger: When I was in India recently I formed the opinion that if the Indians were prepared to accept slow evolution in Pakistan, we could work effectively with them, and they would eventually get most of what they want. But they keep lumping all these things together; the refugee problem, independence for Bangla Desh, Pakistani forces on their borders. In their convoluted minds they really believe they can give Pakistan a powerful blow from which it wonʼt recover and solve everything at once. If they would cooperate with us we could work with them on 90% of their problems, like releasing Mujibur or attaining some degree of autonomy for Bangla Desh, and these steps would lead eventually to their getting it all.

Mr. Van Hollen: The Indians donʼt have complete control over the Mukti Bahini. They couldnʼt stop them all if they wanted to.

Dr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Saunders) Werenʼt you with me when I talked with the [Indian] Army Chief of Staff?10 He was so cocky, he thought he could defeat everyone in sight, all at the same time. We canʼt ask them to shut off the guerrillas. It will get us nowhere.

Mr. Van Hollen: We could ask them to try to curb the guerrillas.

Dr. Kissinger: No, thatʼs a non-starter. We canʼt ask them to cut off aid to the guerrillas. Itʼs an internal affair.

[Page 442]

Mr. Helms: When you fatten up guerrillas they become a different force. They arenʼt guerrillas any longer.

Dr. Kissinger: Yahya is a slow learner. He is very deliberate, but if you force him to make a decision, his Moslem instinct may assert itself, and perhaps he will start taking rapid action.

Mr. Johnson: You may be right about that.

Dr. Kissinger: When I was in India in 1962, they told me how they were going to squeeze the Pakistanis along the front. They were so clever they got themselves into a war.

Adm. Moorer: If the Indians really want to punish the Pakistanis, they may be ready to go all the way to a break to do it.

Dr. Kissinger: Letʼs get this completely clear. Do the Indians really understand that we will cut off aid if they go to war?

Mr. Van Hollen: Yes, the Secretary (of State) told them that.

Dr. Kissinger: This is of the utmost importance. The Indians must understand that we mean it. The President has said so. In fact, he tells me every day. Are you sure the Indians got the message?

Mr. Van Hollen: I believe so. I will double check, but the Secretary has been seeing them in New York.

Dr. Kissinger: Please make sure. What about Yahya? Does he understand that we will suspend aid if he starts hostilities?

Mr. Van Hollen: [Ambassador]11 Farland told him that in a conversation just recently, but we can ask Farland to tell him again.

Dr. Kissinger: They [the Pakistanis] should have no illusion on this point.

Mr. Helms: We should make another effort to be sure this is clear. If war breaks out, we will all look back and regret not having made that one extra effort.

Mr. Johnson: It is possible that the Pakistanis may strike out against India because of some minor incursion.

Mr. Packard: I agree, we want to hold them back as much as possible.

Dr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Van Hollen) When did the Secretary last see the Indians?

Mr. Van Hollen: The Secretary saw them last week, in New York. He saw Singh [Foreign Minister Swaran Singh].

Dr. Kissinger: How did it go?

[Page 443]

Mr. Van Hollen: It was the usual circular argument, the Indians complaining about attacks on Bengalis and about the Pakistanis generating refugees.

Dr. Kissinger: I donʼt believe that the Pakistanis are generating refugees. Do you believe it?

Mr. Van Hollen: Oh, yes, itʼs still going on. Pakistani army or militia units will round up a group of people in reprisal for a guerrilla attack or act of sabotage and threaten to kill them, so they go across the border.

Mr. Packard: But thatʼs at the local level. Those are small local units acting on their own authority. The government is not sanctioning that sort of thing and the military commanders in West Pakistan are opposed to it.

Mr. Van Hollen: Thatʼs right. The government in Islamabad is opposed to the generation of more refugees, but they havenʼt been able to stop local units from doing it.

Dr. Kissinger: We have some contingency papers12 here, but they are not as good as we can do. The China paper suggests a public admonition to China to desist from aiding Pakistan. I can assure you that that is the least likely thing the President will want to do. He has too much going on his China policy to jeopardize it in this way. And besides, Iʼm not sure itʼs a good idea.

Mr. Johnson: We can more usefully engage the Soviets in this matter. Do you think itʼs worthwhile talking with them about possible restraints on the Indians?

Dr. Kissinger: Alex (Johnson), Iʼm glad you raised that point, because I want to ask you to set up an inter-agency working group to look at this question. We should have someone approach the Russians, perhaps Gromyko, or whoever you think would be best, you know better about these things, and tell them that this situation (in South Asia) is building to a crisis.

Mr. Van Hollen: We can tell them some of the information we have, let them know we are trying to restrain Yahya and ask them to help do the same with the Indians.

Dr. Kissinger: Exactly, we have very parallel interests here. (to Mr. Johnson) Can you get some people together quickly and develop some ideas on how this can be accomplished, say within the next 48 hours?

Mr. Johnson: It just so happens that I have a draft telegram13 on this subject all ready. I was going to raise it with you.

Dr. Kissinger: Letʼs see the telegram.

[Page 444]

Mr. Johnson: I have it right here.

Dr. Kissinger: Johnson lets me go through all this discussion and then pulls out a bloody telegram.

Mr. Johnson: This was prepared just last night.

Dr. Kissinger: Who will it go to?

Mr. Johnson: Everyone involved: New Delhi, Islamabad, Moscow and including Tehran.

Dr. Kissinger: When Alec Home was here the other day he said that he had been of the opinion that the Pakistanis were at fault, but now he thinks the Indians are equally guilty. He said he thought that Swaran Singh was the worst of the lot.

Mr. Johnson: Another thought that has occurred to us is the possibility of exploring what might be done on a multilateral basis, perhaps at New York, by getting the Soviets, French and British all involved, with U Thant or someone like that taking the initiative. Any proposal made through such a group would have to be relatively easily balanced. It would have to deal not only with the forces on the borders but also the problem of the refugees.

Mr. Packard: This is a good telegram!

Dr. Kissinger: Itʼs a damn good telegram!

Mr. Johnson: The Secretary will be seeing the head of the Pakistani UN delegation soon.

Dr. Kissinger: Whatʼs his name?

Mr. Van Hollen: Mahmoud Ali, heʼs a kept Bengali.

Dr. Kissinger: In outline, the telegram is excellent. When do you think it should go out?

Mr. Van Hollen: As soon as possible.

Dr. Kissinger: Tonight?

Mr. Van Hollen: The sooner we can get it out the better.

Dr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Johnson) In view of that cable that came in from Pakistan earlier today, it may be better to send the Pakistani part as a separate telegram in reply to the incoming.14 This looks like an abrupt answer.

Mr. Johnson: We can send a separate reply to Pakistan and take into account receipt of the other cable. Perhaps we can also introduce in our reply the idea of proposing Security Council action.

Dr. Kissinger: I would rather leave that idea out at this time.

[Page 445]

Mr. Johnson: We have had indications that the Pakistanis may be willing to work something out through the UN.

Dr. Kissinger: I didnʼt think they were all that eager.

Mr. Johnson: I had a little concern that these indications may have been a case of the Pakistanis laying the groundwork for a pre-emptive strike. It was just a hunch on my part.

Dr. Kissinger: I donʼt think they would do it before Iʼve been to China. I just donʼt think they would do it.

Mr. Johnson: There is no point in getting started on UN action unless there is prior agreement between the Soviets and ourselves. That must be our first step.

Dr. Kissinger: I donʼt think the Pakistanis will launch a preemptive strike, but we should not mention any approach through the UN until the President has considered the question.

Mr. Johnson: We want to avoid unilateral action by the Pakistanis in the Security Council. That only means confrontation and would accomplish nothing.

Mr. Van Hollen: Perhaps the US, British, Soviet and French delegations could make a combined presentation in the UN.

Dr. Kissinger: That could be a good approach, as long as it doesnʼt become a squeeze play on the Pakistanis.

Mr. Van Hollen: We have to squeeze both sides to get any kind of agreement.

Dr. Kissinger: Let me just emphasize that before we get started on any action through the UN, we must go to the President. So this telegram will go out tonight. (to Mr. Saunders) Will you see that it goes out?

Mr. Van Hollen: Weʼll get the telegram out, and Iʼll notify Sisco.

Dr. Kissinger: You want to try to get Sisco to quiet things down? So far, Iʼve only seen him stir things up. So, first, we send this telegram and second, we get word to Yahya.

Mr. Van Hollen: We will send instructions to our Chargé in Islamabad to get in touch with Yahya right away.

Dr. Kissinger: And you will do absolutely nothing in New York unless we first go to the President?

Mr. Van Hollen: Right.

Mr. Saunders: Shall we also ask [Ambassador] MacArthur to discuss it with the Shah and appeal to him to raise the issue again with Yahya? A copy of the cable is going to Tehran.

Everyone agreed.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–115, WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1971. Secret;Exdis; Code-word. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room. No drafting information appears on the minutes. A briefer record of the meeting, prepared by James Noyes (DOD/ISA), is in the Washington National Records Center, OSD Files, FRC 330 76 0197, Box 74, Pakistan 381 (Jan–Nov) 1971.
  2. Not found.
  3. On October 3 Qazi Zahril Qaiyum told one of the political officers at the Consulate General in Calcutta that the Mukti Bahini planned to introduce 40 to 60 thousand men into East Pakistan by the end of October. Forty thousand would be infiltrated by October 15 and the other 20 thousand would follow by the end of the month. (Telegram 2605 from Calcutta, October 5; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 INDIA–PAK)
  4. Brackets in the source text.
  5. This meeting was reported in telegram 5655 from Tehran, October 6. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 INDIA–PAK) Brackets in the source text.
  6. Brackets in the source text.
  7. In telegram 9599 from Islamabad, September 21, Ambassador Farland reported that President Yahya had told him that the secret trial of Sheikh Mujibur had ended and he was awaiting the tribunalʼs report. Farland asked if Yahya had considered using Mujibur as a “trump card” to restore peace in East Pakistan. Yahya responded that he had given thought to the matter but was unable to formulate a solution that would be acceptable in West Pakistan. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 626, Country Files, Middle East, Pakistan, Vol. VII, Sep–Oct 1971) Brackets in this paragraph are in the source text.
  8. See Document 153.
  9. Reference is to Prime Minister Gandhiʼs visit to Moscow, September 27–29. Brackets in this paragraph are in the source text.
  10. General Sam H.F.J. Manekshaw. Brackets in the source text.
  11. These and remaining brackets are in the source text.
  12. Reference is to the papers summarized in Documents 157 and 158.
  13. See Document 160.
  14. The incoming telegram is an apparent reference to a telegram received by the Pakistani Embassy, the substance of which was delivered to Kissinger on October 6. The communication from the Embassy was text of a letter from President Yahya to President Nixon and an accompanying aide-mémoire; See Document 161.