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

Tosec 100/185010. Subj: Risks of War in Indo-Pak Confrontation.

We are deeply concerned over increasing risks of war in current India/Pakistan confrontation over East Pakistan. With upcoming end of monsoon season, reports of movement Indian and Pakistani armor and possibly massive cross-border operations by Mukti Bahini, General Auroraʼs remarks on possible Indian “positive” action (Calcutta 2617),2 and persistent reports of possible Pak military attacks across West Pakistan border add up to critical situation where conflict could quickly ensue despite protestations both Islamabad and New Delhi that they do not want war and would [not] be first to initiate hostilities. We believe situation serious enough to require immediate and highest level representations both capitals and concurrent approach to Soviets to exercise their own influence toward some reductions of risks in present military confrontation in South Asia.
For New Delhi: Ambassador should seek immediate appointment with Prime Minister Singh to make following points against general expression of concern described above.
We have heard reports for some time of possible large-scale cross-border effort by Mukti Bahini to coincide with end monsoon season. We now have specific report (Calcutta 26053—protect source) to effect that Mukti Bahini plans to inject as many as 40,000 armed men across border by October 15, with additional 20,000 to follow by end October. This action reportedly would be accomplished with support of diversionary actions by Indian Army to keep Pak Armed Forces off balance while infiltration took place. We are not convinced that intensified guerrilla activity will achieve results compatible with Indiaʼs interests.
You should make clear to GOI our concern about any MB effort of this dimension which could not be accomplished without support of GOI. It is our concern that Pak Armed Forces would not [Page 447] acquiesce in this cross-border operation and would make military response directed against India.
In short, this situation has large potential for major confrontation and conflict which we must continue to assume India does not see serving its larger interests.
We would, therefore, strongly urge that GOI act immediately to reduce these risks by efforts with MB to restrict cross-border operations. While we recognize that major responsibility for maintenance of India-Pak peace rests with GOP, GOI also bears major responsibility keep present situation from deteriorating into war or prolonged insurgency. Should such cross-border operations lead to conflict with Pakistan, this would have serious effect on US-India relations.
If dangers of immediate conflict are to be meaningfully reduced, we believe there must be reduction in level of military confrontation by accomplishing both (1) curb by all parties involved in cross-border operations, and (2) pullback by military forces of both India and Pakistan some distance from their respective borders. We make this suggestion in all seriousness to GOI and we are doing same with GOP in Islamabad at highest level.
You should point out that we fully recognize major responsibilities resting on Islamabad in current crisis and that we are concurrently informing GOP in strongest terms that it should also avoid actions that could lead to war and, in particular, any form of military action against India. We are also urging GOP to move more rapidly in the political settlement which all recognize is essential if crisis is to be dealt with at its roots. In our view this will require dialogue between GOP and BD leadership which we continue to believe GOI can facilitate.
For Islamabad: Chargé should seek immediate appointment with Yahya in Karachi, prior latterʼs departure for Tehran, and make following points in support of effort described above:
We have carefully noted assurances given by Yahya to you following Frelinghuysen conversation with Yahya that Pakistan would not be first to initiate hostilities and that it recognized destructive costs to both countries of any conflict developing out of present crisis.4
Nonetheless, we remain deeply concerned that present situation has elements in it that could cause conflict to break out despite best intentions both sides. We continue to hear reports of strong Pakistan military buildup along West Pak border where opposing forces [Page 448] already virtually face-to-face. For instance, we have very recent report of actual small skirmishes taking place in late Sept along West Pak border. While we recognize GOP responsibility to prepare its own defense, GOP must appreciate better than anyone else cost to Pakistan, both in resources and its standing in world public opinion should GOP be seen to have initiated hostilities. We have also heard report that in response Indian supported cross-border guerrilla attack in East Pakistan, GOP might take military action against India. FYI: We note in this connection conversation between French Amb Islamabad and Pak FonSec reported State 1832525 that GOP would regard as casus belli any action by Indians that would permit MB to make successful attack in separate areas East Pak border with objective holding East Pak territory. We are especially concerned over possibility noted Islamabad 9136 that Pakistanis planning attack across West Pak borders between Oct 15– Nov 1. End FYI.
While we recognize that major responsibility for degree of military confrontation along East Pak borders rests with Indians, we believe GOP must share responsibility for reducing risks of conflict in that area. Any military action initiated by Pakistan directed against India would have an adverse effect upon our relationship and would affect our ability to continue to be of assistance to Pakistan.
You should tell Yahya that we fully recognize major responsibilities resting on New Delhi in current crisis and that we are taking strongest position with GOI that it should restrict cross-border operations by MB.
Given dangers for conflict that are present along both East and West Pak borders in simple fact of present face-to-face confrontation by military units along borders, we are also proposing to both GOI and GOP that they consider mutual withdrawal of troops and armor some distance from their respective borders. We believe this kind of mutual effort should be feasible in military terms for both sides without detriment to their military preparedness and would be positive and constructive step toward beginning de-escalation present crisis.
Finally, however, you should make clear to Yahya that we continue to believe that the only long-term resolution of current danger can be found through progress toward political solution and accommodation in East Pakistan. We know Yahya recognizes this imperative and has begun taking actions toward this end. Yahya knows we have been fully understanding of his problems in this area and we do not propose in any way to make these problems worse by gratuitous or [Page 449] unhelpful suggestions in area which is internal Pak matter. He will understand, however, that current risks of military hostilities in South Asia plus major international problem posed by refugees make this crisis an international issue in which all friends both countries have deep concern. It is for this reason that we express again strongest hope USG that GOP can find ways move even more rapidly toward political settlement facilitated by direct discussions with elected East Pakistan leaders. We recognize difficulty doing this in insurgency atmosphere but latter in our view makes progress in political area only more imperative and urgent.7
For Moscow: We continue to assume, particularly in light reports from both Moscow and New Delhi assessing Mrs. Gandhiʼs visit Moscow, that we and Soviet Union have strongly shared interest in reducing risks of conflict in present South Asian crisis. Ambassador requested, therefore, to seek earliest opportunity convey our current concerns to Gromyko if possible or to highest available M.F.A. official. Ambassador should inform USSR of approaches we are making including proposal for mutual withdrawal regular forces along Indo-Pak borders, and urge USSR act in ways open to them help accomplish both immediate requirement of reduction in military confrontation and longer term objective of political solution East Pakistan. Ambassador should also seek Soviet assessment of situation, particularly in light of recent Soviet contacts with Indians.
For Tehran: Ambassador should see Shah soonest to inform him of our concerns re dangers inherent in current situation and our approaches to Pakistanis, Indians, and Soviets as stated above. Ambassador should also solicit Shahʼs continued support in our common effort to damp down situation and obtain political settlement. If Shah unavailable Ambassador should pass message through Alam. In your conversation with Shah or Alam you should avoid any detailed specific reference to prospect of more than 40,000 Mukti Bahini crossing border this month (Para 2A above).
For Islamabad: Additional instructions being forwarded septel.8
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL INDIA–PAK. Secret; Priority; Exdis. Drafted on October 7 by Laingen and Schneider; cleared in draft by Davies (EUR), Noyes (DOD/ISA), Acting Secretary Johnson, and Saunders; cleared in substance by Jack C. Miklos, Director of the Office of Iran Affairs; and approved by Van Hollen. Also sent to Moscow, New Delhi, Tehran, and USUN for Sisco and repeated to London, Calcutta, and Dacca.
  2. Dated October 7. (Ibid.)
  3. See footnote 3, Document 159.
  4. This exchange between President Yahya and Congressman Peter Frelinghuysen (R–New Jersey) took place on September 30. (Situation report on India/Pakistan from Eliot to Kissinger, October 7; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 INDIA–PAK)
  5. Dated October 6. (Ibid., POL 32–1 INDIA–PAK)
  6. The telegram citation is inaccurate and has not been further identified.
  7. Sober responded on October 9 that he had a meeting scheduled with Yahya on October 11 and he would make the points put forward in the Departmentʼs instruction at that time. He anticipated that the proposal for a mutual force withdrawal would present difficulties for Yahya, at least with regard to East Pakistan. (Telegram 10262 from Islamabad; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL INDIA–PAK)
  8. See Document 161.