165. Telegram From the Consulate General in Karachi to the Department of State1

2028. From Chargé. Subject: Discussion With President Yahya: Risks of War. Ref: State 185010.2

Summary. Yahya reaffirmed his assurance that Pakistan would not be first to initiate hostilities. He accepted our proposal for mutual withdrawal of troops and armor by both GOI and GOP to some distance from their respective borders, noting that he would have to work out potential problem with regard East Pakistan. Yahya suggested that Indian and Pak army chiefs of staff meet to work out arrangements for [Page 459] withdrawal. He agreed that political solution in East Pakistan is essential and reviewed his timetable for issuing constitution and convening National Assembly before yearʼs end, with provincial assemblies to meet shortly thereafter. New national govt should have East Pak majority. End summary.
I called on President Yahya at Presidentʼs house in Karachi morning October 11 and remained with him for one hour. Yahya was nursing sore tooth and received me in private sitting room, in his quarters rather than in office. No one else was present. After initial amenities, including extension of best wishes on behalf Ambassador Farland and myself on engagement of his only son, which was celebrated in Karachi past weekend, I told Yahya I had been instructed call on him because of deep USG concern over increasing risks of war in subcontinent. Recalling our last conversation on this subject September 30 during Freylinghuysen visit, I went over carefully and in detail each of the points (less FYI portion) contained para 3 reftel. At conclusion my pre-sentation, during which Yahya interjected various comments (below), I left him after summarizing all points. (Yahya asked at end of conversation that I give copy of paper and résumé of Yahyaʼs remarks to Fon Sec Sultan Khan, and I propose do so Oct 12 in Islamabad.)
Yahya nodded at mention of his personal assurances to me on September 30 that Pakistan would not be first to initiate hostilities. He said this was only sensible position and he reaffirmed it.
Yahya said he was not aware of any skirmishes in late September along West Pak border (para 38 reftel). He had not heard of any firing at all along West Pakistan border. Occasionally, he said, there is isolated firing along Kashmir ceasefire line, but if there had been any in recent weeks, it was not important enough to have come to his attention. Yahya also denied reports we have heard that GOP might take military action against India in response to Indian-supported cross-border guerrilla attacks in East Pakistan.
At that point Yahya said that despite his desire for peace, there was real danger of war and he had duty to inform people of Pakistan thereof. He said he had devoted portion of his address to nation which will be broadcast/telecast evening Oct 12, and which he had already recorded, to this subject. He said he wanted nation to understand that although he was doing his best to avert war, risk nevertheless existed. He hoped this portion of his speech would actually serve to calm the people while also alerting them to worst contingency.
Yahya nodded agreement when I said that GOP must share responsibility for reducing risks of conflict (para 3c reftel). He listened carefully when I mentioned adverse effect upon our relationship which would follow any initiation of military action by Pakistan and said such action was against his policy.
Yahya asked me to reiterate point that we are taking strongest position with GOI that it should restrict cross-border operations by MB (para 3d reftel) and said “that was excellent.”
Yahya listened attentatively to our specific proposal for mutual withdrawal of troops and armor by both GOI and GOP to some distance from their respective borders. We came back to that point for fuller discussion after covering political issues (below). His first comment was that this was a good idea. It would present no problem at all along West Pakistan border. Pak forces there, he said, could return to their peacetime locations. Units which had come from Peshawar and Kharian, for example, could return thereto; units which had moved up from closer points, such as Sialkot and Lanore cantonments, could return to their cantonments. Situation was not quite that simple in East Pakistan, Yahya went on. The normal peacetime regular army force in East Pakistan had, of course been increased since March by reinforcements from west wing. There were only a few peacetime army cantonments of any importance in East Pakistan and of these only Jessore and Comilla (and of lesser importance, Rajshahi) were near the border. In recent months, following the defections and departure of elements of East Pakistan rifles and police, the Pak army has been attending to job of anti-guerrilla operations along the border. It might present problem to withdraw army from border while guerrilla activities continuing. I asked Yahya to consider that point carefully, to see for example whether border surveillance might be taken on by elements of the paramilitary East Pakistan Civil Armed Force (EPCAF), which is successor to EPR, and by police, allowing regular Pak army units to retire from border. Yahya responded that might possibly be done in light of fact that both EPCAF and police had recently increased in strength; he would surely consider this and other possibilities.
As discussion proceeded on withdrawal proposal, Yahyaʼs thoughts seemed to become firmer. He said our proposal was “noble” and “I accept it in toto” subject to some clarification on detail such as with regard East Pakistan. He asked what type of machinery we thought might insure execution of mutual withdrawal. I said we had not made any specific proposal on modalities, and asked whether he had any suggestions. Yahya said he thought mechanics of withdrawal might be worked out in a meeting of Indian and Pakistan army chiefs of staff. That mechanism had been used from time to time in previous years. I said I thought his suggestion was most constructive and that I would report most promptly both his acceptance of the withdrawal proposal and his suggestion for a meeting of the chiefs of staff.
Yahya nodded agreement at various points when I presented our position on the essential importance of a political solution in East Pakistan (para 3f reftel). He agreed that military action, which he said [Page 461] he had no choice but to undertake in face of the violence and intentions of the Awami Leaguers last March, could not be a solution in itself. He was appreciative of USG understanding of his problems and the way in which we had not added to his very heavy burdens. Far from questioning our right to feel deep concern over current crisis, he welcomed our views and our suggestions with regard to his political problems. Regarding our hope that GOP could move even more rapidly toward political settlement facilitated by direct discussions with elected East Pak leaders, Yahya pointed to the clean bill of health given to many Awami Leaguers elected last December and to his firm plans for early by-elections to fill vacated seats. He was moving as fast as he could. His address to the nation on Oct 12 would reveal his intentions to publish a constitution on December 20 and to convene National Assembly on December 27. Latter step would be followed shortly by formation of a national government in which East Pakistan, given its population majority, would presumably hold a majority of ministerial portfolios. Beyond that, Yahya went on, he would shortly thereafter appoint new governors for each of the five provinces, as to be provided for under the constitution, and the provincial assemblies would come into being. He was indeed serious about restoring government to the elected representatives of people.
I said I much appreciated preview of his plans for political action in next several months. Coming back to point in our presentation concerning direct discussions with “elected East Pakistan leaders,” I said we had in mind a dialogue between GOP and BD leadership (per para 2f reftel). In this regard, I offered it as my purely personal observation at this time that such discussions would be difficult to arrange unless one took into account the apparent continuous attraction of Mujib for the mass of East Pak population. Yahya said he would not deny that Mujib was still an important symbol. He thought, however, that Mujibʼs strength even at time of last yearʼs elections might have been overestimated. Actually, a fairly large proportion of the East Pak electorate had not voted last December, and a significant proportion of those who voted for Mujib were of “minority population” (i.e. Hindus). Many of those who did not vote had been intimidated. Other points regarding Mujib are being reported by septel.3
Other subjects covered in Oct 11 meeting with Yahya are being reported septels.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL INDIA–PAK. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated to Islamabad, New Delhi, Moscow, USUN, London, Calcutta, and Dacca. This telegram was summarized on October 11 by the National Security Council staff in a memorandum for Kissinger to use in briefing the President on October 12. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 570, Indo-Pak War, South Asia, October 1–24 1971)
  2. Document 160.
  3. Document 166.