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

15988. Subject: Risks of War in Indo-Pak Confrontation. Ref: State 185010.2

Summary: Prime Minister Gandhi being immediately unavailable, I met October 12 with Foreign Minister Swaran Singh and Foreign Secretary Kaul to make presentation per reftel. Foreign Minister (a) claimed East Pakistan insurgency profoundly rooted in Bengali alienation and has own dynamic, not dependent upon India; (b) argued insurgency exists deep within East Pakistan and significance of cross-border activities easily exaggerated and any event GOI cannot shoot down East Bengalis entering or departing India; (c) noted how long insurgency will be prolonged and whether it leads to Pak attack upon India depends upon GOP; (d) stressed insurgency is caused basically by Pak military repression to which Mukti Bahini (MB) is reaction. [Page 464] Foreign Minister (a) expressed strong resentment at any suggestion East Pakistan insurgency being maintained by India; (b) took exception to any implication that MB successes could justify Pak attack upon India and in such event that Indo-American relations need be adversely affected; (c) noted impression US continues to fail to appreciate psychological factors in present crisis despite GOI efforts to explain in New York, Washington and New Delhi; (d) charged US support to GOP strengthens Yahya regime determination to maintain military repression policy; and (e) concluded US has heavy responsibility to exercise its “great influence” with GOP. Foreign Minister confirmed our impressions (a) GOI probably does not currently anticipate MB cross-border operations on scale suggested reftel; and (b) GOI most probably does not presently plan to use Indian army for diversionary strategy noted reftel which Swaran Singh termed “pin pricks.” Foreign Minister asserted in event GOP agreed to withdraw military forces from Indo-Pak borders, GOI could reconsider situation in light circumstances at that time. End summary.
I opened with expression my gratification at being received by busy Foreign Minister on short notice and my disappointment that Prime Minister Gandhi had been too busy to see me. Swaran Singh said if I must see Mrs. Gandhi she would be back in two or three days, but I noted my prior scheduled departure for the US. I noted that for first time in my experience I had been explicitly instructed by Washington to express to Prime Minister, as her appointments secretary was informed, USG concern over increasing risks of war in South Asia as consequence of East Bengal events. With end of monsoon, there are movements of Indian and Pak armor in East and West and reports of possible mass cross-border operations by MB. I noted GOI and GOP protestations they do not want war and would not be first to initiate hostilities. My personal conviction is this true as regards India, and I have so advised Washington. Nonetheless, reports point to critical situation where conflict could break out.
I told Foreign Minister in addition we have specific report MB plans inject 40,000 armed men across border by October 15 with 20,000 more by end October. According to this report this would be accomplished with support of Indian army diversionary actions to keep Pak forces off balance while the infiltration took place. MB effort of this dimension could not be accomplished without GOI support. US concerned Pak forces would respond militarily against India to any such operation. Thus, situation as reported has large potential for major confrontation which we must continue assume India does not want and does not see serving its larger interests.
I pointed out India as sovereign nation must of course make decision in own best interest but US strongly urges GOI act immediately [Page 465] to reduce these risks by efforts with the MB to restrict cross-border operations. We recognize major responsibility for Indo-Pak peace rests with GOP. No one could claim India started this mess. However, we feel GOI also has major responsibility to try to keep situation from deteriorating into war evolving from cross-border operations with serious effect on Indo-US relations.
Foreign Minister interrupted to ask whether he understood correctly if armed conflict takes place as a result of Pak incursions against India in retaliation successful guerrilla activity in East Pakistan, Indo-US relations would be adversely affected and whether it also would be injurious to US-Pak relations. I replied, large cross-border activities supported by Indian army which resulted in military conflict with Pakistan would be injurious to Indo-US relations. This I said differed somewhat from formulation in Foreign Ministerʼs question. My instructions assumed if India were aggressor against Pakistan under the formulation I had stated there would be serious effects upon Indian-American relations just as if Pakistan were to attack India, I was convinced US-Pak relations similarly would be seriously affected.
I continued if dangers of immediate conflict are to be reduced meaningfully, we believe there must be reduction in level of military confrontation by (a) curbing all parties involved in cross-border operations on eastern and western Indo-Pak borders and (b) pulling back Indian and Pakistani military forces some distance from respective borders. I added hope Foreign Minister would not charge me with equating India and Pakistan if I advised him US had made same suggestion to GOP at highest level. US fully recognizes major responsibilities in current crisis rest with GOP. We informing Islamabad in strongest terms it should avoid actions that could lead to war and particularly any form of military action against India. We also urging GOP move rapidly in political settlement which all recognize essential if crisis to be dealt with at roots. In our view, this will require dialogue between GOP and Bangla Desh leadership which we have strongly recommended to GOP and continue to believe GOI can help facilitate.
Foreign Minister said since I departing soon for US he wished take opportunity to clarify perspective. He said it can be very misleading to break into chain of events at any one point in attempt to understand what has led Pakistan and India to present predicament. Basic realities are (a) Pak military repression unleashed six months ago continues; (b) refugee influx continues with September average 33,000 daily and recently up to 42,000, and current total in India of 9.5 million; (c) hard core of MB insurgency is formed by trained former Bengali military and police personnel totaling approximately 45,000, and highly motivated embittered East Bengali youth participating in insurgency in large numbers. If from 9.5 million refugees only one percent or 95,000 are highly motivated activists, these plus former Bengali [Page 466] police and military would total around 150,000 insurgents, which reasonable figure and one used by Pak Ambassador Hilaly on TV in Washington. Moreover, Swaran Singh said, insurgents are reasonably well equipped with weapons taken upon defection or otherwise liberated from Pak army, as well as with weaponry purchased in Europe by fairly large number of well-to-do Bengalis living abroad. Singh stated GOI cannot stop these activities; it has tried to explain basic realities and greatly resents natural process of growing Bengali resistance being interpreted by US as bolstered from India. He said, “We have uneasy feeling US is saying if Mukti Bahini succeeds in inflicting serious blow upon Pak army, GOP will be justified in striking back against India.” I interjected that I did not mean to convey that impression. I pointed out that I laid stress on diversionary activities by Indian army in support of MB operations. Furthermore US is pointing to danger of what might happen, not suggesting justification any such eventuality. Singh expressed gratification for clarification. He maintained most daily operations take place deep within East Pakistan and are not cross-border in character, for example, recent actions against ocean shipping and strikes in Dacca and in Chittagong. He said, “Trans-border operations are not whole picture. We cannot stop refugee influx into India nor return of some for whatever purpose into East Pakistan. We cannot shoot people down coming or going. With your vast intelligence resources you must be familiar with conditions in East Pakistan where there no effective border guards. India cannot prevent movement of such people and does not have heart to attempt to do so. It not quite correct to describe situation in which MB gaining strength as cross-border. If 40,000 Mukti Bahini are in India as alleged then still 100,000 are within East Pakistan.”
Swaran Singh urged US consider profound, alienated attitudes of Bengalis demonstrated by defections of well-placed Pak diplomats, including most recently Pak Ambassador in Buenos Aires. History knows no parallel and situation demonstrates even hard-eyed diplomats taking decision. GOI impression is such psychological factors are not appreciated in US which is blinded by charisma of military regime in Pakistan. History will demonstrate US has greatest responsibility in present situation since support for GOP has contributed to hardening and continuation of Pak military policy of repression. Even at this late date, GOI appears to us to exercise all influence which it surely has to bring GOP to sensible view even in its own interest. Meanwhile East Bengali alienation is deepening.
Foreign Minister reiterated it contrary to reality to argue MB action could justify Pak reaction against India. In truth MB is itself a reaction to continuing root cause, i.e., Pak military repression. If MB succeeds it will be easy to say India responsible, but GOI strongly resents implication and is greatly disturbed that realities of situation are not [Page 467] understood in US despite great pains to make them clear to President Nixon, Secretary Rogers and others in New York, Washington and New Delhi. GOI does not accept US distortion of sequence of events. GOI does ask US to exercise its immense influence with Yahya to bring him to reality. “We and I personally are under pressure. In my AICC speech, it was not slip of tongue, when I suggested Bangla Desh might be realized within framework of Pakistan, autonomy, or independence.” Under existing circumstances, when US addresses GOI “in somewhat threatening manner” it seems to have ignored GOI statements as well as basic realities. Continuing US support to Yahya regime will only (a) deepen rift between East and West Pakistan, (b) make struggle in East Pakistan more bitter, and (c) rule out negotiated settlement. In latter regard, Foreign Minister said recent statement of Bangla Desh authorities ruling out compromise settlement was indirect repudiation of his AICC statement.
Foreign Minister said GOI knows perfectly well US officials are in close touch with Bangla Desh (BD) leaders and is aware of US efforts to promote settlement between Pakistan generals and some elements of Awami League. GOI urges US to focus any such efforts on genuine reconciliation, for it would be great mistake to seek to promote deal with break-away Awami League element. Situation is quite straight-forward. Yahya simply cannot ignore Mujib and Awami League leaders; they are true East Pakistan leadership. If Pakistan looking for excuse to start trouble India will defend self, however GOI sees no justification why this should affect Indo-US relations. “Please pass that on to your government. We are not speaking from excitement, fear or dialectic. But ask why Washington should think if Pakistan starts something, Indo-US relations would be affected? We shall continue to try to remove Indo-American misunderstanding and are particularly anxious to do so in light Prime Ministerʼs forthcoming visit. Mrs. Gandhi seeks to reverse misunderstandings, and it would be unfortunate to burden her effort with extraneous considerations.”
I said I never had met with BD representatives, although some of my junior officers had informally in Calcutta and New Delhi to listen to their stories. I cited pro-Communist Patriot allegation recently that I attempting disrupt MB and Awami League and cause internal friction. I said we do not have that kind of power and assured Foreign Minister we have done nothing of kind. I acknowledged we have gotten some conflicting stories about BD and suppose differences of opinion exist and with MB, but it not US intention to exacerbate same.
Foreign Minister said State Department knows of effort to bring about dialogue between President Yahya and Awami League, and GOI doesnʼt need to read Patriot for its view. I said effort to promote such dialogue seemed plausible but did not imply exploitation [Page 468] of differences. However, Singh said US attempting to bypass Mujib. I told Singh American Embassy Islamabad under instructions from Washington had just finished urging President Yahya to establish dialogue with elected representatives of East Pakistan, which I took to mean Mujib. I expressed certainty US would be delighted if President Yahya held discussions with Mujib.
I asked Foreign Minister if he prepared tell me more about reported large-scale MB intrusions planned for second half October as well as alleged plan for Indian army diversionary action. Singh said he clearly and categorically wished to state (a) MB does not take GOI and Indian army into confidence, has own tactics and means, and “has never consulted us”; (b) GOI refuses to believe MB is on Indian border in such large numbers prepared to march openly into East Pakistan; (c) Indian Government believes MB operating in heart of East Pakistan but doesnʼt know of MB plans to step up activities except perhaps in reaction to highly publicized reports of Pak army intention make clean sweep in East Pakistan upon end of monsoon; (d) GOI will never attack Pak positions and will never commit any incursion against Pakistan territory; (e) if Pakistan starts war India will defend itself with every means available; (f) GOI will never undertake such “pin prick” diversions as alleged, since India mature country with mature and strong leadership and disciplined armed forces; and (g) MB operations cannot be valid excuse for GOP action against India.
As to proposed withdrawal of military forces from border Swaran Singh said there already are ground rules concerning border deployments which India honoring. However, he alleged there have been large-scale Pak military concentrations in Jammu/Chamb, Sialkot, Lahore, Bahawalpur and areas further south, and Pak army has moved troops forward from cantonment areas such as Peshawar and Quetta. I asked if Pakistan agreed to withdraw military forces from border, how would GOI react? Singh replied, “We can reconsider situation if they withdraw.”
Comment to New Delhi 157783 applies. In particular, we continue to perceive no present GOI intention to initiate hostilities during next couple months.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL INDIA–PAK. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated to Islamabad, London, Moscow, Tehran, Bonn, Brussels, Paris, Vienna, USUN, Calcutta, Dacca, Bombay, and Madras. This telegram was summarized on October 13 by the National Security Council staff in a memorandum for Kissinger to use in briefing the President on October 14. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 570, Indo-Pak War, South Asia, October 1–24, 1971)
  2. Document 160.
  3. Dated October 7. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, LEG 7 FRELINGHAUSEN)