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

10905. Subj: Indo-Pak Confrontation—Military Pullback. Ref: State 198660.2

Summary: Yahya agreed to unilaterally withdrawing military units as first step in defusing explosive situation in subcontinent. End summary.
I met with President Yahya Khan at the Presidentʼs house in Rawalpindi at 0900 hours Tuesday, November 2. During the hour and twenty-minute conversation which ensued, among other matters which were topics for comment and which will be reported by septels,3 the question of a unilateral military pullback was discussed at length.
Emphasizing at the outset that I was speaking as a concerned friend with a desire to be helpful and stressing the concern of the USG regarding the imminent possibility of a war on the subcontinent, I referred to Mrs. Indira Gandhiʼs November 4–5 visit to Washington for the purpose of discussions with President Nixon. I also made note of the fact that the Tuesday morning Pak Times carried an article datelined London, November 1, which reported “that the Indian Prime Minister said today that her government would never agree to a unilateral withdrawal of Indian troops from the borders of East Pakistan.” I then went on to recall our conversation of October 28 during which he (President Yahya) had asked me for any specific suggestions which we might have for the purpose of defusing the explosive situation existing in the subcontinent (Islamabad 10802).4
Responding to that request, a major suggestion of immediate moment, I said, was one which any leader of a nation under threat of attack would find hard to accept—doubly so when the leader of the nation had devoted his life to military pursuits—was to adopt an action diametrically opposite to that which Mrs. Gandhi had negated, i.e., agree to the concept of unilateral withdrawal.
Yahya didnʼt hesitate at all, saying spontaneously: “Of course I will. Now this doesnʼt mean that I would pull the troops back into the barracks but I will gladly promise to make the first move back from a forward military position.”
I told Yahya that I personally considered this a most salutary development and I knew that my government also would so consider it. I added that I would convey this information to USG soonest so that Mrs. Gandhi might be apprised of his posture on this matter during her Washington conversations.
Yahya concluded this portion of our conversation by saying “What I want your government to know, is that in order to bring normalcy back to the subcontinent, I will do anything within my power short of simply turning Pakistan over to India.”
FYI: Contrary to the suggestion contained in the reftel I felt it inappropriate to go into proposals relating to specific military units, or examples thereof, the pullback of which would be feasible and could be signaled by local commanders to their opposite numbers. As delicate as this particular conversation was, I believed it necessary to establish a commitment rather than become involved in specifics.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL INDIA–PAK. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated to New Delhi, London, Moscow, Paris, Tehran, USUN, Calcutta, Dacca, Lahore, and Karachi.
  2. Document 176.
  3. In telegram 10927 from Islamabad, November 2, Farland reported that Yahya agreed during the conversation to meet with Nurul Islam and his group of former Awami Leaguers to discuss Sheikh Mujibur Rahmanʼs future and to explore means of effecting contacts with representatives of Bangladesh. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–9 PAK) Telegram 10964 from Islamabad, November 3, reported that the conversation dealt repeatedly with the trial of Mujib. Yahya agreed that a transcript of the trial should not be made public and said that he no longer considered the Awami League to be a “nefarious institution.” He added that, if purged of its “secessionist leaders,” he could foresee reestablishing the League as a participant in the political process. Yahya concluded the conversation by expressing his willingness to establish a dialogue with “appropriate Bangla Desh representatives who were in a position to act constructively.” (Ibid., POL 29 PAK)
  4. Dated October 28. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 626, Country Files, Middle East, Pakistan, Vol. VII, Sep–Oct 1971)