179. Memorandum for the Presidentʼs File1


  • Meeting Between President Nixon, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Mr. Parmeshwar Narain Haksar and Dr. Henry A. Kissinger

Following press photographs, the President welcomed the Prime Minister and expressed his pleasure at the opportunity that this meeting provided for an exchange of views on a range of subjects of mutual interest to old friends. The President suggested that the first session might be used to discuss the situation in South Asia and that the second session on Friday might be reserved for discussion of broader issues, to include the Peopleʼs Republic of China, the Soviet Union and the situation in Southeast Asia.

The Prime Minister agreed to this formula and expressed Indiaʼs admiration for President Nixonʼs skill in handling both the Vietnam situation and his initiative in seeking the normalization of relationships with the Peopleʼs Republic of China. It appeared from the Indian perspective that each move of the United States had been carefully thought out and well designed. Each move was accomplished in an imaginative and effective way, with a style which kept the main objective in view and which did not permit diversionary distractions to derail progress. The President thanked the Prime Minister for her expression of support and noted that the attitude of the Prime Ministerʼs government had been most helpful in the process. He noted that the U.S. had [Page 494] expected a great deal of criticism domestically from more conservative elements who are opposed to the normalization of relationships with the Peopleʼs Republic of China. On the other hand, he was convinced that the steps had to be taken in the interest of stability in Asia. The President stated that stability could best be served when parties are able to communicate and this has been his initial objective. Dr. Kissinger added that he agreed it was important that the Peopleʼs Republic of China no longer remain isolated.

The President continued that the essential objective is to eliminate the frustrations that Chinaʼs isolation can cause and thereby achieve increased moderation. The very act of communication between parties has a beneficial effect in relieving tensions. Indiaʼs understanding of this process and support for it have proven very helpful. The U.S. has always had great respect and admiration for the Indian people and there is a deep-seated friendship for India among the American people. Americans want India to succeed.

With respect to the recent Senate action on the foreign aid, the President emphasized that he was fighting to have it restored and was equally confident that his efforts would succeed. On the other hand, there are strong sentiments in the U.S. which no longer favor an extensive foreign assistance expenditure.

The President then asked Mrs. Gandhi to present her views in detail on the situation in South Asia. In initiating this discussion, the President emphasized:

The U.S. has no illusions with respect to the realities of the situation.
The initiation of hostilities between India and Pakistan would be unacceptable from every perspective.
For this reason, U.S. policy toward Pakistan has been shaped by the imperative to retain influence with the Government of Pakistan.
In this regard our military assistance program has been retained in a most limited fashion to enable us to continue a dialogue with that government. The U.S. has and will continue to discourage military actions by the Government of Pakistan.
The situation demands the continuation of U.S. aid to relieve the plight of the nine to ten million refugees on both sides of the border. This is an enormous task which requires the concentrated efforts of all the parties. The U.S. objective is to be as helpful as possible without interjecting itself into the internal affairs of the parties.

The President then outlined the measures which the U.S. has taken to relieve the plight of refugees in India and in Pakistan. He listed specifically the following:

In June and July the U.S. Government persuaded Pakistan that a famine was likely in East Pakistan if massive forestalling efforts were not undertaken. We have just received a report from Mr. Williams in Dacca that widespread famine has probably been averted as a result of [Page 495] major U.S.-Pakistani and UN efforts.2 Such a famine could have further exacerbated the problem of the flow of Moslem refugees and created a tremendous new burden on India.
Despite initial opposition by President Yahya in April, following pressure from the U.S. Government he agreed to an international relief presence in East Pakistan.
At U.S. urging the Pakistani government accepted a civilian governor in East Pakistan.
U.S. pressure on Pakistan resulted in President Yahyaʼs public proclamation of amnesty and specific public reference by him to returnees of all creeds, Hindus as well as Moslems.
U.S. representations brought assurance from President Yahya that Mujib would not be executed.
U.S. representations also resulted in President Yahyaʼs agreement to pull some military units back from Pakistanʼs western border with India as a first step toward de-escalation.
President Yahya informed our Ambassador Tuesday, November 2, that he is prepared: to hold direct discussions with cleared Awami League leaders, to meet with a Bangla Desh leader from India and to consider our suggestion that Mujib be allowed to designate the representative.

The President stated that the Australian Ambassador shares Indiaʼs concern and is most sympathetic with the difficulties that the situation in East Pakistan have brought the people of India. On the other hand, the U.S. could not urge policies which would be tantamount to overthrowing President Yahya. It is recognized that Mujib is a core factor in the situation and that unquestionably in the long run Pakistan must acquiesce in the direction of greater autonomy for East Pakistan, but the situation is extremely fragile and Yahyaʼs flexibility is very limited in the short run. Unquestionably Mujibʼs fate is an essential aspect of the problem and ultimately he will have to play a role in East Pakistanʼs future. However, this depends largely on the way events proceed in the shorter term. The greatest danger of all would result if either side were to consider that military action could provide a solution that only an historical process can settle. Should India resort to force of arms, the current balance suggested that it would succeed in a military sense but in a political sense there could be no winner.

The President continued by observing that the consequences of military action were incalculably dangerous. In this regard, Indiaʼs recent agreement with the Soviet Union was understood by this government but India must recognize that it is not popular in the U.S. It must, therefore, have an impact on the general attitude of the U.S. Government. Should the situation deteriorate to armed conflict, there is doubt that the conflict could be limited to just India and Pakistan. It would have implications and possibly great dangers for the whole framework of [Page 496] world peace. The American people would not understand if India were to initiate military action against Pakistan. While the U.S. could not expect India to determine its own policies based solely on U.S. attitudes, these attitudes should be taken into consideration.

The President then asked the Prime Minister if she believed that President Yahya could really survive if Mujib were released at this point in time. The President noted that the U.S. Government understood the political realities of the situation in East Pakistan. On the other hand, practical considerations and limitations on the courses of action open to all parties could not be overlooked. Nevertheless, many have attributed a lack of progress and the continuing deterioration of the plight of the refugees as somehow resulting from U.S. policies. For this reason, the President remained deeply concerned and had concentrated more time on this particular problem than on any other subject. Criticism, no matter how well meaning, tended to further limit the U.S. Governmentʼs ability to be helpful.

Prime Minister Gandhi stated that India was not being driven by anti-Pakistan motives. India had never wished the destruction of Pakistan or its permanent crippling. Above all, India sought the restoration of stability in the area and wanted to eliminate chaos at all costs. The Prime Minister recalled the genesis of the partitioning of the subcontinent and noted that the solution, largely dictated from abroad, had left the peoples of the area restive and dissatisfied. President Nixon agreed that the partitioning of the subcontinent had contributed to a permanent instability and noted that India had a larger Moslem population than Pakistan.

Prime Minister Gandhi observed that many harbor the feeling that her father had let the country down by accepting the partitioning along the lines ultimately reached. Nevertheless, once the decision had been taken it had been accepted. But the partitioning generated a persistent “hate India” campaign which resulted in the conflicts of 1947 and 1965. Since that time, U.S. arms shipments to Pakistan had become a major point of concern to the Indian people. The provision of armaments to Pakistan could not help but affect the attitude of the Indian Government even though its leadership attempted to restrain outraged public opinion. To the degree that these shipments continued, the Prime Minister was subject to attack even from her own party.

Following Indiaʼs independence, it was the leaders of the independence movement who formed Indiaʼs government. On the other hand, in Pakistan it was the loyalist or pro-British factions which formed Pakistanʼs government. Pakistan proceeded to imprison or exile leaders of the independence movement. Baluchistan, as well as the provinces along the northwest frontier, has a strong desire for greater autonomy. There has been, therefore, a long history of separatist policies in [Page 497] Pakistan which heretofore has not necessarily been supported in India. Yahya was mistaken in trying to suppress Mujib.

India, on the other hand, has always reflected a degree of forebearance toward its own separatist elements. The pattern has been clear. West Pakistan has dealt with the Bengali people in a treacherous and deceitful way and has always relegated them to an inferior role. As the situation worsened, India attempted to ameliorate it by maintaining communication with all the parties.

The Prime Minister then turned to the great numbers of refugees who continue to stream across the border from East Pakistan. She noted that there were many estimates of what the totals might be and that precise calculations had to be inconclusive due to the confusion and the possibility of miscalculation.

President Nixon stated that this tragic situation demanded prompt and extensive humanitarian assistance and that for this reason he would continue to pressure the U.S. Congress to provide this assistance.

The Prime Minister noted that India had been accused of supporting guerrilla activity but that the situation was not that clear. She drew a parallel to the problems the U.S. Government had when Cuban refugees based in Florida launched forays against the Cuban mainland.

The Prime Minister then cited the additional problems which had resulted from the severe cyclone. She noted that the situation was aggravated by the differences in religion and background between the refugees and the local population in India on which they were superimposed. This situation demanded the utmost efforts on the part of the Indian Government to prevent communal riots and bloodshed.

President Nixon stated that U.S. policies were predicated upon the need to have the refugees return to their homes. The Prime Minister emphasized the great dilemma facing India. She noted that India does not object to observers but has difficulty in understanding what role they would play. She stated that, contrary to current criticism, foreign observers were free to go where they pleased.

President Nixon expressed sympathy with Indiaʼs dilemma and noted that the U.S., and other nations as well, were greatly concerned with the problems posed by the flood of refugees from East Pakistan. He noted, however, that many of the tactics which were being employed by the Bangla Desh were increasing the dilemma. For example, it was difficult to understand their motives in harassing and destroying the flow of humanitarian supplies being carried in ships to Chittagong Harbor. Also it would seem that guerrilla activity of this type must involve sophisticated training and equipment.

The Prime Minister then described in detail the atrocities which were occurring in East Pakistan. She noted that despite oppressive measures, the Pakistani military had been unable to establish control in the area. [Page 498] There were, of course, continuing accusations that India had instigated the guerrilla movement and continued to support it. However, the realities were that it was no longer realistic to expect East and West Pakistan to remain together. The pressures for autonomy are overwhelming.

The President agreed that accusations and counter-accusations on both sides made progress most difficult. It also complicated the U.S. Governmentʼs efforts to be helpful. There was no doubt that Pakistan must ultimately do more to relieve the situation.

The Prime Minister stated that President Yahya continued to speak of a Holy War. It may well be that the presence of Indian forces along Pakistanʼs frontier had deterred the initiation of military action by Pakistan thus far. This tense situation had influenced India toward making its treaty with the Soviet Union as a means of creating an additional deterrent. Stability in India was an important objective to the Soviet Union and, therefore, the Soviet Union had been pressing for a political solution. Many in India have been opposed to the Soviet treaty and the majority of the Parliament was concerned about this.

President Nixon asked the Prime Minister for her views on how a solution could be achieved. The Prime Minister stated that Indiaʼs major concern was the impact of the situation on India itself.

President Nixon stated that U.S. efforts with respect to Pakistan were designed to alleviate the situation along constructive lines. The U.S. Government had always admired the people of India and shared its concerns. This had been clearly demonstrated. The restrictions we had placed on military assistance to East Pakistan had been undertaken with our relationships with India clearly in mind.

The Prime Minister replied that the crucial issue remained the future of Mujib who was a symbol of the imperative for autonomy.

The President reassured the Prime Minister that the U.S. Government had thus far placed great pressure on Pakistan. It had urged President Yahya to move his forces back from the border with India unilaterally as a deescalatory step. While the U.S. Government understood that India must make its own judgment in this regard, based on its national interests, some disengagement would serve the interests of lessening tensions.

Mr. Haksar noted the difficulties for India posed by the displacement of Indian forces.

The President expressed his understanding for Indiaʼs problem in undertaking the displacement of forces, but he noted that President Yahya had indicated a willingness to undertake some pullback. If India now believed that such a step would not contribute to the lessening of tensions, it would be necessary for the U.S. to reconsider its efforts to effect such a pullback by Pakistani forces. Up to now, the U.S. had been urging President Yahya to take the first step and President [Page 499] Yahya had expressed a willingness to do so on a unilateral basis. It had been the U.S. Governmentʼs view that if Yahya would undertake such a step we could then anticipate similar moves on the part of India. Obviously, however, India would have to make its own decision.

President Nixon assured the Prime Minister that the U.S. Government would continue to pursue all avenues to improve the situation. The U.S. Government would:

  • —continue to assist with humanitarian relief efforts, both through multilateral organizations and bilateral programs.
  • —continue to urge restraint on the Pakistan Government.
  • —explore with all parties measures to facilitate a political solution.

However, the President stated, nothing could be served by the disintegration of Pakistan. The initiation of hostilities by India would be almost impossible to understand. In some respects, the situation was similar to that in the Middle East, where the U.S. Government had told the Israeli Government that it could not support the initiation of hostilities by that government, despite our long established ties of friendship and respect. It would be impossible to calculate with precision the steps which other great powers might take if India were to initiate hostilities.

As the meeting concluded, President Nixon expressed the U.S. Governmentʼs continuing sympathy and support for the Government of India at this most difficult and trying time.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, Presidentʼs Office Files, Box 2, Memoranda for the President, Beginning October 31, 1971. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Apparently drafted by Kissinger. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. The time of the meeting is from the Presidentʼs Daily Diary. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The conversation was also tape recorded. (Ibid., White House Tapes, Recording of conversation between President Nixon and Prime Minister Gandhi, November 4, 1971, 10:29 a.m.–12:35 p.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 613–15) Prime Minister Gandhiʼs state visit to Washington began November 4 and concluded November 6. While Nixon met with Gandhi, U.S. and Indian advisers met in the Cabinet Room and discussed a number of issues concerning the situation in South Asia. The U.S. team was headed by Sisco and included Keating, Van Hollen, Saunders, Hoskinson, and Schneider. The Indian team was headed by Foreign Secretary Kaul and included Jha and Rasgotra. Sisco and Kaul led the discussion. The discussion was summarized in a November 4 memorandum from Saunders and Hoskinson to Kissinger. (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 919, VIP Visits, India, PM Indira Gandhi Visit, Nov 1971) The memorandum is published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–7, Documents on South Asia, 1969–1972, Document 149. It was summarized in greater detail in telegram 203189 to New Delhi, November 4. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 15–1 INDIA)
  2. See footnote 2, Document 172.