18. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rogers to President Nixon1
- Background to the Thinning Out of the U.S. Presence in East Pakistan
The situation in East Pakistan has seriously deteriorated over the last ten days. In the period up to March 25 there had been considerable hope that President Yahya and the East Pakistan Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would reach an agreement on some constitutional formula which would have permitted Pakistan to remain a united country. However, at some point in the period March 23–25, President Yahya decided that Mujibur Rahmanʼs constitutional proposals would have led to a virtual separation of East from West Pakistan. As a result, on the evening of March 25 President Yahya, using Pakistan Army troops, arrested Mujibur Rahman and his principal followers, suppressed the Awami League and asserted full military control over East Pakistan.
The details of what transpired on the night of March 25–26 may never be known in full because reports are conflicting and first-hand evidence is scarce. Our Consul General in Dacca estimates that between 4000–6000 people were killed in the Dacca area over the next several days. Extensive damage was done to the University, to the offices of the newspapers supporting the Awami League, and to Hindu settlements in the heart of Dacca. In Chittagong, the principal port of East Pakistan, considerable damage and fatalities also occurred.
In the days which followed the Armyʼs intervention a semblance of normality has returned to Dacca but there continues to be small arms firing at night in residential areas in which Americans live. Some foreigners already have had narrow escapes with their lives. Most shops remain closed, and a very small portion of the civil servants are at work in government offices. It is not possible for foreigners to leave the vicinity of Dacca or Chittagong, the two cities in which most of the approximately 750 Americans in East Pakistan are located.
In this situation, our Consul General recommended the thinning out of the U.S. presence in East Pakistan. In making his recommendation, the Consul General noted the continuing danger to Americans [Page 44] and the psychological stress under which the Americans were living. He explained that schools were not operating, shops were closed, mail and telephone service was suspended, and that many of our people were unable to carry out the jobs to which they had been assigned. He also noted that the World Bank, the UN, the Germans, Japanese, and the Yugoslavs had already begun evacuating their personnel. Since then, the British, French and Australians have decided to evacuate dependents and we are informed that the Soviets have decided to do so as well.
In keeping with the Consul Generalʼs recommendation, endorsed by Ambassador Farland, we have made plans to facilitate the departure within the next few days of nonofficial Americans who want to leave, the wives and children of American officials, and some official Americans who are considered non-essential. To ensure that their departure will not appear to be a precipitate or large scale evacuation, we have made it clear to the Pakistan Government and to the press that, although we are temporarily thinning out our people, we will maintain a substantial enough American presence in East Pakistan to represent our continuing interests and take care of our operational requirements. We are phasing the withdrawal of Americans over a period of days beginning on Sunday, April 4. The Pakistan Government has shown full understanding of our decision and has put at our disposal one Pakistan International Airline commercial flight each day to enable us to move our people from Dacca to Karachi.
Our overriding concern to date has been the safety of the American community in East Pakistan. However, as a manifestation of our humanitarian concern, we have also made plans to be ready to offer food and other types of relief assistance if requested by the Pakistan Government.
Looking toward the future, much will depend upon the ability of the Pakistan armed forces in the East, now numbering about 30,000, to maintain effective military control in the face of the general alienation of the Bengali population of 75 million. Thus far, the Awami League resistance groups have gained little momentum although they control an estimated 75% of the East Pakistan territory. However, over time these resistance elements may be able to mount a large scale rebellion with possible covert support from Bengali elements in India. The key question is whether the events of the last week have made it unlikely—or impossible—for the Government of Pakistan ever to reassert effective political influence over the East.
During the period immediately ahead we may be faced with a number of difficult policy decisions. These include our political reaction to the events in East Pakistan and various aspects of our economic assistance and military supply programs for Pakistan.
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–9 PAK. Secret. Drafted by Van Hollen and Anthony C.E. Quainton (NEA/INC) on April 2, and cleared by Sisco, and by Spengler in draft.↩