181. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in India1

203187. Subject: Secretaryʼs Meeting with Prime Minister Gandhi; East Pakistan Problem. Following is Noforn, FYI only, uncleared and subject to revision on review:

Summary: In response Secretaryʼs request, PriMin described manner in which East Pak situation was threat to Indian security and very [Page 501] great domestic pressures on her to take firmer action. Secretary indicated steps USG had taken: dried up arms pipeline; secured Yahyaʼs agreement to unilateral withdrawal; and obtained Yahyaʼs agreement meet with Awami League representative and consider meeting with Awami Leaguer designated by Mujib. Said we hoped India would respond if there was unilateral withdrawal. PriMin described problems in way of withdrawal and raised questions regarding Bangla Desh/Yahya talks. Sisco responded if there was merit in ideas we have suggested, such questions can be worked out. PriMin questioned that Yahya genuinely sought political solution. Secretary and Sisco affirmed our evaluation that he did and Secretary pointed out USG has done its utmost to assist. End summary.

Secretary met with PriMin Gandhi at 10 AM November 5. Secretary accompanied by Ambassador Keating, Sisco and Schneider. PriMin accompanied by Ambassador Jha, Haksar and Sathe.
Secretary opened conversation by expressing interest in Mrs. Gandhiʼs views on East Pak problem. PriMin replied Indian security threatened by East Pak development. Threat caused not only by presence Pak armed forces on Indian borders but by massive refugee flow and GOP continuing actions in East Pak causing flow. This creates not just economic burden but also political and social problems which can affect Indian stability and integrity. PriMin pointed out crisis has created great pressures on her. Even within Cabinet there is feeling that by following “weak-kneed policy”PriMin is jeopardizing security of India. PriMin explained that she had had some experience with war, having been in London during worst period of World War II blitz. Said she understands larger ramifications of conflict, but India has been pushed step by step to confrontation. Most of her colleagues and leaders other parties had thought she should not make current trip. She concluded tensions would have become more severe if she had canceled. Therefore she concluded she had to go. She had told army even if there were casualties it should refrain from action, but this would be difficult to explain to Parliament. She was sending daily messages to Delhi. Even from here, she explained, she was trying to hold back pressures for more action. Said she had large majority in Parliament but on this issue it was not absolutely in her control.
Secretary replied he agreed with PriMinʼs judgment that tensions should be curbed. As President had told Mrs. Gandhi it would be world tragedy if there were India-Pakistan war. We understand Indiaʼs problem, which caused by others. We want to assist and have taken certain steps which we hope are in accord with Indian views. First, we have dried up arms pipeline to Pakistan. Some $160,000 worth of items remain on docks in New York. Arms matter is now behind us. We wish to brief Congressional leaders next week and thereafter make [Page 502] information public. Second, we accept Indian position that we should not equate India with Pakistan and in fact we never have. Taking this into account, we have asked Yahya if he could unilaterally withdraw some of his military forces. He has said that he would. Third, we recognize this is not just military problem. It is political problem. We have had active discussions on political problem with Yahya and Awami Leaguers. Yahya has agreed to meet with a cleared Awami Leaguer, or meet with a Bangla Desh representative from India. Furthermore, he has agreed to consider meeting with Bangla Desh leader designated by Mujib. We think this is encouraging indication process can be started under which troops could be moved from border and political negotiations begun. We will continue to work to get this process started. This is all we can do. We cannot ask Yahya to release Mujib. This would not work. We would hope India could consider some response if Yahya makes unilateral withdrawal.
PriMin replied that Yahya would make withdrawal from western border, while major pressure on India is in east. Haksar explained that because of defections from East Pakistan Rifles, GOP had moved regular army forces to border and violated ground rules. These forces repeatedly shelling Indian territory. Kaul pointed out Pak bases were closer to borders and therefore they could more easily withdraw. Secretary and Sisco indicated we had not gone into details regarding withdrawal with Yahya. Questions Indians raised were understandable. Our hope was that Indians could get together with Paks and see if some equitable modality could be worked out.
Following further discussion of negotiation proposal Sisco concluded that if Indians saw merit in ideas we had suggested there would remain a number of questions which could then be worked out.
Returning to withdrawal question Kaul said withdrawal without political settlement would incorrectly suggest crisis coming under control. Secretary responded that political settlement would be difficult under threat of imminent war. If war started, there could not be political solution. Furthermore, without political solution, war likely to start.
PriMin and other members Indian delegation stated doubts that Yahya actually desires political solution. Secretary and Sisco indicated their belief that Yahya sincerely seeking such solution; that he in fact felt that he had to have one. Indians presented detailed recent history events in East Pakistan to demonstrate lack of sincerity on part Yahya. Asked what is evidence that Yahya in fact seeks political solution. Secretary replied he wanted make it clear that US had done all it could in this regard. Haksar intervened to say this was not matter in dispute between US and India. Indian questioning of Yahyaʼs motives was not criticism of US but was attempt seek understanding with US regarding [Page 503] start [state] of play in East Pakistan. Jha pointed out he did not believe anyone had said USG should have done more.
Secretary concluded conversation referring to success of Presidentʼs efforts restore peace to various parts of world. Said we fully understand problems brought to India by East Pak situation and Indian domestic political problems. US is doing best it can to help with these problems to avert danger of war.
Following Secretaryʼs meeting with PriMin, Kaul told Sisco that if GOI could be assured that there had been contact with Mujib and that Mujib, free of coercion, had designated an individual to negotiate with Yahya, India could give this proposal its cautious support.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 15–1 INDIA. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Schneider on November 5, cleared by Laingen, and approved by Van Hollen. Repeated to USUN, London, Paris, Moscow, Bonn, Islamabad, Calcutta, Dacca, and Tehran.