183. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • South Asia


  • ChairmanHenry A. Kissinger
  • State:
    • Mr. Joseph Sisco
    • Mr. Christopher Van Hollen
    • Mr. Bruce Laingen
    • Mr. David Schneider
  • DOD:
    • Mr. Armistead Selden
    • Mr. James H. Noyes
    • B/Gen. Devol Brett
  • JCS:
    • Gen. John D. Ryan
    • Lt. Gen. John W. Vogt
  • CIA:
    • Lt. Gen. Robert E. Cushman
    • Mr. John Waller
  • AID:
    • Mr. Donald MacDonald
  • NSC Staff:
    • Col. Richard T. Kennedy
    • Mr. Harold Saunders
    • Mr. Samuel Hoskinson
    • R/Adm. Robert Welander
    • Mrs. Jeanne W. Davis

Dr. Kissinger: (to Gen. Cushman) What is the situation?

(Gen. Cushman briefed on the situation—text attached.)2

When you say the casualty rate in the Pakistani Army has doubled, what does that mean?

Gen. Cushman: There are five or six casualties a day as opposed to three a day before October.

[Page 506]

Dr. Kissinger: You mentioned the Pakistan Navy. Where is that?

Gen. Cushman: They donʼt have much, but there are a few ships off Chittagong.

Dr. Kissinger: What does State think?

Mr. Sisco: I would make two points: 1) we will get a clearer determination of the likelihood of war only when Mrs. Gandhi returns and we see how she plays her U.S. visit and how she plays the situation when she talks to Parliament which opens on Monday, November 15; 2) we should consider whether there is anything we can or should do before Monday to encourage Mrs. Gandhi, or to strengthen her hand in any attempt to keep the lid on.

Dr. Kissinger: If she is trying to keep the lid on.

Mr. Sisco: I agree—thereʼs a real question. We have given her enough to get her off the hook, if she wants to. We donʼt know whether she does. But I think we should discuss what further diplomatic steps over the next 48 hours might help.

Dr. Kissinger: Is it your judgment that war could come very quickly if she strikes the wrong note on Monday with Parliament?

Mr. Sisco: If she decides to continue the pressure on Yahya, I think there is likely to be an intensification of the present situation. Indian strategy has been to continue the pressure on Yahya and to suck Pakistan in militarily so that the principal onus for starting a war would fall on Pakistan. Any one incident where the Pakistanis retaliate can provide a casus belli. The Pakistanis know this. The Pak Ambassador understands that India is trying to suck them in.

Dr. Kissinger: India claims this is a Pakistani problem, but they are deliberately creating conditions which make it insoluble. This is one of the most brutal operations I have seen.

Mr. Sisco: Itʼs as two-faced as one can describe. For the purpose of our objectives, we must assume that Mrs. Gandhi wants to put the lid on. The President made a real impact on her and he gave her something to work with if she wants to use it. But I am convinced that any indication of progress or lack of progress on the political track will be the most decisive element in terms of deterring a war.

Dr. Kissinger: If she wants to. India will never again get the Paks in such a weak position. Weʼve cut off aid to them; other countries have cut off aid. Even the most moderate Indian would conclude that they could settle the Pakistan problem once and for all in this situation. And if they settle the East Pakistan problem in so traumatic a fashion, West Pakistan will probably collapse. If the price for Mrs. Gandhiʼs keeping the lid on is for us to do these things for her politically, then we will have to consider it. But I am sure the President will not lean that way. Our policy is not to encourage India to attack or to do Indiaʼs work for them. The President will have an NSC meeting on this next week. We [Page 507] called this WSAG meeting to give me a chance to tell you what he has already told you. We will encourage political evolution. But we will not support the Indian strategy to force the pace of such evolution so that West Pakistan canʼt survive. When you (Sisco) started your movement toward the Bangla Desh, India immediately escalated their demands, so that they were not possibly fulfillable in the existing time frame. The tilt of this policy is just not what the President has in mind. He thinks we must discourage India from going too far. He wonʼt do anything before Monday unless there is a very strong feeling in this room that we should.

Mr. Sisco: I think everyone is asking himself what we could do to prevent the balloon from going up.

Dr. Kissinger: Isnʼt there another way than meeting Indiaʼs demands?

Mr. Sisco: India has had one demand which they have made consistently and unchangingly—release Mujib, since he is the only man Yahya can negotiate with.

Dr. Kissinger: No, they started by saying Yahya must talk to the Awami League leaders and he must not kill Mujib. Then when they got agreement to that, they escalated to the position that Yahya must talk to Mujib.

Mr. Sisco: I think the Presidentʼs proposal to Mrs. Gandhi was very sensible. Itʼs a happy compromise if she wants to get off the hook.

Dr. Kissinger: What did you think the proposal was?

Mr. Sisco: Of the three alternatives, she seemed most interested in Yahyaʼs possible willingness to consider meeting with a representative designated by Mujib.

Dr. Kissinger: Do you think that is a real proposition? What is it that will deter India? I suppose we will know on Monday.

Mr. Van Hollen: Itʼs not so much a question of our reinforcing Indian demands but of providing a formula to give Yahya a way out short of meeting Indiaʼs demands.

Mr. Sisco: Thatʼs what the President suggested.

Dr. Kissinger: I could be wrong, but my instinct tells me that Yahya didnʼt consider this as a serious proposal but more as a last resort.

Mr. Sisco: I agree there was a clear distinction between that and the other two proposals. He indicated only that he is willing to consider this. But not only is he feeling the pressure in West Pakistan but there is increasing insurgency in East Pakistan.

Dr. Kissinger: What do you suggest we do between now and Monday?

Mr. Sisco: We could do nothing. Or we could call in (Ambassador) Jha and stress again the necessity for them to keep cool. We could point out that we have put forward some concrete proposals for the Indian [Page 508] Government to consider, that failure to grasp the proposals would be a clear indication of their position, and that we await a further indication of their views.

Dr. Kissinger: What would this add to what youʼve already said?

Mr. Sisco: Not a great deal.

Dr. Kissinger: What would we tell the Pakistanis?

Mr. Sisco: I think we should report the results of the Presidentʼs discussions directly to Yahya. We should tell him India seemed interested in the third alternative and ask how he feels about it.

Dr. Kissinger: Mrs. Gandhi didnʼt indicate much interest in anything in her conversations with the President. She spent most of her time telling him that Baluchistan should never have been made a part of Pakistan. When he asked her about military withdrawal, she said she would let him know the next day, and she didnʼt even have the courtesy to mention it again.

Mr. Sisco: On the other hand, calling in the Indian Ambassador might reflect some undue nervousness on our part. I donʼt think reinforcement of our position over the next 48 hours is of overwhelming significance. I do think it is important to report to Yahya on the discussions, however. I reiterate that if any action along the political track can begin, it would be the most determining feature.

Dr. Kissinger: You could also have made a good case that the best way to deter war would have been to continue arms deliveries to Pakistan. What we have done is to put India in the best position they have been in for years.

Mr. Sisco: Even if the alternative would have been to get into an arms race with the Soviet Union? I donʼt agree with you.

Dr. Kissinger: Itʼs too late now. We do not want to bring additional public pressure on Pakistan. On the third track, if Yahya is willing to do it, the sooner the better. The best way to find out is from Pakistan Foreign Secretary Sultan Khan when he comes next week.

Mr. Van Hollen: Sultan Khan is only a senior civil servant. The channel for these discussions has been Yahya to (Ambassador) Farland. Weʼd only complicate matters if we tried to use Sultan Khan.

Dr. Kissinger: Can the Soviets be helpful?

Mr. Sisco: It would be highly desirable to talk to the Soviets. We could recall Gromykoʼs conversations with the President and the Secretary and yourself (to Dr. Kissinger), saying they had indicated they didnʼt want a blow-up in South Asia. Thereʼs no question that their provision of arms to India has been emboldening. We could say we think the situation is getting risky and that they may be on an irreversible course. We might also tell them what we have provided India as a way out.

Dr. Kissinger: But we would not push the third course.

[Page 509]

Mr. Sisco: No one is suggesting that we push the third course or that we push Yahya. Those are straw men.

Mr. Van Hollen: The political track is the only likely track. We would merely pick up the third track and try to explore it further.

Dr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Sisco) I have cleared your cable.3

Mr. Sisco: The original cable was much too complicated. I did a shorter version which I hope Al Haig has shown you. We would merely go to Yahya, say India showed interest in the third alternative and ask for his reaction. I wouldnʼt go beyond that.

Dr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Selden) What is the Defense view?

Mr. Noyes: I donʼt underestimate the psychological effect, but the physical effect of our military supply actions with regard to Pakistan wasnʼt determining.

Dr. Kissinger: But India kept getting arms and Pakistan was not.

Mr. Noyes: Not from us, possibly, but they were getting them from China.

Mr. Sisco: (to Mr. Noyes) Are you saying that our policy on arms supply didnʼt immobilize the Pakistan Army?

Mr. Noyes: Theyʼre not immobilized.

Dr. Kissinger: Gen. Ryan, what do you think?

Gen. Ryan: I have nothing to add. India seems to be in the driverʼs seat at the moment.

Dr. Kissinger: What do we do if war breaks out?

Mr. Sisco: There are some other preparatory steps we can take over the next two or three days. We are still operating on the private gambit with Yahya and Mrs. Gandhi. If her statements on her return increase the likelihood of imminent war, I think we should move into the UN Security Council and seek some sort of restraining order. I am under no illusion about the practical effect of such a resolution or that it will be an easy exercise. But I think it is important that we go public before the balloon goes up. After it blows up, we will be in the Security Council anyhow to get a cease-fire. With this in mind, Iʼd like to pre-position a few things. We have started drafting a resolution and a scenario for a move into the Council. This would, of course, be the first test of the Chinese Communists, and I would expect them to be helpful. Of course, this puts the Soviets in a helluva position. They [Page 510] would be confronted in the Council with the same reality as we are. I would see this as a preempting move.

Dr. Kissinger: What would the resolution say?

Mr. Sisco: It would be very simple. It would note the situation, call on both sides to refrain from further activity to exacerbate the situation. We would have to weigh very carefully whether we wanted to call for everyone to stop shooting. A cease-fire would be very complicated. The issue between India and Pakistan would be easy, but we have the argument that what is going on in East Pakistan is a liberating movement, so we would have to be very careful. But I think it would be important to air the issue, bring out the facts, get some speeches, and get the Council to say everyone should keep their shirts on.

Dr. Kissinger: What would be the operational significance of a UN resolution?

Mr. Sisco: I donʼt overestimate the significance. Of course it canʼt prevent a war.

Dr. Kissinger: What about timing? At what point would we say we have made all the moves?

Mr. Sisco: That could come later.

Dr. Kissinger: A Security Council resolution doesnʼt do a damned thing. What could it do?

Mr. Sisco: It would draw world attention to the situation, expose the facts, including what is happening militarily, and clarify where the responsibility lies.

Dr. Kissinger: Both sides would claim the other side has made the first move. The Pakistanis arenʼt so stupid as to challenge India militarily now. If a war starts, it would have to be by India.

Mr. Sisco: Any restraining order would obviously be pointed more toward India.

Dr. Kissinger: What if the Indians say they canʼt control the situation—that only the Pakistanis can control it? Wouldnʼt this give them another excuse to go to war to defend the UN resolution?

Mr. Sisco: A restraining order wouldnʼt reinforce Indiaʼs justification for going to war.

Dr. Kissinger: But India will say their troops arenʼt doing anything and that it is the Pakistanis who arenʼt obeying the cease-fire.

Mr. Van Hollen: The public would be made aware that it is Indian forces which are continually crossing an international border.

Mr. Sisco: I donʼt overestimate the practical effect of a UN resolution, but what is the alternative?

Dr. Kissinger: If Mrs. Gandhi wants a way out, we should try to give it to her. But we have broken our backs to help her and what has [Page 511] she done? She hasnʼt accepted one thing weʼve offered. She has said friendly things about the President, but they were not related to what he said. Sheʼs merely trying to jockey us into position as the villain of the piece. The question is how are we restraining her by giving her two-thirds of what she wants and letting her use that as a basis for the next move? We should just say that the use of force is not justified.

Mr. Sisco: There will have to be some expressions along this line in the SC. It will be made very clear that the Indians have refused every offer.

Dr. Kissinger: Would you want to go into the Council by next Tuesday4—the timing makes a difference. Would you see the debate as being on military intervention or on political atrocities?

Mr. Sisco: The debate would have to cover both. To return to your earlier point, I see no way in which the SC could be turned around so as to justify Indian military action. I agree the practical result of SC debate is likely to be nil in terms of practical deterrence, but I donʼt have a better alternative.

Dr. Kissinger: (to Cushman) What do you think?

Gen. Cushman: We think there is a good chance that these acts are designed to provoke war. They may, however, be to assist the guerrillas so that they can solve the problem themselves. We may know more after Mrs. Gandhi speaks.

Dr. Kissinger: When will that be?

Mr. Van Hollen: She gets home Saturday and Parliament opens on Monday.

Mr. Schneider: She may say something at the opening of Parliament, but may schedule her formal report later.

Mr. Sisco: We may have a little time beyond Monday.

Gen. Cushman: Mr. Siscoʼs plan might have a good effect domestically if it were pointed at India.

Dr. Kissinger: But we wonʼt get that.

Mr. Sisco: I agree. We donʼt get a resolution pointed at India. It should be an interesting session, though. The Russians would be hard put to veto a proposal to put the SC on record in favor of a cooling of the situation. The PRC position hopefully would be helpful. But, I repeat, I donʼt overestimate the practical effect.

Dr. Kissinger: (to Ryan) Do you have any thoughts or recommendations?

Gen. Ryan: What assurance do we have that the Paks wonʼt preempt the situation and move against the Indians?

[Page 512]

Mr. Sisco: Thatʼs a definite danger.

Dr. Kissinger: If they will lose East Pakistan politically anyhow, why not lose in a war?

Mr. Van Hollen: It might be easier for them to lose it in a war.

Gen. Cushman: They know they canʼt get rid of the guerrillas unless they remove their base camps and sources of supply.

Dr. Kissinger: If India doesnʼt want to settle the matter, we can do whatever we want to on the political track. The Indians will just keep coming back with new elements and we will become the negotiator for the Indians.

Mr. Van Hollen: But itʼs also possible that we would be helping Yahya out of a box short of war.

Mr. Sisco: Yahya doesnʼt think we have been pressuring him. Heʼs a desperate man. I was a little surprised at how much we got from him in his discussions with (Ambassador) Farland.

Mr. Van Hollen: Yahya asked for suggestions from Farland, including political suggestions.

Mr. Sisco: Iʼm not suggesting we should pressure Yahya. I just want Farland to tell Yahya about the discussions with Mrs. Gandhi.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand. I cleared your cable.

Mr. Sisco: Our good friend Bhutto is in Communist China now. He was one of the chief causes of the trouble originally, advising Yahya not to accommodate Mujib. Now he is saying he should deal with Mujib. He is only complicating Yahyaʼs position.

Mr. Van Hollen: Or easing it, possibly.

Dr. Kissinger: Is Bhutto coming here?

Mr. Van Hollen: No. They floated the suggestion, but we said we would leave this to Yahya.

Dr. Kissinger: What do we do when war breaks out?

Mr. Sisco: We might talk a little about our contingency plans.5 The first steps should be close consultations with the Russians and the Chinese Communists.

[Page 513]

Dr. Kissinger: (to Sisco) When you go to the Security Council, you will not approach the Chinese in New York. No one is to approach the Chinese in New York until we hear from Peking.

Mr. Sisco: We will review every step of the scenario before we move. If we go to the UN, though, all the SC representatives will be around the table.

Dr. Kissinger: No one is saying you canʼt talk to them at the table.

Mr. Van Hollen: We envisage a variety of steps: a cease-fire resolution in the SC; termination of military supply to India—

Dr. Kissinger: You can count on that.

Mr. Van Hollen: (continuing) Diversion of American ships containing military supplies; cessation of military training for both countries; a broad range of activities concerning military supply. Termination of aid to both sides—

Dr. Kissinger: But the decision may be to terminate aid only to the country that started the war.

Mr. MacDonald: We have our data organized to accommodate any decision on an aid cut-off.

Mr. Sisco: There is a prior question of overriding and fundamental importance—if there is a war, we will have to come to an understanding on the non-involvement of the major powers.

Dr. Kissinger: India doesnʼt need to involve anyone else to beat the Paks.

Mr. Sisco: We will have to talk to the Russians and the Chinese Communists—to give them some signal as to our intentions. I donʼt think big-power involvement is likely, but it will require some exchange of views. We could all get together and concert in the context of the Security Council to bring about a cease-fire. The Russians will drag their feet if India is winning and if they have made up their minds to shear off East Pakistan. If war starts, there is no question but that the Indians have preponderant strength.

Dr. Kissinger: In the West as well as the East?

Gen. Ryan: In the West too. The Paks are outnumbered 3 to 1. The Indians have better air equipment too.

Mr. Sisco: The Paks are no match and Yahya knows it.

Gen. Ryan: Neither country could sustain a very long war without outside aid, but Pakistan is worse off than India.

Mr. Van Hollen: On contingency planning generally, the WSAG Working Group has been reviewing all the various steps we could take in military supply, economic assistance, trade, air services, evacuation, etc. We are keeping everything up to date. The only question is the political framework.

Mr. Sisco: (to Van Hollen) You had better mention the ships.

[Page 514]

Mr. Van Hollen: There are two ships from MIDEASTFOR which are due to call at Karachi tomorrow for approximately four days. We have queried both New Delhi and Islamabad and neither has any objection.

Mr. Selden: One has a critical fueling problem.

Dr. Kissinger: I see no problem with this.

Mr. Sisco: We just wanted to be sure both you and the President knew about it.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–115, WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1971. Secret;Nodis. No drafting information appears on the minutes. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room. John Waller, Chief of the Near East and South Asia Division of the Directorate of Operations in the CIA, prepared a briefer record of the meeting on November 12. (CIA Files, O/DDO Files, Job 79–0229A, Box 7, Folder 9, WSAG 1971) Another record of the meeting was drafted on November 17 in OASD/ISA by Brigadier General Devol Brett. (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files, FRC 330 76 0197, Box 74, Pakistan 381 (Jun–Nov) 1971)
  2. Based on the attached briefing notes, Cushman reported that there had been numerous clashes along the border between India and East Pakistan. He predicted that major hostilities could occur at any time with little warning. Mukti Bahini guerrillas were increasingly effective in East Pakistan and Cushman estimated that up to 30 percent of rural East Pakistan was under guerrilla control. Tensions between India and Pakistan had increased as Indian border security forces and Indian army troops joined in the fighting along the border between Pakistan army forces and Mukti Bahini guerrillas. Cushman noted that on the border between India and West Pakistan both sides had made preparations in anticipation of war. The CIA assessment was that the Soviet Union was still urging moderation on India and that China was not likely to help Pakistan very actively if it came to war.
  3. Reference is to telegram 206661 to Islamabad, November 12, which instructed Farland to seek an appointment with Yahya to brief him on the Gandhi visit and to suggest that he consider the possibilities opened by the “cautious support” the Indians had offered during the visit to the suggestion that a political solution might be facilitated by talks between Yahya and a representative designated by Mujib. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 7 INDIA)
  4. November 16.
  5. An undated paper outlining contingency planning in the event of the outbreak of war between India and Pakistan and an attached analytical summary of the paper dated November 11, the former apparently prepared in the Department of State and the latter by the NSC staff, were forwarded to Kissinger under a covering memorandum on November 11 by Hoskinson and Richard Kennedy. The covering memorandum and both papers are in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–082, Senior WSAG Meeting, South Asia, 11/12/71. The analytical summary is published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–7, Documents on South Asia, 1969–1972, Document 153.