184. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Sultan Khan, Foreign Secretary of Pakistan
  • Agha Mohammad Raza, Ambassador Designate of Pakistan
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President
  • Harold H. Saunders, NSC Staff

Dr. Kissinger had met the Foreign Secretary for a relaxed conversation after dinner at the residence of the Pakistani ambassador the previous evening. The conversation therefore began against that background.

Dr. Kissinger began by asking what had come up at Secretary Rogersʼ lunch for the Foreign Secretary. The Foreign Secretary noted that there had been considerable interest in how to launch a political process which in some way involved Mujibur Rahman within the limits which President Yahya felt constraining him.

Dr. Kissinger, apparently referring to the conversation of the previous evening, said that in view of the fact that Ambassador Farland had instructions to see President Yahya there was probably little need to ask for clarification on that point until we have a report on that conversation. The other question that had come up, though, was still of interest—what could he convey to the Russians?

The Foreign Secretary said he felt that whatever is known to the Indians will also be known to the Soviets. He noted an article of November [Page 515] 12 in the Washington Post from New Delhi [attached]2 which had amounted to an Indian leak of the idea that President Yahya would be willing to engage in negotiations with an approved Bangla Desh leader. The Foreign Secretary noted the part of the article which said that India would have to approve any such negotiator. He said that India does not want to approve such negotiations and felt that the leak was designed to kill the idea. He noted that fragmentary reports on Mrs. Gandhiʼs speech to the parliament after returning to New Delhi were just coming in and indicated that she had not made a definitive statement. He felt that the determining factor would be what actually happens on the borders over the next week or so. He concluded by saying that it looks as if Pakistan had exhausted the process of accepting suggestions. He enumerated those that Pakistan had accepted ranging from the offer for a unilateral military pullback through the willingness to negotiate with Bangla Desh leaders. He did not see what else Pakistan could do, although the government of Pakistan would always be receptive to suggestions from the United States.

Dr. Kissinger said that he felt it would help to issue a comprehensive statement of everything that had been done. The Indians have a monopoly on getting out a one-sided picture of the situation. Putting out a clear picture that Pakistan has done a fair amount could serve as a brake on military action and a one-sided justification of it.

The Foreign Secretary said he wondered whether one statement could brake such momentum. India has created a position for itself where one statement may not be able to do that. The one possible hope that he saw was help from the Soviets in restraining the Indians.

Dr. Kissinger, noting that the Foreign Secretary and the ambassador should not repeat this to the State Department, said that he had talked to the Soviet ambassador that morning on other business. He had told the ambassador that we take “the gravest view” of the situation in South Asia.3 An outbreak of war there would not be understood here. If the Soviets were thought to have had a role in the outbreak of such a war, it would make US-Soviet relations worse. He also noted that Soviet shipment of military equipment was hard to understand. [The Foreign Secretary carefully repeated this wording to be sure that he understood it.]

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The Foreign Secretary suggested that the Soviet ambassador could be asked what the USSR sees wrong about supporting the US proposal for a military pullback. Dr. Kissinger replied that he knew what the Indian answer would be—that Pakistan should withdraw from the East Pakistan border. The Foreign Secretary said that would be fine if India were to pull back from that border and terminate its support for the guerrillas on the border.

Dr. Kissinger said that he would raise the point. He then returned to the issue of Mujib, saying that he was not pressing the Foreign Secretary at all but simply needed to understand Pakistanʼs position as clearly as possible.

Dr. Kissinger asked whether he had understood the Foreign Secretary correctly the night before—that over a period of months the government of Pakistan would be able to show more flexibility toward Mujib.

The Foreign Secretary said that, in the absence of instructions from President Yahya, he could only say that once a civilian government is formed if it finds that it is unable to arouse the cooperation of the people of East Pakistan it will have to devise measures for improving that support. The government of that day would have to deal with this issue. If the provincial government said it was not getting the response from the people that was required, it would have to take this question up with the central government. He said he had to note that feeling in the armed forces remained high against Mujib, so even a civilian government would have to weigh carefully any action taken in connection with Mujib.

Dr. Kissinger said he personally believed that whatever demand is met there would be another from the Indian side. But nevertheless “we” need a platform to prevent the appearance of a totally negative position. The Indians have made Mujib central in their estimate of what a resolution of the situation requires. Dr. Kissinger said he personally felt that Mujib would “be devoured by the process” in Calcutta if he were released. But as of now he is perceived by many to be central to a solution.

Dr. Kissinger continued saying that it would be extremely desirable for him to have an authoritative statement of President Yahyaʼs view on the role of Mujib over the next six months. He said that he is constantly confronted by interpretations of what President Yahyaʼs view is and he would prefer not to be in a position of constantly “fighting a rear guard action” on behalf of President Yahya here without really knowing what the Presidentʼs views are. In response to the Foreign Secretaryʼs question, he said that it would be important to know President Yahyaʼs views in case the situation arose where we might have some ideas on how to transform some aspects of the situation into a concrete proposal.

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The Foreign Secretary said it was extremely important to avoid telling the Indians of Pakistanʼs positions because they will leak them in order to embarrass President Yahya. He again cited the recent Washington Post article on negotiations with Bangla Desh representatives.

At this point Dr. Kissinger took the Foreign Secretary in to see the President for seven or eight minutes.

When they returned it had been agreed, after some discussion of how this might be communicated, that the Foreign Secretary would speak with President Yahya and make his own personal assessment on this subject of Mujib which would be sent in the back-channel to Dr. Kissinger. Dr. Kissinger noted that if there were military action, the issue might be moot.

The Foreign Secretary double checked by saying that the question Dr. Kissinger had asked was: Exactly how far can Mujibʼs role and personality be used in stabilizing the situation and over what period of time?

Dr. Kissinger concluded by saying that the Foreign Secretary could wait until he got back in five days or so before replying. He repeated again how grateful he had been for his reception in July and President Yahyaʼs kindness in connection with his trip to Peking.

Harold H. Saunders 4
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 643, Country Files, Middle East, India/Pakistan, July 1971. Secret;Nodis. The meeting was held in Kissingerʼs office at the White House. Sultan Khan was in Washington November 13–16 to consult on the crisis.
  2. All brackets in the source text. Lee Lescaze reported on November 12 in The Washington Post that President Yahya had privately expressed willingness to meet with leaders of the Awami League.
  3. Kissinger told Dobrynin in a telephone conversation on November 15 that the United States was “extremely concerned about the South Asian situation.” He said: “We think India is determined to have a showdown,” and added: “In our view, sending arms into India is adding fuel.” (Transcript of a telephone conversation, November 15, 12:33 p.m.; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 395, Telephone Conversations, Dobrynin, Sept 1971–Apr 1972)
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.