194. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • South Asia


  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
    • John N. Irwin, II
    • Joseph Sisco
    • Christopher Van Hollen
    • David Schneider
    • Samuel DePalma
  • Defense
    • David Packard
    • Armistead Selden
    • James H. Noyes
  • JCS
    • Adm. Thomas H. Moorer
    • Capt. Howard N. Kay
  • CIA
    • Lt. Gen. Robert E. Cushman
    • John Waller
  • AID
    • Donald MacDonald
  • NSC Staff
    • Brig. Gen. Alexander M. Haig, Jr.
    • Harold H. Saunders
    • R. Adm. Robert O. Welander
    • Samuel Hoskinson
    • Chester A. Crocker
    • Jeanne W. Davis


It was agreed that:

State would prepare a scenario for an approach to the UN including a draft resolution;
State would prepare telegrams for approaches to Mrs. Gandhi and to Yahya;
the WSAG would meet at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, November 23.

Mr. Kissinger: (to General Cushman) Bob, can you give us a rundown?

(General Cushman briefed from the attached text.)2

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Irwin) What do you think?

Mr. Irwin: We think the Pakistanis are probably overplaying the situation and the Indians are underplaying it. We think increased participation by Indian regulars is designed either to put enough pressure on Yahya to get a more favorable political situation, or to try to provoke a Pakistani attack on India and thereby put Pakistan further in the wrong in the eyes of the world. We believe the first reason is more likely than the second. We think we can do two things: (1) go back to Yahya on the basis of his latest conversation with (Ambassador) Farland,3 which [Page 531] we found somewhat disappointing with regard to Mujib; and (2) go to the UN.

Mr. Kissinger: Because Yahya has been attacked, you would bring pressure on Yahya?

Mr. Irwin: No, the move into the UN would put pressure on India. I just think we should go back to Yahya to talk further about Mujib.

Mr. Kissinger: But if we do that, and Yahya doesnʼt agree to talk to Mujib, we would be contributing to putting Yahya in the wrong. All this has to go to the President, of course.

Mr. Irwin: I was merely following up the discussion at the last meeting.

Mr. Kissinger: What do you think, Dave (Packard)?

Mr. Packard: Itʼs damned hard to know what is going on. Weʼve got to get the facts, first.

Mr. Irwin: One way to avoid war, though, would be through some political accommodation.

Mr. Kissinger: Thatʼs all right if we assume we want to do Indiaʼs job for them.

Mr. Irwin: I donʼt think thatʼs doing Indiaʼs job for them. Itʼs one way to avoid a war.

Mr. Kissinger: But India is saying they will go to war unless Pakistan meets their political demands.

Mr. Irwin: Iʼm only saying that this would be one way to avoid war. Also, it is a step in a process that is already started.

Mr. Kissinger: Yes, we have been moving step by step along a line the President has indicated he doesnʼt want to go. You canʼt use the last step, which the President accepted only reluctantly, as the basis for the next step. Also, the assumption on which we made our last move was wrong. We had assumed that Yahya had asked us for suggestions as to what he might do politically, and this turned out to be wrong, if I read the cables correctly. (to Moorer) What do you think, Tom?

Adm. Moorer: Weʼve all sent out flash messages to try to find out what is happening. Thereʼs no question that the Indians have superiority in all areas—157 aircraft to 18, for example, along the East Pakistan border. Also, they have deployed forces along the West border and have reorganized them into three sectors so as to manage them more effectively. Thereʼs no question that a conflict is going on. I personally think the Indians are trying to provoke the Pakistanis to move in the West. I have some information on the POL and logistic positions that may be interesting. The Indians have a 30-day war reserve of POL, small arms and artillery, plus some local production [Page 532] capability, so ammo is no problem. They also have an additional 90day POL reserve, but this would have to come from Iran and would probably be cut off in the event of war. Pakistan has a 70-day POL supply, but four-fifths of this is in Karachi which makes it vulnerable to a single attack. They have 34 days of jet fuel in the West, and practically no air position in the East. I think the first thing we must do is get the facts.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Irwin) What do you mean when you say we could go to the UN?

Mr. Sisco: There would be two principal purposes in such a move: (1) in the present circumstances, where we do not have an all-out war but do have a significant increase in the number of incidents, we could try to get some form of restraining order from the Security Council which hopefully would arrest or slow down further deterioration of the situation.

Mr. Kissinger: Could we see the text of such a resolution?

Mr. Sisco: Weʼll do one. The second purpose would be to involve the UN in some form of good offices instrumentality. We obviously need facts. But I think we know enough about the nature of the insurgency to believe that it would be a good thing to begin to move our efforts somewhat more into the public domain and to begin to place some of the responsibility on the shoulders of the UN. We have withheld a firm recommendation on going to the UN on one ground—as long as our private efforts offered any opportunity for success we thought that approach was better than going public. The Indians have already rejected any UN involvement in a statement by Mrs. Gandhi. If the reports of the fighting are confirmed, I believe any idea of going back to Yahya should go by the board. Yahya canʼt seriously consider accepting what he turned down 48 hours ago.

Mr. Kissinger: And the President wouldnʼt approve.

Mr. Sisco: If we conclude that there is little else to be gained by private efforts, the only alternative is to turn to the public domain, and to begin through the UN. I see four options: (1) the most likely development, if the military situation is confirmed, is that the Pakistanis will move into the Security Council; (2) we could go to the Secretary General, give our assessment of the danger of the situation, and suggest that he, on his own initiative, convene the Security Council on the grounds that the situation is a threat or potential threat to the peace; (3) we might get two or three of the smaller powers on the Security Council to take the initiative, after they had been thoroughly briefed; this would be a lot more complicated; or (4) the U.S., in concert with the UK, might move to convene the Security Council.

Mr. Kissinger: To what end? What would we want to accomplish by going to the UN?

[Page 533]

Mr. Sisco: To avoid broadening the conflict. To try to get some dialogue going through some UN instrumentality.

Mr. Kissinger: Dialogue between whom?

Mr. Sisco: Thatʼs a question. The Indians would press for a dialogue between East and West Pakistan. There would be strong Indian opposition to making India a party at interest. The basis for Security Council consideration would be the reports of outside involvement. That is why the Indians are denying that any Indian troops are involved—why they are saying that it is only the Mukti Bahini. Each side would, of course, present its case.

Mr. Kissinger: And we will get caught between India and Pakistan and, more important, between the Soviets and the Chinese. Iʼm confident there will be no approval from this building for any freewheeling exercise in the UN with no clear idea of what we want to come out of it. We need a scenario, the draft of a resolution, and some idea of exactly what would be likely to come out of such an approach. If a resolution results which can be interpreted as directed against Pakistan….

Mr. DePalma: The Chinese wonʼt let that kind of a resolution come out.

Mr. Kissinger: We donʼt want the Chinese to be the only country supporting Pakistan.

Mr. DePalma: Thereʼs a pretty good balance in the Security Council.

Mr. Kissinger: Youʼll have to tell us what we want to come out with. What sort of a resolution do we want?

Mr. Sisco: We can put something on paper. There is no one who can call the shots now in terms of what will come out of the Security Council.

Mr. Kissinger: We can call the shots on what we will agree to.

Mr. Sisco: Our objective is to try to discourage war on the subcontinent.

Mr. Kissinger: Thatʼs a generalization. We can do that by giving India what she wants. We can also do it by discouraging India from using military force to break up Pakistan. The Indians are trying to break off East Pakistan in a fashion so traumatic as to bring West Pakistan to collapse. Mrs. Gandhi spent a good deal of time telling the President why Baluchistan should never have been made a part of Pakistan. What if the Pakistanis should complete a transfer of power to a new team in East Pakistan? They wouldnʼt necessarily be completely representative but at least the new people would not be tied to the earlier regime. Is it unreasonable to ask India to wait for four weeks to see how that comes out? If we want to force a political solution [Page 534] now, you would have a different kind of UN resolution. The President has made his views very clear on this issue, although he has obviously had some difficulty in communicating them to some of you. We have got to get some form of resolution which we can support. Are we trying to force Yahya to a political solution now? Or are we trying to get India to relieve some of the pressure on Yahya? These require different kinds of resolutions. We donʼt just want the mish-mash of discussion at the UN.

Mr. Irwin: Anything that starts at the UN will run the danger of ending as a mish-mash.

Mr. Kissinger: Not if we know what we want. Sam (DePalma), youʼre the expert on this. What do you think?

Mr. DePalma: As its first target, the UN could be directed toward stopping the Indian incursions. But as UN involvement continues, it will undoubtedly focus on the political situation in East Pakistan.

Mr. Kissinger: That is what the President wants.

Mr. Sisco: The first half or the second half?

Mr. Kissinger: He wants the first half, and he has agreed reluctantly to the second half.

Mr. DePalma: That means talking among the five powers in the Security Council. I agree that it is probably premature, but we canʼt escape it.

Mr. Kissinger: How much time do we have?

Mr. DePalma: We donʼt know enough about the situation on the ground to know.

Mr. Kissinger: Iʼm sure we will be in the Security Council before two or three weeks are out.

Mr. Sisco: More likely two or three days. If there is any confirmation of the military reports, the Pakistanis will move into the Council. The Paks know they are in a weakened position militarily. They have taken several initiatives toward the UN but have been blocked each time by the negative Indian attitude. We will give you our best judgment on what the Security Council can do and what is likely to come out of Council consideration.

Mr. Kissinger: And how we should play it.

Mr. Sisco: Yes.

Mr. Kissinger: Iʼm sending Secretary Rogers everything we have from the Chinese on the subject.4

[Page 535]

Mr. Sisco: I think the Chinese will be helpful in the Security Council. There is a relatively even balance in the Council. There will probably be things in the discussion and in any resolution which neither side will like.

Mr. Kissinger: Iʼm not sure the President will take the position that we have to accept anything we donʼt like.

Mr. Irwin: That goes without saying. The Soviets wonʼt accept anything the Indians disapprove of.

Mr. Kissinger: Could we have by the opening of business tomorrow: (1) a precise scenario for going to the UN; (2) a draft resolution, including a discussion of what we would be willing and what we would not be willing to have in a resolution; (3) an idea of how consultations would be conducted at the UN and with whom—who approaches whom? We will meet again tomorrow. Even if this present thing blows over, within a week there will be another incident. If India gives us any reasonable chance to get something going, we might then go back to Yahya.

Mr. Sisco: I think we can assume India will keep the pressure on both militarily and politically.

Mr. Kissinger: Iʼm not sure they want Mujib to settle the situation in East Pakistan; I think they want the situation to collapse.

Mr. Irwin: They might well. But if we donʼt go to the UN, what would be our next move?

Mr. Kissinger: We have a special problem at the UN—we donʼt want to get caught between the USSR and China in this first major involvement of the five powers.

Mr. Sisco: This is, of course, inherent to some extent. The Russians will give direct support to India in the Security Council and the Chinese will support the Pakistan position. This automatically puts the U.S. in a delicate position.

Mr. Kissinger: We donʼt want to push into the UN without knowing exactly how it is to be played. We wonʼt participate in any game in New York without being sure of the real views of all the participants.

Mr. Irwin: I agree. But suppose we donʼt go to the Security Council? Where should we move bilaterally, if, indeed, we should do anything?

[Page 536]

Mr. Kissinger: If the military developments are confirmed, you could make a good case for a cable to Mrs. Gandhi, pointing out everything we have done and making it clear that in this context Indian military activity would simply not be understood.

Mr. Irwin: Fine. We have been telling them this one way or another all along. Would we also go back to Yahya in the same tone as before?

Mr. Packard: What would we accomplish by going back to Yahya?

Mr. Irwin: If he were willing to talk to Mujib, it might possibly dilute the military pressure on East Pakistan.

Mr. Sisco: If the Indian military activity is confirmed, I donʼt think it would be wise to go back to Yahya to press him on the Mujib talks.

Adm. Moorer: I agree.

Mr. Kissinger: We should go to Mrs. Gandhi and the Soviets, if anyone, pointing out all the things we have gotten from Yahya. Mrs. Gandhi never even answered us on the offer of mutual withdrawal. Letʼs get the UN material and both telegrams (for approaches to Mrs. Gandhi and to Yahya) over here tonight, and weʼll meet at 8:30 tomorrow morning.

(Time of meeting later changed to 9:00 a.m.)

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–115, WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1971. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room. No drafting information appears on the minutes. A briefer record of this meeting, prepared by James Noyes (OASD/ISA), is in the Washington National Records Center, OSD Files, FRC 330 76 0197, Box 74, Pakistan 381 (Jan–Nov) 1971.
  2. Based on the briefing notes prepared for the meeting, General Cushman reported that press reports from Pakistan indicated that India had launched an offensive on the border of East Pakistan in the Jessore area with two infantry divisions supported by armor. The CIA assessment was that, even if the reports were exaggerated, the size of Indian incursions into East Pakistan were apparently increasing. President Yahya did not want to fight a war he knew Pakistan would probably lose, but Cushman concluded that he might soon decide that he had no choice but to do so. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–082, Senior WSAG Meeting, South Asia, 11/22/71)
  3. See footnote 2, Document 192.
  4. On November 22 Kissinger sent to Rogers a copy of an undated note “just received” from China which supported President Yahyaʼs proposal for a mutual troop withdrawal from border areas. The note claimed that India was interfering in Pakistanʼs internal affairs and concluded: “Should Pakistan be subjected to aggression by India, China will support the Pakistan Government and people in their just struggle.” (Kissinger memorandum to Rogers; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 849, For the Presidentʼs File, China Trip, China Exchanges, October 20, 1971)