196. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • South Asia


  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
    • John N. Irwin, II
    • David Schneider
    • Christopher Van Hollen
    • Bruce Laingen
    • 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
    • Harold H. Saunders
    • Samuel Hoskinson
    • R/Adm. Robert O. Welander
    • Jeanne W. Davis


It was agreed that:

Telegrams, as revised at the meeting, should be sent to Ambassadors Farland, Keating and Beam instructing them to make démarches to the respective Foreign Ministers expressing our concern and urging restraint;
State will do a memorandum on a cutoff of aid;
A proposed scenario for UN action and a draft SC resolution will be sent for comment to USUN and Embassies Islamabad and New Delhi.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Cushman) Where do we stand?

(General Cushman briefed from the attached text.)2

Mr. Irwin: How long does it take to get some feedback [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]?

[Page 539]

Gen. Cushman: We should get it within a day.

Mr. Packard: Do we have pretty good coverage there?

Gen. Cushman: [2 lines of source text not declassified]

Mr. Kissinger: Does it look as though this is a limited operation or will they keep going?

Gen. Cushman: They have the option of stopping it or of throwing more in. It looks like a limited operation to us.

Mr. Irwin: The cable3 says that there are spearheads directed against Chalma and Chittagong. Is it feasible for them to get there?

Gen. Cushman: They have the capability.

Adm. Moorer: Do you have anything on the Indian Navy—there were reports that they had fired on a British ship.

Gen. Cushman: We have nothing on that.

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

Mr. Irwin: We have nothing to add. General Cushman summarized what we have in the cables.

Mr. Kissinger: We have received a letter from Yahya.4 It doesnʼt add anything. (Copies of the letter had been given to Under Secretary Irwin and Mr. Van Hollen at the table.)

Mr. Van Hollen: The first point is a repeat of what Additional Foreign Secretary Alvie told Ambassador Farland. The rest is an appeal for help.

[Page 540]

Mr. Kissinger: Has everyone seen the three draft cables (to New Delhi, Islamabad and Moscow)?5

Mr. Nixonʼs: Yes, they have them at the table.

Mr. Kissinger: The President asked for three cables last night—to the Soviets, the Indians and the Pakistanis. I talked to Secretary Rogers last night to confirm that the cables would not be sent until they had been considered at this meeting. The cables were very well done, but the President wanted to add some reference to his conversation with Mrs. Gandhi. He told her we were sympathetic on the refugee situation but that a resort to war “simply would not be understood.” I have written in a sentence on page three of the draft cable to Delhi.

Mr. Irwin: The question is whether we should send these cables out now or wait for more independent confirmation of what has happened. If we do send them now, should we refer to “Indian armed forces” or should we generalize? Also, if we send the cables now, might it be better to make the démarche at the Foreign Minister level, saving an approach to Yahya and Mrs. Gandhi for later when we will know more.

Mr. Kissinger: What more do we have to know?

Mr. Irwin: We could use better confirmation of what forces are involved from some external source.

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

Mr. Irwin: If we send them now, I think we should phrase them so as not to appear to be automatically accepting the reports as fact. Also I think it would be good to go in at the Foreign Minister level— to Swaran Singh. Then we could be prepared to go tomorrow, or when [Page 541] ever we have more information, to the Prime Minister. This would give us a double push.

Mr. Kissinger: Would you change the text for an approach to the Foreign Minister or keep it the same?

Mr. Irwin: Essentially the same.

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

Mr. Packard: I think itʼs probably just as good to indicate our serious concern by going right to the top, but I donʼt feel strongly about it.

Mr. Irwin: I would fuzz the second line on page 2 of the telegram to Delhi (which expressed “our grave concern at recent engagements between military forces of India and Pakistan”) by referring to “reported engagements” between “regular military forces.”

Mr. Packard: I would also take out the sentence on page one which says: “GOP has characterized these most recent incidents as ‘all out’ Indian offensive against East Pakistan.”

Mr. Irwin: If weʼre going to refer to the President, we should probably go to the Prime Minister rather than the Foreign Minister. My choice would be to go to the Foreign Minister first then, when we learn more, go to the Prime Minister.

Mr. Kissinger: We can mention the President to the Foreign Minister, canʼt we? Is there anything wrong with that?

Adm. Moorer: If we go to the Foreign Minister and the action escalates drastically meanwhile, there would be no point in talking to Mrs. Gandhi about starting a war. It would be a fait accompli, and we should be talking about withdrawing rather than withholding. Personally I think thereʼs no question that Indian regular forces are involved.

Mr. Kissinger: There is no way guerrillas could get tanks and aircraft and be operating in brigade formation. We can play this charade only so long. What kind of a world is it where countries can claim these are guerrilla actions? It doesnʼt make sense, and we certainly donʼt have to play along. I have no strong view about whether to approach the Foreign Minister or the Prime Minister first. Should I ask the President about this?

Mr. Packard: We should also be thinking carefully about the next step if the situation escalates.

Mr. Kissinger: I know what the President will do—he will cut off aid. (to MacDonald) Can we operate on the basis of the paper6 you [Page 542] did as part of the contingency planning, or will we need something else?

Mr. MacDonald: You can operate on the basis of our paper.

Mr. Kissinger: What would we do—take the first two steps?

Mr. MacDonald: We would propose taking the first four steps: (1) announce a cutoff of economic assistance to India or Pakistan or both; (2) freeze all action on pending obligations and agreements; (3) instruct U.S. banks not to issue new letters of credit against outstanding letters of commitment balances—this amounts to about $100 million; (4) ask U.S. banks informally not to make disbursements against outstanding lines of credit without checking with AID.

Mr. Kissinger: At what point would we take these steps?

Mr. MacDonald: I defer to State on that.

Mr. Irwin: Thatʼs uncertain. We think we should wait until we know more.

Mr. Packard: We could send them the warning to slow up. If they donʼt, we could take the aid cutoff steps.

Mr. Kissinger: I agree, we certainly wonʼt do it today. Who would be hurt more by an aid cutoff—India or Pakistan?

Mr. Van Hollen: In the short term, neither country would be hurt very much. There would be an important political and psychological impact, but very little economic effect. Thereʼs still a large pipeline to both countries.

Mr. Kissinger: Can we cut off the pipeline?

Mr. MacDonald: Any aid cutoff would have only a marginal effect. It would be possible to cut off the pipeline, but itʼs an extremely complicated process and would take some time. They have funds in 39 commercial and investment banks, and lines of credit are in the hands of thousands of suppliers.

Mr. Kissinger: The effect of the cutoff would be felt in what time period?

Mr. MacDonald: It would take about a month to get the instructions out.

Mr. Kissinger: When would India begin to feel the effect?

Mr. MacDonald: In about three months.

Mr. Kissinger: Who would be hurt more—India or Pakistan?

Mr. MacDonald: Itʼs marginal, but probably Pakistan. They have had a leaner diet from the consortium than India.

Mr. Packard: What would you do about the aid to the refugees?

Mr. MacDonald: That is mostly food and could be handled separately—it will be complicated, though.

Mr. Kissinger: Could we cut off aid to India alone?

[Page 543]

Mr. Van Hollen: Yes, we can do it to either or to both.

Mr. Irwin: If we cut off aid because of an invasion of East Pakistan, I question whether we should cut off aid to Pakistan too.

Mr. Packard: Does refugee aid go to Pakistan.

Mr. MacDonald: It goes to both countries.

Mr. Van Hollen: I think there is a question of whether it would be in the U.S. interest to cut off aid. The effect would be minimal, it wouldnʼt be felt for at least a month or two, and any war would probably be of short duration.

Mr. Kissinger: Unless India felt that they would begin to hurt in a month or two and this had a restraining effect on them. Could we stop all shipments?

Mr. MacDonald: The U.S. Government would have to take title to all goods that are now under Indian and Pakistani title. We have the right to do this under our agreements, since we are loaning them the money to buy these goods. But it would create chaos in the commercial world and probably involve years of litigation if we should try to cancel the pipeline.

Mr. Kissinger: How much is involved?

Mr. MacDonald: For India, some $224 million. One quarter to one-fifth is on the high seas, about half in U.S. bottoms and half in foreign bottoms, some Indian bottoms. We would have to instruct the shipping companies to off-load at intermediate ports, arrange for storage and return of the goods—it would be very difficult. Three-quarters to four-fifths of the material is still in the U.S. in various stages of manufacture or transportation. Some is being loaded on ships.

Mr. Van Hollen: Unless we have unequivocal evidence of an all-out Indian attack on East Pakistan, there is a real question as to whether a cutoff of aid will enhance our ability to influence Mrs. Gandhi toward restraint, or the reverse. Iʼm not convinced that a cutoff would have a restraining effect on her.

Mr. MacDonald: The empirical evidence is that a cancellation of aid tends to lessen our influence rather than enhance it.

Dr. Kissinger: But granting the aid hasnʼt helped us. I understand your argument, but I donʼt see how a cut-off of aid could lessen our influence.

Mr. Selden: Thereʼs also some military aid going to India—$2.2 million in FMS sales.

Dr. Kissinger: Can we get our pipeline experts to work on this?

Mr. Van Hollen: There is a memorandum from the Secretary7 coming over. There is about $5.2 million in the pipeline.

[Page 544]

Adm. Moorer: Weʼre in a helluva fix. Weʼre scattering aid all over the world where it isnʼt doing us any good, then when we try to cut it off weʼre told it would be counterproductive.

Dr. Kissinger: And weʼre getting nothing for it. Itʼs not right to have military aid going to India and not to Pakistan.

Mr. Van Hollen: We have a memo from the Secretary to the President on this in train.

Dr. Kissinger: Can we get it today?

Adm. Moorer: What do you mean by an all-out attack? How about a little attack? How much of an attack are we talking about?

Mr. Van Hollen: I agree the situation is complicated, but the Indians are publicly denying that their regular forces are involved. Itʼs a question of the effect of an aid cut-off on our ability to get the Indians to exercise restraint.

Adm. Moorer: Should we wait for the Indians to admit it?

Mr. Irwin: We should wait for outside information.

Dr. Kissinger: What would be outside information?

Mr. DePalma: They havenʼt captured any Indian troops yet.

Mr. Van Hollen: The Indians claim they have captured some Pakistani pilots, and the Pakistanis claim to have captured a few regular Indian soldiers.

Dr. Kissinger: It doesnʼt make sense. You have 12 planes against 200. Itʼs the Germans claiming they were attacked by the Lithuanians. If, for cynical reasons, we want to play this game, all right. But letʼs not pretend to believe it.

Mr. Packard: I think itʼs okay to send the telegrams because they will not be public. But we should think twice about taking a public action, such as an aid cut-off, that may do no damned good. It wonʼt look very good for us to take a step that is ineffectual.

Dr. Kissinger: I didnʼt hear the same arguments about cutting off the military pipeline to Pakistan. There was no such solicitude expressed that the move might be ineffective.

Mr. Van Hollen: The rationale for this action, which was taken in consultation with Pakistan, was quite different. The fact was that the military shipments were causing us disproportionate trouble on the Hill and with our public to the detriment of achieving more important objectives.

Mr. Packard: I would have no objection to cutting military aid to India.

Dr. Kissinger: Can we get the paper on this?

Mr. Van Hollen: Yes.

Dr. Kissinger: Itʼs very difficult not to cut aid to India when we have cut aid to Pakistan. We have to consider the aid program not only [Page 545] in terms of stopping an Indian attack. The Indians have been told that an attack would have serious consequences. They are facing us down, and we have to consider whether we can let them do it.

Mr. Irwin: There would be a symbolic impact, but not a practical one. Iʼm hesitant about involving the President unless we have external confirmation of the attack—prisoners, dead bodies, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] etc. But there would be no harm in going with the cables to the Prime Minister, as long as they were phrased as a démarche from the U.S. Government to their Government.

Dr. Kissinger: These are not messages from the President. It is merely the U.S. Government quoting a phrase from the President. They arenʼt Presidential letters.

Mr. Irwin: The President could always enter individually later on.

Mr. Selden: How about the cable to the UN? Shouldnʼt we let someone else take the initiative?

Mr. Irwin: We think we should send the cable to USUN to get some reaction.

Dr. Kissinger: We could live with this resolution (contained in the draft telegram to USUN).8 Itʼs a good cable; I have no problem with it. Letʼs get the views on the UN approach, then meet again. Does anyone have any problem with this?

Mr. Irwin: We want to show the telegram to the Secretary. He hasnʼt seen it yet.

Mr. Van Hollen: If the Pakistanis are determined to go to the Security Council, there is a question as to whether we shouldnʼt approach the Secretary General or a third party to try to have the call for an SC meeting come from somewhere else. We might get a more balanced outcome if the call did not come from Pakistan.

Dr. Kissinger: You might have a less acrimonious debate, but I donʼt think youʼll have a good outcome.

Mr. Packard: We should not take the initiative.

[Page 546]

Mr. Irwin: We prefer the Secretary General or some smaller powers take the lead.

Mr. Van Hollen: We would have to put the Secretary General up to it.

Mr. Irwin: And he is ill.

Dr. Kissinger: Doesnʼt someone substitute for him?

Mr. DePalma: This would be a very daring move for a substitute to take.

Dr. Kissinger: Weʼre not approaching anyone else yet, are we?

Mr. Irwin: No.

Dr. Kissinger: Letʼs send the cables as we have revised them here. The President has already asked me if the cables have gone and if they were tough. I couldnʼt satisfy him on either count.

(9:50—Mr. Kissinger left the room.)

Mr. Irwin: (to Gen. Cushman) What are our chances on getting further information?

Gen. Cushman: Weʼre getting more information but I canʼt say when weʼll have proof of Indian involvement. The fact that the Pakistanis admit they have lost tanks, which they do not normally do, indicates that the Indians must be operating there.

Mr. Van Hollen: Is there any way of closing the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] time gap?

Mr. Waller: [2 lines of source text not declassified]

Mr. Van Hollen: [1½ lines of source text not declassified]

Mr. Waller: [1 line of source text not declassified]

Mr. Irwin: (to Gen. Cushman) What is the one you have?

Gen. Cushman: [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] reporting damage to the Jessore airfield [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]

Mr. Irwin: Are they within range of the border?

Gen. Cushman: [3½ lines of source text not declassified]

(9:58—Dr. Kissinger returned.)

Mr. Irwin: We will get all four of the cables out. At what level should we go in?

Dr. Kissinger: What is the consensus?

Mr. Packard: I think we should go right to the top to emphasize our concern. But we should also begin to think about the next steps.

Dr. Kissinger: We should cut off the military pipeline.

Mr. Irwin: My inclination would be, until we have firm confirmation of the attack, to go to the Foreign Minister and then escalate to the Prime Minister, but I have no strong feeling.

[Page 547]

Mr. Packard: It might be better to start at the lower level.

Dr. Kissinger: OK, but letʼs get the telegrams out within the hour.

Mr. Van Hollen: We have the same problem, with cutting off the pipeline, of the impact on U.S. effectiveness with the Indians.

Dr. Kissinger: Iʼm only talking about the military pipeline.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–115, WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1971. Top Secret; Sensitive; Codeword. No drafting appears on the minutes. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room. A briefer record of the 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. General Cushman summarized reports of the fighting occurring along the border between East Pakistan and India. He noted that Pakistani military authorities alleged that Indian armed forces had penetrated East Pakistan in the Jessore area to a depth of eight miles. Other information, however, indicated that, while Indian and Mukhti Bahini forces had attacked in strength, they had not pushed back the Pakistani forces around Jessore. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–082, Senior WSAG Meeting, South Asia, 11/23/71)
  3. Reference is to telegram 11557 from Islamabad, November 23, which summarized a conversation between President Yahya and Ambassador Farland on November 23. Yahya informed Farland that India had initiated offensive operations against Pakistan, with Indian spearheads directed against the ports of Chalna and Chittagong. Yahya said that in the Chittagong sector Indian forces had penetrated 20 miles into Pakistanʼs territory. In response to these developments, Yahya stated that he was declaring a national emergency. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 15–1 PAK)
  4. President Yahyaʼs undated letter to President Nixon, which was delivered to the White House by the Pakistani Embassy on November 23, provided a detailed account of what Yahya described as unprovoked, large-scale Indian attacks into East Pakistan. Pakistan, Yahya wrote, would mount a vigorous defense of its territory. Yahya still hoped to avoid a general war with India, but he added that the Indian attacks in East Pakistan were pushing Pakistan to the point of no return. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 759, Presidential Correspondence File, 1971) The text of the letter was transmitted to Islamabad on November 23 in telegram 212620. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL INDIA–PAK)
  5. Copies of these draft telegrams were sent to Haig on November 22 under cover of a memorandum from R.T. Curran, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Department. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–082, Senior WSAG Meeting, South Asia, 11/23/71) After discussion and revisions made during the WSAG meeting, they were sent on November 23 to Islamabad as telegram 212549, Moscow as telegram 212550, and New Delhi as telegram 212564. Telegram 212549 to Islamabad instructed Ambassador Farland to inform President Yahya that the United States was expressing deep concern to India and to the Soviet Union about reported military operations in East Pakistan. Farland was instructed to urge Yahya to exercise the greatest degree of military restraint. In telegram 212550 to Moscow, Ambassador Beam was requested to seek an appointment with Foreign Minister Gromyko to emphasize the dangers of escalation in the building conflict between India and Pakistan. Beam was instructed to point to reports of Indian and Mukhti Bahini offensive operations against East Pakistan, and to urge the Soviet Union to exercise a restraining influence on India. Telegram 212564 to New Delhi instructed Ambassador Keating to see Foreign Minister Swaran Singh to express the “grave concern” of the United States over recent military action along the East Pakistan border. Keating was to remind the Foreign Minister of Prime Minister Gandhiʼs assurances to President Nixon that India would not initiate hostilities. The sentence that Kissinger added to the telegram regarding Nixonʼs warning to Prime Minister Gandhi that the U.S. would not understand an Indian recourse to war, was incorporated into the second paragraph on the second page rather than at the end of the cable. (Telegrams 212549 to Islamabad and 212564 to New Delhi are ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL INDIA–PAK; telegram 212550 to Moscow is ibid., POL 7 INDIA)
  6. Reference is to a paper prepared on November 2 in AID/NESA/SA entitled “A.I.D. Actions During First 96 Hours Following Decision to Terminate Aid.” The paper was summarized on November 23 by Nixonʼs and Hoskinson in a briefing memorandum prepared as background for that dayʼs WSAG meeting. The four steps in the proposed process of terminating economic assistance to India and Pakistan are those outlined during the WSAG discussion by Donald MacDonald. The projected amounts of assistance involved were $225 million for India and $29 million for Pakistan. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–082, Senior WSAG Meeting, South Asia, 11/24/71)
  7. Not found.
  8. Reference is to a draft telegram sent to Haig on November 22 under cover of a memorandum from Curran. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–082, Senior WSAG Meeting, South Asia, 11/23/71) Sent to USUN as telegram 212583 on November 23, it indicated that, in view of the deteriorating situation along the border between East Pakistan and India, recourse to the Security Council was being considered in Washington. A scenario for possible action by the Security Council was outlined and USUN was asked to comment. Security Council action on the matter could eventuate as a result of a Pakistani initiative, an initiative by the United States, and the United Kingdom, by two or three small powers on the Security Council, or by the Secretary-General. The preferred course was to have the Secretary-General take the initiative. The proposed resolution called upon all states to refrain from actions that would endanger the peace of the area, or that would violate the territorial integrity of India and Pakistan. Beyond that, the resolution encouraged both parties to take up the good offices offer of the Secretary-General. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL INDIA–PAK)