21. Telegram From the Embassy in Pakistan to the Department of State 1

3164. Subj: Yahyaʼs Letter2 to President Nixon. Ref: State 54514,3 Dacca 10454 and New Delhi 4814.5

The main point of Yahya letter, which I presume is similar in content to the one Brits received and possibly also others, is the final section where Yahya seeks help against possibility of Indian intervention. Pak build-up of “Indian threat” is probably a mixture of genuine concern and an effort to divert internal and external attention from Pak army actions in East Pakistan. I know the Paks are worried about Indiaʼs intentions, and from info available through intelligence channels they have cause for worry. At the same time, India serves, as always, a ready and convenient whipping boy.
This mission recommended in Islamabad 30186 that we accommodate to Foreign Secretary Sultan Khanʼs request for public statement expressing concern about possible internalization of conflict. Department in State 56401,7 however, came down against our acceding to Sultanʼs request. I will not press our recommendation further, having modified it as explained hereafter.
In discussions in Washington and Delhi between USG and GOI, latter has stated that India will not intervene against Pakistan. Since our position against intervention has been made clear to GOI in these discussions, we have in effect already, albeit privately, responded to Yahyaʼs request. Nonetheless, given what intelligence sources have reported about covert Indian activity, this mission believes the Department, on an early occasion and at an appropriately high level, should underscore our strong feeling that no outside power should take any steps that would tend to broaden and escalate the conflict.
With regard to Yahyaʼs letter, I see the Presidentʼs response primarily as providing a vehicle for USG to note our disquietude over course which GOP has chosen. As we have previously reported, we do not believe army over long run can hold East by bayonet against overwhelming opposition of Bengalis. I think Yahyaʼs action against Awami League is a self-defeating step which in time will land Pak army into a hopeless morass. I share ConGen Daccaʼs view that Yahyaʼs short-term action has probably made inevitable the thing he is ostensibly seeking to prevent in the long term; the disintegration of Pakistan.
The President has an excellent relationship with Yahya. Without reproaching or lecturing Paks, I think we have an opportunity to put across our point with Yahya, and not, coincidently, raise too many hackles. In combination with President Podgornyʼs outspokenly partisan and public message,8 which goes far beyond what we have in mind, President Nixonʼs private message would hopefully give Pak military some pause about course on which they are embarked.
In terms of specifics, I suggest that the President pass lightly over, without much comment, Yahyaʼs justification for military intervention and suppression of Awami League as well as his questionable assertion that East Pakistan was again becoming “normal.” I see no particular gain in arguing merits of Yahyaʼs claims and believe these portions of his letter require little in the way of response.
I believe that the following would be appropriate points for the President to make, roughly in order outlined below:
US sympathy with people of Pakistan and our humanitarian concern about the suffering and loss of life in East Pakistan. Our feeling that all friends of Pakistan, of which the US is one, share hope that peace can shortly return to the province. Our willingness to participate in an international relief effort to help the people of East Pakistan if requested by the Government of Pakistan.
Our belief that events in East Pakistan are an internal affair of Pakistan and should remain so. Our agreement with Yahya that involvement [Page 51] by foreign powers would serve only to escalate the crisis, introduce new dangers, and render an ultimate settlement more difficult. The letter could (perhaps should) appropriately mention that we have been in touch with GOI and made clear the US position on the matter.
The principal substantive paragraph to air concerns noted afore-going could be made as follows: “I would be less than candid, Mr. President, were I not to mention the disquietude [we] feel about the grave human and economic loss which is occurring in East Pakistan as a result of the current troubles. As you know, many of our people had to leave East Pakistan because they were no longer able to engage in their usual work activities. Under conditions currently prevailing, we face serious difficulties in carrying on in East Pakistan the reconstruction and development programs with which I had hoped and continue to hope the United States could assist your people. I look forward to an early end of turmoil in the East so that economic activity, including our participation, can again resume. I believe that conditions of tranquility would provide a more favorable atmosphere for attaining a satisfactory solution to Pakistanʼs political problems than those of violence. I know how long and hard you have toiled for an early and peaceful transfer of power to civilian government. I know how distressed you must be that this has not so far proven possible. I continue to hope that you will find a way in the near future to achieve this admirable goal.”
Department has consistently taken the position that USG should not become involved in Pak situation—either in the pre-March 26 period of political negotiation when we rejected the Awami Leagueʼs request for US help, or more recently since Yahya sent the army into action against East Paks on March 26. This mission has, on the whole, agreed with this position. We have been skeptical that US intervention, either with Yahya or Mujib, would have been effective. We were also concerned that a more active US role, especially before March 26, would have endangered our relationship with GOP (or with West Paks). In addition, we have shared the disinclination, felt by many Americans today, over a USG involvement in a situation where US interests are not clearly and directly at stake.
This mission still subscribes to the view that East Pak developments are an internal Pak affair. I note that Department spokesman has enunciated such a position to the press (State 56154).9 The Department also provided this view as the principal element in the instructions to Embassy Colombo for Ambassadorʼs call on the Ceylonese Prime [Page 52] Minister (State 56327).10 Nonetheless, I believe that, in the present circumstances, we should be somewhat more willing than we have been heretofore to express our thoughts with controlled candor to the main parties concerned. The human and political problems that are likely to ensue from prolonged violence in East Pakistan and/or from Indian intervention argue cogently for less reluctance on our part about using our influence with India and Pakistan toward preventing further deterioration of political and economic conditions in South Asia.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL PAKUS. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Received at 5:25 a.m.
  2. See Document 16.
  3. Telegram 54514 to Islamabad, April 1, transmitted the text of President Yahyaʼs March 31 letter to President Nixon. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL PAKUS)
  4. Consul General Blood commented on Yahyaʼs letter in telegram 1045 from Dacca, April 2. He noted that 75 percent of East Pakistan was still under the control of the Awami League. He argued that if the U.S. Government were to make a public statement in support of the armyʼs actions in East Pakistan, as Yahya had requested, the effect would be to put U.S. citizens in much of East Pakistan in danger. (Ibid., POL 27 INDIA–PAK)
  5. Ambassador Keating commented on Yahyaʼs letter in telegram 4814 from New Delhi, April 2. Foreign Secretary Kaul assured him on April 1 that India did not intend to interfere in Pakistanʼs internal affairs. Keating had also reviewed Indian military dispositions and concluded that the Indian army was not oriented against East Pakistan. Keating recommended against the initiative proposed by Yahya: “Given Indian military dispositions and positive statements of responsible Indian officials I believe there should be no question of démarche to GOI along lines suggested by President Yahya in his last paragraph.” (Ibid., POL PAKUS)
  6. Dated April 1. (Ibid., POL 23–9 PAK)
  7. Dated April 3. (Ibid.)
  8. See footnote 2, Document 19.
  9. Telegram 56154 to Islamabad, April 2, transmitted excerpts from a press briefing by the Department of State spokesman on April 2. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, PR 11–3)
  10. Not found.