235. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • South Asia


  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
    • U. Alexis Johnson
    • Joseph Sisco
    • Samuel DePalma
    • Christopher Van Hollen
    • Bruce Laingen
  • Defense
    • David Packard
    • Armistead Selden
    • James H. Noyes
  • JCS
    • Gen. William C. Westmoreland
    • Capt. Howard N. Kay
  • CIA
    • Richard Helms
    • John Waller
  • AID
    • Donald MacDonald
    • Maurice Williams
    • Herbert Rees
  • NSC Staff
    • B/Gen. Alexander M. Haig
    • Harold H. Saunders
    • Samuel Hoskinson
    • R/Adm. Robert O. Welander
    • Col. Richard T. Kennedy
    • Jeanne W. Davis


It was agreed that:

we should bring public attention in the General Assembly, though speeches and resolutions, to the plight of the Urdu speaking minority in East Pakistan, calling on all parties to take steps to prevent a massacre;
we should make known what political moves we made to foster discussions between the Bangla Desh and Islamabad, and how they were thwarted;
we should show a certain coolness to the Indians;
State will prepare a legal memorandum on the Indian blockade and a draft of a formal protest over the interference with American ships;
State will check the legislative prohibition against third country transfer of military equipment obtained from the U.S. to Pakistan;
Defense will do a paper by Tuesday, December 7, on what emergency equipment the Paks are apt to request and our ability to supply it and get it delivered;
the aid cutoff to India will be announced by State today;
to commence a study of our policy in the event of expected appeals for famine relief and other assistance from Bangla Desh next spring;
AID will prepare a paper by Tuesday, December 7, on ways to ensure that humanitarian aid provided India for refugee relief is in fact going for that purpose.

Mr. Kissinger: Dick (Helms), where do we stand?

(Mr. Helms briefed from the text at Tab A.)2

Mr. Helms: We also have a press report that the Paks have attacked Bombay. The Chinese newspapers are strongly attacking India, and India has begun referring to East Pakistan as Bangla Desh in its newspapers. Also, as you know, Keating and Kaul have had a round.3

Mr. Kissinger: (to Gen. Westmoreland) What is your military assessment? How long can the Paks hold out in the east?

Gen. Westmoreland: Up to three weeks.

Mr. Kissinger: What will India do with Bangla Desh? Will they see it as an independent state or have them negotiate with Islamabad?

Mr. Helms: Independent.

Mr. Sisco: India has already recognized Bangla Desh as an independent country.

Mr. Kissinger: And the Indians wonʼt suggest that Bangla Desh negotiate with Islamabad?

[Page 658]

Mr. Sisco: Not now.

Mr. Kissinger: I suspect the Indians may lose interest in Mujib.

Mr. Sisco: I donʼt know whether theyʼll try to have him take over or not. They can afford it either way.

Mr. Johnson: Once the Pakistan Army runs out of supplies, all those troops in East Pakistan will be hostages.

Mr. Sisco: (to Gen. Westmoreland) Is there no means of evacuation for those troops?

Gen. Westmoreland: No.

Mr. Sisco: How effective is the Indian blockade?

Gen. Westmoreland: They have a carrier off the coast and a substantial Naval force. The Paks have only one cruiser and six destroyers.

Mr. Helms: We credited the Paks with seven destroyers, two of which were sunk, which leaves them with five.

Gen. Westmoreland: Weʼve credited only one sinking.

Mr. Johnson: And this is to cover both east and west.

Mr. Kissinger: So the next step is to determine our attitude toward the state of Bangla Desh.

Mr. Williams: Remember you will have about a million and a half Urdu-speaking people in East Pakistan.

Mr. Kissinger: Are you implying there will be a massacre? Wasnʼt it reported to be the retreating Bangla Desh forces who were responsible for the earlier massacres?

Mr. Williams: Yes.

Mr. Sisco: I see a serious blood-letting once they are satisfied the Pak Army is defeated.

Mr. Kissinger: Can we do something to prevent it?

Mr. Williams: It will probably require a major transfer of population—possibly through some international effort.

Mr. Kissinger: Canʼt we call attention to it now before it starts?

Mr. Williams: Yes.

Mr. Kissinger: Letʼs do it now. Are they mainly in one area or are they scattered throughout the countryside?

Mr. Williams: They are mostly in the urban centers. They were the people who built the railroads and are usually found around rail centers. This is basically a humanitarian problem. We should start some activity through the UN.

Mr. Kissinger: Can we start it quickly? Call on all parties to prevent a massacre—we donʼt have to recommend an evacuation.

Mr. Sisco: The UN canʼt do anything on the ground, but we can put public focus on the issue through the General Assembly meeting.

[Page 659]

Mr. Williams: And we can give them some secret assurances.

Mr. Johnson: What about the Bengalis in the West?

Mr. Williams: There are 300,000 Bengalis in West Pakistan.

Mr. Sisco: An effort in this direction will be attractive to the majority. We can focus attention on it in the speeches before the GA and in the GA resolution. It will both be popular and have some effect.

Mr. MacDonald: We donʼt have many precedents for a mass evacuation, but there was a large population movement from north to south in Vietnam in 1954. We might brush off our history on this.

Mr. Johnson: That population movement was agreed to in the Geneva Accords.4

Mr. Sisco: (to Gen. Westmoreland) Assuming the Indians take over, how do you think it will happen? Can you project their strategy?

Gen. Westmoreland: I think their primary thrust will be to cut off the port of Chittagong. This will virtually cut off any possibility of resupply. Then they will move to destroy the Pak regular forces, in cooperation with the Mukti Bahini. They will then be faced with the major job of restoring some order to the country. I think there will be a massacre—possibly the greatest in the twentieth century.

Mr. Kissinger: Will the Indians withdraw their army once the Paks are disarmed?

Gen. Westmoreland: No, I think they will leave three or four divisions to work with the Mukti Bahini, and pull the remainder back to the West.

Mr. Sisco: I think they will pull out as quickly as they can. Once and if the the Pak forces are disarmed, the Indians will have a basically friendly population. They can afford to move back to the border areas quickly. I say this with one caveat—this depends on what happens in the West. If the Paks can take a little piece of territory in the West as some sort of balance for East Pakistan, the Indians wonʼt get out of Bangla Desh quite so fast. They will see it as a further balance to the West.

Gen. Westmoreland: The Indian transportation is limited. It will take time to move their divisions from east to west. They will move the infantry division out first, which will take a week. The two mountain divisions will probably be used to clean out pockets of resistance. They have seven divisions and two separate brigades, and their movement schedule will take a month.

[Page 660]

Mr. Kissinger: Will they permit Bangla Desh to establish itself with an army and a separate foreign policy?

Mr. Sisco: I wouldnʼt exclude it. There is likely to be a continued Indian presence, however.

Mr. Van Hollen: After the Indian Army has been in East Pakistan for two or three weeks, they may come to be accepted as a Hindu army of occupation.

Mr. Kissinger: Do you think they will establish Bangla Desh in its present frontiers? Or will they settle the refugees along the border and then annex some territory?

Mr. Van Hollen: They may question whether they should send the refugees back now to a Bangla Desh that is largely Muslim.

Gen. Westmoreland: India will be facing a situation in the West that is not altogether advantageous to them. They have 265,000 men there now: 12 infantry divisions, 3 armored divisions, 3 armored brigades and 6 infantry brigades. The Paks have 200,000 men in 9 infantry divisions and 2 armored divisions.

Mr. Sisco: But the Paks have a serious resupply problem.

Gen. Westmoreland: And on air power, the Indians have a three to one superiority.

Mr. Sisco: (to Gen. Westmoreland) What do you think their strategy in the West will be?

Gen. Westmoreland: In the West, I think the major Pak effort will be to the north—toward Kashmir and the Punjab. They would like to seize Kashmir; and we have a clandestine report that that is their intention. The Indian strategy will be to strike at Godra toward Hyderabad. If they can take Hyderabad, they will have cut the line of communication across the river to Karachi. I donʼt think the Indians plan to move to Karachi or even to Hyderabad. I think this is a diversion to try to get the Paks to bring back some of their reserves from the north.

Mr. Packard: Is there any possibility of POL resupply by sea?

Mr. Kissinger: It would be next to impossible.

Mr. Packard: How about from Iran?

Gen. Westmoreland: Iʼm not sure of the land lines of communication.

Mr. Helms: Theyʼre very bad. Itʼs very rough country.

Gen. Westmoreland: Eighty percent of their POL is around Karachi—itʼs a prime target for the Indian Air Force.

Mr. Williams: Thereʼs a political reason for an Indian thrust in the south. The Paks want to take some ground in the north. The Indians donʼt want to fight there, but they will be under great pressure in their Parliament. They can satisfy this pressure by getting a little ground in [Page 661] the south as a balance for the land they will be losing in the north. The question is whether the Paks can cut communication to the north. There is one road and if it is cut, the Paks could chew up more ground in Kashmir. They would love to trade Kashmir for East Pakistan.

Gen. Westmoreland: There is an unconfirmed report that the Indians have taken Godra.

Mr. Williams: Thatʼs diversionary.

Mr. Kissinger: How about the UN?

Mr. Sisco: We reviewed the situation with (Ambassador) Bush this morning. There have been two additional resolutions vetoed by the Soviets.5 Thereʼs a real ground swell for a special emergency General Assembly meeting. Under the Uniting for Peace mandate, if the SC canʼt operate because of the veto, the issue can be moved to an emergency session of the GA, which is not vetoable. You need only a simple majority of the Security Council to convene a special emergency GA. We feel strongly, categorically, firmly and unalterably, for the present that any resolution must contain the elements of withdrawal and ceasefire. The President has told the Pak Ambassador that.

Mr. Kissinger: I have no doubt the President means it!

Mr. Sisco: If I may, Iʼd like to suggest some plaudits for our UN Mission. They held firm on these elements through three resolutions.

Mr. Kissinger: It was a job well done.

Mr. Sisco: Remember we will be under pressure from 136 countries—

Mr. Kissinger: It will be interesting to see how Israel votes on cease-fire and withdrawal.

Mr. Sisco: With regard to the elements of political accommodation in any resolution, the implications of these may change rapidly now.

Mr. DePalma: With an independent Bangla Desh and the Pak army defeated in the East, the question of political accommodation will be in an entirely new context. The Indians wonʼt be terribly interested in political accommodation.

Mr. Kissinger: The President told the Pak Ambassador and Ambassador Bush on television that he wants the issue to go to the General Assembly.

[Page 662]

Mr. DePalma: Thereʼs a Security Council meeting at 3:30 at which we will try to get the Council to let go of the issue and call for an emergency GA.

Mr. Kissinger: If we stick with withdrawal and ceasefire, it will just be vetoed again.

Mr. DePalma: Thereʼs nothing to be gained by another resolution. They had already backed off to just a ceasefire.

Mr. Kissinger: Do we expect to move to the GA before the end of the day?

Mr. DePalma: We expect to get the SC to let go today,6 but the GA will have to meet and put it on its agenda, which can be done tomorrow.

Mr. Kissinger: Will we stick with essentially the same speech in the GA. We should put in something on the refugees—some attempt to stop the expected massacre.

Mr. Sisco: Yes—and in the resolution too.

Mr. Kissinger: NBC is filming the Presidentʼs “Day” today. He had his conversation with the Secretary on television. We have a veto over whatʼs printed, of course. But the President is eager to get out what political moves we made to get discussions going between the Bangla Desh and Islamabad and how they were thwarted. He told the Secretary this. He also wants to show a certain coolness toward the Indians—be sure the Indian Ambassador is not received at too high a level.

Mr. Van Hollen: Jha is meeting with the Secretary now to deliver Mrs. Gandhiʼs reply7 to the Presidentʼs letter.8

Mr. Kissinger: That canʼt be helped. In general, the President wants to appear a little cool. What is the legal position on the Indian blockade? Can they blockade American ships? Shouldnʼt we protest?

Mr. Sisco: The Secretary called in the Indian Ambassador and protested both incidents.9 Mrs. Gandhi has said there is an undeclared war. There has been no formal Parliamentary action, but Mrs. Gandhi is claiming the right to exert belligerency rights as if there were a formal declaration.

[Page 663]

Mr. Kissinger: Do they have the right to stop American ships?

Mr. Johnson: Have they declared a blockade?

Mr. Sisco: Not formally, but de facto. We will get you a memo on the legal position.10

Mr. Helms: They have no legal rights.

Mr. Johnson: Without a declaration of a blockade?

Mr. Williams: Without a declaration of war on Pakistan?

Mr. Helms: I still question it.

Mr. Kissinger: Letʼs get your legal memo. Also, letʼs get a draft of a formal protest.

Mr. Sisco: Yes, we can do it both publicly and privately.

Mr. Kissinger: Have you all seen the cable concerning Pakistanʼs request to Jordan for assistance.11

Mr. Sisco: We also have a Pak request for a minesweeper.

Mr. Kissinger: Do we have the right to authorize such transfers?

Mr. Johnson: We have the right. Itʼs a political decision.

Mr. Sisco: Is there no legislative inhibition?

Mr. Kissinger: It can be done only with our approval.

Mr. Van Hollen: There is a legislative inhibition. We canʼt permit a third country to transfer goods to Pakistan if we donʼt sell those same goods to Pakistan ourselves.

Mr. Johnson: Is this policy or legislation?

Mr. Van Hollen: Itʼs legislative as of last December or January.

Mr. Kissinger: Letʼs check on that.

Mr. Helms: Has there been a decision on assistance from Jordan?

Mr. Sisco: We are saying the transfer is prohibited on the basis of present legal authority. Also, we are pointing out that provision of any assistance to the Paks would weaken the Kingʼs position. He really came to us for help in getting off the hook. Weʼve also brushed them off politely on the minesweeper. I suspect that as the Paks begin to feel the heat even more, we will get a loud bleat for emergency supplies.

Mr. Kissinger: My instinct is that the President will want to do it. He is not inclined to let the Paks be defeated if he can help it.

[Page 664]

Mr. Packard: Maybe we should start to take a look now and see what might be done.

Mr. Sisco: You would have to do it very quietly.

Mr. Kissinger: Can you do that and have something to us by tomorrow?

Mr. Sisco: We might ask ourselves what the Paks are apt to ask for and whether or not we would be able to supply it.

Mr. Johnson: And whether or not it can be delivered.

Mr. Saunders: Youʼre talking mainly about the West?

Mr. Sisco: Yes. No one wants India to take over West Pakistan. Itʼs one thing to supply equipment in the midst of a military situation in the East. But our policy is not to let India extinguish the Pakistan Government. This is an important distinction.

Mr. Kissinger: On economic assistance, the President wants formally to suspend any new irrevocable letters of credit.

Mr. Williams: We have notified all banks—indeed, we have suspended all new letters. We have now suspended the $87.6 million non-project aid in the India pipeline which has not been firmly committed to suppliers and banks. Our reasoning will be that the development purposes for which the aid was authorized cannot be served in the circumstances. India and others will see other reasons for our action, and thatʼs good. Using this ground—the frustration of its authorizing purpose—raises the question of the justification for continuing aid flows to Pakistan. We would have difficulty on the Hill and elsewhere in maintaining that development was inhibited in India but not in Pakistan. Happily, however, we can apply the same principle to Pakistan but with the entire burden falling on India. While $87.6 million would be frozen to India, the comparable amount for Pakistan is only $4.3 million, all of which is now earmarked for humanitarian relief, in the form of fertilizer, for East Pakistan. This would remain unsuspended. So in this case we are exactly where we want to be.

Mr. Kissinger: We had taken a comparable step earlier for Pakistan and there is now only $4.3 million in that category?

Mr. Williams: And itʼs all humanitarian.

(Mr. Williams was called from the room.)

Mr. Kissinger: When will we announce the aid cutoff? Today?

Mr. Sisco: Weʼre all ready.

Mr. Kissinger: Letʼs background on that basis then.12

[Page 665]

Mr. Sisco: We can do it at 12 noon if you like. We can call Charley Bray (State Department spokesman) and tell him to go ahead.

Mr. Kissinger: In this regard, we had a little crisis here last week. The President was eager to get the information out about the arms cutoff. The Star ran a story, apparently based on a State briefing, which stressed that $11.9 million worth of aid would continue. The President wants the focus on what is being cut off, not on what is to continue. Make sure Bray understands this.

Mr. Sisco: (to Van Hollen) Go call Charley and tell him to go ahead at noon.13 Ask him if he wants Don MacDonald to come over to help him. Or Herb Rees can go over.

(Mr. Williams returned.)

Mr. Williams: Secretary Rogers wants help for his television meeting with the President at 1:30, and Iʼll need Herb for that. Let Don go with Bray.

Mr. Kissinger: (Looking at the proposed AID announcement and questions and answers—attached at Tab B)14 On the Q & A referring to the $124.1 million in the pipeline for India which will continue to flow, tell Bray to stress at this time.

Mr. Sisco: (to Van Hollen) Tell Charley not to start until Don MacDonald gets there. Also tell the Secretary weʼre going to announce at noon. He may have been planning to discuss this in the 1:30 meeting with the President.

Dr. Kissinger: This is going to be the damnedest meeting. It is a restricted NSC meeting on India–Pakistan.15 But they are going to film the first five minutes of it, then we will go on with the real meeting.

Mr. Williams: The Secretary understood that. He just wanted to tell the President how much aid we had actually provided India.

Mr. Van Hollen: The Secretary has Indian Ambassador Jha with him. Shouldnʼt we tell Jha what weʼre going to do?

[Page 666]

Mr. Sisco: Yes, Jha should be told.16

Dr. Kissinger: This announcement shouldnʼt appear to come out of the NSC meeting. It looks like too momentous a decision that way. We actually did it last Friday.

Mr. Sisco: Yes, this is the right low-key way to play it. It will have its effect.

Dr. Kissinger: Where do we stand on evacuation?

Mr. Johnson: As you know, the evacuation of Dacca was aborted by the Indian attack on the airfield.

Dr. Kissinger: How many do we have in Dacca?

Mr. Johnson: 93 Americans, I think.

Dr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Williams) Will there be a massive famine in East Pakistan?

Mr. Williams: They have a huge crop just coming in.

Dr. Kissinger: How about next spring?

Mr. Williams: Yes, there will be famine by next spring unless they can pull themselves together by the end of March.

Dr. Kissinger: And we will be asked to bail out the Bangla Desh from famine next spring?

Mr. Williams: Yes.

Dr. Kissinger: Then we had better start thinking about what our policy will be.

Mr. Williams: By March the Bangla Desh will need all kinds of help.

Mr. Johnson: Theyʼll be an international basket case.

Dr. Kissinger: But not necessarily our basket case.

Mr. Sisco: Wait until you hear the humanitarian bleats in this country.

Mr. Williams: They will have a tremendous problem of resettlement of the refugees.

Dr. Kissinger: (to Haig) Letʼs trigger a study of this. (to Williams) Is it true that the Indians have asked for the refugee aid in cash so that it couldnʼt be earmarked? If so, we should look carefully at this. We have to know that that money is going for refugee relief.

[Page 667]

Mr. Williams: The way India wanted the money—in cash—was, in fact, an extended form of tourism. They used it as unrestricted foreign exchange. We will look into it.

Dr. Kissinger: Can you get me something by tomorrow. We have got to put some restrictions on this. Tell them we will supply the food. If they donʼt want that, let them refuse. We wonʼt cut off humanitarian relief but we must know that it is going for humanitarian purposes. Letʼs think of some other things we can do to make it clear that the partyʼs over. We must make damned sure that this money is going for humanitarian purposes.

  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 information 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 (Dec) 1971.
  2. Attached but not printed. According to his notes, Helms reported that Pakistan had broken relations with India after India formally recognized Bangladesh. On the basis of his notes, Helms was able to provide a detailed picture of the fighting on both fronts. India was concentrating upon East Pakistan while fighting a holding action in the west. The objective of the Gandhi government was to force a surrender of the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan within 10 days. Pakistan was trying to relieve the pressure on East Pakistan by pressing an offensive into India from West Pakistan. Most of the exchanges in the west involved air strikes, but there was evidence that Pakistan was planning a major assault in Kashmir. Indiaʼs recognition of Bangladesh was reported in telegram 18766 from New Delhi, December 6; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL INDIA–PAK.
  3. In telegram 18822 from New Delhi, December 6, Ambassador Keating reported that Foreign Secretary Kaul had expressed “disappointment, shock and surprise” that the United States had tabled the resolution it did in the UN Security Council. He categorically denied that India bore the major responsibility for the conflict. (Ibid., POL 27 INDIA–PAK)
  4. Reference is to the agreements signed in Geneva on July 20 and July 21, 1954, ending hostilities in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. For texts, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, XVI, pp. 15051542.
  5. On December 5 the Soviet representative on the Security Council vetoed an eight-power draft resolution that called for a cease-fire and mutual withdrawal of forces, as well as intensified efforts to create the conditions necessary for the return of refugees to their homes. The resolution, which was introduced by Argentina, Belgium, Burundi, Italy, Japan, Nicaragua, Sierra-Leone, and Somalia, garnered a vote of 11 to 2 with 2 abstentions, but was not adopted because of the negative vote of the U.S.S.R. (UN doc. S/10423) The only other resolution vetoed by the Soviet representative was the U.S. draft resolution; See footnote 11, Document 224.
  6. The UN Security Council accepted on December 6 that an impasse had been reached in its deliberations on the conflict in South Asia, and referred the issue to the General Assembly. (UN doc. S/RES/303, adopted by a vote of 11 to 0 with 4 abstentions)
  7. See Document 226.
  8. See Document 205.
  9. Secretary Rogers told Ambassador Jha on December 4 that the United States took strong exception to Indian interference with U.S. shipping. (Telegram 219497 to New Delhi, December 5; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27–2 INDIA–PAK)
  10. After a review of the question by the Legal Adviserʼs Office, Eliot sent a memorandum on December 6 to Kissinger which concluded that belligerents in a conflict have the legal right to blockade and to interfere with neutral shipping, but that India may not have given adequate notice before beginning to interfere with U.S. shipping. (Ibid.)
  11. See footnote 4, Document 222.
  12. According to a Reuters news agency report filed on December 7, senior White House officials, speaking with the authority of the President, justified the decision announced on December 6 to cut off $87.6 million in developmental loans by alleging that Indiaʼs attack on Pakistan had interrupted secret negotiations between the Government of Pakistan and Bangladesh representatives which were pointing in the direction of virtual autonomy for the Bangladesh movement in East Pakistan. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–083, WSAG Meeting, South Asia, 12/8/71)
  13. Note it was decided after the meeting to make the announcement at 3:00 p.m. rather than noon. [Footnote in the source text.]
  14. Not attached.
  15. See Document 237.
  16. In his meeting with Jha on December 6, Rogers emphasized that the United States was unhappy with Indiaʼs resort to armed force in an effort to dictate a political settlement in Pakistan. He did not make reference to the impending announcement of the cutoff of assistance to India. (Telegram 220243 to New Delhi, December 7, National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 INDIA–PAK)