255. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • South Asia
[Page 712]


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


It was agreed that:

the JCS would prepare urgently a plan for deployment of a carrier task force for evacuation of Americans from East Pakistan, and the agencies should comment on the advisability of such a move by this afternoon;
State should draft a telegram of instruction to Ambassador Farland for a possible approach to Yahya;
State will prepare a scenario for a possible approach to the Indians to seek assurances on the maintenance of present lines of demarcation.

Mr. Kissinger: Dick (Helms), can you tell us where we are?

(Mr. Helms briefed from the attached text.)2

Mr. Kissinger: The President is astonished that American officials could appear to agree with the Indian interpretation that, since they have split off only some 60% of the country and did not actually annex the territory, this demonstrates that they are essentially peacefully inclined. This is not our position and he does not want the Indians to [Page 713] be left under any misapprehension in this regard. He wants this corrected today.

Mr. Helms: In the last few hours we have a report from Karachi that the oil tanks there have been hit again, in the 12th or 13th air raid, and that six or eight of them are burning. An ESSO representative has indicated that this means the loss of 50% of Karachiʼs oil reserves, which amounts to over 80% of the POL for all of Pakistan. He estimates that they are left with a two-weeksʼ supply, possibly less at the rate at which POL is now being consumed.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Adm. Moorer) What is your estimate of the military situation?

Adm. Moorer: In East Pakistan, in the absence of a ceasefire, itʼs just a matter of time until the Pakistan Army will be essentially ineffective. There is, however, no indication that their morale has broken down. Their supplies are cut off and they have no air left. Any serious fighting could be over in ten days or two weeks, depending on whether the Paks continue to fight to the last man or whether they begin to surrender in large numbers, which does not seem to be in the cards now. In West Pakistan, the Paks are slightly superior in numbers, (they have about 90–100,000 men), and they are trying to occupy enough of Kashmir to give them a bargaining chip if and when there is a ceasefire. They are trying to block the main lines of communication. South of the Kashmir area, the Indians outnumber the Paks two-to-one, and they may plan to move south to Lahore, although there is no indication of that now. The best Pakistan can do is to gain as much control of Kashmir as possible.

Mr. Kissinger: How much is that?

Adm. Moorer: Enough to keep the Indians out until there is enough international pressure to bring about a ceasefire.

Mr. Irwin: What are their chances of doing that?

Adm. Moorer: The Paks can operate for about three weeks or so. However, if there is a period of attrition, with no ceasefire, the Indians can hold out longer and the Paks have had it. Mrs. Gandhi has stated that her objective is to destroy the Pak military forces.

Mr. Kissinger: So if the war is prolonged, it wonʼt make any difference if the Paks take Kashmir, since they wouldnʼt be able to hold it.

Adm. Moorer: Yes, but that is their only chance.

Mr. Kissinger: Yesterday someone here said a ceasefire in West Pakistan would work to the disadvantage of the Paks. Now do I understand that you are saying that a prolonged war, even if the Paks get Kashmir, will lead to the destruction of the Pak Army?

Adm. Moorer: Exactly. When East Pakistan is gone, the Indians will transfer their divisions to West—possibly four of the six divisions [Page 714] now in the East. This will take one to three weeks, depending on how much air they use. If the war continues to the end, the outcome for Pakistan is inevitable.

Mr. Kissinger: So we have to prevent an Indian onslaught on West Pakistan, since the outcome will be the same as in East Pakistan. The Indians will then control the area to Bhutan in the East and Nepal in the West.

Mr. Irwin: The CIA paper (Implications of an Indian Victory Over Pakistan, December 9)3 predicts the possible acceleration of the breakup tendencies in West Pakistan—possibly into as many as four separate states.

Mr. Johnson: That sounds reasonable.

Adm. Moorer: I think the Indians will be slowed down somewhat by logistic problems, care of casualties, etc., but they will not slow down as fast as the Paks.

Mr. Williams: It sounds as though POL is the critical element, if they have lost 50% of 80% of the supplies for all of Pakistan. Doesnʼt this mean that their planes and tanks will come to a halt in about three weeks?

Mr. Helms: The Indians have already hit the reserves at Rawalpindi.

Mr. Williams: Then POL is the critical point. (to Adm. Moorer) Was that the basis for your estimate of three weeks?

Adm. Moorer: That and the ammo supply. The Indians will run short of ammo, too, ultimately, but not to the point that they canʼt operate.

Mr. Williams: The Indian objective is to take out the Pak tanks and planes. If they run out of POL and canʼt move, theyʼll be sitting ducks.

Mr. Irwin: Do the Paks have any capability of defending their POL?

Adm. Moorer: No.

Mr. Johnson: What is the possibility of trucking POL from Tehran?

Adm. Moorer: There is one road. We have one report that indicates that Chinese trucks are coming in but we donʼt know what they are carrying. Iran is the logical source of POL. I talked to the Turkish Chief of Staff at NATO and asked him how much assistance he thought Iran was prepared to give to Pakistan. He said he thought the Shah wanted to be helpful, but had one eye cocked on Iraq. In the end, he didnʼt believe the Shah would give significant assistance.

[Page 715]

Mr. Helms: We have a good telegram from Doug Heck4 on this today, saying the Shah is playing the situation coolly and even-handedly. He pointed out the difficulty of resupply.

Mr. Kissinger: So the critical attitude is ours. If they had any indication from us that we were favorable, they might do it. But judging by our reaction in the Jordan episode, they are getting signals from us not to do it—possibly not directly but at least by osmosis.

Mr. Helms: There are serious logistical problems in doing much of anything in the existing time frame. They donʼt have the ability, even if they went flat-out, of doing anything in any quantity.

Mr. Kissinger: Are we agreed that we should do our best to prevent an Indian attack on West Pakistan? That this is our chief objective?

Mr. Irwin: The question is how to do it. To what degree would this require involvement of the United States.

Mr. Kissinger: We are involved, no matter how often our press spokesmen say we are not. The question is the degree of our involvement.

Mr. Johnson: If the fighting in the West could be brought to a stop now, it would be to the advantage of the Paks.

Mr. Kissinger: What do you suggest?

Mr. Irwin: The question is what our policy is. We could undertake little direct support to Pakistan without increasing the degree of our involvement.

Mr. Johnson: I think we should make a maximum effort with both sides to bring the fighting to a stop. The Paks have already accepted the UN cease-fire resolution.

Mr. Kissinger: Including withdrawal.

Mr. Johnson: Yes; the Indians have not accepted it. A withdrawal by both sides to the previous boundaries is clearly in Pakistanʼs interest.

Mr. Kissinger: Pakistan would implement the resolution in the West but India would not implement it in the East.

Mr. Johnson: Iʼm talking about the West only. We would go to the Indians and press them to implement the resolution in the West.

Mr. Kissinger: But they have acquired no territory in the West.

Mr. Johnson: Each of them has some territory. The point is that continuation of the fighting in the West is not to the advantage of Pakistan under any circumstances.

Mr. Kissinger: Is that all we can do?

[Page 716]

Mr. Selden: What will be the fate of the Pak Army in East Pakistan? There will be a massacre if they keep on fighting.

Mr. Johnson: What can we do in the East?

Mr. Helms: There is nothing to do. There is no way of getting them out.

Mr. Johnson: India can afford to withdraw their troops from East Pakistan, once the Mukti Bahini are in the saddle.

Adm. Moorer: Not until the Pak Army is destroyed. Mrs. Gandhi has said also that she wants to straighten out the border.

Mr. Noyes: The more territory Pakistan takes in the West, the more provocation this is to India—the more justification India has to continue.

Adm. Moorer: India doesnʼt need any provocation or justification. They have a plan and they are carrying it out.

Mr. Johnson: And the Paks canʼt prevent it.

Mr. Helms: What leverage do we have on India?

Mr. Johnson: None. Iʼm talking about our objectives.

Mr. Irwin: We can move politically through the UN. We can take some action with regard to military assistance. Suppose we decided to move into substantial military assistance to Pakistan? How effectively could we do it in terms of enabling them to hold in the West?

Adm. Moorer: To make it effective, we would have to move very fast. The most effective material would be consumables—ammunition, POL.

Mr. Irwin: If we decided to do this, could we get enough additional supplies in within a week to make the difference? Thereʼs also the question of what third parties could do.

Mr. Kissinger: We have two separate problems: (1) the deterrent effect on India of our undertaking a supply effort for Pakistan; and (2) the actual military effect. For everything we have done after India was committed to war, we have been accused of being punitive since it was too little to affect the outcome. What if we do nothing? Noninvolvement is a lovely phrase, but it earns us no Brownie points. Our Brownie points will come from the outcome a year from now. In the larger international arena, would we be better off if we did not become involved, assuming we ignore the meaning of our bilateral treaty and subsequent assurances to the Paks. Or would we be better off if we tried to scare the Indians off and, if we do lose, of having salvaged at least the indication that, when we are pressed, we will do something. Indeed, in the Middle East or Indonesia, we might do more. No one has a bigger stake in the relaxation of tensions than the President, for personal reasons. But in a situation where non-involvement means the Soviets can pour in supplies with equanimity and we canʼt, we will be judged by the outcome and not by the theory by which we arrived at it. If this is true, we should look at the moves we could take. Someone [Page 717] said here yesterday that if we wanted to move, we could find a basis for it. Why canʼt we call in the Indian Ambassador and ask him for assurances that no demarcation line is to be changed?

Mr. Johnson: We would have a good basis for this in Kashmir since we have a UN resolution on it.

Mr. Kissinger: We could just ask for flat assurances. That wouldnʼt be too provocative and it would posture us for the future.

Mr. Johnson: I think we should do it. We should talk to the Soviets too.

Mr. Kissinger: On the question of military supply, if it is true that the Indians are willing to fight to a bloody finish, what would be most likely to deter them? What if Jordan should send planes to Pakistan? Why would this be such a horrible event?

Mr. Johnson: It wouldnʼt, but it would be the same as if the Americans did it.

Adm. Moorer: We made this problem for ourselves when we stopped aid to Pakistan in the first place.

Mr. Kissinger: But no one told us that then.

Adm. Moorer: If we asked the Indian Ambassador for assurances on boundaries and he said no, this would be very important, regardless of what action we take.

Mr. Johnson: Shouldnʼt we also talk to Yahya?

Mr. Kissinger: About what?

Mr. Johnson: To get his views on the restoration of the status quo ante in the West.

Mr. Kissinger: Wouldnʼt he say “they have taken half my country, and I canʼt talk about it”?

Mr. Johnson: What is the alternative—continued fighting in the West until his forces are destroyed?

Mr. Williams: But Yahya doesnʼt expect this to happen. He expects the fighting will be stopped by the great powers. He expects them to bring it to a halt and then to go to some form of negotiating table.

Adm. Moorer: Is there any way to get NATO into the act?

Mr. Helms: The British and French donʼt go along with us.

Mr. Kissinger: What are we telling the NATO countries?

Mr. Sisco: I sent a telegram5 to the Secretary last night suggesting he draw on your backgrounder.

[Page 718]

Mr. Kissinger: What part?

Mr. Sisco: I left that to the Secretary.

Mr. Kissinger: When the Soviets were in an equally disadvantageous situation in the Middle East in 1967 and were trying to bring the war to a conclusion, they gave the impression that they might do something serious. The question is whether another flood of notes, without actually doing something, would indicate that unless the fighting stops there will be increased danger. Unless we can settle on a strategy, speak with the same voice, and stop putting out all these conflicting stories from the various agencies and all this leaking, we donʼt deserve to succeed.

Mr. Williams: If we approach the Indians, their response will probably be that they will stop the war in the West in return for Pakistanʼs recognition of Bangla Desh.

Mr. Johnson: But with the destruction of the Pak forces in the East, they canʼt do anything anyway.

Mr. Williams: But the Indians have already said this is what they want, and we would get this response to any approach to them. Once they achieve their objective in the East, there is the possibility that they may stop.

Mr. Irwin: But they have said they intend to destroy the Pak Army and Air Force and straighten out the line on Kashmir.

Mr. Kissinger: If they destroy the army and the air force, Pakistan will be in their paws. The result would be a nation of 100 million people dismembered, their political structure changed by military attack, despite a treaty of alliance with and private assurances by the United States. And all the other countries, on whom we have considered we could rely, such as Iran, would know that this has been done by the weight of Soviet arms and with Soviet diplomatic support. What will be the effect in the Middle East, for example—could we tell Israel that she should give up something along a line from A to B, in return for something else, with any plausibility?

Mr. Sisco: I donʼt accept that view. We do have a kind of alliance with Pakistan in both the CENTO and the bilateral context, but that alliance was against communist aggression. I grant that the Russians are behind India in this, but our commitment was not in the India-Pakistan context. I donʼt believe Iran, or Israel or any other Middle Eastern country expect direct US involvement in South Asia.

Mr. Kissinger: No one is talking about that.

Mr. Sisco: We are involved, and we are talking about the nature of our involvement. I donʼt see the implication for the rest of the world that you draw. I have the impression from what Yahya told (Ambassador) Farland that he has “accepted” the inevitable result in East Pakistan. [Page 719] We canʼt do anything about that. East Pakistan is gone and we both have to face that fact. The thing that confronts Yahya and us in relation to the balance on the subcontinent is what happens in West Pakistan. It is not in our interest to have India destroy the Pak Army in West Pakistan, or otherwise effect a further radical change in the status quo, possibly resulting in the fractionalization of Pakistan. I think we have three options: (1) we can do nothing—complete noninvolvement—in which case East Pakistan would be lost, India would destroy the Pak Army and would take at least Azad Kashmir. This is clearly unacceptable. (2) That we not accept this situation, but see what we can do diplomatically or otherwise to deter the Indians from their present course. We should recognize that we are limited in the ways in which we can deter the Indians. Even if we should move rapidly on arms supply to the Paks, this would have only a marginal effect.

Mr. Kissinger: Assuming the Indians were willing to press the fighting to a conclusion.

Mr. Sisco: Yes. We should ask ourselves how we could deter the Indians so as to end with a West Pakistan based on the status quo ante, including no alteration of the boundaries of Kashmir.

Mr. Kissinger: Would you accept Bangla Desh?

Mr. Sisco: I have no problem with going to the Indians alone, as you suggest. We should also go to the Russians. I think we should also have a serious talk with Yahya.

Mr. Kissinger: What would be the point of a serious talk with Yahya?

Mr. Sisco: To see how he reads his position. I realize this is an over-simplification, but Yahya is faced with a situation involving the sure destruction of elements of his Government in East Pakistan. How does he read his capability in the West? Probably not as we do. Given the disproportionate military capability between India and Pakistan, we see the likelihood of a Pak defeat. But if Yahya doesnʼt read it that way, he may want to continue the military struggle. If he wants to do this, weʼre not in a position to second-guess him. The fundamental question is whether we should try to have some exchange along the line that the East is pretty well lost, and how do we save the rest of Pakistan?

Mr. Kissinger: So we would go to Yahya and say he should settle now?

Mr. Sisco: Yahya is faced with the necessity of cutting his losses and saving West Pakistan.

Mr. Kissinger: Suppose Yahya says yes, and the Indians say he has to recognize Bangla Desh?

Mr. Sisco: We shouldnʼt press him to do that. Iʼm stating the situation in bald terms.

[Page 720]

Mr. Johnson: India doesnʼt need Yahyaʼs recognition of Bangla Desh. Neither Yahya nor the U.S. can restore the status quo ante in Bangla Desh. There is nothing Yahya can do, even if he doesnʼt accept the loss.

Mr. Williams: We have only a limited leverage on India. In the absence of any assurance that a military supply effort would be effective and would make any difference in the military balance, weʼre in a terribly weak position. I think we need something additional if we are to extract Yahya with some shred of honor. I think we should go back to a sharpened Security Council resolution—a stand-fast of some sort which would save the army and hold to the demarcation of the present boundaries. We might add Bangla Desh to this equation in some way.

Mr. Sisco: I donʼt exclude the possibility of a deal of some sort, even now.

Mr. Williams: There are still elements of concession. Donʼt forget that the spirit of nationalism was terribly strong in East Pakistan even before the fighting broke out. This is where any talent we have needs to be applied. I think we should discuss it with Yahya. If we put some force behind it, we may even have a chance of getting the Russians behind it. Many West Pakistanis will recognize and accept the loss of East Pakistan, although it will be hard for the Army to take.

Mr. Kissinger: Assuming that this kind of option will be kept open, the President wants India to understand very clearly that we would not look with indifference on an Indian onslaught on West Pakistan. Our press spokesmen should not press the idea of neutrality or noninvolvement to the point that the Indians could misunderstand that this foretells our attitude toward an attack on West Pakistan. We should keep open the option of trying to deter the Indians, by a show of force, if necessary. We could then use that as a bridge to the sort of negotiation you (Williams) are talking about. This would also give the Soviets an excuse to try to help.

Along this line, the President has asked for the pros and cons of getting an American aircraft carrier into the Bay of Bengal for the purpose of evacuating Americans. (to Moorer) Can you do it?

Adm. Moorer: Sure. It will take five or six days. We have several options.

Mr. Kissinger: Can you all consider it and have your views over here by early afternoon?

Adm. Moorer: We could put in a carrier task force, including some destroyers and a cruiser and some helos.

Mr. Kissinger: Letʼs get your plan over here by 2:00 this afternoon, and any views the rest of you may have by 6:00 p.m. We may have another [Page 721] meeting with the President if he wants to move more energetically, to remove any lingering doubts any of you may have. But we should get ourselves postured, without any prejudice to the kind of solution Maury Williams has suggested. (to Irwin) Will you draft a telegram of what we might say to Yahya?

Mr. Johnson: And also what we might say to the Indians.

Mr. Kissinger: Yes.

  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.
  2. Not printed. According to his briefing notes, Helms reported that the defense being mounted by Pakistani forces in East Pakistan was crumbling. Indian forces suffered heavy casualties during the early stages of the fighting, but they were breaking through outmanned Pakistani positions. There were no indications that Pakistani forces were surrendering in large numbers or that discipline had broken down, but the CIA assessment was that Pakistani forces in East Pakistan would have a hard time regrouping. Indian officials were calling for a surrender of those forces to prevent further bloodshed. By contrast, the fighting in the west had produced only limited results.
  3. This 12-page CIA assessment is published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–7, Documents on South Asia, 1969–1972, Document 170.
  4. Not found.
  5. Telegram 221059 to Brussels, December 8, sent the text of Kissingerʼs background briefing of the press on December 7 on the South Asian crisis to Secretary Rogers, who was attending the NATO meetings. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 642, Country Files, Middle East, India/Pakistan Situation)