51. Information Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Sisco) to Secretary of State Rogers 1


  • Dangers of Escalation in Current East Pakistan Situation

The Situation

Although almost two months have passed since the Pakistan Army moved against the Bengali separatists on March 25, the danger that the situation will escalate into a major Indo-Pakistan war remains. Essentially escalation could develop in two ways: (1) if India felt it was being subjected to intolerable economic, political and internal security pressures arising from the influx of East Pakistan refugees, it might strike against East Pakistan to end the struggle, and (2) the West Pakistanis might strike against India if they felt that in order to maintain their power in East Pakistan they had to put a halt to cross border activities by the Bengali separatists from Indian sanctuaries. For the time being, the former would seem to pose the more immediate threat of escalation, particularly since the Indians have reported to us that the flow of refugees has increased to a rate of 100,000 per day. The UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, who is now touring India, has concluded that the refugee flow is “monumental” and “the greatest displacement of people in recent times.”

UN Actions

We have been taking various steps to minimize the danger of escalation from either of the above causes.

Refugees. We are taking an active part in the international refugee relief effort. We are feeding an increasing number of Pakistani refugees in West Bengal. The number is now about 300,000 and it is still growing. We are considering providing an airlift to move refugees from Tripura to Assam where they can be more easily assisted. We have encouraged the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to organize an international relief effort and we have indicated our intention to support his efforts. To the degree that we alleviate the strain [Page 128] which the refugees put on Indian resources we will be minimizing the pressures for escalation.
Influence on Pakistan. On the Pakistan side we have also been active. We have asked the GOP to assess and report its needs so that an international relief effort can be organized. We have also urged the Pakistanis to restore normal conditions and begin the process of political accommodation. I intend to reiterate these concerns to M.M. Ahmed when I see him on Tuesday, May 18.2 What Pakistan does to restore normal conditions and achieve a peaceful political accommodation with the Bengalis will be critical in the avoidance of escalation. If conditions return to normal, the refugee flow should cease and in fact reverse. If a political accommodation is achieved, Indian support for cross-border operations will probably be abandoned. Without these developments, however, the situation could become increasingly dangerous.
Influence on India. We recognize that our efforts to prevent escalation cannot be pursued only in Pakistan. We have repeatedly urged the Indians to exercise the utmost restraint in their actions. I will be seeing the Indian Ambassador on Thursday, and will once again emphasize to him that we do not approve of Indian military support for the Bengali separatists.
Contingency Planning. While these various combinations of actions with both the Indians and Pakistanis may suffice for the time being, more vigorous actions may be required in the future. We have prepared a contingency study3 on the subject of Indo-Pakistani escalation which we have discussed informally with the Under Secretary. We are keeping this study under review and have in mind further actions such as use of the United Nations or third-party good offices as future steps to defuse the situation should it become more explosive.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 INDIA–PAK. Confidential. Drafted by Quainton on May 17 and cleared by Spengler, Schneider, and Van Hollen. A copy was sent to Kissinger on May 20 under a covering note from Executive Secretary Eliot. (Ibid., POL 23–9 PAK)
  2. Siscoʼs conversation with Ahmad was reported to Islamabad on May 19 in telegram 87878. (Ibid., POL 7 PAK)
  3. An undated 8-page study, entitled “Contingency Study for Indo-Pakistani Hostilities,” apparently prepared in NEA, was sent by Executive Secretary Eliot to Kissinger on May 25 for circulation to the WSAG in advance of its meeting on May 26. This study is published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–7, Documents on South Asia, 1969–1972, Document 133.