54. Telegram From the Consulate General in Karachi to the Department of State 1

1186. From the Ambassador. Subj: East Pakistan Refugees in India. Ref: State 085973,2 Islamabad 048723 (Notal); State 87878;4 State 0896355 (Notal).

I met with President Yahya Khan at the Presidentʼs house in Karachi on Saturday, May 22 at 1830 hours. During hour and half [Page 137] long conversation which ensued, I discussed with Yahya, among other subjects which are reported by septels, the urgent matter of East Pakistan refugees in India.
This subject was introduced by my comments to the effect that the continuing influx of refugees from East Pakistan into India currently appeared to be the single most likely cause of escalation of Indo-Pak tensions. I pointed out that GOIʼs current estimates indicated that there were now over two and a half million East Pakistani refugees in India and that the total was being swelled by approximately one hundred thousand additional refugees per day. I noted that, while these figures might well be subject to further scrutiny, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees representative, having recently completed survey of the refugee situation, had termed the refugee problem as he saw it to be “monumental” and one which required a major international relief effort.
After further general discussion of the subject, I pointed out to Yahya that the USG is very much concerned by the continuation of the refugee flow from East Pakistan into India for two reasons: (a) the broad humanitarian aspects of the matter; and (b) the threat to regional stability which the refugee presence and current daily increase thereto poses. I made note that the possibility of communal disorders in the refugee camp areas is a very real and pressing danger. The conversation continued with my observation that without the creation of normal conditions in the East, a renewed sense of physical security among the Hindu community,6 and a patent movement with substance behind it toward a peaceful political accommodation, it could be reasonably expected that the refugee problem will continue. I added that we have been urging restraint on the Indians, emphasizing the need to de-politicize the refugee question. It is our impression that the Indians want the people to return to their homes and are deeply concerned about the potentially harmful impact of the refugee influx, especially on West Bengal.
With this as background I strongly urged that the President take the constructive step of personally issuing a statement to the effect that GOP was seized with the matter of international humanitarian relief assistance; was actively involved in improving food distribution in East Pakistan; was attempting to effect political reconciliation through the East wing; and would seriously welcome the early return of refugees, a welcome enforced by the grant of general amnesty to those free of capital crime who had fled to India. I stated that coupled with measures toward peaceful accommodation with Bengalis and the return to more normal conditions in East Pakistan such a statement, emanating from President himself, could serve as an important element in encouraging refugees, including Hindus, to return to their homes in the East. It would also testify to the GOPʼs good intentions with regard to finding a resolution to the refugee problem. Also I made note of the fact that by putting the above courses of action in one general statement he would have real impact thus helping GOP world-wide position much more dramatically than dribbling out various actions on piecemeal basis. Yahya was left well aware that this suggestion was made with idea in mind of helping him improve his and his governmentʼs whole public posture throughout the world.
Having said this, I indicated that the USG would be interested in any views that the GOP might have on how the refugee flow could be checked.
President Yahya said that he tended to disagree with GOIʼs current estimate that there were now over two and one-half million East Pakistani refugees in India, but that the GOP was aware of the fact that a substantial number of people had crossed the border and that the problem was both real and substantial. He went on to argue however that over the past three or four years there had been an influx of “refugees” into East Pakistan in a number approximating a half a million people and that this movement had neither been admitted by India nor bemoaned by the world press.
President Yahya stated that he appreciated fully the USGʼs concern in the refugee flow for the reasons which I had stated. He was defensive, however, concerning my observed possibility of communal disorders in the refugee camp areas, saying that GOI made so little of communal disorders that it had found it convenient not even to answer his governmentʼs notes of protests. Also, while discussing this subject, President Yahya reiterated the GOPʼs version of Indiaʼs involvement in the secessionist movement and in armed infiltration into East Pakistan.
I again told President Yahya that I was aware of his governmentʼs position but that irrespective of the causes, the problem existed and the refugee flow must be checked. He agreed that ramifications [Page 139] which could ensue from this situation were patently of great seriousness, and he indicated that he recognized the validity of my observations. He alluded to his comments made earlier in the conversation (reported septel 7 —President Yahyaʼs observations on Pakistan political situation) and said that an earnest effort at peaceful political accommodation would be undertaken; this, he observed, should have an ameliorating effect on the problem. He added that he hoped the United States would continue to urge restraint on India since the arms and ammunition supplied to infiltrators, both Indian and Bengalis, and the training being given in guerrilla warfare in camps along and just inside the Indian border, all combined to prevent a return to normalcy.
Regarding the issuance of a statement as suggested (see para 4), President Yahya first asked what I thought of his comments issued in the morning press.8 I told him that, in my opinion, they lacked substance regarding the approach to the principal question, and that the thrust appeared to be directed primarily towards an attack on India. I then reiterated the key points of my suggestion and again urged it upon him. President Yahya indicated that I had [made] my point and that he would think seriously upon it.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, REF PAK. Secret; Priority; Exdis. Repeated to Islamabad, Lahore, Dacca, New Delhi, Calcutta, USUN, and US Mission Geneva.
  2. In telegram 85973 to Islamabad, May 17, the Department instructed the Embassy to augment the Presidentʼs May 7 letter to Yahya by expressing concern that the continuing refugee flow from East Pakistan into India was not only creating a humanitarian problem but also posed a threat to regional stability. In the Departmentʼs view the refugee problem would continue until the reestablishment of more normal conditions in East Pakistan and until there was some movement toward an accommodation with the Bengali opposition. The Embassy was instructed to encourage a statement by the Government of Pakistan to the effect that it would welcome the return of refugees and would grant a general amnesty to those who had fled to India. (Ibid.)
  3. Ambassador Farland addressed the question of the distribution of relief assistance in East Pakistan in telegram 4872 from Islamabad, May 19. He noted that there was a history of foreign personnel serving in East Pakistan identifying with Bengali political aspirations, and added that Yahyaʼs government did not want to be in a position of carrying out military operations in East Pakistan while foreigners took credit for relief work. Farland felt that international agencies could monitor relief operations without having to distribute food and other supplies. (Ibid., SOC 10 PAK)
  4. See footnote 2, Document 51.
  5. On May 21 Sisco sent telegram 89635 to Farland in Karachi where he was scheduled to meet with Yahya on the following day. He encouraged Farland to urge Yahya to make the type of public statement cited in footnote 2 above. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, REF PAK)
  6. Farland also took up with Yahya on May 22 the “sensitive issue” of the reported mistreatment of Hindus in East Pakistan by the Pakistani Army. Farland warned that if such reports were accurate, publication in the United States of accounts of the persecution of Hindus in East Pakistan would make it difficult for the Nixon administration to continue to support Pakistan. A greater danger, Farland said, was the reaction of India to the grievances Hindu refugees were undoubtedly airing in West Bengal. Farland warned that the mistreatment of Hindus in East Pakistan would strengthen the hands of those in India who favored military action against Pakistan. Yahya responded that Farland had apparently been listening to some “overly provocative comments” broadcast by the Voice of America and the British Broadcasting System. Farland said that his information came from the Consulate in Dacca which had received the reports from “authenticated sources.” Yahya assured Farland that if Hindus were being mistreated “it was not taking place under government policy or government sanction” and he would rectify the matter. (Telegram 1187 from Karachi, May 22; ibid., POL 23–9 PAK)
  7. Document 53.
  8. A statement issued by Yahya on May 21 encouraged refugees to return to their homes in East Pakistan where, he assured them, law and order had been restored. Yahya accused India of exploiting the refugee problem in order to justify interference in Pakistanʼs internal affairs. (Telegram 5044 from Islamabad, May 22; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, REF PAK)