60. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Pakistan
[Page 150]


  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
    • U. Alexis Johnson
    • Christopher Van Hollen
    • Thomas Thornton
  • Defense
    • David Packard
    • James S. Noyes
    • Brig. Gen. Devol Brett
  • CIA
    • Richard Helms
    • David Blee
    • Thomas Karamessines
  • JCS
    • Gen. William Westmoreland
    • Lt. Gen. John W. Vogt
    • NSC Staff
    • Samuel Hoskinson
    • Mark Wandler
    • Jeanne W. Davis


It was agreed that:

State will rework its paper2 on (a) what the U.S. might do to avoid the outbreak of hostilities between India and Pakistan, and (b) what we can and should do if hostilities begin;
Defense will double-check the status of all military items scheduled for shipment to Pakistan.

Mr. Kissinger: Dick (Helms), will you give us a quick rundown on the current situation?

(See attached briefing read by Mr. Helms using map.)3

Mr. Kissinger: How long will Parliament stay in session?

Mr. Van Hollen: For several months.

Mr. Kissinger: (referring to map) What are those four divisions in the center of India?

Mr. Helms: Those are their reserves.

Mr. Kissinger: And the red line is where the Pakistani troops are?

Mr. Helms: Yes.

[Page 151]

Mr. Kissinger: What do you think the Indians really want in East Pakistan? Do they want the situation to quiet down so the refugees can return? Do they see this as an opportunity to weaken Pakistan? Or donʼt they know what they want?

Mr. Van Hollen: The Indians want, first, a cessation of the civil strife in East Pakistan so as to stem the flow of refugees. Second, they want a moderate, independent regime in East Pakistan. Theyʼre concerned that over a period of time the radical element there may take over and link up with radicals in India.

Mr. Kissinger: Theyʼre aiming for an independent Bangla Desh under moderate leadership?

Mr. Johnson: Yes.

Mr. Van Hollen: Until March 25, India saw its interests served by a united Pakistan in which the Bengali element would be dominant. When the Pakistani military moved into East Pakistan, Indiaʼs estimate of their own best interests shifted, and they now favor an independent Bangla Desh under moderate leadership.

Mr. Kissinger: Is India prepared to take military action? What is the civil strife situation in Bangla Desh?

Mr. Van Hollen: The Pakistani military has control of the urban centers and they have moved forces to the India–Pakistan border. But they have no effective political control.

Mr. Kissinger: Does anybody have political control?

Mr. Van Hollen: No; there is no effective political counterforce.

Mr. Kissinger: Do the Bengalis have any alternative political structure?

Mr. Van Hollen: Not really.

Mr. Kissinger: From this limited point of view, then, the Pakistani operation has had limited success.

Mr. Van Hollen: There are an increasing number of attacks on Pakistani military forces and some interdiction of roads and other communications. In the last two weeks we have seen more indication of some counteraction by the Bengalis.

Mr. Johnson: I notice the paper4 refers to a “lightning attack” by India on Pakistan forces. I donʼt see how this kind of an attack could be successful. It would be bound to turn into a drawn-out war. Pakistan would probably attack on the west, as well, and India would be engaged in the two-front war. Thereʼs also the uncertainty of what China would do in this situation. According to Dickʼs (Helms) report, the Indians are taking a very sober attitude. Thatʼs encouraging.

[Page 152]

Mr. Helms: The Indian military seems to be taking a serious, responsible view.

Mr. Kissinger: And the rainy season is approaching. This is not a good time for any military operation.

Mr. Van Hollen: Fifty percent of East Pakistan is under water during the monsoon season.

Gen. Westmoreland: General Manekshaw, the Indian Army Chief of Staff, is in the U.S. and was in to see me the other day. Also, you know, I visited there not too long ago. The Indian politicians seem eager to intervene in East Pakistan, but their position has apparently been modified and they now seem to have a somewhat more sober perspective. General Manekshaw gave the credit to the military for this sobering influence.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Gen. Westmoreland) What do you think of Indiaʼs capability?

Gen. Westmoreland: In a showdown they could defeat the Pakistani Army.

Mr. Kissinger: In the East and the West?

Gen. Westmoreland: I donʼt think Pakistan would attack in the West because they wouldnʼt want to take on India on two fronts. Pakistanʼs logistic and supply support are marginal and their staying power is only about three or four weeks. Also, India would be fighting with interior lines of communication. India could mount a lightning attack, seize an area and resettle the refugees there. They would have the manpower to sustain that kind of operation but, of course, this would lead to direct confrontation.

Mr. Kissinger: What would be the advantage to India in seizing a limited area in East Pakistan?

Mr. Van Hollen: The only point would be in the context of the refugee problem. An attempt to obtain liebensraum for the refugees would relieve the domestic pressures and would be a little more acceptable to international opinion.

Mr. Kissinger: But they would get in a scrap with 55,000 Pakistani troops. They couldnʼt achieve their objective until they had defeated them. By that time the issue would have been settled. I know nothing about Pakistan, but if India should attack, the practical outcome would be Indiaʼs defeat (if Chinese Communist or other forces should come in) or, more probably, an independent Bangla Desh. Those 55,000 Pakistani troops wouldnʼt let India seize part of their territory on which to settle refugees.

Gen. Westmoreland: The only feasible Indian objective would be seizure of an enclave to assist them in resettling the refugees.

[Page 153]

Mr. Kissinger: But thereʼs no viable area of East Pakistan where they could settle three million refugees. Itʼs already overcrowded. Suppose that were their objective? How would they do it?

Mr. Van Hollen: The Indians could say that the influx of refugees constitutes intervention in internal Indian affairs. In order to relieve this situation, the refugees must return to East Pakistan.

Mr. Kissinger: The Indians are not that unsubtle. Suppose that were their objective; what part of East Pakistan could they seize? Suppose you had the staff assignment to select an area; what area would you choose where you could resettle three and a half million refugees, even assuming Pakistan did not resist? India canʼt achieve this objective; they would have to proceed to something else. Whatever their justification might be, it would inevitably become a full-scale conflagration.

Mr. Van Hollen: The area is not as important as the political-military gesture. I agree, it would result in an all-out conflagration.

Mr. Johnson: We recognize that.

Mr. Kissinger: Suppose Yahya wrote the President a letter saying he was willing to take the refugees back and guarantee their safe passage. Would this ease the situation?

Mr. Johnson: Yahyaʼs public statement yesterday sounded more forthcoming. He indicated he was willing to take the refugees back if they were bonafide citizens of Pakistan and had not committed crimes.

Mr. Helms: The way the Pakistanis have been beating up on the Hindus, the refugees would have to be convinced they wouldnʼt be shot in the head.

Mr. Johnson: Eighty percent of the refugees are Hindus. (Ambassador) Farland raised this with Yahya and got an emotional reaction. He denied the Hindus were being persecuted but said he would look into it.

Mr. Kissinger: Before (Indian) Ambassador Jha went back he indicated that it would help India if we could write to Mrs. Gandhi to tell her that we were receiving some assurances from the Pakistanis. Would it be possible to elicit something from the Pakistanis based on the Presidentʼs personal relationship with Yahya?

Mr. Van Hollen: Yahyaʼs public statement was helpful, but the refugees wonʼt return until there is some political accommodation and they are sure the Hindus wonʼt again be the target. We shouldnʼt think of their return in the short run.

Mr. Kissinger: We have two questions: (1) what can we do to avoid military action, and (2) what should we do if there is military action?

Mr. Johnson: With regard to the first, the refugees are the immediate incitement to military action. The only cure for the flow of refugees is some political accommodation in East Pakistan with the [Page 154] West Pakistan Government to calm the situation. We have a good dialogue going with Yahya—he seems quite responsive to Ambassador Farland. His public statement yesterday reflects his talks with Farland. We can assume Yahyaʼs objective is the same as ours—to calm things down politically. He is moving in this direction as much as he thinks he can, but it is important to keep our dialogue going.

We also have the problem of relief to East Pakistan. We now have a letter to U Thant 5 which provides an international umbrella. As soon as the letter is published and U Thant issues his appeal, we are ready to respond within the hour. The same thing is true on the Indian side. We are encouraging an international umbrella over the relief problem in India and are prepared to respond quickly. We have already provided some aircraft to airlift some of the refugees.

Mr. Van Hollen: The President had already agreed to $2.5 million for refugee relief. We are proposing an increase of $15 million in the draft letter to Mrs. Gandhi. Weʼre now feeding 300,000 refugees.

Mr. Kissinger: The President has approved the letter to Mrs. Gandhi.6

Mr. Johnson: That should improve the situation.

Mr. Kissinger: The President wants the whole question of possible Indian military action looked at, including ways in which we might discourage any such action, including some penalties. How might we do this?

Mr. Johnson: We have already said it to (Ambassador) Jha, and (Ambassador) Keating will repeat it to the Foreign Minister. As Dick (Helms) has reported, the Indians are under no illusions as to our attitude. We will continue to follow up on this.

Mr. Kissinger: Can we review the bidding? What can we do both positively and negatively to avoid the outbreak of hostilities, and what can and should we do if hostilities begin?

Mr. Johnson: We have circulated a paper, but I would like to substitute some revised pages for the present draft.

Mr. Kissinger: Your paper indicates we might formally suspend all military programs with India and Pakistan. We donʼt have a program with India, do we?

Mr. Van Hollen: We have a small military sales program.

Mr. Johnson: Our paper wasnʼt clear on the question of who would be initiating military action. There would be no question if military action were initiated by Pakistan.

[Page 155]

Gen. Westmoreland: Sometimes you canʼt tell who initiates military action.

Mr. Johnson: But it needs to be spelled out. I want us to do some more work on this paper.

Mr. Kissinger: Yes, letʼs rework the paper, and then we will tack a discussion of this on the end of another subject in an early meeting.

Mr. Packard: I suggest we just sit tight on military sales to Pakistan. We have nothing of consequence going to them any time soon except for some spare parts for MK–14 torpedoes which are going out this month.

Mr. Kissinger: I have talked to the President about this. He believes we should go ahead with spare parts for ongoing programs, but should try to delay any larger shipments. I understand we have some open-ended spare parts items which would take some positive, affirmative action to stop. Most of these are not relevant to the present situation. Stopping these could be construed as a positive hostile act. On anything bigger, though, the President would like to delay and to have another crack at it before shipment.

Mr. Van Hollen: You know Congress has asked to be consulted if any shipments are made, and we agreed. When I testified on this on the Hill recently, Senator Javits asked that we keep in touch with them on this and we agreed.

Mr. Kissinger: None of us knew about that commitment.

Mr. Van Hollen: We sent a memorandum7 to you.

Mr. Packard: Iʼll double-check the current status of the shipment of any items.

Mr. Kissinger: The President is eager to avoid any break with Yahya.

Gen. Westmoreland: What about the C–130 aircraft (for refugee airlift)?

Mr. Johnson: Weʼre going ahead with those. The telegram8 went out last night.

Mr. Kissinger: The President approved this.

Gen. Westmoreland: Iʼm skeptical about this operation. They can only handle 1200–1400 a day.

Mr. Johnson: This involves only the refugees in Tripura—a total of about 500,000.

Mr. Van Hollen: And weʼve made it clear that other countries, including India, are involved.

[Page 156]

Mr. Kissinger: Is this being done under the UN?

Mr. Johnson: Yes.

Mr. Kissinger: We donʼt have much going to Pakistan in the way of spare parts, do we?

Mr. Packard: The torpedo spares are the only things I remember.

Mr. Van Hollen: I think there are also some aircraft engines for training aircraft.

Mr. Packard: Iʼll double-check the list.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–115, WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1971. Top Secret; Ruff. No drafting information appears on the minutes. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Reference is to the “Contingency Study for Indo-Pakistani Hostilities”; See footnote 3, Document 51.
  3. The map was not attached. Based on his attached notes, Helms told the group that tension between India and Pakistan had led to talk of war, particularly in India. The CIA assessment, however, was that India did not want war and that the Gandhi government had decided, for the immediate future, to rely on diplomatic rather than military action. The irritants that had created the tension, including the flow of refugees into India from East Pakistan, were expected to continue and increase.
  4. Reference is to the contingency study cited in footnote 2 above.
  5. On May 22 Agha Shahi, Pakistani Permanent Representative to the United Nations, sent a letter to Secretary-General U Thant requesting humanitarian relief assistance for East Pakistan through the United Nations. (Telegram 1394 from USUN, May 26; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, SOC 10 PAK)
  6. Document 62.
  7. Not found.
  8. See Document 45.